Telegram from Elvis and The Colonel, February 1964


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Review: Spa Night (2016)


A gentle and slow and repressed “coming out but not really” story, taking place in the Koreatown neighborhood in Los Angeles. A first feature. Pacing-wise and story-wise, it has a couple of issues, but in general it’s a good film and extremely personal.

My review of Spa Night is now up at

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Every Week Is “Elvis Week” Around Here


He was “Touched.” Or, as Lester Bangs wrote: “The only credible explanation is that Elvis was from another planet.”

One of a kind.

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“I knew there was something I was never gonna see again.” – Bill Murray on why he went to Elvis’ funeral

Bill Murray crashing Elvis’ funeral, August 16, 1977

There’s no video, but here’s the audio of Murray telling David Letterman the story:

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Saying Good-Bye to Elvis


Graceland at sunset, 2013, on Elvis’ birthday. Taken by yours truly.

Where Were You When Elvis Died?
by Lester Bangs
The Village Voice, 29 August 1977

Where were you when Elvis died? What were you doing and what did it give you an excuse to do with the rest of your day? That’s what we’ll be talking about in the future when we remember this grand occasion. Like Pearl Harbor or JFK’s assassination, it boiled down to individual reminiscences, which is perhaps as it should be, because in spite of his greatness, etc., etc., Elvis had left us each alone as he was; I mean, he wasn’t exactly a Man of the People anymore, if you get my drift. If you don’t I will drift even further, away from Elvis into contemplation of why all our public heroes seem to reinforce our own solitude.

The ultimate sin of any performer is contempt for the audience. Those who indulge in it will ultimately reap the scorn of those they’ve dumped on, whether they live forever like Andy Paleface Warhol or die fashionably early like Lenny Bruce, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday. The two things that distinguish those deaths from Elvis’s (he and they having drug habits vaguely in common) were that all of them died on the outside looking in and none of them took their audience for granted. Which is why it’s just a little bit harder for me to see Elvis as a tragic figure; I see him as being more like the Pentagon, a giant armored institution nobody knows anything about except that its power is legendary.

Obviously we all liked Elvis better than the Pentagon, but look at what a paltry statement that is. In the end, Elvis’s scorn for his fans as manifested in “new” albums full of previously released material and one new song to make sure all us suckers would buy it was mirrored in the scorn we all secretly or not so secretly felt for a man who came closer to godhood than Carlos Castaneda until military conscription tamed and revealed him for the dumb lackey he always was in the first place. And ever since, for almost two decades now, we’ve been waiting for him to get wild again, fools that we are, and he probably knew better than any of us in his heart of hearts that it was never gonna happen again, his heart of hearts so obviously not being our collective heart of hearts, he being so obviously just some poor dumb Southern boy with a Big Daddy manager to screen the world for him and filter out anything which might erode his status as big strapping baby bringing home the bucks, and finally being sort of perversely celebrated at least by rock critics for his utter contempt for whoever cared about him.

And Elvis was perverse; only a true pervert could put out something like “Having Fun with Elvis On Stage”, that album released three or so years back which consisted entirely of between-song onstage patter so redundant it would make both Willy Burroughs and Gert Stein blush. Elvis was into marketing boredom when Andy Warhol was still doing shoe ads, but Elvis’s sin was his failure to realize that his fans were not perverse – they loved him without qualification, no matter what he dumped on them they loyally lapped it up, and that’s why I feel a hell of a lot sorrier for all those poor jerks than for Elvis himself. I mean, who’s left they can stand all night in the rain for? Nobody, and the true tragedy is the tragedy of an entire generation which refuses to give up its adolescence even as it feels its menopausal paunch begin to blossom and its hair recede over the horizon – along with Elvis and everything else they once thought they believed in. Will they care in five years what he’s been doing for the last twenty?

Sure, Elvis’s death is a relatively minor ironic variant on the future-shock mazurka, and perhaps the most significant thing about Elvis’s exit is that the entire history of the seventies has been retreads and brutal demystification; three of Elvis’s ex-bodyguards recently got together with this hacker from the New York Post and whipped up a book which dosed us with all the dirt we’d yearned for for so long. Elvis was the last of our sacred cows to be publicly mutilated; everybody knows Keith Richard likes his junk, but when Elvis went onstage in a stupor nobody breathed a hint of “Quaalude….” In a way, this was both good and bad, good because Elvis wasn’t encouraging other people to think it was cool to be a walking Physicians’ Desk Reference, bad because Elvis stood for that Nixonian Secrecy-as-Virtue which was passed off as the essence of Americanism for a few years there. In a sense he could be seen not only as a phenomenon that exploded in the fifties to help shape the psychic jailbreak of the sixties but ultimately as a perfect cultural expression of what the Nixon years were all about. Not that he prospered more then, but that his passion for the privacy of potentates allowed him to get away with almost literal murder, certainly with the symbolic rape of his fans, meaning that we might all do better to think about waving good-bye with one upraised finger.

I got the news of Elvis’s death while drinking beer with a friend and fellow music journalist on his fire escape on 21st Street in Chelsea. Chelsea is a good neighborhood; in spite of the fact that the insane woman who lives upstairs keeps him awake all night every night with her rants at no one, my friend stays there because he likes the sense of community within diversity in that neighborhood: old-time card-carrying Communists live in his building alongside people of every persuasion popularly lumped as “ethnic.” When we heard about Elvis we knew a wake was in order, so I went out to the deli for a case of beer. As I left the building I passed some Latin guys hanging out by the front door. “Heard the news? Elvis is dead!” I told them. They looked at me with contemptuous indifference. So What. Maybe if I had told them Donna Summer was dead I might have gotten a reaction; I do recall walking in this neighborhood wearing a T-shirt that said “Disco Sucks” with a vast unamused muttering in my wake, which only goes to show that not for everyone was Elvis the still-reigning King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, in fact not for everyone is rock ‘n’ roll the still-reigning music. By now, each citizen has found his own little obsessive corner to blast his brain in: as the sixties were supremely narcissistic, solipsism’s what the seventies have been about, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the world of “pop” music. And Elvis may have been the greatest solipsist of all.

I asked for two six-packs at the deli and told the guy behind the counter the news. He looked fifty years old, greying, big belly, life still in his eyes, and he said: “Shit, that’s too bad. I guess our only hope now is if the Beatles get back together.”

Fifty years old.

I told him I thought that would be the biggest anticlimax in history and that the best thing the Stones could do now would be to break up and spare us all further embarrassments.

He laughed, and gave me directions to a meat market down the street. There I asked the counterman the same question I had been asking everyone. He was in his fifties too, and he said, “You know what? I don’t care that bastard’s dead. I took my wife to see him in Vegas in ’73, we paid fourteen dollars a ticket, and he came out and sang for twenty minutes. Then he fell down. Then he stood up and sang a couple more songs, then he fell down again. Finally he said, ‘well, shit, I might as well sing sitting as standing.’ So he squatted on the stage and asked the band what song they wanted to do next, but before they could answer he was complaining about the lights. ‘They’re too bright,’ he says. ‘They hurt my eyes. Put ’em out or I don’t sing a note.’ So they do. So me and my wife are sitting in total blackness listening to this guy sing songs we knew and loved, and I ain’t just talking about his old goddam songs, but he totally butchered all of ’em. Fuck him. I’m not saying I’m glad he’s dead, but I know one thing: I got taken when I went to see Elvis Presley.”

I got taken too the one time I saw Elvis, but in a totally different way. It was the autumn of 1971, and two tickets to an Elvis show turned up at the offices of Creem magazine, where I was then employed. It was decided that those staff members who had never had the privilege of witnessing Elvis should get the tickets, which was how me and art director Charlie Auringer ended up in nearly the front row of the biggest arena in Detroit. Earlier Charlie had said, “Do you realize how much we could get if we sold these fucking things?” I didn’t, but how precious they were became totally clear the instant Elvis sauntered onto the stage. He was the only male performer I have ever seen to whom I responded sexually; it wasn’t real arousal, rather an erection of the heart, when I looked at him I went mad with desire and envy and worship and self-projection. I mean, Mick Jagger, whom I saw as far back as 1964 and twice in ’65, never even came close.

There was Elvis, dressed up in this ridiculous white suit which looked like some studded Arthurian castle, and he was too fat, and the buckle on his belt was as big as your head except that your head is not made of solid gold, and any lesser man would have been the spittin’ image of a Neil Diamond damfool in such a getup, but on Elvis it fit. What didn’t? No matter how lousy his records ever got, no matter how intently he pursued mediocrity, there was still some hint, some flash left over from the days when…well, I wasn’t there, so I won’t presume to comment. But I will say this: Elvis Presley was the man who brought overt blatant vulgar sexual frenzy to the popular arts in America (and thereby to the nation itself, since putting “popular arts” and “America” in the same sentence seems almost redundant). It has been said that he was the first white to sing like a black person, which is untrue in terms of hard facts but totally true in terms of cultural impact. But what’s more crucial is that when Elvis started wiggling his hips and Ed Sullivan refused to show it, the entire country went into a paroxysm of sexual frustration leading to abiding discontent which culminated in the explosion of psychedelic-militant folklore which was the sixties.

I mean, don’t tell me about Lenny Bruce, man – Lenny Bruce said dirty words in public and obtained a kind of consensual martyrdom. Plus which Lenny Bruce was hip, too goddam hip if you ask me, which was his undoing, whereas Elvis was not hip at all, Elvis was a goddam truck driver who worshipped his mother and would never say shit or fuck around her, and Elvis alerted America to the fact that it had a groin with imperatives that had been stifled. Lenny Bruce demonstrated how far you could push a society as repressed as ours and how much you could get away with, but Elvis kicked “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” out the window and replaced it with “Let’s fuck.” The rest of us are still reeling from the impact. Sexual chaos reigns currently, but out of chaos may flow true understanding and harmony, and either way Elvis almost singlehandedly opened the floodgates. That night in Detroit, a night I will never forget, he had but to ever so slightly move one shoulder muscle, not even a shrug, and the girls in the gallery hit by its ray screamed, fainted, howled in heat. Literally, every time this man moved any part of his body the slightest centimeter, tens or tens of thousands of people went berserk. Not Sinatra, not Jagger, not the Beatles, nobody you can come up with ever elicited such hysteria among so many. And this after a decade and a half of crappy records, of making a point of not trying.

If love truly is going out of fashion forever, which I do not believe, then along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each others’ objects of reverence. I thought it was Iggy Stooge, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation’s many pains and few ecstasies. We will continue to fragment in this manner, because solipsism holds all the cards at present; it is a king whose domain engulfs even Elvis’s. But I can guarantee you one thing: we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.


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Eric Church and Lzzy Hale: Artistic Appreciation


I love Eric Church. I got into him after I heard his epic 8-minute rant about Nashville.

Clearly he’s a huge star. But I love the performance below especially because of that thing that Mitchell and I talk about so much: artistic appreciation. When an artist looks at another artist and acknowledges that what they bring to the table is beautiful, unique, appreciated. You can see it when Judy Garland had the teenage Barbra Streisand on her show to sing a series of duets. It was Judy Garland explicitly passing a torch. And DURING those duets, Barbra will do certain things with her voice, flourishes, or a huge soaring belt, and you can SEE Judy go, “My God, this girl. This GIRL.” These moments are extremely moving to Mitchell and I and we hoard them like jewels.

In the clip below, Church performs his song “That’s Damn Rock ‘n’ Roll.” and brings Lzzy Hale onstage with him, to duet with him, on guitar and vocals. His recorded version is great, and yet another “statement of intentions” from him, similar to his Nashville rant where he compares Nashville to a “devil” and a “whore”. He connects himself and the kind of music he loves to country/rock’s earliest days, or at least sweeps away what he sees as the corporatization of contemporary country. In the song, he reiterates the anti-establishment mindset from whence it all came. None of this “butterfly kisses” goody-goody shit. (His attitude is reminiscent of Waylon’s great song “Are you Sure Old Hank Done It This Way?” – a similar critique of what the hell happened to country music, when did it become so safe? Waylon HAD to label himself an “outlaw” just to get free of all the bullshit.) Church’s stuff has a harder more metal-ish grind than a lot of contemporary country songs (he loves Metallica, AC/DC, etc.) He doesn’t pretend to be an aw-shucks country boy, one of the “personae” that Nashville still loves. He loves his home state (North Carolina) and there’s plenty of nostalgia for a simple life and for kicking back watching football, etc., but that’s certainly not just a country thing. He’s the kind of country boy who gets in bar fights, is a hound-dog, who battles personal demons of addiction and rage (he’s open about all of those things in his songs). I mean, he’s all settled down now, married, with two sons (one is named Boone McCoy and the other one is named Tennessee Hawkins. I mean, come on. Those names are COUNTRY.) But this guy has been to the shit and back. He’s also an open pothead. He’s got a tough TRUCKER’S vibe, as opposed to a “goin’ fishin’ after church” vibe (I’m being mean to contemporary country: I know there’s a lot of other great stuff happening), and all that Utopia nonsense so common in bad country music. “That’s Damn Rock ‘n’ Roll” brings up the whole history of music, its demons, mourning Hendrix and Joplin, looking back on what it came out of: REBELLION – and re-stating what rock ‘n’ roll really is, and it’s sure as hell not something created by a corporation via T-shirts. It’s a “hip-shaking devil on a stage in Tupelo.” (Church references Elvis all the time.)

In this performance on a gigantic stage, he has Lzzy Hale join him onstage. She’s not a “name.” It’s not like he has Miranda Lambert join him, or one of the other giant-esses of country music.

And Lzzy Hale takes OVER. She makes Eric Church look like a backup singer. And he LOVES it. She obliterates the original, making you realize that THIS is how the song should sound. (Similar to some of Ray Charles’ or Nina Simone’s covers.)

But what I love here most of all is HIM. Watch him. Because he knows that what she’s doing is how the song sounds in his head, and he was smart enough to bring her on to pump it up a notch. She makes him work harder (and Eric Church already works hard). But watch how she winds him up, purely on the force of what she is doing. He doesn’t make the mistake of trying to compete. He’s just trying to keep up. And in the meantime: he gives the song to her, HIS song. Throughout the performance, his whole focus is on her. You can see him watching her the whole time, blown away by what she is doing.

There are moments, I imagine, when even huge stars have the realization that “Holy shit, people know the lyrics that I wrote in my bedroom, and what the hell, remember when I had jack-squat in life, and now … wait, what?? this is SO COOL …”

That’s what Eric Church looks like. “THIS IS SO COOL. THIS IS THE COOLEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME.” He can’t BELIEVE what she is doing, and he bows to her at the end, a heartfelt gesture saying “thank you I am not worthy thank you for loving this song and doing what you just did.”

Side note: I’m not ashamed to admit I “ship” these two. Because why wouldn’t I. Look at them together.

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Happy Birthday, Alfred Hitchcock

PETER BOGDANOVICH: But you never watch your films with an audience – don’t you miss hearing them scream?

ALFRED HITCHCOCK: No. I can hear them when I’m making the picture.

Hitchcock and Cary Grant

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Review: Disorder (2016)


Apparently, it’s Matthias Schoenaerts Week on my blog.

Alice Winocour directs. Disorder is a thriller but it’s more a psychological study of one PTSD-traumatized man, played by Matthias Schoenaerts. Highly recommended.

My review of Disorder is now up at

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God Help Me, I’ve Discovered the Prisma App



I can’t stop. I don’t have time for this.

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Interview with Alice Winocour, director of Disorder

Diane Kruger, Matthias Schoenaerts, “Disorder,” opening today

My review of Disorder, starring Matthias Schoenaerts as Vincent, a PTSD-traumatized soldier home from Afghanistan, and Diane Kruger, wife of a shady businessman Vincent is hired to guard, goes up today on It’s great. Loved/drank up every second. Alice Winocour is a bit of a phenom. Last year, she co-wrote the extraordinary Mustang (thoughts here), about 5 Turkish sisters, who are all imprisoned in their home – literally – the second they hit puberty. Now comes Disorder, a sexy genre film, a thriller. Go, Winocour. For all the complaining about women not directing blockbusters – I mean, I get it, if a woman WANTS to go that route, then I hope things change enough that she gets that opportunity – but in my opinion the value system that creates that kind of complaining is all fucked up. It’s such an absorption of capitalist obsession with monetary success. I want women to have the same opportunities as men. But to assume that directing a blockbuster, a comic book movie, a superhero movie, is the MEASURE of success is PART of the problem in the film industry today. It actually makes me sick. I don’t want women to be blocked because of their sex for any kind of project they want to do. But I would prefer women to make their OWN films, to join the ranks of auteurs who write/direct projects they feel passionately about. Who tell their stories from their own perspectives. I want more films like Meadowland (my Tribeca review here, and my interview with director AND cinematographer Reed Morano here). And Dog Fight (Matt Zoller Seitz and I discuss Dogfight here). And Outrage (thoughts here). And Fish Tank. And Selma. And By the Sea (I think I covered my feelings about that film here and here.) And Jeanne Dielman (although, let’s admit that that film – and Chantal Akerman – is one of a kind). We don’t need more comic book movies. We need more movies about the full spectrum of human experience. Lecture over.

So Winocour is actually doing it. From Mustangs to Disorder? She’s AMAZING.

As I said, my review will go up today. The film opens today in New York, with a wider nationwide release to follow. I saw it a couple of weeks ago and I am going to see it again tomorrow. The final moment. My God, the final moment!

In the meantime, here is an interview with Winocour over on, that gives a good glimpse of Winocour’s smarts and interests, her talent and sensitivity, what kinds of stories she is interested in. (Some mild spoiler-ish comments about certain scenes. So know that going in.)


Winocour says, of the film:

For this one, I was thinking about dark romanticism as well because it is a kind of dark love story. I can say that what is similar is that Vincent is a kind of male hysteric. What is really my fascination is what happens when there are no words to express your desire or your pain or your trauma and it is the body that is talking. You have this body that it screaming. I think I am fascinated by traumatized bodies.

A “male hysteric.” I like it.

Here’s the full interview:

Traumatized Bodies: Alice Winocour on Disorder.

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