S U C K

"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 27 April 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
 
Hit & Run CCXXV

 

[]

Everyone knows that the

book-reading population is small

compared to the chunk of the pie

chart that goes in for, say,

big-budget science-fiction

blockbusters full of latex masks

and morphing. An even smaller

subset consists of readers who

attend book signings. Long a

refuge of sensitive future

librarians, bored undergrads,

and the psychologically suspect

fans an author has touched maybe

a little too deeply, book

signings have never attracted

the kind of autograph seekers

who will stand outside in the

rain and wait for a lumpy screen

idol to emerge from a Planet

Hollywood restaurant opening.

The religious fervor associated

with premieres at Mann's Chinese

has always been absent from even

the toniest book publishing

events, where a dust of tweedy

sobriety settles over every

writer, from rugged authors who

get lost at sea to willowy

memoirists who got kissed by

their uncles. No matter how many

cute contests writers devise to

get their devotees to show up,

no matter how many arch

accompanists they tap to play

acoustic guitars while they get

spittle on the podium

microphones, book signings will

never become high-powered,

big-numbers entertainment until

we can replace the author with

an entirely glitzier presence.

 

This week, Suck saw the future

of star-powered literature.

 

From the Great Beyond, L. Ron

Hubbard, Scientology-founder and

prolific writer of

science-fiction doorstops, is

beaming a marquee-wattage light

onto even the humblest remainder

tables. Famous in his lifetime

(and after!) for the way he

combined religious zeal with an

unwillingness to stop shaking

his readers until every coin

dropped from their pockets,

Hubbard, despite his passing,

knows better than Michel

Foucault that the death of the

author doesn't have to put the

kibosh on literary success. Now

that the release of a movie

version of his rip-roaring

1,050-page opus Battlefield

Earth is imminent, the people

who carry on L.'s good work have

sent John Travolta, the film's

Scientologist star, on a book

tour to promote a new

mass-market, movie tie-in

version of the novel. Bridge

Publications, Inc., the

purveyors of Hubbard's many

(they remind us from every

cover) international

bestsellers, have finally

eliminated the author from the

publicity. Instead, Travolta is

making his way to bookstores

everywhere and signing his name

to a tome he didn't write —

one that came out back when the

thought of Vinnie Barbarino

signing anything but 8 x 10's or

the covers of the Grease or

Saturday Night Fever soundtrack

albums (and maybe a few copies

of Let Her In) was all that fans

could hope for.

 

Travolta has written his own

book — a vanity item aimed

at children called Propeller

One-Way Night Coach . But when

that "Fable for All Ages" came

out in 1997, the star was still

backed up with the film work

generated by his Pulp Fiction

comeback and found himself too

busy to hit the bookstore trail.

His dedication to this

long-cherished Hubbard project

will make up for his absence on

the literary scene back then.

But if Travolta comes to your

town, don't try to get in line

with Propeller; You'll have to plunk

down eight bucks for Battlefield

Earth just to approach the Boy

in the Plastic Bubble. And get

there early. At a signing at the

massive downtown Boston Borders

bookstore on Tuesday, the

Perfect star called it quits

forty minutes into his scheduled

hour-long appearance

(tantalizingly enough, just as

Suck's correspondent had

maneuvered to within a few feet

of the ageless, dimpled

superhunk). Although the crowd

— 300-strong and heavy on

women in their late twenties and

thirties who had the haunted

look of teenagers not quite over

Olivia Newton-John envy —

collectively moaned in

disappointment as the Urban

Cowboy was led away by his three

t-shirt-and-blazer clad

bodyguards, it was a welcome

relief from what

readings-and-signings have

become: parodies of Andy Kaufman

reading The Great Gatsby that

threaten to end in a forced

milk-and-cookie march to an

all-night diner in a part of

town teetering on

gentrification.

 

Travolta's exit at his Boston

appearance wasn't like that at

all. He left the building after

kissing a little girl held aloft

by her mother. The

pre-adolescent movie buff wept

tears of real joy as the man Rex

Reed described in 1979 as "the

hottest thing to hit Teenybopper

Heaven since space shoes, corn

dogs and peanut butter" ducked

into an elevator. No one was

invited to follow him anywhere.

They did anyway; outside, in

Boston's narrow cobblestone

streets, book lovers blocked the

Two of a Kind star's limo and

imitated dances from Grease as

uniformed cops cleared a path.

 

This may never happen to Amy

Bloom, but Travolta has opened a

door. Writers can stay at home

and write and readers can look

forward to having starlets show

up in their towns to sign

Elizabeth Bowen novels before

the movies come out. Why didn't

Miramax think of this instead of

the Scientologists? If they'd

sent Charlize Theron and Erykah

Badu on a signing tour for The

Cider House Rules, maybe they

would've gotten Oscars instead

of John Irving. Why were we

denied the spectacle of meeting

Christina Ricci over copies of

Washington Irving? There is a

downside: Shakespeare

adaptations. Signings like that

may keep Kenneth Branagh out of

trouble, but they'll probably

keep readers out of bookstores,

too.

 

[]

Theodor Adorno is best known as

the fun-hating Grinch who dunked

U.S. Pop music in the acid bath

of his punishing prose style.

Less well known is the fact that DJ

Ted Adorno did a radio show

called "Beautiful Moments," made

up of recontextualized jump-cuts

between the climaxes of

different Classical pieces. Now

Metallica bandleader Lars Ulrich

(whose own gigs with the New

York Philharmonic lent him the

kind of Classical gas we hadn't

seen since Neil Young and the

London Symphony Orchestra first

warbled out "A Man Needs A

Maid") has given us his own

Beautiful Moment, coming off a

tad like Ted. In addition to

filing an already-infamous

lawsuit, Ulrich has summoned his

lyrical muse to attack that

evil, dirty thing patrician leftists

love to hate, the Commodity. It's

"sickening," writes Ulrich,

"that our art is being traded

like a commodity rather than the

art that it is."

 

The whines of a fat cat? After

all, Lars's band got its start

on the metal scene with a buzz

built on bootleg distribution of

the "No Life 'Til Leather" tape.

Not necessarily. He's got some

interesting allies, including

DIY indie-rock stalwarts Jenny

Toomey and Kristin Thompson, who

argue that:

 

[The royalty system worked, for
bands and labels, because] the
record labels had access to the
three components needed to mass
produce the music: the master
tapes, the means of production,
and the distribution channels.
With the recent advances in
digital technology, labels are
losing their exclusive control
over all three. Digital
technology allows for perfect
copies, so every store-bought CD
becomes, in essence, a master
tape. Plus, the cost of buying
the means of production— CD
burners — has dropped into a
widely affordable price range.
And now, because of digital
download technology, the
distribution of music itself is
changing.

 

But with CD sales still going

up precipitously, it's not

about the Benjamins yet.

Certainly, the skin-pounding

showbiz giant has scored a minor

victory just by getting

Metallica some above-the-fold

headlines. But that only works

if you believe there's no such

thing as bad publicity. "About

half the mail we've received has

been from people who think we're

affiliated with Metallica; and

that mail has been

overwhelmingly negative toward

Metallica," says Mark Erickson,

an MP3 promoter whose parody site

Paylars.com has so far collected

$80 toward the drummin' Dane's

white wine fund. It's a good bet

that this figure exceeds the

entire amount Metallica has lost

to the cloistered Napster revolution.

And even if Metallica is getting a

bigger media spike than tag-along

litigants like Dr. Dre, Napster

allies Limp Bizkit get the PR

halo of Giving Something Back

To the Fans, in the form of a set

Napster-underwritten concerts

that will cost fans nothing (And

the Bizkit live show is a bargain

at twice that price).

 

But beyond either greenbacks or

backlash, it's theory that's got

everybody in a tizzy. With

digital reproduction, the

bootlegs become literally

identical to the originals, and

this is disturbing in more ways

than one. Then again, maybe it should

be about the Benjamins, because

it was Adorno's pal, Walter

Benjamin, who theorized this

one: when the copy is as good as

the original, the specialness

that clings to the rare, unique,

and original fades. For Walt,

this pop unmasking was supposed

to represent a glimmer of a

further, farther-off

illumination (to the extent that

our clandestine boot of Anal

Cunt's "Your Kid Committed

Suicide Because You Suck" can

take on such theological

niceties). But maybe Ted,

grimmer but sometimes closer to

the ground, had it right here.

Today, said Adorno, it's only in

the commodity form that we can

hope to assume an umediated

relationship to a work of art.

Another nicety that Lars may

have missed: Since they're free

and you can't touch them,

bootleg MP3's aren't commodities

at all. Instead, what fans still

want (beyond lawsuits that leave

everybody looking a little

shabbier) is the big slick

electric chair, the record label

logos, the lightning bolt, the

shout-outs to a million Danish

knuckleheads nobody's ever heard

of — all the crap that

brands it a banal, desirable,

exchangeable object — that

make us want to own Ride the

Lightning, not just listen to

it. Rather than more

denunciations, maybe what that

tired old whipping boy, the

commodity, needs is a short

prayer.

 

[]

We knew the Hyannisport mafia

had a long reach, but last week

brought a shocking hint that the

Kennedy clan may even have its

meathooks into Lucianne

Goldberg. You'll remember

Goldberg as the freelance

publicist who long ago played

Mata Hari in Richard Nixon's

tight race against George

McGovern and more recently

played Ma Barker to the various

anti-Clintonites who pulled

together for the big Monicarama

heist. Of all the faces for

radio who clogged our

televisions during the

impeachment saga (including the

doughy visage of el Jefe

himself), Lucianne's was the one

that really put the "pug" in

"repugnant," and it's more than a

little dismaying to see her site

Lucianne.com featuring what

appears to be a Glamour Shots

photo of the dowager with a

possum hide draped fetchingly

about her shoulders. Still, we

were pleased when a reader

identifying himself as "Grog"

posted Mr. Mxyzptlk's recent

Suck article on Michael Skakel

to Lucianne.com. If Grog (an

obvious anagram for "George

McGovern") was hoping for some

spirited discussion, he or she

seemed to be in luck. One

"Lizzie" quickly responded with

a counterpost arguing, "Skakel

IS NOT a Kennedy. He is linked

only because his aunt married a

Kennedy. There may indeed be

moral rot that plagues ALL of

New England's Old Wealth, but

you simply can't blame

everything on the Kennedys..."

 

It seemed the Lucianne.com

readers were in for an

interesting discourse on the

metaphysical questions of what

really constitutes a Kennedy (a

question distant relatives of

the clan tend to ellide when

dialoguing chicks at Au Bar),

and more important, of whether

we really can blame everything

on Massachussetts' most famous

rum runners (short answer: Yes).

 

Unfortunately, Lucianne quickly

dispatched her own version of

the Warren Commission to quash

all further debate. "Skakel is

not a Kennedy. Suck is not a

news site. Two true things,"

"LComStaff" posted next. "Thread

closed." And with that the

moderator cut off all further

discussion.

 

We've long been dismayed by

Goldberg's Junior Antisex League

approach to Bill Clinton's sins

of the flesh. (As his wife

pointed out helpfully some time

ago, he has a sickness, and we

at Suck believe the mentally ill

are just as qualified to hold

office as the rest of us). Now

this direct affront just

compells us to remind the

doyenne of the Vast Conspiracy

that two can play at this game:

 

Bill Clinton is just a man. So

is Lucianne Goldberg. Two true

things. End of discussion.

 
courtesy of theSucksters