Thursday, April 28, 2011


I was born in Rochester, New York in 1956, where my mother was from. As a baby my father landed a job teaching at the University of Tulsa. So I spent most of the first  23 years of my life living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

I attended art school at TU from 1974 -1978 and it was at this time that I heard of the book TULSA by the photographer Larry Clark. The book had been published in 1971 and had a controversial reputation as an underground classic, but it had gone out of print. When I went to graduate school at Ohio University in 1981, I discovered a slide library of the whole book and it gave me a chance to take a look at all of the images. When I moved to New York in 1984, I found a newly released second edition in a bookstore in the Village that was signed by Clark. Being the romantic that I was at that time, I gave it to a girlfriend who was a photographer at OU. Several years later another edition was made and I finally obtained my own copy.

TULSA was published by Lustrum Press in 1971. The images in the book were taken in three periods between 1963 and 1971. It used the documentary style and narrative sequencing of a Life magazine photo essay with stunning intimacy and an intense emotional power. Clark took photographs of friends and the people he hung out with depicting scenes of young people having sex, shooting up drugs, and messing around with guns, and moves through the themes of addiction, abuse, and death. The graphic and controversial subject matter created a subjective autobiography of Clark's life.

Clark didn't take the photographs from the outside as a voyeur, but as a participant in the situations. He did drugs with the other characters in the book, slept with them, and included himself in the photographs. Some reviewers saw this as innovative and honest, while others criticized it for exploiting the dark aspect of the subjects lives. Clark focused on the subculture that he was a part of and in the end created a harrowing and powerful portrait of the evolution from youth to young adulthood.

The book is made up of around 50 black and white images and Clark used bleach and a lot of burning and dodging in the darkroom to create the stark, high contrast photographs.

A young man sits on a bed holding a gun on the cover. After the title page the book opens with black text on white.

i was born in tulsa, oklahoma in 1943. when i was sixteen i started shooting amphetamine. i shot with my friends everyday for three years and then left town but i've gone back through the years. once the needle goes in it never comes out. 


Next comes an intro to the characters David Roper and Billy Mann in 1963, followed by 4 other images of young men. In all of the shots the subjects are framed by shadows, mirrors, broken glass, and rain-smeared car windows. Their faces fall into the shadows.

This is followed by three shots of Roper. One in a house with Jesus on the wall, and two others show him with a hunting rifle in nature where he seems to still be alive and innocent. 

The next few pages shows people shooting drugs and depicts the anguish starting to enter their lives. Then we see Roper shooting up and his transition begins. There are images of the women in their lives and a stunning image of a downview of a young man (Billy Mann) in bed smoking with a baby staring into the camera. On the other page the mother looks worn out. Under her picture it reads "dead." 

There are also frames of motion picture film montaged into single images of drug taking, popping veins, and men arguing.

The next page reads: death is more perfect than life

Across is the cover image of the young man (Billy Mann) with the gun and underneath the photo it reads "dead 1970"

Now it is 1971 and we see a changed David Roper no longer innocent. Long hair, cigarettes, racist notes for the hated cops, an American flag behind him pointing a gun. Another man with a gun who accidentally shoots himself. The women are abused by the men. Another powerful photo of Roper putting a spike into the arm of a young woman.

And then against a white page a young pregnant woman shooting up. Another white page and we're at a funeral. Another white page and we see the baby dead in the coffin. This sequence of beautiful yet disturbing images is mystical and at the same time a punch in the gut.

Next a police informer gets his ass kicked. "Every time I see you punk you are going to get the same."

Then we see Clark high and shooting up with younger people as if this way of life is being passed down to the young followers.

Tulsa is a harrowing book of images depicting a world of aimless, addicted, and lost souls. It set the groundwork for the subjective, autobiographical work that would follow by such photographers as Nan Goldin, Sally Mann, and Ryan McGinley.

Twelve years later Clark released his second book Teenage Lust that was also largely autobiographical, but not in a conventional sense. It includes early family photos, his move to New York City, a quest for a utopian hippie life in New Mexico, and concludes with a series of portraits of young male hustlers in Times Square. It is more experimental and explicit than Tulsa. There is also text in the book written by Clark that details his life including his incarceration at Mcalester State Prison in Oklahoma in the 70s. In both Tulsa and Teenage Lust there is an obsession with the care-free and self-destructive aspect of the teen years and young adulthood. This theme would continue through Clark's work in film as well.

Clark's first major film was Kids that was released in 1995. The film centers around a day in the life of a group of NY teens who have an unrestrained approach to sex and drug abuse in the age of AIDS. It was the first film for the actresses Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, and was written by Harmony Korine. 

Next came Another Day In Paradise (1998) which was a bigger Hollywood production and starred James Woods and Melanie Griffith. The film is about a young couple who are taken in by an older couple into a world of drugs, crime, and violence. Both films have great images in a hand-held moving in and out of focus style, and a great use of music.

Bully came out in 2001, and is based on a true story about a group of kids in Florida who murder one of their own because he is an asshole. It is full of Clark's trademark themes of the destructive quality of the dysfunctional family, male identity and the roots of violence, mass media's influence on social behavior, and the construction of identity and sexuality in adolescence.

Ken Park was made in 2002 is more sexually and violently graphic film than Kids, and includes a scene of autoerotic asphyxiation and ejaculation by supposedly underage characters. The film revolves around  the abusive home lives of several teenage skateboarders and their friends. It too was written by Harmony Korine and co-directed with the great cinematographer Ed Lachman. Ken Park is a difficult film to see in the US because of its controversial content.

Larry Clark continues to make films and have gallery exhibitions. He was given a major retrospective at the International Center of Photography in 2005.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


After the Beatles hit America on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, the next band that made a huge impact was The Rolling Stones. They had a rawer and tougher look than the Beatles and were influenced by primitive blues typified by Chess Records' artists such as Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters. 

The Rolling Stones consisted of Mick Jagger on vocals and harmonica, Keith Richards on guitar, Brian Jones on various instruments, Bill Wyman on bass, and Charlie Watts on drums.

They developed a sound that was gritty and hard-driving but their early work was mostly covers of songs written by their influences. The Stones first single was a cover of Chuck Berry's Come On that was released in June 1963. Their second single was I Wanna Be Your Man penned by Lennon and McCartney. The third single released was Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away. 

Their early albums The Rolling Stones, The Rolling Stones 2, The Rolling Stones Now!, and 12 x 5 were excellent collections of these covers of dirty blues. Their manager and producer Andrew Oldham felt they needed to write their own songs as well and so Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, along with Brian Jones started to do so. The first single released that was penned by Jagger and Richards was Heart of Stone which was backed by their song What A Shame. Their first number 1 hit that they wrote was The Last Time which came out in February 1965.

The song that really vaulted them into the limelight was the international hit (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction which was recorded in May 1965. It appeared on the album Out of Our Heads which contained six songs written by Jagger and Richards including the excellent ballad Play With Fire. Satisfaction is one of the greatest rock songs ever and is known for Richard's fuzzbox guitar riff that makes it sound like a saxophone. 

Over the next several years the Stones would produce their finest work. The next release in America was the album December's Children. This album contained the hit Get Off of My Cloud and the ballad As Tears Go By.

Aftermath was released in 1966, and was the Stones first album where all of the songs were written by the band and further defined the group as rock & roll's bad boys. The album had some excellent songs that also pushed the boundaries of what the band was doing musically. Brian Jones made some interesting contributions by adding sitar to the Middle Eastern influenced Paint It Black, dulcimer on the ballad Lady Jane, and a wonderful use of the marimbas on Under My Thumb. Aftermath is also notable for the 11 minute extended jam Goin' Home.

1966 was a major year for the Stones with the release of the singles 19th Nervous Breakdown and Mother's Little Helper which addressed the abuse of prescription drugs. Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow? also came out in 1966 and was the first Stones release to feature brass horns.

Between The Buttons came out in 1967 and the US version included the singles Let's Spend The Night Together and Ruby Tuesday. When the band played Let's Spend The Night Together on Ed Sullivan the lyrics had to be changed to Let's Spend Some Time Together.

Jagger, Richards, and Jones started to be hounded by authorities over their drug use in 1967 leading to charges being filed against Jagger and Richards after the raid of a party at Richard's home. Jones' house was also raided and he was charged with possession of cannabis. Also during this period while awaiting trial the three of them took a trip to Morocco accompanied by Marianne Faithful and Jones' girlfriend Anita Pallenberg. Jones and Pallenberg were having trouble and Pallenberg ended up leaving with Richards which led to a long-term relationship between them, but also created a huge divide between Richards and Jones.

Their Satanic Majesties Request came out in December 1967 and was the Stones psychedelic album closely following Sgt. Pepper's by The Beatles. The cover was photographed by the same photographer, Michael Cooper, who did the Beatles groundbreaking work. The album used inventive arrangements which incorporated African rhythms, Mellotrons, and full orchestration. It included the notable songs She's A Rainbow and 2000 Light Years From Home.

In 1968, The Stones started working on their next material and the single Jumpin' Jack Flash was released. Later that year the album Beggar's Banquet came out and included the songs Street Fightin' Man and Sympathy For The Devil. Richards remarked about the dark and angry quality of the album saying he was sick of all the Maharishi guru shit and beads and bells and the music was a reaction with a strong dose of reality. His stint in jail had given him room for thought.

The end of 1968 saw the filming of The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus featuring John Lennon, Yoko Ono, The Who, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithfull and Taj Mahal. The footage wasn't released until 1996.

Brian Jones had become increasingly troubled and wasn't making much of a contribution to the band. His drug use had become a hindrance and he wasn't able to go on the road, so the band decided to cut him loose - he could say he left but could come back when he was ready. He was replaced by Mick Taylor who was only 20 years old at the time. Less than a month later Jones was found dead in his swimming pool at his home in Sussex.

The Stones were scheduled to play a concert in Hyde Park on the next day and decided to go through with it as a tribute to Jones. It was their first performance with Mick Taylor and was before 250,000 people. It also featured the first live performance of Honky Tonk Women.

Let It Bleed came out in 1969 and is probably my favorite Rolling Stones album. It included the monumental track Gimme Shelter which packs a huge emotional impact. The album also includes You Can't Always Get What You Want and Midnight Rambler as well as a cover of Robert Johnson's  Love In Vain.

Many of the songs from Let It Bleed were performed on the 1969 US tour which culminated with the Altamont concert that had the Hells Angels providing security and resulted in the stabbing and beating death of Meredith Hunter. Part of the tour and the concert were documented by the Maysles Brother's film Gimme Shelter and also lead to a release of the excellent live album Get Yer Ya-Yas Out! in 1970.

Sticky Fingers came out in 1971, and was the first Stones record on their own label. It included many great songs including Brown Sugar, Can't You Hear Me Knocking, and the country influenced Wild Horses and Dead Flowers. The cover of the jeans and zipper was designed by Andy Warhol.

Following the release of Sticky Fingers the Stones left England for financial and tax reasons and moved to the south of France. Richards rented a villa and rented rooms to band members and entourage and they started recording in the basement. These sessions resulted in what I feel is their last great album Exile On Main Street. Exile was a double album and returned to a more blues based raw sound and was littered with killer tunes including Rocks Off, Rip This Joint, Tumbling Dice, and Stop Breaking Down.

Mick Taylor left after a couple more albums and was replaced by Ron Wood. The Stones released several other albums over the years and still play live periodically. While the later work is not as strong as the period from the 60s to the early 70s, they still produced some excellent songs, including Angie, Heartbreaker, Shattered, Start Me Up, and Waiting For a Friend.

The Rolling Stones impact on rock music is impossible to measure. They assimilated various musical genres into their own collective sound. They incorporated blues, r&b, country, folk, reggae, dance, and world music into their work, but mostly they created a hard-driving blues based music that had a great power and influence on all rock and roll music that would follow.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


In 1984 I moved to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. I lived at the corner of Broadway and Wythe, just a block away from the bridge. The neighborhood was just starting to change. Prostitutes roamed the area and burned out cars were littered around the neighborhood. Heroin could be purchased a few blocks away and there was an occasional drug related murder. It was at this time that I noticed a book in the stores called Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr. I read it and was hooked. I also read The Room and the collection of stories Song of the Silent Snow. The writings of Selby documented a Brooklyn that was now disappearing and he captured it with a hard, blunt, streetwise prose.

Selby had no formal training but used the raw language of his youth to narrate the bleak and violent world that he had grown up in. He was not concerned with proper grammar, punctuation, or diction although there is a consistency to his work. In a sense he invented his own punctuation. Like Kerouac, he wrote in a fast, spontaneous, stream of consciousness style and replaced apostrophes with forward slashes. He did not use quotation marks and whole paragraphs of dialogue would not have and identified speaker. His prose was stripped down and bare.

His writings exhibited his experience with longshoremen, the homeless, thugs, pimps, transvestites, prostitutes, queers, addicts, and the overall poverty-stricken community. 

Last Exit To Brooklyn started out as a series of short stories and would later be connected into a novel. Tralala, was published in literary journals and examined the violent seedy life and gang rape of a prostitute. The story was controversial and led to an obscenity trial, but the case was later dismissed on appeal.

With the help of Amiri Baraka and Sterling Lord who was Kerouac's agent, Selby finished 6 loosely linked short stories that were published as the novel Last Exit To Brooklyn by Grove Press in 1964. 

The novel was praised by many and derided by others for its detailed depictions of homosexuality and drug addiction, as well as gang rape and other forms of human brutality and cruelty. 

The six sections were (1) Another Day Another Dollar, ( 2) The Queen Is Dead, (3) And Baby Makes Three, (4) Tralala, (5) Strike, and (6) Landsend.

(1) Another Day, Another Dollar - A gang of young Brooklyn hoods hang around an all-night cafe and get into a vicious fight with a group of US Army soldiers.

(2) The Queen Is Dead - Georgette, a transvestite hooker, is thrown out of the family home by her brother and tries to attract the attention of a hood named Vinnie at a benzedrine-driven party.

(3) And Baby Makes Three - An alcoholic father tries to keep good spirits and maintain his family's marriage traditions after his daughter becomes pregnant and marries a motorcycle mechanic.

(4) Tralala - Is about a young prostitute who makes her living propositioning sailors in bars and stealing their money. At the end of the story she is gang-raped after a night of heavy drinking.

(5) Strike - Harry, a machinist in a factory, becomes a union official. A closeted homosexual, he abuses his wife and gets into fights to convince himself that he is a man. He uses the union's money to entertain street punks and buy the company of drag queens.

(6) Landsend -This section presents the intertwined and ordinary day of numerous people in a housing project.

Last Exit To Brooklyn is an intense, powerful, and unconventional and makes for a unique and moving reading experience.

Selby's next novel was The Room which was published in 1971. The book is about a criminally insane man locked up in a cell who reminisces about his past. He is nameless and explores his feelings of impotence, hatred and rage, and fantasies of revenge.

The Demon (1976) is about the life of Harry White who has a good marriage and a good job, but is haunted by a need for lust and retribution and chronicles how his life evolves into a climax of apocalyptic violence. 

Requiem For A Dream (1978) concerns four Brooklynites whose lives spiral out of control as they succumb to their addictions. Harry and Marion are in love and Tyrone is their friend. Sara is Harry's lonely, widowed mother. Sara's dream is to be on TV and when a phone call from a casting company gets her hopes up, she starts bingeing on diet pills to lose weight. She becomes addicted and delirious, and ends up in the hospital undergoing shock therapy. Harry, Marion, and Tyrone are heroin addicts and decide to make money by buying some uncut product and selling it. Harry and Ty end up in jail, and Marion, now alone takes a hellish path into prostitution to pay for her habit. 

Song of the Silent Snow (1986) is a collection of 15 stories that include Selby's clipped street vernacular and poetic descriptions and is probably his most compassionate book about an uncaring world.

There were also two good films made of Selby's work. 

Last Exit to Brooklyn was made in 1989 by Uli Edel and stars Jennifer Jason Leigh as Tralala, Stephen Lang as Harry Black in Strike, and Alexis Arquette as the tragic transvestite Georgette. 

Requiem For A Dream is directed by Darren Aronofsky and stars Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans. The film has an interesting soundtrack and uses innovative camera work and editing to depict the points of view of the characters who are drug addicts.

The documentary film HUBERT SELBY JR: It/ll Be Better Tormorrow came out in 2005 and is a good overview of Selby's life and work.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Touch of Evil came out in 1958 and was written and directed by Orson Welles. The film is considered one of the final works of the classic film noir era which started with the Maltese Falcon in 1941.

While Touch of Evil is a dark and serious film, it also has a B-movie quality and is over the top, offbeat, and oddly funny. Welles acts in the film as the corrupt police captain Hank Quinlan. He is huge and bloated and snacks on candy bars. Marlene Dietrich plays an aging cigar smoking Mexican psychic who once had a relationship with Quinlan. When they encounter each other after many years she doesn't recognize him because he has become so fat. "You're a mess, honey." she exclaims with a player piano churning in the background. The film also stars Charlton Heston as a Mexican (Yes, a Mexican!) drug enforcement official, and Janet Leigh plays his energetic, sexy, young wife.

Touch of Evil opens with a continuous tracking shot, considered by critics to be one of the greatest long takes in cinematic history. It lasts for three minutes and twenty seconds and starts at the Mexico/US border and shows a man placing a bomb in a car and then following the car as it passes into the United States where it explodes. At this point we first see newlyweds Miguel Vargas (Heston) and Susie Vargas (Leigh) kissing. 

Working in drug enforcement for the Mexican government, Vargas realizes the implications of a Mexican bomb exploding on American soil and begins to investigate. Quinlan and others are also investigating the crime and zero in on a young Mexican man who is secretly married to the victim's daughter. During the investigation Vargas realizes Quinlan has planted evidence on the suspect.

While Vargas is investigating Quinlan's corrupt tactics, his wife is kidnapped and drugged by a gang in a motel and is framed for murder in a crazy convoluted attempt by Quinlan to ruin Vargas.

Vargas uncovers that there have been many other cases where Quinlan has created false evidence against suspects who were later found guilty and moves to expose the corrupt cop.

Orson Welles made many other great films including his first masterpiece Citizen Kane in 1941. Citizen Kane is considered one of the greatest films of all time because of its innovative cinematography and narrative structure which makes extensive use of flashbacks. Another excellent film by Welles is Lady From Shanghai (1947) which stars Rita Hayworth and includes an amazing scene at the end of the film in a hall of mirrors. Welles also made an interesting adaptation of Kafka's The Trial in 1962 starring Anthony Perkins.

Still, my favorite film of Orson Welles is Touch of Evil. The film is a hard-boiled crime drama, but done with amazing technique in black and white. Welles uses the camera in an innovative and artistic way with wide angles and long fluid takes. The story is full of eccentric moments that make it a unique and unforgettable cinematic experience.