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Tommy T
Tommy Tompkins' extreme measures

Tuesday, October 30, 2007
    Back Again...

    Some time has passed, as it happens to pass, and I am once again turning my attention to this blog. Stay tuned, if you please - i need a few days to bring it up to date. Much has changed in the the two years since I've posted here - and much hasn't changed, or at least hasn't changed for the better. I will rejoin the chorus, and link it to the music, theater, film, and fine art that I use to remain sane, and to inform my feelings and beliefs.
    posted by TommyT @ 8:58 pm | Permanent link
Friday, August 26, 2005
    Cabbies Who Kill Too Much

    Charles Taylor, the murderous ex-ruler of Liberia (now in exile in Nigeria), used to drive a cab in Boston. Think about that the next time you complain about going the long way. I’m sure there have been other cabbies who went on to big things – although I drove for 5 years in San Francisco, and I don’t remember seeing anyone famous behind the wheel. Still, it would be after leaving the trade that that notoriety would arrive, so I suppose that stands to reason. Almost everyone I knew drove in those days (the ‘80s); none of them have come close to a presidency, although a couple of Maoists I knew back then are still trying.

    Anyway, I was thinking about Taylor, murder in Africa, and John LeCarre’s wonderful book, The Constant Gardener. It’s been made into a film, and since I overslept and missed the preview, I can only say that a few years ago I curled up with the book after a reckless month in Mexico. The misery LeCarre chronicles was a perfect fit for the four days of misery I experienced while reading it. I was getting normal or whatever it is that happens when the shooting stops.

    Along the same lines (Africa, not Mexico), there’s another great book, published more recently. Imperial Reckoning: The untold story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya, was written by a Harvard prof named Caroline Elkins. It uncovers the brutal truth behind Great Britain’s savage attacks on the Kikuyu people, whose freedom fighters were demonized as “Mau Mau’s.” The campaign bordered on genocide – 32 white settlers were killed in the years after WWII, while tens of thousands of Kenyan’s were murdered. So much for the UK version of civilization.

    posted by TommyT @ 5:44 pm | Permanent link
Saturday, May 14, 2005
    Death of Zhang Chunqiao

    It might not matter to you (or almost anyone else), but it matters to me -- Zhang Chunqiao died last month. Along with Jiang Qing, the wife of Communist Party founder Mao Zedong, Zhang led the Gang of Four in attempting to remake the tradition-laded, hierarchical Chinese populace into an enlightend proletariat, by forcing whole classes of people into living new contexts.

    I'll blog more on this later. This obit came from Wednesday's LA Times. It does little to capture the tumult and grave political consequences of the balttle for China against Deng Xiaoping.
    Death of Zhang Chunqiao

    posted by TommyT @ 4:04 pm | Permanent link
Saturday, April 2, 2005
    Ruruns, Sucka Free

    Anthony Mackie is nothing but one of the best young actors working today - he's versatile, focused, and he looks like a million bucks. Which is one reason why I'm all over the Spike Lee-directed Sucka Free City each time it reruns.

    That's Mackie on the left

    Another reason: I'm from those parts, and was hanging near H.P. with rapper Kev Kelly last summer, a hook-up set-up by my son M.T. - he was feeling generous. Another reason: because I hung around with Mackie for a few hours at Sundance in 2001 - he was acting and I was on a watching fellowship. A week later, I walked out of Top Dog, Underdog at the Public, and there was Anthony Mackie, with my nephew Anthony, on my way to pick up my son who was uptown. Turns out he was understudying Don Cheadle's role. I don't imagine we'll cross paths again, but this guy is about everywhere, which is even better. I'm sorry that the Sucka Free series was cancelled after one of the proposed dozen episodes, it would've been a great fit with a scene that's finally busting loose after some dozen years on the back burner.

    posted by TommyT @ 1:00 am | Permanent link
Monday, March 28, 2005
    Peyote In Babylon

    What, I was asked, have I been reading? My friend was merely passing time; it wasn't a question that called for an honest answer. I provided one anyway; I have been reading, I told my friend, something I have written. Part of a book project that I started in 2001, with some welcome assistance from the Sundance Institute. What follows is a chapter, it's funny, I wrote it, and not only that, it happened just this way.

    Peyote In Babylon

    I was out of touch with spiritual matters at any early age. I did, however, have a divine experience, at 16, the kind of thing that back in the 1960s kids would call a “god trip,” and would earn the label “far out.” In the Book of Family Lore, it was the first sign of big rain moving in from the horizon, heralding a series of storms that during the next four years would change all of us – my family, and everyone elses.

    My story - disappearance, death, and denial in a family of FDR Liberals – began in a small Long Island town named Babylon. It’s a handle as unlikely as the outpost was ordinary – built around bomb shelters, bourbon, and the L.I.R.R. I had my first sex in Joanne Fortinelli’s father’s underground refuge. Lawns were thick as cholesterol. Religion was taught at the parochial school, St. Josephs, where the priest was an alcoholic with an unwholesome interest in children. In the fall of 1961, Maggie Harper – age 14 – prayed at St. Joseph’s every day after school. A friend had told her a girl could get pregnant from “French Tongue Kissing.” She’d spent one Saturday night that September, making out with Cliff Everett – she had plenty to pray about. Social and cultural life was stunted and earthbound. I was -- god strike me if I’m lying – in my third year at a far away boarding school before I learned that my hometown had a Biblical antecedent.

    On the day in question, my generation was in the early stages of full-scale ‘60s uproar. The date was June 26, 1966, and I had, in my pocket, a button of peyote, a cactus native to Mexico and the southwest that is essential to the religious ceremonies of certain American Indian tribes. It had recently gained status as a favored psychedelic by young, non-native youth.

    My friend William Brown gave me the drug; peyote was relatively common in those days. In any case, William – who sometimes hung out with kids years older then himself -- was tight-lipped as to its origins. I asked no questions – nor did I know what to ask. Because above all else one thing was true; our experience with mind-altering drugs was at that time limited to spreads in **Life** and **Time** magazines I didn’t know what would happen. I was in a hurry to find out.

    Two hours before twenty-five guests were to arrive to celebrate a cousin’s birthday, I boiled the drug until it was soft, swallowed it, and drank the bitter tea that it produced. Had I remembered that visiting relatives were headed in my direction – all of them anxious to congratulate me for gaining admission to Princeton the previous month - I wouldn’t have changed my plans; in fact, I had no plans. I had no idea what lay ahead.

    At 5 pm, as friends and family arrived, I was curled in a fetal position on an upstairs bed. My lower backed ached like an abscessed tooth, the muscles in my calves and thighs were cramped, too painful to move except when I had to vomit. I had the flu, I thought, and sent regrets to the assembled. 15 minutes later, the cramps suddenly eased, and a tremor ran through my arms and legs and into my groin. A thousand previously unknown nerve cells came to life. I had an erection. Perhaps I wasn’t sick. A few minutes later, I was accepting congratulations concerning my academic triumphs.

    Had I not been asked repeatedly how I was feeling, I’d have forgotten the cramps as thoroughly as I’d forgotten my erection – which was brought to my attention by a 25-year-old neighbor named Aileen. Pulling me gracefully into the dining room, she adjusted my shorts strategically, expressing interest in a conversation later that evening as she slid her right hand into my left pocket and introduced herself.

    The number of nerve cells on full alert – thousands, I’d imagined minutes ago –swelled exponentially until millions if not billions of sensory receptors stirred. My skin, my stomach, my tongue, my eyes, my legs, my bowels, my testicles, my feet, my penis, my fingers, eyelids, went on full alert. I was, I thought, transmitting human energy, humming like late night radio signals that would sometimes bounce off the stratosphere from the Gulf Coast to a trucker in Omaha. I listened to myself, got scared and shorted the circuit, generating a squall of feedback so loud that when I turned a corner and saw Jimbo the black lab, he laid back his ears and howled. The hair on my arms stood up straight, and I could my feel my heart – every miraculous muscle fiber, every valve, every square inch of bloody, wet, red flesh. I was aware that I felt thoroughly alive for the first time in years.

    Guests had gathered on the patio. I walked out the screen door, raised my hand in greeting. One of the soft, yellow peaches in a basket of fruit on the table suddenly exploded in a brilliant flash of neon orange, and I flinched – the next day my cousin Bobby claimed that in fact I had tried to duck under the table. I recovered quickly – I was pretty sure of that – although I had a vague impression I might be making people nervous. I laughed heartily. No one seemed to respond, so – as several pieces of fruit began to pulsate in subdued neon tones -- I decided that sitting down would be a good thing. I tried to sit down, only to discover I was already in my chair.

    I could hear a radio playing music inside the house, and had to stifle an urge to drum with my fork and knife. I was briefly consumed by the tricks my eyes were playing-- refracting objects, for instance, in such a way that what seemed to be located directly in front of me was actually to the left by some 40 degrees. I decided to run a test to make sure. “Afternoon Uncle Roy,” I said heartily to Roy Blodgett, who was not my uncle, but a second cousin’s law partner. I extended my hand in what seemed to be his direction, and sure enough, an odd look flickered across the face of Vi Valentine – Uncle Howard’s first ex-wife, who subsequently married great-uncle Peter and on this day was seated two feet to Roy’s right and my left. She reached a liver-stained hand out and briefly touched mine had my eyes been working I’d probably have caught the same murderous squint she’d shot my way the day I found her passed out on Aunt Ginny’s bathroom floor after a quick perfume bender. My theory of refraction was proved.

    I needed a diversion to get them off the trail. “Hey hey Jimmy boy,” I said to my great uncle James, who had never been called anything but Uncle James. Uncle James was wearing a white linen sportscoat with the initials JMT monogrammed on the breast pocket, and a soft pink button down shirt. Had the middle button of the three-button jacket not been fastened, the same monogram would have been visible on the shirt. He started slightly at my greeting. The rest of the table stiffened and smiled hard.

    A pair of pale-green wing-like pods from an overhanging maple swirled slowly down through the thick late afternoon light, their path lit up like burning tracer rounds. On the table in front of me, the dark, carefully polished salad bowl was throbbing in concert with the green-blue artery in my left wrist. Large leaves of Romaine lettuce were crinkled like sheaves of plastic. The bright, soprano chatter of ice cubes against the side of a glass reverberated above the table and faded slowly. My left eye was leaking.

    I noticed that dinner had been served. To my left, I saw a long silver fork spear an iridescent red slab from a platter of thick, rare meat floating in molten blood. My stomach heaved as I stared at the carnage; I was seized by an uncontrollable burst of shivering. The experience was strong enough to make me remember my erection and Aileen – and to forget, as I raised my hand sharply skyward, that I had been holding a goblet of ice water. The manouver was more complicated than I anticipated,and I was several words into something reassuring – “don’t worry, it won’t break” – when the glass hit the blue flagstone patio and shattered. Uncle Theodore cleared his throat, as eloquent a gesture as he possessed, while the rest of the table stared in scarcely masked horror.

    Before I could say a word, a feeling that if not Divine was certainly divine, flooded my body. I felt lit up, as my body were pure neon hotwired to the third rail. I felt like I was about to burst with an exhilarating, all-consuming joy. My thoughts raced in circles like the crackling end of a downed power line.

    I grabbed my chair for safety and hung on, wanting to shout, to weep, to laugh, to express something that had never been said before. This seemed like a moment that should be shared. I had insights into life; marriage counseling for my sister? Sex for Uncle James; a drink for Lil’s brother Lew whose hands rarely stopped trembling. Beneath the nervous tics, stiff spines, and forced expressions was a family that cared for each other, I believed that passionately and – I realized - irrationally. Was there a reason for the tension that was crippling the afternoon – other than me, of course? An explanation was overdue, although it was bound to cause trouble.

    I stood up, took a deep breath, and began to speak, just as I felt hands pulling me back, hard. For thirty seconds my eyes went into a kaleidoscopic mode, like a tv news camera at a street riot when the operator is knocked to the ground and subsequent shots come in wild jerking random bursts. I saw chairs shooting by, a ceiling, a perplexed face, stairs, and then a door.

    I found myself upstairs on a bed, sitting upright and breathing hard. I was exhilarated. I wanted a cigarette. The hard edges of a mahogony desk glowed maroon, my cousin’s eyes were impossibly large. I shut my own and rubbed them, then looked again. “That’s better,” I said.

    “What’s better?” he asked warily. I shrugged my shoulders. He looked at me carefully. We were best friends and partners in crime, but – we both understood this – only up to a point. He would spend his adult life apologizing for his youth; I was just getting warmed up.

    “I don’t know what you were going to do down there,” he said to me after a few minutes of silence. “But I knew that it wasn’t going to be good.”

    posted by TommyT @ 11:47 pm | Permanent link
Saturday, March 26, 2005
    Wigga Thomas

    I ripped off the hed from Eric Arnold's reviewof Angry Black White Boy (Crown/Three Rivers Press), the new novel by Adam Mansbach - Berkeley resident, novelist, poet, and arts writer (for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, among other things.

    According to Arnold, Mansbach's novel is a portrait of "a confused yet proud individual searching for his own place within the larger confines of American society. Here's the twist: Unlike Richard Wright's famous Native Son character, Detornay is white."

    Mansbach explains: "Fundamentally, I agree with the notion that people are so reluctant to talk about race that you have to push them hard on it...You gotta kick 'em in the ass. You can't really be too subtle. You gotta really just come with it."

    If you interested in the subject - and you should be - Mansbach explored the efforts of hip-hop's intellectual pioneers in the June 25, 2003 SFGate.com, using Eminem as the foil. His thoughts are worth considering, and besides, he references Jeff Chang's terrific new book, Can't Stop Won't Stop (he must've gotten a way advance copy, since the book only dropped a couple of months ago).

    "Our generation is a different breed, intellectually," says Jeff Chang. "We've grown up with multiculturalism, grown up in a world where pop culture has always mediated how we analyze the world. We're not afraid of the media anymore; there's a constant dialogue in hip-hop about the gaps between our reality and the ways we're represented. We're naturally interdisciplinary; we mix signifiers, we break everything down to bits and bytes and rebuild something new."

    Chang - who wrote a column for me at the Bay Guardian for several years - is winding up a book tour that played like a hip-hop thre-ring circus. Along those lines, he rolled through our L.A. hipster loft space last night with Lee Balliger from Rock and Rap Confidential and his friend Carvel (and if anyone knows how to reach Balliger, ask him to ask his son to email me some Prince info. Thanks...).

    posted by TommyT @ 2:51 am | Permanent link
Tuesday, March 1, 2005
    Dead Man's Curve

    A few apologies before I go any farther, I've been gone for some three-weeks. Why? Because for the second time in the last five years, I was tearing down a poorly paved highway on my titanium-framed road rocket when I was sacked by what looked to me like a mountain lion (witnesses didn't see a thing) and I went airborne (not bad); then I face-planted on the concrete (bad). The damages included a broken collar bone, torn bicep, broken wrist, concussion, and collapsed lung. I have a huge supply of painkillers and all kinds of new friends.

    I want to go on record as having refused the painkiller Oxy Contin (I'm not saying I didn't take a few, I just want to be on record as having declined.The powerful painkiller - which comes in small, beige, time-release pills as well as a 5 mg white version - has been dubbed "hillbilly heroin," and is currently the scourge of the Appalachians. That's what the media says anyway. The person in the bed next to me was fond of them. He/she had been in a terrible wreck, and was so heavily bandaged I never found out if my room was co-ed or boarding school-style. My roomie seemed to have full control over the right hand and arm, but little else. My second day (and last) day in the joint, I felt something poking my arm. I turned and saw a hand, clutching a piece of paper. A note! For me!

    I read it: The doctors gave me Oxy Contin and I don't want to ever go home.

    I was glad to hear that, because from the looks of things, the sufferer might not have that option. Not me, however. I'm free, I'm fine, I'm back. More tomorrow.

    posted by TommyT @ 6:07 am | Permanent link
Wednesday, February 9, 2005
Sunday, February 6, 2005
    Words Of Wisdom From Mookie and Da Mayor

    An essential conversation between the late Ossie Davis amd Spike Lee, during Lee's essential Do The Right Thing

    Da Mayor: Doctor . . .
    Mookie: C'mon, what. What?
    Da Mayor: Always do the right thing.
    Mookie: That's it?
    Da Mayor: That's it.
    Mookie: I got it, I'm gone.

    So is Ossie Davis - the man who eulogized Malcolm X as "Our shining black prince," and who said and did the right thing as much as any public figure in our lifetime. R.I.P.
    posted by TommyT @ 5:07 pm | Permanent link
Saturday, February 5, 2005
    What Time It Is

    New York- ex-Bay Area writer Danyel Smith is blogging at a spot she calls Naked Cartwheels. She is one of my favorite writers, and one who I enjoyed working with as much as anyone I've edited over the years - we weren't great friends, but she liked my son a lot, and I liked that a lot. Anyway, she's just about one of a kind - a tough, honest, and intelligent writer - and to prove my point, check out her thoughts on the T-Wolves currently miserable Latrell Sprewell, privilege, and the necessity of finding one's way when privilege hasn't arrived with the birth certificate. Then bookmark her blog.

    Spree, by the way, is my favorite player on the hellacious ex-Warriors squad that's currently tearing up the league - I mean check out what Gilbert and Antawn are doing with the Wizards (this is what a Golden State fan is stuck with, and wouldn't you know I moved to L.A. the year the Lakers fell apart). Anyway, here's Danyel: Sprewell haters, and I'm not talking game here, pay attention.

    Smith calls her post "Money, Money, Money, Money -- MONEY," and opens with a line from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: "No, not rich. I am a poor man with money, which is not the same thing."

    So says Gabriel García Márquez (b. 1928), in Love in the Time of Cholera. And no, I have not read it. I've only ever made it halfway through his One Hundred Years of Solitude. It's pretty, for sure, but it's a tuffy.

    Money makes me think of basketball (and my own little bank account), and while I adore Kevin Garnett, I'm not liking the Timberwolves. I'm riding with them, though. They're my team. But it does look like I'll end up rooting for my second-fave team, the Suns, during the playoffs. The T-Wolves just don't have it like they had it last year. I firmly believe--as much as I love them--they are going to Lose And Go Home.

    I mean, let Spree go already. I wrote a piece about him (damn, is it five years ago, already?) when his braids looked better, and he was all but centering for the Knicks, and as much as I like him (he rocked Golden State, if you recall; PJ incident notwithstanding), he's clearly a mercenary, one of those cats who likes being an NBA player, but doesn't love it. He loves the dough (and who can blame him?), but he's not the kind of player who's fun to watch (right now). It's a fantasy the NBA tries (unsuccessfully) to maintain—that it's just a bunch of brothers and a few white and one Asian guy out there, shooting around like some vaguely elevated intramural league. I do like it when it's like that, though. When I can suspend disbelief, when the guys look like, if they win, the prize is a five-topping special at Round Table and the beer is on Carmelo. All this said, I never was mad at Spree for last year's "feed my fam" comment. See this excellent Ron Artest piece, if you want to know why I chose the Marquez quote to start this post. I even stuck up for Spree's crazy self (in my lame way; some smart comment) at a recent Knicks vs. T-Wolves night at the Garden: Spree was about to pass the ball in when a guy next to me yelled something about "So can you feed your family, now, Spree?" Latrell heard him, and yelled right back in our direction, "Kiss my ass! Don't talk about my fucking family." And this was the week right after Spree had yelled toward a fan in another arena, "Suck my di*k!" And got suspended or got a demerit or docked or whatever it is the NBA does to "control" players.

    When Spree yells this kind of stuff, what he's really yelling is, This is not a game. One of things Sprewell said to me during our long-ago interview was that at a certain point, in high school, after his girl had a baby, he realized he needed to get serious about his life, so he decided he was going to go to the NBA. This was not a "hoop dreams" type of teenager. He was going to go to the NBA for a job like some folks decide to apply at FedEx, others apply for an internship at a daily newspaper. There was no romance about it for him. He went to the NBA because he had to feed his family. And even with his current contract (again, see the Artest story if my meaning is still unclear), Spree is not a rich man. He's a poor man with money. So let that negro out of his damn contract so he can go, journeyman-style, to another team. Rest assured, when he gets there, he will pull out all the stops, make four threes a game, defend like maniac, and float through the post-All-Star season on the bubble of double-doubles.

    Now, what that means for the T-Wolves and me ... there's always '06, I guess. I got a wedding to plan, anyway. I turned in work, too, yesterday--to school , and to a lovely magazine (we'll see if they run it, though). I have another story due tomorrow. And I have to read for Prose Lit a book I have not even purchased yet. I didn't cook last night (class!), so tonight I think I will ... make maybe ... some salmon with lemon and parsley. Green beans. Like the man says, I gotta feed my family.
    posted by TommyT @ 11:05 am | Permanent link


TOMMYT archives

About Tommy
Tommy Tompkins has been on full alert for most of his adult life, looking for art endowed with sufficient power, wisdom, courage, and grace to save a struggling humanity from itself... More

About Extreme Measures
Extreme Measures comes at you at a time when, as a society, we are experiencing a kind of aphasia; language has been so distorted by corruption of aging institutions and the commercial pressures of an all-consuming, popular culture that our range of motion -- our ability to feel, to dream, to rage beyond the toothless dictates of media and capital -- has been critically circumscribed.

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The Reading List
Q: How many Bush Administration officials does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A:None. There is nothing wrong with the light bulb; its conditions are improving every day.  Any reports of its lack of incandescence are a delusional spin from the liberal media.  That light bulb has served honorably, and anything you say undermines the lighting effect.  Why do you hate freedom?



Cheap shots, anyone? Hell yes, like shooting fish in a barrel - Crosby, Stills, & Nash, to be exact in "Second Time Around," my weekly reissue column in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

The successful selling of Crosby, Stills, and Nash as one of rock's first "supergroups" was, above all else, a marketing triumph. The insipid folk trio with a penchant for predictable three-part harmonies were packaged as a brilliant, innovative rock band and sold, no questions asked, to a generation that would go on to make history for a consumerism as voracious as its perceptive powers were small...

Read on, please...

Crosby, Stills, and Nash
Greatest Hits (Remastered) (Rhino)

I would have rather been in California than anywhere during those days, and in fact I was in California. Nevertheless, though my ass moved, my ears were another story. Take the O'Jays, for instance, whose blue-collar soul music helped me forget about CS&N's lame folk music.

The core of the O'Jays – Eddie LeVert, Walter Williams, and William Powell – had been together for 14 years when they had their first big hit, "Back Stabbers," during the summer of 1972. Their career had gyrated everywhere except up when they joined forces – for a second time – with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff shortly after the songwriting-production team formed their label Philadelphia International...

Essential O'Jays (Epic/Legacy)

The flurry of reissues may be proof the music industry is dying, but it's produced a few sublime moments, like the "Deluxe Editions" of the Wailers' Burnin' and Catch A Fire. This piece, titled "Wailin'," ran in the Bay Guardian with Jeff Chang's take on the new Trojan Records box, "This Is Pop.".

DURING SO MUCH rain, one – or, in this case, two – bright spots really stand out. Ever since the birth of Napster and the gloomy end of days for the music business, the reissue industry has been going full tilt. It makes sense on both sides of the commercial exchange. For the labels, there's very little overhead and practically no guesswork; deliver Al Green with a couple of mysterious "alternative takes," perhaps a previously unreleased cut, and remixing or remastering – another mystery...
San Francisco Bay Guardian Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Brian Jonestown Massacre: And This Is Our Music
Pitchfork Media, July 19, 2004



Sites I like...

L.A. Observed
Danyel Smith's Naked Cartwheels
Then It Must Be True
Davey D’s Hip-Hop Corner
Pagan Moss Sensual Liberation HQ
Different Kitchen
War in Context
Virtual Library For Theater and Drama
Jeff Chang's Can’t Stop Won’t Stop
Usounds Internacionale
Maud Newton
Paris's Guerrillafunk.com
Silliman's Home of the Hits
Negro Please
mp3s please
Oliver Wang's The Pop Life
American Samizdat
Sasha Frere-Jones's SF/J



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