PART 2: “THE HOLY MOUNTAIN”
Jodorowsky’s acid fueled follow up to his cult smash “El Topo“…
“What I am trying to do when I use symbols is to awaken in your unconscious some reaction. I am very conscious of what I am using because symbols can be very dangerous. When we use normal language we can defend ourselves because our society is a linguistic society, a semantic society. But when you start to speak, not with words, but only with images, the people cannot defend themselves.”
“THE HOLY MOUNTAIN” 1973 directed by Alexandro Jodorowsky
renegade author of Burroughs’ favorite red book “You Can’t Win”…
“Jack Black calls his book You Can’t Win. Well, who can? Winner take nothing.” — W.S. Burroughs, 1988
This autobiography of the outlaw and convict Jack Black, which Burroughs recalls from memory as “the Good Red Book,” is a documentary of life lived against the grain. It came as a shock and a revelation when it was originally published in 1926 during the Roaring 20s — his tales of poverty and deprivation as a youth, and then as a young man, ran counter to the prevailing image of America as a land of wealth and excess. Originally published in serial form in The San Francisco Call, the book became a best-seller, going through five printings and gaining the attention of social reformers like Lincoln Steffens. Its success propelled Black into a brief literary career that included a play based on his experiences and then a film contract at MGM writing screenplays for $150 a week.
The picture of Black as a literary figure and upright citizen is too simple, though. Those who found the Folsom Prison ex-con extremely well-read probably didn’t know he had used his prison years to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica three separate times learning “to play Society’s game.” Or that he got his 25-year sentence by shooting a man in a botched hold-up in Golden Gate Park in what one biographer calls “a one-man San Francisco reign of terror.” His prison years were spent developing a network for survival, a patchwork of favors done for favors received, that extended years after his release. This underworld had its cast of prison”yeggs” and, just as important, people whom Black calls “the Johnsons” –those who are as good as their word, and keep their promises.
“Some of my debts had to be paid in kind, and no one could help me. I owe my life to a thief who risked his life to get me out of jail. He smuggled me saws to open my cell, then came in the night to cut the bars out of the window and lifted me through the hole when I was so weak from tuberculosis I could barely walk. … Years afterward, when I had cured myself of the dope habit and served my sentence, won immunity from the law, and was just beginning to feel a little secure in my respectability, my telephone rang in the small hours of the night. A woman’s voice asked if I was ‘Mr. Black,’ and said ‘I have a message from Eddie … of course, you know I can’t give it over the phone. Hurry.’ I didn’t know what had happened but I knew another debt was due.”
Once he got out of prison Black seems determined never to go back, and this is where You Can’t Win develops its themes of reform and resurrection. Though he found a respectable life full of “too much hypocrisy” and said he never cared for it, for a short time Black became a police reporter and then circulation manager of The San Francisco Bulletin. He was befriended by members of the Progressive movement who urged him to write about his hardscrabble life and prison experiences in order to promote prison reform, and You Can’t Win — first serialized as Breaking the Shackles — was the result, a modern pilgrim’s progress full of crime and punishment — and redemption.
“I am sure but of one thing — I failed as a thief and I am luckier than most of them. I quit with my health and liberty. What price larceny, burglary and robbery? Half my thirty years in the underworld was spent in prison. Say I handled $50,000 in the fifteen years I spent outside; that’s about nine dollars a day… ‘what chance have you now?’ I would ask any young man, ‘with shotgun squads, strong-arm squads, and crime-crushers cruising the highways and byways; with the deadly fingerprinting, central identification bureau, and telephotoing of pictures; and soon every police station broadcasting ahead of you your description and record?’ Then consider the accidents and snitches — what chance have you? Figure it out yourself. I can’t.”
“I was fascinated,” Burroughs writes in his foreword to the 2000 reissue of You Can’t Win, “by this glimpse of an underworld of seedy rooming-houses, pool-parlors, cat-houses and opium dens, of bull pens and cat burglars and hobo jungles.” The book made such an impression on Burroughs that he used some of Black’s characters like Salt Chunk Mary, and even his language word for word. “When you can remember a passage of prose after fifty years it has to be good,” he writes. Here’s a passage from Burroughs’s late novel Place of Dead Roads:
“A two-story red-brick house down by the tracks in Junction City, Idaho. Salt Chunk Mary, mother of the Johnson Family … train whistles cross a distant sky. Mary keeps a pot of pork and beans and a blue porcelain coffee pot always on the stove. You eat first, then you talk business, rings and watches slopped out on the kitchen table. She names a price. She doesn’t name another. Mary could say “No” quicker than any woman Kim ever knew, and none of her no’s ever meant yes. She kept the money in a cookie jar, but nobody thought about that. Her cold gray eyes would have seen the thought and maybe something goes wrong on the next lay. John Law just happens by, or John Citizen comes up with a load of double-zero into your soft and tenders.”
The fame, and the money, was fleeting. Jack gave his talks on crime and prisons under the auspices of the League to Abolish Capital Punishment, which Clarence Darrow had started. Only his lecture fees were “keeping him out of the soup kitchens and breadlines,” he wrote. His pride, or something like it, would not let him seek the charity that was becoming part of the Depression of the 1930s. Speaking engagements became fewer, and the royalties from You Can’t Win dried up.
He had once told friends that if life got too grim he would tie weights to his feet, row into New York Harbor and drop overboard. This seems to be precisely what he did in 1932: Black vanished. His watch was found in a pawnshop pledged for eight dollars; it had been his prize possession, a gift from an ex-con he had helped. For his friends this became definite proof that he had been as good as his word to the end.
“You Can’t Win” by Jack Black 1926 Macmillan Press
“on this splendid track cyclists may now enjoy the very poetry of wheeling…”
During the 1880’s, 1890’s, and the first few years of the 20th century, the Bicycle Craze prompted many innovations that would soon be adapted for the automobile. One innovation was described in the following article about a bicycle freeway, built before the term “freeway” was coined.
The following article, as printed in the November 1901 issue of Good Roads Magazine, was originally published in from Pearson’s Magazine:
The South California towns, Los Angeles and Pasadena, are now connected by the strangest and most interesting of links-a magnificent, elevated cycle-way, with a smooth surface of wood, running for nine miles through beautiful country, flanked by green hills, and affording views at every point of the snow-clad Sierras.
On this splendid track cyclists may now enjoy the very poetry of wheeling. At Pasadena they may mount their cycles and sail down to Los Angeles without so much as touching the pedals, even though the gradient is extremely slight. The way lies for the most part along the east bank of the Arroyo Seco, giving a fine view of this wooded stream, and skirting the foot of the neighboring oak-covered hills.The surface is perfectly free from all dust and mud, and nervous cyclists find the track safer than the widest roads, for there are no horses to avoid, no trains or trolley-cars, no stray dogs or wandering children.
Southern California-with her delightful climate and beautiful country, verdant and radiant with wild flowers in the midst of winter-should be a cyclist’s paradise. There is only this drawback-a really good cycling road cannot be found in all the country! Where a good road is most needed it is least in evidence-between the towns that are now linked by the sky cycle-way.
A conservative estimate places the number of cyclists in the two towns, including visitors, at 30,000. As a sign of the enthusiasm that exists for wheeling, it is stated that no fewer than 5,000 inventors of cycles are numbered in the populations. On Sundays, enthusiastic cyclists often swarm over the apologies for roads between the towns. They bravely face the sand and the dust and the steep hills that they have to combat.
There is a difference of some 600 feet in the elevations of the larger city and of its suburb; but this does not deter the enthusiasts, although the twenty-mile ride from one town to the other and back is no mean feat of endurance. At present, not only is there no good cycling road, but there is little chance of one being constructed, owing to the number of railway tracks that would have to be crossed.
What a boon, therefore, is the new cycle-way to these beautiful California cities! It is thought that in five years time, industrial activity will be so quickened that the country will enjoy such prosperity as it has never known. Wheelmen increase and multiply every season. Motor cycles are fast coming in. The day is at hand when the motor-cyclist will be able to buy for a few cents enough compressed air to propel his machine for twenty miles at top speed. That in Pasadena, Queen of the Cities, and in Los Angeles, her metropolis, there will be 100,000 cyclists and 10,000 motor-cyclists in a few years, is a moderate computation. It is well that they will not have to trundle over the old, rutty adobe roads.
The inventor and promoter of the great cycle-way scheme is a wealthy Pasadena resident, Mr. Horace Dobbins, while the vice-president of the Cycle-way Company is an ex-Governor of the State, Mr. H.H. Markham. When the first bill for the cycle-way was brought before the Legislature it was vetoed-the scheme was thought chimerical. In 1897, however, the proposition was officially sanctioned, and although no one but its daring originator had any faith in it at first, gradually public support was gained. In spite of all difficulties and opposition, the cycle-way at length became a fact, and is now, perhaps, one of the most noteworthy institutions in Southern California.
The long track that winds like a great green snake through the hills between the two towns is built almost entirely of wood, and is strong enough to bear a service of trolley cars. Throughout the entire distance from the center of one city to the center of the other it has an uninterrupted right of way, passing over roads, streets, railway tracks, gullies and ravines. At its highest point, the elevation of the track is about fifty feet. The maximum grade in the nine-mile run is three percent., and that only for two thousand feet. Elsewhere the grade averages 11/4 percent.
At present, the cycle-way is wide enough to allow four cyclists to ride abreast, but its width may be doubled presently. As it is, cycles and motor-cycles alone are allowed on the road, but when the track is widened, motor cars may be permitted the privilege of running over its beautiful surface.
From the engineer’s point of view, the road is a triumph. No fewer than 1,250,000 feet of best Oregon pine were used in its construction. The wood is painted dark green. At night, the cycle-way looks like a gleaming serpent, for it is brightly lit with incandescent lights on both sides.
The cycle-track has pretty terminal stations and a Casino. The stations are little buildings of Moorish design, where cycles and motor cars may be hired and repaired and housed. The Casino sits on one of the loftiest hills in a beautiful tract of country that has been christened Merlemount Park, and which is now laid out as a peaceful retreat for the weary townsman. You look out from the crown of the hill over a superb view-the grand Sierra Madras overshadow the beautiful San Gabriel Valley; Mount San Jacinto and Mount San Bernardino, rising 9,000 feet and 11,000 feet, stand sentinel over the rich land of orange and olive; the blue pacific waters glisten to the south; and far out to sea your eye can discern the island of Santa Catalina.
According to internet sources, the Cycleway ran from the Hotel Green in Pasadena to the Plaza in Los Angeles. The toll was 10 cents for a one-way trip or 15 cents for a two-way ticket. The first mile and a quarter opened on January 1, 1890, but the commercial prospects for the Cycleway were doomed by the slowing of the Bicycle Craze and the coming of the automobile to the Los Angeles area.
all photos Pasadena Museum of History
the best zine on the planet releases the new book “Objects Also Die“…
“Observe its honesty, dignity, and moral courage; it’s drawn all the necessary conclusions from its own total loss of function. Objects also die my friend. And if they also must die, then that’s it, better to let them go. It shows far more style, above all. Don’t you agree?” So says Micòl Finzi-Contini. Grappling with that question and the necessity of letting go is the motivation behind the panegyric essay “Objects Also Die,” Doug Magnuson’s filmic memorial of the same name, and the two combined along with extra material that makes up Objects Also Die. Designed by Myron Hunt and built in 1920, Los Angeles’ The Ambassador prevailed at 3400 Wilshire Boulevard through innumerable guests, two Oscar ceremonies, one assassination of a presidential hopeful, and countless unrecorded collective and personal histories before being demolished to make way for a school in 2006. Through the prism of the hotel itself, San Diego’s El Cortez and Estes Park, Colorado’s The Stanley, this compendium explores the loss of the Ambassador while delving into the conundrum of dealing with the death of inanimate things that have taken on a life of their own. The draw at The Ambassador was communion with unknowable bygone times and that special stillness pervading rooms no one had been for a long time, a kind of mildly illicit romantic exploration of seductive ruins. Magnuson’s elegiac, calm, dry-eyed yet poetic nineteen minute documentation is accompanied by George Draguns’s affecting and occasionally spooky soundtrack, and the pages herein include Greg Magnuson’s haunting photographs of the beautiful decrepitude that defined the hotel in its last days. F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (and the bungalow they set fire to), the Cocoanut Grove, the Venetian Ballroom are all included, as well as ephemera and mementos related to its seventy-year run, along with special guest appearances by Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Charles Manson, Alice Cooper, Norma Shearer, Art Nyhagen (the hotel’s doorman from 1946-89), and Dominique Sanda and Helmet Berger in Vittorio de Sica’s adaptation of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis.
New Wave Theatre was a television program broadcast locally in the Los Angeles area on UHF channel 18 and eventually on the USA Network as part of the late night variety show Night Flight during the early 1980s. The show was created and produced by David Jove, who also wrote the program with Billboard magazine editor Ed Ochs. It was noted for showcasing rising punk and New Wave acts, including Bad Religion, Fear, The Dead Kennedys, 45 Grave, and The Circle Jerks. Peter Ivers, a Harvard-educated musician with a gregarious personality and a flair for the theatric, was the host for the entire run of the show. The format was extremely loose, owing partly to the desire to maintain the raw energy of the live performances and partly to the limited production budget. The program was presented in a format dubbed “live taped”, in which the action was shot live and the video was then interspliced with video clips, photos, and graphics of everything from an exploding atomic bomb to a woman wringing a chicken’s neck.
The show started with a montage of clips from punk/new wave acts while the title appeared and the theme song, an abrupt mixture of Fear’s “Camarillo” and The Blasters’ “American Music”, played. Ivers would appear at the beginning and end of each show wearing dark glasses, spouting a stream of consciousness spiel about life, art and music. Besides the top-billed music acts, short skits were shown, including Sri Maharooni, a chain-smoking Indian fakir speaking about the meaning of life, and Chris Genkel (played by actor Robert Roll), a pitchman hawking bizarre products for “gherkins” from his company, Genkel Wax Works, in Adonai, Illinois. Celebrities, including Debra Winger and Beverly D’Angelo, were known to show up at NWT’s tapings. New Wave Theatre came to an end in 1983 when Ivers was found bludgeoned to death in his LA apartment. Rhino Video released two volumes of the best of New Wave Theatre in 1991 (Rhino Video numbers RNVD 2903 and RNVD 2904). Both are out of print, but used copies are not hard to find.
more public access television — PART 1…
Thor Heyerdahl’s Atlantic crossing by reed boat…
During the expedition to Easter Island in 1955-1956, Thor Heyerdahl became interested in reed boats and their seagoing properties. The archaeologists’ excavations had uncovered pictures of large reed boats with masts and sails engraved in the buried statues and painted on flagstones in prehistoric houses. It soon became clear to Heyerdahl that not only balsa wood rafts, but also reed boats, with pre-Incan sailors could have carried the earliest South Americans out over the open Pacific Ocean.
Other researchers had pointed out the obvious similarity between the old reed boats from Mexico and Peru, and the papyrus boats from the earliest civilisations in the Mediterranean region. These anthropologists, who were known as ‘diffusionists’, had listed reed boats as one of the many cultural parallels between the great civilisations of pre-Columbian times on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. They used the reed boat as an argument in the discussion about transoceanic-contact prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Their opponents meanwhile, the ‘isolationists’, pointed to the accepted view that reed boats could not cross oceans. They believed that cultural parallels could be ascribed to independent development.
The Papyrus Institute in Egypt had determined that papyrus-reed rotted and dissolved after two weeks in a water tank.
Despite this, Heyerdahl was convinced that ship builders in the time of the pharaohs would never have used this reed to built enormous seagoing vessels if they had only stayed afloat on the ocean for two weeks. He decided to build a reed boat and cross the Atlantic Ocean with it to see whether or not his assumption was correct.
Ra was launched in the spring of 1969 in the old Phoenician seaport of Safi, Morocco. In order to show that people from different nations could work together even under pressure and difficult circumstances, Heyerdahl picked a crew of 7 men from 7 nations and sailed under the flag of the UN. Ra sailed west with the trade winds and the Northern Equatorial Stream. The reed bundles proved to be incredibly buoyant. Despite broken steering oars and poor weather, Ra had sailed 5,000 km in 8 weeks before the loss of bundles on the starboard side made Heyerdahl call off the experiment, just one week before they would have reached Barbados, in the West Indies.
Ten months later Heyerdahl launched a new papyrus boat – Ra II – from the same Moroccan seaport.
This time he had brought four Aymara Indians over from Lake Titicaca in South America to build the vessel.
The Aymara still built reed boats on the shores of this stormy mountain lake in the Andes, 4,000 m above sea level, using the same methods used in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.
The entire crew from the first Ra voyage wanted to repeat the experiment and, with the addition of a representative from yet another nation, Heyerdahl hoisted the sail on Ra II. This boat was only 12 m long, but was structurally far stronger than Ra.
Ra II crossed the Atlantic Ocean and sailed the approx. 6,100 km from Safi in Morocco to Barbados in the West Indies in 57 days. Since this time the experiment had been successful, anthropologists across the entire world had to forget the old dogma that papyrus boats could not have brought cultural impulses from North Africa to Central America in pre-Columbian times.
During the Ra voyage, Heyerdahl wrote his first letter to the UN about the fact that the oceans of the world were becoming polluted. He was asked by the Secretary-General of the UN to make daily pollution observations during the Ra II voyage. Hardened clumps of tar were collected on 43 days of the 57-day voyage. In this way the voyage helped to raise awareness of the need to stop the pollution of the world’s seas.
Heyerdahl presented reports about the pollution problem to the UN’s first conference on oceanic law, committees of the USA’s senate and congress, the USSR’s scientific academy and in a long series of campaigns for the conservation of the world’s seas.
Following the expedition a book was published about the Ra expeditions, as well as a documentary, which was nominated for an Oscar.
“The Ra Expeditions” 1972 directed by Lennart Ehrenborg and Thor Heyerdahl
reed architecture of the Iraqi swamps…
A mudhif is a traditional reed house made by the Madan people (also known as Marsh Arabs) in the swamps of southern Iraq. In the traditional Madan way of living, houses are constructed from reeds harvested from the marshes where they live.
Houses built of reeds had the additional advantage of being portable. In the spring, if the marsh waters rose too high, a five-arched raba could be taken down, moved to higher ground, and re-erected in less than a day. With proper care and repair, reed dwellings could last for well over 25 years.
Reeds had the same physical properties in the past as they do today, requiring similar innovations for structural soundness. For instance, if arches were made from bundles of fresh reeds, the structure would collapse in short order. For maximum soundness the core of a new arch bundle was made up of reeds taken from an older structure.