October 10th, 2011

Here’s Donald Duck as a Nazi, culled from WW2-era propaganda. Click on this link to see a ladies’ hockey team decked out in swastikas, when the symbol stood for Native American Sanskrit healing. Now that I’ve properly insulated myself with some humor, let’s talk Nazis. I can’t speak for all Jews, and certainly, as someone whose family was scarcely affected by the Holocaust, I’m in a privileged, if attenuated, position when it comes to El Reich. This stuff is only ever so real to me.

That said, Nazi imagery and iconography was an integral part of Jewish collective memory well before Schindler’s List, and Bill Clinton’s “Year of the Holocaust” pronouncement. I don’t care if you think collective memory is a crock. Jews make use of it the best we can, even when, as I said, some people don’t need to resort to linguistic mumbo-jumbo to find their place in it. Part of that is growing up with Nazis on the brain. As mass-slaughter, the Holocaust is unfathomable. But it wasn’t just that. Somehow, one of the worst human undertakings of the modern era was attached to an ideology, and extended fan club, that was chock full of silliness and outright aestheticism. The significance of Germany, or the Germanic ideal, was buried long ago; what remains, as both a magnet for present-day racists in search of a look, and an object of fascination for those who can’t help but confront them as historical fact. Arch-fiends, through their actions, suggest a kind of purity. Beyond that, we also all know about their banality. Yet the irony that continues to serve as the hook, and the lure, is that Nazis also set high watermarks for kookiness, eschatological blather, camp, and fright-as-art.

None of these are good things, but with the shoah internalized and absorbed, they do start to peal away and take on lives of their own. I have had Holocaust flight dreams as far back as I can remember (thanks, EC!). Nazis, on the other hand, are a curiosity, albeit one that must be handled carefully—a boundless source of material that, if anything, is the unapologetic plunder of every Jew. The least we could have is a good laugh, or hard look at, the organization that tried to wipe us off the face of the Earth.

So yes, I was a little surprised to find this passage in Chuck Klosterman’s eulogy for Al Davis:

What is one to make of a Jewish person who is fascinated by Adolf Hitler? How do we comprehend a man who goes out of his way to study the most hated thing he can imagine? In 99.9 percent of all possible scenarios, such paradoxical absorption would be dark and meaningful. It would be twisted and bizarre, and it would be perceived as the ultimate manifestation of self-loathing. Unless, of course, the Jewish person is question was Al Davis. Then it makes perfect sense. Of course Al Davis was interested in the Nazis. Of course he was. Somehow, it would have been more surprising if he hadn’t been. 

I am sorry if anyone, in any office, takes this as a hit piece. It’s just unfathomable to me that a Jew, especially one fascinated by power and image, would not fixate on the Nazis. While I’m sure it galls white supremacists, that history, the legacy, is ours now. It’s why The Producers or the season finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm exist. And though comparing folks to Hitler is like bringing a corpse to a knife-fight, the Nazis as a whole left behind plenty of material to work with. You just have to be Jewish for it to not come off as a hate crime.

July 28th, 2011
Wrote about Otis, “Otis”, and “Try A Little Tenderness” for the Awl.Redding recorded “Try A Little Tenderness” because Sam Cooke had. Everything Cooke touched had a golden quality; he made other singers see potential everywhere, even in material that Cooke himself hadn’t exactly pushed to the limit (If restraint was Cooke’s most potent weapon as an interpreter, it was also code for all that he stood for as a stylist). In the studio, Otis amplified Sam Cooke’s “Tenderness,” turning it from a handy little number into a vehicle for, well, soul (he nearly did the same with “Tennessee Waltz”) and splitting its plaintive core wide open. The more tenderness Redding tries, or suggests trying, the more he found it already waiting there; along with strength, passion and the clarity that the daily grind and macho posturing can block from view. In Redding’s hands, “Try A Little Tenderness” became a celebration, not only of romance, but of honesty and self-discovery. Redding, who isn’t even talking about his woman but gets just as caught up as if he were, makes the song about discovery, not problem-solving. For the narrator, “Tenderness” is an occasion to tear the house of self down.Read the whole thing here.

Wrote about Otis, “Otis”, and “Try A Little Tenderness” for the Awl.

Redding recorded “Try A Little Tenderness” because Sam Cooke had. Everything Cooke touched had a golden quality; he made other singers see potential everywhere, even in material that Cooke himself hadn’t exactly pushed to the limit (If restraint was Cooke’s most potent weapon as an interpreter, it was also code for all that he stood for as a stylist). In the studio, Otis amplified Sam Cooke’s “Tenderness,” turning it from a handy little number into a vehicle for, well, soul (he nearly did the same with “Tennessee Waltz”) and splitting its plaintive core wide open. The more tenderness Redding tries, or suggests trying, the more he found it already waiting there; along with strength, passion and the clarity that the daily grind and macho posturing can block from view. In Redding’s hands, “Try A Little Tenderness” became a celebration, not only of romance, but of honesty and self-discovery. Redding, who isn’t even talking about his woman but gets just as caught up as if he were, makes the song about discovery, not problem-solving. For the narrator, “Tenderness” is an occasion to tear the house of self down.

Read the whole thing here.

June 13th, 2011

At GQ.com: Congratulations, Mavericks. What does it all mean?

With last night’s win, the Mavs become the sixteenth NBA franchise, accounting for relocation, to win a title. It’s a select club, to be sure, but the Mavs aren’t the Lakers or Celtics, or Pistons, or the Rockets, or even the Hawks, who made the Finals four times between 1957 and 1961, and took it all in 1958. They are one of the seven teams with only one championship to their name. Franchises that have never hoisted the banner can still be perfectly respectable, and some fairly miserable teams have one seemingly random title to their name. The real question to ask, then, is what kind of championship was this, anyway?

This transmission marks the end of my GQ playoffs blog. It’s been real.

June 9th, 2011

This one goes out to Eric Freeman’s dad, Ken. Paul Arizin was his favorite player as a kid, and he just got a new computer. Thought not an IBM, I hear.

May 26th, 2011

I’m sure Noz has said this before, but Ellay Khule might have done just fine as a Southern rapper from a non-artsy scene. Oh well. My 1997 self is all over this mini-doc. Note the ski-mask from this LA rapper at 3:53. Just saying.

May 17th, 2011

Undisputed Guide Reviewed in Harper’s

In this month’s Harper’s, Charles Bock (Beautiful Children) takes on FreeDarko’s Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, George Dohrmann’s Play Their Hearts Out, and the entire landscape of sports journalism. We’re accused of “revisionism and hagiography”, and “tripping over our own ambitions”, but Bock suspects we may be fully aware of this. I can’t disagree on any counts—FreeDarko is one big inside joke that sought to make the world a better place, an absurd premise undertaken with the utmost seriousness. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either self-defeating or liberating. Anyway, Bock also has plenty of good stuff to say, and the essay is about way more than little ol’ us. Mostly, though, I’m just stoked beyond belief that we got written up in Harper’s. Top of the world!