Category Archives: Art Calls Us

High Noon – Antidote for Trump Malaise

When in despair with the fortune of our country, I began reading High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, by Glenn Frankel. His thesis is that Carl Foreman, the screenwriter, created High Noon as a parable about how he was abandoned by friends and community when he stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee for what he believed in—freedom of thought and speech.

I was surprised to learn that when the Blacklist arose in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, a Democrat, Harry Truman, was President, we had a democratic Congress, and a liberal majority on the Supreme Court. Yet people were being forced to sign loyalty oaths to keep their jobs, and friends were harassed and pressured by HUAC to turn against friends, naming them as former Communists and causing them to lose their ability to work.

Foreman testifying before HUAC, 1951

Foreman at HUAC hearing, 1951

Fear that Communists would take over the U.S. was so intense that many in government and the film business were willing to trounce on the liberties of others, often to save their own jobs.

The similarity to the present is obvious. As Frankel writes, “Conservatives who had resisted the growth of the federal government…(under FDR) joined forces with embittered working-class populists who felt excluded from their share of prosperity.” They believed, Frankel continues, that “usurpers—liberals, Jews, and Communists in those days; gays, Muslims, and undocumented immigrants today—had stolen their country, and…they were determined to claw it back.”

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Reading Bobby, Arlene, and Jane

I found the video on YouTube:  Bobby Kennedy speaking to a rally of black people in Indianapolis in 1968, on the night Martin Luther King was shot. Bobby had been informed about King’s death by the mayor, who told him not to go to the black neighborhood because riots could break out. Bobby had replied, “Don’t tell me where I can and cannot go.”

Bobby mlkIn the darkness, standing on a flatbed truck, he spoke, unrehearsed, from his heart. “If you’re black, and you’re tempted to be filled with feelings of hatred and mistrust,” he told the crowd, “I would only say that I can also feel, in my own heart, (he pointed to his chest) the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my own family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

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My Dinner with Mick

When I was in my 20’s, in the Stone Age, I was married to a disc jockey and obsessed with Mick Jagger.  Several close friends and I had rich fantasies about him, so I arranged to write a story about Mick, covering the Rolling Stones’ European tour in 1970 for the Atlantic.Jagger_FentonI was kicked off  the tour after two days, for reasons I’ll explain, but I still had to do the story.  So I wrote a piece I thought was slight—embarrassingly slight.  I hadn’t looked at it in 40 years when I unearthed it last week.

I’m about to downsize, moving from a house in the foothills of the Rockies to a condo in the center of town. I’ve been purging my stuff, going through boxes I’ve been carting around for 30 years but never opened, which contain research files, notebooks, diaries and old articles. I pulled out a 1971 copy of the Atlantic with my story, “Mick Jagger Shoots Birds.” I started reading it and was surprised at how sharp and funny it was, not the embarrassment I’d remembered. Friends urged me to post it now, so I’ve done that below.


I flew to Copenhagen where the Stones were beginning the tour, and joined the crowd of reporters and photographers camped in the lobby of their hotel. I was wearing a lavender, form-fitting nightgown that, in those days, passed as a dress, and I’d straightened my long, then dark hair, so it hung to the center of my back.

003“They’re coming! The Stones!” people shouted. The hotel doors burst open and in they came, along with bodyguards and staff whose job was to keep “the boys” out of reach of the press and fans. The Stones were at their zenith of popularity then, with fresh songs that both created and reflected the zeitgeist: “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Street Fighting Man.”

As they walked past me, Bobby Keys, the saxophone player who toured and recorded with the Stones, grabbed my arm.

“You play poker?” he said.

“Um… no.”

He shrugged. “Come and watch then.”

He pulled me into the elevator where I suddenly stood face to face with Mick. I went into shock. Bobby, obviously, thought I was a groupie, and the others started referring to me as “Bobby’s friend.” When we came out of the elevator and headed for Mick’s room, Bobby asked what I was doing in Copenhagen. “Actually, I’m a reporter,” I said. He stopped short, and blew out his breath. Then he said, “Don’t mention that,” and hustled me into Mick’s room

For the rest of the night, I sat paralyzed, afraid to speak, which supported their assumption that I was a groupie, a breed who have learned to be seen and not heard. While the boys played poker, smoked joints, and engaged in raunchy talk, I concentrated on memorizing what they said. I knew that if they found out who I was, I’d be cooked. Around midnight, I made up an excuse to tell Bobby  why I had to leave, and he urged me to come back the next day before the concert.

Bobby Keys, who played the saxophone solo on “Brown Sugar” and other hits, died of cirrhosis in 2014.

Bobby Keys, who played the saxophone solo on “Brown Sugar” and other hits, died of cirrhosis in 2014.

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Guru Unmasked

I rarely go to see a movie twice, but after watching Kumaré, I went back to see it again the next day. Directed by Vikram Gandhi, the film is hilarious and profound, playful and edgy. A bright, indie film maker conducts an experiment: putting on the orange robes of a guru, he sets out to see if people might find the same inner peace and nourishment from a made-up religion as they do from a “real one.”

Kurt Vonnegut played with this concept in Cat’s Cradle, as do Trey Parker and Matt Stone in The Book of Mormon, which begins a national tour in August for which tickets have sold out in hours. I suspect one reason that Mormon has struck a nerve is that it reveals, under the ribald comedy, a truth that is the central point of Kumaré: religious practices can be made to look absurd, but they can act as a placebo to make people feel happy and inspired.

Vikram Gandhi as himself

Vikram Gandhi was born in New Jersey to parents from India, who forced him to attend Hindu rituals and pray to gods that included a flying monkey and an elephant with a man’s body. He saw it all as embarrassing claptrap that “somebody made up” long ago. He studied religion at Columbia University, which made him more of a skeptic. But at the very time he was trying to throw off his Hindu heritage, he realized that millions of Americans were embracing it. He started making a documentary about yoga and concluded that the gurus he filmed were largely “making stuff up.” He traveled to India, where he found the swamis “just as phony as those I met in America.”

Vikram grows a beard and long hair, wraps some orange cloth around him and begins walking barefoot and carrying a staff with a giant Om symbol. Then all he has to do, he says, is “imitate my grandmother’s voice”—a sing-song Indian accent.

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Still Teens after all These Years

I had the most fun this week that I’ve ever had at a concert—seeing the Beach Boys at Red Rocks in Denver.

On tour for the first time in more than twenty years, they played 51 songs, during which I and most of the 10,000 others in the open-air theater sang along and couldn’t stop dancing. It was impossible not to dance. The pleasing harmonies and cheerful beat took possession of the body and made you sway, bounce, wave your arms and cheer. As the band sang, in a new number: “Isn’t it time we danced the night way?”

Beach Boys Today:
Bruce Johnston, the original 3—Al Jardine, Brian Wilson, Mike Love—and David Marks

By God, we’re overdue. It was amazing to hear men in their 60s and 70s sing, Be True to Your School, and hear the graying audience shout, “Rah, rah, rah!” When I looked over the crowd it seemed that everyone was smiling, everyone felt young and alive and no one wanted the night to end.

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Bloody Marvelous

Hemingway wrote in his collection, By-line: Ernest Hemingway, “You must be prepared to work always without applause.” He said critics would take joy in pronouncing your latest work a failure and you wouldn’t be able to look at it for years. And then, one day, in some other place, you would pick it up and open it, start to read and in a little while say, “Why this stuff is bloody marvelous.”

Have you had an experience like that, revisiting work you did years ago? I recently obtained the digital rights to Loose Change, my first book, published in 1977, about three women growing up in the Sixties. It was trashed by critics at the time, whose comments are embedded in my mind. Newsweek ran the picture of me and caption below.

“the sexuality of a goat”

But the book went on to sell more than a million copies.

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Joan Didion Buries the Baby

I’ve just published JOAN, a memoir about my 40 years of friendship with Joan Didion, and what I’ve learned from her about writing and about life.

I did not set out to do this, however, when I interviewed Joan on the fourth of July for Oprah magazine. I’d been assigned to talk with her about Blue Nights, her breathtaking new book about losing her only child and growing older.

She’s 76 now, but when I met her she was 36, a rising star whose work was already being called the “finest prose being written in this country today.”*

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Angels Made of Iron

Here’s a tonic for the misery many of us feel these days when we hear the news from Washington. Rent “Iron Jawed Angels,” an HBO film made in 2004. I came late to the party — I’d never heard of it — and when I recently saw the Netflix copy on my friend Nance’s table, I thought it was a porno movie, or maybe something weird about a cult like the Hell’s Angels?

To my shock, it was one of the best films I’ve seen in years. Halfway through it, Nance turned to me and said, “Every woman in America should see this.” Every man too, I said.

Hilary Swank and Anjelica Huston star as suffragettes who literally almost died to get the 19th amendment passed in 1920 giving women the right to vote. Think of it — that was less than a hundred years ago. When my mother was born, women could not vote.

I’d read about the suffragettes but hadn’t known what they had to go through. When they gathered in front of the White House holding banners, they were beaten by gangs of men and thrown in jail on charges of “disrupting traffic.” One woman arrested was the wife of a U.S. senator who opposed giving women the vote. When he came to see his wife in jail and asked how she could abandon her two daughters, she replied, “Those two girls are the reason I am here.”

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Great Sex – NOT!

If you haven’t seen it already, check out “The Kids are All Right,” directed by Lisa Chodolenko. The acting and writing are spectacular: each character is real, flawed and charming. But one element seems all wrong – the sex.

Annette Benning and Julianne Moore play a lesbian couple who’re raising two children, now teens. They contact the man who was their sperm donor, who turns out to be a macho chef and gardener played by Mark Ruffalo.

He charms the kids and hires Julianne to design a garden in back of his house. Sparks fly and they end up in bed. What we see is what we usually see in movies that try to portray hot sex: the man rams the woman, fast and hard. Faster, harder, banging, slamming, over, under, sideways, down.

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Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker were standing in the wings on opposite sides of a theater in New York, waiting to go onstage in a musical revival of “Enter Laughing.” As the overture began, the former stars of “L.A. Law” caught each other’s eye.

“Look at us!” Jill was thinking.

“We’re doing a musical!” Mike was thinking.

Mike Tucker and Jill Eikenberry today.

I was sitting in the audience, because I would go see Jill and Mike perform in anything. We’d become friends in the ’80s when we were all working in TV, but we’re not now and we’ve passed age 60. Before “Enter Laughing,” Jill hadn’t performed in a N.Y. musical since 1981, and Michael had always wanted to sing and dance on stage but “never had the guts to do it.”

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