Burn Woodstock, Burn; Dr. Laura's Obscene
But life'srarely esthetically complete, and there was enough corporate property destroyedto have rendered the event worthwhile anyway: the above-mentioned sound towerand Mercedes, plus an additional telephone truck, 12 storage trailers, a numberof tents and three ATM machines. Hundreds of kids looted, rampaged and set firesfor hours before the cops enforced order.
Who's complaining?The marauding kids were inarguably disgusting-several thousand of the incipientfascists who rule the nations' suburban high schools-but that's all right. They'rebrutal enough that you can fairly consider them, collectively, as little morethan a tool, a battering ram with which Fate bludgeoned the event's buccaneeringpromoters, the amphibious Michael Lang among them.
The ideathat small-time local vendors were victimized by the violence would be affectingwere it indisputably true. But one gets the sense that the vendors were no good,either. The Daily News' online edition last Tuesday included the followingpassage:
"TomFall, 52, of Putney, VT, was among the handful of original Woodstockers to attendthe '99 version.
"'Wefelt threatened,' said Fall, a vendor. 'This was supposed to be peace, love,harmony. I was at the first Woodstock. That was a disaster also, but there wasnoviolence.'"
He's halfright. In a sense, Woodstock didn't create much overt violence until the WoodstockPresident-Bill Clinton-slithered into office and started committing murderousatrocities around the globe, and to the urbane applause of society's betterelement. But at any rate, Fall's presence at the festival exhausts your patiencewith the canard that the vendors were harmless local businessmen. At least oneof them, it seems, is an old Aquarian who showed up at Woodstock '99 with asack full of trinkets and a greedy imperative to do what events prevented himfrom doing back in 1969: cashing in. Voracious old hippies, fleecingkids with $4 bottles of water and overpriced baubles, still kicking themselvesthat they didn't have the foresight to sell Thorazine tablets at a 10,000-percentmark-up to their bad-tripping peers at the 1969 event. A riot? One understands.
Meanwhile,the media's editorializing was dominated, predictably, by self-congratulatorythumb sucking of the by-gum-when-we-were-young-we-knew-how-to-have-an-epochal-music-festival-and-we-stopped-a-war-while-we-were-at-itvariety. Nonsense. But there it was. Mostly the material was a predictable melangeof prurience (naked chicks!), nostalgia and middle-aged moralizing. You got the sense that dozens of midlife dorks in newsrooms had been waiting for yearsfor something like this to happen, so that they could vent that emotion that'scentral to the self-definition of many baby boomers: hatred of-rage at-theirchildren. "Woodstock was spontaneous, extraordinary, crazy, and unforgettable,"preached The Boston Globe in an editorial typical of what themedia was disseminating, "but it can't be duplicated. Anyone who trieswill be disappointed or worse. That's the great lesson in the passage of time."
Oh, eatme. And gimme your wallet.
The ugliestpiece I happened upon was one by The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten,who's either a bad satirist or a churl of the highest caliber. The followingis from the beginning of Weingarten's "open letter" to his teenagechildren:
"Heykids. This is payback time. Didja hear what happened at your 'Woodstock '99'Sunday?
"Yourgeneration tried to show you were every bit as coolly disaffected as mine, everybit as saturated with love and tranquillity and an appreciation of the transcendenceof music as a unifying force for peace and oneness and beatific harmonious munificenceand thus such.
"Here'swhat happened, as summarized in news accounts: 'It ended in a destructive melee.There was looting. Marauding bands of shirtless, bellowing men set fire to twelvetrucks and...'
What a wretchof a man. One can only hold out hope that those teenage children of his whomhe so passionately hates someday make him very, very unhappy.
Amazingly,The New York Times carried the most sensitive opinion piece about thedisaster, a July 28 "Editorial Observer" article by Gail Collins,who avoided sentimental claptrap and opined that only "pure terror"kept the original Woodstock from devolving into something ugly. "Circumstancesthat nobody anticipated had left us in the middle of nowhere, the roads cloggedand impassable in every direction," she writes of the 1969 festival, "withno way for us to get out or anybody else to get in. We were on our own, andif we behaved well, it was probably because we knew there was nobody to protectus from ourselves."
Later inthe article she writes: "But when the music ended at night and you foundyourself walking through the dark, packed in the middle of several hundred thousandadolescents, it was hard to avoid contemplating what would happen if somebodysuddenly yelled 'Fire!' and started pushing."
I don'tknow if Collins is a mother, but if she is, I'd bet she's a good one.
"We'vedefinitely cleaned up the magazine since Flynt bought it," Dave Carnie,managing editor of the suddenly controversial Larry Flynt-owned skateboardingmagazine Big Brother is telling me over the phone from Los Angeles. "We'vehad to. The magazine never made money before Flynt bought it."
Which makesit ironic, what happened recently. Because the context for Carnie's commentsis last week's hullabaloo between Big Brother and right-wing radio personalityDr. Laura Schlessinger, during which the hateful woman attacked on the air whatshe characterized as a pornographic magazine. This was a good one: a battlebetween two similar-because both are stupid and corrupt-manifestations of theAmerican wickedness. On the one hand, Dr. Laura, the most obnoxious termagantdefender of phony "Judeo-Christian" values this side of Hillary Clinton.On the other hand, the proprietor of Larry Flynt Publications, a pornographerwho's decimated the respectability of his profession by publishing naked picturesof ugly women, and a thoroughly conventional middle-American gutter-capitalistwho in the past year has been a militant defender of status quo politics asembodied by his hero, the President of the United States of America.
But backto last week's Schlessinger-Big Brother controversy. "The disputebegan Sunday," the Orange County Register reported on Wednesday,"when Schlessinger and her son went shopping for T-shirts and shorts atBeach Access [a surf store in Costa Mesa, CA]. While there, Schlessinger sawa copy of Big Brother Skateboarder in a pile of magazines set out for customersto read. The 100,000-circulation magazine is published by Larry Flynt Publications,which also publishes Hustler magazine.
"Schlessingerasked the manager if he knew that Big Brother was connected to Flynt. She alsoasked if he knew it was pornography. When he said he did know that Big Brotherwas connected to Flynt but that he didn't think it was porn, she said she wouldn'tbuy any products from Beach Access and left the store.
The lyingbitch. And now, naturally, Beach Access is receiving hundreds of abusive phonecalls from bullies. "This is totally wrong," store owner Tom Moorewas quoted as saying, poignantly. "We're as mild as we can possibly be."
The Register'sstory continues: "Though Big Brother does deal in graphic written material,it doesn't publish nude photos, according to Managing Editor Dave Carnie.
"'Dr.Laura's right. The pornography in the magazine is well-hidden, because I haven'tseen it either,' Carnie said."
Here's wherethe story becomes something more than another tale of American stupidity. Becausethe fact is that Carnie's being a bit disingenuous there. It's true enough thatBig Brother doesn't publish nude photos. But it certainly used to-anddid much, much worse, too, back in the early- and mid-90s, when it was stillone of the funniest, smartest, nastiest, most disgusting, best magazines inthe country; before, that is, Flynt bought it in 1997, bowdlerized it and robbedit of its edge. At one point earlier in this decade, Big Brother encapsulateda spirit similar to the one that made SST, the great Los Angeles-based punkrecord label, so interesting 15 years ago: a creatively destructive, loose-jointednihilism that didn't preclude intelligence (and occasionally even literacy)and that was aware, even if without acknowledging it, that ugliness for thesake of ugliness is one of the few viable political stances left in a mendaciousera in which Bill Clinton's a "leftist," his wife's a "feminist"and Larry Flynt epitomizes "free speech." Ugliness, the magazine seemedon some level to realize, is difficult to co-opt. Big Brother possessesthe outrageous distinction of having been made cleaner by Flynt, who,run-of-the-mill Kennedy-hobnobbing pimp/capitalist that he is, ruined the magazine.Now, with the exception of the occasional good article-and most of those areby Carnie, a good writer-Big Brother's just a run-of-the-mill youth mag,dedicated to shilling the paraphernalia-the t-shirts, the punk records-nativeto the skateboard industry.
So it'sironic that Schlessinger's latched onto the magazine now. If she'd seen BigBrother as recently as two years ago, her head would have exploded. Here'sthe charming cover of one pre-Flynt issue, for example, which bears on thick,glossy stock a beautiful black and white photograph of a bloody Christ crucifiedon a cross made out of skateboards. I would have loved to see Schlessinger confront that gloriously offensive image. Flip inside and there's a Freshjiveadvertisement featuring unclothed porn star Chasey Lain entwined with anothernaked girl. The mail page includes a letter from a semi-literate Chicago epistlerwho's enclosed, for publication, a picture of his naked friend fucking a cat:a censoring red star covers the point of penetration. The letters, amusingly,aren't censored for grammar; neither, apparently, are the editorial responsesby the month's guest editor Bo Turner-a professional skater and legendary maniac."Rub my balls!" Turner answers one correspondent. "Don't writehere no more, and your mother blows. Suck my ass pipe."
And on andon. Bong and malt liquor reviews. A section called "The He-Man Ed Hater'sClub," into which readers can write with violent homophobic abuse of proskater Ed Templeton, who's (falsely) rumored to be gay. A Shorty's clothingad consists of a photograph of star skater Chad Muska smoking a joint with agirl.
Or takeanother old issue (not all old Big Brothers were dated, which-deliberatelyor not, and in concert with the heavy, quality stock-had the droll effect ofmaking these ribald publications look like collector's editions) epitomizesanother old Big Brother trope: straightfaced interviews with pro skaterswho reveal themselves as violent sociopaths, but whom the magazine sits downfor long conversations as if these kids were so many Ralph Naders visiting theoffices of The National Interest. From a Q&A with a skating thugnamed Andy Roy: "I lie a lot. Hey, to get girls, you've got to lie. Youcan't be yourself. You got to tell phony stories... That's how you get laid...But since my teeth got kicked out, it's hard now... And I have pretty eyes,but now it's gonna be hard to get pussy. I'll have to buy it and shit. I'llgo to Capp Street. I'll buy seven dollar headers. It don't matter."
And onward.A scan through my pre-Flynt back issues yields an exhilarating cornucopia ofwonderfully entertaining and sophomoric vulgarity. Big Brotherwas the Ted Williams of 90s magazines; it generally batted around .400. Theendless photos of people vomiting, or else passed out drunk and half-naked;or the bare-ass photos; or Carnie's featurette, with photos, in which he andhis friends get drunk, don diapers and then defecate into them. In fact, here'sa frontal photograph of Carnie, on a skate tour, stark naked and flipping thebird from the open door of a moving van, all hairy and gross and up-front dangling.Bare female breasts bob regularly through the pre-Flynt magazine's pages. Thepre-Flynt magazine was a wonderfully entertaining, unapologetic glorificationof thuggery, ignorance, failure, underage drinking, cloacal humor, free-floatingsociopathy, teenage drug use, petty thievery, vandalism and general suburbandepravity. Best of all, it was unalloyed by any hint of irony, that 1990s disease.All that, plus good skating pictorials (plus a lot of big glossy advertisementsfor skateboard equipment and clothing, the implications of which I'm ignoringnow). It's not saying much, perhaps, but it's saying something: Big Brotherused to be one of the best magazines of the decade.
Depressingly,that's no longer true. The magazine's decline began soon after Flynt purchasedit-it used to be published by an El Segundo, CA-based outfit called DickhousePublishing-in 1997. And the decline's accelerated recently, since Flynt's organizationwas forced to circle the wagons in the wake of the Flynt Report.
"Sincethe Flynt report we've been really careful with everything, down to cusswords,"says Carnie. "We're hoping that the heat will blow off of us? Things justkeep flaring up, as they tend to do for us? Things were just starting to mellowout, and now we're high profile again."
It's truethat excellent material kept appearing in the magazine for a while after theFlynt acquisition. Notably there was Carnie's February 1998 report from a skatecontest in Austin, in which he mostly ignored whatever skating went on and describedhis own ugly attempts at Austin tourism, which seemed to amount to so much crack-smokingand meth-snorting. And another 1998 article, in which some moron tested personaldefense devices on himself, even going so far as to put on a flak jacket andshoot himself, was first-rate, old-line Big Brother material. Carnietest-drove penis pumps in the September 1997 issue. In addition, I recall aqueasy, upsetting, and to that extent effective, January 1998 piece that includeddetailed, illustrated instructions about how to poison and booby-trap candyand other treats: "The ol' razor blade in the apple-a classic!"
Flynt'sbeen trying to mainstream the publication in order to make it acceptable forthe children of bluenose maniacs like Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Even the magazine'sstock is of a lesser quality now. It's a shame. The latest, Sept. '99, issueis uniformly disappointing, almost indistinguishable in tone from Thrasher,the "mainstream" skating magazine against which Big Brotherused to stand in implicit opposition. Certainly, the current Big Brothergestures toward the depravity that once characterized it. There's an interviewwith Gwar's singer in the current issue, for instance. But it's just that: amere gesture compared to the violent transgressions the magazine used to habituallycommit. Big Brother's PG-rated these days-it's a dry hump of a magazine.Reading it's similar to reading Maxim. There's enough metaphorical skinto compel you to thumb through the pages, but ultimately frustration imposesitself, because there's not enough to turn you on. A story about a skaters'road trip in the new issue ends with the following sentence, which under thecircumstances is stunning: "The booze, the women, the drugs and all theother things that you won't be reading about in this article were the thingsthat will be long remembered by those who participated." What? In the olddays, the article would have been about nothing other than the booze,the women, the drugs, and graphically so.
So that'sthe context into which Dr. Laura slouched last week. Far from abusing the pornographer,Laura should be sending Flynt flowers for bowdlerizing a magazine that, in itsheyday, would have inspired her to announce the death of American civilization,such as it is. Dr. Laura, wandering into a Costa Mesa surf shop in 1999, doesn'tknow how good she has it. It's a shame that he did so, but there it is: Flynthas saved Laura's delicious little boy from encountering reading material that'struly objectionable.
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