Saturday, March 22, 2014

Patti Smith: The Real Deal

I first came to appreciate Patti Smith five years ago through her debut release, "Horses," a seminal album from the golden age of rock music that had somehow eluded me. 

From the opening line ("Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine") I was hooked. I loved the way the opening track transitioned from a simple ballad to raunchy, fly-away rock, and ultimately to "Gloria." The rest of "Horses" was blessed with reggae inflections, soft, spare piano backing hypnotic verse, shades of punk and the street poetry of Lou Reed, and the undistilled rebel spirit of rock 'n' roll.  

For several years, "Horses" was my sole reference point for Patti Smith. Smith the human being was a blank slate until her National Book Award-winning autobiography "Just Kids" came out in 2010. I didn't jump at first, since I had already read more than my share of rock biographies, but when it became clear that "Just Kids" wasn't about shooting, snorting, and backstage antics, I bought a copy. As I read, I was intrigued by the number of timeless artists Smith rubbed elbows with in Manhattan in the late '60s and early-to-mid '70s and the Chelsea Hotel anecdotes, including an episode where a young Johnny Winter (who turned 70 last month) paced around a room nervously with superstitions of his imminent passing after the successive deaths of JimiJanis, and the Lizard King.

Though some artists are reluctant to discuss their roots, giving the false impression that they possessed magical powers from an early age, Smith's book went into detail about her influences, from Dylan to Jim Morrison to Arthur Rimbaud to Jackson Pollock. It was clear that she was first and foremost a fan and practitioner of art in multiple mediums; gaining notoriety in music was almost accidental.    

Smith's relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe was the heart of "Just Kids." They were
lovers and creative partners who met in Manhattan, young people scraping by on a shoestring budget hoping to make it, vibrating off the rich cultural milieu they'd stepped into. Intertwined with their romance was a deep, enduring friendship. According to Smith, when their physical relationship ended (because Mapplethorpe had come out), there was no major blowup or dramatic distancing. They adjusted to the change in status and remained lifelong friends until Mapplethorpe died of complications from AIDS in 1989.

"Just Kids" gave me a good feeling about Patti Smith the person; the casual interview below (courtesy of dangerous from 2009 built on and filled out this instinct. I don't always concern myself with who great artists are or were on a personal level—I'm still in awe of Jimmy Page, though he voted for Margaret Thatcher—but strength of character helps (Hendrix's sweet, humble nature elevated his accomplishments in my mind). Where many great artists are disconnected because they're too deep in their imagination or in a state of arrested development due to the perks that come with their exulted status, Patti Smith comes off as a mensch—a thoughtful, unpretentious person who happens to be famous. Bill Kelly elicits her motivations for coming to New York as a young woman and her life once she got there, in addition to her transformations from drawing to writing to performance recitation to fronting a rock band.

All of the above, plus Smith's closeness to her family, her political conscience (e.g. her outspoken views on the shocking criminality of the Bush Administration at 10:45 of Part II), and her raw and incandescent stage presence shine in "Dream of Life," a full-length documentary from 2008. 

Rather than use the film as a marketing vehicle, with a formulaic linear narrative, "Dream of Life" director Steven Sebring provides a quick synopsis of Patti Smith's life in the beginning, and then follows her around with a camera, free-form like. 

Smith is a personable companion whose values and sensibility are out in the open. The little girl inside the 60-something woman comes out through her curiosity, her free-spiritedness, her interface with the world around her. She lived in the unsexy city of Detroit for 16 years and spends much of the movie in a modest room cluttered with knickknacks and keepsakes, rather than vacuum-sealed in a mansion. As her story unfolds organically, more artistic (and life) influences are name-checked, including the Beats, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, Mickey Spillane, Sylvia Plath, Charles Baudelaire, and Hank Williams, Sr.

Above all, Smith has deep bonds with her parents and her children, holds the memory of the departed close to her heart, and always seems aware of who she is and where she came fromshe is a heady artist who remains, refreshingly, forever earthbound.

A sunset in Golden Gate Park

A few years back on a Monday holiday, I had the opportunity to explore Golden Gate Park from front to back. 

After passing through Sharon Meadow, past the Music Concourse and the Japanese Tea Garden, taking my time walking along the water's edge on Stow Lake, and resting amid the tranquility of the casting pools, I headed northwest, where I crossed a golf course into some treecover.

As pine needles crunched underfoot I looked up to the top of the hill and saw the sun setting overhead. 

This photo is part of "Random San Francisco," a photo essay with 46 images which cover multiple neighborhoods and range from ornate architecture to street scenes to vistas to murals.

Monday, March 17, 2014

21st Century Republicans, Part III

"Even as science, technology, and the human race evolve, vocal sectors of the Republican
Party remain stuck in reverse—and proud of it. To capture this bizarre phenomena in real

time, I am christening a semi-regular new series—'21st Century Republicans'—where I will share surreal GOP episodes of bigotry, misogyny, or hostility to science and reason."

-21st Century Republicans, Part I

Part III of 21st Century Republicans wrote itself. It seems that long overdue social change and a mild-mannered black president continue to drive Republican reactionaries to fits of rage. Here is last week's sample of hate and bile from the GOP, the gift that keeps on giving.

Ann Coulter At CPAC: Democrats Want Immigration Reform for "Warm Bodies, More Votes"

Ann Coulter likens U.S. demographic shift to ‘being raped,’ blames Democrats

"...arch conservative pundit Ann Coulter likened the shift in U.S. demographics to 'being raped' as a room full of attendees of the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference guffawed and applauded."

FRC Hot Mic: Boykin Jokes about Jews, Says Obama Supports Al Qaeda, Sends Them Subliminal Messages

"The Family Research Council’s executive vice president, Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (retired), was caught on a 'hot mic' following a panel yesterday at the National Security Action Summit, which was held just down the street from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Boykin could be heard, in an awkward attempt at humor, telling a reporter from Israel that 'Jews are the problem' and the 'cause of all the problems in the world.' Boykin told another reporter that President Obama identifies with and supports Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood and uses subliminal messages to express this support."

GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal: Racism Wouldn’t Exist If Minorities Would Just Act Like White People (VIDEO)

Michele Bachmann: U.S. not ready for female president

"Phyllis Schlafly has latched onto the news from December that the Marine Corps is delaying its toughened pull-up requirement for women, part of the preparation for allowing women to serve in combat roles.

"The delay does not mean that the Marines have lowered the strength standard for people going into combat, but don’t tell that to Schlafly. In her radio commentary on Friday, the Eagle Forum founder declared that 'women in combat are a danger to themselves and also to the rest of the unit' because 'lowering our strength standards sends a message to the world that our military is not as strong as it used to be, and that it’s more important to appease the feminists than to ensure the strength of our forces.'”

Fox Contributor Angela McGlowan Tries To Link Missing Malaysian Airliner To Obama Foreign Policy

Austin Ruse Says Left-Wing University Professors 'Should All Be Taken Out And Shot'

"While filling in today for American Family Radio host Sandy Rios, Austin Ruse commented on the media frenzy surrounding a Duke University freshman who announced that she is a porn actress.

"Ruse, who leads the ultraconservative Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-Fam), promptly blamed the college’s women’s studies department and said that 'the hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities' should 'all be taken out and shot.'"

WATCH: Front-Runner in GOP Senate Primary Says Planned Parenthood Wants to Kill Newborns

"According to North Carolina GOP Senate candidate Greg Brannon, Planned Parenthood has a secret plan to legalize the killing of newborn babies as old as three months. Brannon, a Rand Paul-backed obstetrician who is a front-runner for the GOP nomination, made the allegations at a November fundraiser for Hand of Hope, a chain of crisis pregnancy centers he operates in North Carolina."

"As Brian reported last week, Mat Staver is very upset that Rajiv Shah, a Hindu USAID official, was allowed to deliver the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, saying it was proof of Obama's 'insensitivity to Christianity.'

"On today's 'Faith and Freedom' radio program, Staver and co-host Matt Barber continued to complain about it, with Barber asserting that the National Prayer Breakfast organizers never should have agreed to allow an 'anti-Christian speaker' to speak at the event even if it meant that Obama would not attend because, by refusing to attend, it would demonstrate to everyone that 'President Obama clearly hates Christianity' and reveal that he 'does not respect religious freedom.'"

Pat Robertson: God shut off D.C. power as a ‘fun’ way to punish Dems for climate lies

"Television preacher Pat Robertson on Thursday explained that God had caused a brief power outage in Washington, D.C. to mock Senate Democrats who held a late-night discussion about climate change.

"The office of the Architect of the Capitol said on Wednesday that high winds had caused a power surge that temporarily shutdown the building’s exterior lights.

"Robertson opened his 700 Club show the next morning by connecting the power outage to the Democrat’s Monday all-night Senate session that brought attention to climate change."

Michigan ‘rape insurance’ law goes into effect

"Michigan residents who buy health coverage in the private marketplace after Thursday will not have access to abortion coverage, even if a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

"On that day, a new state law goes into effect that prohibits insurance companies from covering abortion services unless customers purchase separate add-ons – called riders – to their insurance plans ahead of time.

"No insurance companies will be offering those riders to new customers in the private marketplace after Thursday, according to the state’s Department of Insurance and Financial Services."

"....As Rachel [Maddow] explained on last night’s show:

“'Your insurance cannot even cover you getting an abortion if you got pregnant because you were raped. That’s why the law’s opponents are calling it the "rape insurance" bill. No one plans on having an unplanned pregnancy, but if you want to make sure your abortion is covered in case you get raped, you now have to buy special standalone coverage for that in Michigan – if you can find it.

“'If you have been getting your health insurance through your job, maybe there’s a possibility that your insurance company might start offering that coverage so you can plan ahead for an abortion and pay extra now. But if you’ve been buying health insurance on your own, maybe you got new individual coverage as part of Obamacare, then no insurance company will sell you this new special coverage. None. Not one company.'

“'They’re not offering specific abortion coverage to individuals at any price. So Michigan law now says that buying separate abortion insurance is the only way you can have your abortion covered by insurance if you need one. But also that coverage is not available for purchase in the state.'”

GOP Presidential Hopeful Mike Huckabee Says Abortion Will Lead to Euthanizing Old Folks

Fischer: Feminists Have A 'Fundamental Level Of Insecurity' About Their Own Femininity 

"It is no surprise that Bryan Fischer is not much of a fan of the 'Ban Bossy' campaign, saying on his radio broadcast today that the problem with feminists is that they want to be like men because they are insecure about their own femininity and therefore refuse to acquiesce to the role prescribed for them by God in the Bible.

"Feminists, Fischer said, have 'some kind of fundamental level of insecurity about their own nature, about their femininity, some kind of insecurity about being a woman.'

"'We don't need women trying to be like men,'" he added. 'We need more women whose ambition in life is to be a woman.'"

Michele Bachmann Claims Gay People Have 'Bullied The American People'

Bryan Fischer: Gay Rights Will Doom America

"Christian conservative Bryan Fischer on Thursday declared that the world will plunge 'into a moral abyss of darkness' if gay rights prevail in America.

...“'America's future is going to be determined by one thing and one thing only. And that is whether the forces of light or darkness will prevail in the battle over special rights based on sexually deviant behavior.'

“'Every advance of the homosexual agenda comes at the expense of religious liberty.'

"Fischer said that Americans want to believe that 'sodomy and liberty” can coexist 'but it is impossible,' because 'everywhere that Big Gay gains ground, Christ is forced into retreat.'

“'If the forces of sexual deviancy prevail, I submit that every part of our culture will be corrupted,' Fischer warned. 'It will be contaminated beyond repair and America, instead of leading the world, will plunge the world into a moral abyss of darkness and depravity.'”

"A new study, of sorts, by PornHub shows that the southern US states watch the most gay porn of any region of the country.

"The research also finds that Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia are the top gay-porn watchers of all 50 states."

To be continued.  

p.s. feel free to email GOP episodes of bigotry, misogyny, or hostility to science and reason to 


Other political writing by Dan Benbow:

"Reasonable Doubt: 50 questions for lone gunman theorists"

"Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Road to the Mountaintop"

"The Master of Low Expectations: 666 Reasons Sentient Citizens are Still Celebrating the Long Overdue Departure of George W. Bush"

"Off the Books: The Outsourcing of American Foreign Policy, Part I -- A Roll of the Dice" features an interview with powerhouse historian Peter Dale Scott, in reference to his book "The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America"

"Off the Books: The Outsourcing of American Foreign Policy, Part II -- Operation Blowback"

Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Jar of Birds"

"Truth and Beauty" photo essays:

"Gone but not Forgotten" is a tribute to a friend who left this world all too soon

features intriguing San Francisco architecture and  street art 
from the Mission District to South of Market to downtown  

"A Sunny* Monday in San Francisco" is a day tour of the city, 
from Mission Street to the Pacific Ocean

"On a clear day you can see forever" explores Noe Valley, Ashbury Heights, 
the Inner Sunset district, microclimates, and street art on a pristine September day 

"Random San Francisco" has 46 photos which range from 
ornate architecture to street scenes to vistas to murals

"California in November" captures deep fall natural splendor

  "Vintage Cars" is an evening tour of old automobiles in the Mission District 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Anaïs Nin: "We do not grow absolutely, chronologically"

"We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, the present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.

-Anaïs Nin

Sunday, March 9, 2014

21st Century Republicans, Part II

Last week I began a new series which explores the phenomenon of 21st Century Republicans
Mississippi Tea Party head Janis Lane
wonders why women are allowed to vote
whose belief systems are stuck in a pre-modern America where men call the shots, women and people of color are treated as second-class citizens, gays and lesbians are expected to stay deep in the closet, and science and reason are considered

The frequency of these installments is determined by the level of crazy in the GOP universe, and lately, the GOP has delivered. As you read these headlines, ask yourself, "Is this party fit to govern in the 21st Century?"

"North Carolina Congressional Freshman Declares Barack Obama Terrorist Enemy Number One"   

"North Carolina Congressman Robert Pittenger has sent out a fundraising letter warning that the POTUS is actually an enemy of the United States of America:

'You see, I am already on the front lines, taking seriously my oath of office: to defend the U.S. Constitution — and you and your fellow Americans — against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And for that I am being attacked from all sides, including from my fellow Republicans. My friend, make no mistake, Barack Obama is Enemy Number One!'"

"Although no Oklahoma teacher has ever filed a complaint at the state level, the
legislation’s advocates argue that HB 2317 -- modeled after Texas’ 2013 Merry Christmas law -- will shield Oklahoma schools from lawsuits against religious displays.

"'There is a war on Christians and Christmas, and anyone who would deny that is not paying close enough attention,' [Republican representative Bobby] Cleveland said in a December 2013 press release. 'This bill will create a layer of protection for our public school teachers and staff to freely discuss and celebrate Christmas without worrying about offending someone.'"

"Mississippi Tea Party leader Janis Lane thinks the women’s vote is bad for the country. And yes, Janis Lane is a woman herself, who benefits from the women’s vote. After being asked whether she thought there were too many male politicians deciding women’s issues back in 2012, she said:

"'I’m really going to set you back here. Probably the biggest turn we ever made was when the women got the right to vote. Our country might have been better off if it was still just men voting. There is nothing worse than a bunch of mean, hateful women. They are diabolical in how than can skewer a person. I do not see that in men. The whole time I worked, I’d much rather have a male boss than a female boss. Double-minded, you never can trust them.'"

"Anti-gay Christian lawyer found guilty of 8 counts of producing kiddie porn"

"Georgia Republican stands up for sex offenders’ access to schools and playgrounds"

"Scott Walker Documents Reveal Aide Forwarded SIX-PAGE Racist E-Mail

"Revealed e-mail records show that then-chief- of staff [Thomas] Nardelli forwarded a disgustingly racist e-mail to his deputy Kelly Rindfleisch and other unknown recipients, as Buzzfeed first reported. The e-mail focused on a 'nightmare' in which the protagonist wakes up as everything right-wingers hate:  a 'black, one-armed, drug-addicted, Jewish homosexual on  [sic] pacemaker who is HIV positive, bald, orphaned, unemployed, lives in a slum,' and 'has a Mexican boyfriend.'"

"GOP lawmaker: Being Gay is ‘self-professed behavior’ which can’t be ‘independently verified'"

"Michele Bachmann: American Jewish Community 'Sold Out Israel'"

"Arizona Advances Bill For Surprise Inspections Of Abortion Clinics"
"Conservative writer upset '12 Years A Slave' doesn’t show happy slaves"
"State Senator: Sex Is 'Recreation' And Birth Control Is Cheap, So I Shouldn't Have To Pay"

To be continued.  

p.s. feel free to email GOP episodes of bigotry, misogyny, or hostility to science and reason to 


Other political writing by Dan Benbow:

"Reasonable Doubt: 50 questions for lone gunman theorists"

"Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Road to the Mountaintop"

"The Master of Low Expectations: 666 Reasons Sentient Citizens are Still Celebrating the Long Overdue Departure of George W. Bush"

"Off the Books: The Outsourcing of American Foreign Policy, Part I -- A Roll of the Dice" features an interview with powerhouse historian Peter Dale Scott, in reference to his book "The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America"

"Off the Books: The Outsourcing of American Foreign Policy, Part II -- Operation Blowback"

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman

I've always had mixed feelings about Hollywood biographies of larger-than-life, cultural-historical figures. Topically the movies are interesting, but it can be hard for me to merge actor and subject. I enjoyed John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction," but I found his Bill Clinton in "Primary Colors" flat and colorless next to the real thing. Sean Penn is my favorite contemporary screen actor, and he gave everything he had to "Milk," but the whole time I was looking at the screen I saw Sean Penn playing Harvey Milk.  

When I first heard that Philip Seymour Hoffman was cast as Truman Capote, I was skeptical.
How could the scruffy, bulky actor become the fastidious, elfin Capote, or capture the Capote presence?  

Despite these misgivings, the buzz surrounding "Capote" and my interest in the story behind "In Cold Blood" drew me to a theater, and within fifteen minutes Hoffman had me fooled. I wasn't thinking about Philip Seymour Hoffman the actor, or the ways this character was similar to other characters he'd played; I was right there in the story with Truman Capote as he traversed rural Kansas in search of his masterpiece.  

In the spirit of remembrance and gratitude, below is "P.S. Hoffman," film editor Caleb Slain's tribute to "an actor who never had a single dishonest moment on camera."  

Other Philip Seymour Hoffman on "Truth and Beauty":  First Glance:  "The Master 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

21st Century Republicans

Michele Bachmann's effervescent glow

Is the Republican Party caught in a time warp?

In 2012, the NASA Rover Curiosity landed on Mars. Google virtual reality goggles were invented, as were self-inflating tires, fuel-cell powered MacBooks, and mind-controlled
 cybernetic limbs. There were major advances in stem cell research, and two molecular biologists in the United Kingdom created RNA, the first synthetic information-storing molecule. And the National Institute of Health decided that it would no longer conduct medical research on chimpanzees.

But the Republican Party was stuck somewhere way back in America's ugly past, with presidential candidates to match. 

Every week or two a different grotesque captured the fancy of Republican primary voters who couldn't accept Mitt Romney as their standard bearer. There was Newt Gingrich, who'd hooked up with his second wife while he was still married to his first wife (who had paid for his law school education) and met his third wife, an intern, while he was still with his second wife (and orchestrating the impeachment of Bill Clinton for his indiscretions with an intern). 

Then there were Herman Cain, a candidate with zero government experience who faced multiple sexual harassment charges, and Rick Perry, a climate change-denying Texas governor who was in bed with right-wing religious extremists. Rick Santorum, who'd lost his Senate seat by 20 points in 2006, had railed against "the dangers of contraception" and said that gay marriage rights were the gateway to "man on dog" relations. And last but not least, there was Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota Millenarian who criticized evolution thusly, "Where do we say that a cell became a blade of grass, which
the honorable Governor Rick Perry
became a starfish, which became a cat, which became a donkey, which became a human being? There's a real lack of evidence from change from actual species to a different type of species."

I thought the crushing defeat in the 2012 presidential election might wake the GOP up, might convince the Powers That Be to keep the crazies in their party locked in the closet, but the Republican Party is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Even as science, technology, and the human race evolve, vocal sectors of the Republican Party remain stuck in reverse—and proud of it.      

To capture this bizarre phenomena in real time, I am christening a semi-regular new series—"21st Century Republicans"—where I will share surreal GOP episodes of bigotry, misogyny, or hostility to science and reason.

Included here are just the examples from the past week. 

"Powerful GOP lobbyist drafts bill to ban gay athletes from playing in the NFL"

"Virginia Republican Says A Pregnant Woman Is Just A 'Host,' Though 'Some Refer To Them As Mothers'"

"Utah lawmaker targets women with new divorce barriers so men aren't 'surprised'"

"Utah state Rep. Jim Nielson (R) says that he is sponsoring a bill to force divorcing couples to take classes because he says that men are often 'surprised' when women want to end the marriage.

"The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Nielson had filed a bill that would require couples to take part of mandatory divorces classes even sooner than the law required when Utah became the first state with the mandate in 1994. Nielson would like to see couples take at least half of the $55 two-hour classes at the beginning of divorce process."

"Texas Republican Says Ranchers Should be Able to Shoot 'Wetbacks,' Calls Obama a 'Socialist Son of a Bitch'" 

"Anti-LGBT researcher Paul Cameron open to death penalty for ‘dangerous’ gay ‘parasites’"

"Fox news guest tells Hannity:  'Overfed' non-whites use food stamps as a 'fat pill'"

"Tea Party Nation says Brewer’s Veto will mean mandatory penis cakes for 'homosexual weddings'"

"Maine Republican regrets saying men should rape women if abortion is legal"

"George Will: It’s ‘not neighborly’ for LGBT people to ask for equal rights"

There you have it. A window into the mindset of the Republican Party in 2014. To be continued.  

p.s. feel free to email new stories to 


Other political writing by Dan Benbow:

"Reasonable Doubt: 50 questions for lone gunman theorists"

"Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Road to the Mountaintop"

"The Master of Low Expectations: 666 Reasons Sentient Citizens are Still Celebrating the Long Overdue Departure of George W. Bush"