Monday, July 28, 2014

Huge Ken Russell Retrospective in Poland!

If you are in the country, check out the 14th Edition of the T-Mobile New Horizons International Film Festival in Wroclaw, Poland (in the Silesian Lowlands, 4th largest city in Poland). 
24 July - 3 August 2014 

Breathtaking scope to this festival with films from all over the world. Of Ken's films, the following 22 films have individual screenings:

Altered States

Always on Sunday
Boudica Bites Back
The Boy Friend
Crimes of Passion
Dante's Inferno
Debussy Film
The Devils
Isadora Duncan (The Biggest Dancer in the World)
Lion's Mouth
The Music Lovers
The Mystery of Mata Hari
Song of Summer (Delius)
Revenge of the Elephant Man
Savage Messiah
The Rainbow
and Women in Love.

Mike Bradsell and Ken's wife Lisi will introduce the films. Special tribute to Derek Jarman's films as well!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

L'Wren Scott

                                                                  "NOT THE END"

                                                                       Ken Russell


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Monday, March 10, 2014

Ken Russell - The Mystery of Dr Martinu (Full Film) Bohuslav Martinů by KEN

This is a treat! NSFW and simply great. Bohuslav Martinů is yet another master of 20th century Classical music whom Ken pays homage to. Many of Ken's more obscure works are being released on region 2 dvd so keep your ears open.

A Brief History of The Universe: The Not So Basics of Ken Russell Complete Works Updated 2014

Here is to my best knowledge the majority of Ken Russell's work. I'm sure I will be adding to it shortly. Thanks to Iain Fisher for his great research which helped me immensely in starting this project.

Ken Russell's world is very beautiful and remember..

He's not perverted. YOU are!

Fledging films, photography and student projects:
Teddy Girl photographs
Peepshow (1956)
Knights on Bikes (1957)
Ken Russell's Lost London Rediscovered: 1951–1957
Amelia and the Angel
Knights on Bikes 1957
Lourdes 1958

BBC Monitor short films
Poets London 1956
Gordon Jacob 1959
Guitar Crazy (also called From Spain to Streatham) 1959
Variations on a Mechanical Theme 1959
Two Painters 1959
Portrait of a Goon 1959
Marie Rambert Remembers 1960
Architecture of Entertainment/Journey into a Lost World 1960
Cranks at Work 1960
The Miners' Picnic 1960
Shelagh Delaney's Salford 1960
A House in Bayswater/ Mrs Stirling of Old Battersea House 1960
The Light Fantastic 1960
Antonio Gaudi 1961
London Moods 1961
Lotte Lenya Sings Kurt Weill 1962

BBC Monitor long form films
Portrait of a Soviet composer 1961
Pop goes the Easel 1962
Preservation Man 1962
Mr Chesher's Traction Engines 1962
Elgar 1962
Watch the Birdie 1963
Lonely Shore 1964
Bartok 1964
The Dotty World of James Lloyd 1964
Diary of a Nobody 1964

Major works for film and television

Elgar (1962, TV) included as it is widely considered Ken's first important film.
French Dressing (1963)
The Debussy Film (1965, TV)
Always On Sunday (1965, TV)
Isadora Duncan, The Biggest Dancer In The World (1966, TV)
Dante's Inferno (1967, TV)
Billion Dollar Brain (1967)
Song of Summer (1968, TV)
Women in Love (1969)

The Dance of the Seven Veils (1970, TV)
The Music Lovers (1971)
The Devils (1971)
The Boy Friend (1971)
Savage Messiah (1972)
Mahler (1974)
Tommy (1975)
Lisztomania (1975)
William and Dorothy (1976)
Valentino (1977)
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1978)

Altered States (1980)
The Planets (1983)
Crimes of Passion (1984)
Gothic (1986) ·
Aria (1987, segment "Nessun Dorma")
ABC of British Music, A British Picture (1987)
Salome's Last Dance (1988)
The Lair of the White Worm (1988)
The Rainbow (1989)

Whore (1991)
Prisoner of Honor (1991, TV)
The Secret Life of Arnold Bax (1992, TV)
The Mystery of Dr. Martinu (1993, TV)
Lady Chatterley (1993, TV)
Mindbender (1995, TV)
Dogboys (1998, TV)

Later independent films, television and indie
The Lion's Mouth (2000)
Fall of the Louse of Usher (2002)
Brothers of the Head (2006)
Colour Me Kubrick (2006)
Celebrity Big Brother 5 (2007)
A Kitten For Hitler (2007)
EastEnders (????)

Cameo appearances  
Savage Messiah
(coming out a train, scene cut)
(in a wheelchair before "Welcome")
(the director)
(the last scene on the boat)
Salome's Last Dance
(the cameraman)
(the waiter)
Lion's Mouth
(the clown)
The Girl with the Golden Breasts

(Dr Lucy)

Opera and theatre 
The Rake's Progress (Stravinsky)
Madame Butterfly (Puccini)
The Italian Girl in Algiers (Rossini)
La Boheme (Puccini)
Die Soldaten (Zimmerman) 1985
Faust (Gounod) 1985
Mefistofoles (Boite) 1989
Princess Ida (Gilbert and Sullivan) 1992
Salome (Richard Strauss) 1993
Weill and Lenya (Paris and Russell) 2000
Mindgame (Anthony Horowitz) 2008

Acting roles, playing himself and interviews
The Secret Life of Sir Arnold Bax
(starring as Bax)
Lady Chatterley
The Fall of the Louse of Usher
(Dr. Calahari)
Hot Pants Trilogy
The ABC of British Music
A British Picture
Don't Shoot the Composer: Vaughan Williams
Classic Widows
Brighton Belles
Classic Widows
In Search of the English Folk Song
Elgar 2 Portrait of a composer on his bicycle
Mr. Nice (scene cut)
Brothers of The Head
Marple: The Moving Finger
Oliver Reed Wild Thing  Documentary
Edmund Dane 2005
Colour me Kubrick 2004
Waking the Dead: Final Cut 2003
Felicity Kendal: A Passage from India 2001
Turning Points 2000
Carry on Darkly 1998
Great Composers 1997
A History of British Art 1996
i-camcorder 1995
(An educational series for Channel 4.)
Empire of the Censors 1995
Music for the Movies: Georges Delerue 1994
Citizen Kane: a Critical Analysis 1991
The Russia House 1990
(Ken's only real acting role outside his own work)
The Kids are Alright 1979

Films unfinished, declined or planned but never made
Moll Flanders
Maria Callas Bio Pic
The Rose
Beethoven Film
Alice in Wonderland
Tesla Bio Pic (thwarted by Edison's descendants)

Books By Ken Russell:
A British Picture (1989; published in the US as Altered States: The Autobiography of Ken Russell, 1991)
Fire Over England (1993; published in the US as The Lion Roars)
Beethoven Confidential
Brahms Gets Laid
Elgar: The Erotic Variations
Delius: A Moment with Venus
Mike and Gaby's Space Gospel
Violation (2006)

Biographies and Film Criticism about Ken Russell:
An Appalling Talent: Ken Russell, John Baxter (1973)
Ken Russell: The Adaptor as Creator, Gomez, Joseph A. (1976)
Ken Russell (Monarch film studies), Thomas R., ed Atkins (1976)
Ken Russell: A guide to references and resources Diane Rosenfeldt (1978)
Ken Russell. Phillips, Gene D. (1979).
Ken Russell's Films by Ken Hanke (Oct 1, 1984)
Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films (Cappella Books) by Joseph Lanza

Ken Russell: Re-Viewing England's Last Mannerist, Flanagan, Kevin M.,ed (2009)

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Sunday, February 02, 2014

England: Winter 2013-2014

(From above down: Ion Square Gardens, Hackney City Farm garden store and  vegey pick up boxes, Winston at Frizzante , the view up Goldsmith's Row onto Hackney Road, Adventure Playground Weaver's Field, Weaver's Field towards WhiteChapel and Swirly fun, Charles Dickens House Estate, E2 Church and Frizzante Garden seating)

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Who's in England?

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Review: WHO I AM by Pete Townshend

(It took me a year and a fortnight but I finished it!)

 Pete Townshend writes in his autobiography that as an up and coming rock star in the early 1960s England he was approached by a group of peers (then teenagers) who asked him to write lyrics about the things they were experiencing. Telling him pointedly that they wanted him to speak for them through his song writing, essentially requesting that he make sure that The Who, not lose the connection to Mod street level culture.

A decade later, a music industry and alcohol addled Townshend finds himself being assured by a younger more radical group of young people (this time Steve Jones and Paul Cook of The Sex Pistols) that he's still relevant.
If that sounds less like a Rock memoir and more like the plot of a British football film, with pub goers in wollen jumpers raising pints of ale and debating about the social codes of English life and chortling on about how "Geez was a visionary, he stood for what we believe in..." than a music biography then you're not far off. Much of what makes Townshend's biography work so well are his vivid reminisces of Great Britain in the late 40s, 50s and of course the 1960s. There are many sentient, Post War British moments in Who I Am with the audience being both territorial and loyal towards his music music. Home grown music much like football, drives Britain (especially London) to this day. And no bands personified it better in their heyday than The Who, who like their great contemporaries, The Kinks, stayed in Britain and sang about Britain.

Of course The Who are one of the most popular British invasion bands in Bay Area history and for those who were fortunate enough to see shows at The Fillmore, Day on The Green, the Cow Palace and more recently San Jose and Mountain View will find that many concerts come back to life on the pages. Townshend even writes of not being able to enjoy himself nor play very well during the sold out anniversary concert in 1989 at the Oakland Coliseum. Apparently the FBI had picked up word of a possible mentally ill would be shooter who was trailing him around the country and there was a strong possibility of him being in attendance at the concert.

Fans and non fans will find the book clears up many questions. Townshend comes with a huge overlay of what fans think he's supposed to be made even more mercurial that he's been very private about his family for much of his career. He clarifies a great deal of personal information including his controversial intimate life. Rebecca Walker's auto -biography (which ironically contains a nameless and justifiably unflattering reference to The Who's nemesis and first producer Shel Talmy) also bravely confronted sexual doubts, desires and defiance. Like Walker, Townshend adds nothing prurient, apologetic or salacious; he's simply honest. As Pete has always been a great writer the tome is of course light years ahead of the proverbial ghost written tabloid style 'celeb bio'.
Ultimately, this book shows Pete's Townshend's ability to class shift. He endured bizarre instability and clearly lived too much of an at risk, itinerant life as a small child to be squarely middle class like his former wife Karen Astley yet he did not grow up proper council house working class like Daltrey or John Lydon did. Clearly being from an unstable, professional but not vastly solvent musical family gave him his class shifting abilities. Thus the only caveat for me appears to be a new project Pete is working on called "Floss". The theme and concept sound very staid and middle class given his oeuvre.

 It apparently took Townshend 12 years to complete this book and despite the initial reservations of many fans who were worried he'd ape Keith Richard's 'Life", he pulled it off with equal parts acumen and originality.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Banned 2007 Big Brother with Ken Russell!!


As many of you may be aware, Ken Russell's appearance  on Big Brother in 2007 is the only good thing that has ever been shown on television outside of his work.  Watch this to see what being joyful is!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

How do you get an hourglass figure? Hourglass Figure Workout

UPDATE March 2015: I am solidly booked with clients until early June so anyone interested in a personalized program with me will have to please wait. Again, avoid 95% of mat Pilates and all bootcamp, Cross Fit, Insanity, Astanga/vinyasa flow yoga if you want to sculpt a classic mid century hourglass figure. A few dozen people have asked me about Cross fit being part of sculpting and accentuating an hourglass figure and I can't get over how rapidly it builds the obliques and waist to hip ratio up. Thus it does not cross train with this program. 

Cross Fit is bigger, heavier power based movements based around lifting low reps for muscle taxing and minimal but consistent cardio. It is a great system if you want washboard abs , narrow hips and big guns. As for Insanity it is an opposite concept to Cross Fit with endlessly incessant high reps and jarring, pounding cardio based muscle taxing movements. Again, like Cross Fit the waist sculpting is based around squaring off and building up the obliques into a boxy, ripped linear shape. That is a look that is very on trend but not what we are going for here. Zumba on the other hand works fine with this program because it is dance based and movements are fluid while the balance needed in your waist and abs lightly taxes the muscles without building them up.

 If you decide to waist train do NOT get the fake corsets that all the Kardashians and Instagram people are wearing that look like sausage casings bandages. To properly waist aka corset train you will need to invest in a steel boned gored hip/spoon busk style true underbust corset. Make sure it is long enough to grace your torso if you are on the taller side like me. 

August 25th 2013: Thanks so much to all the readers and my clients-you're the best! As of today, the Hourglass Figure article is in partial form as I now need to make a profit off of my work. There is still plenty for free to read here and in the comments thread. The entire original "How to get an Hourglass Figure" essay; guidelines for building size to the glutes (aka Booty); your own personalized hourglass fitness programme; personalized advice and much more is available via a one time 30.00 donation through Pay Pal. The Pay Pal button can be reached via the links on your right or by clicking on the "Amanda and SuperAmanda" header and then going to the links on the right. That includes a full personailzed programme, access to all of the essays, follow up, personalized advice and answers to all the questions you may have etc. Thanks for visiting

UPDATE September 29th 2012: Hello Hourglass fitness enthusiasts! This past summer I've been working with almost a dozen clients and I have a new trainer (she's mind boggling fit, educated, beautiful puts me in pain!) have some important new guidelines after receiving invaluable feedback. I'm now advising against 85% of Pilates if you are trying to create an hourglass figure. I'd still do split board, foot openers, ankles, parakeet and anything that isolates the legs without making the abs a central focus but that's it. Clients are going to Pilates even twice a week and seeing a wider waist the next day. On an already fit or very hourglassy body the Pilates abs hypertrophy won't be that noticeable but those who have a stomach to re-sculpt and weight to lose off their abs need to stick with my basic but very effective waist sculpting moves (available exclusively from me following a consultation) , Gyrotonics, Gyrokinesis, basic weight training combines effective cardio, dance and or and lots of twisting and lateral movement. My recommendations for Calanetics has new guidelines also. OMIT the pelvic scoop aka Legs #1 and the 400 contractions for the hips and behind (Behind and Hips #1 and 2) and skip ahead to the stretch. When Callan Pickney says "you get the hips down to where they look like they've disappeared" she was not kidding, but we WANT hips in this programme. We do not want "childlike behind and hips" as she advocates in her best selling book. The two Hips and Behind exercises create a muscle pull in that breaks up the hip lines visually and creates an indentation that looks too modern, masculine and linear for this system. The standing pelvic wave creates a very flat butt via the tip up into the flat back posture.

There is a way to access the abs, floating ribs, pelvic floor and the obliques to wrap and pull the waist in by doing a similar standing posture but it is very subtle and does not include gripping and flattening the glutes into a board posture. Women did this hundreds off times a session in Jazzercise and stretch and tone classes during the 70s to the mid 90s usually lifting their butt off of the floor into a lower back irritating bridge repeated dozens and dozens of times rapidly. Ending up smaller and thinner yet with flat butts from overuse of the muscles, too much cardio and not releasing, resculpting and lifting the muscles instead. Once again for those who are simply fit or already hourglasses there may not be too much concern but others who are sculpting should consider the above.

 To learn more about how this programme can benefit your specific figure, please contact me. For a 30.00 USD Pay Pal donation I can provide you with an indepth figure analysis and guide to getting started on your way to a smaller waist and shapelier hip ratio Pin Up figure. No matter what weight, body type or fitness level you are currently at you can achieve a feminine hour-glassier silhouette. This rate will never be lower and includes specific exercises for your individual body type and goals. You'll be asked to fill out an indpeth questionnaire, E-sign a standard liability waiver and then have me at your disposal for all your hourglass fitness questions and concerns. As with any exercise programme you should consult your doctor before starting.

Thanks so much and keep checking back. Let's get and keep the bodies we want and make all the effort pay off without buying into impossible media standards and masculine "one size fits all" forms of exercise.

My original and work all of it authored solely by me. For a one time 30.00 dollar Pay Pal donation you can read more about HOW TO GET AN HOURGLASS FIGURE via the most googled and effective text article six running. 

I've updated and added over 1000 words regarding different body types who want to look more hourglassy and answers to fitness questions heretofore unavailable anywhere. I have been getting hundreds of emails and this is here to address many of
the questions women and girls around the world have been asking me. Guidelines must be personalized as a woman who is larger framed should follow a different workout than a woman of the the same height who is smaller boned and a physique who tends towards muscular legs should follow different regimen then a physique who's legs tend to be weak and so on and so forth.

Read and find out how to implement the huge volumes of research and simple common sense regarding getting and keeping weight off of your waist and not having a larger stomach, especially after having children and especially over 30. Teens will also want to avoid what I call "Perma-Muffin." A small waist is the key to better health not simply an aesthetically pleasing dividend.


Why no one body type is better than another

How to determine your body's symmetry 

How to embark on a major weight loss and exercise programme and still keep your curves.

How to keep your boobs and not burn through your bust as you reduce

Get the truth about Pilates and core work myths and why the majority of the Pilates method is taught incorrectly and builds up the abs square of the waist to hip ratio.

Find out why Waist Training and Gyrtonics is superior to Pilates for a smaller waist

Rating you Pilates and personal trainer instructor.

C sections, pregnancies and hourglass figures.

The ideal cardio fitness systems and sports for an hourglass figure

Why resistance training and weight lifting is crucial to a small waist.

Why clothing is a CRUCIAL part of getting a smaller waist.
Decoding the media hype and celebrity body lies regarding The Hourglass Figure "stats"

Corset Training and shapewear for an hourglass figures.

The above original work is subject to copyright and cannot be reprinted without permission from SuperAmandaProductions.

Copyright 2004,2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013.



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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Transplant's Folly: The Failure of Racial and Cultural Profiling in Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue (not a Film By Ken Russell)

(East Bay candyheart chakra, Hooper's Chocolates, Telegraph Avenue Oakland. Now a board shop)

(Oh my where does time go?! My beautiful husband and I are planning a third honeymoon/vow renewal ceremony and are nearing our 1/2 decade anniversary alongside other romantic and wonderful things which are happening, including on Facebook where I just hit 43,000 likes a few days ago. Very exciting!

Thank you to all my fans all over the world, you make it happen. We've come so far  in seven years and I'm still not selling any ad space and spamming you with my panties for sale on Ebay or anywhere! I had time for some summer reading and the following is an extended version of my GoodReads review for Michael Chabon's  Fall 2012 novel 'Telegraph Avenue '. 

I find the book to be a glaring race fail and I am not the only one.

For starters Chabon comes off as a truly lovely person and all my friends love his earlier work. As a yummy mum myself, I enjoy his wife Aylet's ebullient maternal and eco-conscious based writing. As Chabon has many enviable qualities this book was an even bigger let down for me, as his celebrity and fortunes preceded him.  I'm very disappointed but not giving up and going on to read  "Summerland " next.  At the end of this review I explore what might have done with Michael Chabon's "Telegraph Avenue" if it were a film by Ken Russell.  As harsh as the following review is, please don't get me wrong here-the man is a writing God-I'm just looking at this book and Chabon's style from a different angle than what is out there. From what I could see, apart from Michiko Kakutani and Attica Locke, 100% of upper tier of the msm and literary world who reviewed this book are white and barely acknowledged or confronted the graphic racial content in the book. Why? 

Update August 2nd 2013: I recently found a oped piece that Chabon penned  for the historically racist New York Times about what inspired Telegraph Avenue. Alongside  photos that attempt to brainwash the reader into believing that Chabon grew up in a mostly working class black/mixed progressive community (he did not, Columbia MD was a white created middle/upper middle class city purposefully integrated but not based on the reality outside its borders) there are some honest and authentic assertions about his own perceptions regarding the OJ verdict, race etc. And while he's patronizing (a NYT reader Rachel aptly wrote: "This essay strikes me as odd, partly because it assumes a monolithic response to the OJ verdict in the black community, and because it in fact assumes a monolithic idea of "understanding black people" in general." )  the overriding  belief that Chabon has regarding racial understanding feels genuine and heartfelt. 

Why then is Telegraph Avenue such an atrocious fail when it comes to race and class?!!

Those interested in joining the multi-racial and  generational Telegraph Avenue online reading group I'm putting together to do an extended look at the book please contact me. I'm hoping to have a Bay Area native progressive Jewish geologist , a secular Jewish/practicing Catholic/Joyce expert expat living in Poland, a Black music historian, a dominatrix/visual artist, a Marin born super mom/grandma, a Santa Rosa born Oakland social worker/musician (he loves and lives for birds  and as TA has a great bird character he's going to be in the "Chabon can do no wrong camp" for sure) and a few others join. You just know they are going to love the book and find absolutely no faults and drive me bat guano! This book has been above reproach by default and fawned over for too long. We've simply got to get real here! Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!)

TELEGRAPH AVENUE by Michael Chabon. A Review by Super Amanda

 (Sarte in a neo-retro doughnut T-shirt. Author Michael Chabon cruises Telegraph)

Viewed as a complete satire and a send up, Telegraph Avenue might actually work but as a piece of American social lit (however whimsical) it is a huge yerba mate goji-berry infused dud littered with an appalling number of racial stereotypes and odd attempts at James Joyce style free-flow. The names are all so similar (they change and shift sometimes in the same paragraph) that the book should have ideally come with a list of characters. Chabon is a wordsmith par excellence, overly micro managed and prone to using academic anatomy vocabulary but he still delights-just not with the over all concept of Telegraph Avenue. I held high hopes for this, my first Chabon book, and was let down. I grew up in the East Bay from birth (pre dot com), was on Telegraph every weekend as a kid/tween, moved away in tears at 14, visiting often. I eventually commuted for four years and then returned full time from 2002-2006 . In 2004 (the time period that TA is primarily set in)  I lived right off of Telegraph at Alcatraz and later 42nd. I have a great deal of emotional attachment, formative memories and  life experience first hand on this very road throughout much of my life.
(Chabon first, Puppet show second.  "What's the book called ?" someone asked me when I posted this on When Oakland Was Fun.  '"Telegraph Avenue" I replied "but you can't tell from the cover, can you?!")

And truthfully? I love the title and was shocked and impressed that someone thought of it first! Since about 2003, I've often seen myself on the cover of an imaginary album/CD called "Telegraph Avenue".  The photo blurry and pensive. All rock star wannabes like me dream up album concepts (real rock stars do this as well, this I can verify) this would be the "departure disc" and "nothing like my previous hard arena rock and dark sarcastic lyrics.'" '"Telegraph Avenue" aka Super Amanda Mach 2 with songs and vocals that recall Tom Waits, Gram Parsons, Willy DeVille, Bill Withers, Martha Davis,  Lennon's primal therapy album and the soundtrack to William Friedkin's "Cruising."  Sparse songs of dark reflection, space funk and soulful 3:00 am lyrics that describe how Prop 13, Reagan, the dot coms and various states of flux and social dissonance altered and permanently damaged my beloved SF/East Bay. Maudlin acoustic numbers about how I'll never get over having to move away when I was 14. Chabon's publishers have kitted the book cover out with a dizzying array of acid dipped hipster incarnations aka imitation Flying Eyeball style Fillmore Art. In less than a year the book has seen more variations in packaging than 'A Tale of Two Cities' has in the last fifty. Blaxploitation comic homages, album style art and merchandising mock ups of  "TA" characters add a very bold camp factor, making the whole concept akin to a record or film release with Michael Chabon as the rock star he truly is. So at least great minds think up PR alike!

      (First to arrive. 1971 Peruvian Acid soul band Telegraph Ave)

Thus, in this mostly negative review (offered in detail to add balance to the gushing and overwhelmingly fawning reviews which greeted this book in the MSM literary world) I have not forgotten the man's undeniable talent-few could. He's a wonderful writer. However it is dangerous and very naive to believe, as the reviewers who lionized Chabon for this book and it's overlying theme, that the aftermath ('broken pieces' according to lead character Archy Stallings) of a death or loss of community businesses in a low income area is somehow liberating and "very beautiful indeed" (LA review of books) for the reader to enjoy. Urban blight, murder, being low income etc are diseases that cut short lives, destroy families and kill dreams, they not a serendipitous 'gift' that leads to the neo-hippie concept of  "community as phoenix" (my words). People mistakenly have compared this book to "White Teeth" and "NW" by Zadie Smith. However, Smith was actually raised in the London area that she writes of while Chabon is not from the Bay Area, arriving very late in the game during the dot com boom. I'm certain Zadie Smith would vociferously defend TA but frankly having lived in both urban areas for almost equal amounts of time, I can say with authority that the experience of a black, non white or multicultural person or even a white person in London bears no resemblance to an upbringing in the Bay Area. London is decades in front of even the most liberal parts of the states in terms of race relations and somethings are simply not universal. For all of Chabon's dazzling talent and love of his new homeland, by anointing it a racial panacea of sorts he displays scant insight into what the real Telegraph Avenue was and is.

                                              (Telegraph Avenue-Berkeley side-today)

Thus the overlying flaw in Telegraph Avenue is that this is a non-native transplant's view of the Bay Area, post 1997 with all the generic Yelp locations (Fenton's, Joaquin Miller, Peets, Oliveto) name dropped. I will give Chabon credit for accurately referencing the niche Rather Ripped Records, moreover the wonderful Neibyl-Proctor Marxist Library but crucial cultural East Bay locations were overlooked, unknown to Chabon or "quiche-ified".  For all his love of the land, Chabon simply does not know the old school East Bay despite what appears to have been some extensive research to appear so. Telegraph is his petri dish not his stomping grounds. 70s icons were also strip mined eg: "Bit O'Honey" a popular 70s candy bar becoming a Black dive bar while Minnie Ripperton's name is given to a corporate blimp "owned by the fifth richest Black man in America.". I also felt via the jazz and some of the cultural references that he was overlaying the East Coast onto the Bay.  Unlike Richard Linklater's coming of age cult film "Dazed and Confused", a 1976 story set in Texas, Chabon mistakenly takes his 70s and tries to place it where it simply does not fit. Linklater's 70s was very different than the Bay Area's but by staying on his own ground as an artist he made it work and the film was actually very popular in Northern California. Thus Chabon would have perhaps been better off setting a 70s/2004 story back East where HE came of age in Maryland or perhaps writing of a large progressive family of transplants living in Elmwood circa 2004.

(Hoppe's old Heidelberg and T-shirt Orgy on Telegraph Ave. circa 1983 by the wonderful Brett Hampton)

Towards the middle part of the book, the structure of the already tricky conversations gets unbearable when a community meeting and then a related conversation become nearly unreadable in prose. And in an attempt to describe every nuance (at this point from the perspective of a wonderful African parrot named "58"), Chabon OVER reaches and one is yearning for a James Joyce/Quantum Physics Sf State NEXA class taught in Krakow Poland for some structural simplicity. That is at least when the obvious attempts to write like and audition for Quentin Tarantino are not making you roll your eyes. Speaking of Tarantino, "Django Unchained" which was released  a few months after this book, smashes many of the stereotypes that Chabon seems to accept about Black culture. My personal belief is that if Chabon had seen Django prior to the final edit of Telegraph Avenue, the book would have been much different. For all the cultural free flow and urban speak, Telegraph Avenue reads like a white liberal's unintentional self congratulatory parody of the multi-cultural Bay Area or to paraphrase my GoodReads friend Stephanie "inner city tourism". The bizarre tourist trade at Harlem's Sunday church services that Slate Magazine and others have covered  seems an apt cultural companion to this book, which also borders on the white upper middle class racially fetishistic well meaning auto-pilot of what Jello Biafra termed "bragging that you know how the n******* feel cold, and the slums got so much soul". I know this all sounds harsh but this style of art is actually encouraged by the both the liberal and conservative msm. I don't think a major publisher would touch anything else.

(The original line up of the East Bay Space rock hard rock jazz funk fusion prog band, Automatic Man. Yes, they were all that and much more. 1976)

So yes, without a doubt, the saddest part of TA is Michael Chabon's attempt to write from a Black person's perspective. It reads like a huge unintentionally patronizing fail, not unlike "The Confessions of Nat Turner" by William Styron which was to paraphrase Paul Robeson, Jr., "a white liberal's distortion". A reader on Slate called 'Criminal Black Man' responding to the well written but 'Chabon biased' piece by Tanner Colby  put it this way:

"Michael Chabon and other white boys who think it is somehow unfair they don't get to talk dumbly about race is not a lack of sense, but of sensibility. They have sense enough to know, in a literary world largely oriented toward a white, female, middle-class readership, any book by a white person with a "racial" element will generate its own buzz." and "One thing White Supremacists have learned and taught the rest of us is that when push comes to shove, Blacks and Browns have an easier time fighting among themselves than fighting against the white power structure... Colby mentions Richard Price and George Pelecanos like they're the gay uncles who raised him and Chabon to be race-busting white literary heroes. Price and Pelecanos had a different relationship with Black people than just seeing them on the playground, or eating at their house that time. Price and Pelecanos actually lived with and more importantly, conflicted with, Black people in a real-world, real consequences social space."

 I don't care for addressing anyone as "white boys" but nonetheless , despite being harsh, the words are succinct, applicable, honest and they speak about the very issues that thwart Chabon's racist utopia from coming true.

(East Bay punk band "Special Forces." The lead singer Orlando X, worked at the pre-chain Rasputin's on Telegraph and was bit of an unapproachable snob-at least to starry eyed kids. The band is legend.)

I'm white, I'm Italian American with two Southern Italian parents which is a darker shade of pale and has occasionally not translated into what Benjamin Franklin called "lovely white" in the US. I grew up with a father heavily involved in the record and music industry  (much of it RnB, Acid Funk and Rock). He was a session engineer on Roy Ayers "Red, Black and Green" as well as the Super group album "GO" among countless other music industry related projects. He also worked at a local cable channel called "Teleprompter"  in Oakland alongside low budget community shows like Soul Beat. My stay at home artist mother attended art and sculpture classes at CAL. The area of the East Bay, close to Berkeley where I grew up was then very conservative and openly anti-Black so being bohemians, my anti-racist parents were not active in our immediate community. Our car was a wrecked jalopy, I had few clothes and bills were often paid by selling books and records on Telegraph. Both of my parents were from the East coast and left the 'unmeltable ethnic'  side of being second generation Italians behind. I was raised with zero religious indoctrination and all races and beliefs being equal similar to Chabon's racial Utopian ethos. When my parents split,  I spent four nightmarish years in a backwards low income rural California area where they lynched two Gay men who founded a local Farmer's Market and there is still Klan who torch synagogues. Many of the school teachers and admins were openly racist, religious fanatics who would have been Daily Mail homepage features circa 2013. The few Black people lived literally on the other side of the railroad tracks in a place called "the hole". I could not get out of that backwards area fast enough, even skipping graduation to head back to the Bay. In the 90s, alongside a multi-racial group of people, I co-founded a Bay Area based non profit 501c3 dedicated to keeping the history of Paul Robeson alive. I also started travelling to the UK yearly becoming an expat in 2008. Recently I've been doing the paperwork process to attain Italian citizenship. My experiences regarding race and class are unique even among the the most unique.

(King of Old School.  East Bay or Frisco, Bill Graham was and will always be the patron saint and the spirit of the Bay Area before the dot com invasion. You know that invasion that is making it possible for me to blog right now? Bill Graham January 8, 1931 – October 25, 1991)

Other than a few aspects of local jazz legend Cochise Jones, NONE of the Black characters in Telegraph Avenue felt authentic to me in fact they were the classic stereotypes designed to make US readers comfortable in their ignorance not only about race but about the Bay Area. Michael Chabon's misappropriation of Black Bay Area culture I found incredibly important in that it shows, even in 2013, that even anti-racist and intelligent progressives are reflexively prone to racial fetishism and mindbogglingly tired stereotypes. This includes, as aptly pointed out by Professor Mark A. Reid in "Paul Robeson: Artist and Citizen", ' ...the stereotypical response of blacks in horror films'. Archy becomes confused, irrational, unable to make few intellectual choices (or any at all) under pressure. There is also tardiness, the strong black woman, infidelity, homophobia, insolvency, felony criminal history, inarticulateness, overly ostentatious appearance, the over sexed Black buck, other woman Jezebel, dead beat dads, hair and nail obsession, filthy homes, body odor, animal negligence, speech affectations...pretty much every bad stereotype that exists of Blacks in film and popular culture, apart from "can they swim?" is found in kindly liberal Michael Chabon's book.

(Long before the alien bumperstickers. The first Automatic Man album. Music and art produced for Chris Blackwell's Island Records by my father who co wrote much of the songs, Cover and art painted by the late East Bay artist Dawin Zerio 1976)

It was odd to see educated people like Gwen and Archie acting "street" and unable to make sound, healthy decisions (eg: why would a nearly due pregnant woman abandon her home and comfort to sleep in a dank and dusty Kung Fu studio and leave her cheating husband with everything?) Whereas the white couple, Nate and his wife were very grounded, defiant and confident under stress, Archy and Gwen displayed an embarrassing lack of equanimity. Indolent Archy is intimidated into taking a ride in the big box big wig's luxury Zeppelin while Nate actually lets it go in a crazy act of drunk courage and heroic defiance. Nate stood up to authority while Archy wavered. Gwen displayed rage while Aviva stayed balanced.  When Gwen does finally focus and stand up for herself it is justifiably (but predictably) to sue over racist statements made by a white higher up at a local medical center. The decision making on her part takes pages and days.

(French fries are so much fun. Telegraph Avenue McDonalds. Still one of the relatively small number of major fast food chain restaurants in the greater North Oakland , Berkeley, Albany, Piedmont area.)

Julie wanted love while Titus clearly wanted sex and was mostly unable to express emotion. Black Titus augments his sexual experiences with homophobic slurs directed at both Julie and his parents, Nate and Aviva.  After being taken in by the Jaffe's , Titus is caught sneaking out at night and after a tense breakfast with Avia he agrees to follow the house rules and curfew. Upon doing so he then turns to Avia and states "Your boy's a little dick sucking faggot. Case you were wondering that ain't no lie." Her response is the accepting  "great way to build a foundation". In all his Bay Area reconnaissance and special ops research into candy bars and Star Trek terminology, Chabon forgot to talk to the kind of Bay Area mothers who actually would take a kid in off the street. Homophobic slurs in the breakfast nook over Entenmann's or La Farine would not be addressed with calm liberal adages. The only redeeming feature Titus is given by Chabon (are you ready for this?) is that he's always bathed, manicured, clean and well dressed! White Julie knows where his own personal sexuality falls and whom he is in love with though and the folks in the area know and accept that he's Gay. Yet with Titus' swaggering homophobia and closeted sexual acts with Julie always as the sub, Chabon dangerously implies that poor, at risk Black youth intrinsically lack the ability for self definition (sexually and other wise), confidence, evolved values, and the power to make personal choices beyond being semi-feral. This is a view also shared openly by Far Right, paleoconservative and Neo-Eugenics proponents such as American Renaissance founder Jared Taylor.  Chabon of course has the right (and apparently the carte blanche) to create whatever he wants and it is open to interpretation, I'm just shocked that so many people find accuracy in Chabon's prose and that he got it 'documentarily right' (Carolyn Kellog, Los Angeles Times) via the social realism in the book. In a media where saying the nword 45 years ago can bring down your TV show empire, no one in the msm has called Chabon, reputedly America's greatest living writer, on the bold racial nature of this one work. No one! Why?

     (Eat it. Promotional cakes from the official release party at Diesel books in Berkeley, California)

Yet it is Chabon himself who acknowledges this within the pages of this very book numerous times!! I feel like I'm late getting to the party and he realized what I did via this book ages ago. Is this an honest, brave move on his part? A way of saying "no more BS and skirting around race in post-Obama America"?  At one point towards the end, a Black character says something to the effect "you live a million dreams and they are all created by white people". This is a brilliant line but left unexplored. Or is Chabon's move just  "Uriah Heepish" ? "Just an 'umble observer/anthropologist trying to do me best sir, yer right white people, you can feel validated that you were correct all along about the ghetto and I'm humble enough to say we all shared in making this book happen, every color of the rainbow engages in this teachable moment..." Something in between perhaps? I'm not sure. Chabon has a sincere world vision of peace and racial harmony when you read his other works and the fail feels wholly unintentional but is that really excusable given how lionized he has become as a literary figure? This books seems to have pleased the msm/literary critics world which is almost 100% white. The only Black msm review I could find, Attica Locke, summed up the book in The Guardian with: "This is the Chabon I most recognize: writer as humanitarian." Chabon said afterwords to Spin that her "generous review" made him "really relieved." It would have been interesting to read other reviews by Black critics but they do not appear to exist in the msm or even the second tier. The only exception was Troy Patterson  reviewing for Slate who sums up my entire review in one sentence, writing that Chabon's "optimism about the human race proves mostly ingratiating and totally unsupportable in light of what we know about real-life humans." 

(The Hat. Alice Waters was yet to be a celebrity and stone fired pizza ovens were unknown when Straw Hat Pizza reigned over the East Bay alongside Lake Merritt's "Leaning Tower of Pizza") 

Of course when it comes to creating and writing Black characters well few white writers have the intrinsic empathy that Harper Lee (or even Quentin Tarantino) has. Both of the aforementioned artists were not from privilege whereas Chabon grew up from what I can see (regardless of any Bohemian aspects) solidly upper middle class. Ultimately it is Chabon's well off upbringing that by default cuts him off from truly understanding Oakland and the poorer side of Berkeley-not his race. Telegraph is partly "in the ghetto" to Chabon yet to most who grew up in Oakland,  lower Elmwood, Rockridge and Temescal were/are the very nice part of flatlands. Those areas are on the gradient away from East Oakland and West Oakland which are areas facing severe generational poverty and violent crime. Speaking of which "Dog Town", "Jingle Town" , "Ghost Town" etc those are all names dropped by transplants and were not in wide usage outside true Oaklanders until very recently. Even Glenview, Temescal, Maxwell Park and Millsmont all were unearthed and mainstreamed when the real estate bubble, and the transplant invasion occurred. "Adam's Point" is now known interchangeably as "Alice Arts" I'm now informed. The names grow more pretentious with each wave of transplants fooling themselves into thinking locals use these designations too.  One reader, dbrekke, remarking on the abysmally ignorant New Yorker piece by East Bay transplant  Matt Feeny summed up Chabon's class disconnect very clearly:

"Mr. Feeney, it's wonderful you're so taken with Oakland and write so warmly about it. It sounds like you've gotten an eyeful in Temescal and your lake neighborhood. Now, please go out and spend a few weeks hanging out at 82nd and International, and then tell us about the inspired work of God's diversity director. Get off of Lakeshore and Grand avenues and tour the flatland schools affluent Oaklanders shun, and tell us how segregation has been banished. Take a good hard look at where virtually all of the deadly violence that haunts the city is happening and who its victims are, then tell us again what civilization Oakland is ..."

Thus Chabon writing about Berkeley/Oakland is appears to be like that mechanic whom never owned a car.

             (The Temescal Area of Telegraph Avenue -Oakland side- by Joshua M. Moore)

And while his Telegraph Avenue has been described as "multi-cultural', this is erroneous as Chabon's TA is Black and White, not the very diverse, mixed area which it has been since about the mid 1960s. At about halfway through there is a 98 year old Chinese Martial arts instructor embarrassingly warmed over from a discarded Tarantino script who has appeared but her character like the two Hispanic characters and one Near East Asian Cabbie they are not explored in length. The Gay Julie and the Lesbian Kai are written as whiny submissives while the severely disabled man is viewed in complete contempt, not even given a name other than "Stephen Hawking voice box guy". Chabon's usage of what I'll call "Ebonics-lite" is embarrassing and coupled with his very weak grasp of Bay Area landmarks and history it is a bad combination. The 70s flashbacks are perhaps the most pallid, and incorrect in cultural literacy. He's an amazing when he writes about Jewish/European American culture via the character of Nate Jaffe (a transplant) and Aviva but the race of people East Bay born are beyond Chabon's reach and ability here.

(Fetishization? Homage? Both? The faux merchandise created by for the enhanced edition of Chabon's Telegraph Avenue by the brilliant artist Stainboy Reinel)

eg: Chabon has a Black home birth midwife yelling at a White doctor Lazar (named for the cult actor John Lazar perhaps?) in "Chimes Hospital" emergency room with a 'purple skittle on his butt' over the fact he thought the Ylang, ylang used in the home birth is "voodoo". Then the same doctor tells the mid wife "this is child birth it is not like conking your hair". A waiting room patient (presumable Black) lets out an "awww shit...." In reality Chimes was an old school community market on College and Keith (a pharmacy bearing the same name still exists a few minutes up the road at Alcatraz) which sat next to "Bizarre Bazaar" , the first and still the best semi-upscale vintage store the East Bay ever saw. Now Cactus Taqueria and Rockridge Flowers occupy the same space. I would put money on the fact that there are few to zero white MDs that know the term "conking your hair" unless they sat through multiple screenings of Spike Lee's Malcolm X.

(That screen could a tale unfold. The late great UC Theater on University. Words can't express how great this cinema was.)

And given all the loud "ghetto antics", Chabon would have you believe that East Bay Area circa 2004, was an episode of "Good Times" with loud choruses of Black voices shouting in unison "uh oh!" , "damn! she country y'all", and "oh yeah" emanating from unseen speaker boxes strategically placed throughout North Oakland. "Ibex faced" Ethiopian waitresses" administering blow jobs and quickies during the buffet hours was another cringe worthy fetish move as well. Kudos for anticipating the skittle(s) in a faux multi-cultural context though, that was a look into the future (though as the book was released post Trayvon Martin, I'm wondering who came first...) The pop culture outside of the splendid Jazz references feel off as well. Chabon appears to get Grady Tate, the Jazz and schoolhouse rock icon, confused with Grady WILSON, the character from "Sanford and Son" played by the late Whitman Mayo.

(Niebyl-Proctor Director Bob Patenaude and a fabulous friend at the Marxist library's reading room, Telegraph Ave)

The positive sides are that Chabon did get the Bay Area weather, the Emeryville docks, a safe house, the Port Chicago Disaster and even cooking put down on page very well and the musical references are smart though (once again) 95% of the tracks were not hugely popular in Oakland and Berkeley during the time period mentioned outside of jazz snob OCD vinyl purists. Traditionally were no proper Jazz-centric areas of the East Bay and nor was there a jazz scene  (Scott Amendola and other musicians making the SF/Bay Area their new home have worked to change all that though in recent years). Eventually towards the last third, the novel's structure steadily improves, you get used to the tired played out racial kitsch and the plot picks up with the music of Carole King's "Too Late"- a classic Bay Area theme if there ever was one. The prose becomes more fluid and the characters are finally fun and not baffling. Though I did have to ask myself if my attitude softened because the end was near.

(His soul goes marching on. Paul Robeson sings the National Anthem at the Oakland docks)

Finally I believe Ken Russell, having been given this book to create a treatment, would have done a huge evisceration of the tired racial and cultural imagery to create a musical screenplay very similar to his version of The Who's rock opera "Tommy"-that is if he had decided to touch it in the first place. For a screenplay, cutting through the pseudo realism dressed as social criticism in an urban setting with thick prose would be a battle for certain for a artist who felt that there was "simply too much reality about." And, lest we forget, this is a director who gave Tina Turner a sentient cinematic moment as a Black female artist via The Acid Queen in "Tommy" which out does anything the Blaxplotation film stars Luther Stallings or Valetta were given as characters/caricatures by Chabon. Tina Turner, in the middle of  "The Sounder 70s"  and serious works like Roots, was colour saturated velvet camp and rock goddess incarnate. Exultation not exploitation.

(After school. Before Whole Foods and  taro root chips. Before organic corn, oven baked fries and childhood obesity, Bay Area kids ate BBQ tortilla chips by the bag from the local Granny Goose or Laura Scudders factory)

And Ken would have made many people angry by showing the shallowness of romanticizing the ghetto, playing the whole thing as a send up but he also would have created a beautiful, magical view through the parrot and the eyes of teenage boys for certain (few directors have understood and treated with decency GLBT characters like Ken Russell has) and perhaps (sin of sins) swapped the jazz for classical. The talented Cameron Crowe is reportedly slated to helm the film which is worrisome as he's kept his films even more lily white than Woody Allen, with "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" being the most glaring (and once again) unintentional example. After the racial rainbow world of the 1970s, Crowe  (along with John Hughes)  ushered in the teen film genre into the 'mighty whitey plastic' 80s with a clear message: "teens are now segregated again- even musically. Blacks like soul and are poor. Whites like rock and are middle class." I truly believe as a film, that Telegraph Avenue should only be done as a musical. Ideally with a preview onstage in London's West End , a full book etc first and ideally not directed by Cameron Crowe.

(Tina Turner as The Acid Queen in Ken Russell's film of TOMMY)

Ken Russell I'm certain would agree that one can be inspired by a work of art by wanting to point out its obvious inaccuracies (in this case about Bay Area race and culture). Ken sought that out via harpooning Richard Strauss, the Catholic Church and the dangerous precedent of romantic hooker movies like 'Pretty Woman."  An artist's bio film on Chabon by Ken would have been something to see as well and certainly as interesting as any of his books. Chabon has a great deal to give to the world. And if a book or film inspires outrage instead of indifference then it has at least something important going on and Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon is important.  It will be wonderful to do a reading group with other Bay Area natives and some North Bay friends including one pal Cliff whom is not only Black but ran a record store. I hope to come back to this and reread it at some point, perhaps trying to harder to seek out Chabon's optimism which was lost on me.
(Angel's Flight Chic. Handsome author Michael Chabon in a 1970s style shirt)

Again, if this was not lauded as social lit it would be a different case but not one literary reviewer found fault with this work and that is not healthy in a so called post racial media where an attorney general asks for the ability to speak honestly about race. Chabon is an amazing writer but in this book he's all skill and no authenticity (remember there are many opera singers but only one Tom Waits). And I do hope that one day a true Bay Area born native nails a book about the area pre and, letting the literary world truly see what an amazing place it was and in some ways will always be. As long as native Bay Area torch bearers remain stalwart as to ward off erroneous and kitschy assumptions about East Bay history and culture that starry eyed transplants like Michael Chabon tend to bring with them (alongside crippling rents and housing prices) Telegraph Avenue will always stay hella real and on the good foot.

(Pre-Tazo Tea. Old school cooler, East Bay style.)

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Reject the agenda, we can knit: A look at 18 US MSM reviewers and literary elites who gave Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue FOUR to FIVE STARS

Here are the major mainstream media and literary elite who reviewed Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue, a novel that deals with race and class in graphic detail and who are quoted by his publisher. Here is an honest look at the Micahel Chabon's Telegraph Avenue and an honest look at race that everyone in the states keeps talking about. It will make you uncomfortable. You can find each name of each reviewer by back clicking on the photo. Other than Troy Paterson, Attica Locke (a UK review) and  Michiko Kakutani, the most important book of fiction  about race and the US Black community written in the past decades was reviewed exclusively by white people. Why?

I enjoyed many of the reviews that the critics wrote for this well written, important but deeply flawed book despite finding appalling racial stereotypes within much of the content. Though Michael Chabon seems to welcome an American landscape where race is looked at honestly and with shared respect and community, few of these reviewers were willing to do so and almost none of them mentioned race and class other than to dance around it or distance themselves (and Chabon). The book was giving overwhelmingly 4-5 star reviews with almost no hard look at the incendiary content and appalling racial stereotypes.

Chabon's wife Aylet Waldman, in an unproductive Twitter exchange we had, mentioned "that he was praised by Black critics for writing about race" yet I was only able to find Attica Locke's enjoyable but overwhelming one sided review. Troy Patterson has been quoted as reviewing the book "positively" but his ultimate summation of the book was closer to a kinder version of mine when he wrote:

"The book’s naive outlook is at odds with its sophisticated verbal surface. Chabon has often been a softie; here, his chin-up optimism about the human race proves mostly ingratiating and totally unsupportable in light of what we know about real-life humans. His heart bleeds where you might want him to get some bile up; the man is too nice to attempt anything on the order of social satire. This is the opposite of a Tom Wolfe novel; the most Chabon will do is gently tease the local organic elite, describing a birth where the floor of a canyon home is covered in a Frida Kahlo shower curtain." 

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