Paul Iorio -- home

Friday, December 15, 2017



And now, a few hundred pages of the published writings of Paul Iorio.

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Website Table of Contents

1. published in The San Francisco Chronicle: A one-on-one interview with poet Lawrence Ferlighetti, who reveals new details about Beat-era writers. October 28, 2000.

This piece benefited from the fact that I had just written a story on "Howl" for The Washington Post five months earlier that required vast research about the making of the poem. So by the time Ferlinghetti and I sat down for a beer at Tosca in the fall of '00, I was an expert on the poem and had come up with hundreds of questions I wanted to ask him.

The story has since been posted on numerous websites, including academic sites ranging from The University of Pennsylvania's to the University of Auckland's (widely regarded as New Zealand's best university), where it is currently assigned reading for a lit course.

It is also cited in Jonah Raskin's acclaimed book "American Scream: Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl' and the Making of the Beat Generation."

2. published in The Los Angeles Times: Three-part feature on Roman Polanski's movie "Chinatown," featuring a rare exclusive interview with Polanski. (Part two presented here for the first time.) The 1999 piece was influential enough that it was later plagiarized on at least two separate occasions, most notably in a book published by John Wiley & Sons in 2000.

3. published in Los Angeles New Times: Cover feature on comedian Richard Pryor that includes my own eyewitness account of Pryor's last full-length concert ever. I'm still the only journalist anywhere to have ever written about it. (New Times's editing, which was minor (and counter-productive) to begin with, has been completely deleted here.)

Here is a page of my notes about Pryor's very last full-length concert anywhere, July 24, 1996.

4. published in The Toronto Star: The only story anywhere to have covered, comparatively, the immediate coverage by the major television networks of the 9/11 plane crashes. Riveting stuff.

5. published in The Washington Post: A popular feature in which physicians assess the accuracy of the medical and health information in feature films. (A lot of publications wanted to publish this one, and The Post won!)

I interviewed or contacted over a hundred medical professionals in order to find the half dozen who are quoted in my article. Here's just one page of my rough notes on contact info for sources:

6. published in The Washington Post: A tour of notable San Francisco locations in the history of Beat poetry (particularly Allen Ginsberg's "Howl"). (I have to thank my editor at The Post for encouraging me to expand the piece with quotes from Ginsberg's personal journals.) May 7, 2000.

7. published in The Chicago Tribune: A satiric piece on Katie Couric. (I'm really grateful that my editor got the joke and ran the story, because readers seemed to truly enjoy this one.) 2006.

8. published in New Times: The very first audiotaped interview with Trey Anastasio, the leader of the rock band Phish. (In the interview, I introduced Anastasio to a band he hadn't heard of before, Widespread Panic, who (with Phish) would soon go on to form the core of the hugely popular "jam band" movement of the 1990s.)

I conducted the Anastasio interview in January 1989, when he was still years away from success -- and years away from his first taped press interview. I must admit it feels like a near miracle that I thought to record such an unknown as Anastasio in January 1989 and that I managed to preserve the tape for so many years.

Please note that I'm choosing my words carefully when I say this is the first taped interview with Anastasio. It's the first, not merely one of the first. No journalist (or anyone else) has ever come forward with an earlier taped interview with him (if someone has such a tape, please feel free to show it to me). And the taped interview is packed with time references that date it as a January 1989 intevriew.

I actually interviewed Phish's Mike Gordon a full year before I spoke with Anastasio, but I didn't record that one; I did, however, save a handwritten letter Gordon sent to me, dated March 8, 1988, which I've scanned and posted on this site (I'm quite certain no music journalist anywhere has correspondence with Gordon that dates that far back!).

By the way, coming eventually to this website: the entire transcript of my January 1989 interview with Trey Anastasio!

9. published in The New York Times: A satiric piece on How Not to Blow Your Oscar Speech. (Nicely improved by an editor who rightly deleted a speculative section of the piece!)

10. published in The San Francisco Chronicle: Six separate mini-profiles of celebrities Dick Cavett, Edward Norton, Anne Heche, Daphne Rubin Vega, Carroll O'Connor and Jessica Alba. (Most of these profiles are presented here in abridged versions.)

My Anne Heche profile marked the first time Heche had ever been linked to Ellen DeGeneres in print. For the record, I spotted Ann and Ellen together on April 5, 1997, and interviewed Heche about Ellen on audiotape the next day. I filed my story on April 7, and the article was available on newsstands in the San Franicsco area on April 17. The story was released elsewhere on April 20, 1997.

So here is where one of the big celebrity stories of the nineties started, with this entry in my notebook, which I wrote at 5pm on April 5, 1997 (it's the first of several pages of notes):

Also, Dick Cavett's childhood remembrance of fellow Nebraskan Johnny Carson (my piece later formed the basis of a 2005 People magazine article).

10A. The uncensored transcript of a one-on-one interview with Frank Zappa that I conducted in a New York City hotel room on November 4, 1985. A censored version was published in the November 23, 1985, issue of Cash Box.

11. Unpublished: An investigative report about jihadist Internet messages posted before the 9/11 attacks that suggest others had foreknowledge of the attacks. My findings are exclusive and have never been published anywhere else but here. The story was written, reported and researched in 2004 and 2005, and the final version here was written on April 25, 2005.

12. The Austin American-Statesman -- One-on-one interview with moonwalker Alan Bean, published (and later syndicated) by the paper (July 18, 2004).

13. Details Magazine: A controversial satiric piece about organized religion called "Choosing My Religion," in which I actually converted to the world's great (and not-so-great) religions -- all of them! Published in October 1994.

In my opinion, this is one of my funniest pieces, and judging from the response, some readers thought so, too (see letters-to-the-editor below, published in Details).

14. Cash Box Magazine: Grammy-winning composer James Mtume and I locked ourselves in the bathroom at the New York offices of Cash Box magazine for this interview on December 18, 1986 (it ran in the magazine on January 24, 1987).

One of the good things about writing for Cash Box was that no editor ever edited or revised or re-wrote any of my stories in any way (though there were one or two pieces where lines were mysteriously deleted or altered). And the results are here to see -- a solid body of work that includes stories that still resonate today.

15. Previously Unpublished: A brief verbatim exchange I had with actor Mel Gibson in 1999 in which I challenged him about his religious beliefs.

16. Spy Magazine: The popular "Dylan-o-Matic," which presents a method by which anyone can create their own Bob Dylan lyrics. It's still circulated on the Internet, even though it was published in the pre-Internet era by a publication that is (alas) now defunct. From 1992. I've posted a scan of the article below.

17. VARIOUS PUBLICATIONS: Reviews of performances by Tracy Chapman, The Pogues, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Ordinaires, and The Replacements. 1985 to 1989.

The Pogues piece is particularly noteworthy because it chronicles the band's very first trip to the U.S. in interviews with the original bandmembers and in a review of its first American show (which took place at around 3am or so in downtown NY).

18. SPY MAGAZINE: The Disneyfication of America. Satire (and some serious investigative reporting) on All Things Disney (including reportage about the creation of America's first Disney town, Celebration, which has since become a real place). The last half includes an all-too-real (and funny) conversation with someone at Disney about planning a Disney wedding.

The published version of the Disney piece was badly botched by my editor (the guy changed the word "Disneyland" to "Disney World," for starters!), who published the piece without running his changes by me. The article here comes from my original draft.

19. PREVIOUS UNPUBLISHED: Published here for the first time, a story that reveals new details about the recent private life of reclusive author J.D. Salinger. You'll read it only here (probably because many newspapers and magazines are, frankly, afraid of Salinger's legendary litigiousness).

20. THE WASHINGTON POST: A tour of obscure San Francisco locations, including photos by me. (March 24, 2002). I've included a scan of the story here.

21. UNPUBLISHED: A one-on-one interview with Woody Allen, conducted in Beverly Hills on December 3, 1999. (Unpublished until now, though a small part of it was used in a story I wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle in 1999.)NOT POSTED PENDING POSSIBLE PUBLICATION.

22. Cash Box magazine -- Exclusive interview with Ray Davies, leader of The Kinks.

23. THE WASHINGTON POST -- Exploring Kurt Cobain's Seattle, 2002.
This is the original draft I submitted to The Post in May 2002 (give or take a few lines), not the version that was edited in Nov. '02.

24. UNPUBLISHED -- My audiotaped interview with activist Abbie Hoffman, several months before his suicide. In the interview, one can see how Hoffman was rapidly unraveling.

25. The San Francisco Chronicle -- A profile of film director Pedro Almodovar. [This is from the manuscript I submitted via email to the Chronicle; anyone who compares it to the published version will see exactly how lousy some of the editing at the Chronicle was back then (though, truth be told, they were some of the friendliest people you'd ever want to meet -- though, truth be told again, friendly ain't enough, especially when staffers have made errors in your last seven stories and are about to make an eighth, while trying to spin their way out of being blamed for it)].

26. LOS ANGELES TIMES, OTHER PUBLICATIONS -- Brief profiles of Barry Sonnenfeld, John Woo, Andy Partridge, Warren Zevon, Troy Garity (the first story about Garity in any publication) and David Rabe.

27. The San Francisco Chronicle -- An essay on The Paranoid Movie genre, with a scan of the Paranoid Movie Game gameboard that I designed and conceived for the newspaper.

28. Unpublished interview with Robert Goulet.

29. Unpublished travel story (with photos) about traveling alone as a teenager behind the Iron Curtain 31 years ago.

30. The San Francisco Chronicle -- The Making of "Jaws." Fresh interviews with the filmmakers reveal new details about the film.

31. The San Francisco Chronicle -- Essay on how the British lift bits of American pop culture and then sell it back to Americans as something new.

32. New York Newsday -- The Recycling of Woody Allen. (Note: This was wholly my piece, from idea to execution, and bears my sole byline, though in the print edition there is a nearby byline of another writer, in larger type, referring to other articles adjacent to mine, yet that other byline sort of makes it look like this was a co-written or co-researched piece, which it was not.)

33. SPY MAGAZINE -- Why It's Not So Smart To Be Smart Anymore. Humorous (but solid) investigative reporting.

34. EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JOHNNY WINTER, PUBLISHED HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME. An interview I conducted with bluesman Johnny Winter in Manhattan on October 4, 1985.

35. REUTERS -- My scoop about the reunion of Sly Stone's band The Family Stone. Reveals new details about the reclusive Sly Stone. Syndicated in major publications, including Billboard magazine.

36. THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- Profile of film director Mimi Leder.

37. THE NEW YORK TIMES -- A Jack Nicholson Quiz.

38. NEW YORK NEWSDAY -- Yet another Jack Nicholson Quiz.

39. PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED -- Exclusive interview with film director M. Night Shyamalan. The only interview with Shyamalan about "The Sixth Sense" conducted before the release of "The Sixth Sense" (apparently nobody else thought the movie would be a hit!).NOT POSTED PENDING POSSIBLE PUBLICATION.

40. PUBLISHED BY THE HUFFINGTON POST, AUGUST 1, 2014 -- My exclusive interview with the late Nigerian pop star Fela Kuti (it may be the first one-on-one conducted after his release from prison in 1986).

41. PREVIOUSLY UNPUBLISHED: Humor: Little-Known Popes in Papal History. Published here for the first time. 2007.

42. The East Coast Rocker -- "We Must Send These Fundamentalists a Clear and Sharp Message..."
An editorial on the Salman Rushdie
affair (and on religious fundamentalists from Falwell to Khomeini), which I wrote in March of 1989 after attending a PEN reading of Rushdie's work in Manhattan that had been interrupted by a bomb scare. Published in The East Coast Rocker newspaper on March 29, 1989. (Thanks to editor Jay Lustig for allowing this controversial piece to run as I wrote it.)

43. "THE BUZZ," AN ORIGINAL FEATURE FILM SCREENPLAY BY PAUL IORIO. This is a fictionalized story of a non-fiction murder case that I solved in 1990 (see resume). "60 Minutes" and "The Village Voice" were both interested in doing a story based on my findings at the time -- until key sources became too afraid to talk on the record. Ultimately, with so many sources off the record, I found the only way I could tell the tale was to create this fictionalized version.

By the way, the screenplay is currently an inactive project business-wise (meaning that I'm not trying to sell it anymore), so there is of course no conflict of interest in my writing about movies for various publications (the screenplay was written before I reported about movies professionally).

Also, "The Buzz" is about a set of characters who I think would be interesting even if they weren't caught up an unsolved murder investigation. I definitely didn't want the story to be a typical whodunit that reveals in the last ten pages that the murderer is actually the nun or the butler! I wanted it to resemble real life, where we sometimes know full well whodunit but can't get anyone to listen to the truth or can't get otherwise decent people to side with the good guys. These days, in fiction it's a surprise when the person who you think did it actually did do it.

Copyright 1995. I started writing it in 1990, initially calling it "Number One Bullet," but wrote most of it in '94 and '95. I also revised it in '97 and further revised it in 2003, and that latest version is presented here.

I've posted "The Buzz" here:

44. S i n g l e R o o m O c c u p a n c y
Original Feature Film Screenplay by Paul Iorio

I've posted a scan of the entire 130-page manuscript of
"Single Room Occupancy," published here for the first time
and available nowhere else.

This is the copyrighted version I wrote in 1995 and 1996.

There was movie industry interest in the
script at the time, though it was never made into a
feature film, and I'm not actively trying to sell it

The plot, which really intensifies in the last 50 pages
or so, is about the sabotage of a reformist political
candidate in Hoboken, New Jersey, and it is fiction.

Keep in mind that every word of this was written
before Thanksgiving 1996 -- many years before
"The Sopranos" was even conceived -- so you can see
how it preceded that program in terms of subject
matter (e.g., the NJ mob milieu) and characters (e.g.,
my character Diane Milano was invented and copyrighted
long before Meadow Soprano was!).

I've posted "Single Room Occupancy" here: .

* * *

Some of the articles are presented here in original manuscript or updated versions.

All writing, reporting and research in all stories presented here by Paul Iorio (and there were no co-bylines on any of these pieces). All research in all Q&As by Paul Iorio. (Resume follows at the end.)

I've conducted countless interviews and asked

countless questions as a journalist since 1984 and

have always come up with and asked my own questions,

which have always been based on my own research and

reporting and natural curiosity and spontaneous thinking.

(There have been only three minor exceptions to this:

in 1996, my editor suggested I ask O.J. Simpson a

particular question; in 2000, my editor suggested

one -- only one -- of the many questions that I

asked Woody Allen; and in 1999, my editor again

suggested I ask actor Will Smith a particular question.)

My journalistic methods and work habits were most accurately described by a senior editor at The San Francisco Chronicle -- my main editor at The Chronicle -- who wrote this assessment in a letter of recommendation after working with me for three years in '00:

"Paul has an original way of approaching a story. His writing rarely needs much editing. And best of all, he is completely reliable." (See complete text of letter of recommendation at

Here are the stories!

(By the way, please be wary of editors who claim to have contributed any writing or reporting to these pieces. They didn't. As the cliche goes, success has many fathers...)_

There are stories of mine that are not included here that were more collaborative, but those articles are limited to the following: my stories for Reuters from '97 to '99, which I reported and co-wrote (as opposed to reported and solely wrote), as is the custom with most wire service reports in general. One other exception: a breaking news story I wrote for The Boston Phoenix in 2007, which was collaborative (and, by the way, those people at the Phoenix are first rate!).

Everybody quoted in all stories spoke on the record and on audiotape.

Stories, Written and Reported by Paul Iorio
(searchable text, below)

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Lawrence Ferlinghetti on "Howl"

The Birth of Beat Pop Culture

By Paul Iorio

If the birth of the beat generation could be traced back to one event, it

would probably be the first public reading of Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl"

45 years ago this month at the now defunct Six Gallery in San Francisco.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, whose City Lights Books published the poem in

1956, was in the audience that night and recalls the reading as an electric

event that galvanized the area's literary and arts community.

"Nobody had ever heard anything like that before," said Ferlinghetti,

sipping a Bass ale at the Tosca Cafe in the city's North Beach neighborhood.

"When you hear it for the first time, you say, 'I never saw the world like that


"Howl," widely regarded as one of the great works of 20th-century

American poetry, is a 3,600-word torrent of unusually vivid and hellish

imagery written in the long-line style of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass"

and echoing the rhythms of jazz. It has also become one of the most popular

poems in U.S. history, having sold nearly a million copies in its City Lights

edition -- very rare for a book of poetry.

The poem, the target of a landmark obscenity trial in 1957, also helped

turn publisher and bookseller City Lights into the center of the San Francisco

poetry renaissance of the 1950s.

At the time of the Six Gallery reading, on Oct. 7, 1955, Ginsberg was

living on Milvia St. in North Berkeley, and novelist Jack Kerouac ("On the

Road") was his houseguest. On the night of the event, the two took a bus into

San Francisco and then caught a ride with Ferlinghetti in his Aston Martin to

the Six Gallery, a combination art gallery and performance space at 3119

Fillmore St. near Union.

Six poets read that night, starting about 8 p.m. with Philip Lamantia and

moving on to Philip Whalen and Michael McClure. After a brief intermission,

Kenneth Rexroth, the host, introduced Ginsberg, who began his reading with

the now-classic line, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by


Kerouac sat on the side of the low stage, drinking from a jug of

wine and shouting, "Go!" at the end of some of the long lines. The audience

of fewer than a hundred soon joined in with shouts of encouragement,

exploding in applause at the conclusion, as Ginsberg left the stage in tears.

(Gary Snyder had the bad luck to follow Ginsberg.)

"Allen was really a master performer," says Ferlinghetti. "He could really

turn the audience on."

Afterward, Ginsberg, Kerouac and others celebrated at a Chinese

restaurant, while Ferlinghetti and his wife returned to their apartment on

Potrero Hill, to the south. "I wasn't one of his gang, I wasn't one of his group

at all," says Ferlinghetti. "He sort of considered me a square bookshop

owner....I was not in the inner circle at all. I was not invited to read at the

'Howl' reading because I wasn't known as a poet." (Ferlinghetti, formerly San

Francisco's poet laureate, went on to become an even more popular writer

than Ginsberg; his 1958 book-length poem "A Coney Island of the Mind" has

sold more than a million copies.)

"I sent Allen a Western Union telegram that night saying, 'I greet you at

the beginning of a great career. When do I get the manuscript?" he recalls.

The telegram echoed the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson to Walt Whitman

after the former had read an early version of "Leaves of Grass" (but Ginsberg

didn't initially catch the reference, Ferlinghetti says).

Ferlinghetti did soon get the manuscript, which was subsequently revised

for months by Ginsberg, who dropped a fifth part of "Howl" and added "A

Footnote to 'Howl.'" The three-part poem and its "Footnote" were ultimately

compiled with nine other Ginsberg poems in a book titled "Howl and Other

Poems," the fourth volume of City Lights' Pocket Poets paperback series.

Problems arose when Ferlinghetti, looking to save money, hired a British

printer, Villiers, to print the book. This led to a customs seizure that was

quickly dropped, but not before it brought the book to the attention of the San

Francisco Police Department, which filed its own obscenity charges against

Ferlinghetti for selling the poem. The trial, which lasted through the summer

and early fall of 1957, ultimately cleared Ferlinghetti of all charges.

As it turned out, the bust gave a big publicity boost to "Howl," which

became a hit only after -- and probably because of -- the trial. "Allen was

totally unknown until the book was busted," he says.

Ferlinghetti, 81, was older than most of the beats but has outlived its

leading lights, including Ginsberg, who died in 1997 at age 70; Kerouac, who

died in 1969 at 47; and novelist William S. Burroughs ("Naked Lunch"), who

died in 1997 at age 83.

So when it comes to the beat era, Ferlinghetti is among those who have the

last word. Of Ginsberg, he says: "There wouldn't have been any beat

generation recognized as such if it hadn't been for Allen. He created it out of

whole cloth, really. Without Allen, it would've been separate great writers in

the landscape, it wouldn't have been known as the beat generation."

Of Kerouac, he says: "Allen was always saying ... Kerouac was gay, but I

thought that was really absurd. He was one of the biggest woman chasers I

ever met."

And of the beat movement itself, he's still a believer: "The beat message

became the only rebellion around -- and it is still the same today. With the

dot-commies and the whole computer consciousness, the beat message is

needed now more than ever."

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, October 28, 2000. Thankfully, my editor didn't touch a word (ok, a copyeditor did correct a typo!).]




Roman Polanski on "Chinatown"

(Polanski, Towne and Evans Reveal Backstage Secrets)

By Paul Iorio

Several months ago, director Roman Polanski

watched "Chinatown" on laser disc with his wife

at their home in Paris. It had been a long time

since Polanski had seen the landmark film, which

he directed and didn't like very much at the time

of its 1974 release. At first, they planned to

watch only a half-hour of it but were soon hooked

and saw it through to the gruesome


Polanski's reaction to the film, 25-years after

its release, is inexplicably modest. "I like it

more now than I did then," Polanski

said in a rare, exclusive interview by phone from

a ski resort in the Dolomite

mountains in Italy.

Of course, many critics and fans have been far

less restrained over the decades, hailing "Chinatown"

as a near-perfect gem, one of the great

movies of the last thirty years, a film that

seems to improve with time and

repeated viewing. It's also arguably the

highest peak of Polanski's own

career, which includes such formidable peaks

as "Rosemary's Baby" ('68), "Repulsion" ('65),

"Tess" ('79), and "Frantic" ('88).

The film's plot centers on private eye

Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson), who is

hired to investigate a supposed case of marital

infidelity. Gittes soon

stumbles on a government (and family) scandal

in which the former head of

the Los Angeles Water Department and

others are found to be diverting

water, stealing land, and committing murder,

while nefariously re-shaping the

city's boundaries.

Besides Nicholson, the film also stars

Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Cross

Mulwray, the wife of a slain Water

Department chief; and John Huston as

venal tycoon Noah Cross, Evelyn's


What does Polanski admire about the

film today? "When [Nicholson] comes

up to the door [of Evelyn's house] and

knocks on the door [and it slams in

his face]...And nothing happens. And we

hold like this for a long time," says

the director. "I [also] liked the

scene when [Evelyn] walks out of the

Brown Derby, when [Nicholson] says,

'I like my nose, I like breathing

through it.' Remember? I like that

shot when it starts with the page

going to fetch the car and doing

it in two profiles...[Today], maybe

I would cut two close-ups. I don't

know whether I would actually.

Maybe I wouldn't."

He is momentarily distracted by

his baby son Elvis, who is

crying loudly. "They brought my son

here. You want to talk to him? He's

[fourteen] months [old]," says Polanski.

What would he now change about

the film? "Little details here and

there," he says. "The lousy reflection

in the lens of [Nicholson's camera]

when he's photographing Hollis and

Katherine from the roof [at El

Macondo]...I wanted to [film] it

upside down and [was told], 'Oh

they will never understand it.

Why is it upside down?' Shit

yes, when you see something

reflected in the lens, it's always

upside down! It should be

upside down, it should be slightly

concave. That could [have been] better."

Robert Towne, 64, who won an

Academy Award for his "Chinatown"

screenplay, also likes the film

now more than he did when it was

released. He cites his own

favorite scenes. "[I like] the way

in which we worked the scene

with that wonderful character

actress [Fritzi Burr] who

was the secretary for Yelburton

in the Water department:

[imitating her]

'Yes, yes, they own the water

department!' [Imitating Nicholson]

'I take a long lunch hour --

all day sometimes.' That

willingness to irritate her in

order to get information: very

few directors would insist on

that," says


Both Polanski and Towne were not fans of the picture when they saw

the rough cut of it in the spring of '74. "I finished the film and I looked at

the rough cut and as usual the rough cut is this very depressing moment for

a director," says Polanski. "And a director who does not have experience

[with] it is close to suicide at that stage. But even knowing that that very

difficult moment would pass, I still was tremendously depressed seeing the

rough cut. I showed it to a friend of mine...and was so ashamed when the

lights came up. And he said, 'What a great movie!' I said, 'Jesus, is

something wrong with him?' I truly didn't think that he could be right."

Polanski says he never once thought during the making

of the movie that it would become a classic. Neither did Paramount's

Robert Evans, who produced the film. "Up until the time the reviews

broke, we weren't sure whether we had a disaster on our hands or

something that was just different," says Evans, adding that most Paramount

executives openly predicted the film would fail.

From its birth as a sprawling first-draft script in '73, "Chinatown"

was never considered a commercial sure-shot. At first, even Polanski

passed on the project (at the time, he was busy in Rome). "I really

felt happy in Rome," says Polanski. "I was working there, I had a great

house and a bunch of friends with whom I worked. It just wasn't interesting

for me to go to make a film in Los Angeles."

Besides, Los Angeles reminded him of personal tragedy; four years

earlier, his wife Sharon Tate, pregnant with their child, was sadistically

murdered by members of Charles Manson's gang. "I had too vivid

memories of all those events of '69 [the Manson murders] and I didn't

feel like going to work there," he says.

But the calls from Hollywood to Rome kept coming, first from

Nicholson, who personally asked Polanski to direct the script, and then

from Evans, who apparently made the director an offer he couldn't refuse.

Polanski was soon on a plane to LAX.

What eventually followed was a pivotal eight-week writing session

in which Polanski and Towne dismantled Towne's script and then

painstakingly rebuilt it piece by piece. Their writing workday would

begin around 9:30 or 10:00 in the morning and would last until around seven

or eight in the evening -- and was usually followed by a night of hard


"I don't think there was a day that we worked that we didn't go out

and play at night," says Towne. "The mood at night was -- it was the 1970s.

We had a good time. Fooled around. I'll leave it at that." (Apparently, the

after-hours carousing continued even during the shooting: "[Nicholson]

could stay up until six in the morning [partying] but he would be there [on

the set] at eight or nine knowing his lines like nobody else," says Polanski.

"There was never any kind of problem with him.")

In the day, during the eight-week re-writing marathon, Polanski and

Towne were faced with the huge task of making the muddy script filmable.

"[The first draft] was gigantic and could not actually be shot the way it was

written," says Polanski. "But there were terrific things in it. The second

draft, I remember Robert [Towne] took a long time and then it was even

longer. There were many more characters and it was quite convoluted. We

sat down and with discipline tried to combine some things." Towne

concedes that if his first draft had been filmed as it was, "it would have

been a mess."

Most of the re-writing consisted of re-sequencing scenes while

organizing and clarifying the complicated plot. "We took the script and

broke it down into one-sentence summations of each scene," says Towne.

"Then we took a scissors and cut those little scenes...and pasted them on

the door of the study at his house where we were working. And the game

was to shift those things around until we got them in an order that worked."

"At an early stage in the writing of it, I remember...thinking, what

should be revealed first: the real estate scandal, the water scandal or the

incest?," says Towne. "As obvious as the answer became, that was the

first question I dealt with. And I did realize the water scandal had to come

first, a fairly obvious choice when you stop to think about it. But beyond

that, the rest of the structural changes of significance took place with

Roman, shifting them around back and forth."

Polanski says he "did more of a construction, the shaping up of the

plot...And also I worked on the dialogue in [a] way that people can go

crazy sitting with me because I like eliminating every unnecessary word."

He also put Gittes into sharper focus, partly by using a radical style

of subjective point-of-view (in which he filmed much of the movie over

Nicholson's shoulder). "[Most of] the events that happen are really only

seen by [Gittes]," he says "You never show things that happen in his


Towne and Polanski argued frequently during their collaboration.

"We fought everyday," says Towne. "We'd fight about how to get to a


"['Chinatown''s success] happened through a lot of arguments,

fights," says Evans. "There was [backstage] warfare throughout the

picture, but that's healthy."

Their most substantial disagreement was about the ending of the film,

in which Towne wanted Cross to be killed by Evelyn. Polanski insisted on

a more disturbing finale in which Evelyn is shot dead in front of her young

daughter Katherine. "We were arguing about the end and could not

agree...I was adamant about it...I did not believe in a happy ending in this

type of a movie," says Polanski.

With the backing of Evans, Polanski eventually won the battle over

the ending. "I wrote that last scene the way it is now," says Polanski.

"And I sketched the dialogue and I remember in the evening I...gave

[Nicholson] what I wrote down and said, 'Fashion it into your speech.'

And Jack very quickly jotted a few things of his and then we shot it at

literally five to midnight." (Today, Towne says Polanski "was right about

the end.")

Many see the tragic ending as an echo of the horror of the Manson

murders on some level. That real-life tragedy also probably helped

Polanski turn Gittes into a credible detective. After all, the murder of

Polanski's wife turned the director into a sleuth for a time; in the months

before the killers were caught, he obsessively tried to find the culprits


Does Polanski think his own experience trying to track down his

wife's killers informed the film? "I can only tell you that every experience

helps you with your work. This, of course, did to a certain degree," he

says. "I am unable to tell you how much better the film is because I had

certain things happen to me. Whatever you do, you learn. And each next

movie has one layer more to make it richer."

Towne and Polanski made other changes to the script. The opening

scene where Gittes meets with his client Curly was originally written with

Curly saying he wanted to kill his wife, and Gittes telling him he's not rich

enough to get away with murder. And in fact the cut dialogue is missed

under close scrutiny; when Nicholson's character says, "I only brought it up

to illustrate a point," the audience now doesn't know what "point" he's

referring to, because the previous piece of dialogue is gone. (Gittes's

"point" is that you have to be rich to get away with murder.)

"That exchange I miss probably as much as any in the movie," says

Towne. "Because it really foreshadows [the] 'you've got to be rich to kill

somebody and get away with it' [theme]. He's really foreshadowing the

whole movie in a kind of nice way."

Two other sequences were edited out altogether: in one, Harry Dean

Stanton, playing a seaplane pilot who flies Gittes to Noah Cross's house,

hints at Evelyn's secret past. In the other, Noah talks about his love of

horse manure ("Love the smell of it," says Cross. "A lot of people do but,

of course, they won't admit it.")

By the end of the eight-week session, Polanski and Towne had

created a final working script. Unfortunately, they were also no longer

speaking with one another. "By the beginning of the shooting [in

September 1973], Roman and I had argued to the point where I did not go

onto the set. At that point it was just wiser to let him shoot the movie. But

that was really largely because of the end scene," says Towne.

Contrary to rumor, Polanski never tried to bar Towne from the set.

"I never barred him from the set," says Polanski. "He just didn't come,

because we [weren't] on speaking terms anymore by the time I started the

picture." (The two have long since patched up their differences

and even worked together again on "Frantic." Towne now says that

Polanski is "virtually...the only director that I would willingly work for as a


For the most part, the final screenplay was shot almost exactly as it

was written. "Once Roman and I agreed on the script, he held everyone's

feet to the fire," says Towne. "Whatever disagreements we had, they ended

when the script was written. Nobody said, 'well let's try it another way.'

That was the way."

During the shooting, changes were frequently suggested by Dunaway

-- and rejected by Polanski. "There were a lot of problems with Faye

Dunaway," he says. "Faye always wanted to change something. Some

nights I would...cross a couple words out. [She'd say]: 'Why are you

taking it out? I don't want you to.' I'd say, 'Okay, leave it, leave it. It's

not worth the fight.' Then she would come a half an hour later: 'You know

what? I thought it over, maybe you're right, we should remove it.' It was

like this every day. Or she would try to add something. 'Actually I don't

think it's a good idea, Faye,' [I'd say]. She would start fighting about it.

And it was like that continuously."

[Dunaway did not respond to repeated requests for an interview for

this article. But she did write about Polanski and "Chinatown" in a recent

book, "Looking for Gatsby: My Life," by Dunaway and Betsy Sharkey.

In the 1998 edition, she writes: "I thought Roman was thwarting me and not

supporting me (during the making of 'Chinatown')," and "Roman was an

autocrat, always forcing things." However, she also calls him "an auteur film

maker of the first order."]

Does Polanski think that Jane Fonda, who was up for the role at one

time, would've made a better Evelyn Mulwray? "No, he says. "Absolutely

not. I thought [Dunaway] was perfect. Nobody wanted Faye [initially].

Bob Evans didn't want her because he thought she was trouble. [But] I

knew Faye; she had a fling with a friend of mine...I didn't expect to have

any problems with her. So I fought for her. And I'm still very happy

we had her because whatever problems we had on the set -- who cares?...I

think she's terrific when I watch it now. It's really exactly how I saw the

part; she was the right age, she had the right looks, her acting was just

perfect for this type of character. I don't think anyone else would have

done it better. Same with John Huston."

Could "Chinatown" be made today in the current movie-making-by-

committee era? "I don't think it could, actually," says Polanski. " It would

really have to be [made by] someone who has enough muscle to pull

through all those things. Studios now have an enormous amount of various

executives who need to justify their existence by meddling into the creative

process. And there's a great rift between the creative branch and the

executive branch; [executives] are so envious of not being on the other

side...And they call themselves 'creatives.' There wouldn't be an executive

then who would dare to say, 'We are having a creative meeting' or 'We'll

send you the creative notes.' [Imitating a movie executive]: 'After our

creative meeting we came up with these five pages of creative notes which

we would like you to read.'...In those times, nobody would actually use this

language. The fact that they use it is very meaningful."

Polanski's apparent disillusionment with Hollywood isn't the only

reason he won't be showing up in town to make a film any time soon. He

still risks possible arrest for having had sex with a teenage girl in the 1970s, if

he returns to the States; he fled the U.S. in 1977 rather than face a probable

jail term. (He now lives in Paris with his wife, actress Emmanuelle Seigner,

and two children and makes films outside the U.S.)

And Polanski says he is not close at all to settling his legal problems.

"How can I [return to the U.S.] with the actual state of the media?,"

says Polanski. "I don't want to become a product...Can you imagine what it

would entail showing up suddenly in Los Angeles? It would take a long time

before...closure happens. And I don't think I want it enough. I have family to

look after. I don't want to be in every tabloid."



By Paul Iorio

Decades after "Chinatown"'s release, there are still enduring mysteries

about its plot. Polanski and Towne talked with me about a few of them.


Polanski says it doesn't matter what they were arguing

about. "It was probably about Evelyn," he says. "They had a lot

of things to argue about...It's not necessary to know what they were arguing

about...Since it's only someone relating that they were arguing, we don't

have to know what they were arguing about."

Towne has a more specific explanation. "Hollis was saying, 'you

corrupt old fart, you're still fucking around with the water department. And

I'm not going to deal with you in that matter, I'm not going to build that

dam, and I'm not going to tell you where your daughter is.'"


"Because [Katherine] is in town secretly, to see her mother," says Towne.

"She's keeping her from Noah."


According to Towne, the object was Noah's bi-focals (which Gittes

does retrieve in a later scene). The fact that it was in the pond at the time of

his first visit means Hollis had already been murdered by that morning.

(Evelyn, of course, had no idea he had been killed.)


The enigmatic phrase "as little as possible" turns up in the last scene

and in the bedroom dialogue between Evelyn and Jake (incidentally, the two

passages written solely by Polanski, though the phrase was coined by

Towne). In many ways, it's the movie's defining phrase, since it points

to the title, a metaphor for an insular, venal, 'we-take-care-of-our-own'

type of precinct or community.

"A vice cop had said to me [before I wrote the script], 'you know,

you don't do much in Chinatown,'" says Towne. "He said, 'You can't tell

whether you're helping someone commit a crime or preventing one, so you

just try to not do much.' I said, 'Well, that's kind of an interesting approach

to law enforcement.' And in fact that was the beginning" of the whole



Returning to the Scene of the Crime

By Paul Iorio

Of course, one of the big stars of "Chinatown" is Los Angeles itself.

"This is a Los Angeles movie, not a Hollywood movie," says production

designer Richard Sylbert, who chose the locations for the film.

The sixteen main locations in "Chinatown" -- ranging from a

Catalina hilltop to Echo Park Lake -- present a vision of a seductively

urbane -- and corrupt -- city, circa 1939.

"Robert Towne had this thing about Los Angeles, about

the history of the city, and that's what makes it so profound," Polanski told

me. "Without that, you would just have another detective thing. It's

much more than a thriller."

As Towne says: "Roman repeatedly stressed the wisdom of

repeating...locations. In other words, if you've got one scene in

the department of water and power, make sure you've got two. It orients

an audience."

Here are some of "Chinatown"'s more memorable locations.

1. Ida Sessions's Apartment.

IN THE FILM: Near the end of the film, the body of the murdered Ida

Sessions is shown in her apartment -- at 848-1/2 East Kensington Street

(onscreen and off) -- sprawled on the floor with a spilled bag of groceries.

(Sessions -- played by Diane Ladd -- was the SAG member who passed

herself off as Evelyn Mulwray to Gittes at the beginning of the film.)

IN REAL LIFE: Set in a hilly Echo Park neighborhood south of Sunset, the

apartment house, painted light green now as then, is split in half by a central

bungalow-corridor, just like in the film. Ida's place is in the back, now

protected by a screen security door (which the fictional Sessions sure

could've used at the time!).

COMMENTS: "It was picked [because] it was completely symmetrical and

had a long narrow passage in the middle of it, so looked at it and

said, 'There can't be any problem here,'" says Sylbert. "But once you got

into that narrow corridor, the opposite happened, because narrow corridors

produce anxiety. And then, of course, you get to the door and the glass is

* * *
2. The Mar Vista Inn.

IN THE MOVIE: The Mar Vista Inn and Rest Home is where one of the

most breathtaking car escapes in the film -- and in film history -- takes

place. Gittes visits the home's elderly residents -- whose names are being

used without their knowledge in a land-laundering scam -- and ends up

fighting thug Claude Mulvihill, a former Ventura County sheriff. Dunaway

saves the day, swinging her car around the famous semi-circular driveway,

picking up Gittes and racing back onto Sunset as gunfire erupts.

IN REAL LIFE: The Inn is actually the Eastern Star Home (11725 Sunset

Blvd.), near a commercial strip in Brentwood at Barrington, and is

immediately recognizable from the film. One can stroll along the famous

driveway (and imagine Polanski's gunmen coming up the walk) and climb

the stairs to the entrance where Gittes battered Mulvihill's skull.

COMMENTS: "Every important building in this movie [had to be] white

and Spanish [and] had to be above [Gittes's] eye level," says Sylbert.

"And because it's above his eye level, it's automatically...harder for him to

go there visually...And he's a detective. And uphill is where he's [going]."

* * *

3. Noah Cross's Estate.

IN THE MOVIE: Gittes has lunch here with Noah Cross, who tells Gittes

to "just find the girl."

IN REAL LIFE: Cross's house is actually the mountain-top Wrigley estate

and horse farm on Catalina island.

COMMENTS: "When [Gittes] got off the boat, he walked on to that

wonderful dock where you can see the Avalon ballroom in the

background," says Sylbert. "And we cut [to] the Wrigley Ranch."

* * *

4. Echo Park Lake.

IN THE MOVIE: Gittes and associate Duffy spot Hollis Mulwray with his

"girlfriend" at the north end of Echo Park Lake. Aboard a boat, Gittes

surreptitiously photographs Hollis in a nearby canoe.

IN REAL LIFE: The lake looks exactly as it did 25 years ago. Its

trademark bridge, visible in the film, is now creaky and red, leading to a

damp island full of pigeons and palms. Located south of Sunset and north

of the 101, it also sports a boat station that rents out peddle-boats by the


COMMENTS: Sylbert says the lake is the perfect location "if you're doing

1939 and you're after something that says 'California' so clearly, which

that does, with the little bridge in it and the palm trees all around."

"When you start a movie like this you begin to understand that you

have to go to the old part of town," he says. "And that's why I came up

with Echo Park, and that's why Ida Session's house ended up in that area,

* * *

5. City Hall.

IN THE MOVIE: Near the beginning of the film, Gittes spies on Hollis at a

public meeting at L.A. City Hall in which Hollis states his opposition to the

building of a risky dam project. Meanwhile, Valley farmers, irate over

having their land dried up by illegal water diversion, protest by bringing

sheep into the meeting.

IN REAL LIFE: L.A. City Hall is located downtown on Spring Street.

COMMENTS: "The meeting was the chamber. All I did was put a

huge picture of Roosevelt on the wall," says Sylbert.
* * *

6. The Pig 'N' Whistle.

IN THE FILM: The fictional Pig 'n' Whistle restaurant appears in the film

as the backdrop for an argument between Cross and Hollis Mulwray,

captured in clandestine photographs by Walsh, Gittes's associate.

IN REAL LIFE: This is actually the Pacific Dining Car restaurant (1310

West Sixth St.), at Witmar Street and Sixth, just west of downtown L.A.

(The Dining Car was built in 1921, in the heyday of the Mulwrays.)

COMMENTS: The actual eatery was the place to eat and deal downtown

back when. (Sylbert took the photographs shown in the film.)

* * *
7. The Brown Derby.

IN THE MOVIE: After Hollis is murdered, Gittes and Evelyn Mulwray

meet over lunch at this swank restaurant. Gittes spends most of the meeting

being unjustifiably suspicious of Evelyn.

IN REAL LIFE: The original Brown Derby, representing the elegance of

old L.A., is now gone. In its place is a commercial strip called the Brown

Derby Plaza (and a vacant space where the actual Derby used to be) on the

3400 block of Wilshire, across from the old Ambassador.

* * *

8. El Macondo Apartments.

IN THE FILM: El Macondo is the so-called "love nest" in which Gittes

finds Hollis with a mysterious young woman (actually Katherine). Nicholson

climbs onto the red-tile roof and shoots photos of the two in the courtyard

below. (This is the scene Polanski said he wanted to show upside

down, in the reflection of the camera lens.)

IN REAL LIFE: The apartment building is now called Mi Casa, at 1400-

1414 Havenhurst Drive, between Sunset and Fountain. The stylish four-story

Spanish structure is on the National Register of Historic Places.

COMMENTS: Sylbert named it El Macondo after the name of a city in a

Gabriel Marquez novel. "It was perfect, " says Sylbert. "It was Spanish,

it was white, and we could get to the roof tiles and shoot down into the


9. 1712 Alameda, Chinatown.

IN THE MOVIE: Evelyn is shot to death by detective Loach in the final

sequence and Katherine is whisked away by Noah Cross, in front of Khan's

apartment at the screen address 1712 Alameda.

IN REAL LIFE: The final scene was actually shot on the west side of North

Spring Street in Chinatown, just south of Ord Street.

COMMENTS: Polanski says he filmed this scene at five minutes to

midnight on one of the final days of shooting after quickly scripting a new

ending hours earlier.
* * *

10. Evelyn Mulwray's House.

IN THE MOVIE: This is Evelyn's house -- at the non-existent 1412

Adelaide Drive -- where Gittes discovers a tell-tale piece of evidence in the

backyard salt-water pond. In a later scene here, he's forced to surrender

the evidence to Mulvihill.

IN REAL LIFE: Sources say the house is in Pasadena, at 1315 El Molino,

north of Mission.

COMMENTS: Sylbert says the house was an abandoned wreck before it

was completely renovated and redesigned by the "Chinatown" crew, who

even put in the pond.

"If you watch the scene carefully, you'll notice that when you're in the

backyard, you cannot see [nearby buildings]," says Sylbert. "Because in

1939, the whole image I was after was that there was nothing out there."

Sylbert also chose the place because one can see in a straight line

from the backyard through the house to the front entrance. "At the end of

the movie, when [Gittes] is waiting for Noah Cross, he's standing at that

back doorway and you can see the car with Cross pull up at the front

door," he says. (The practice of shooting action in one room through the

action in another room is virtually a Polanski trademark.)

* * *

11. The Oak Pass Reservoir.

IN THE MOVIE: The Oak Pass is where Hollis is found dead and where

Gittes has his nose sliced by a thug played by Polanski.

IN REAL LIFE: The location's real name is the Stone Canyon Reservoir,

one of the major reservoirs near the L.A. basin. It's in the Santa Monica

mountains above Bel Air and close to Benedict Canyon (not far from

where Polanski's wife was murdered in real-life).

COMMENTS: "The sluice that the body was in when they pulled [Hollis]

up -- that's there, too," says Sylbert.

* * *

12. Point Fermin Park.

IN THE FILM: Early in the movie, Gittes follows Hollis to Point Fermin

and watches him walk down a bluff to the Pacific, where fresh water is

being dumped in the middle of a drought. This is also where Gittes puts

stop-watches beneath the wheels of Hollis's car in a cul-de-sac.

IN REAL LIFE: This is Point Fermin, a public park on the coast of San


COMMENTS: "I made a cut-out [of a lighthouse] about 25-feet high...It

was a quarter-mile away from the camera so you could make it look like a

lighthouse," says Sylbert, referring to the scene in which Gittes lounges in a

suit on the bluff at twilight. (The real Point Fermin lighthouse was not in

operation at the time.)
* *

Other locations in the film include: the "Hollenbeck Bridge," where

Gittes approaches a boy on a donkey; the place is actually in the Tujunga

Canyon area.

The orange groves in the northwest valley, where Gittes is assaulted

by farmers, are in the Fillmore Orchards, near Santa Clara. Curly's house

was not in San Pedro but in Hollywood, a few blocks from Paramount

studios. And Katherine's house, at the onscreen address 1972 Canyon

Drive, is either in a neighborhood near Paramount or in the Hollywood Hills

(where the real 1972 Canyon looks much like the celluloid one); sources

conflict here.

The only backlot location in the film is the barbershop. "I built a

barber I could put an automobile outside the window and

overheat the engine," says Sylbert about the scene in which Gittes himself

vividly overheats.

The Water Department offices, the Hall of Records, Gittes's office,

and the room where the famous "sister/daughter" scene takes place were all

studio sites.

[From The Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1999; original manuscript; part two of this piece is published here for the first time.]




Richard Pryor, At Twilight on Sunset

An Eyewitness Account of Pryor's Last Two Concerts

By Paul Iorio

It's twilight on Sunset outside The Comedy Store between the billboards of

dead icons James Dean and Frank Zappa and just down the street from where

John Belushi shot his last speedball. Around fourteen comics are scheduled to

perform at The Store tonight, but there are no lines around the block and no ticket

scalpers on the sidewalk, despite the star power of one of the fourteen, the one

whose name appears on the outdoor marquee that reads: "Richard Pryor Tonight."

Pryor is about to perform what will become the last two shows of his life. It's

July 17, 1996.

Defying his own multiple sclerosis, he is set to take the stage at The Comedy

Store, the West Hollywood, comedy club where he created his best

material in the 1970s, the birthplace of his codger character Mudbone and a lot of

other prime stuff.

But expectations for a laugh are lower than the setting sun, since Pryor's M.S.

sometimes makes him not just unfunny, but incoherent. No reporters, except this

one, are on hand to witness Pryor's swan song.

Outside the club, stray Sunset Strip toughs walk and loiter. Inside, a couple

hundred fans file into the place, perhaps to glimpse whatever legendary fire

remains or to pay respect to a bona fide comic genius or to survey the shambles

of a collective youth lost to drugs, illness and the ravages of time. A solo pianist

plays "We're in the Money" and other jaunty tunes.

Five comics warm up for Pryor tonight. Though none could have touched him

back when, the openers are now the ones evoking most of the laughter, if not the

attention. The best is stand-up Mark Curry, star of the Nineties television series

Hangin' With Mr. Cooper, who kills live.

"Free Willy: some people thought it was about some brother in jail. 'Willy

didn't do all that shit, 'know,'" jokes Curry, as the crowd explodes.

And there are laughs for Argus Hamilton, the former Tonight Show regular and

writer for Pryor's TV show in the Seventies ("O.J. says to A.C.: 'I told you Costa

Rica not Costa Mesa!'").

By 10:00 p.m., the place is packed with Pryor fanatics and stand-up

aficionados. Pryor is late but no one seems to mind a bit. An exquisitely

pissed-off set by the very spontaneous Ellen Cleghorne takes everyone's mind

off the delay.

Then, at long last there's commotion at the back of the club as Marvin

Gaye's "What's Goin' On?" blasts from speakers. Two massive guys carry a frail,

thin, dapper man who looks, well, more like Mudbone than the person he used

to be. The full house stands and applauds vigorously but in a somewhat

ceremonial way, as if he were receiving some sort of lifetime achievement award.

Some in the audience seem to be taken aback by Pryor's physical deterioration.

The music stops, the crowd sits.

It's around 10:50 p.m. and, against enormous odds, Pryor has just reclaimed

the stage at the Comedy Store.

Pryor is wearing a red cap and sits in his wheelchair next to a stool that has

a glass of water on it. A handler puts a pair of glasses on the comedian and then

leaves the stage.

"These are glasses, right?" Pryor quips, calling the thick lenses "Coke

bottles." The audience, which is primed to laugh, laughs.

"I appreciate that you laugh at me no matter what I say," says Pryor. The

crowd laughs again. One senses that Pryor, like his early mentor Redd Foxx,

could die onstage clutching his heart, and the audience would roar at the bit.

"I'm gonna die soon," he continues. Twenty-five years ago, that line might have

kicked off a sidesplitter, like the classic in which he impersonates someone

panicking during a bad acid trip by repeating "I'm-gonna-die, I'm-gonna-die" like

a mantra-turned-tribal-chant. But tonight, it's decades later, and "I'm-gonna-die"

means I'm-gonna-die. A sexy blonde woman in the front center row is quietly

weeping, occasionally wiping tears from her face.

"People ask me, 'Are you pissed off?' I say, 'Yeah!,'" Pryor says.

Pryor tries to sip something but has major trouble bringing the cup to his

lips. There's a long pause.

"I hope you're as nice to other comics as you are to me," says Pryor.

"We love ya, Rich," yells someone.

"Yeah, babe," shouts another.

A waitress serves the front rows, and Pryor spots her.

"What're you doin'? Stealin' drinks?" he jokes. A hint of the old fire.

He sips and softly says, "Shit," at something private.

"Thanks for listening to me...It's been weeks since I saw my dick hard," he

says. This from a guy who used to joke his cock was "hard enough to cut


"Hold the mike up to you, sir," someone shouts. "So we can hear you."

"I don't want you to hear me," snaps Pryor. A long silence.

"Life's a bitch," he says, drooling a bit.

"And then you die?" adds a fan.

"Yeah, but when?" asks Pryor. "I don't mind hanging around, but shit!"

"When they said I had M.S., I said, 'I don't even know what M.S. is,'"

says Pryor. "Doctor said, 'Don't worry, you will.'"

A woman in the front row gets up to leave.

"Where you goin', pretty lady?" Pryor asks. The moment recalls a scene from

the movie "Lenny," where the Lenny Bruce character shouts, "Where're you

going?" to fans leaving a lousy show of his. But this isn't "Lenny," and he isn't

Lenny. Bruce died alone, broke and blacklisted; Pryor is dying with lots of friends

and fans -- and at least some money.

So when he says, "Where you goin', pretty lady?," the woman smiles at him

and says apologetically, "I'm going to the bathroom."

"I told my mom, 'Dad is fucking everyone in the neighborhood.' She said, 'Just

be glad he isn't fucking you,'" jokes Pryor. Fans laugh.

He pauses. "Bear with me." The audience is now silent enough that unrelated

laughter from an adjoining room can be heard.

Out of the blue, Pryor says, "Thanks, Jenny," referring to his ex-wife Jennifer

Lee, who he has since re-married and who handles his life and career with the

dedication of a true believer.

"I beat Jenny up sometimes a long time ago," says Pryor. "She's the first

woman who ever hit me in the mouth. [pause] Just because I asked her for some


The crowd applauds. Then, attendants come to carry Pryor offstage, the

audience gives him a standing ovation, and recorded music plays. He was

onstage for forty minutes. The applause seems as much for his courage as for

any humor.

And his raw honesty is jarring in this Age of Spin, when celebrities pay

publicists nice money to hide scandals or twist them into something

unrecognizable. Pryor seems proud of his imperfections -- or at least proud of not

hiding them -- and freely jokes about his bad health, his lavish drug use, the

brothels of his childhood, even something as reprehensible as wife-beating. No

muckraker could possibly expose Pryor's dark side because the comic has

already scooped them.

A week later, on July 24, 1996, Pryor performs another show at the Comedy

Store, literally the last performance of his life.

This time he is feistier and funnier -- at first. With the small club packed

again, and no journalists present (except this one) again, Pryor gets some genuine

laughs when he refers to fellow M.S. victim Annette Funicello as "that

M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E bitch."

"Put the mike closer," someone yells.

"Fuck you!," snaps Pryor, and people howl. Pryor actually seems to like it

when the crowd is rude and less reverential, perhaps because he's then under no

obligation to be appreciative, or maybe because he's developed a taste for


After joking about "getting pussy in the rehab ward," the show takes a steep

dive. "I got a mouthful of shit," Pryor says, "and I can't..." He trails off.

Pryor pulls out a piece of paper and tries for minutes to unfold it. An uneasy

silence fills the place. It's almost like the scene in the movie "Born on the

Fourth of July" when Ron Kovic starts a public speech smoothly, but suddenly

and inexplicably stops dead as the audience watches in shock.

"Take your time," someone shouts.

Pryor continues trying to unfold the paper but his hands just aren't agile

enough to do it. His body is progressively failing him with every passing minute.

"We're not going anywhere," a guy yells.

"Neither am I," says Pryor, grumbling about not having his "big-ass Coke

bottle" glasses again. After several minutes, he finally finishes unfolding the

paper and stares at it for awhile. Now there's a new problem: he can't read it.

"This M.S. shit is getting to me," he says.

A handler brings Pryor a cigarette. Pryor flicks a bright red lighter once,

twice, and flames it the third time.

"Could you bring me a Number Twenty?" Pryor asks someone. A Number

Twenty, in Comedy Store parlance, is a martini.

"Yessir," comes the response from someone in the audience.

Smoke from Pryor's cigarette fills the air for an elastic, relaxed minute

or so.

In the spotlight, smoke hovers over the front rows like cumulus clouds that

are ready to drench and thunder with electricity. But the fire and fury don't

come. The crowd is silent.

"You all are very patient," Pryor says.

"We gotta be; we paid ten dollars," says someone, good-naturedly.

"Hey, don't start no shit!," Pryor says.

Through the smoke, Pryor lifts his Number Twenty feebly, as if he's Dave the

aged astronaut in the time travel sequence of "2001: A Space Odyssey." With smoke

and silence everywhere, the whole place seems to be caught in a time warp; a

minute ago we were in 1976 (wasn't that a minute ago?) and suddenly we're

transported to the present-day, where there's this old man onstage in the house

of his prime. Could this really be the same guy who thirty years ago had such

masterful physical control that he could impersonate a race car, run hilariously in

slow motion, or convince audiences he was having a heart attack by falling to

the floor?

"I know I can't see, but when I wear the Coke bottles, then everybody knows

it," he says. He smokes his cigarette, his breathing now audibly labored.

"I'm glad I've got M.S. -- it's keeping me alive," he says. "Isn't that what

you said, Jenny?" Pryor was referring to Lee's much-quoted theory that if the

disease hadn't slowed him down, he'd have been killed in the fast lane by now.

Onstage, Pryor's cigarette burns to his fingertips, and he isn't physically

able to remove it. "Get this motherfuckin' cigarette out of my hand 'cause it's

burning me!" he blurts, real pain in his voice. A handler bounds onstage to take

it away.

As it turned out, those were Pryor's very last words onstage in a full=length

concert anywhere. He would never attempt another stand-up performance.

The half-hour show ends at 11:20 p.m., as two muscular guys carry him

offstage. Pryor is driven home.

[Parts of this story first appeared in New Times Los Angeles in October 1996; it's also the first chapter of my book on Pryor, re-written in late 2005. Incidentally, I audiotaped Pryor's last show.]

By the way, here is the Comedy Store program for Pryor's penultimate full-length concert, July 17, 1996.



The Immediate TV Coverage of the First Two Crashes on 9/11
(The Live Coverage Viewers Missed)

By Paul Iorio

By now, everyone has seen virtually every inch of television coverage of

the September 11th attacks around nine hundred and eleven times. It

sometimes seems as if every scrap of 9/11 footage ever shot -- whether taken

upside down near Ground Zero or from faraway Rockaway -- has already

been aired more frequently than the Zapruder film.

But most TV viewers never got to see the most riveting 9/11 television

coverage of all: the raw live footage of the seventeen minutes between the

first plane crash at 8:46 and the second at 9:03 am, as seen on the morning

news shows.

In New York, television programming was largely knocked off the air by

the toppling of transmission antennae atop the Trade Center. And on the west

coast, almost everyone was asleep during the attacks, waking only in time to

see the first tower collapse.

So for those who missed it -- almost everybody -- there's now a website

library that has compiled streaming video of all major U.S. television news

programs from that morning, shown in real-time with ads intact -- plus a

generous sampling from overseas media outlets. (The site is run by a non-

profit online TV library called The Television Archive and can be accessed at Its American network feeds are from

Washington, D.C., affiliates; MSNBC and the cable Fox News Channel are

not included in the archive.) [Note: the website has since been deleted.]

The coverage from 8:30-to-9:30-am is among the most engrossing ever

broadcast -- and some of the most inadvertently telling, too, since it clearly

reveals who among the anchors and correspondents got it right and who blew

it, who could think on their feet and who couldn't, as the ultimate breaking

news story unfolded.

There are surprises. For example, Charles Gibson, co-anchor of ABC's

"Good Morning America," did an unexpectedly fine job of covering the

moment when the second plane hit and was the only anchor on the three

major networks to immediately speak up and tell us what had happened.

Others, like Bryant Gumbel, the now-departed anchor of CBS's "The Morning

Show," contributed astonishingly awful reportage.

The first to break the news to America was CNN, which cut into an

advertisement at 8:49, three minutes after the first crash, with a live picture of

the burning north tower and the words: "This just in. You are looking at

obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the World Trade Center

and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into

one of the towers."

"Good Morning America" arrived second, at 8:51, with Diane Sawyer

saying, "We want to tell you what we know as we know it. But we just got a

report in that there's been some sort of explosion at the World Trade Center."

(And within a couple minutes, ABC correspondent Don Dahler was providing

terrific first-hand reportage via cellphone from near Ground Zero.)

Matt Lauer of NBC's "Today" would have been third, coming a half

minute after "GMA," had he not dropped the ball. At 8:51, Lauer broke away

from an interview to announce that there was breaking news but didn't say

what the news was. "I have to interrupt you right now," Lauer told his guest,

the author of a biography on billionaire Howard Hughes. "We're going to go

live right now and show you a picture of the World Trade Center, where I

understand -- Do we have it? No, we do not." He then cut to 90 seconds of

ads before Katie Couric returned to the airwaves to report what had


But the real test of anchor mettle came at the moment when the second

plane hit at 9:03. "GMA"'s Gibson took control forcefully and calmly within

two seconds of the second collision, describing events in a brisk and firm

manner, explaining what was occurring in the live footage, and rattling off

facts from memory, while showing genuine emotion ("Oh, this is terrifying,

awful"), as a wilting Diane Sawyer murmured, "Oh my god, oh my god."

Gibson was so alert that he actually broke the news of the second collision

to his correspondent at the scene, who didn't see the plane hit. And within

twenty seconds, Gibson, the first on any network to mention the Trade Center

terrorist attack of '93, was speaking plain truth before his colleagues did: "So

this looks like some sort of a concerted effort to attack the World Trade

Center that is underway." That statement may seem cautious in hindsight, but

at the time was as far as any anchor had gone on the air.

On "Today," Couric and Lauer were upstaged a bit by a sometimes

excellent witness, Elliot Walker, a Today producer who happened to be

walking near the towers when the first plane hit. Walker was already being

interviewed by the anchors when the second plane crashed, and she

spontaneously stepped into the lead role during the ten seconds after the

impact, describing exactly what had happened, while Couric and Lauer, who

had presumably seen the same thing on the TV monitor, were silent (in

contrast to the talkative Gibson on ABC).

By all rights, every network should have been on equal footing at 9:03,

with live cameras fixed on the twin towers at the moment of impact. Still,

"The Morning Show" and CNN's "Live This Morning," which had shifted to

feeds from local New York stations, failed miserably in this crucial part of the

reportage, their anchors seemingly confused about what was obvious to

reporters on other networks. One ludicrous affiliate correspondent, picked up

on CNN, cluelessly floated the idea that the two collisions might have been

the result of "faulty navigating equipment."

CNN fared better when its own newspeople returned to the airwaves, in

time to report the Pentagon hit and the south tower collapse, which Aaron

Brown covered from a visually dramatic outdoor setting some thirty blocks

from Ground Zero, with the burning towers as a backdrop (a visual that has

since been seen in CNN promos).

Meanwhile, Gumbel proved he couldn't see the finger in front of his face

on this clear Manhattan morning, while also expressing little sense of horror

about what was unfolding ("wow" and "it's a terrible scene" were the closest

he came).

Gumbel, who seemingly had to be told about the second crash by an

amateur witness ("You saw a plane?," he asked a witness, incredulously),

interviewed several observers who all told him the second plane had

obviously been flown deliberately into the tower. Yet he kept asking each

source the same dim question: "Why do you say it was deliberate?," a

question he asked no fewer than four times between 9:03 and 9:12, while

repeating such phrases as vantage point and re-racking the [video] tape. (By

contrast, Lauer suggested it was something deliberate at 9:05; Gibson had

already done so at 9:03. Gumbel didn't come around until about 9:19.) This,

from the distinguished news division of Dan Rather and Ed Bradley.

If Gumbel seemed to somehow miss the crash of the second plane, he

was the only anchor who thought he saw non-existent third and fourth jets

approach the burning towers at 9:41. "Hold it, hold it!," said a near-panicky

Gumbel to his guest. "Two jets right now, approaching the World Trade

Center! We're watching! Hold on! [pause] I'm sorry, no...we can't tell

whether it was a plane or a 'copter."

Gumbel, who inexplicably wasn't joined by any CBS News correspondent

until Jim Stewart appeared at 9:15, did hit one high note, at 8:57, when he

interviewed a doorman at the Marriott World Trade Center, the hotel that

used to be between the two towers. The doorman began like a cocky New

Yorker ("How ya doin'?") but his voice started cracking unexpectedly as he

poignantly described the trauma he had just seen: a man on fire outside the


"I heard a guy screaming," said the doorman, seeming on the verge of

tears. "And when I looked over, there was this guy that was on fire. So I just

kind of like ran over and I tried to, like, put the fire out on him. And he was,

he was, like, screaming. I told him to roll, roll, and he said he can't. And

another man came over with his bag and kind of like put the flames out on


"Today" also had raw and revealing moments. At one point, Couric read a

Reuters report that opened a horrifying window on the hell that was taking

place on the upper floors of the towers: "A person who answered the phone

on the trading floor at interdealer-broker Cantor Fitzgerald, located near the

top of the World Trade Center, said, 'Were blanking dying,' when asked what

was happening, and hung up. There was screaming and yelling in the

background, and a follow-up call was not answered."

Several anchors and witnesses made observations that now seem

perceptive and even prescient in retrospect. Couric was more correct than

she knew when she noted (at 9:37) the possibility that another attack might be

in the offing at any moment; one minute after she voiced that concern, the

Pentagon was attacked. (And thanks to a quick and well-placed Jim

Miklaszewski, Today scooped everyone on the Washington crash.)

CBS's Stewart was the first to mention Osama bin Laden on the air (at

9:16). ABC's John Miller understood faster than anyone else that there was

virtually no way people trapped on the upper floors of the towers could be

rescued, because of the heavy smoke. Lauer was the first to note the

terrorists's high level of coordination and planning. Dahler, who heard the

first plane hit, correctly dismissed the early widespread notion that the aircraft

had been a small prop plane.

There were also moments of bad information. For instance, Sawyer tried

to put something of a happy-ending on the tragedy at 9:07 by stating, "There's

a small hope that the fire may have gone out from the first site" (Dahler

quickly extinguished that false hope). And Couric read a report, later

repeated by Lauer, that claimed a small commuter plane had hit the north


The tone of the anchors shifted -- almost uniformly -- as the hour

progressed, from denial and confusion to horror, with disbelief throughout.

After the first attack, everyone on the air seemed to take solace in the

possibility that it might have been a simple accident by a pilot who had lost

control of his plane and wrecked in an unlucky spot. But after the second

attack, it was self-evident to virtually everyone that there was no innocent

explanation for what was happening.

The 8:30 hour is also fascinating because it shows the 9/11 era

arriving as abruptly and violently as the edge of a hurricane after the placid

eye of the storm. "[It's]...a beautiful fall morning," Couric noted before the

tragedy. "A beautiful day here," said "GMA" weatherman Tony Perkins.

"...It's kind of quiet around the country [weather-wise]'s too quiet, said an

inadvertently prescient Mark McEwen on "This Morning."

After the attacks, the weather was mentioned only in relation to the fact

that the collisions couldn't have possibly been weather-related.

All told, there were no lost tempers, no crying, no real panicking on the

air. There was also no single dazzling journalistic feat that might have

elevated one news team far above the others (something on the order of

scoring a cellphone interview with a passenger on one of the hijacked jets).

That said, the best coverage clearly came from ABC (because of Gibson)

and NBC (partly due to Miklaszewski), with almost everyone else way


[From The Toronto Star, January 4, 2003.]



The "Howl" Tour of San Francisco

By Paul Iorio

Anyone looking for a unique way to visit the San Francisco area

might want to try touring the places where Allen Ginsberg wrote, revised

and publicly read his landmark 1955 poem "Howl."

The "Howl" (self-guided) tour provides a fresh view of Beat-era San

Francisco while also serving as a terrific excuse to visit some of the more

obscure neighborhoods in the Bay area.

"Howl," which turns 45 this year, is one of the seminal poems of 20th

century American literature, a defining work of the Beat generation and the

subject of an historic obscenity trial. Ginsberg, who grew up in New

Jersey and lived for many years in Manhattan, wrote it after living in

San Francisco for a year. (He ultimately stayed in the area for nearly two

years.) He and novelist Jack Kerouac ("On the Road"), who would later

join Ginsberg in Berkeley, were the most important of the Beat writers

(along with William S. Burroughs).

Written wholly in the Bay area, "Howl" was started on Montgomery

Street in San Francisco, was finished in North Berkeley, was partly

inspired by a building on Powell, was first publicly read in Pacific Heights

and was published (in '56) on Columbus Avenue in North Beach.

So where exactly did it all happen? Here's the guide.

1. The Marconi Hotel, 554 Broadway in North Beach.

IN 1955: When he arrived in San Francisco

in August 1954, Ginsberg

rented a room here and stayed for nearly two months, according to journal

entries compiled in the book "Allen Ginsberg: Journals Mid-Fifties." His

rent was six dollars a week, according to the book "Dharma Lion: A

Biography of Allen Ginsberg" by Michael Schumacher. On one of his first

nights here, he wrote in his journal: "Back alone in a Hotel and once again

the great battle for survival."

IN 2000: Today, the Marconi still stands across an

intersection from the

City Lights bookstore. The hotel, identified only by a small sign on its front

door, is located next to two sex clubs.

2. Ginsberg's Apt. at 1010 Montgomery Street in S.F.

IN 1955: The 29-year old Ginsberg wrote most

of "Howl" here, two

blocks east of the Marconi, after moving from flats at 755 Pine,

1403 Gough and the Wentley Hotel. Living on unemployment insurance,

Ginsberg settled in a first-floor furnished apartment (with a view of

Montgomery St.) in February '55 with his lover Peter Orlovsky, according

to his journal. "I sat idly at my desk...only a few blocks from City

Lights literary paperback bookshop. I had a secondhand typewriter, some

cheap scratch paper. I began typing, not with the idea of writing a formal

poem, but stating my imaginative sympathies," Ginsberg said of the poem's

genesis in the Schumacher biography.

IN 2000: The grey three-story apartment building is on the

northeast corner of Montgomery and Broadway (at the point where Montgomery

begins a steep incline). Walk up the street toward the north for a

marvelous view of the city's east side.

3. Ginsberg's Apartment in North Berkeley at 1624 Milvia St.

IN 1955: Ginsberg revised all three parts of

"Howl" (and its footnote)

here, moving to Milvia St. in September 1955 from his Montgomery

St. place. He paid $35 a month for a cottage in the back, according to

journal entries. "I have a house here...[with] a backyard cottage & private

backyard, quite big, filled with vegetables & flowers," he wrote in a letter

that is quoted in the book "Kerouac: A Biography" by Ann Charters.

(Ginsberg even wrote a poem about his new home called "A Strange New

Cottage in Berkeley," included in his pocket book "Reality Sandwiches.")

Other Beat luminaries lived in the neighborhood at the time, including

Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Robert Duncan. He left the cottage (and the

Bay Area) in June '56.

IN 2000: It's a three-story apartment house over a

garage (a "dingbat," in California slang), several blocks from the

University of California at Berkeley in a somewhat faded part of town.

A "poetry garden" honoring Ginsberg was recently dedicated on the grounds

of an elementary school across the street, according to the Berkeley Daily

Planet newspaper.

4. The Six Gallery, 3119 Fillmore St. in the Pacific Heights/Cow Hollow

area of S.F.

IN 1955: The now defunct Six Gallery, an art gallery and performance

space founded in '54, was where Ginsberg first publicly read "Howl," on

October 13, 1955, a pivotal moment in Beat history. The event was

described by Schumacher in "Dharma Lion": "Jack Kerouac, sitting at the

edge of the platform, pounded in accompaniment on a wine jug, shouting

'GO!' at the end of each long line. The crowd quickly joined him in

punctuating Allen's lines...By the time he had concluded, [Ginsberg] was in


IN 2000: The Gallery is long gone but the neighborhood

at Fillmore and Union is thriving and commercially active, with many shops

selling, coffee,cigars, pastries and real estate. (The Gallery is now a rug shop

located just north of the intersection of Fillmore and Union.)

5. Mediterraneum Caffe, at 2475 Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.

IN 1955: Ginsberg is said to have written and

revised his poetry at this

Beat hang-out near the UC Berkeley campus.

IN 2000: The eatery, across from Moe's Books on

Telegraph in the heart

of town, still features a sidewalk cafe and indoor restaurant.

6. The Sir Francis Drake Hotel at 450 Powell St. in SF.

IN 1955: The second part of "Howl" was

inspired by and written at this

hotel. Ginsberg once said the hotel looked like "the robot skullface of

Moloch" and that he "wandered down Powell Street muttering 'Moloch

Moloch' all night and wrote 'Howl II' nearly intact in cafeteria at foot [sic]

of the Drake hotel," according to "Dharma Lion." The hotel, he wrote in

his journals, "may be coming to eat me someday."

IN 2000: The Drake is one of the city's best-known

luxury hotels; on the

ground floor, at Powell and Sutter, is a coffee shop and outdoor cafe called

Cafe Expresso that is apparently a later incarnation of the cafeteria in which

Ginsberg wrote some of "Howl II."

7. City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave. in North Beach.

IN 1955: "Howl" was first published in 1956 by

City Lights Books, the

publishing arm of the legendary City Lights Bookstore, co-founded in '53

by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who still owns it. It began as a paperbacks-

only shop but eventually expanded to include hard covers and a variety of

titles. In '57, Ferlinghetti and a store clerk were arrested for selling the

supposedly obscene "Howl"; the subsequent trial, which decided for City

Lights, made Ginsberg famous and turned his poem into a big hit.

IN 2000: City Lights remains one of the best-regarded

bookstores in the

nation and is still owned by Ferlinghetti, now 80. (And City Lights Books

still publishes on the top floor.) A handwritten sign in the window describes

it as "A Kind of Library Where Books Are Sold." Another sign offers this

variation on Dante: "Abandon All Despair, Ye Who Enter Here."

8. Vesuvio Cafe at 255 Columbus Ave. in North Beach.

IN 1955: Ginsberg and other writers (including

Dylan Thomas) frequently

drank in this North Beach bar next to City Lights. Ginsberg wrote about

Vesuvio in a 1954 journal poem called "In Vesuvio's Waiting for Sheila":

"Here at last a moment/in foreign Frisco...listening to the vague

conversation...anticipating leaning on the bar."

IN 2000: Still located on what is now called

Jack Kerouac Alley, Vesuvio

is a well-preserved Beat shrine. The Cafe has a colorful outdoor mural on

its north wall and an epigram painted over the entrance that reads, "We are

itching to get away from Portland, Oregon" (a reference to a supposed

"flea epidemic" of 1915, according to a Cafe flier). During a recent visit to

the cafe at 8:50 on a Saturday morning, I found around a half dozen

patrons already at the bar, all watching (and poking fun at) a western movie

from the Fifties on the cafe's television.

9. Foster's Cafeteria at 235 Montgomery St. (the Russ Building) in the
Financial District.

IN 1955: In January 1955, Ginsberg mentioned Foster's

so frequently in his

journal that one might think he worked there. He hung out at the cafeteria

mostly with Neal Cassady, Peter Orlovsky, Robert LaVigne and others in

the itinerant weeks before he moved to Montgomery Street. Typical journal

entries during this period include: "We go down to Foster's, I eat chili &

french fries" and "We sight Neal [Cassady]'s car pulling front of


IN 2000: Foster's no longer exists, but the 31-story

Russ Building, built in 1927, remains an S.F. landmark. Located in

the financial district, the

building is home to many companies and shops.

[From The Washington Post, May 7, 2000.]


Pulp Non-Fiction

Physicians Assess the Accuracy of Medical Information in Feature Films

By Paul Iorio

For many, movies are a big subliminal source of medical and health

information. Films insidiously teach us that people can eat fifty eggs

an hour, catch fire and be thrown out of closed windows without suffering

major health problems, though the uncinematic truth is a person can

easily be killed by a single blow to the head.

How accurate is such movie medicine? I asked a variety of medical

professionals for their diagnoses.

I asked about the medical info in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction,"

in which a gorgeous druggie played by Uma Thurman bleeds from the nose and

froths at the mouth after overdosing on heroin. Her date for the

night (John Travolta) panics and tries to revive her by injecting

adrenaline directly into her heart.

The scene may be memorable, but is it medically correct? Is it

possible to resuscitate an overdose victim by stabbing her in the chest

with a needle roughly the size of an ice pick?

Probably not, say some doctors.

According to several doctors, "Pulp Fiction"'s OD revival technique

wouldn't likely work. "The likelihood is much higher that you'd hurt someone

than help someone by doing that," says New York Hospital cardiologist Paul

Kligfield. "It's unequivocally never the first thing to do, even in a

supervised setting."

Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" also features some questionable medical

information. At one point, Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) talks to Mr. Orange

(Tim Roth), who is suffering from a gunshot wound to his lower abdomen.

"Along with the kneecap, the gut is the most painful area a guy can get shot

in," says Mr. White. "But it takes a long time to die from it. I'm

talking days."

Does it really take days? "If you have a gunshot wound to the abdomen,

the chances of having a significant injury are about 95 percent," says trauma

surgeon Michael Madden, clinical director of the New York Hospital-Cornell

Burn Center. He explains that if Mr. Orange's intestines had been punctured,

partially digested food would have leaked into his abdominal cavity, giving

him a quickly fatal case of peritonitis.

And is the gut really the most painful area to be shot in? "It depends

on where," says general surgeon James Mariadason. "There are people who are

shot in the belly who don't feel anything until many hours later."

Injury to the abdomen can be caused by less violent acts, like overeating.

Doctors say Paul Newman's character in "Cool Hand Luke" was behaving

foolishly when he ate 50 eggs, most of them hard-boiled, within an hour.

"I think you would get a protein overload," says gastroenterologist Martin

Finkel. "One would worry about over-distending the stomach and rupture."

"You'd cause such an obstruction to your gastric tract that you'd have

constipation for days if not weeks," adds Rose Ann Soloway, a specialist in

toxicology at the National Capital Poison Center. "That's something that

hard-boiled eggs do: they really slow up metabolism in the bowels."

There are certainly more dangerous things to ingest than eggs. In both

"Magnum Force" and "Heathers," characters die after drinking Drano-like

substances. But doctors say that sort of cocktail probably wouldn't kill you,

though it would inflict grievous injury.

Drain cleaner "is so caustic you can't kill yourself with it," declares

Finkel. "It's so caustic you can't get enough of it down."

It's also hard to swallow what happens after Mickey and Mallory of

"Natural Born Killers" suffer rattlesnake bites in Oliver Stone's film. The

unhappy couple search for an antidote at a drugstore. Doctors explain that

the local pharmacy is a highly unlikely place to find anti-venom. "The

chances of finding any would be very remote," says Soloway. "It's kept under

refrigeration, usually in medical centers."

Another famous Stone movie bite is the one he scripted for "Midnight

Express." After considerable abuse, the Brad Davis character bites off

the tongue of an adversary during a fight. In real life, the victim could bleed

to death or, at the very least, "speech would be affected and also chewing and

swallowing might be affected," says Steven Rosenberg, an oral surgeon.

A severed tongue isn't quite as perilous as the facial burns Max Cady

(Robert DeNiro) sustains in Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear." Near the end,

Cady's face, wet with lighter fluid, catches fire for fifteen seconds. And, after

that, he still plagues his former lawyer's family.

"A one-to-two-second burn when you're on fire would probably cause

significant damage. Fifteen seconds? That's absurd," says burn specialist

Madden. "He would have had third-degree burns on his face. That means all

layers of the skin would have been burned...The third-degree burns will not

kill him but the smoke inhalation might."

Of course, not all films are medically incorrect. Believe it or not, doctors

insist that it is plausible that the Harrison Ford character could have made

that famous leap to the river in "The Fugitive" without being injured. And

the leeches covering Humphrey Bogart's body in "The African Queen" would

have resulted in a loss of only a pint of blood, leaving him strong enough to

take on the Germans.

And it doesn't take a doctor to understand why movie-within-a-movie star

Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) emerges unscathed from a vicious fight in Woody

Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo." The reason? Baxter is in fact a bona fide

fictional character.

"I don't get hurt or bleed," Baxter says in the movie. "My hair doesn't

muss. It's one of the advantages of being imaginary."

[From the Washington Post, October 16, 1994.]



April 25, 2006 (in the print edition and online)

Streaming Katie's Consciousness

By Paul Iorio

If Andy Rooney gawks at my gams one more time I'm going to

flip, and I hope Bob Schieffer doesn't call me a "talented gal" again,

but maybe CBS can still show my legs in side-to-side banter with

correspondents, and if Lara Logan tries to upstage me I swear I'll

send her packing to CNN, and I hear they let you yell a lot behind

the scenes at "60 Minutes," so there's a good side to all this, but

please, sources, don't give me any forged National Guard documents,

and I really hope that Duke lacrosse scandal doesn't turn into the

next Jennifer Wilbanks disaster -- did I use the word "alleged" enough?

I'll have to rerack the tapes -- and if I do fall like Connie Chung, maybe I

can get a regular guest spot on "The New Adventures of Old Christine,"

a "Rhoda" for the Oughties, and don't forget the 31st anniversary of the

"Chuckles the Clown" episode of "Mary Tyler Moore" is coming up,

and it has been almost 54 years since the "Vitameatavegamin" episode

of "I Love Lucy," and maybe I can set up a confrontation with some old

guy at CBS a la Bobby Riggs vs. Billie Jean King, but out here on the

plaza, I sometimes wanna click my heels twice and say there's no

place like a bank where I can deposit $300,000 a week, because

this is Katie talking, or is it the more elegant Katherine, the more

refined woman who I used to want to be? Sort of how Alexis Glick

seemed before Al Roker started being hostile toward her -- look,

I don't want to talk about what happened to Alexis, OK, because

this is Katie, and I want my bagel with novy not cream cheese, so

take it back, OK? I'll miss Matt and I'll miss Ann Curry even more

for being the Successor to Katie Who Everyone Knew Could

Never Succeed Me, someone who would scrub the base of the

Prometheus statue while I was interviewing Tyra Banks -- unlike

Alexis Glick, who I don't want to talk about -- so remember to always

hire a weak number two who could not possibly replace you, a good

insurance policy, and coming up in this half hour: Remember "The

Jetsons" -- "Stop this crazy thing!" -- well, flying cars may be finally

coming to a carport near you in another 50 years, says one expert,

and Matt, guess what song this lyric's from: "There were clouds in

my coffee, clouds in my coffee," and yes, it's "You're So Vain" by

Carly Fiorina, unfairly fired by Hewlett-Packard, and also in this

half hour, we'll talk to a woman who finds a diary in her attic that

proves her husband of 17 years is a lying cheat with three wives,

and what she did and what you should know about husbands who

don't always tell the truth, and have you ever played

paper-rock-scissors, a game I always lost in the schoolyards of

my youth, where the anger hardened so that Katherine, the elegant

Katherine on an isle untouched by man, soon became the

brilliantly blunt and fabulously direct Katie, who could beat the boys

at their own game and rub their noses in it -- "...7, 8, 9, 10, you owe

me a Coke!" -- and in this half hour, a man has a moment of truth,

when he realizes his wife is actually the stronger and smarter one --

what a brilliant man, wouldn't you say, Matt? -- and later: she was

a whistleblowee and he was the whistleblower, and five years later

they're happily married, and see how this couple made it work

because of one brave woman, and gas is now over $4 a gallon,

so I'm going to have to take on a second job to pay for it, Matt,

because 300K a week doesn't go as far as it used to, and in

"Today"'s jewelry segment, doesn't this diamond encrusted

iPod look smashing, Matt, and while I'm sitting on this couch stuffed

with emeralds, attended by assistants who serve my bagel with

novy not cream, I almost feel like Katherine...but back to Katie, and

coming up: What's love got to do with it, our guide to women who

say marriage is a great way to get rich not love, and have you

married a Keystone Husband, a mate who can't seem to do

anything right? Well, you're not alone, and we'll talk to the founder

of a new website,, who is

trying to organize a write-in campaign for Geena Davis for

president in 2008, and maybe I can lure Ann Curry over to

CBS as permanent substitute anchor.

[Published in The Chicago Tribune, April 25, 2006.]




By Paul Iorio

Believe it or not there was a time when Phish was not one of the most

successful concert acts ever. Of course one wouldn't know that, judging

by the Phishmania surrounding the band's twentieth anniversary


Phish's exact birthday is December 2, 1983, when an early version of

the band played its first gig at the University of Vermont in Burlington.

But the group didn't establish its current lineup -- bandleader

Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell, and

drummer (and namesake) Jon Fishman -- until 1985.

The group's lean years were quite lean. Through the mid-Eighties, Phish

played mostly universities in and around Vermont to little or no notice.

By early 1989 it was not even the best-known band in Burlington, whose

most famous musical exports at the time were post-punkers the Hollywood

Indians, Pinhead, and Screaming Broccoli, and alternative popsters


In a previously unpublished interview with Anastasio that is

presented here -- apparently the earliest existing audiotaped

interview with the band leader -- he was clearly proud that Phish's

shows were attracting a few hundred fans on some nights. He was also

excited about new material he was developing for a tape that would

soon become "Junta," the group's first album, which they released

themselves around May 1989 (and which was re-released by Elektra

Records in 1992).

At the time of this interview, which took place in late January or

early February 1989, the band hadn't yet sent out its demo to record

companies, and the rock press outside of the Burlington

region hadn't so much as mentioned the word Phish in print. It would

be a year and a half before it signed to independent label

Absolute A-Go-Go for a brief period -- and nearly three years before

Elektra signed them.

I found out about the group only because I was exploring the Burlington

rock scene in 1988 for the East Coast Rocker, a New Jersey-based music

newspaper (in fact my first interviews with Mike Gordon date back to an

astonishingly early January 1988). I asked dozens of Vermont bands

to send me tapes. Among them was Phish, which mailed a 1987 demo featuring

four originals ("Golgi Apparatus," "Fee," "David Bowie," and "Fluffhead,"

all of which later appeared on "Junta") and two covers.

I eventually wrote about the group for the newspaper's July 19, 1989,

issue, calling Phish "an unlikely combination of the Grateful Dead

and Steely Dan" in a story that is one of the first to mention the band

in a publication outside the Burlington area. But my Anastasio interview

was never used in that story or any other piece for fourteen years.

Until now.

Since then, Phish's sound has evolved into an inspired mix of

unpredictable rock and jazz elements, open-ended song structures,

and deliberate sonic weirdness that recalls the Grateful Dead's

experimental "Aoxomoxoa." On peak albums such as 1996's "Billy

Breathes," the group seems as if it is trying to capture the very

sound of freedom itself through soaring vocal harmonies and McConnell's

cascading keyboard playing. Though it has never had a massive hit on the

order of, say, Nirvana's "Nevermind," and is not as culturally resonant

as the Dead, it has become a wildly successful -- and lucrative -- concert

act. And the quartet is known for pushing the boundaries of live

performance to the level of conceptual art, with playful shows that make

imaginative use of things like vacuums and the Beatles' white album

(which it reportedly once played in sequence from start to finish live).

Initially not a critical favorite, the general consensus today is that

Phish is one of the most significant rock groups of the past dozen years.

But back in early 1989 Anastasio, then 24, was still toiling in

obscurity. In this edited transcript he speaks candidly (and is

obviously not coached by publicists), opening a rare window into the early

evolution of Phish and the making of its first album.

So here is Trey Anastasio, on tape, in my January 1989 interview with him:


TREY ANASTASIO: Now we've pretty much got an album. We've got almost two albums' worth of material recorded. We've only got one day left of recording. What it includes is more originals. All fairly new songs, newer than stuff on the old [six-song] tape [from 1987]. Two of them are very new; we just finished them. Two of them are things we've been playing for a while but haven't gotten around to recording. We're a lot happier with it than with the demo. When we choose stuff for the album, I think the only thing on the demo that'll make it onto the album is "Fee."


ANASTASIO: Yeah, pretty much. Mike [Gordon] writes songs as well. One of Mike's songs that's going to be on the album is called "Contact." Actually it might not be on the album. See, we're having a hard time deciding what to put on the album. And I think that's the first thing we're going to do is talk with record companies and tell them we have all these songs.


Yeah, we've only just started talking to people [at record companies]. And we haven't really sent it out yet. We wanted to finish this last song. We [are performing on] three nights -- tonight, tomorrow, the next night -- in Vermont. And then we're going to Boston. And we're doing a mixdown on "Let's Go Out to Dinner and See a Movie," another Mike song. We talked to a guy at Rounder Records, we have a connection there, and they seemed pretty interested. [The band would eventually be signed by Elektra Records, not Rounder, in late 1991, after a short time with Absolute A-Go-Go in 1990.]


People are definitely starting to make the [Grateful Dead] comparisons less. But as far as those comparisons, there's nothing really wrong with it, considering that they're one of the most successful bands anywhere now. But the thing that's different about it is the kind of music we're writing now, the newer stuff is sounding less and less like that. No one in the band listens to the Grateful Dead very much.


I had a phase where I listened to them. I was more into Led Zeppelin in high school. I was a Led Zeppelin fanatic and so was the drummer [Jon Fishman]; he went to see them all the time and followed them around. When I got to college -- the last year of high school and into college -- I got into a little bit of a Grateful Dead phase but [grew] out of that and went into a sort of jazz phase. I mean I've seen Pat Metheny as many times as I've seen the Grateful Dead.


Yeah, we've kind of been cutting [the jams] down to like one per set, two per set. But we do do that. That's definitely where the Grateful Dead connection comes in. As well as the fact that a lot of the people that come down to see us are hippie types.


Umm ... young hippies. More like college -type hippies. You know what I mean? But actually when we play in Boston -- this is one of the great things that's happening to us in Boston right now -- it's not really that way. We're getting a different type of crowd. When we first started, we had much more of a Dead sound, even through that demo with "David Bowie," that song. So our following up here [in Boston and in Burlington] was definitely a "Deadhead" type following. And it still kind of is.


Word of mouth.


Oh, yes. Definitely.


No, I'm not


It's a great thing. I was talking to some girl from the BU [Boston University] paper [in a non-taped conversation], and she said the closest she had seen in crowds was actually the Radiators. I've never seen the Radiators. The word of mouth thing is working out real well. I think there's also a lot of people who like us because we do -- have you heard "Fluffhead" on the demo? -- a lot of stuff that's pretty different. [But] that's where the Dead connection really ends. A large bulk of what we do ... we don't play the same three chords over and over again. We do a lot of variety. Like last night, we did a couple jazz songs, "Take the A Train," "Satin Doll." Things like that. And then we'll do in the same set maybe a Led Zeppelin song.


But almost all originals. Usually not more than three or four covers.


We did "Good Times, Bad Times."


We're definitely going to keep playing live. But the album thing is important for a lot of reasons. We're pretty much done recording it. Like I said, we've got so much material recorded we could put out a double album. So I guess the next step is to try to get signed to a label, even if it's an indie. I think we'll do all right. Because if the distribution isn't that great, we've got such a big following -- we've got a mailing list now, we've got a hotline, and I think we'll be able to sell it ourselves.

I actually interviewed Phish's Mike Gordon a full year before I spoke with Trey, though I didn't record that one; however, Gordon did send me this handwritten letter, dated March 8, 1988, which I've posted here.

[From New Times, Dec. 25, 2003; by the way, it's a near miracle that I thought to record such an unknown as Anastasio in January 1989 and that I managed to save the tape for so many years.]


How Not to Blow Your Oscar Speech

By Paul Iorio

Winning an Oscar causes people to do strange things in public. It inspires

honorees to perform one-armed push-ups, to kiss statuettes, and to lose not

only their shoes but their heads on the way to the podium.

Few have truly mastered the art of the acceptance speech or can hit just

the right balance of grace, wit, gratitude and -- most important -- brevity.

Should one tell a joke, make a political statement, offer a verbal

love letter? Or is it best to hold back and say little? Whom do you thank?

And how?

This is, after all, probably the largest audience a person will ever

address (particularly if the category is make-up), so it's a big

opportunity. "There's about one thousand million people watching you," the

actor Paul Hogan once said, "and you remember: one wrong word, one foolish

gesture, and your whole career could go down in flames."

But that needn't happen this year if award winners simply remember the

past and follow these pointers:

-- Go Easy on the Effusiveness.

The Oscar can cause winners to thank everything in (and out of) sight.

Avoid this tendency. Cautionary tales include the speech of John Patrick

Shanley, accepting the award for best original screenplay for "Moonstruck" in

1988, who thanked "everybody who ever punched or kissed me in my life and

everybody who I ever punched or kiss." Also, Robert DeNiro in 1981

thanked "Joey LaMotta, even though he's suing us" (he won for best actor for

"Raging Bull"). And at the 1980 ceremony, Robert Benton, accepting the

best director award for "Kramer vs. Kramer," said: "I would like to thank all

the people at Columbia past and present." And Ben Burtt, the sound effects

editing winner in '83 ("E.T."), even acknowledged "various otters and


-- Avoid Politics.

No, your win is not a mandate to negotiate with the Serbs in Bosnia. But

some winners get that impression. In 1973, Marlon Brando refused a best-

actor award for "The Godfather" and sent an activist for native Americans,

Sacheen Littlefeather, in his stead. Vanessa Redgrave mentioned "Zionist

hoodlums" in her remarks in 1978, and was booed for it (she won the best

supporting actress prize for "Julia").

-- Relax.

Just because there are a "thousand million people" watching is no reason

to be nervous, though nervousness might be the only natural response. Even

the best of 'em lose it. Meryl Streep dropped and briefly lost her copy of her

speech on stage in 1983 when she accepted the award for best actress for

"Sophie's Choice." And Geraldine Page couldn't find her shoes when her

name was called in 1986 for the best actress award for "The Trip to


-- Don't Overdo It.

In an acceptance speech, as in a love letter, it's best to dial back a bit when

the feeling is especially strong. What might seem like an honest airing of

healthy emotion at the time often sounds out-of-control on rewind. Sally

Field's 1985 effusion is the gold standard of modern public embarrassment:

"I can't deny the fact that you like me right now, you like!" Second place

goes to Jack Palance for his one-armed push-ups in 1992.

-- Nervousness Can Cause Incoherence.

Even the sometimes lucid Jack Nicholson mystified everyone in 1984 with

his cryptic ramble upon winning the award for best supporting actor for

"Terms of Endearment." "I was going to talk a lot about how Shirley

[MacLaine] and Debra [Winger] inspired me, but I understand they're

planning an interpretive dance later, to explain everything about life," said

Nicholson, adding: "All you rock people down at the Roxy and up in the

Rockies, rock on." And Jodie Foster nearly missed coherence in 1989 with

"My mother...taught me...that cruelty might be very human and it might be

very cultural, but it's not very acceptable" (she won the best actress prize for

"The Accused").

-- Use the Phrase "Without Whom."

"Without whom" is the perfect poignant phrase for any winning Oscar

speech. Everyone's life includes a "without whom," so by all means mention

yours. When Steve Tesich won the prize for best original screenplay for

"Breaking Away" in 1980, he used two "without whoms" in the same speech.

In 1975, Carmine Coppola -- co-winner of the Oscar for his original score for

"The Godfather, Part II" and father of the film's director Francis Coppola --

offered a fresh spin by saying that without his son, "I wouldn't be here.

However, if I wasn't here, he wouldn't be here, either."

-- Get Grandiose (Pretend It's a Nobel).

It probably feels like a Nobel prize from the podium, so go with the

feeling. Marcel Ophuls did in 1989, when he said "There are whole

countries to thank." And Laurence Olivier's acceptance of an honorary prize

in 1979 sounded like this: "In the great firmament of your nation's

generosities, this particular choice may perhaps be found by future

generations as a trifle eccentric."

-- "You Know Who You Are."

The phrase "you know who you are" can save many minutes of speech

time. Anjelica Huston used this time-saver in her speech in 1986, thanking

"the entire cast and crew of 'Prizzi's Honor' -- I don't want to mention any

names; you know who you are." Warren Beatty should've used the phrase

when he named 14 names in 1982 and thanked "so many more."

-- Try True Wit (But Only as a Last Resort).

If the Oscar host can usually be consistently funny, why can't the winners

be, too? Some can. Dustin Hoffman, for instance, looked at his Oscar

statuette from the podium in 1980 and observed, "He has no genitalia, and

he's holding a sword." And Stirling Silliphant, winning the best adapted

screenplay award for 1968 for "In the Heat of the Night," said: "I really have

no speech. The Writers' Guild doesn't allow us to do any speculative


[From The New York Times, March 26, 1995.]



Dick Cavett, in the Mountains of Marin

By Paul Iorio

In the green mountains of Marin County, California, talk show pioneer

Dick Cavett is playing hooky from his day job as narrator of the upcoming

Broadway stage version of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." "My

colleagues in 'Rocky' are sweating and laboring right now, and I'm supposed

to be there," he confides. "I feel like they're going to find where I'm hidden."

Cavett's hiding place, at least this afternoon, is Mill Valley, where he

is preparing to attend the Mill Valley Film Festival's tribute to him.

At 63, Cavett is still best-known for having brought witty, literate chat to

the airwaves with his ABC-TV talk show, "The Dick Cavett Show," which

aired from 1969 to 1973, and a PBS series, which ran from '77 to '82 -- shows

that regularly mixed artists and intellectuals with entertainers and


Today, Cavett doesn't host a TV series but is still infallibly witty and

spontaneous, able to come up with a funny joke at will. For

example, when a clerk from a rental car company interrupts us and asks to

see Cavett's driver's license, he quips: "Can't I just describe it? It's


What does he think of the current cultural landscape? His favorite show is

NBC's "Law and Order." "The early years of 'Law and Order' were as good

as anything that's ever been on television -- and it took me so long to realize

it," says Cavett, wearing a "Twisted Tales" baseball cap (named after the

show about animals he currently narrates on the Animal Planet channel).

Of his own talk show career, Cavett says his best show was the one that

featured playwright Noel Coward and the legendary actors Alfred Lunt and

Lynn Fontanne. "Jack Paar called it 'the greatest ninety minutes I've ever

seen on television,'" he says. "In a way, it was as good as it can get...I was

better than I was on other nights."

His most famous program is probably the one on which novelists Norman

Mailer and Gore Vidal nearly came to blows on the air. On that show, Mailer

made a surly entrance, refused to shake Vidal's outstretched hand, and

proceeded to insult Cavett, Vidal and another guest, New Yorker magazine

writer Janet Flanner. "I said [to Mailer], 'Would you like another chair to

help contain your giant intellect?' And he said, 'I'll accept the chair if

you'll all accept a fingerbowl,'" he recalls. "Mailer didn't quite get what

he meant out; a re-write would've done it."

"Then [Mailer] said the thing that I didn't know till then would anger me

most: 'Why don't you just read the next question off the question sheet,''" he

says. Cavett's famous response was "Why don't you fold it five ways and put

it where the moon don't shine?"

When the Mailer show was aired in Germany, where Cavett has a sizable

audience, the translator had difficulty translating the retort. "They were

baffled," he says of the Germans. "'Something about a moon on a shining


Other noteworthy moments in Cavett's career include candid appearances

by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, a show in which segregationist governor

Lester Maddox walked off in anger, and one in which publisher J.I. Rodale

died during a taping (after saying, "I expect to live on and on").

He says network executives never objected to the controversy his shows

generated. "I think they were kind of tickled by the publicity," he says.

Cavett's observations about his celebrity guests are always fresh. On

Andy Warhol: "He had two tape recorders on at dinner...He said, 'One is

recording the other.'" On Johnny Carson: "To me, he's still the guy who I

first saw do a magic trick in [a] church basement in Lincoln Nebraska, when

I was ten or twelve." He also recalls coming upon a dissipated Judy Garland

in the mid-Fifties and initially mistaking her for a cleaning woman.

The last ten years have not always been kind to Cavett. His three-million

dollar house in Montauk burned down a few years ago, and he has recently

suffered from clinical depression. But he does seem genuinely happy to be

performing in "Rocky Horror," though he jokes, "I thought I was going to be

the guy who wore women's underwear and garters and high heel," referring to

the role that Tim Curry played in the film.

He's also considering a return to his roots as a stand-up comic with some

sort of one-man show. "I probably will" return to stand-up, says Cavett.

"Even revisit my old act and comment on it...if I could remember my old act."

When I ask about his reaction to the countless Cavett wannabes and

imitators over the decades, he answers by recalling an exchange between

Cary Grant and a fan: "A fan said, 'I would give anything to be Cary Grant.'

And [Grant] said, 'So would I.'"

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 2000; original manuscript.]

In 2005, I submitted this story (unsolicited) to People magazine, which
bought my idea so that it could then have one of its staff writers do its own version of the piece, which appeared in People on February 7, 2005.

Dick Cavett Remembers The Great Carsoni, Nebraska Magician

By Paul Iorio

Dick Cavett, the former talk show host, remembers a Johnny Carson

very few people ever saw first-hand: Carson the Nebraska magician.

The two both grew up in Nebraska, though Carson was 11 years older.

When Cavett was 12, in 1948, he and three of his friends went to see Carson,

who called himself The Great Carsoni in those days, in the basement of

the Westminister Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. To the pre-pubsecent Cavett,

Carson was already a local big shot, having landed his first radio show on

KFAB in Lincoln.

Cavett and his friends arrived at the church a little early for the performance

and visited Carson before his show. “My three friends and I went around to

see him before the show, which you never do with a magician,” Cavett told

this reporter in unpublished remarks from an exclusive interview, conducted

in October 2000. “We should have known better. But we were magicians, we

thought. And he gave us this really curt look as he was setting up his

stuff....He said, 'Oh, you guys are magicians? You like to do this kind of

stuff?' And he [showed us] a dazzling display of card fans and shuffles

and one-handed shuffles. It takes about 20 years practice to do a one

handed shuffle...He showed us how to do a better double lift and to deal

seconds. He was great.”

Then Cavett and his buddies took their seats in the basement for the magic

show -- and they were in for a big surprise. “We watched the show [with]

all the church people,” continued Cavett. “And [Carson] said, ‘There are

three guys in the audience I'd like you to meet.’ And he named us. ‘And

they are young magicians.’ And we felt like we were on the Ed Sullivan

Show. You might say, but he wasn't Johnny Carson then. But he was to

us because he had a radio show in Omaha. And I think his 15 minute TV show

came on a couple years later.”

The show ended and Cavett remembers seeing Carson make a celebrity exit.

“We watched him leave in what I think was probably a '44 Chevy and go off

glamorously in the night to be a star,” recalled Cavett. “Back to Omaha

and stardom. Probably with a low spare tire in the back.”

Cavett tried to explain the psychological reasons behind Carson’s magic

habit. “It's the syndrome of many kids who did magic as a hobby,” said

Cavett. “Magic is a great answer to the kid who feels a little socially

inept and can stay home and do something totally absorbing and then have

an amazing effect [in public]. The first time, people go, ‘How did

you do that?’ You can be hooked.”

Of course, he would later become friends in adulthood with Carson, who

reportedly had few friends by choice. “We didn't hang out a lot together, but

with Johnny if you hung out at all....” Cavett trails off, but his

implication was that anyone who hung with him even infrequently saw him

more than most. “He can apparently totally entertain himself without

hanging out with the boys and yet he likes to play poker and he has a

regular poker table.”

They were also professional rivals for a time, when Cavett hosted “The Dick

Cavett Show” on ABC opposite Carson’s NBC talk show. But it was an

apparently friendly rivalry.

“Johnny Carson was always my best ally, he was always a friend, and I could

call him with problems when I started out and ask him what do you do when

Bobby Kennedy's just been shot. How do you do the show?,” he said.

He recalls a dinner he once had at Carson’s house. “We had a great time, had

dinner at his house and then we went out,” he said. “His house looks like

an Olympic venue, the one he had then. Tennis goes up miles over that way,

a pool over this way, and then a great house of weights. Drums. A


But even in 2000, Cavett still seemed amazed that he witnessed the Carson

magic at such an early stage. “To me, he is still the guy who I first saw

do a magic show in Wesminister Church basement in Lincoln, Nebraska,” he

said. “...So it sort of floors me that I first met him back there.”

[unpublished, though it was the basis of a 2005 People magazine article.]


Edward Norton, After Hours

By Paul Iorio

Edward Norton has just finished a long day working with Brad Pitt on

the new David Fincher movie, "The Fight Club," and stops in at Red, a

West Hollywood restaurant, for a late night cup of tea with me. We take a

table in an outdoor cafe area but the lousy faux jazz-fusion blasting over the

speakers is too loud for conversation. Norton tries talking over it, but the

music is clearly getting on his nerves.

"Let me get them to turn this stupid music off," he says, slightly pissed and

standing up. He walks inside Red (this is the second time he's tried to get

them to turn it down). Through the window I can see him talk rather

intensely with someone. Suddenly the music quiets considerably.

It's as if Norton has briefly turned the restaurant into his own movie

set, even controlling the soundtrack. And it's this sense of control, of

dominating his environment -- whether giving a performance on

camera or an interview in a cafe -- that has become a Norton trademark.

Tonight, he's eager to talk about the movie that much of Hollywood

is talking about, the controversial "American History X," in which he stars as

a reformed neo-Nazi.

As Norton admits, the film is not everybody's cup of tea. It's a

full of graphic violence, tough dialogue and an unsympathetic central


"The film is not an easy entertainment, that's not what it's [meant to

be]," says Norton, sipping tea. "It is not going to be an easy sit. It's

not sort of an escapist entertainment. But I think it's a film you'll still

be very much talking about over dinner two nights later."

Norton, 29, could've avoided controversy by choosing a safe surefire

studio blockbuster as his next project. One must remember how

recently The Edward Norton Phenomenon emerged. His career didn't evolve

gradually through years of work in bit parts and b-movies. His debut film,

"Primal Fear," was a big hit that earned him an Oscar nomination for best

supporting actor. In quick succession came the acclaimed "The People Vs.

Larry Flynt" and Woody Allen's musical-comedy "Everybody Says I Love


But he says he acts partly because it's a way of not choosing to be just one

thing in life. "I've always had a hard time choosing between different

potential modes of existence, and acting is a really fun way of being an

experiential dilettante," he says. "You can dip for awhile into all

kinds of diverse realms of experience and expression and then

escape without any of the consequences of actually having chosen it

as a life. And I like that....It's like the way I might have been."

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, October 25, 1998.]



Anne Heche, Pioneer

[the first story anywhere to link Heche with Ellen DeGeneres]

By Paul Iorio

Ellen DeGeneres drives up to the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills in a new

Porsche Carrera, gets out and smiles wide. And why shouldn't she smile?

She's on the cover of Time magazine this week and stars in the most talked-

about TV show on the air. But there's another reason for the big grin: she

spots a friend across the driveway.

Her friend, actress Anne Heche, looking glamorously lithe, waves and

walks over to her. Heche and DeGeneres hug and talk, all laughter, blonde

hair and charisma. As the spring sunlight comes through the trees at a late-

afternoon angle, Heche is full of motion and warmth, juggling conversations

with DeGeneres and a couple others.

Almost everything that makes Heche a compelling movie star is evident in

this moment with DeGeneres; Heche is impossible not to watch as she

energetically deals with several people at once, exuding a mixture of control

and affection.

Heche, 27, has the personality of someone who has had to fend for herself

from a very young age. And it comes across onscreen and off. For example,

in the film "Volcano" she's pushing a bus, dragging bodies from the path of a

lava flow, rescuing patients at a hospital and making suggestions to Tommy

Lee Jones's character. She seems hyper-competent.

So it's no surprise to discover that in real life Heche (rhymes with the

letter 'h') actually did have to fend for herself from a very young age --

from the age of 12, when her father found out he had AIDS.

She helped support her family by appearing in dinner theatre productions

in Ohio. "At twelve years old, I didn't understand that every kid didn't go out

and earn money for their family," she says, taking a cigarette from a hard


"My dad was a closet homosexual," she continues. "Because he wasn't

willing to admit to himself and others that he was that, he ended up

destroying himself."

When Heche talks about DeGeneres's coming-out on TV, her enthusiasm

is clearly informed by hard-earned wisdom. "It's incredibly brave," she says

of DeGeneres. "Ellen's a pioneer in this world where there's never been an

admittedly gay lead actor on television."

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, April 20, 1997; original manuscript,
updated and abridged.]


Uncensored version of an interview I conducted with Frank Zappa in 1985.

This is an interview I conducted -- one-on-one and in-person -- with Frank Zappa in a New York City hotel room on November 4, 1985. A censored version of my Q&A was published in Cash Box in its November 23, 1985, issue.

Here's the uncensored transcript!

PAUL IORIO: How did you ever manage to get a record deal in 1965 with a double concept album?

FRANK ZAPPA: Tom Wilson, who was the producer of the “Freak Out” album, came to see us at the Whiskey A Go Go. Johnny Rivers used to play there for years and years but he was off on tour and he left his sign outside to draw people in the club. Surprise! Well we were playing this boogie number we used to play at the time and Tom Wilson walked in and said, "hey, a white blues band. Terrific. You’re signed.” Our advance was $2,500 to be divided between five guys. The biggest record advance at that time was for the Jefferson Airplane and you know what they got? $25,000. The first song we recorded was “Anyway The Wind Blows.” Wilson had no idea what the material was like because he’d heard only one song in the club. But he got into it. The double album was an accident. Wilson tried to educate the people that there was something other than Herman and the Hermits but to no avail. The album did about 40,000 units in the first year which is pretty much of a flop. But by the time of the second album they really put the screws to us. The reason “Absolutely Free” did better was because we moved to New York and promoted it there. And it was that LP that made the most impact at the time.

IORIO: Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles — what did you think of them then and what do you think of them now?

ZAPPA: There’s two albums I like by Bob Dylan: “Highway Sixty One” and I don’t remember what the other one was. And since that time he became a Christian and I was put off a little bit. In the ’60s I really liked the Rolling Stones. In fact I liked them more than the Beatles. My favorite Stones album is “Between The Buttons.” As far as the Beatles go. I’ve got three favorite Beatles songs: “I Am The Walrus,” “Strawberry Fields,” and “Paperback Writer.” Other than that I was not a Beatles fan.

IORIO: How about your relation to rock ’n’ roll? Is there ever going to be a day when you get on stage and play “Johnny B. Goode”?

ZAPPA: Well, listen, I was playing rock ’n’ roll when “Johnny B. Goode” was released. I’ve already played “Johnny B. Goode.”

IORIO: Do you think that a band that doesn’t know how to play their instruments can create great musical art?

ZAPPA: Sure. I saw a group on MTV last night that was really terrific. I don’t know if they’ll ever make another record again but they were called The Pogues. I thought “Dirty Old Town” was a great song.

IORIO: Why don’t you do videos?

ZAPPA: Because one video costs as much to make as an entire album. Remember, I’m the guy who makes the record and then I have to pay to have it pressed and shipped. I have a limited budget to do what I do. Besides, my pictorial ideas may not meet the standards of MTV.

IORIO: Do you think that your political activities will stifle your music?

ZAPPA: Most people couldn’t give a fuckk what I’m doing musically anyway so it doesn’t really matter. Secondly, I’m about to make a three record deal with Angel to do some classical albums. At least half the material on the “Mothers of Prevention” album is instrumentals.

IORIO: You said on a recent radio talk show that you would not have participated in Live Aid. Why?

ZAPPA: I don’t like movements or organizations because ultimately I think they defeat themselves. A movement or committee winds up being for the glorification of the guy who runs it. And the theory that originally set the thing in motion usually goes by the wayside. If you want to fight what’s going on now it has to be done on an individual basis. Also, where is the guarantee that the money went where it is supposed to go?

IORIO: How about your own funding? Who is funding your political activities?

ZAPPA: I’ll list all the donations I’ve received. I got a 50 dollar check from a guy in Ohio. A thousand dollar check from Jam Productions in Chicago. And so far I’ve spent maybe 40 thousand dollars of my own money for travel, phones, mailings and the rest. No Heritage Foundation. No union. No industry. No nothing.

IORIO: Have you ever considered running for office?

ZAPPA: What would be the desired objective of running for office? The office itself is not appealing. Who in the fuck wants to do that? I’m interested in having a better life for myself and for the rest of the people in the country. I think I can accomplish more by sitting around doing this than doing something in a political framework. To me this is better politics. The idea of running for office is really nauseating.

IORIO: Why did you choose to champion the anti-censorship cause?

ZAPPA: Because I’m a record company owner, a publisher, a songwriter and a performer and it’s a frontal attack on the way I earn my living. It also has a deeper meaning in terms of its constitutional aspects.

IORIO: Do you believe the RIAA/PMRC agreement will resolve this problem?

ZAPPA: First of all, there’s no problem. The premise that they’re working on is that this music causes bad things to happen and there’s no science to support that. They’re actively engaged in a propaganda move to convince parents who have never even listened to this music that the mere hearing of it causes death and suicide. There’s no science to that.

IORIO: Suppose your daughter were in her bedroom at ten years old listening to “Fuck Like A Beast.” Would you find that objectionable?

ZAPPA: Well I wouldn’t because at five and six years old they have these little books that have pictures in it that explain reproduction. Children should know how it works. So my kids are not sexually ignorant. If they hear “Fuck Like A Beast,” at least if you know what the basics of reproduction are, you know that it’s just a cartoon version of what the real deal is. It’s nothing to be afraid of. Do you think that a 10 year old who hears “Fuck Like a Beast” is going to go out and do that?



Remembering Jonathan Larson (and an Awful Phone Call)

By Paul Iorio

Daphne Rubin-Vega, the actress who played Mimi in the original

production of Jonathan Larson's musical "Rent," remembers an awful phone


"[Actress Idina Menzel] called and was really upset," she recalls. "And I

could tell by her voice something was wrong. Then she said, 'Jonathan.' And

I knew. I knew. You just know."

The news was that the thirty-five year old Larson had died suddenly and

unexpectedly of a ruptured aorta in his Greenwich Village apartment. It had

happened a couple hours after the final dress rehearsal for the workshop

production in 1996.

When she starts to talk about Larson's death, Rubin-Vega, normally

exuberant and feisty, becomes quiet, talks slowly, looks down at a fixed spot

on the floor and puts on a black jacket. When she zips up the jacket, she's

now completely dressed in black.

"[Cast members] walked to the New York Theatre Workshop

and...everyone cried," she recalls, referring to the hours after his death. "And

it wasn't just out of, how could this person who is always in your life and in

your face everyday all of a sudden be gone. But it was, like, what are we

gonna do about this show? It's not finished. It was, like, it's not done."

The cast quickly channeled its grief into making "Rent" one of the most

successful musicals in recent Broadway history. The show has gone on to

win Tony awards, Obie awards and the Pulitzer prize for drama, while its

soundtrack became the fastest-selling Broadway CD of the decade.

While grateful for "Rent"'s success, Rubin-Vega was also initially

ambivalent about all the attention. "After Jonathan died, [the curious] started

to swarm, and it was sensationalized," she says. "This very organic high-

voltage thing became a sideshow attraction, a freak show."

Rubin-Vega, who joined the production in 1993, remembers "Rent"'s

evolution. She says the 1994 workshop version of the musical was very

different from both the 1996 New York Theatre Workshop production and

the show that exists today. "'Glory' was called 'Your Right Brain,'" she says.

"It was the same melody but it was another song and was about other

stuff...'Without You' was sung by the lesbians. 'Seasons of Love' was there.

'Rent' started the show but the actual songs were in different places. There

was so much editing going on. Songs were cut, verses were cut."

In her dressing room, she eagerly offers an example, belting out a playful

verse deleted from "Out Tonight": "You want to be an alley cat?/Well, let's

act like we've got nine lives/Let's cut off all our hair and wear ugly

glasses/You wanna act like a brat?/Pick up men who cheat on their

wives?/Let them spend like a millionaire/And leave them flat on their asses."

Sometimes it's hard to know whether she's primarily a singer or an actress.

If she had to choose only one career, which would it be?

"Don't ask me to choose," she says, and then turns the question on me. "If

you can only choose one testicle, which one would it be?"

"The right one, it's the one I like," I joke.

She laughs for a long time about that.

One thing's for certain: she has been heavily influenced by Larson. "I'd

go to his house and hang out and play music and pretend I was as prolific a

writer as he was at the time but actually have him help me bang out stuff...He

was always game to write and play."

But she's not satisfied with simply talking about Larson; she breaks into

song, reciting an original unrecorded lyric about him called "Graduation

Day": "If you were here today you would/Hear the sound of people shouting

for more/How can anybody say you're not around?"

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 1999; original manuscript and updated.]


Jessica Alba, at the Dawn of Her Stardom

By Paul Iorio

It seems as if Jessica Alba, who stars

in the new Fox series "Dark Angel," can't

escape her beauty anywhere. When the sexy

19-year-old actress walks down hallways,

people stare admiringly. Even during my

recent exclusive interview, someone walked

by the private area where we were talking

and, apropos of nothing, said,

"See you, pretty woman."

At the time, Alba was busy talking

about Malaysian princesses.

And Alba does have the fluid, flawless

beauty and grace of a storybook princess --

except it's for real. That's probably part

of the reason why she was chosen by no less

than director James Cameron ("Titanic") to

star in "Dark Angel," which Cameron

created with Charles Ehglee.

In the futuristic series, set in the

year 2020 in the U.S. Pacific northwest after a

quasi-nuclear catastrophe, Alba plays Max, a

genetically altered superwoman pursued

by the military officers who made her the

way she is.

The show, which airs on Tuesday nights

starting October 3rd [2000], also stars John

Savage ("Deer Hunter") as military leader

Lydecker, and Michael Weatherly as

Max's ally Logan.

Cameron says Alba got the part because of

her strong audition. "She didn't

hold back in the auditions," Cameron said at

a press conference. "You could see

[other actors] sort of backing up and off


Alba clearly enjoys playing Max, a

role that allows her to use her special

genetic powers to batter and decimate

assorted bad guys. "[Max] can

physically do whatever she wants," says

Alba. "She realizes, yeah, I can

go kick someone's butt...but she has fun

with it."

Alba comes to her role from a diverse

background. She was born in Pomona,

California, and grew up mostly in southern

California, Mississippi and Del Rio, Texas,

the daughter of a U.S. Air Force officers.

"My father's family...two generations ago

were all Mexicans and came to California and

settled," she says. "My mom's dad is from

Denmark and her mother is

from Montreal."

At age 15, she lived in Australia for

around a year to be in the TV series

"Flipper." And at age 16, she studied

acting in New York under playwright

David Mamet and actor William H. Macy.

"My main acting teacher was

Bill Macy," she says, "and he taught me

not to act." She says her

influences include Susan Sarandon, Sally

Field, Olympia Dukakis and Jessica Lange.

And she has been influenced by Cameron,

who has released nothing as a producer or

director on the big or small screen since

"Titanic" -- except "Dark Angel" (which

is not directing). "It really reminds me

of my roots as a guerilla film maker...doing

films in 21 days, really rapid fire," said


Some critics are already saying that

Alba is better than "Dark Angel"

itself. "I've never heard that before,"

she says. "I hope we can make

the show better and lighter."

Alba's next project is the feature

film "The Sleeping Dictionary,"

co-starring Bob Hoskins and Brenda Blethyn

and directed by

Guy Jenkins. "It's a love story between

an English officer and a

Malaysian princess," she says.

Of course, it goes without

saying who plays the princess.

[Published in The San Francisco Chronicle;
from my original manuscript of September
13, 2000; published on 9/24/00.]



Carroll O'Connor's Blues

By Paul Iorio

When the grieving gets tough, the tough get...creative.

That could be Carroll O'Connor's credo these days. When his son Hugh

killed himself while on cocaine two years ago, O'Connor was devastated. But

he soon converted his mourning to energy, bounding back with a fireball of

anti-drug activism. Now he has emerged with a haunting play, "A Certain

Labor Day," which will make its premiere in San Francisco.

O'Connor is the author and star of the two-act play; he appears as a

washed-up labor leader whose younger son has a problem with booze. And,

yes, he freely admits his real-life son was the model for the alcoholic


"If my son had not killed himself, I would have asked him to play the part

of Tony," O'Connor says, his eyes reddening and filling with tears.

He pauses, stares downward and shakes his head: "He was an addict, he was

an addict." He drifts briefly into fond remembrance: "He was a lovely

character, Hugh was. There wasn't a mean bone in his body."

In the play, the anguish does sometimes seem autobiographical. At one

point, O'Connor's character is desperate as he talks about his son: "Help me!

How do I reach this beautiful kid of mine? Why is he lost?...Why am I in hell

before I'm dead?"

O'Connor sips ice water on this Saturday evening in a Westwood church

where he's rehearsing the drama. "A play should center on a crisis," he says.

"If the crisis overcomes the people, it's a tragedy. If the people overcome the

crisis, it's either a melodrama or a comedy."

George C. Scott was originally set to co-star, but dropped out because he

needs "a little aorta operation," says O'Connor.

O'Connor plays Gerry Maher, a relic of post-war American liberalism, a

sort of politicized Willy Loman, who is "living helplessly in a mean time [of]

no ideals, no ethical guidance, just strategies for personal glory."

That also happens to be O'Connor's own view of the 1990s. "But that

doesn't make me a doomsayer," he says. "Because I've lived long enough

now at the age of 73 to see the country take several changes. I'm old enough

to [have] listened to people say, 'the country is ruined.' Then it turns out not

to be ruined."

He is similar to his character in some ways. Both are politically liberal.

Both have no patience with racism or anti-Semitism. Both are in their

seventies. And both are solid supporters of unions. "The first union I ever

joined was at 17-years old," he says proudly, quickly naming eight others he

has joined since.

O'Connor comes off kind of like a liberal trapped in the body of

a conservative, with a lifestyle that seems almost old-fashioned in contrast to

his politics. Unlike others in show business, he's been married to the same

woman, college sweetheart Nancy Fields, for 46 years; and it's obvious

they're still in love with each other.

He hates drug use. He dislikes pretension. He's fond of straight talk. His

jokes are funny but they're not really jokes; they're sharp insights. He is by

turns outspoken, passionate, persuasive, and lots of fun -- a natural populist.

Truly, success has not gone to his head or even near it.

O'Connor's roots are in the theater, even if his success has been mostly on

the small screen (with TV's "All in the Family" and "In the Heat of the

Night"). He appeared in his first play around 50-years ago, at his alma mater,

the University of Montana. In the early Fifties, he moved to Ireland and

performed in much of western Europe.

Among other things, his experience abroad mercifully allowed him to miss the

worst of Joe McCarthy's red-baiting in the U.S. "I went to Ireland in 1950 and

didn't come back till '54," he says. "I was lucky. I was away in those years when

they were hunting [leftists]."

When he returned to New York, he found occasional work as an actor in

the theater and later in movies (most notably as a doomed gangster in the '67

cult film "Point Blank," a trucker in '62's "Lonely Are The Brave," and as

Casca in the '63 re-make of "Cleopatra"). But Broadway has never been

hospitable to him.

"I've been a flop on Broadway twice," he says. "Once in '83 with 'Brothers'

[which he directed] and 'Homefront' in '84. So, I'm not crazy mad to run back

to Broadway."

O'Connor sees "All in the Family," the blockbuster TV show in which he

played the bigoted Archie Bunker, as a series of one-act plays produced

weekly for thirteen years.

"I always thought we were doing these little plays on 'All in the Family,'"

he says, adding candidly: "I take credit for being the one who was driving

every week towards a little play....I don't say that everybody else was going

another way. But I was the principal. We used to sit around the table and I

used to say, 'Now, why would anyone want to see this?...What human truth

or crisis makes it worth watching."

What is his favorite episode of "All in the Family"? "There was one very

important one, where Archie and Mike get a little boozed and they discuss

the origin of racism," he says. "...Archie and Mike were locked in a liquor

room, a storeroom."

He expresses his affection for "American laboring guys" like Bunker, even

as he observes that "a lot of people in trade unions...are very conservative-minded."

O'Connor, who worked as a longshoreman in his youth, adds: "They really don't

like working shoulder-to-shoulder with black people...They still have their

racism to overcome."

[Published in The San Francisco Chronicle, September 21, 1997.]



35 Years After the First Moonwalk...

A Practical Guide to Walking on the Moon

Alan Bean Describes What It Really Feels Like to Walk in the Ocean of Storms

By Paul Iorio

In the 35 years since humans first walked on the moon, the concept of moonwalking

has changed from a scientific activity seen in indistinct video images to a possibly

practical matter. With space tourism in the air everywhere, and private companies

making or planning their first forays into space, moonwalking has become something

that the average person could possibly do in the very near future.

People are beginning to think of visiting the Sea of Tranquility the way

they used to dream of visiting the Gobi desert or the Himalayas.

Questions are being asked. What sort of camera works best on the moon?

Can your space suit be punctured by sharp moon rocks? Is it possible to

jump too high? Only a dozen Earthlings have known the answers to those

questions in a first-hand way -- and they are, of course, the 12 who

walked on the moon between July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong first

set foot in the Sea of Tranquillity, and December 1972, when Gene Cernan

became the last person to moonwalk.

Alan L. Bean, the fourth person to walk on the moon, describes his experience

with a painterly sense of detail and color, perhaps because he's the one

moonwalker who is also an accomplished visual artist. He visited the moon

nearly thirty-five years ago, in November 1969, as part of the crew of

Apollo 12, which included the late Charles “Pete” Conrad, Jr., and Richard

F. Gordon. (Bean was also a resident of the space shuttle Skylab II in 1973.)

On October 13, 1998, Bean spoke about the practical and aesthetic aspects of

moonwalking in an unusually vivid (and exclusive) interview that had been unpublished

until now [July 18, 2004]. Here is an edited version of it:


BEAN: It looks bright outside but you're fairly dim inside...It's like coming out of the house at night onto a patio that's super brightly lit...You're saying, "Look at this! This looks so different than when I was inside.'"

It looks scarier. You're saying, "Look at this place, it's not like any place on Earth. And I hope my suit doesn't leak because if it does, I'm dead. And look at those rocks. And look, there's Pete [Conrad, Commander of Apollo 12] over there, jumping up and down -- that looks like fun." And then you let go of the ladder to start to move and you start to wobble around, and you think, "I'm going to fall down and I don't want to; I might cut my suit."

...If you've looked at TV [footage] of Apollo'll see they're bouncing around continually at first. It's easier to stand up when you're bouncing around....If you try to stand still in a spot, it's much more difficult than just kind of moving around a little bit, because naturally you'll move in the direction you're leaning, and that'll keep you from leaning farther.


BEAN: We worried about it, we worried you could. You've got a cover layer over it but we said, "Those rocks are sharp." It's funny: you know things and yet you don't know them until they really happen...I fell down a couple of times on the moon -- most people did -- because there are dust layers there, and under the
dust are rocks, and it's like you’re running through snow, and there are rocks under the snow that you don't
see. You trip every once in a while.

But with light gravity, things fall much more slowly, so when you trip you start to fall down much more
slowly. Sometimes you can run under your body and catch yourself, where on Earth you would've really
fallen down. Nothing happens real fast like on Earth.

,,,To get up, just give it a little push with your hands and you'll stand right back up again. The first time I
tried to stand, I gave a push with my hands and nearly went over backwards I pushed so hard...

Someday, when they have the Olympics up there in a big dome, it'll be fun. It'll be fun to watch the high
jump, because they're going to jump fifteen feet or something, and they're going up very slowly and keep
going up and up, almost like a football. Then they're going to come down very slow....No telling what pole
vaulting would be like up there!


BEAN: We did that, but don't forget we were in these bulky suits, so even though you could jump and go
up a long ways, it was so slowly that you went up and were pulled back.

What I found was the problem was not jumping up high but...the minute you jumped off the ground, you
never pushed through your center of gravity really perfectly. On Earth, you jump up and land right down
again, so it's no problem. But [on the moon], you're going up, and all of a sudden you see you didn't push
through your center of gravity, and you see you're starting to lean to the left.

When I was running [on the moon], I always felt that I was over-rotating forwards, backwards, left or right,
and each time I landed I would think, I've got to hurry up and land, I'll never make it." And then when I
would touch down, I would push off and try to make a correction in the other direction. Then I would
overcorrect. [laughs] So it was like I was reeling across the moon....It was a constant balancing act almost.
You had to look where your foot was going to land every time. You couldn't run and look ahead, because
you'd go into a crater. You had to make sure you didn't step on rocks or twist your ankle...It would be fun to
do it in a bubble without the suit on.


BEAN: It looked like volcanic fields that we had practiced on in Hawaii and Oregon and Ireland and
Mexico and some in the southwest [U.S.]...except there's a lot more dirt around [on the moon]. With the
dirt on Earth, the rain washes most of it away, particularly the fine stuff, so usually the volcanic fields...have
more rock exposed. Up there, the rocks are around but all the little chips that have been knocked off the
rocks are still there.

So I thought, initially, it looks sort of looks like volcanic fields....However, it never looked like any place on
Earth because of the incredible sun, because the sky is a patent leather black instead of a nice blue and
because nothing moves up there. The only things that moved when we were up there were the two of us and
our shadows. Nothing else moves. We'd never been to places like that on Earth. Even in the desert you can
look up and see maybe a wisp of a cloud go by....It's so still, so dead. I never for one second felt like this
could ever be a place on Earth, even though parts of it looked like other places we'd been. It's an unearthly
place, an out-of-this-world place.


BEAN: You're on this [moon] that's black and white and the whole universe is black and white, except on
Earth. And there is this blue and white marble. And also, it changes. You do some work and look at the
Earth an hour later, and it has moved 15 degrees. So some clouds have moved to the right, the part that was
in the shadow 15 degrees has come out.


BEAN: We weren't cramped -- we had a big Skylab. I've never heard anybody come back from space for no
matter how long and say, "Well, we didn't have enough room." Because when you can float
always seems like you have enough room. I've never heard an astronaut say the spacecraft was too little, but
I've heard lots of astronauts say, "We need better food" or "We've got to invent a better sleeping bag" or
"We've got to get bigger windows because we can't see out." As [lunar module pilot] Bill Anders on Apollo
8 said, "It's like going through Yellowstone Park in a tank and looking out the little window."

...People complain about the fact that it's kind of messy up there for pooping and urinating. It's like
camping out [but] not as much fun as on Earth.


BEAN: "Apollo 13," easily. "Apollo 13" was as good a movie as could be made about space flight as I
knew it.

[From the Austin American-Statesman, July 18, 2004]


Alarming Pre-9/11 Messages Foreshadow Attacks

In Chat Rooms, Hints of Coming Hijacker Attacks and Other Plots

By Paul Iorio

Newly uncovered messages, posted on an Islamic extremist

website before September 11, 2001, show that militants were

talking up terrorist plots similar to those of 9/11 prior to 9/11.

There was also talk of staging a nuclear 9/11 in which multiple

couriers would smuggle a small piece of a nuclear device into the

U.S. and assemble it here for detonation.

The postings, uncovered by this reporter and then investigated

by both the elite Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and the United

States Capitol Police (CP), raise disturbing questions about

whether others knew about the 9/11 attacks beforehand and

whether recent terrorist acts might have been partly coordinated

through private Internet message boards.

The Capitol Police learned about the messages, which (among

other things) included explicit and violent death threats against

three U.S. Senators, from this reporter in April 2004, a few

months before the CP closed roads around the Capitol amidst

widespread speculation that there had been threats on individual

members of Congress and Senators. (Without having contacted

the Capitol Police, I was phoned by two special agents of the CP

on April 22 and asked to be called back "immediately" about

the postings I had uncovered; the CP probably found out about

my findings because I had contacted members of Congress for

comment on the messages.)

The documents come from a leading Islamic information and

discussion website,, which calls itself "The

Muslim Directory." A participant in its chats, in the months before

9/11, calls for the assassination of three U.S. Senators and the

head of the Central Intelligence Agency, and advocates action

similar to the hijacking and anthrax attacks that occurred weeks

and months after the messages were posted. There is also

advocacy of a rail attack similar to the one that occurred years

later in Madrid.

One participant in the Ummah discussions, whose screen

name is Abdullahmuaz, suggested as early as November 2000

that militants use a hijacked airplane as a missile. "The hijacking

could've been used so wisely," he wrote in 2000, referring to a

hijacking in November 2000. "The Russian hijacked

plane could have...flown to had to first land in telaviv so

that they didn't suspect...but they didn't realize what would happen if

the lone hijacker felt sleepy, etc....I am giving you ideas, you have

to modify them...if I give you the exact will be caught

before you even carry it out..." [The messages here are being

quoted with their original idiosyncratic spelling and syntax.]

Clearly, Abdullahmuaz, in almost every posting, seems to

be coaching fellow militants as if he were advising or guiding those

who were about to stage attacks. An interview with an agent of

the JTTF focused partly on the possibility that Abdullahmuaz

might have coordinated attacks through his messages.

In a 2004 interview, the JTTF agent was more alarmed by

another finding: a message I uncovered that was posted at

9:46 PM (ET) on September 10, 2001, on the usenet service Deja News.

It's a sort of fundamentalist Muslim death sermon titled "Death"

by a Sharif Muhammad in which he quotes a passage from the

Koran: "'Wherever you are, death will find you out. Even if you

are in towers built up strong and high.’"

Muhammad then says the same thing in his own words: "No

matter how long one lives, nothing will save him/her from death.

Strong towers won't save him."

And he talks about the nobility of being a martyr for Islam,

echoing the beliefs expressed in the letter found in the luggage of

hijacker Mohamed Atta and distributed to his fellow terrorists.

"[Death] emboldens the believer to do Jihad," writes Muhammad.

"...The most honorable death is to die for the cause of Islam, to

be a martyr of faith."

Abdullahmuaz also wrote messages in the period just before

9/11, one of them endorsing the idea of a poison attack on

America a few weeks before the anthrax letters were sent.

In another message, Abdullahmuaz plots a nuclear 9/11.

"Another very good option would be to try to smuggle in small

nuclear devices into the US each small piece brought by a

different courier and then assembled in the US," he wrote.

The messages uncovered here were posted on an message board and preserved in Ummah's 2001

archive, which was accessible through a back door to the

Internet called the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, a

search engine capable of retrieving vanished websites from

years ago. (To find a past site, simply type a URL into the

Wayback Machine and click on links to Internet pages dating

as far back as 1996.) The Ummah messages presented in this

story were found through the Wayback Machine. In order to find

these messages, this reporter put the URLs of more than a

hundred Muslim extremist and al Qaeda websites into the


The founder of the Wayback Machine, Brewster Kahle, says

there have been no instances in which documents obtained through

the Wayback machine were later shown to have been unreliable in

some way. "Our data is reliable," he says.

"The stuff here is used in court," Kahle adds.

The Ummah website still exists today but in a much tamer

form. Even Ummah's formal categories of discussion have

been revamped; some chat groups in the pre-9/11 months were

subtitled "...crisis, war and Jihad"; by contrast, one chat category

is now called “quiet and peace," and there is no mention of jihad

as a suggested topic. (Representatives of the site would not

answer a request for comment for this story.) The messages

quoted here were found on a private message board labeled

"protected"; they were blocked to those without a password,

but the blocking was not always effective enough to keep this

reporter from accessing some of the messages.

It is little wonder the documents are labeled private and

protected: the messages often involve violent and specific

threats. Few are more graphic than a posting from Abdullahmuaz

from June 11, 2001, that says, “George Tenet Gun Him Down...

make it a suicide thing.”

He also posted a series of less explicit messages in the months

before September 11th that seem to allude to the terrorism to come.

“Americans we made them focus on infrastructure,” Abdullahmuaz

wrote on May 9, 2001. “All their energies and efforts would focus on

infrastructure, while we hit them you know where.” It's unclear what

he means by the phrase "you know where."

“[An attack] has to be massive on scale to have effect,” he wrote

on April 24, 2001. “Their civilians. their children. it doesn’t have

to be army personnel. go for what is easy."

In a call to action on the same day, he wrote: "Let's give it to

them now -- all fronts."

And he returns repeatedly to the idea of using poison as a weapon.

"Poison them as a nation..arsenic..anything slow would do," wrote

Abdullahmuaz on April 25, 2001. "Their water supply should be

another target..if you could open a gas pipeline and pump cyanide

or just something cheap like carbon monoxide even, that would

be good..this is a good recipe for spies amongst you as well."

"Keep quiet or do something big...poison their water supply..

[mess up] their air traffic or rail control...bomb their ammunition

depots..set fires..fires are so f-----' guys are not thinkin,"

he wrote on April 7, 2001.

His advocacy of a "rail control" attack is worthy of note in light

of the train bombings in Madrid on March 11, 2004, which many

have called "Spain's 9/11." The poisoning of the water supply has

recently been shown to be an al Qaeda plan.

Representatives of the CIA, the U.S. Homeland Security

department and the 9/11 Commission were approached for

comment about this report but did not respond.

[Unpublished; presented here for the first time; this final version was written on April 25, 2005, updated 2009.

I should note that even the greatest investigative reporters would agree that a journalist is a citizen first and a journalist second, and they would also agree that if a reporter uncovers an apparent plot of this sort, he should report it immediately to law enforcement (providing, of course, that it does not violate any confidentiality agreements with sources.]



Choosing My Religion

Converting to the World's Great (And Not-So-Great) Religions -- All of Them

By Paul Iorio

If everything were to go wrong, it's somewhat comforting to know

organized religion would take you in -- no matter who you are or what you've

done or what you really believe.

But first you must convert. What religion is best for you? Which one

offers a sensible plan for eternity, no-fault redemption, praying that gets

results, easy admission to heaven, and a moral contract that's non-binding?

To answer these questions, I set out one morning to convert to the world's

great (and not-so-great) religions. Within hours, I grew certain of only one

thing: becoming holy was not the best way to expand my sexual options,

since many faiths prohibit even the most mundane erotic activities. Islam, for

example, forbids masturbation.

"It's a sin," says Abdul Hai of the Islamic Center in Chicago.

"You can't even masturbate with your wife?," I ask.

"How come you do masturbating with your wife?," says Hai.

"Mutual masturbation -- that would be okay, right?," I ask.

"I don't think so," says Hai.

So for those sometimes feel sex is too private to do in front of

another person, Islam is clearly not the way to go.

Muslims also bar lechery. "Even if you gaze at the face of a woman out of

lust, it is forbidden," says Muhammed Salem Agwa, an imam at the Islamic

Cultural Center in New York. (Sunnis and Shiites largely agree on such

lifestyle issues.)

I then tried the Mormons. First thing I found was they take marriage very

seriously. Not only do they nix sex before marriage, they believe in marriage

after death. This, of course, raises the question of whether one can file for

divorce in eternity.

"As far as getting a divorce in the eternities, I don't think so," says an

elder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. "If you lasted until the eternities

with your marriage, it's pretty much going to last forever."

"But if you do get a divorce in eternity, do you split the soul 50:50?," I


"Good question," he says. "I never thought of that. I'll have to think about


Judaism actually regulates the penis itself; circumcision is recommended

for converts. (For the uninitiated, adult circumcision is usually performed

under a local anesthetic and requires several stitches you know where.)

Next, I checked out the best ways of getting to heaven. For

Catholics, I found the password to heaven is a simple, "I'm sorry." Evidently,

the deal for Catholics is this: Commit any sin during the week, confess on

Sunday, and you're pardoned, no matter what the offense.

Catholics can even envision forgiveness for Adolf Hitler. "If at the end,

Hitler had been truly sorry for the things he had done, then the possibility of

forgiveness is there in a theoretical sense," says Father Kevin Madigan of the

Blessed Sacrament Church in Manhattan.

"Is there any point of evil beyond which you say, 'No amount of

repentance will redeem you?,'" I ask.

"No," says Father Madigan.

Catholics aren't the only ones with a loose forgiveness policy. Listen to

Pentecostal pastor Donald Lee of the Healing Stream Deliverance Church in

New York: "One of the people we're affiliated with is Son of Sam," he says,

sounding a bit like Dan Aykroyd's E. Buzz Miller character on the original

"Saturday Night Live." "We've prayed with him a number of times, and he's

really strong now in the Lord."

"That seems way over the top," I say. "If Son of Sam doesn't go to hell,

then who does?"

"He doesn't go to hell because he's totally repented. In this case, he really

meant business with God," says Lee.

"What sins won't you excuse?," I ask.

"When you experience the power of God and then you blaspheme it, you

mock it," Lee explains.

Other religions have their own quirky, irredeemable acts. What sin do

Lutherans consider unforgivable?

"To die in unbelief," says Dale Hansen, the pastor at St. Luke's Lutheran

Church in Manhattan.

"But then if I believe before I die, I'm forgiven my previous unbelief?," I


"That's right," says Hansen.

With this much forgiveness going around, heaven must be mighty

crowded, right? Not according to Jehovah's Witnesses, who claim heaven

has a tight guest list of exactly 144,000. Apparently, admission depends on

who you know. Each apostle gets to bring along 12,000 guests, says Elder

Eugene Dykes of Kingdom Hall in Columbia, South Carolina.

Despite stiff competition for admission to heaven, one can still have a shot

by following as many religious rules as possible. Among them are the Ten

Commandments, which raise complex ethical questions. For instance, would

I be considered unholy if I break the First Commandment by believing Al

Green is God?

"Oh, no, no, no," says Adriano Hernandez of the Broadway Seventh-Day

Adventist Church in Manhattan.

"Al Green is a great guy, but he's not the supreme being of the universe,"

notes Glenn Evans of the Singles' Ministry of the First Baptist Church of

Dallas, Texas.

"Believing Al Green is God means you're going to become a total servant

of Al Green," says Father Madigan, "and whenever he calls you on the phone

and wants you to do something, you're going to do that. I don't understand

how you can worship Al Green as a god."

"I think you're pulling my leg here," says the very smart Leslie Merlin of

Brick Presbyterian Church in New York.

If the Ten Commandments are strict, just think of Judaism, with its

additional 613 commandments. How do you know if you're violating, say,

commandment 537? "It's hard," admits Rabbi Jacob Spiegel of the First

Roumanian American Congregation. "We don't expect you to."

Most orders of Judaism don't expect adherence to their dietary laws. One

commandment forbids Jews to consume meat and any milk product at the

same meal, which rules out something as innocent as coffee with milk after a

burger. But Rabbi Simcha Weinberg of the Lincoln Square Synagogue slyly

reveals a loophole: "You could have the coffee first."

Islam's food restrictions are so strict it's a wonder someone hasn't

marketed them as a diet plan yet. Among the regulations, most devotees must

fast from dawn to dusk for one month a year. Does that mean not even a Slim

Fast or a megavitamin? "You cannot even take a drop of water once you start

fasting," Abdul Hai says sternly.

Praying is a good way to get your side of the story across to God. And

God reportedly understands every prayer in every tongue -- including


Pastor Donald Lee demonstrates his fluency in tongues: "When the spirit

comes into you, you'll be speaking in tongues -- cora ba shinda da ba sa --

like that. Like right now -- kara sheek a ra da ba da sheev ba ra sa. When I

pray in tongues -- cora da shotta -- it gives the Holy Spirit a chance to dig


But don't try imitating Pastor Lee, which of course I know you're dying to

do. "You could imitate me, but it wouldn't be by the Holy Spirit," he says.

"It would just be mechanical."

Islam requires Muslims to take comfort in prayer five times a day and to

turn toward Mecca when doing so. "Suppose I turn toward San Francisco," I

say. "Does that negate my prayer?"

"You can have a compass and you keep it with you," responds

Muhammed Salem Agwa.

Because I didn't have my compass with me, I decided to try another

religion. What about Christian Science? At the very least, it's a super way to

save on healthcare. I checked out a service in Greenwich Village.

The congregation, looking like people who wash their hair with bar soap,

sings Hymn 31, a four-four ditty with catchy lyrics like: "What chased the

clouds away? Twas love, whose finger traced aloud a bow of promise on the


Then it's open-mike time at the church, and a Christian Scientist with a

comb-over shaped like a gerrymandered congressional district says, "I have a

healing to share." Though the Scientists believe faith can cure any ailment,

this service was causing me sudden nausea. I left for the Hare Krishna house

on Second Avenue.

Approaching the Krishna center, I expected a lot of shaved heads and

chanters in neon orange robes. Instead, I found an almost irreverent

get-together of twentysomethings vaguely resembling Billy Bragg and

Sinead O'Connor.

I investigated the Krishnas further. Which Vishnu god gives me the best

return on my worship? "Kirshna," says Akunthita Dasi of the International

Society for Krishna Consciousness in Chicago.

Must my cremated ashes be scattered on the Ganges River, or will the

Hackensack or Potomac do? "We just throw ashes in the lake here," says

Chakra Pani of the Temple of Understanding near Limestone, West Virginia.

Seeking something more earthly, I tried an Orthodox Jewish Minchah

service at Congregation Talmud Torah Adereth El in Manhattan. In a tight

basement with bars on the windows, men wearing hats turned the pages of

the Torah backward and spoke Yiddish in an emphatic fast-motion ritual. I made

a contribution and quickly left.

Equally daunting was a Catholic Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New

York. Inside, worshipers repeated "I shall not fear" as a cop patrolled the

north aisle and an usher prodded me with a long-armed collection basket.

Then everybody shook hands with one another on cue and filed out to the

sound of a barely audible organ.

A nearby Buddhist meditation service was a breath of fresh incense -- at

first. But then someone told me I was meditating incorrectly and needed

formal instruction. (In Zenspeak, I didn't know what I wasn't doing.)

My head was spinning in a spiritual vortex. I wondered: could I

simultaneously shave my head, get circumcised, genuflect, speak in tongues,

pray with a compass, and stop masturbating? It may be worth trying. It

would certainly improve my chances of getting to heaven.

[From Details magazine, October 1994; this is the way I originally write it.]

I interviewed hundreds of sources and attended dozens of religious services for this story. Here's but one page of several that itemize 32 pages of phone calls I made for "Choosing My Religion" (above). (By the way, it ain't easy to rack up 91 bucks of calls by making mostly local calls!)



Locked in the Bathroom with James Mtume, Grammy-Winner

By Paul Iorio

To get some privacy for our interview, James Mtume, the

Grammy-winning composer, suggested we lock ourselves in the bathroom

at the offices of Cash Box magazine in Manhattan. So we did.

"We're in the bathroom now," said Mtume. "You've got to be

honest in the bathroom."

And the honesty started flowing like water from a faucet as I took

my seat on the toilet, and Mtume leaned up against the bathtub.

"On television, name one black show that's not a comedy," said the

musician, composer and former Miles Davis sideman. "You've got ten


We went down the list and couldn't name a single one. The point he

was making is that on TV and in feature films, blacks are virtually shut

out from serious drama. Mtume sees this as a major problem, and it's

one of the reasons he was attracted to composing the soundtrack of the

film "Native Son," among other projects in his career.

"The interesting thing about me having the opportunity to score 'Native

Son' is that it's only the second time they've given a black composer full

scoring rights to do what they want in a serious movie -- other than Quincy

Jones," he said.

Mtume wanted to do something different with film scoring. "I said,

'What can I do on a film score that's gonna make my stuff different from the

stuff that pisses me off from all the other composers who are staid and stale,"

he said. "You've got guys who do the same thing for every movie because

nobody gets on them about it."

Mtume tried a novel approach and went hunting for sounds to sample.

"I went to a tenement house in Brooklyn and paid the maintenance guy to

turn on his furnace," he said. "And I sampled the sound and fed it into my


"Then I took broken glass, threw it against the wall and sampled the

sound. I sampled my heartbeat. I sampled fingernails down a blackboard.

Then I put a kind of Hitchcock string thing on top of the broken glass, the

heartbeat and the furnace," he said, tapping the side of the bathtub.

The soundtrack also includes a rap track reminiscent of Grandmaster

Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message." "Rap is a very serious art

form, though a lot of people try to dismiss it. My concern is the content;

I would like to see more meaningful content in rap."

Mtume is currently writing a symphony that fuses European and

African classical traditions with scratch, deep funk and even heavy metal.

"It's never been done before," he says. "I've got one movement that's a

sixty-piece orchestra accompanying a funk rhythm band. Then there's

another movement that involves a group rapping over a thing like

Stravinsky's 'Rite of Spring.'"

Mtume, who once had a number one single, beat out even Sting to be

the composer of "Native Son." "I'm associated with the smooth, pretty

stuff but they'll be no more straight Mtume albums," he says.

Sensing that someone might want to use the bathroom, we decided to

wrap up the interview. "This is really hip, coming to the bathroom. I hope

you know that," said Mtume. Then he sampled the sound of warm water

running in the sink, and we both laughed.

[From Cash Box magazine, January 24, 1987]


a scan of my December 1992 article for Spy magazine, the "Dylan-o-matic."



Mel Gibson on Moses

By Paul Iorio

Mel Gibson has long had a reputation as a devout Catholic and firm believer

in God. So, when the subject turned to religion during a roundtable talk in 1999,

Gibson revealed the depth of his religious faith, defending the Ten Commandments

-- or at least the Fifth Commandment -- as if it were literal and rigid law, though he

seemed confused about whether there were exceptions or not.

In this one-on-one exchange, I asked Gibson whether the American revolutionaries

of 1776 portrayed in his film “The Patriot” were morally correct (by Moses' morality) in

killing British troops. This was his verbatim response:


GIBSON: Uh, no.


GIBSON: Because you shouldn't kill.


GIBSON: It's not wrong to kill if you've got a good reason.


GIBSON: No it doesn't.


GIBSON: [Not] just for the hell of it. [laughter] It doesn't say thou shall not defend thyself,
you know.


GIBSON: [pause] Ah, it's succinct. Look, I'm not going to f--- with Moses here. [laughter]



Live in Concert!

Reviews of Performances by Tracy Chapman, The Pogues, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Ordinaires, and The Replacements.

The Ordinaires at CBGB, April 19, 1986.

By Paul Iorio

The Ordinaires, a nine-piece band from the lower east side, played

a sophisticated collage of instrumental music at CBGB that was the aural

equivalent of a high-speed walk through Manhattan, absorbing Tompkins

Square funk, Madison Square Garden rock, radios in middle-eastern delis,

Indian restaurant jukeboxes, ghetto blasters, uptown jazz, clubland pop, and

the cacophony of New York streets, all of it seamlessly connected in a

non-stop style that knows no boundaries, just like Manhattan neighborhoods

which merge one into the other, with their dissonant jazz mixing

harmoniously with such arena rock as Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," which they

played by weaving the song's instrumental passages together until one

wondered how the song could have ever been done otherwise, which is

typical of the band's power, a power that turned CBGB into a Lincoln Center

recital hall when Barbara Schloss soloed on the violin, and into a Bourbon

Street dance floor when Fritz Van Orden tore loose with some celebratory

alto sax counterpoint, leading me to believe this band is so hungry, so eager,

so able to express the world around them, that they'll bend rock 'n' roll into a

hundred different shapes until somebody cries uncle.

[From Cash Box magazine, May 3, 1986.]

* * *

Tracy Chapman, Live at Carnegie Hall, November 28, 1988.

By Paul Iorio

Before describing what happened at Tracy Chapman's Carnegie Hall

concert, let's first picture the opposite of a Chapman show:

Chapman struts onstage in spandex and spikes, followed by her band

("My love boys," she growls), which includes Mark "The Animal" Mendoza

of Twisted Sister, and Philthy Animal of Motorhead.

"Yo, New York! We're Tracy Chapman and the Love Boys. Are you

ready to par-tay?! I can't hear ya. I said, are you ready for some maniac

music?!" She blasts into an ear-splitting version of "Money (That's What I

Want)," taking a solo in a duck-walk with her Strat between her legs,

segueing into a metalized "Material Girl."

Swigging from a fifth of Jack Daniels, she belts "Louie Louie," turning it

into a 12-minute garage odyssey. When confused fans shout for the sensitive

urban vignettes on her debut album, she roars back: "I - I - I just wrote those

to make it big! The whole shy thing was to get me some attention, get me

some -- "

Philthy Animal finishes the sentence, while pulling the ends of a dollar


" get some sympathy," he chortles, breaking into the opening chords of

the Stones's "Sympathy for the Devil."

For the set-closer, Mendoza plays Jagger to Chapman's Turner for some

bumpin' 'n' grindin' on a sizzling "Proud Mary." As the band leaves the stage,

one front row fan loudly requests "Behind the Wall," Chapman's sensitive a

cappella tale of domestic violence. To which Mendoza, visibly annoyed,

retorts, "Sure, I'll play it. BANG! ZOOM!," he yells, slamming his palm

with his fist. Chapman laughs rudely.

The fictitious scenario above seems, er, unlikely, if only because

Chapman, at age 24, has already defined an unusually sure and definite

public persona. Honest and shy, she set a reverential tone at Carnegie Hall, where

she played solo on a stage that was bare except for a microphone stand and

two small speaker monitors (not even a chair or extra guitars). This allowed

the audience to see and hear her as she must have appeared on street corners

in Boston back when.

[From the East Coast Rocker, December 7, 1988.]

* * *

The Jesus and Mary Chain at the Ritz, NYC, March 15, 1986.

By Paul Iorio

One of the exhibits at the 1976 Bienale in Venice, Italy, was a conceptual

art piece consisting simply of a mop and a bucket. It caused a storm at the

time, with critics and artists arguing its merits all the way to the gondolas in

the Grand Canal. Many people missed the point, think the artist was merely

trying to represent a mop and bucket; they didn't see he was presenting an

actual mop and bucket.

That work changed the way I see the everyday paraphernalia of the

modern age, which is one of the things great art should do. Ten years later, I

still don't see a mop and bucket the same way.

The Jesus and Mary Chain likewise jar out perception of the world,

making us hear the aural quotidian a bit differently. Like that mop-and-

bucket artist, the Jesus and Mary Chain are not representing this noisy

corner of the 20th century in their music; they are creating a piece of it. The

squeak of subway wheels, the boom of construction sites, the airplanes

overhead: the band puts such white noise over a candy-pop core to form an

original and explosive mix.

Their 35-minute show probably changed more lives than longer shows by

any twenty top-40 band. On the way back home from the show, for example,

the brakes of the taxi I was riding in squeaked. "Sounds like Jesus and Mary

Chain," I said to my friend, and we both laughed. But our laughter belied

something significant; our perception of everyday noises -- the roar of the

20th century down Third Avenue -- had changed.

[From Cash Box magazine, March 29, 1986.]

* * *

The Pogues at The World, February 28, 1986.
(The band’s first U.S. visit, recounted in reverse chronological order.)

By Paul Iorio

1. Mere Anarchy is Loosed Upon the World.

It's 3:15 a.m. at The World in New York, and The Pogues have just

ended their first show in America. It sounds like the Easter Rebellion of

1916 must've sounded, as the crowd, with raised fists and bottles, demands

an encore. The band returns with "Navigator," and vocalist Shane

MacGowan sings it in a voice twice his 28 years, swaying drunkenly, his

eyes fixed on some spot midway between orchestra and balcony. One half

expects him to break into Gaelic or tears as his phrasing makes lines like "for

to shift a few tons of" sound like "for the ship of Lufthansa." A terrible

beauty is born.

2. Twenty Minutes Earlier.

It's mid-set. This could be the show's turning point. Until now, the crowd

has been amused but a bit complacent about the band. Jem Finer tries some

banjo on "Jesse James," and Cait O'Riordan sings "I'm a Man You Don't

Meet Everyday." The audience begins to see the light. A fiery instrumental

follows, and the crowd bounces and dances.

3. Twenty Minutes Earlier.

The Pogues open with "The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn" and the audience is

not impressed. One guy dances a mock jig. People laugh. They eye the band

with a gaze as blank and pitiless as the sun. Then MacGowan scores with

three consecutive blasts: "Old Main Drag, " "A Pair of Brown Eyes" and

"Dirty Old Town." The crowd leans forward.

4. The Previous Day.

All eight Pogues pile into an office on West 57th Street in New York.

They're feisty, anarchic and one hour late. Cait O'Riordan snoops through my

pre-interview notes behind my back and blurts, "Shane, he's going to ask you

about the IRA." The band looks at me with a gaze as blank and pitiless as

the sun.

MacGowan talks about booze instead. He says he likes Italian white

wine, dry martinis and stout. He has vomited onstage three times, he says. "I

started drinking when I was about six," he says. "I started to have a serious

drinking problem when I was about 14."

O'Riordan is less forthcoming when asked whether she and Pogues

producer Elvis Costello are an item. "It's not true," she says unconvincingly.

[The two would eventually go on to marry -- and divorce.] What sort of guy

is Costello? "He was fat," she says, munching on her tuna fish sandwich.

And what kind of guy is MacGowan? "He's a lunatic," says Jem Finer.

"He's just a normal guy, a regular jock."

MacGowan smiles through ruined teeth and slouches on the couch like

some rough beast, his hour come 'round at last.

[From Cash Box magazine, March 15, 1986.]
* * *

The Toll at The Bitter End, NYC, February 2, 1989.

By Paul Iorio

Sure, the Doors were great, but they weren't exactly a funk band.

With the exception of several songs, the group was noted less for its

groove than for the rantings of Jim Morrison. Morrison, of

course, was a Presley for comparative lit majors, a model for generations of

poetically inclined singers from Jello Biafra to Richard Hell, who have

wailed loudly over, and sometimes without relation to, ace back-up bands.

It's not a pretty picture, I admit. The conscious mix of poetry and rock

often sounds contrived. The assumptions are wrong. After all, rock itself is

a jab at "high art" forms like poetry, an attempt to erase the line between high

and low forms. By fusing "poetry" and "rock," one is conceding the


But if in the course of rocking out, one happens to stumble into poetic

language -- aka, memorable language -- that's another matter altogether. Just

don't try it as a conscious concept unless you're a Morrison or a Patti Smith.

I'm not reviewing the Toll's show at the Bitter End because I think the

band gets away with it; in some ways they do and don't. And I'm not much

interested in the band's lyrics, which traffic in Morrisoniana, only less

psychotically and with an odd and disconcerting predilection for the

wrongly-placed comma ("The quiet stairs, echo beneath, my weighted frame").

But Brad Circone, the vocalist, is a star. It's not his voice, which is rather

unremarkable, but his antics, his barrage of physical self-abuse and

adventurism that is at once startling, dangerous and possibly litigious. He is

impossible to ignore, much like Iggy Pop, David Lee Roth, or an armed


In fact, it's quite dangerous to ignore him. Circone swings his mike stand

at fellow bandmates and audience members (one swipe at the press section

nearly caused one or two senior level job openings at major publications),

flings himself with bone-breaking force to the floor, falls back-first onto

wooden chairs, jumps on tables and thumps a mike on his forehead to create

percussion. The audience, many of whom must have once seen the Red Hot

Chili Peppers or various hardcore bands pull such stunts, were anything but


Circone's bandmates chugged on with workaday, we're-used-to-this-guy

looks on their faces. Meanwhile, club personnel scurried about -- I think

this happened while Circone hung over the crowd by a ceiling pipe -- having

insurance-anxiety attacks.

But no, he wasn't finished. Circone raced to and fro, as if practicing for

Giants Stadium or looking for the mechanical cherry picker, the suspension

cable, the (dare we say it?) glass spider. Alas, it's only clubland, so he had

to settle for intimacy. He poured hot wax from a flaming candle on his face,

letting it drip and harden into stalactites. "This is the sperm of ages," he

intoned, Morrison dripping from his voice.

And then it dawned on me: The Doors. Would the Toll incite decency

rallies nationwide? Would Circone be able to sell his poorly comma-ed

lyrics to undergraduates seeking the new Lizard King? It depends on the "quality

of the music," some stodge might say. Forget the music! The music was

fantastic, I guess, I really don't recall; I was too busy dodging the base of the

mike stand at regular intervals. It was exciting rock theatre, the music was

just the soundtrack.

The title of their debut album, "The Price of Progression," tells much

about the meaning of their fusion of arty lyrics and rock 'n' roll. Note the

word "progression." It's what they call a "flag." Conjures images of prog-

rock, no? The Morrison/Hell(/Circone?) axis of poetry-rock may be the

verbal equivalent of prog-rock.

Prog-rock, as I remember it in high school, was a way to listen to the

stereo without feeling guilty about not studying trig. After all, King

Crimson's "Larks Tongues in Aspic" and Rick Wakeman's "The Six Wives of Henry

VIII" somehow seemed educational, what with their pompous titles and all.

Listening to them made you feel as if you had been through a tedious night

reading Chaucer and Spencer.

In college, prog-rockers often graduated to jazz fusion. Others were

driven to prog out of personal desperation. A couple guys in my dorm, who

had previously listened exclusively to J. Geils and Hall & Oates, dropped out

and turned to Weather Report, which they listened to solemnly, as if it were

penance or a way to finish a degree. After all, dropping out and listening to

the Stones and the Stooges all day might have made them feel they were

really on a slide.

Because the Toll's 10-minute-plus opuses are so "significant" (that bit

about "the sperm of ages"; those commas), and are about as danceable as

"The End" or Jim Carroll's "City Drops Into the Night," which is to say not

very, one wonders whether that famous Morrison/Hell(/Circone?) axis serves

the same penance function as prog-rock.

Still, revealing the possible motivations of a particular audience does not

discredit the music it listens to, I think. If the Toll inadvertently expose the

Door's lineage as neo-prog, then perhaps the whole genre should be

reconsidered with a favorable ear, if only because pretentiousness with this

much energy and vitality makes for such a good night out.

[From the New York weekly newspaper Downtown, March 15, 1989.]

* * *

The Replacements Live at the Ritz, in New York, February 8, 1986.

By Paul Iorio

The Replacements are from Minneapolis, where the Mississippi River

begins its long run, and though the band members may look like a bunch of

regular guys, when they get beneath the spotlights, they're something like

that big river under the moon in that their sound flows and roars and shines,

and the applause crashes like a cresting wave.

The Replacements are a force of nature, and as we all know, nature either

never knows when to stop, or knows exactly when to stop. Maybe "knows"

is the wrong word because these guys seem possessed by their talent, by an

accidental brilliance that comes and hoes at the whim of some internal form

of chaotic order.

But as I said, on the surface they appear pretty regular. There's Bob

Stinson, lead guitarist, looking like the older member of a teenage gang, in

his shorts that expose pale, flabby and hairless legs. There's Paul Westerberg,

the brains of the operation, with his heroin physique, resentful voice, and

mid-Seventies arena-rock hair-do. There's shy Tommy Stinson, the bassist, who

must have been all of eight or nine when the Ramones first hit. And there's

Chris Mars, a teenage rock 'n' roll drum machine who looks like an actor

who would be cast to play a drummer in a movie about a mid-Sixties garage band.

This is what grows up around that river.

They opened their Ritz show with Kiss's "I Want to Rock 'n' Roll All

Night" and closed with Alice Cooper's "Eighteen." Their roots are clearly in

mid-Seventies rock, and why not? Everyone has topical influences. Some

artists today were influenced by the Beatles. The Beatles were influenced by

Chuck Berry, Chuck Berry was influenced by the Orioles, the Orioles were

influenced by regional blues, regional blues was influenced by the songs of

slaves, the songs of slaves were influenced by African-provincial songs, ad


Originality is a foolish illusion; we tend to call artists "original" when

we can't figure out where they drew their inspiration from. Only one question

applies in pop music: does it hit you between the eyes? The Replacements do.

Though they seemed more comfortable playing cover tunes, they were

most electric on their originals. "Bastards of Young," "Waitress in the Sky,"

and (especially) "Hold My Life" (from the "Tim" album) fit right in with

"Let It Be" classics like "Answering Machine" and "Unsatisfied."

Like that big river coursing toward its upper reaches, the band got a bit

tired near the end of the set. Most songs starting clocking in at two minutes

or so. Westerberg cut short "Galveston" after only one verse. They ran out

of songs. They stopped playing.

[From Cash Box magazine, February 22, 1986.]


The Disneyfication of America

By Paul Iorio

Once upon a time, Spy magazine speculated about what would happen

"When Disney Ran America." It imagined Michael Eisner as president of the

United States, theme parks taking over cities, that sort of thing. Fictional

stuff, absurdly funny at the time, too silly to take seriously. Except now,

nobody's laughing.

Almost every sector of America has been Disneyfied to some degree, it

seems. Disneyfication has come to every multiplex cinema, where Disney

flicks regularly rule, and at the highest reaches of pop music, where Michael

Jackson literally lives in his own theme park. It's in Las Vegas and Atlantic

City, gambling theme parks that somehow seem less real than Toon Town.

It's in shopping malls, those insulated mini-kingdoms that are spawning their

own fairground attractions. It's even in national defense, where the "Star

Wars" strategic defense initiative stands as the Pentagon's great, unrealized

hope of Disneyfying outer space.

And now, finally, American history itself is about to be Disneyfied. Plans

for a theme park near historic Manassas, Virginia, are expected to be

approved by a county board, thanks in no small park to a stunningly

expensive lobbying campaign that included the giving of Mickey Mouse

neckties to lawmakers. With Manassas virtually conquered, what's next for

Disney? A crucifixion wonderland in Jerusalem? A line of condoms made of


How about a Disney town? Believe it or not, Disney currently plans to

develop and build an actual town (projected population: 20,000) in the

Florida wetlands. The town is being designed as a sort of 1950s American

smalltown of white picket fences, clapboard houses and soda shoppes.

The proposed community, just south of Orlando, will sport the vaguely

creationist-sounding name of Celebration. It's not going to be "the kind of

place where everybody has to wear mouse ears," says Leanne Hand of the

West Group, which handles public relations for Celebration. (Disney

wouldn't comment for this story.)

So what will Celebration be like? "What I see is a 1940s Florida-type

community," says Chris Colombo, superintendent of the school board of

Osceola County, where the town is being built. "You're going to see houses

that as a kid I can remember very clearly. You're going to see upward-

mobility type individuals."

The vision of Celebration, in others words, seems to look simultaneously

to the past and to the future, or, rather, to a future as imagined by Disney in

the past, when an old-fashioned futurism of flying cars and magic potions

prevailed. Blurring the line between fantasy and reality even further, Disney

appears to be applying theme-park principles to Celebration: citizenship will

include free admission to Disney World and EPCOT center.

Not surprisingly, the town is also spawning a -- you guessed it -- theme


"You're going to see classes taught that are theme-oriented rather than

age-oriented," says Colombo. "Can you imagine a kindergarten student

holding hands with a high school student, looking at the flora and fauna?,"

he asks. "Are you familiar with the term 'exceptional student'? You're

going to see those students mixed in with whatever's called regular


There is also a question about the potential demographic makeup of the

town. The descriptions of Celebration ("like your hometown"; "a 1940s

community") combined with Disney's sometimes conservative corporate

culture lead one to wonder whether there will be much ethnic diversity in

town. After all, wasn't Florida racially segregated in the 1940s? Racially

speaking, isn't the town likely to be, er, snow white?

Again, Disney wouldn't comment on this or any other aspect of the town.

But Hand assured us that "Whoever happens to get in line and buy the house

first gets to own the house."

Hand explained Disney's reluctance to talk to me. "If you look at [Spy

magazine], you have to admit -- I'll admit it, I've read it before -- it's a

satirical magazine," she says, as if revealing some unspeakable truth. After

I told her that all sides would be fairly represented, she told me: "What I'm

gonna try to do is get some copies of Spy, because [the powers-that-be

at Disney], not being hip and not with the program, don't know much about it."

Then Hand inadvertently revealed that the ultimate in Disneyfication had

occurred: a county commissioner, she reported, "had his assistant call us and

say, 'I have this message from some reporter and y'all handle it, 'cause it's

about Celebration. Now what we need to do is tell him to call you if you

want to talk to him.'"

And with that, the Magic Kingdom inched closer to absolute power,

showing that even the government now comments through Disney.


Ultimately, Disneyfication invades even the sanctity of our rituals, to the

point where you can now have your wedding "themed" by Disney (as in, an

"Aladdin" theme or a "Snow White" theme) and presented at Walt Disney

World. (Still no word on plans to market Disney Divorces or Fairy Tale


Since Disney reminds us to tie the knot with imagination -- even though

the Disney theme park brand of imagination is conventional and banal -- I

decided to find out how far the company would go to make my wedding

plans come true, whether they would (in Disneyspeak) put the icing on the

street of dreams.

I phoned Disney's Rebecca Miller about planning my upcoming wedding

to, er, Minnie. Here's a transcript of our conversation:

IORIO: I'm thinking in terms of a kind of "Fantasia"-type [wedding].

MILLER: Absolutely. In fact, we have a ballroom at the Contemporary
[Hotel] called the Fantasia Ballroom. The types of things we can do from a
decor standpoint, as far as adapting whatever movie it may be -- certainly a
Disney movie -- there's no limit.

IORIO: Have you ever done a Dumbo wedding?

MILLER: Never done a Dumbo wedding. I can say I've never done a
Dumbo wedding but we've done "Aladdin" themes. We have done a very
elaborate "Beauty and the Beast" theme wedding where we've done literally
a stage show.

IORIO: What about at the reception having a flying elephant in the sense of
a helium-filled elephant in the reception area over the crowd? Possible?

MILLER: Possible, if we have one. What we draw a lot from are existing
things that have been in past parades. I don't know if we have a huge
Dumbo. Doesn't mean we can't create it. However, I have no idea where to even tell
you we're looking at cost-wise for that kind of thing.

IORIO: Here's another one that we were thinking of, because it's a personal
favorite of my fiancee's, and that is the "Snow White and the Three Stooges"
movie. And don't laugh.

MILLER: [laughs]

IORIO: That just happens to be an old '62 movie that she likes. Now, the
Three Stooges, however, aren't --


IORIO: Aren't yours -- exactly. But is it possible to get...Manny, Moe and
Shemp or whatever?

MILLER: You mean actors?

IORIO: Yeah.

MILLER: Sure. I wouldn't see why not. That's something that our talent
booking people would do, would put a call out or certainly do a talent search
for people who could appropriately play those actors, if you will. With our
resources being as vast as they are, I don't see that would be a problem.

IORIO: In terms of Dumbo's ears, can you get those? I know you have
Mickey Mouse ears.

MILLER: I do not know the answer to that question. If it is an existing
product, we can; when you get into copyright things and to things that are
very character-oriented that way, then it's probably not something in mass
quantities that we could have produced.

IORIO: And here's another idea in terms of adding some realism into it. If
we could get, like in a controlled container, cute mice, for example, maybe
ten of them or something. I don't know how appropriate that would be at the

MILLER: Again, I don't know about -- I mean, we have rules and things like
that. You mean, just having them sit there?

IORIO: Like Mickey Mouse. I don't know, I'm trying to picture how it
would even be --

MILLER: If you're talking mice, let's say from a Cinderella standpoint, what
some of the Cinderella brides and grooms have done in the past is to have
Minnie and Perla -- Is it Minnie? Is it Perla? -- the mice that make
Cinderella's gown...We have those characters...

IORIO: But in terms of real mice, though --

MILLER: Might be a little -- not saying we couldn't do it, but would they --
you -- they wouldn't run around, right?

IORIO: No, not at the [reception]. They'd be contained in a --


IORIO: A transparent container of some sort.

MILLER: I could look into it. Again, some of these are requests I've not yet
had, but no request is too extreme. What it takes is a little legwork on my
part, to make some phone calls and to see if something like this is even

IORIO: Okay.

MILLER: There are some things like that that may become issues. Yeah,
because people who want their dog to act as a maid of honor or as best man
or whatever, and unfortunately those requests have to be denied because pets
are not allowed. They are in the kennel location only; they're not allowed in
the resort.

IORIO: Why don't we wait until I get to discuss this with --

MILLER: With Minnie.

IORIO: With Minnie. Let me discuss it with her and then we'll proceed.


IORIO: The one other thing I had down was the idea of the transparent
container of mice. Is that going to be prohibited?

MILLER: The only thing that was kind of brought up to me was that perhaps
there would most definitely be a sanitary condition -- not certainly that they'd
ever be running around, but you'd have animals where you're serving food.
Do you have a number [of mice] that you're thinking of?

IORIO: I was thinking around ten of them in a transparent box or container
[placed] near the bandstand area. [My fiancee] was thinking in terms of, if
we could pin ears, Mickey Mouse ears, to actually have them be Mickey
Mouse mice. Cute little mice of a certain size may not be a problem; you
could get some regular paper Mickey Mouse ears, it would seem to me, and
clip them in a non-injurious fashion to the actual ears of the mice.

MILLER: The only concern I would have being that we were doing it is that
I don't know if we would want a real mouse to be in the likeness of Mickey
Mouse because we have Mickey Mouse, you know what I mean? Mickey
Mouse himself can come!

IORIO: So why have a fake one?

MILLER: Right, why simulate it with a real mouse when you can have the
genuine article there?

[From Spy magazine, September 1994.]

Salinger Turns 90 in January

What the Townspeople Think About J.D. Salinger

By Paul Iorio

J.D. Salinger will turn 90 in January, which means he has

now lived for 56 years in the tiny town of

Cornish Flat, New Hampshire, in seclusion. By all

accounts, he’s still as reclusive as when he was when

je first moved to town on January 1, 1953, back

when President Truman was still in the White House.

The author moved there around 17 months after the release

of his first and only full-length novel, “The Catcher in the

Rye,” at a time when he was “tremendously relieved that the

season for success of ‘The Catcher in The Rye’ is over,”

as he told the Saturday Review magazine in 1952. Little did

he know the season had just begun.

The townspeople of the Cornish Flat area seem to have grown

accustomed to him and usually leave him alone to live

with his day to day life with his wife, a quilt and

tapestry designer around half his age, in a house

near a covered bridge (how fitting it's a covered

bridge!) that leads to Vermont. (He moved down the

road to his current Cornish house after divorcing

his previous wife in 1967.)

Most people in the area do not talk about him or

to him. But some do.

"People know who he is, yet he acts like nobody

knows who he is," says Lynn Caple, who runs the

nearby Plainfield General Store, where Salinger

and his wife occasionally stop in to buy the

New York Times and other items.

"Very straight-faced guy," says Caple. "I've only seen

him smile once. I've been here four years."

Other neighbors, like Jerry Burt of Plainfield, have

actually been to his house, which he says is at the

end of a long driveway and atop a hill on hundreds

of acres owned by the author. "We would

go over to watch movies in his living room and have

dinner with him," says Burt, who claims he hasn't

seen the author since 1983.

"He's got a big living room with a deck that looks out

over the hills of Vermont, way up high, very private,"

he adds.

Burt recalls one dinner party at Salinger's house

twenty-some years ago at which Salinger, who is said

to enjoy health food, served meatloaf. "No Julia

Child," he says of Salinger's cuisine. And

the conversation was rarely literary. "He talked

about movies and the gardens and his children," he says.

The books Salinger usually talked about were not novels

but non-fiction works related to “health, being your own

health provider -- and gardening."

Of course, none of the guests dared to mention


"You'd never even think to do that if you were around

him," he says. "He'd just give you a look. He's a

very tall man and stern looking. You just know not

to do that. He'd probably show you the door and

say, 'Don't come in.'"

“He never talked about his work except to say he wrote

every morning faithfully,” he says. “And he said if I was

ever going to be a writer, I would have to do that.”

He also says Salinger has a big safe -- like a "bank

safe" -- where he keeps his unpublished manuscripts. "I've

seen the safe, I've looked in it. And he told me that he kept

his unpublished [work] there....It's huge," says Burt. "You

could have a party in there."

At one get-together in the 1980s, Salinger screened Frank

Capra's 1937 film "Lost Horizon," about a group of people

who find a paradise called Shangrila tucked in a remote

corner of the Himalayans. "He liked all those old things,

those old silents, Charlie Chaplin," he says. (His

description of the Salinger party almost resembles the

scene in the 1950 movie “Sunset Boulevard” in which a

has-been screens old movies for friends in a remote house.)

Another neighbor, this one in Cornish, is much more

circumspect about what she says about Salinger and

takes great pains to defend him. “He has been a wonderful

neighbor,” says Joan Littlefield, who lives close to

him. “The minute we moved into the neighborhood, he

called and gave us his unlisted number and said,

‘We’re neighbors now.’”

Littlefield spontaneously defended the author against

some of the allegations in the memoir by Salinger’s

daughter Margaret A. Salinger, “Dream Catcher: A Memoir”

(2000). That book claimed, among other things, that

Salinger was involved in offbeat health and spiritual

practices, such as drinking urine and Scientology.

“This thing about telling him to drink his own urine

or something that I heard that somebody wrote about,”

said Littlefield. “...I think that if any of these

reporters did some research into Ayurvedic medicine

or the medicine of China or the Far East, they would

probably find out that the medicine people over

there recommend this sort of thing.” (Ayurvedic

medicine provides alternative health treatments -- including

urine drinking -- that have origins in ancient


Littlefield defends Salinger on smaller issues, too.

“Absolutely ridiculous things have been written about

him, like that they had two Doberman attack dogs,”

she says. “For Pete’s sake, they had two little

Italian hounds of some kind that looked like Dobermans,

and they were skinny and tiny as toothpicks!”

(Our requests for an interview with Salinger went

unanswered. The author is famous for not granting

interviews and has given only around six interviews,

some of them brief and grudging, to reporters since

the release of “Catcher.")

Most other people in the area see Salinger only when

he's out in public, if at all. “He’s great looking for his

age,” says photographer and area resident Medora Hebert,

who has spotted him twice. “He’s dapper, very trim.”

“It was a long time before I could actually recognize him

because he looked so ordinary,” says Ann Stebbens Cioffi,

the daughter of the late owner of the Dartmouth Bookstore,

Phoebe Storrs Stebbens.

But Salinger himself has said that he thinks others don’t

see him as ordinary. "I'm known as a strange, aloof kind

of man," Salinger told the New York Times in 1974. And

some agree with him: "He's a very strange dude," says

Hanover resident Harry Nelson. Burt agrees: “He had a

weird sense of humor,” he says.

What emerges as much as anything is that the

author is a serious book lover and serial browser

who shops at places ranging from Borders Books to

the Dartmouth Bookstore. “He was uninterrupted

during his hour or two of browsing for books,” says

a person answering the phone at Encore! Books in West

Lebanon, New Hampshire, describing his own Salinger


“He does come in reasonably frequently,” says someone

who answered the phone at the Dartmouth Bookstore in

Hanover, New Hampshire, around 20 miles north of Cornish.

“He’s a pretty good customer here but doesn’t really

say anything to us.”

"He frequented the Dartmouth bookstore," says an

employee of Borders Books Music & Cafe in West Lebanon.

"I talked to people who worked over there one time;

they say he wasn't very nice, wasn't the most cordial

person. So I kind of keep my eye out for him

here, go my own way."

Adds Medora Hebert, "One of my daughter's friends

was a cashier at the Dartmouth Bookstore. And they warned

him, 'If J.D. Salinger comes in, don't talk to him,

don't acknowledge him.'"

And there have been many reports of Salinger

browsing the stacks at the Dartmouth College

library. “I’ve talked with people who have met

him in the stacks and whatnot,” says Thomas

Sleigh, an English professor at Dartmouth College.

Salinger is also said to enjoy the annual Five-Colleges

Book Sale at the Hanover High School gym, a springtime

sale of used and antiquarian books that raises money

for scholarships.

In Hanover, as in Cornish, he keeps to himself. "My

wife [says] Salinger always said hello to Phoebe

and no one else," says Nelson, referring to Phoebe

Storrs Stebbens, who was a year older than

Salinger (and incidentally shares the same first

name as a major character in “Catcher”).

And area booksellers say Salinger’s books are

displayed just as prominently as they would be

if he were not a local.

Then again, Salinger doesn’t have many books to

display, since he’s published only three besides

“Catcher,” all compilations of short stories or

novellas that had been previously published, mostly

in The New Yorker magazine. His last book,

“Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and

Seymour, An Introduction,” was released in

January 1963. His previous books were the bestsellers

“Franny and Zooey” (1961) and “Nine Stories” (1953).

(By the way, The New Yorker magazine actually

rejected "The Catcher in the Rye" when Salinger

submitted it as a short story/novella that was

substantially similar to the novel, according to

Paul Alexander's book "Salinger: A Biography.")

In 1997, he had planned to publish a fifth book,

essentially a re-release of his last published

work, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which appeared in The

New Yorker in June 1965. The book’s publication

was ultimately scuttled.

But “Catcher” eclipses everything else he’s

done -- by a mile. It’s one of the most

influential 20th century American novels, a

coming-of-age odyssey about high school student

Holden Caulfield, who wanders around New York

after being kicked out of prep school. And

it's arguably the first novel to convincingly capture

the voice of the modern, alienated, American


"Catcher" was successful in its initial run but not

nearly as successful as it would become by the end

of the 1950s, when it started to turn into a

freakish cult phenomenon. To date, it has

sold more than 60 million copies worldwide and

continues to sell hundreds of thousands more each year.

Over the decades, the book has appealed to a wide

range of readers that even includes certified

wackos (John Lennon’s killer had a copy on him

when he was captured). So it’s not surprising that

Salinger has had to fend off obsessive

fans even at his private Shangrila of Cornish

Flat, which has a population of under 2,000.

“People approach him a lot,” says Burt. “And they

stole clothes off his clothesline. They stole his

socks, underwear, t-shirts. And they’d come up on

his deck. It’s a huge picture window that

goes across the front of the house looking out to

Vermont...And he said he’d get up and open the

drapes and people would be standing there looking in.

It really pissed him off.”

And there was also a much publicized scuffle outside the

Purity Supreme grocery store (which he used to jokingly

call “the Puberty Supreme,” according to two biographies)

in 1988, in which Salinger reportedly mixed it up with

a couple photographers who tried to take his picture.

But for the most part, people in the area don’t bother


“People in Cornish are quite protective of him,” says

Cioffi. “I can’t think of anyone who will tell you

a word about Salinger,” says a woman who answered

the phone at the Hannaford Supermarket in Claremont.

Apparently, Cornish is the perfect place to go if you

vant to be alone. “This is also a part of the country

where [writer Aleksandr] Solzhenitsyn lived in his

enclave -- and his kids went to public

schools,” says Bob Grey of the Northshire Bookstore

in faraway Manchester Center, Vermont, referring to

the Nobel laureate’s former home in Cavendish,

Vermont, which is around 20 miles from Cornish.

“It’s the kind of place where, if you’re going to move

to be left alone, it’s not a bad place to be.”

[all writing and reporting by Paul Iorio; published here for the first time.]



Published by The Washington Post (March 24, 2002), with one of my photos seen here (of an eatery in San Francisco).



Woody Allen Interview

(Exclusive One-on-One Conducted December 3, 1999, in Beverly Hills)


[Most of this interview had never been published until now; a small part of
it appeared in my San Francisco Chronicle story on Dec. 19, 1999.]



Ray Davies on The Kinks
(Interview Conducted in December 1986 on West 72nd St. in Manhattan)

By Paul Iorio


DAVIES: "Muswell Hillbillies" was a really strong album in the sense that it
worked as an album and yet it worked as an overall concept. And it said a
lot about a period in time, about a place where I did grow up, and it worked as a
piece of sociology as well as an album. It had some great songs on it. I would
say "Muswell Hillbillies" is a good album.


DAVIES: It was generations before me. The book you read was kind of not
accurate. It was generations before me. What it was about was the movement
from the inner cities to the suburbs. That's what's apparently happening a lot
in America in towns where industry brings people into cities. Cities are built
for industry, and then there's no need for the industry anymore and there's no
need for the people.


DAVIES: Music. That's how a lot of people still do....It's music or nothing
now though. When I started, it was music or the factory. Now it's music or


DAVIES: That's more like my rebelliousness against the industry that I've
been involved in...All bands, when they start, they...make a tape and think
it's great. And to them, rock 'n' roll is freedom. It certainly was for me and a lot
of people like me...It was freedom from the sort of factory I was involved
in -- not literally a factory. I was a college student and I saw a dead end. It's
freedom from any dead end; the factory is a metaphor for a dead end.

Soon [The Kinks] became part of what has become an industry now, and
people depend on sales figures and reports from stores and all that. It just
starts off with an innocent piece of tape, with the band trying to make music,
and it gets taken out of our hands. I find myself in a sense being in an
industry that's out of my control, and being dictated to by an industry. And that's the subjective meaning behind the song. So you trade one factory for another.


DAVIES: The only compromise is to be a starving artist but that's not
to me....I don't like the business side of it but I have to live with it and
it because it's a necessary evil.....Fortunately, the Kinks have never been a
spendthrift band....They don't have their Porsche cars and in a sense they're a
working class band. And that's good.


DAVIES: I don't think you can stage a relationship like that. I'm not that sort
of person -- and I don't think Dave [Davies] is -- who can capitalize on it to
the extent that we will manufacture a rift between us or an argument or an
explosion at a gig. I'd rather that there wasn't a volatile relationship but there
is....If I could manufacture it, I'd manufacture it the other way and play it
down. makes the music very exciting. Other times, it just
dissipates what I'm trying to do.


DAVIES: I think that a relationship, if it's very intense, a compassionate
relationship, will inspire creativity. I know a writer, he's a scriptwriter, who
was married to this woman, and they used to fight all the time. Real violent
quarrels. But his writing was great. Unfortunately, she died of cancer, and
remarried, and now he's got a very safe home with a wife who doesn't speak,
and his work is very dull.


DAVIES: Yeah, there's a couple that on them there's a few really good
Ummm. [pause] I'm sure there is. Yeah, "Preservation."

"ACT 2"?

DAVIES: Yeah, the double album. Not because I don't like it but because
now is the time to do it. I wasted all my [theatrical] ideas then...


DAVIES: No, I have done vocals drunk. I have done vocals in various states,
emotional states. Sometimes you just go in there like first thing in the
morning, and it's the best vocal -- first take, when you're learning it. I do the
best vocal when I...sit down and sing it for the first time.


DAVIES: I'm one of those people who writes when I have to. But I make
notes all the time. I have no one place where I write because I do travel a lot.
I love traveling. I think I write best in transit. I'm not one of those people who
says, "I'm taking January off and I'm going to write," and I go away to an
island and come up with all these great songs. Can't do it. And I'm not a very
technical guy. I've got one of those four-track machines but don't know how
to work it.


DAVIES: Yeah. [Nods head.] 'Cause I'm one of those writers that carries
ideas through, thinks of lines and writes them down and doesn't resolve it,
and when they wake up, they've got it. I did the last verse of "Lost and
Found" that way. Woke up and there it was...It's not that it's inspiration
from a heavenly body. It's just that I finally worked it out.


DAVIES: Yeah, that's right. We had this twinkly beginning that sounded
like Donovan, some folky beginning, and I wanted power chords on it, but it was
kind of a tough song for that. I thought they were great chords on the front,
and I built them up with the National Ovation guitar...I bought one of those
for about a hundred dollars and used the Martin guitar and just double
those and gave it those powerful sounds. And it's the intro that makes it.

The first thing I learned from making records is make the first ten seconds as
great as possible. If you can hold their interest for thirty seconds or a minute,
you've got a hit.

But that was a long time ago. What you've got to do now is bore people with
a repetitive rhythm pattern for a couple of minutes. Then they're hypnotized
into believing it's great...Giorgio Moroder did a whole album with the same
rhythm all the way through. Did you know that?


DAVIES: That was half a send up....

....Ike Turner came to our studio once and he said, When everybody thinks
four beats to a bar, he thinks of two. So instead of going one-two-three-four,
he goes one [pause] two. So you are going slower, it's more solid. [pause]
What's happened to Ike Turner?


DAVIES: He should do an album called "Beat The Wife." [Posing
melodramatically, he savagely mocks Ike Turner, singing:]
"Yeahhh, beat the wife."


DAVIES: [joking] Call it "Beat the Wife" and have tracks on it like
[crooning] "I Didn't Mean It, Baby." [pauses] That's sad. I
don't think [Tina Turner] would've happened without him. But
she just outgrew him. I find her really inspiring....


DAVIES: I should have taken a sabbatical and had about two or three years
off and done something else. But the problem with them was "Preservation"
would have been a hit show in a theatre -- I'm convinced -- if we'd been able
to tour it as long as theatre companies do tours and work it as long.
Sometimes it takes a year for a show to develop. But we had to come up with
another album.

So I found it difficult to function in the music industry and do the artistic
things I wanted to do. Theatre and the rock industry do not actually gel time-


DAVIES: Things were going alright. But I think I had trouble
what I wanted to do with the record company. I went to them [in '74] and
said, "I really think we should make visual albums." This was RCA Records.
And they said, "We don't see that happening."

And they couldn't find a place for me. You've got to fit in a format because if
you don't, you become quirky, in the back bin at the record shop. The quacky
bin. Or the loony bins. There's a loony bin shop for bands like us.


DAVIES: It definitely inspired me to write "Misfits" because if you wrote
anything at all poetic in 1977 or '78, you were crucified. So I went out and
wrote a poetic song.


DAVIES: Managers at the time had a disagreement with a promoter that we
didn't really know about. I was about eighteen, nineteen, it was my first time
in America. I remember the first time I came to New York; I stayed in my
hotel room. I was too scared to go out.

But there was something we didn't know about...and we got banned. And it
was only lifted after we apologized for something we didn't do. Then we
came back and had to start from scratch. Because though we [had] had hits,
people weren't in tune with what we were doing, because the first time we
came here we had all those heavy rock 'n' roll hits....As we couldn't come
for four years, there was a big hole in our career.


DAVIES: Well, I felt anger. It was just a real frustrating time [when] we
couldn't get back. That's why I moved here in '78 and decided to give it a
crack here [in New York].


DAVIES: First lesson I learned is to make people laugh at something,
because if you can be witty, it's the biggest weapon ever. That's why I write
sort of tongue in cheek lyrics. There's no point in trying to blow people away
with your guitar, and power chords don't do anything except give you a
headache. But if you can hit someone with wit and a good lyric, it's better. A
lot of my songs were inspired by...bad situations. So come out laughing!

[From Cash Box magazine, February 14, 1987.]

I've been a Kinks expert for as long as I can remember; I saw my first Kinks show as a teenager, on May 8, 1977 (see ticket stub), and snapped this photo of the concert (above); and I've attended and reviewed numerous other shows by the band since then.


Exploring Kurt Cobain's Seattle

By Paul Iorio

More than eight years after his suicide, Kurt Cobain's stature and

as a pop icon have only grown. Today, Cobain and his band are enjoying

something of a revival, what with the recent release of new Nirvana albums

and the publication of Cobain's journals.

And in Seattle, Cobain's last hometown, mourners still gather in the park

next to his former house to light candles and write graffiti.

That house and other places related to Cobain have made Seattle a sort of

grunge Liverpool, drawing tourists who might not otherwise visit the city.

Never mind that Cobain started his short life in Aberdeen, Washington,

than a hundred miles south of Seattle in the lumber belt. The important

is he thrived and died in Seattle, where he also drank too much, played too

loud, got too famous, bleached his works, blew his cookies and -- oh, yes --

performed and recorded some of the most inspired and influential rock 'n'

roll of his generation.

For those interested in where Cobain rose and fell so memorably, here are

the main Seattle landmarks.

A. Cobain's House
(171 Lake Washington Blvd. E)

This is the million dollar-plus mansion in a pricey part of the Madrona

district where Cobain shot and killed himself on April 5, 1994 (the deed was

actually done in an adjacent greenhouse that has since been torn down).

Cobain and his wife, Courtney Love (who no longer lives there), moved into

the 100-year-old house, for which they paid $7,000 a month, in January '94,

and the neighbors included Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Howard Schultz, CEO

of Starbucks, according to Charles M. Cross's book "Heavier Than Heaven:

A Biography of Kurt Cobain." The three-story house is not

actually on Lake Washington but across the street from houses that are (it's

the same lake on which Microsoft mogul Bill Gates lives, in a house about

times more expensive than Cobain's).

On that property, on the morning of April 5th, after smoking a cigarette,

sipping root beer and injecting an apparently lethal dose of heroin, Cobain

a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger, according to the Cross book.

Though he died in a city full of Nirvana fans, Cobain's body wasn't found for

three days -- and only then by a stranger, an electrician who had come to

work on the house.

A great way to see the neighborhood is to walk south from Cobain's place

along the boulevard, where there are terrific views of the lake and (on a clear

day) of distant Mt. Ranier and other snowcapped peaks of the Cascade

B. Viretta Park
(next to Cobain's house)

The park is the closest thing there is to a Cobain gravesite, which is how

mourners seem to treat it (though Cobain was cremated and his ashes

scattered in locations elsewhere). Viretta's two benches are fascinating

unofficial memorials, covered with heartfelt graffiti written mostly in the

manner of a high school yearbook tribute or a get-well message for a friend's

cast. Messages range from the irreverent ("Death with violence --

right here") to the poignant ("I wish I could've meet [sic] you") to the

("Alysia and Egan love you"), and there are a few anti-Courtney missives.

The scrawlings continue on the railing of the stairway that leads to the top of

"Kurt's Park" (as one fan calls it), where the best views of the house are.

C. Crocodile Cafe
(a club, restaurant and bar at 2200 Second Ave.)

The Crocodile, owned by the wife of rocker Peter Buck, has a reputation as

the CBGBs of grunge, though in reality no single Seattle club qualifies as

launching pad for that movement. The Croc wasn't even around for the first

wave of grunge, but it was right in the path when the tidal wave hit.

That tidal wave was the release of Nirvana's "Nevermind," which hit

stores around five months after the Croc opened its doors in April '91. (The

tsunami also included hits by Seattle bands Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, all

released in the same three-month period as "Nevermind.") Still, Nirvana

appeared here in the lean years and in fact played the club only once, as an

unannounced opening act for Mudhoney on October 4, 1992.

For Nirvana's concert at the club, the Crocodile was given several pages

detailed instructions ("touring specifications") by an engineer acting on the

band's behalf. Among the directions (leaked exclusively to me): "Ultra-

expensive mikes have no place on a Nirvana stage. Have spares ready."

Today, the Croc, a nearly 500-seater in the somewhat artsy Belltown

neighborhood, still features top alternative acts like the Knitters and Mark

Eitzel, with occasional shows by major bands (R.E.M. played the club last

year, and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, who still lives in the area, shows

up occasionally).

D and E. Sub Pop Records
(Original location at 1932 First Ave.; currently
at 2514 Fourth Ave. between Vine and Wall streets.)

Sub Pop is the independent record label that recorded some of the first

releases by grunge bands like Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Nirvana. Its

Nirvana offering was the '88 single "Love Buzz" (the band's version of a

Shocking Blue song), followed in '89 by the album "Bleach." The indie

a few more Nirvana singles before major label DGC signed the band in

January 1991, according to Rolling Stone magazine. (Nirvana's first Sub Pop

recording contract, dated January 1, 1989, is on display at the Experience

Music Project.)

Anyone who wants a glimpse of the urban landscape of the early grunge

period should visit the company's original digs on First Ave., from which you

can see in a single glance the Moore Theater (where the band gave key early

shows) and the former site of the Vogue (where Nirvana first performed in


Its current offices have marvelous window displays featuring vintage

pictures and posters from past and present Sub Pop and northwest acts like

Nirvana, Beat Happening and Sunny Real Estate. (There's also a sign for the

Sub Pop Mega Mart, a label retail shop that has been closed for over a year.)

F. Experience Music Project
(in the Seattle center, the 72-acre site of the Space needle and other

The Experience Music Project (EMP), a rock-and-roll museum founded by

billionaire entrepreneur Paul Allen and designed by Frank Gehry, has a

grunge exhibit that includes lyrics to early Cobain songs (including

"Downer"), one of Cobain's guitars, posters for the band's early shows and

other memorabilia.

To the west of the EMP, at the current site of the International Fountain,

another Nirvana-related place: the park where the public memorial for the

rocker was held on April 10, 1994. The outdoor vigil attracted an estimated

5,000 mourners and is perhaps best remembered for Love's taped reading of

(and commentary on) Cobain's suicide note. Footage of the event can be seen

in the 1996 documentary "Hype!"

G. The OK Hotel Cafe
(212 Alaskan Way S)

The club, now shut down due to the damage caused by last year's 6.8

earthquake, is where Nirvana first publicly performed their seismic mega-hit

"Smells Like Teen Spirit." The three-band show, on April 17, 1991, was a

benefit for a Cobain friend who was in trouble over traffic tickets; Nirvana

began its set with cover songs before ripping into "Teen Spirit," according to

"Heavier Than Heaven."

"I didn't know what they were playing, but I knew it was amazing," a

DGC promotion representative is quoted as saying in the book. "I remember

jumping up and down and asking everybody next to me, 'What is this song?'"

(Nirvana's performance of it in "Hype!" is said to be from this OK


The club, which had been open since the mid-Eighties, is also famous as

one of the settings for Cameron Crowe's 1992 film "Singles."

The brick building is now boarded-up and braced, and its sign hangs in

the EMP. Visiting the place is a great way to see both Pioneer Square (an

important location in Nirvana history) and the effects of the temblor.

H. The Central Tavern
(207 First Ave.)

Just as Pioneer Square calls itself the place "where Seattle begins," so the

Central is the place where Nirvana began -- or at least the

spot where Nirvana was first booked to perform in Seattle.

Central employees say the date of the band's first booking was April 17,

1988, a week before Nirvana's first real performance in Seattle, at the Vogue

(though someone else who was there remembers it as an August show). All

agree the gig was notable for the fact that nobody showed up to listen.

According to Jim Anderson, who did sound for the show, Kurt & Co.

arrived before any of the other three scheduled bands. But the only people in

attendance were Anderson, a bartender and a doorman, so Nirvana refused

perform. "[A member of Nirvana said], 'We're not going to play for nobody,'

and they packed up their stuff and walked off stage," says Anderson. The

Central was also the site of another Nirvana gig -- on June 4, 1988 -- that

finally convinced Sub Pop execs to sign the band, according to the Cross


The Central, around a block from the site of the OK Hotel, was an early

venue for grunge bands, but changed its focus to the blues in the Nineties

before recently reverting to its rock roots. (A Seventies sign for the club --

reading "The Central Tavern and Cafe: Seattle's Only Second Class Tavern"

-- is on display at the EMP.)

I and J. The Vogue
(original location at 2018 First Ave.; currently at 1516 11th Ave.)

Sources say the first Nirvana performance in Seattle happened here on

April 24, 1988, back when the club was a couple doors down from Sup Pop.

Performing for a Sub Pop showcase, Nirvana (featuring Dave Foster on

drums), played 14 songs and sounded to some like Cheap Trick, according

the Cross book. Though only a handful of people attended, Cobain was so

nervous that he vomited in the parking lot next to the Vogue before the

writes Cross.

Cobain himself describes the evening in a letter never sent to a friend (and

quoted in the Cross book): "And so after the set, a [Sub Pop executive]

excitedly shakes out hands and says, 'Wow, good job, let's do a record,' then

flashes of cameras go off and the girl from [fanzine] Backlash says, 'Gee, can

we do an interview?' Yeah, sure, why not," writes Cobain.

Today, the Vogue is in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and presents dance,

techno and rock shows. Its original building in Belltown is a clothing

store/hair salon called Vain that's close to many shops and eateries (nearby is

the Virginia Inn restaurant, with outdoor seating overlooking the

K. Moore Theater
(1932 Second Ave.)

The Moore, which claims to be Seattle's "oldest remaining theater," is the

next big step up for alternative bands graduating from clubs like the

to theaters like this one that seat around 1,500.

Nirvana played the Moore relatively early in its career, on June 9, 1989, as

a four-piece group (with Jason Everman on guitar, Chad Channing on

drums, Cobain and Novoselic) opening for Mudhoney and Tad, and

promoting "Bleach," according to the book "Cobain," by the editors of

Rolling Stone (Little, Brown). (A poster for that show is on display at the

EMP.) A year later, they were the opening act for Sonic Youth, an early and

avid champion of the band.

L. Re-bar
(1114 Howell St.)

This downtown dance/cabaret/rock venue was the site of the the release party for "Nevermind" on Sept. 13, 1991, from which the band was

bounced because of unruly behavior. Today, the club's co-owner freely

admits he threw the guests of honor out of Re-bar, claiming they were drunk

on booze brought in from elsewhere and were throwing food, though it's

unclear whether he knew who he was ejecting at the time.

It's worth noting the partyers were celebrating the release of an album that

the record label thought would sell only around 50,000 copies at best,

according to Rolling Stone magazine; it went on to move over 10 million

units, making it one of the best-selling rock records of all time.

[From The Washington Post, November 10, 2002; this is the original draft I submitted to The Post in May 2002 (give or take a few lines), not the version that was edited in Nov. '02.]



The Unraveling of Abbie Hoffman (Caught on Tape)

An interview with the legendary activist, several months before his suicide.

By Paul Iorio


HOFFMAN: I make it up as I go along. I call it verbal diarrhea...I go about
17 hours a day on five hours sleep. I can't wait to [he drifts off].


HOFFMAN: I gave 'em back the dollar. Now it costs me $4,000. The
[unintelligible] costs $7,000. I'm saving up to $30,000, so I can sue the U.S.
Army for fraudulent ads on TV. I don't believe you become a super brain
surgeon or an electronic engineer by joining the army. I think you learn how
to clean toilets and kill people, see....

That's where most of my money goes. I don't think I had $11,900 net last
year, according to the IRS. I don't own any property. I don't even have
medical insurance. I have nothing: bonds, stocks, any of that stuff. I mean, I
aint Mother Teresa; obviously, I'm having too good of a time to be her. But
then again, I don't have a big sponsor like she does.


HOFFMAN: I wish it had been someone else, a conservative like William
Safire. I did it because I knew about this story, I knew the tests were
fraudulent for three or four years. I felt they'd be laughed out of existence,
which they would be if there weren't this drug hysteria. And two years ago, I
knew there was a tremendous expose in a fraudulent industry. I waited for
someone else to write it....And I had seven publishers who turned me
It's not a pro-drug book. Only television hosts call it pro-drug, because they
haven't read it. I've never met a television host in America who has read a


HOFFMAN: I am right. I am. You can tell. If you're a serious writer, and
someone's interviewing you about the book, you can tell within three
questions whether they've read it or not.


HOFFMAN: You can also tell whether they have an IQ below or above 80.
And how much their haircut costs. And that's about it. That's TV, the worst
drug in the country.

This book tour is what's getting me really riled up about it because here's a
book [that's] serious investigative journalism. And you go on [TV] following
a snake charmer, and you're out to talk about one of the complex issues in
the world, which is drugs. And the first question will be, "How is Amy
Carter?" Or, "Are you on drugs?" Or, "Where is Jerry Rubin these days?"
Or, "How does it feel to be an ex-sixties radical?" [laughs]


HOFFMAN: I know what you're going to say, that melanin will cross react
as marijuana resin. In the book it says that that's not true...Yes, poppy seeds
will cross react as opium, but you would have to eat about three
bagels....Impassive inhalation of up to two weeks: if you're at a Grateful
Dead concert and you don't smoke any grass, and you take the test, [he snaps
his fingers] -- Bing! It'll spot you just as fast! There are internal enzymes.
And then there are an unknown quantity that we don't even know about...

...People can beat the test just by using some of the chemical additives that I
mentioned -- that's what the book's about, how to beat the test! You've got
to fight fire with fire, the ridiculous with the ridiculous. But you've got to pee
in a cup to prove you're a good American!

...In 1968, the whole world was watching the United States; today, they're all
laughing. I mean, every country in the world has a drug problem, but we're
the only ones with a stupid urine test. Where people watch you urinate in a
cup, and that's supposed to prove that you're a good productive worker. I
mean, it's all a fraud! ABC, The New York Times, The L.A. Times: don't
you think they'd know better?


HOFFMAN: It would have been easier. People would've got up and said,
"What drug are you on now?" This book had to be written, this is my...most
important serious book. [Urine testing] is an attempt to break every union in
the country, to get workers fired regardless of civil rights acts or whatever...

This is crazy! This is crazy! This is the most serious invasion of our privacy
in our lifetime....If the general public knew the width of these tests and how
they were used as a mass surveillance device, I mean, they'd be up in arms.
Sometimes the people hate the government -- they're never there when you
need them. You know, they're coming in their bladder!

[Hoffman stands up, picks up a box and leaves the interview without even
saying goodbye.]


[Hoffman carries the box away, and stuffing falls all over the place.] "Is
this any way to run a business?," he shouts angrily at no one in particular,
walking away with the box. He committed suicide several months later.

[Unpublished interview -- several quotes first appeared in my article on
Hoffman for the East Coast Rocker newspaper. By the way, the ending of the interview is unedited and verbatim and transcribed from an audiotape that I still have.]



All About Almodovar

By Paul Iorio

The sexual and cultural revolution of the 1960s came to Spain very late,

delayed by the oppressive regime of Francisco Franco. By the time Spain

arrived at the party, in the late 1970s, the festivities were almost over and

about to be displaced by the Age of AIDS.

So the art films of director Pedro Almodovar were sort of like Spain's way

of making up for sexual lost time. In almost every one of his films since the

early Eighties, his characters have had very passionate and sometimes kinky ,

sex onscreen, as if HIV had never existed.

His recent films, however, are more carnally conservative and emotionally

richer. "All About My Mother" (1999), "The Flower of My Secret" (1995)

and the gripping "Live Flesh" (1997) are more mature and less brash than

earlier movies like "Tie Me Up! Tie Me down!" (1990) and "Women on the

Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" (1988).

"All about My Mother," his thirteenth picture, is earning some of the best

critical notices of his career. ["All About My Mother" would go on to

win the best foreign film Oscar a few months later.]

But Almodovar is reluctant to call it his best movie. "I don't think I've

made the best movie of my life," he says. "Because that means the rest is

just downhill. But it's true it is one of the most important movies

[I've done]."

"All About My Mother" stars Argentine-born actress Cecilia Roth, who

plays a hospital worker whose son is hit and killed by a car; she spends most

of the rest of the film trying to track down her son's long-lost father, now a

transvestite living in Barcelona, to tell him the tragic news.

As in almost all his films, the story (written by Almodovar) is told

through sharply drawn and memorable female characters. Some critics have

compared him favorably to director Ingmar Bergman with regard to his talent

for creating complex and credible roles for women.

The reason he understands women so well may be that he grew up -- first

in rural La Mancha and then in Madrid -- with a closer relationship to his

mom than to his macho dad. "It's true that I listened to the women, the

neighbors and friends of my mother," he says of his upbringing, speaking

through a translator. "I did pay more attention to the women than to my

father's life...I refused to [identify] with the...machismo in the place I was


"So in a natural way, I felt more interested listening to the women than in

actually going to watch the men smoking and drinking," he says. "Even

though the women seemed to be completely submissive to men, they actually

managed to rule the house...Perhaps for that [reason], the women of my

movies are so strong and autonomous."

Another formative influence on his film making was, of course, the

totalitarian Franco regime, which ruled until Almodovar was in his mid-

twenties. Back then, the government created such fear that the director says

he had recurring nightmares about the police, nightmares that stopped only

when Franco died in 1975.

"I had nightmares, always dreaming I was escaping from something," he

says. "Always, the police were running behind me. I had [that dream] a lot

of times before Franco. And when Franco died, it disappeared completely."

He recalls the day-to-day impact of Franco's despotism. "If you're

discovered in the street [by the police] and you don't have your identity card,

it's --"

He pauses and gasps a bit in horror at the thought, leaving the sentence

unfinished. "We lived in an atmosphere of fear."

Still, he managed to live a fairly ordinary life in those days. In his teens

and twenties, he worked for Telefonica, the national telephone company,

while making Super-8 shorts on the side. When Franco died and censorship

was eventually lifted in the late Seventies, Spain (and Almodovar himself)

came alive with intense creative activity in a cultural Renaissance known as

La Movida. The director soon became the leading pop cultural figure of

post-Franco Spain.

Almodovar's first films were released in the early Eighties, but he didn't

come to real international notice until his fourth film, "What Have I Done to

Deserve This?!" His popularity exploded in 1987 with his seventh picture,

"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," nominated for a best

foreign film Oscar. But the movies he made in the early Nineties are

generally considered to be of uneven quality.

In 1995 -- after quitting casual use of recreational drugs -- his career

its current resurgence, with the release of "The Flower of My Secret," "Live

Flesh," and "All About My Mother."

Though he's openly gay, Almodovar makes films that do not usually have

gay themes (with the notable exception of the 1986 cult favorite "Law of

Desire," Antonio Banderas's breakthrough as an actor).

Visually, his movies put a fresh light on the details of small lives,

sometimes revealing the Cubism in everyday life and making the quotidian

look downright abstract. In his films, we see characters in split mirrors and

split windows, through corrugated glass and rear-view reflectors, often

refracted and warped.

He tends to control every part of a film's production, from set design to

cinematography. Sometimes he'll visit a movie location before a shoot

to check out all the novel visual possibilities of a place. For example, while

shooting "The Flower of My Secret," he visited the offices of a Madrid

newspaper, one of the locations in the film. And he found that the glass wall

of the office reflected images of people in multiples of three and four, a

effect that became intriguing when two people were reflected

So he shot a scene between a writer and her editor in which their reflections

in the glass mix together until they look like one person -- an apt metaphor

their actual relationship.

Is that Almodovar's idea of a special effect? "To me, there is no better

special effect than a good line of dialogue," he says.

He's also one of the few directors who actually seems to prefer to work on

a low budget. "Strangely, now that I could afford to go to bigger budgets, I

realize I'm much more interested in the close-ups and the medium shots, and

that's the kind of film making that you don't need a big budget for...I

want] to make a movie with a big budget. I don't need it."

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, December 18, 1999; this is the original manuscript I submitted via email to the Chronicle; anyone who compares it to the published version will see exactly how lousy some of the editing was at the Chronicle back then ("arrived to the party" in the lede is just one of their brilliant edits!). _______


Brief profiles of Barry Sonnenfeld, John Woo, Andy Partridge, Warren Zevon, Troy Garity (the first story about Garity in any publication) and David Rabe.

By Paul Iorio

I. Barry Sonnenfeld Enjoys Punching Will Smith

Director Barry Sonnenfeld and Will Smith have terrific chemistry

professionally and personally -- perhaps too much chemistry. Onscreen,

partnership has produced "Men in Black," one of the biggest films of the

Nineties. Offscreen, their idea of having fun is fist-fighting, good-natured

intense fist-fighting, the kind that can result in an emergency room visit.

While shooting "Wild Wild West," for instance, their fighting had

consequences: at one point, Sonnenfeld was knocked unconscious by Smith

and, in another fight, the director literally broke his hand punching the actor.

Sonnenfeld has two white pin scars on the side of his right hand to prove it.

"Somehow I hit him so hard I ended up breaking my hand, my fifth

metacarpal in five places. In fact, you still can see where the pins were,"

said Sonnenfeld in a one-on-one interview in his hotel room, showing the


"Will [was] trying to teach me how to box," says the director. "You

know, Will's a large powerful man and I'm a Jew. So we would take turns

hitting each other in the shoulder...But the thing about Will is, Will can only

play one way. And that's full out. There's an on switch and an off switch.

There's not a rheostat where you can dial him down forty percent."

"My shoulder was completely black and blue and yellow and red and

puffed up and disgusting [from his punches]," he continues. "And Will hit

and I decided this time I'm gonna really hit him back hard..." And that's

the metacarpal thing happened.

At a press conference later that day, I asked Smith about their bouts, and

he told the story a slightly different way, while revealing another fight they

had had months before. "What happened was, we were shooting one of the

fight scenes," explained Smith. "And Barry has never been in a fist fight in

his life...So he sent someone out to get boxing gloves and he's saying, 'Will,

I'm watching you and I swear, I think I can take you.' So he puts the boxing

gloves and the headgear on. We're playing around, he's throwing

throw a left hook...and he froze and he didn't put his hands up and he didn't

duck and didn't block. And he took a full left hook on the chin."

Sonnenfeld's version seems more uncensored, which fits: he has a

tendency to tell the truth no matter who it might offend. In this era of

handlers and lawyers sanitizing virtually every celebrity utterance, it's

somewhat refreshing to hear Sonnenfeld speak his mind without hesitation

or euphemism.

"The United States isn't fun anymore," he says. "It used to be a fun place

to live. You can't do anything now. Between lawsuits and -- you can't joke

around, you can't have a good time. Just like a really boring place. We're

becoming Germany."

Sonnenfeld developed his irreverence growing up in the Washington

Heights section of upper Manhattan. His upbringing was ultra-sheltered. "I

was once paged at Madison Square Garden by my mother during a rock

concert at two in the morning with the announcer saying, 'Barry Sonnenfeld,

call your mother,'" he says.

He attended NYU, eventually getting a graduate degree in film. After

meeting film makers Joel and Ethan Coen at a party in the early Eighties, he

worked for them as a cinematographer on "Raising Arizona," "Blood

and Miller's Crossing."

"When I was at NYU film school, if anyone asked me what kind of

movies I'd be directing, first of all I'd say, 'I wouldn't be directing, I'd be a

Federal Express delivery man,'" he says. "Because I never thought I'd ever

get in the film business."

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, June 27, 1999.]

* * *

2. John Woo Says He Has Never Fired a Gun

If you see a movie in which people fight with balletic grace and commit

violent acts that are as tightly choreographed as some Broadway musicals,

that can only mean one thing: John Woo directed it.

Even in the least of his films -- say, "Mission Impossible 2" -- the action

imagery is memorable. In one scene in that summer blockbuster, Tom

Cruise's character jumps on one of the villains and twists him into the

like a corkscrew; in another, two motorcyclists (who are about to crash

head-on into each other) simultaneously jump off their bikes and collide in


Woo says the motorcycle scene was inspired by the 1953 film "Knights

of the Round Table." "There are two knights and they are both on horses...

and they're holding long spears and they charge into each other and collide

with the spears and they stick each other," says Woo. "So that idea came

from ['Round Table']."

But most of his ideas of onscreen violence seem to come from his own

experience; Woo grew up in the slums of Hong Kong (after moving from

Canton, China, at age four), and spent much of his childhood fending off

assaults from gangsters and thugs.

"The place I grew up was pretty rough," he says. "I [had] to deal with

the gangs almost every day. They tried to make me join them. So I [had] to

fight back very hard. I almost got beat up everyday. First thing in the

morning, I [had] to grab something -- a stick or iron bar or brick -- and use it

as a weapon before I left home."

Woo was rescued from the slums by financial assistance from an

American family, which enabled him to get an education. He began making

feature films in 1974, starting with kung-fu movies, moving to comedies,

and progressing in the late-Eighties to the innovative action films that have

become his trademark. His Hong Kong movies "Bullet in the Head" (1990)

and "The Killer" (1989) are considered his best by many (including

Woo himself); his most recent films, "Broken Arrow" ('96) and "Face/Off"

('97), are his most commercially successful. In '92, he moved to Los

Angeles, where he now lives with his wife and three children.

He traces much of his cinematic style to his childhood fondness for

dance and musicals. "I loved dancing so much that [that] gave me the

inspiration when I'm creating action scenes," he says. "I've never...fired a

gun, [so I'm] just using my imagination. And I like watching martial arts movies.

So I feel like I'm making a musical and a martial arts film."

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, May 21, 2000.]

* * *

3. XTC's Andy Partridge on God.

Over a cup of tea at Warner Bros. Records in New York, Andy

Partridge, the reclusive leader of the band XTC, talked about the furor

over his controversial song "Dear God," which had just been released.

The song, which calls the Bible "junk" and says God is "always letting us

humans down," caused listeners to call in bomb threats when it was aired

on radio stations in Florida and Texas.

"At the radio station in Florida, a man phoned in and said, 'If you don't

take that record off the air, I'm gonna bomb the station, and I mean it!,"

says Partridge. "One of God's little henchman doing his stuff."

But Partridge is not one of those pop stars who gives contrite interviews

after a controversy and says how sorry he is if he offended anyone. No, he

stands by what he wrote -- and says he should've come on even stronger.

"It didn't get over my opinions in as pointed a way as I wanted to get them

over," he says.

"The record seems to be working, because people listen to it or are

reacting against it, so somebody up there likes me," says Partridge, laughing.

Clearly, he is no fan of religion. "God must be a real mean character,"

he says. "If there is a god, he's not this kind of famous aged English actor.

It's not Sir John Gielgud saying, 'Come in, my boy.'"

"What does God do? He wakes up in the morning and says, 'I think I'll

wipe out a busload of Sri Lankans today," says Partridge. "I mean, that's

really benevolent."

His view of heaven? "You can imagine what a lazy place heaven must

be," he says. "You can't get a drink, no sex, no nothing. And the art music --


[From Cash Box magazine, July 4, 1987]

* * *

4. Warren Zevon, On Meeting Bob Dylan For the First Time.
(Conducted in July 1987 in New York.)


ZEVON: I actually write more on guitar. It depends on what year it is and
what my circumstances are.


ZEVON: Like a residence!


ZEVON: I think that the answer is yes, the way you're implying your
question. It kind of comes from the characteristics of the instruments. "The
Heartache"'s a piano song, for sure. "Boom Boom [Mancini]"'s a guitar song,
though sometimes I end up switching instruments. For the most part, that's
true: there are piano types of songs and guitar types of songs.


ZEVON: Never.


ZEVON: No. [pause] I had a friend...a journalist, who said to me, You ever
try writing prose? And I gave him the same answer: it was all I could do to
squeeze out barely enough lyrics. He said, "You should at least keep a
journal." And I said, "No, no, no, I can't do that." And he said, "Just write
down what you eat and eventually you'll be filling a page." So I wrote down
what I ate but don't write a lot more than what I ate.


ZEVON: Yeah, I had the first Dylan album. I was going through the
evolution you make in folk music, which is to start with the Kingston Trio
and work your way back to the sources until you get to the cardboard
covered albums, the Folkways stuff, which is where it all comes from....Here
this guy exploded in the midst of all that. Dylan was undoubtedly the largest


ZEVON: He just came down one day.


ZEVON: I had never met him. He had been one of my heroes, for sure. He
invented my job. And I walked into the studio about two months into the
[sessions for "Sentimental Hygiene"], and the receptionist said, "Bob Dylan's
waiting." There he was. And he said, Well, I like your songs." And I said,
"I like your songs, too, Bob." [laughs] And he told me that he'd known about
them, since we had a mutual friend in T Bone Burnett, and he introduced
him to the songs. I took him in and played the roughs for him, and a couple
months later, when we needed a harmonica, we asked him to do it.

[From Cash Box magazine, July 18, 1987]


5. The Latest Actor from the Fonda Dynasty

(The first story anywhere about Troy Garity)

Troy Garity has a lot of family heritage to live up to.

His father, politician and former anti-war activist Tom Hayden, made

history by leading demonstrations against the Vietnam War during the

Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968. His mother is actress

Jane Fonda.

This month, Garity, 25, is following in the footsteps of both sides of his

family. He's not only acting in his first feature film -- "Abbie!," a biopic

about yippie founder Abbie Hoffman -- but he's appearing in the movie

as...his father.

"I'm very proud to play my father," says Garity as he eats green grapes at a

restaurant on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. "My father literally risked his

life to make...the world a better place for me to grow up in."

And Garity seems equally proud of his mom's side of the family. This

latest actor from the Fonda Dynasty is an unabashed fan

of the Fonda movies, which now span 63 years of cinema, from Henry's "The

Farmer Takes A Wife" in 1935 to Troy's small part in "Abbie!" ("'Klute' is

brilliant," he says of the 1971 picture for which his mom won a Best Actress

Oscar. His uncle Peter's "Easy Rider"? "Loved it," he says. His grandad's

"The Grapes of Wrath"? "I like 'El Norte' better than 'Grapes of Wrath'

because I can relate to it more," he says.)

How good an actor is he? "The work that he has done on this movie is

very powerful...and has nothing to do with his heritage," says Robert

Greenwald, the director of "Abbie!" "It has to do with his talent."

He's becoming an actor at around the same age as his famous relatives;

Jane made her screen debut at age 23 ("Tall Story"), Peter at 24 ("Tammy

and the Doctor"), and cousin Bridget at 24 ("Aria"). (Hayden claims Garity,

as a seven-year old, was also in "On Golden Pond.") And he's also just two

years younger than Hayden was at the time of the Chicago riots.

Though he obviously has no first-hand memories of the Sixties, he does

vividly recall the aftermath, growing up in the Santa Monica family of two

leftist legends.

The Fonda-Hayden household was often under siege for political reasons,

according to Garity. He remembers that his parents had to staple chicken-

wire to all the windows because people kept throwing things at the house.

On some mornings, Hayden or Fonda greeted the new day by checking the

family car for bombs. When traveling, they had to contend with hostile

picketers at the airport shouting threats at them. "[People were] talking

about feeding my family to the whales," recalls Garity. [Hayden and

Fonda are now divorced; Fonda did not respond to repeated requests for an


This is the era that Greenwald ("The Burning Bed," "Sweet Hearts Dance")

is trying to recreate in "Abbie!," which stars Vincent D'Onofrio as Hoffman

[the film was eventually released as "Steal This Movie"]. The movie tells the

story of the protests outside the Democratic Convention that nominated

Hubert Humphrey for president on August 28, 1968. In real life, the

demonstrations turned violent as Chicago cops beat and clubbed protesters

and others -- Hayden himself was thrown through a closed window at the

Conrad Hilton -- in what a government report later called "a police riot."

The film also dramatizes the chaotic Chicago Seven trial, in which Hayden,

Hoffman and five others were charged with conspiring to disrupt the

Convention. The trial ended with acquittal for all on the conspiracy charges,

though five were convicted of trying to incite a riot. All convictions (except

those for contempt) were overturned on appeal in 1972.

Nine months later, Hoffman was arrested on unrelated charges of selling

$36,000 of cocaine to an undercover police officer; he became a fugitive in

1974, surrendered to authorities in 1980, served a brief jail term, and

committed suicide in 1989 at the age of 52.

"Abbie got banged up a lot, he got hurt a lot, he had alot of guts," says

Hayden. "He would have highs and lows and be fighting all kinds of inner

demons all the time."

Unlike Hoffman, Hayden emerged from the turbulence of the trial with his

well-being intact, his eye on public office -- and a newborn son. (In fact,

Troy was actually present at the final Chicago trial that cleared the Seven of

contempt in '73.)

In many ways, Garity looks and sounds much like his dad circa 1968. The

deliberate cadence and careful pacing of his speech, the Zen silences and dry

wit, and his love of political heroism are all pure Hayden.

Greenwald notes the family resemblance. "We're sitting in the very first

rehearsal on the first day and one of the actors who plays a scene with

[Garity] turns to me and says, 'Boy, it's uncanny the resemblance that Troy

has to Tom Hayden,' and didn't know. So I pull Troy aside and said, 'Troy,

let me ask you a question: how do you feel? Do you want me to tell people

or would you rather people not know?' And he...turns to me and said, 'I'm

proud of my dad; I want everyone to know.'"

"There is an uncanny resemblance," agrees Hayden. "I think

he's quite a handsome guy and I always thought I was the ugly one in

the crowd." Hayden also sees another family link: "He has some of

Henry Fonda's qualities: he sketches and paints."

Garity may have been a natural to play his dad, but he still spent time

researching the role. "He followed his father around for a week in the house,

kind of imitating him and getting down his mannerisms," says Greenwald.

"It's such a wonderful father-son story."

"I watched about eight hours of old videotapes of my father [in

preparation for the film]," says Garity. "We had some really nice talks

about...his personal life." ("What a great therapeutic experience for a father

and son," says Hayden, who was estranged from his own father for many


"He's got to be his own man...I don't want him to be a carbon copy of me,"

says Hayden, adding drolly: "[Except] for this week [when he's shooting the

film]. Everyone is entitled to one week when their son is them."

Garity -- who grew up in Santa Monica on the border of Venice -- never

sounds so much like his father as when he gets passionate about a political

issue, such as the troubles in Northern Ireland, where Garity recently served

as a peacekeeper. But he declares he'll ever run for public office, despite the

fact that he's already involved in community organizing and gang


"I'll never run for office, I don't have that ability," he says in a way that

seems to invite someone to contradict him. Somebody interjects that he

already sounds like a political candidate, denials and all. Garity smiles, looks

a bit flattered and changes his tune somewhat: "I haven't defined my platform


[From the Los Angeles Times, September 1998.]

* * *


6. David Rabe Considers...Suicide

In his new two-act play, "A Question of Mercy," David Rabe explains in

explicit detail how to reliably and painlessly kill yourself.

"What you must above all do is take little sips [of water], and only one

[barbiturate] at a time or you will vomit them up," says the doctor to an

AIDS patient in the play. "Tiny, tiny sips. As little water as possible...You

must not take them too fast or with too much water...And yet, you must not

go too slowly. That's the paradox. Because if you go too slowly, if you take

too much time, the drug begins to effect you and slow you before you're


If this sounds medically accurate, that's because it is. The play is about a

real-life case of doctor-assisted suicide that was first reported in an article by

physician Richard Selzer in The New York Times Magazine.

But don't mistake "Mercy" for a simple tract for assisted suicide. In fact

the work can be interpreted as both opposing and favoring euthanasia.

How does Rabe feel about assisted suicide? "My own feeling is that a

doctor who makes a regular practice of it, I'm not so sure about," says the 58-

year-old author of such plays as "Hurly Burly" and "Streamers," and of

feature film screenplays for "Casualties of War" and "I'm Dancing As Fast

I Can." "But for [a patient] who requested it, I don't have any moral

condemnation of it at all. I have serious questions about the legalization of

it...I fear it would be used to empty hospital beds."

Has Rabe ever considered killing himself? He pauses, and answers

carefully. "Suicide is in a lot of my plays, one way or another," he says, as if

just now realizing that fact. "What does that mean? Have I ever seriously

[considered suicide]? No. Has [suicide] crossed my mind? Sure."

Suicide turns up in many of Rabe's plays, including "Mercy,"

"Sticks and Bones," and "I'm Dancing As Fast As I Can."

In "Mercy," Rabe makes a fresh point about the subject: one can't will

death by suicide, because one can't will an unknown entity, which is what

death is; even our best knowledge about death is still speculative at best, he

notes. "That's what [the doctor in the play] is saying: 'you are delivering

yourself to something [through suicide], but you really don't know what it is.'

And nobody knows for sure."

Rabe first became acquainted with death during the Vietnam War, when

he served in the Army at a hospital in Long Bihn, tending to the freshly

wounded and dying. "The worst times were when [the mass casualties]

so large they were not only -- " He stops the sentence, as if knocked off

course by a traumatic memory. "I remember once we had to move out of our

barracks and make room for casualties."

Vietnam is clearly the demarcation line between then and now for Rabe

and the key to understanding his life and work.

Before Vietnam, Rabe was an Iowa innocent, a graduate of a Catholic

high school and a Catholic college in his Dubuque hometown, the son of a

history teacher turned meatpacker. His big early ambition was to be a pro

football player (he's 6'2"). By the time he received his draft notice in '65, he

was living in Pennsylvania, a recent drop-out from the graduate theater

program at Villanova University. And he supported the war.

When he returned from Vietnam in early 1967, he was fundamentally

changed. He had left his Iowa innocence and devout Catholicism back in

rice fields and had come to oppose the war. He became involved in

Hinduism. And he now saw a huge gap between his new level of life

experience and the astonishing degree of naivete in those who stayed home.

He also clearly saw there was no threat to America whatsoever posed by

the Viet Cong. "You come back here after Vietnam, it was obvious that

everything was just fine [in the U.S.], there was no real threat, it was an

imagined threat that was then manipulated for whatever purpose," he says.

"I still don't know what the purpose was, the real purpose. I always think

there was something under it that has still never come to light."

Still, Rabe is no pacifist. His idea of a real-life war hero is a guy like

Hugh Thompson, the U.S. Army helicopter pilot who courageously aimed a

machine gun at his fellow American soldiers to stop them from murdering

Vietnamese civilians at My Lai in 1968.

"That's an amazing guy," says Rabe of Thompson, showing more

enthusiasm than at any other point in the interview. "He came in, he saw

chaos, saw what it was and trusted his own recognition. See, that's the hard

part...trying to find the recognition and finally trusting it." (Not

surprisingly, Rabe's favorite Vietnam-related film is "Platoon.")

Rabe became the "playwright laureate" of the Vietnam war (as the New

York Times put it) on the basis of his first plays: the Obie-winning "The

Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel," the Tony-winning "Sticks and Bones,"

"Streamers" and "The Orphan." His initial success was astonishing; his

two works -- "Pavlo" and "Sticks" -- ran simultaneously at the Public Theatre

in New York in 1971 (at the time, Shakespeare was the only other

to have had two plays running at the Public at once). Within three years,

four of his plays were in production, thanks in no small part to producer

Joseph Papp, with whom Rabe has had a stormy relationship.

But his best-known work about the war is probably his feature film

screenplay -- adapted from an article by Daniel Lang for The New Yorker --

for the Brian De Palma film "Casualties of War" (1989), a movie he

disowned at first but then grew to embrace with reservations.

While he stands by much of the film, he still dislikes three things about

the scene in which Michael J. Fox's character hits a fellow soldier with a

shovel; the ending, in which Fox speaks with a Vietnamese stranger near a

bus stop; and, most important, the fact that Fox starts off morally appalled

at his colleagues, instead of gradually evolving into a soldier at odds with his


For all the success of his war works, Rabe's biggest hit on stage is a non-

Vietnam play, "Hurly Burly," which has just been made into a feature film

written by Rabe. "Hurly Burly" premiered in 1984, first in Chicago,

then in New York, where it ran for more than a year on Broadway and off.

Produced five years after Rabe married actress Jill Clayburgh, the play

examines lives of "cunning desperation" among show-biz wannabes in Los

Angeles, where he lived intermittently in the 70s and 80s. (He now lives in


With white hair and an alternately intense and leisurely manner, he

off a bit like a pugnacious professional golfer. And he talks somewhat like

golf, too; he has periods of conversational silence followed by strokes of

fierce brilliance.

Rabe's next project? "I'm a little between things, but I've got a lot of

things started," he says. Expect a wait for whatever it is; Rabe is a

notoriously slow writer. "[Joseph Papp] once compared me to an aircraft

carrier that took a long time to turn around. And that's sort of true." he says.

"Writing is a glacial process for me."

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, May 31, 1998; in the published version, a Chronicle editor took time out of his busy schedule to unilaterally replace one line in the story, thereby creating an error that wasn't in the piece I wrote.]



The Paranoid Movie Genre

Essay and reviews by Paul Iorio

The modern Paranoid Movie was born with Alfred Hitchock's

"North by Northwest" in 1959 and became a booming industry some time

after the release of Oliver Stone's "JFK" in 1991. By now, the genre has

become somewhat formulaic, and no Paranoid Film is complete without

these elements:

1) There is a scene in which a character furtively searches a vault, desk or

file room for some key piece of damning evidence.

2) There is a scene in which the character is almost always caught by a

surprise visitor to the vault, desk or file room ("Witness," "Silkwood," "The

Firm," "Murder at 1600," "The China Syndrome").

3) There is a scene in which someone confronts a person who claims to be a

victim of a conspiracy, and skeptically asks: "Who is THEY?"

4) There is a scene in which a character is said to be a patsy for a larger

operation ("JFK," "Shadow Conspiracy," "Murder at 1600").

Some Paranoid Movies are actually Conspiracy Movies, but everyone

lumps them together anyway.

What's the difference between a Paranoid Movie and a Conspiracy

Movie? A Conspiracy Movie is a Paranoid Movie in which a character is

victim of a real plot, not an imagined one. So if someone is being chased by

inner demons, it's a Paranoid Movie; but if someone is being chased by a

pick-up truck, it's a Conspiracy Movie. Cary Grant's character in "North by

Northwest" is the victim of a conspiracy; Captain Queeg in "The Caine

Mutiny" is the victim of paranoia. Salman Rushdie is the target of a

conspiracy; Margot Kidder is the victim of paranoia.

The target of a conspiracy can sometimes appear paranoid to those who

don't know better. For example, a moviegoer who enters the theater during

the scene in "Breakdown" in which Kurt Russell's character forces a truck to

pull over might think Russell is acting paranoid. And his behavior does

resemble paranoia in every way but one: his crisis is real.

And there are films in which a real conspiracy causes someone to become

paranoid or to appear that way ("Gaslight," "Guilty By Suspicion").

Not every film with a conspiracy in its plot is a Paranoid Movie, however.

"Face/Off," for example, may seem like one but isn't, because its plot does

not link up to something larger or more resonant than the dramatic action.

Because Paranoid Movies rely heavily on plot, they must have plots that

are convincing at every turn. Hitchcock was probably best at plotting

the far-fetched (his "North By Northwest" is a classic example).

Other conspiracy classics do not wear as well. John Frankenheimer's

Manchurian Candidate" (1962) and "Seven Days in May" (1964) have

fundamental flaws (see sidebar).

The Watergate scandal spawned numerous Paranoid Movies, many of

them about political sabotage ("The Big Fix," "The Parallax View") but none

(except perhaps "Chinatown") as gripping as the nonfiction film about

Watergate itself, "All the President's Men."

The most controversial Paranoid Movie of all time, the one that rouses

most passion, is Oliver Stone's "JFK," in which Stone accuses every

over a 14-year span of being involved in some way in the president's


Some of the best Paranoid Movies are those that just happen to have

conspiracies in them, movies that implicitly factor in such theories in the

course of telling a story. The "Godfather" films, for instance, take corrupt

collusion between law enforcement and the mob as a given. Likewise, in

"City of Hope," director John Sayles shows a reflexive understanding of how

city machines work.

One possible reason we invent conspiracy theories is they make life more

interesting. If someone is eavesdropping, then truly we are not alone. When

life is boring, a little paranoia can spice things up.

Here are the top ten Paranoid Movies of all time:

"THE CAPTIVE CITY" (1952) -- Parts of this film seem remarkably

contemporary in portraying how a corrupt city machine can mess with the

press. The rest of it goes way overboard, however. Still stands as an earnest

early try at the sort of movie made mostly after Watergate.

"NORTH BY NORTHWEST" (1959) -- Probably the greatest of all

conspiracy classics, from Alfred Hitchcock, who virtually invented the

Though nearly perfectly crafted, it does have one minor mistake: Why

doesn't Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) call upon his three drinking buddies at

the Plaza, shown at the beginning, to corroborate his tale of abduction?

"THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE" (1962) -- John Frankenheimer gave

moviegoers a double dose of paranoia with the back-to-back release of this

film and "Seven Days in May" in the early Sixties. Today, "Manchurian"

wears less well than "Seven Days." The flaw here is central: brainwashing

techniques (without drugs) are not nearly as effective as the movie suggests.

"SEVEN DAYS IN MAY" (1964) -- Still gripping, even though it's hard to

believe the president of the United States would refuse to use scandalous

letters against a general plotting a coup. Perfect material for an Oliver Stone


"MAGNUM FORCE" (1973) -- Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) battles a

rogue element in the police department in this popcorn flick written by John

Milius and Michael Cimino. It's more or less believable until the ending,

when Briggs (Hal Holbrook) drives away with Callahan after vowing to

him (why wouldn't he take him into custody?).

"THE CONVERSATION" (1974) -- Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is the best

surveillance man in the West, despite that pesky conscience of his. But the

work he does for a client is too seamy even for him.

"CHINATOWN" (1974) -- Very close to a perfectly plotted film. To those

who've seen it 50 times or more: What does Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson)

really mean when he twice says the phrase "as little as possible"?

"JFK" (1991) -- For a moment, assume filmmaker Oliver Stone's theory is

correct, that Clay Shaw of the CIA arranged the Kennedy assassination and

set up Lee Harvey Oswald as the designated patsy. That still doesn't mean

Shaw did it at the behest of the CIA -- a crucial point. (To illustrate: if you

work for General Motors and rob a convenience store, that doesn't mean you

robbed the store for GM.) Incidentally, why would Shaw have wanted to

attract police attention to -- rather than divert attention from -- Oswald, who

had apparent links to the CIA himself?

"THE FIRM" (1993) -- Pin it all on overbilling. The ending might well be

the most implausibly plotted for a movie this good (and until the last 20

minutes, it's riveting).

"UNLAWFUL ENTRY" (1994) -- An underrated thriller that's more or less

believable. Terrific tension between Kurt Russell and Ray Liota.

[The Paranoid Movie Game, which I conceived and designed and wrote for the paper; the only elements not authored by me are the drawings within the boxes.]

[From The San Francisco Chronicle, July 27, 1997; the "paranoid movie" coinage and idea came from me, as did the Paranoid Movie game board that accompanied the published piece.]



Robert Goulet, on "Camelot"

By Paul Iorio

In an exclusive interview never published until

now, Robert Goulet spoke to this reporter about "Camelot,"

candidly revealing secrets and new details about the play's

original Broadway reign. Here is an edited transcript

of that interview, conducted on July 14, 1999:


GOULET: December 1960, is when we opened. But before that, I had been doing
mostly television and radio.


GOULET: Of course I was. It was something brand new, and Broadway was
something I had always dreamed of....It was a quintessential moment of my life.


GOULET: No, he didn't...I gave a strange reading [at the audition]...I figured, ok, I'm
going back [home] to Toronto on the next flight. But [Burton] heard me sing and, two
hours later, said, "The voice of an angel." And the job was kept.


GOULET: We didn't hang out but we had a wonderful time together. I was allowed
one question [for Burton] a night. The performances started at 8:30 in those days,
and Richard would get there at ten to eight every night. I already had my make-up
and my costumes on and was ready to go...And I could swear he had just awakened
at 7:30, just got in a car and came over. And he'd be putting on his make-up. He
didn't want to be bothered with me at that part of the night but I wanted to learn
something about theater and film...and get his lore from him. And he said, "One
question a night and that's it." And every so often he'd give me a yes or no answer or
say [shove] off. He'd always get himself a big glass of vodka and tonic.


GOULET: We were not the biggest of hits in "Camelot" [at first]...."The Ed Sullivan
Show" brought us on about a week and a half after we had opened and gave us 17
minutes -- Julie [Andrews], Richard [Burton] and me. And the next day, [fans] lined
up around the block, and "Camelot" was a hit. So Sullivan saved our lives as well.


GOULET: That happens to everybody when they first become noticed....It didn't
manifest itself upon me in any manner I couldn't handle or understand. It was just
something that happened.


GOULET: Eight shows a week, yes. You have the seven-fifty right, yes....Richard
had to buy himself out, he had one month to go , and he wanted to do "Cleopatra,"
literally and figuratively, and so he had to pay his way out. And he did. But my
manager at the time...said, "Let Bobby out to do [television]"...And I went out and did
all those [TV] things but I had to add it on to the end of my ["Camelot"] contract.


GOULET: I have no idea, because I played Arthur on several other occasions later in
life....I don't know what that "Camelot" performance was like because I didn't go out
front to see it...It seems to me it was a damned good production [on Broadway].


GOULET: At that time, yes, it was changing. From '64, when the Beatles came in, it
really changed from there on in.


GOULET: I never thought of [rock] much, because it wasn't my kind of thing. Elvis
got out there and moved his hips, and I never moved my hips. I got out there and told
stories and sang from my heart. And a lot of stuff that I heard was a lot of noise. But
some of it is not noise, some of it is very damned good. But I don't listen to it,
because I listen to jazz and classical music primarily. I never listen to myself for one
thing. On the radio I'll hear myself singing and...half the time, I'll say, "Pretty bad."
The other half, I'll say, "Not bad."


GOULET: I think the song that I enjoyed doing so much, more than any other, was
"This Nearly Was Mine" from "South Pacific." [Goulet sings:] "One dream in my
heart, one love to be living for." With a French accent. And I let that thing fly. I
brought it down half a tone in the arrangement and opened my mouth and let it fly. I
couldn't wait to get into that song. I just loved it. It's an important song anyway.


GOULET: Oh, "Soliloquy," of course. Are you kidding?! "Carousel" was my favorite
musical of all time.


GOULET: I separated from my wife, I lived alone on my boat, a yacht, for
four-and-a-half years, and it was a little bit down. But I had a lot of friends coming in
and spending time with me...And I was pretty much on my own. Things were pretty
much in a trough. But I didn't think so. I just kept on working, and kept on doing what
I had to do.


GOULET: Of course, they called his run of the presidency The Camelot Presidency,
and they opened at the same time we did. We opened December [3rd] and he was
inaugurated [in] January.


GOULET: ....Everyone was scared we were going to be bombed that night and
destroyed and I said, "Why worry? If it hits us, we won't know what happened
anyway. So don't be concerned. Go out there and do your show."


GOULET: Oh yeah. We all have to die. I'm not afraid of dying. I just don't want to
have a terrible death, a painful death. And I'd like to live a little longer, so I can do a
few more things with my kids and with my career. But we all have to go. So don't be
so damned scared, don't be so damned nervous about it. Just be prepared to say

[Completely unpublished until now; interview conducted on July 14, 1999.]

Unpublished until now...

Traveling Alone by Local Train Behind the Iron Curtain
During the Cold War

Thirty-one years ago, as an adventurous 19-year-old college

student, I traveled alone by local train behind the Iron Curtain,

journeying non-stop from Florence, Italy, to Istanbul, Turkey,

crossing the entire length of both the former Yugoslavia

and Bulgaria, and venturing through Thrace

and European Turkey.

And then I took the whole trip again in reverse.

The non-stop journey spanned fifty-two hours, two time

zones and over a thousand miles (one-way) in August 1976,

following the route of the original Orient Express -- though

this was no Pullman sleeper. The train was a ramshackle

thing, barely better than refugee boxcars for much of the

voyage; through most of Yugoslavia, I couldn't even find a

seat and had to sleep on my suitcase in the crowded corridor.

At the time, I wrote in my journal: "I sat on [my]

suitcase. Like everyone else on this [train], I slept but

was awakened by people constantly stepping [over] me."

Also, no food or beverages were sold onboard, and Americans

weren't allowed to exit before their destination, so U.S. passengers

were left with nothing to eat or drink except whatever they had

brought with them.

In my case, that amounted to a bottle of bad carbonated

Lambrusco wine that I had bought in Trieste for 700 lire (a

little more than a dollar in 1976 currency) and some stale

cheese-bread (don't ask) I bought from someone on

the train at the Belgrade station for a thousand lire (around

a buck and a half).

At least the nausea took my mind off my thirst and hunger!

I also soon found that the tough reputation of the cops of

communist Eastern Europe was well-deserved -- though I was

skeptical about that fact before the trip. As I joked in

my journal when I passed into Slovenia: "I must be in Yugoslavia

by now. It's dark, so I can't see the oppression and lack of

liberty." (It was also, incidentally, too dark to see that I

was missing what some call the best scenery of the region:

the Julian Alps of Slovenia.)

My attitude was less jokey several hours later in Zagreb when

the Yugoslav police took me off the train for no apparent reason

(probably because I was one of only two Americans on board the

train that day), forcing me to leave my luggage onboard. Through

the language barrier, I think the cops were claiming I didn't

have a transit visa -- even after I showed them my transit visa.

As I wrote in my journal at the time: "And so off the train

I went, amidst [severe] stares of Tito/Khrushchev faces (they all

seem to have that look)," I wrote in my diary.

The only other person booted from the train was the other

American, a bearded hippie who claimed to be a Stanford University

student; he started getting loud about what he called the fascist

behavior of the cops, and I asked him to shut up before he got us

in deeper trouble.

We were detained outside a small side building, a sort of

mini-police station, where an officer confiscated my passport. After

waiting for around ten minutes, the train made noises as if

it were starting to leave Zagreb, and, impulsively, I bolted toward

the tracks, even though I didn't have my passport and hadn't been

given an ok from the police to re-board.

But no one stopped me. And just before I reboarded, some

stranger handed me my passport. "Mysteriously received my...

passport again as...I was running back to the train and was handed

it by a man," I wrote in my journal. "Mysterious totalitarian forces

at work."

I didn't see the Stanford student get back on the train and

assumed he was now in the clutches of some nasty Croatian cops.

As the train left Zagreb, I sat down and started writing about

what had just happened. But a Yugoslav police officer came into my

train car and stood a short distance from me, staring at me in a

menacing way. When I put away my pen and paper, he walked away.

Through the train window, parts of northern Croatia looked

sort of like a Communist Norman Rockwell painting, with peasants,

in classic red style, harvesting a field by hand with sickles.

As the train approached Belgrade, the landscape became increasingly

urban in a very gray way.

"The entrance [to Belgrade] is utterly filled with trash, and

as you approach it, one sees drab but...modern buildings

and a superhighway," I wrote in my diary. [NOTE: I'll soon be

posting a photo I took of Belgrade from the train.]

After Belgrade, the scenery became unexpectedly spectacular,

thanks to the thrilling peaks of the Balkan Mountains (one of the most

underrated ranges in all of Europe). But just before Bulgaria, the

landscape became downbeat again, full of "empty roads, solemn faces,

dreary check points," as I wrote at the time.

Despite the oppressive presence of police and soldiers, the

civilians on the train were lively and uninhibited throughout the


At one point, in southeastern Serbia, five very friendly rural

Serbians (with a couple black puppies) insisted -- absolutely

insisted -- that I take a picture of them and their dogs, so

I did. In return, they gave me a couple Yugoslav

cigarettes, three swigs of vodka -- and their addresses so I could send

them the pictures. [NOTE: I took a photo of them and will post that

pic soon, too.]

Just before the Bulgarian border, I found a seat in a compartment

that was like a mini-United Nations. I sat across from a confident

and exuberant Libyan man (with extremely white teeth) who said he

was on his way to study electrical engineering in Bulgaria. Also

in the compartment were a soft-spoken guy from Copenhagen and

two French men (one of them looked like rocker Ron Wood,

the other said he was a Sorbonne professor of Islamic civilization

and French). They were talking to each other in English, French and

other languages.

As the train crossed into Bulgaria at Dimitrovgrad, I

experienced the hospitality of its cops and border guards, widely

regarded as the most ruthless in all of eastern Europe at the time.

With rifles at the ready, the Bulgarian guards were

harsh and humorless. "At the Bulgarian border, the guards had

Hitler mustaches, as all traces of Western Europe (as well as humor

or smiling) disappeared completely," I wrote after entering the country.

We soon passed through Sofia, which seemed like an extremely

insulated and subdued city; the locals at the train station, in

old-fashioned clothing and uncomfortable-looking shoes, approached

the train and gawked curiously as if they were looking at visitors

from another planet.

Several hours later, at the exit border -- the tense checkpoint

near the three-way intersection of Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece --

the armed Bulgarian cops became even more unfunny than they had been

at the entry border.

"Long wait at the Bulgaria/Turkey border," I wrote that night.

"Soldiers all around checking bags, shining lights....It is pitch

black and probably midnight."

In the distance, I saw the silhouette of a tank. A rumor,

later proved false, circulated that the train was being

delayed because war had broken out between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus.

After an anxious period, we were finally allowed to proceed into

western Turkey, back into NATO territory. "The train starts into the

Turkish black night, soldiers waving goodbye, and I go back to my

compartment and sleep," I wrote in my diary.

To my surprise, a few yards away at a train window, there was

that Stanford student who I had mistakenly thought was left

behind in Zagreb the day before; he was looking out the window

and singing the Rolling Stones's "Satisfaction."

It was a few hours before sunrise on my third day of travel, but

Istanbul was still over 12 hours away.

After Bulgaria, entering western Turkey felt like someone had

opened a window and let in light, air and birds. I was now in

westernmost Turkey, aka Thrace.

"At sunrise, I wake and see...Turkey," I wrote in my journal.

"The train is moving at a snail's pace, stopping every twenty yards

or so. The scenery is unlike anything I've seen before. The

mountains are sometimes rocky or green or barren like a desert...

There are great stretches of huge yellow sunflower fields stretching

for [what looks like] miles. The people all wave as the train goes

by, and the animals get more exotic and plentiful: goats,

gazelles, unnamables, roosters, huge flocks of sheep.

After the monochromatic Balkans, Thrace seemed to come alive in

vivid Technicolor.

Fifty-two hours after boarding the train in Florence, I arrived

in Istanbul at three on a hot afternoon in August, burping

Lambrusco, profoundly tired and somewhat dehydrated. I checked into

a cheap hostel ($5 a night) in the Sultanahmet neighborhood

where American hippies -- who had almost certainly taken a

plane, not a train, to Istanbul -- were

outside singing Paul Simon's "Homeward Bound" as someone

played guitar.

After five days in Istanbul, it was time to return to Florence. I

considered taking a quick flight back, but (being a broke student

back then) went to the train station and took the whole trip

through the Balkans all over again.

This time, I fell sick just before the Bulgarian border and remained

that way all the way home (and for a week after returning to Florence),

sleeping through most of the ride back.

In retrospect, I now see that the big risks of the trip came not

behind the Iron Curtain but in Islam (for example, some guy chased me

down the street with a stick in Istanbul for shooting pictures of

veiled women gathered in a doorway; another man almost became violent

when I didn’t bow and scrape at Istanbul’s Pavilion of the Holy

Mantle, where the Muslim Prophet Muhammed’s hair and teeth are on


All told, my advice to anyone considering a travel adventure like

this: take the plane!

[Published here for the first time.]

Above are various items from my trip behind the Iron Curtain to Istanbul; at center is my Bulgarian visa; clockwise from the top left is a card for the hostel I stayed at, a pack of Turkish cigarettes, an August 1976 calendar, my own notes about entering Bulgaria, a ticket to the Topkapi, and a couple logos for regional publications.

Above: my photo of Istanbul's Galata Bridge, August 1976.



Reconsidering "Jaws"

By Paul Iorio

When Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" was released 25 years ago this

summer, it was upstaged by its own mechanical shark and then by its

unprecedented commercial success. Today, after decades of repeated

viewing, it's easier to see the movie for what many think it really is: a

thriller in league with such Alfred Hitchcock classics as "The Birds" and


What emerges from my own interviews with the film makers is that one of

the best things to have happened during the making of "Jaws" was the

malfunctioning of the main mechanical shark (and the two supporting

"The shark didn't work," actor Roy Scheider, who plays police chief

Martin Brody, tells me. "And that left us with weeks and weeks

and weeks to shoot, to polish, to improvise, to discuss, to enrich, to

experiment with all the other scenes that in a movie like that would [usually]

get a cursory treatment."

"What happened was, [Robert] Shaw, [Richard] Dreyfuss and Scheider

turned into a little rep company," he says. "And all those scenes, rather than

just pushing the plot along, became golden, enveloping the characters. So

when the crisis came, you really cared about those three guys."

Those "three guys" are by now familiar to moviegoers everywhere:

Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss), an aggressive scientist from a wealthy family;

(Shaw), a veteran fisherman unhinged by past trauma; and Brody

(Scheider), a phobic police chief from the big city trying to assimilate in

town Amity ("A fish out of water, if you'll excuse the expression," quips


Spielberg's problem in getting the shark to work was also one

of the main reasons he didn't show the fish until very late in the movie

minutes in, to be precise). This contradicts the generally accepted

explanation that the delay in showing the shark was a purely aesthetic

strategy meant to enhance audience anticipation and suspense.

"The shark didn't work," says screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, echoing

Scheider's words exactly. "It was a difficult piece of mechanical

equipment....It malfunctioned most of the time [so] we had no shark to


Spielberg and Gottlieb got the idea for withholding a glimpse of the

monster until the end from the b-movie "The Thing," says Gottlieb. But

the decision was more along the lines of, 'this is a way we can get around

fact that our main prop isn't working' rather than 'this is a choice that we

would've made in any case,' according to Gottlieb.

Gottlieb's screenplay was based on a best-selling novel by Peter

Benchley, though the finished film differs from the novel in significant

Benchley initially wrote a couple drafts of the screenplay, before Pulitzer

prize-winning playwright Howard Sackler ("The Great White Hope")

took on the task, writing a couple drafts of his own. Finally Spielberg

brought aboard Gottlieb, a comedy writer and actor who had won an Emmy

for his work on TV's "The Smothers Brothers Show," to write the final

Others also contributed to the screenplay, including Shaw, Scheider,

Spielberg, and writer John Milius ("Apocalypse Now").

The script was another element that was inadvertently helped by the

shark-related glitches, since the downtime gave Gottlieb more time to

write and revise. And the screenplay did undergo lots of changes. Hooper's

character (which was almost played by Jan-Michael Vincent instead of

Dreyfuss) changed from a womanizer who had an affair with Brody's wife

to that of the monomaniacal scientist in the film. Quint (almost played by

Sterling Hayden) developed "from this crazy lunatic to this guy with a real

reason to hate sharks," as Scheider puts it.

And Brody (a role originally sought by Charlton Heston) became an

everyman rather than a conventional action hero. "Every aggressive and

macho impulse I had in my character, [Spielberg] would grab me and pull

back and say, 'No, don't talk like that, don't speak like that. You are always

afraid, you are Mr. Humble all the time,'" recalls Scheider. "He would say,

'What we want to do is gradually, slowly, carefully, humorously build this

into being the hero of the movie.'"

The first scripts did not include the part of the film that Spielberg and

many others consider to be the movie's best: the nine-minute sequence on

Orca that starts with the three main characters comparing scars, progresses

through Quint's Indianapolis monologue, and ends with the three singing sea

songs together.

How exactly did that sequence evolve? "Howard Sackler was the one

who found the Indianapolis incident and introduced it into the script," says

Gottlieb. "Scar-comparing comes out of a conversation that Spielberg had

with John Milius. John said that macho beach guys would try to assert their

manliness and would compare scars...So Steven said, 'Great, let's see if we

can do something with that.' So I wrote the scar-comparing scene."

Meanwhile, several writers took a crack at Quint's Indianapolis speech,

in which he tells of delivering the Hiroshima bomb aboard a ship that

subsequently sank in shark-infested waters. "Steven was worried about the

Indianapolis speech," says Gottlieb. "My drafts weren't satisfactory.

Sackler's draft wasn't satisfactory to him."

"The conventional historical inaccuracy that has found its way into

most of the literature about the movie is that Milius dictated the speech over

the phone and that it's basically Milius's speech. I was on the phone taking

notes and the speech is not Milius's speech. It's close, it's got elements of

it. But what Milius was working from was my drafts and Sackler's drafts."

[Milius did not respond to our request for comment on this.]

Gottlieb remembers the moment when the Indianapolis monologue was

officially born. "One night after dinner, Spielberg, me, [and others] were

talking about the movie," he says. "Shaw joined us after his dinner with a

wad of paper in his pocket. He said, 'I've been having a go at that speech. I

think I've got it now.'...The housekeeper had just packed up; she dimmed the

lights as she left. Shaw takes the paper out of his pocket and then reads the

speech as you hear it in the movie....He finishes performing that speech and

everyone is in stunned silence. And finally Steven says, 'That's it, that's what

we're going to shoot.'"

"It took two days to shoot that scene," says Gottlieb. "Shaw was

drunk one day, sober the other. What you see on film was a very clever

compendium of the two scenes....If you watch that scene, listen for the tap

[on the table] because that's where it cuts from sober to drunk. Or drunk to

sober, I don't remember which."

And indeed there is a tap on the table by Quint that splits the two parts

of the Indianapolis monologue. Shaw appears to be drunk in the first six

minutes of the sequence and sober in the last three minutes. (For those who

want to locate the splice on video, it happens at the 91-minute mark,

the phrases "rip you to pieces" and "lost a hundred men.")

By all accounts, the shoot at sea, off Martha's Vineyard, was

nightmarish and difficult. Originally, Spielberg expected to spend only 55

days on the ocean but ultimately stayed for 159. At times, there was tension

and conflict among the cast and crew. At one point, Gottlieb fell overboard

and risked being sliced by a boat propeller.

Further, Spielberg insisted on having a clean horizon during the Orca

sequences, in order to emphasize the boat's isolation at sea. If some vessel

happened to be sailing in the background of a shot, Spielberg would have

of his crew drive a speed-boat a half-hour or so away to the offending craft to

ask the sailor to consider taking another route. "A lot of times there was no

other way to go, so they'd say, 'Fuck you,'" says Gottlieb. "So we had to wait

for the boat to clear the horizon."

And if the film makers wanted some food while they waited, they

had to settle for turkey and tuna sandwiches that had somehow lost their

freshness in the heat and salt water at the bottom of the boat. They'd sip

coffee that was sometimes four-hours old. And occasionally, the waves

would cause the boat to pitch and bounce in place ("Not a great thing early

the morning on a sour stomach," says Gottlieb).

"You'd go home at the end of the day sea-sick, sunburned,

windburned," says Gottlieb.

But when the main shark worked, it was a wonder to behold, says

Scheider. He recalls the moment when he knew the movie was going to

succeed: when he first saw the shark sail by the Orca on the open sea. "They

ran [the shark] past the boat about two or three feet underwater," says

Scheider. "And it was as long as the boat. And I said, 'Oh my god, it looks

great.' I remember that day. We probably all lit cigars."

When the movie finally wrapped, nobody knew for sure whether it

would succeed or fail. The first clue came when they brought the film to

technical workers for color-timing purposes. The techies, who were looking

at the film only for purposes of checking the color density of the negative,

were almost literally scared out of their chairs during certain scenes. "Guys

in the lab were jumping," says Gottlieb. "So we started to have a feeling."

Still, nobody was certain how the general public would respond. The

tell-tale moment came during a sneak preview of the film in Long Beach,

California, in the late spring of '75. Gottlieb remembers driving to

Long Beach in a limo with his wife and Spielberg. "We gave Steven...tea to

calm him down on the drive," says Gottlieb. "He was so nervous."

His nervousness apparently subsided about three minutes and forty

seconds into the screening when the invisible shark ripped apart its first

victim. The audience went nuts, drowning out dialogue for the next minute

or so. "You could tell from the crowd reaction that it was going to be a very

important movie," he says.

When the lights came up after the screening, top executives from

Universal Pictures quickly headed straight to the theater restroom -- "the

quiet spot in the theater," says Gottlieb -- and proceeded to change the film's

release strategy on the spot. Realizing they had a massive hit on their hands,

the execs immediately decided the movie would not be opened in a normal

gradual fashion, but in wide release. Amidst the summer toilets of Long

Beach, movie industry history was made that night.

"The idea of opening a picture simultaneously on 1,500 to 2,000

screens was unheard of," says Gottlieb. "After 'Jaws,' it became standard.

Every studio had to have a big summer picture."

By mid-summer, the film was taking in a million dollars a day. Within

a couple months, it had become the biggest grossing movie of all time.

its domestic gross stands at around $250 million, making it the 13th top

grossing movie of all time.

"I see it the same way I saw it then," says Scheider. "It's a very good

action adventure film...Plus it's well-directed, it's well-acted, it's

beautifully shot, it's got a great score and a fabulous story. So why shouldn't

it be a classic movie?"

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, May 28, 2000.]


The Pop Culture Echo

Essay by Paul Iorio

Every few years, Americans hear an echo from across the Atlantic, the

echo of borrowed U.S. pop culture booming back at us from England. By

now, the pattern is familiar: Americans invent a piece of pop culture but

don't seem to fully accept it until the British adapt, refine and sell it back to

the U.S. as something new.

For example, Americans invented the modern television game show

decades ago with such daytime fare as "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune."

But the most popular U.S. game show of all time came to us from Britain,

which created "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," their prime time version of

our invention.

Likewise, in 1964, the Beatles arrived in America playing the U.S. rock of

Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Carl Perkins -- American music that was

never more popular than when it was played by the British. And in the

1970s, the English refined the U.S. sit-com with "Till Death Do Us Part,"

which Americans then adapted into the TV classic "All in the Family."

"I would call it a vast cultural laundering operation," says pop culture

expert Robert J. Thompson, a professor of Television, Radio and Film at

Syracuse University in New York.

"When the potential of [American pop culture] really begins to be seen, it's

sent over to England to be laundered, to go to finishing school, and then it

comes back in the form of the British invasion," he says.

In other words, Americans might produce a Chuck Berry, but they won't

fully accept him unless he has a British accent.

It may come down to the fact that Americans are simply suckers for a

British accent, and it hardly matters whether it's Cockney or West End,

because millions probably can't tell the difference anyway (and sometimes

even confuse British and Australian dialects).

In the States, a British accent can make a b-level talent (David Frost, say)

seem like an A-list one and make a moderately educated person seem

downright erudite. (There are exceptions, of course; a British accent hasn't

helped to make Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione appear any

more intelligent or refined, for instance.)

When it comes to the British, Americans apparently have a cultural

inferiority complex, says Thompson. And the complex is not entirely

unjustified, considering the British have a vast and rich literary tradition that

spans many centuries and includes Shakespeare and Chaucer. It's fitting then

that the British are a major force on Broadway; at the time of this writing,

there were at least six Broadway productions -- including "Miss Saigon,"

"The Phantom of the Opera" and "Copenhagen" -- that have roots in the U.K.

"The Anglo influence is still incredibly powerful in this country," says

Thompson. One reason may be that the U.S. has simply not been around as

long as the U.K. and so has not been able to establish cultural traditions that

are as enduring or influential. Thompson agrees, saying: "America is having

longer traditions, it's an older country [than it was] and it should maybe

begin to behave like the old country."

"But there are so many things that keep knocking us off-track, like

geographic mobility...History has never kicked in in this country," he says.

Still, one might argue that Britain's achievements are mostly in the past,

while America's are those of the present. "One of the great functions of the

United Kingdom is not so much what we import from it," he says. "But how

it takes American culture, adapts it...and brings back an organism that is

better able to survive not only over there but here as well."

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 2000; initiated idea.]



Play It Again (and Again), Sam

By Paul Iorio

Woody Allen comes up with such memorable one-liners that it's

no surprise other writers steal from him. In fact, his lines are so funny

that even Allen can't resist taking a line from himself now and then. Here

are some examples of self-plagiarism in his films:


MARY: "I could go to bed with the entire faculty of M.I.T."
(from "Manhattan.")

VANESSA: "I [slept with] the entire Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity at Yale."
(from "Play it Again, Sam")

ANDREW: "You were...sleeping with the...entire infield of the Chicago
White Sox."
(from "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy")
* * *


ALVY: "Hey, don't knock masturbation."
(From "Annie Hall")

MICKEY: "Hey, you gonna start knocking [masturbation]?"
(From "Manhattan")

SANDY: "I am an absolute expert [on masturbation]."
(from "Stardust Memories")

LEONARD: "I teach a [advanced] masturbation."
(From "Zelig")
* * *


IKE: "I'll turn into one of those guys that sells comic books outside of
(From "Manhattan")

MICKEY: "I'll wind up like the guy with the wool cap who delivers for the
(From "Hannah and Her Sisters")
* * *


DICK: "I...had the foresight to buy Polaroid at eight-and-a-half."
(From "Play It Again, Sam")

SALMON: "I bought Xerox at eight-and-a-half."
(From "Take the Money and Run")
* * *


FREDERICK: "I can't go out...I'm liable to kill someone."
(From "Interiors")

FREDERICK: "I just don't want to be around people. I don't want to wind up
abusing anyone."
(From "Hannah and Her Sisters")
* * *


JILL: "What were you doing lurking around outside the cabin, anyway?"
IKE: "I was spying on you guys."
(From "Manhattan")

ANNIE: "What were you doing following me around for, anyway?"
ALVY: "I'm following you and David."
(From "Annie Hall")

TINA: "You know about [the white roses] because you spy on me."
JOHNNY: "It's not spying when you care about someone."
(From "Broadway Danny Rose")
* * *


NARRATOR: "He rents a car and attempts to run her over."
(From "Take the Money and Run")

MARY: "Did you hear the one where he tried to run her lover over."
(From "Manhattan")
* * *


SANDY: "The universe is gradually breaking down. There's not gonna be
anything left."
(From "Stardust Memories")

ALVY: "The universe...will break apart, and that will be the end of
(From "Annie Hall")
* * *


DICK: [consoling Ike after argument about a TV show] "Take a 'lude."
(From "Manhattan")

RON: [consoling Mickey after argument about a TV show] "You want a
(From "Hannah and Her Sisters")

[From New York Newsday, March 1, 1992; all quotes from Allen scripts. (Note: This was wholly my piece, from idea to execution, and bears my sole byline, though in the print edition there is a nearby byline of another writer, in larger type, referring to other articles adjacent to mine, yet that other byline sort of makes it look like this was a co-written or co-researched piece, which it was not.)


Why It's Not So Smart to Be Smart Anymore

(The Dumbification of America)

By Paul Iorio

Roman Polanski and Salman Rushdie are on the run. Woody Allen is

being hounded. Even Enrico Fermi is being called nasty things. Almost

everywhere, genius is being demonized and devalued. In movies, for

instance, a villain must be more than just an evil, violent psychopath; to be

truly feared and vilified today, it helps to be a genius. The gold

standard of celluloid evil genius is, of course, Hannibal Lecter of "The

Silence of the Lambs," who has spawned smart and wicked imitators ranging

from Tommy Lee Jones's character in "Blown Away" (who quotes T.S. Eliot)

to John Lithgow's bad guy in "Cliffhanger," who comes off like the

headmaster of a country day school.

Meanwhile, idiocy is being celebrated as something noble and pure in

movies like "Forrest Gump" and "Regarding Henry."

In real life, the new outlaws are geniuses like Allen, Polanski, and Michael

Jackson -- all accused, and one convicted, of a sex crime. Other recent

pariahs include scientific icons J. Robert Oppenheimer and Enrico Fermi,

irresponsibly called neo-traitors in a best-selling book; any artist funded by

an NEA grant (some of whom have been condemned as perverts on the floor

of the United States Senate); and computer wizards like the dazzlingly

sociopathic Kevin Mitnick, who raised major cyber-hell by penetrating

impenetrable computer systems at several corporations.

Clearly, being smart isn't such a smart idea anymore. In fact, it seems as if

some brainy people have had to dumb down just to stay employed. For a

time, even Meryl Streep, for example, abandoned big ambitions to become a

regular gal and action movie star (how long before she starts calling herself

Mary Streep?). Mario Cuomo tried, unsuccessfully, to keep his job by

running TV ads featuring an endearingly inarticulate supporter who

mispronounced his name as "Como," as in Perry, instead of Cuomo, as in

Aquinas. The trend can also be seen in TV ads like the one in which an

announcer asks something like: "Who's smarter -- this woman who shopped

at Sears or this prize-winning astrophysicist?"

Why does braininess have such a bad reputation these days?

Simply put, we don't like to be reminded there may be others who know

more than we do. As David Denby explained in his review of "Forrest

Gump": "A smart film hero, of course, would risk offending the many

Americans who now get angry if there's even a hint that they've been


Conversely, we're flattered by smart villains because we want to believe

that we are the victims of clever people, that we are locked in battle with an

exalted adversary, and not some dumb thug with a brick.

Oddly, the public doesn't seem to mind those who pretend to be smart but

are not smart (aka, the faux smart). In fact, lots of people prefer faux smarts

to the real thing, the same way some prefer fake wood to real wood because

fake wood doesn't rot, warp, or attract termites. Faux genius comes without

demons or neuroses; and it requires none of the tedious work of actually

writing a real novel or making a real film. All you needs is the paraphernalia

and accouterments of intelligence (say, nonprescription eyeglasses), and you,

too, can successfully mimic a smart person.

Plus, by being faux smart, you're spared the vilification of the truly


The first stop on the road to faux intelligence is a degree mill. Unlike

traditional universities, which make you do excruciatingly difficult things

studying), degree mills will quickly and easily add a cheap string of

important-looking initials to the end of your name. So why bother enrolling

in a big-name school, when you can just as easily buy a degree in a few

from a school whose name sounds equally prestigious to the inattentive and

badly informed?

If you aren't smart or affluent enough for, say, Bennington, try Barrington

in Burlington, Vermont, and see who can tell the difference on a resume. "If

you look at the name of the appears that the name could be

mistaken by, let's say, foreign students for one or two other colleges that are

located in Vermont," says Robert Lorenz, an education specialist with the

Vermont Department of Education. "Bennington College comes to mind.

And there's a Barring -- Burlington as well."

The name also threw someone at the U.S. Department of Education.

"Barrington, not Bennington?," asked Education's Stephanie Babayak.

"[Degree mills] are very smart about giving themselves names that are

very close to legitimate institutions," says Charles Andersen of the American

Council on Education.

Can one at least assume that Barrington is located in the heart of Vermont

academia? Only if you consider Park Avenue South in Manhattan to be part

of Vermont. And when we called the school, we reached someone in...New


"In the beginning, our understanding was that they would be located in

Vermont," Lorenz says. "Upon investigation, their 800 number appears to be

answered in the New York City metropolitan area. And their [Vermont]

address turns out to be a mail drop."

Posing as a prospective student, we soon discovered that Barrington was

virtually selling honorary degrees. "If you're interested in [an honorary

degree], yeah, there would be a donation involved," says Steven Bettinger,

president of Barrington. "You'd get a certificate and everything" for a total of


Bettinger then says that "a donation alone can't get the degree," but adds

that the only other major requirement is the passing of a credential


"That would be a resume and anything else you could add...any military,

just about anything." As far as actual programs of study, Bettinger says: "We

also have a Ph.D. program, which, you know, obviously you would do some


Barrington is evidently breaking the law by granting degrees of any kind,

because it has not yet received approval to do so from the Vermont

Department of Education. Lorenz told us the matter is being reviewed by the

office of the state's Attorney General.

"Barrington registered as a correspondence school, and that is not the

same as having approval to grant degrees," says Lorenz. "My understanding

is that they are offering baccalaureate degrees after taking seven courses and

they offer no hassle from teachers, no hassle from quizzes, and an open book

final exam."

This College of Faux Smarts may be heading into legal trouble. "Granting

a degree without state approval would violate state law and be subject to a

fine of $1,000 per day," says Lorenz. Even honorary degrees? "There's no

distinction in the law between an honorary degree and another degree."

Some states are not nearly as strict about education as Vermont. Hawaii,

for example, is said to have some of the most lax regulations in the United

States. To understand this first-hand, we looked into the Eurotechnical

Research University, which is not located in Europe but in Hilo, Hawaii. We


Whatever Eurotech might lack in conventional credibility, it more than

makes up for in mystery. Two of its representatives mentioned up-front that

the school has a separate college of martial arts, which, as anyone knows, is

the backbone of a small technical university. Eurotech also lists a Hawaii

address but has a Texas phone number and an administrator in Michigan.

The school's president, Robert Simpson, tries to clear up the mystery

with this explanation: "I commute to Hawaii to Australia to Florida and


What's a possible reason for their Hawaii affiliation? "If you're filling

station, you can start awarding degrees in Hawaii," says Dave Stewart of the

American Council on Education.

I pressed Eurotech's president about the fastest way to get an MBA. "Let

me get to the bottom line: that degree will be ready [in about three months],"

he says, after hearing very little about my background. He went on to explain

that the master's program consists of two "modules," each with classes that

use texts, assignments, and possibly an audiotape. And all tests are open-

book, even the final. "That's the way busy people can get through it," he


But Simpson draws the line at selling honorary degrees, insisting I stick to

the school's rigorous Euro-Hawaiian module regimen. "We were gonna do

[an honorary degree] for the President of Turkey," he says. "But my

predecessor died in the middle of the process and by the time I found out

about it, it was too late."

"Why the president of Turkey?," I ask.

"I have no idea," says Simpson.

Seeking something a bit less Euro-Hawaiian, I tried Summit University, a

"non-residence" university with central offices in Louisiana and provosts in

Ohio, Delaware and New York. One advisor, Kenneth Onapolis, offered a

passionate defense of the fast degree/faux smarts ethos.

"Anybody can earn an MBA by going to school...," Onapolis says.

"There's an easy way of doing it and there's a hard way of doing it."

The easy way? "We submit you with an examination that is equivalent to

the master's degree program that a university would offer...It's computer

graded...We expect you to go to libraries, contact relatives, friends, business

associates, colleagues, whatever, to get the answers to the questions."

And so, without having to put up with pesky grades and studying, students

can receive a master's degree after passing a single test and paying a few

thousand dollars.

Still, faux smarts must be about more than just taking open-book tests and

mixing with the Euro-Hawaiian elite. It probably wouldn't hurt to have some

sort of professional degree from a professional-sounding school. So I

contacted the Southern California University for Professional Studies

(SCUPS), which, in spite of its traditional Ph.D. programs, was all too glad

to strike a deal.

SCUPS offered to sell me an honorary law degree for $10,000 flat, despite

my lack of any prior legal experience. All we had to do, according to Lorrie

Weiland, an admissions counselor with the university, was send in a resume,

any certificates that I held, and a one-page explanation of why I wanted the

law degree.

"The first honorary degree we gave was to a gentleman from Korea,"

Weiland says.

"Why Korea?," I ask.

"We've had three different individuals fly in from Korea for degrees," she


"Why Korea?," I ask.

"We're worldwide," she says.

"But yet all from Korea?," I say.

"It just happened," she says. "We just started doing it, and it just


"So who are they? Businessmen?," I ask.

"Businessmen, yes. They were all businessmen," she says.

"Did they make a contribution to the university?," I ask.

"Yes, oh, yes. You'd pay the same [for the honorary law degree] as you'd

pay for the [actual degree]," she says.

SCUPS, along with Eurotech and Barrington, are not officially accredited

schools, unless you count their ostensible "accreditation" by an organization

called the World Association of Universities and Colleges (WAUC).

"[WAUC] is not an accrediting association that's recognized by either the

Commission on Recognition of Post-secondary Accreditation or the U.S.

Department of Education, which are the only ones that count in this county,"

says Education's Dave Stewart, an expert on degree mills. [Since this article

first ran, the Commission has been supplanted by another agency.] "I have a

number of inquiries on [SCUPS], one from a student who said he's been

trying to track it down. The last address I have for them is Las Vegas, which


We called WAUC president Maxine Asher and asked her about the

curious Las Vegas address. "I lived in Los Angeles and after the earthquake

in January [1994] I moved to Las Vegas to get away from the earthquake,"

she says. "Well, I set up everything there but then I moved back to L.A., but

things were working so well that I'm going to leave it in [Las Vegas] with

the legal office in Switzerland. It's not a good reason but that's what


Wait a minute? Legal offices in Switzerland? Operations in Vegas?

Between this Swiss-Vegas connection and Summit's Euro-Hawaiian alliance

-- not to mention all those Korean gentlemen -- faux smarts appears to have

truly gone worldwide.

But faux genius can't ever be fully achieved with mere Swiss-Vegas

schmoozing. One also needs the faux accomplishment of, say, a book deal

from a vanity press. And by no means is there a shortage of companies eager

to publish virtually anything for a price.

Under the pen name of Jonathan Swift, I called Marketing Director Dan

Heise at Evanston Publishing and presented him with a modest proposal.

"Jon Swift is the name I write under," I told him. "I have two ideas that

are kind of controversial...One is a non-fiction book on the medical

ramifications of cannibalism. It would be about what parts of the body you

would ignore [while eating]. For example, don't eat this, eat that; if you want

carbohydrates, eat that. Almost a practical guide to [cannibalism]."

"How would you go about assessing the value of something like that?,"

asked Heise.

"Through doctors," I said. "Have doctors say, 'Well, this would be

something you'd want to avoid, this would be poisonous, this part would

provide carbs, protein, et cetera.' Start with the premise that [the movie]

'Alive' started with..."

"Something that people had an interest in, however morbid," said Heise.

"They ate it up."

"Precisely," I said. "Would you have a problem with that?"

"I don't think we would," says Heise. "That sounds like -- although it

would be controversial, it doesn't sound like it would be patently offensive or

derogatory towards anyone. So I think it's definitely going to be taken into


"Here's the other one, and that is, like, one of those novelty books," I said.

"It's the wit of someone who is not really known for anything except being

very, very serious, and that is the wit of Saddam Hussein."

"God, that would be hilarious," says Heise.

"Believe it or not, you would be surprised, people who have covered this

guy in Baghdad, they have collected a lot of quips from him," I said.

"The wit and wisdom of Saddam Hussein!," says Heise, laughing.

"Like, when the Republican Guard was defeated, he turned to someone

and said, 'Frankly, I'd rather be in Port Palma" or something. When his oil

wells were being bombed, he said something to the effect -- I don't have the

exact quote in front of me -- but something like, 'A couple million gallons

here, a couple million gallons there, it starts to add up,'" I said.

Heise laughs.

"It'd be a cute fifty-pager," I said.

"To tell the truth, I think that would be a hot, a hot item!," says Heise. "It

depends on the reaction you'd get from distributors and chain stores, et

Because if they don't like it, then it's not gonna go anywhere. But it seems to

me to be the kind of thing that would definitely get people's attention, and

that's what you've got to do in this business. Especially if you made it

something like a $6.95 impulse item or even a calendar."

I then shopped the same ideas to Vantage Press, the premiere vanity

publisher, making our pitch to Vantage Editor Walter Kendall.

"My idea is a compilation of...the wit of Saddam Hussein," I said. "Many

of the people who have covered him in Baghdad understand that he is really

first-rate wit, and they have compiled some [quips] from press conferences...

Would you have a problem with something like that?"

"Not that I imagine," said Kendall.

"The other idea, which is kind of chancy, is, if you've seen the movie

'Alive,' it broaches the subject of cannibalism," I said. "I've actually done

about 100 pages of a book [on] the real story on [cannibalism]: what part of

the human body would be 'forget it, don't eat it'...Is that something that

create any type of problem?"

"Well, not theoretically," said Kendall. "...Based on the subject, I

wouldn't see a problem. But we'd have to see the book before we make a

final determination."

"Are there any subjects that you don't approach at all?," I asked.

"Well, we don't do pornography," said Kendall. "And we don't do things

that are libelous."

Having closed my second faux book deal of the day, I took stock.

Cannibalism is in, libel out; Saddam is in, pornography out. Does that mean

I could write about eating Saddam but can't libel him?

Trying to make sense of all this, I looked back upon the several hours of

my academic/publishing career. To achieve faux smarts, it seems, all I had to

do was scrape together around $15,000. That breaks down this way: I could

buy a quick MBA, after taking open-book tests, for roughly $3,000; an

honorary doctorate for $1,400; and an honorary law degree for $10,000.

With that money, I could afford to publish my vanity books on "A Practical

Guide to Cannibalism" and "The Wit of Saddam."

Hold on. Was that offer from Vintage or Vantage? And was that school

Bennington or Barrington? In Vermont or Hawaii? Or Zurich? Oh, never

mind. Those are minor distinctions to the faux smart. As Spinal Tap's Nigel

Tufnel once put it, "There's a fine line between clever and stupid."

[From Spy magazine, January 1995.]


Johnny Winter Talks Blues, Busts Myths in Unpublished Interview.

“I’d like to be the old white father of the blues when I’m 80 or so,” Johnny Winter told me in 1985.

Sadly, he didn’t make it that far, dying on July 16th in a hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland, at the age of 70.

When I spoke with him, one-on-one and in person, Winter was 41 and already a legendary grandmaster of the blues. I met him far from his Texas roots -- in an apartment at 83 Riverside Drive in New York City, to be exact.

It was dinner hour – between 5 and 6 p.m. on Friday, October 4, 1985 – and Winter was in a loose, loquacious mood, showing me one of his six vintage Firebird electric guitars and chatting about his new album, “Serious Business.”

We talked about his deep love of the blues, his finger vibrato technique and how he really got signed to Columbia Records. (Contrary to popular lore, it was an article in Rolling Stone (not an A&R discovery at a concert) that landed Winter his record deal.)

The Q&A, preserved on a cassette tape I still have, went on for around 5,000 words, but, ultimately, I used only 161 words of it for a story on comeback artists in the October 19, 1985, issue of music trade magazine Cash Box, for which I was a staff writer/reporter.

Hence, very little of this interview has ever been published or posted anywhere – until now. Here is an edited transcript.

Paul Iorio: When did [your music career] really start taking off? Was there one gig where an A&R guy came around to see you and said, “This guy’s really good”?

Johnny Winter: There was the Rolling Stone article that came out in the last of ’68. It was actually an article on Texas music and people who had made it from there and were doing good. And they talked about other musicians who were still starving to death in Texas and mentioned me and there was a big picture of me. And that article really changed things for me overnight. Just overnight, people were calling up from California, New York, overseas, making me offers. People who I’d been trying to get to see for years....I took down everybody’s name and telephone number and started making the rounds, talking to everybody.

Iorio: So that led to the Columbia deal and the “Johnny Winter” album. But then you developed a sort of [harder] sound.

Winter: Yeah, when I started working with Rick Derringer and Randy Hobbs. Rick was a great guitar player. And Rick wasn’t a straight blues guitar player. He was more of a rock ‘n’ roll guitar player. And what we came up with together was definitely more a rock ‘n’ roll thing than blues. Kind of half and half. Rockin’ blues, I guess you could call it….

Iorio: Do you still collaborate with [Derringer and Edgar Winter]?

Winter: No, not really. We probably will, we’re just not doing anything right now. We just don’t like the same stuff. I love straight blues. And Edgar doesn’t really care about it that much. Edgar’s always into a more jazz/r&b thing. Edgar’s such a good musician that he can go in any direction he wants to go in. Sometimes I think it makes it kind of hard for him because he can do anything. Hard just to decide which thing to do.

Iorio: Too many possibilities.

Winter: Yeah.


Iorio: You identify more with bluesmen than rockers?

Winter: Yeah, a little bit more, I guess. It’s where the rock ‘n’ roll came from. I discovered both of them just about the same time. Guess I heard Little Richard and those [rockers] just a little bit before. And then when I heard Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, I said this is the real stuff, this is where Carl Perkins and Little Richard all got it from! To me, rock ‘n’ roll was great, the blues was even greater. It was the daddy of rock ‘n’ roll. Like Muddy’s song: “the blues had a baby and they named it rock ‘n’ roll.” That’s kind of the way I always thought about it.


Iorio: Who are your all-time favorite [artists]?

Winter: Well Muddy is always one of my all-time favorites. A lot of the guys that I grew up loving and idolizing are dead now, most of them. Too bad. In another ten years, I’m gonna be my only idol! [laughs] Kind of strange now. There’re a lot of good people. All the Alligator [Records] people are great. That’s what made me want to be with Alligator, all the people on the label like Albert Collins and Lonnie Brooks, Koko Taylor….

Iorio: How did you get hooked up with Alligator?

Winter: I’d known [Alligator Records founder] Bruce [Iglauer] for five or six years and had done some recording with him with Son Seals. And we’d been talking about doing stuff when I was still with Blue Sky [Records]/CBS. And after my [CBS] contract expired, my management didn’t really want me to go with Alligator, because [I’d been] on a major label there for eleven years and he was hoping I’d get something with a major label. Well, I would’ve loved it, too, if I could’ve done exactly what I wanted…Bruce and I worked it out to where we’ll just do it record by record as long as we were both happy. [Winter would go on to record one more album for Alligator, in 1986, before moving to major label MCA.]


Iorio: On [“Serious Business”], you’ve got something new here, that finger vibrato playing. Maybe it’s not new –

Winter: It’s not really new. Eric Clapton...started doing all that finger vibrato stuff. Before Eric, I used the vibrato a lot more. And then when Eric got into the finger vibrato, there was a period where you had to do that to be cool.

Iorio: Who would you like to collaborate with if you could collaborate with anyone?

Winter: There aren’t too many people that I wanted to work with that I haven’t gotten a chance to. It might be fun to make a record with B.B. [King]. I’ve done a lot of gigs with B.B. King, we played together a lot in the past, but we’ve never recorded together. And Eric [Clapton], I’ve never recorded with. I’d like to do something with Eric, that would be fun. [Winter’s next album, “Step Back,” to be released posthumously in September 2014, features Eric Clapton.]

Iorio: How about getting a [blues supergroup] together with Aynsley Dunbar on drums and Clapton and –

Winter: It might be fun to do for an album. I’m really happy with the players I’ve got in my band now. I don’t think I’d want a supergroup to be on the road with. In fact, I remember reading an interview with Eric [Clapton] and he said the same thing about working with Cream. He said that when he was working with Cream that he never felt he was relaxed, that everybody was trying to outplay everyone else. He never felt like it was just he could get up there and really just play your best, it was always kind of a nervous experience. And I think it probably would be, working with a group of stars all the time. It’s kind of nicer to find people that you can be comfortable playing with. It never seems to work with a whole group full of stars; everybody wants to be a leader, too. And I like being the leader. I wouldn’t want to work with a group where [they aren't] following me….I definitely like to be calling the shots.

Iorio: Has Alligator given you more artistic freedom than you’ve ever gotten before?

Winter: No, CBS gave me more. At CBS, I had total artistic freedom. At Alligator, I have total freedom, except there were three of us producing the record [“Serious Business”]. Most of the time, we pretty much agree. But there’re some little things we disagree about. And there’s three of us, so it’s not like you can’t just have a fight with one guy [with whom] you disagree. So, the answer is, no, I don’t have more freedom now. But it’s never gotten bad enough to where I wanted to walk out.


Iorio: [Your early career] must have been a whirlwind.

Winter: When I was starting out, I made my first record when I was 15, and recorded all over and played all over the south before I actually did make it when I was almost 25. That was ten years of traveling around and making records for little tiny labels and a couple major labels. It was something I’d been trying for for ten years before it finally happened. It was great. For the first couple years, it was unbelievable. It was what I’d been trying for. Everything kind of led up to it.

Iorio: How about those early years, before you ever got the Columbia contract?

Winter: We played everything. Every kind of music you get paid for playing. And some stuff that we couldn’t get paid for! [laughs] We did country music. We did a little bit of jazz. Edgar [Winter] was the jazz musician, he could handle any of that that we got called on to do. I always liked the rhythm and blues and straight blues. But usually straight blues, we’d throw that in in nightclubs, but we really couldn’t get away with doing a whole blues set. Until 1963, ’64, the blues was definitely segregated from the rest of the music. White people didn’t know what it was, didn’t care about it. We’d throw a little bit of it in there, but you couldn’t get away with doing a whole set of blues. They just didn’t really know what it was.

Iorio: You were probably listening to –

Winter: I was listening to every blues record I could find. They had a lot of it on the radio. There were real good stations all over the south, 50,000-watt stations. There were record stores that would advertise on these stations. You could buy records from the mail that you could never have found in towns in the south. And literally everything I could find – I spent my lunch money on and bought all these Chicago records, Muddy Waters, Little Walter. There was a couple [blues radio stations] in Tennessee – Nashville, There was one in Shreveport, KDKH. There was one station in Beaumont, KJET, that played nothing but blues. And Clarence Darlow, who wrote a couple of songs on [“Serious Business"], was a DJ on KJET in the afternoon and sang and played guitar at night. And he was one of the first people that I started going out to listen to when I was 15 or 16.


Iorio: Has some big label come up to you and said, “Johnny, why don’t you try a [hard rock] thing like you did before?”…How would you feel if somebody did?

Winter: I don’t have anything at all against rock ‘n’ roll. I love rock ‘n’ roll….Blues is what I love to do the most, but just ‘cause you love fried chicken, it might be your favorite food, but it doesn’t have to be the only thing you eat. I’d like to do a country album. As long as I can keep doing blues, I’d like to do everything else, too.

If I’m not doing any blues, it really does make me feel bad – like I’m not eating or something! I just have to do some to feel good!


Iorio: How do you see yourself in the music world?

Winter: I hope I’m doing the same stuff when I’m 70 or 80. I’d like to be the old white father of the blues when I’m 80 or so!



The Original Family Stone Reunites,
Without Sly and Larry

New Details Revealed About Sly Stone

By Paul Iorio

Sly Stone's disappearance from the

music business is one of the more mysterious

chapters in recent pop history. After making

a string of hit singles and albums as leader

of American funk-popsters Sly and the Family

Stone from 1967 to 1973, he fell dramatically

off the charts and into an abyss of drugs,

jail, rehab and musical inactivity. He hasn't

recorded an album since 1982 and hasn’t been

in touch with some close friends and colleagues

in many years.

But Sly's reclusion hasn't stopped his

former bandmates from making music together

again. The original Family Stone, the band

that backed Sly from 1967 to 1971, has reunited

in the recording studio for the first time

since 1971. The line-up includes all the

original members that recorded such pop

classics as "Everyday People" and "Stand,"

minus bassist Larry Graham and, of course,

Sly Stone.

The sessions mark the first time in

thirty-two years that five of the original

members of the group have recorded


So far, the Stone sessions have spawned

around 16 original songs, in various states

of completion, with titles like "I've Got News

For You" and "Sooner or Later." The tracks are

being written and sung mostly by Sly's brother

Freddie Stone (born Fred Stewart) and sister Rosie

Stone (born Rose Stewart, aka Rose Banks), and

the album is being produced by Freddie Stone

and drummer Greg Errico. The band does not yet

have a recording contract.

"When I play a track for somebody,

within 20 seconds they have a big smile on

their face," says Errico. "It sounds

like it's the next [Family Stone] record."

"This is a whole new thing again," says

trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, alluding to the

title of Sly and the Family Stone's

1967 debut album.

The reunion began around a year and a

half ago when the Family Stone gathered in

New York to accept an R&B Foundation award.

“Everybody was there but Sly,” says Errico.

“We [wondered], are we going to...put the group

back together? Everybody decided to do it.

We waited for Larry about three or four

months. After saying, ‘Yeah, he

wanted to do it,’ he never responded.”

Of course, the unspoken, and

unlikely, hope is Sly will come out of

retirement and decide to join the Family

again. Expectations for that are low.

"I'll put it like this," says Errico.

"The [car] is on and running and idling,

and the seat's warm, and whenever he

wants to come sit in it, he's more than

welcome. But he's been a recluse for the

last 20 years or so."

Why is Sly, now 59, such a hermit

these days? "I don't understand it,” says

Errico. “...Your guess is as good as


The reunited line-up includes Robinson,

57, a sort of Ringo Starr of pop trumpeters

in that she plays with endearing

simplicity. Errico, 56, is a somewhat flashy

drummer, responsible for some of pop’s most

indelible beats. Freddie Stone, 56, is the main

guitarist and occasional singer. Rosie

Stone, 56, is the band’s female vocalist,

heard on such tracks as “Everyday People”

and “Everybody Is a Star.” And Jerry

Martini, 59, a high school pal of Sly’s,

is the saxophonist.

Bassist Larry Graham, 56, whose baritone

vocals and percussive bass playing were an

important part of the group, is replaced by

Rusty Allen, who played on Sly and the Family

Stone’s 1973 album “Fresh” after replacing

Graham the first time around. (Graham, also

the founder of Graham Central Station, has

been collaborating with Prince for many years.)

Whether or not Sly ever re-emerges again,

his band’s place in the pop pantheon is

permanent and central (the band

was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall

of Fame in 1993, but didn’t perform at

the induction ceremony). The group, after all,

helped to invent modern funk by mixing soul

and rock -- and politics and partying

in equal measure. The band also smashed

cultural stereotypes; it had a black rock

guitarist, a white funk drummer, and

songs that have always aired across

radio’s racial divide.

Most of the Stone are blood

relatives from or near Vallejo, a small

town between the San Francisco Bay Area

and California wine country. That’s where

Sly (born Sylvester Stewart), Freddie, and

Rosie grew up; Graham, their cousin, was

raised 25 miles to the south in Oakland,

California. Robinson, who had a child with

Sly, is from Sacramento, California, where

she played trumpet in her high school band;

she met Sly after “he got kicked out of all

the schools in Vallejo” and was brought

to Sacramento to attend school, she says.

The original band is captured in its

prime in the “Woodstock” concert film,

which provides a ten-minute glimpse of the

band's most famous concert, its 3am set

at the 1969 Woodstock festival.

Errico says the band's label, Sony, is

considering releasing a Sly and the Family

Stone live album of a 1968 show at the Fillmore

East. “[The concert] really captured what

the magic and the essence of the group was

about,” Errico says, adding that the set

list is identical to the first part of the

recently released double-CD set “The

Essential Sly and the Family Stone.”

Most agree the group’s best works are

its 1970 "Greatest Hits" collection,

which included non-album singles, and the

1969 album "Stand," almost all of which

is included on "Greatest Hits.”

On those albums and elsewhere, one

can hear Sly’s penchant for musical clarity,

says Robinson, recalling the

session that produced the single

“Thank You (Falenttinme Be

Mice Elf Agin).”

"He made sure stuff wasn't cluttered,

that good lines weren't covered up by

other good lines," says Robinson.

Robinson says the band's old songs

always originated with Sly, who would write

the material before coming into the studio.

"He and Freddie used to work together...

at home, creating the songs," says

Robinson. “Then he would give everyone

their parts by playing the riff on his

keyboards.” At the 1970 session for

"Everybody Is a Star," for example, Sly

played the opening melody on his organ

in order to show

Robinson what to play.

Did Sly ever score parts for the band? "No,

no, no, no," says Robinson. "[Sly] never went that

slow. He's very aware that if you learn to read

it, then it's very hard to memorize it."

Often, the drums were recorded last.

"I'd...come in and do the drum parts again

when the songs were finished," says

Errico. "...The drums would be the last thing


Moments like the famous drum rolls that open

both "Stand!" and "M’Lady" were also Sly's idea.

"Sometimes Sly would say, 'Hey, play a lick for

the opening or do a roll,’" says Errico. "Or

sometimes I'd say, 'Put this there.'"

For now, the Family Stone plans no live shows

until after the new album is finished, though

several members -- Errico, Martini, Robinson

and Rosie Stone -- are performing with

others in the San Francisco Bay Area in a funk

jam band called the Funk Family Circus

(formerly the Stone Family Circus). The

Circus recently played a Marin County,

California, nightclub, reportedly

performing such Sly Stone

hits as “Thank You,” “Everyday People,”

and “I Want to Take You Higher.”

“If you think about it,” says Errico,

“that’s a hard legacy to live up to, what

we’ve done in the past.”

[Published and syndicated by Reuters, July 2003;
this is the original manuscript I submitted to Reuters.]



The Jack Nicholson Quiz
(You Know What He Means?)

By Paul Iorio

Jack Nicholson started his career as

a sort of streetwise older brother to baby

boomers. While everyone else was innocently

preaching love in the 1960s, Mr. Nicholson

was teaching us the pleasures of experience,

punctuating his revelations with a trademark

phrase; "You know what I mean?"

"You know what I mean?" spices even the

blandest lines, adding a knowin resonance,

a leering innuendo. Mr. Nicholson could

probably create a provocative

double-entendre by attaching the

phrase to almost anything, even "Jingle Bells"

("Jingle all the way, you know

what I mean?").

How well do you know what Mr. Nicholson

means? Match the line to the


1. "She crossed her
legs a little too
quick, you
understand what
I mean?"

2. "I'll be seeing
you on the outside,
you know
what I mean?"

3. "It only gives
us a week to do it,
you know what
I mean?"

4. "I'd get a new
something flashy,
you know what I

5. "Twenty-five
dollars is not
too bad; no razor
blades, you know
what I mean?


A. Easy Rider
B. The Postman Always Rings Twice
C. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
D. The Last Detail
E. Chinatown

ANSWERS: 1-E; 2-C; 3-D; 4-B; 5-A

[From The New York Times, June 12, 1994.]


Yet Another Jack Nicholson Quiz
(A Few Good Tantrums)

By Paul Iorio

Nobody in the movies throws

an onscreen temper tantrum quite

like Jack Nicholson. From his

1969 breakthrough "Easy Rider"

to the present day, Nicholson

has been a role model for those

who aspire to lose their temper

with some style.

Below are three lists: memorable

tantrum scenes, the memorable lines

that followed and the films they

appeared in. Simply match the scene

with the line and with the film.


A. A waitress refuses to serve Nicholson a side order of toast. He argues
with her and says one of the lines below before throwing plates and
silverware to the floor.

B. After being punched by a police detective, Nicholson pulls a gun and
growls one of the lines below.

C. He chops through a locked door with an ax and announces himself with
this line.

D. Construction workers have neglected to build a door linking Nicholson's
house to the kitchen. He yells this line.

E. When Nicholson tries to leave a craps game with his winnings (over the
objections of other players), he has an outburst that ends like this.

F. A bartender won't serve Nicholson's companion a beer. Nicholson has
words with the bartender and roars this line.

G. He argues with his wife about overspending and shouts this.

H. While kissing his date in the water at the beach, he gets his hand caught
in her outfit. She wrests his hand loose and scolds him, and he responds
with this.

I. He is insulted by a customer in a barbershop and this is his retort.

J. The nurse won't permit Nicholson and his fellow patients to watch the
World Series, and he shouts this.

* *


a. "Heeere's Johnny!"
b. "Who is this bimbo, Barney?"
c. "I'm not drunk anymore; the pain sobered me up."
d. "Aw, c'mon, you're not going to say that now."
e. "I can't afford a fucking dream house."
f. "Good meeting with you."
g. "Now how the fuck did this happen?"
h. "Maybe you need a change."
i. "I am the...shore patrol."
j. "You see this sign?"

* *


1. "The Two Jakes"
2. "Heartburn"
3. "The Postman Always Rings Twice"
4. "The Last Detail"
5. "Chinatown"
6. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
7. "Five Easy Pieces"
8. "The Shining"
9. "The Border"
10. "Terms of Endearment"

ANSWERS: A,j,7; B,h,1; C,a,8; D,g,2; E,f,3; F,i,4; G,e,9; H,e,10; I,b.5;

[From New York Newsday, January 3, 1993]


Mimi Leder Takes Charge (and a Wonderful Call)

By Paul Iorio

Mimi Leder remembers the day she

received a call from Steven Spielberg

asking her to direct a feature film.

"I've got a big action movie that

spans four countries and four different

languages and I want you to direct,"

Spielberg told her in the call, according

to Leder.

"Well, what makes you think I can

direct action?," asked Leder, who

had never helmed a feature before and

whose main prior experience had

been directing television's "E.R."

"You do it everyday on 'E.R.,'"

said Spielberg, according to Leder.

"I do drama," said Leder.

"No," said Spielberg. "You

turn your drama into action by

the way you move your camera."

Given that Spielberg usually

gets what he wants, Leder soon became

the film's director. The result was

"The Peacemaker," starring George

Clooney and Nicole Kidman, the first

release from DreamWorks Pictures.

Obviously, Spielberg was quite

impressed with Leder's Emmy-

award winning work on "E.R." After

all, she is responsible for what many

critics consider a bona fide

television classic: episode number

eighteen of "E.R.," also known as

"Love's Labor Lost," in which a

pregnant woman arrives at the hospital

with a minor infection and leaves

in a body bag. Producer Norman Lear

is said to have called the episode

"the best hour of television ever

made." TV Guide says

it's "almost too painful to watch."

"'Love's Labor Lost' is why Mimi

got this job," said Clooney at a press

conference following my one-on-one

interview with Leder. "Steven saw that

episode and thought she directed an

action film in an hour episode inside

a hospital room. And he thinks she

could handle any kind of action after


Still, Clooney, not Leder, was

the first major player Spielberg

contacted when he started to put

together "The Peacemaker."

"I got a letter from Steven

Spielberg attached to the script, and

he said, 'It's our first movie for

Dreamworks: are you interested?,'" recalls

Clooney. "So that piques your interest

right off the bat."

Around a month after the letter, Clooney

got another call from Spielberg. "We're

thinking of going with Mimi. Do you like that?,"

Spielberg asked, according to Clooney.

"I was shocked," says Clooney of

the selection of Leder. "I thought

they were gonna get an old pro...For

them to get a first-time director was

really ballsy."

The pairing of "E.R." colleagues

Leder and Clooney seemed smart, at least

on paper, to many; their chemistry

together had produced quality television,

after all. Yet the two couldn't be

further apart in terms of personality.

Clooney is generally genial, humorous,

mischievous, loquacious. Leder is

laconic, steely, restrained, a very

cool head. In this interview, one

could actually see her grow cooler as

tension increased.

In a recent issue of Vanity Fair,

Clooney even calls Leder "passive-

aggressive." Leder takes vigorous

exception to the characterization. "I'm

completely not passive-aggressive at all,"

she says, becoming passive and a

bit, well, quietly aggressive.

"She's somebody who can really bust

my chops a little bit and that's a

good thing," says Clooney of Leder.

"We have fun. I'll say, 'I'd really

like to do this [onscreen].' And

she'll say, 'You could do that;

a television actor would do that.'

At one point, when I killed a guy

[in the film], I said, 'I've

got to shoot him.' And she

wanted the guy to live...And I said,

'I guess [that would be right] for

a chick director.'"

Leder found that filming in the

war-torn Balkans was not nearly as

difficult as shooting in New York,

where she had to shut down parts of mid-

town Manhattan for a time. "Working

in New York was harder than

shooting anywhere else because New

Yorkers yell at you," says Leder, who

was born in New York and raised in

Los Angeles. "They were screaming at

us, 'Get off our streets, go back to

the back lot."

But that seems mild in contrast

to what Leder & Co. recently did to

Manassas, Virginia during location

filming for her next project, "Deep

Impact." At one point, Leder staged

a sprawling and chaotic traffic jam near

Manassas in order to create a mass

evacuation sequence for the film.

When she's done with the new

movie, Leder is returning to full-time

family life for awhile, raising her

ten-year-old daughter in the San Fernando

Valley. How does she manage the double

life of child-rearing and movie-

making? "'The Double Life': that's

the name of your article," she jokes.

"It's very hard to manage."

Leder, the daughter of the late

independent film maker Paul Leder, is

passing on the family tradition by

having her child appear in "The

Peacemaker." What does her daughter

think about having a film director

for a mom? "She said, 'Mom, you

really should stay in features,'" she

says. "'It's really, really cool.'"

[From the San Francisco Chronicle, September 29, 1997.]



AUGUST 1, 1999

The only Shyamalan interview about "The Sixth Sense" before the release of "The Sixth Sense" (apparently nobody else thought the movie would be a hit!).


[Unpublished until now; a small part of this was included in my article for The San Francisco Chronicle in August 1999.]



Fela In an Unpublished Interview After His Release From Prison.

The release of Alex Gibney's new documentary on the late Nigerian pop star Fela Kuti spurred me to sift through my own personal journalistic archives to find an audiotaped interview I conducted with Fela in 1986.

And here it is -- a transcript (and audio clip) of my mostly unpublished interview with Fela, perhaps the first one-on-one he granted after being released from prison in '86.

On June 17, 1986, seven weeks after his release from Nigeria's toughest prison, Fela spoke exclusively with me. And, bravely, he remained defiant against the military regime in Nigeria that had imprisoned him.

As is the case with many interviews that I conducted as a writer for music trade weekly Cash Box, the Q&A remained unpublished (except for a few lines published in the June 21, 1986, issue of that magazine).

Kuti is probably best-known today as the inventor of Afropop, a massively influential musical form that mixed jazz, rock, funk and revolutionary politics.

Fela was also famous for having fought against oppression in Nigeria; in the early Eighties, he was imprisoned by his country’s autocratic regime for three years for what appears to have been politically motivated charges.

After he was released from prison in April 1986, he visited New York City, appearing at a Manhattan press conference on June 13, 1986 -- my interview was not a part of that conference -- before performing on June 15th for Amnesty International at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.

Here's an edited version of the conversation I had with Fela on June 17, 1986. (And here's a link to audio clips of my conversation with him: AUDIO CLIPS OF IORIO INTERVIEWING FELA. )

Paul Iorio: It must be a big change for you to be out of prison now.

Fela Kuti: Yeah, it's a big change for me. It's a good change.

Iorio: Did you write a lot of songs in prison?

Fela: No. I just kept my brain blank. I left my mind blank in prison.

Iorio: You were transferred to Kirikiri. Was that, as they say, Nigeria's toughest prison? And was it tough on you?

Fela: [Kirikiri] is one of the toughest prisons but it was not tough on me. I lived through it. It was tough on the body. I lived through it...

Iorio: Do you think your spirit is stronger because of this experience?

Fela: Much more stronger.

Iorio: There was a period when you were in the hospital and they transferred you over to Maiduguri prison. At that point, nobody heard anything from you for about six weeks. What happened to you?

Fela: They just took me to the prison...And it was very, very uncomfortable, very far away from everybody. And visitors weren't allowed for me for about five months.

Iorio: Were you afraid for your life?

Fela: No, no, no. I was never afraid for my life....We just try to face the government...

Iorio: Are you still going to speak out against the Nigerian government?...You're not going to back down?

Fela: No, I'm not going to back down. I still intend to [protest the government]. I'm not
backing down...

Iorio: Would you ever consider getting involved in Nigerian politics...?

Fela: Yes, definitely.

Iorio: You mentioned that some of the military people have your records and like your music.

Fela: Oh, yes. Everybody in Nigeria likes my records.

Iorio: Do you think Amnesty International had a lot to do with getting you out of prison?

Fela: Not much. They tried to make people aware of it. But there's not much they could do...

Iorio: While you were in prison, what was the worst thing that happened to you?

Fela: The worst thing that happened to me [while I was in prison] was that my record was produced by somebody else -- Bill Laswell. And that really fucked me up in prison.

Iorio: That was "Live in Amsterdam"?

Fela: No, no, "Army Arrangement"....Destroyed me completely. Fucked my mind up...When you're in prison, you can’t do anything about what’s happening outside.

Iorio: But at the same time, people were being carted out dead everyday, there were beatings.

Fela: Oh, yes.

Iorio: But it never happened to you?

Fela: No.

Iorio: Was that because everybody knew who you were?

Fela: Yes, exactly.

Iorio: You were more than disappointed with "Army Arrangement."

FELA: Yes, Bill Laswell’s production. I had a production [before I went] to prison. So they abandoned my production and put in a new one....They knew that [I’d given] instructions
that it not be produced by anyone. They knew how I felt about it. [I was unable to contact Laswell for comment on this. Laswell is, of course, welcome to give his side of the story in the comments section here.]

Iorio: How about "Live in Amsterdam"? Do you harbor any bad feeling that EMI released that instead of releasing "Perambulator"?

Fela: EMI did so many bad things. They didn’t look out for my interest at all...They just wanted to rush something out....”Live in Amsterdam” wasn’t a good recording. I only [made] it happen because the system wanted it, because the company complained...and demanded a live album.
[Any executive from that era of EMI is free to rebut Fela's statements in the comments section.]

Iorio: Is there a Fela record that you consider is your best?

Fela: No, I don’t.

Iorio: Do you think that you could live a better life as a musician if you were to leave Nigeria?

Fela: I could never leave my home....It inspires me a lot.




Little-Known Popes in Papal History

By Paul Iorio

Mad Pope Napoleon the 13th's brief reign was marked by grandiose plans and an obsession with Napoleon Bonaparte. He was deposed when he tried to turn the Vatican into a nuclear power. (1952)

An anti-pope who advocated praying to the Devil and to God in order to cover all bases. (431 A.D.) [For the record, the term anti-pope refers to those who establish a power base that competes with The Holy See.]

For all the arrogance of his name, Jesus God 2 actually turned out to be somewhat humble and unassuming, noted mostly for his punctuality. Was convinced the Old Testament had been penned by a guy named Smith. (1564)

With the Ottomans threatening Western Europe, the Vatican decided to throw Constantinople a bone by elevating a former imam to the top spot. Muhammad the First, a lapsed Muslim who fled Turkey and converted to Catholicism, fell from favor after he proposed building minarets atop St. Peter’s Basilica. (1627)

A hippie anti-pope known for his casual manner and affinity for pop culture, he dispensed with Latin rites in favor of "happenings." (Sept. 1974 to Sept. 1974)

As his expansive title suggests, Saskatoon might have been a bit more preoccupied with claiming long-denied status from the folks back home than with his duties as pope. (1910)

Took transubstantiation far more literally than most; after a car accident, he insisted Vatican doctors give him a blood transfusion using Chianti Classico instead of blood, a fatal decision. Advocated medical care for the dead, who he called the "as yet unrisen." (1960)

An American greaser of the 1950s -- and self-styled "Method Pope” -- who rode a Harley to work. (1956)

The first hip hop anti-pope. Expanded the use of "signs of the Cross" to include gang hand signs. (1998)

Not officially a pope or a rabbi, and operating for a time from a psychiatric facility in Antwerp, where he occasionally broadcast a syndicated faith program called “This Week in Eternal Damnation," he actually convinced several dozen people, mostly Belgians, that he was the first Jewish pope. (1988)

[Published here for the first time, 2007.]



March 29, 1989

We Must Send These Fundamentalists a Clear and Sharp Message

By Paul Iorio

The rock world has finally started weighing

in with its belated condemnations of the

Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence

on novelist Salman Rushdie. Unfortunately,

certain factions have chosen to use

oppressive tactics to fight the Ayatollah.

Nowhere has that been more evident than in

the organization by several U.S. radio stations

of boycotts and burnings of records by Cat

Stevens, due to the singer's backing of

Khomeini's death threat.

Without a doubt, Stevens's support of

Muslim terrorism is completely damnable,

though record burnings are not the proper

way to vent one's outrage. Indeed,

suppressing Stevens's work on the basis

of his political or religious beliefs is doing

the Ayatollah's job. We should be able

to hear Stevens' music just as we should

be allowed to read Rushdie's books.

When we respond with such a boycott,

by fighting fascism with fascism, we defeat

ourselves. We should combat Khomeini

by making sure that Rushdie's "The Satanic

Verses" is sold and displayed by major

book chains.

And Viking Press should heed

NBC-News's John Chancellor's suggestion

to call the Ayatollah's bluff by bringing Rushdie

over to the U.S. for a publicity tour.

We must send these fundamentalists a

clear and sharp message: no political

or religious leader, not even in our own

country, will intimidate or terrorize us into

limiting freedom of expression.

One can condemn Stevens's approval of

the Rushdie death contract without boycotting

his music, just as one can deplore poet Ezra

Pound's Nazism without condemning his

brilliant Cantos.

Certainly there are grounds for not airing

Stevens's songs, but those grounds are

aesthetic, not political; his wimpy folk lacks

any semblance of edge or energy, enduring

guilty pleasures like "Peace Train" and

"Moonshadow" notwithstanding.

We've had enough censorship from

religious fundamentalists -- from Falwell

to Khomeini -- and should put religious

extremists of all faiths on notice: they have

absolutely no business imposing their

private beliefs on a secular society. Period.

How does one deal with bomb threats and other

violent acts by those who wish to stifle free

speech? Norman Mailer, speaking at a recent

PEN reading of "Satanic Verses" in Manhattan

that I attended (and that was delayed by a

bomb threat), gave advice on how to handle

telephone bomb threats, which, he noted,

only cost a quarter to make. Quoting Jean

Genet, Mailer said to tell such callers:

"Blow out your farts."

[published in the East Coast Rocker newspaper, March 29, 1989.]

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