Joycelyn Elders & Gimme Shelter

Whenever I get excited about something, even just a little, I need to expel waste product. If I pick up a movie calendar and spot a good double feature next month, or if a moment of semi-inspiration comes and there’s finally something to write for the zine, or if I’m meeting someone somewhere in half an hour — I gotta take a dump, and now, and how. 

Is this normal human physiology, I wonder, an involuntary tightening of the abdominal muscles? Or does this only happen with phenomenally fat people, like me?

This weekend has been extra problematic, too, as my poop cycle seems to be perfectly synched with everyone else in the hotel. The communal john down the hall has been occupied every dang time I’ve needed it. I’ve been using the toilet downstairs, or the toilet upstairs, but often someone’s sitting there, too.

Just now, I couldn’t wait any longer, spread out a Chronicle editorial page, and gave it what it deserved. El turdo, hot and stinky, right there on the floor. Then I folded it up, stuffed it into an old bread wrapper, and dropped it down the trash chute, just as a toilet flushing down the hall could finally be heard. For the homeless and hungry tomorrow, happy dumpster diving tomorrow.

♦ ♦ ♦

I’m finally getting around to glancing at Friday’s news in Saturday’s newspaper on Sunday afternoon, and the front-page story should be headlined, “Nation is run by idiots.” 

President Clinton has fired the Surgeon General, Joycelyn Elders, because she gave a smart, honest answer to a question about masturbation. Can’t find a verbatim transcript of the unholy words, because the Chronicle won’t let Elders speak for herself — everything in the article is a summary, a paraphrase, or quoted semi-sentences sewn together by professional journalists.

Seems someone asked Elders if a more explicit discussion of beating off might help fight the spread of AIDS, and she answered that masturbation is “part of human sexuality,” but that “many of our parents have difficulty teaching certain things,” so the normalcy of fiddling with your own diddle is “a part of something that perhaps should be taught” in school.

Is that scandalous? The usual Republicans did their usual Republican thing, got all shocked and infuriated and 100% proved her point. And Clinton, a Democrat who seems about 1/3 Republican, issued a terse one-sentence announcement: “Dr Elders’ public statements reflecting differences with administration policy and my own convictions have made it necessary for her to tender her resignation.”

I hadn't been aware that Clinton had an “administration policy” on masturbation, or any “convictions” firm enough to get a grip on.

A sidebar to the article lists several of Elders’ previous “controversial statements,” but, of course, it’s journalism again — there are no direct quotes, only summaries and paraphrases. If what’s “controversial” is what she said, why won't the Chronicle let us read what she said?

The gist of all her “controversial” statements is that she thinks
    • lesbians and gays shouldn’t be denied the legal and social standing everyone else takes for granted
    the government should study legalizing drugs
    • drug and alcohol education should begin in kindergarten
    • and now, gasp, that masturbation shouldn’t be a forbidden topic.

There's also a weird line about Medicaid, but it's so mangled and probably misconstrued I’m not even sure what she meant, but other than that, there’s nothing in the Chronicle’s list of Elders’ “controversial” statements that’s controversial. It's all "of course" to me. I wish she’d gone further. What’s to “study” about legalizing drugs? Just legalize drugs.

Until yesterday there was one intelligent, principled, thinking human in the Clinton administration, but now there’s none.

♦ ♦ ♦

Kallie and I met at the Roxie to see Gimme Shelter (1970), which I'd thought it would be a toe-tapping rockumentary of the Rolling Stones in concert, against a backdrop of the Altamont disaster. Instead it was a documentary of Altamont, with the music in the background. That’s not to say I was disappointed, though, not at all. It was excellent, and I was floored.

When the Stones finished their 1969 American tour, the last show was a free concert at the Altamont Speedway near San Francisco (neither Kallie nor I have any idea where Altamont is, or was), and the event was billed as “Woodstock West.” It was woefully under-planned, though, and whatever could go wrong, did go wrong.

According to the story as told by everyone who wasn't there, Mick Jagger kept singing, and even egged the crowd on, as a man was stabbed to death in full view of the band, by out-of-control Hell’s Angels who’d been hired as security. The reality is more ambiguous, as reality tends to be. 

The concert’s logistics had been arranged by the band’s handlers and lawyer, Melvin Belli, and all the planning was just amazingly haphazard and don’t-give-a-damn. Hiring Hell’s Angels as the concert’s only security — and paying them in beer — wasn’t the only stupidity, either. In the movie’s sweeping views of 300,000 spectators, I couldn’t see any SaniCans, and there’s a public-address announcement asking if anyone in the crowd has some bandages. The movie shows Belli making plans for the concert well in advance, and it doesn’t take much brains to think people might need Band-Aids and porta-potties, or that Hell’s Angels might make questionable security. So I’m blaming Belli for this mess.

Did Jagger urge the crowd on? Absolutely not. That’s, I think, bullshit from the same right-wing bullshitters who make up bullshit about anything and anyone that’s not normal for the 1950s. The movie shows Jagger and bassist Keith Richards emphatically pleading over and over into the microphone for the crowd to stop fighting, and every time it was apparent there was trouble, the band stopped playing. Don’t know what more they could’ve done from the stage — if they’d packed their gear and ended the concert, it’s easy to imagine an already agitated crowd going angrier.

I also want to defend the Hell’s Angels, at least to some extent. They have a well-earned reputation as a bunch of bullies and thugs, and Belli was insane to hire them as security, but from what’s shown in the documentary, their behavior in a ‘police’ role wasn’t any worse than the way real police behave.

Most surprisingly, the filmmakers caught the stabbing on camera, the one incident that made the Altamont concert famous as “the day the sixties died,” and it’s not what the world has been told. Shown in slow-motion, frame by frame, this wasn't a random man being stabbed by Hell’s Angels — it’s a man with a gun. He’d pulled a gun, for whatever reason — maybe to settle an argument, to shoot into the crowd, perhaps to shoot at the Rolling Stones — and he was waving the gun around, so one of the Hell’s Angels stabbed him in the back.

By my definition, that’s at least arguably justifiable homicide. A man waving a gun in a crowd? You’ve got to take him down. They took him down and he never got up, but history shouldn’t much mourn the death of a man who pulled a gun in a crowd.

♦ ♦ ♦

After the show, I’d promised to take Kallie to lunch at the Sincere Cafe, but they’re closed for vacation until January 16 (a nice long vacation), so we went to El Castillito instead. We talked about the movie, and about how you can’t believe everything you read in the papers. Then we went shopping at the Rainbow Store, and took BART in opposite directions to our homes.

The movie gets a good review, the burrito gets a good review, and Kallie gets a good review, and here's something I hadn't noticed until tonight. The zine makes it easier to be a sparkling conversationalist. In a social setting when I’d usually wonder what to say, I can now come up with a spur-of-the-moment spiel on just about anything, and nobody knows I’m just recreating a rant that took half an hour to write.

Like, in the store, when Kallie pointed as the mistletoe for sale, I said some of what I’d written about mistletoe and kissing Friday (without, of course, mentioning who I’d like to kiss).

 From Pathetic Life #7
Sunday, December 11, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life   

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  1. >Whenever I get excited about something, even just a little, I need to expel waste product

    I remember reading this originally, and seriously identifying with you. I'm the same. Excitement = shit. I just hope that it never migrates to "shit = excitement."

  2. To clarify a few points on Altamont, since I'm a huge RS fan and know this junk the way I should've learned something useful.

    Yes, it was extremely dumb to have hired the Hells Angels for security. My understanding is that in the UK at that time the Hells Angels were a mild group of bike enthusiasts and not the anarchic thugs present in the US. So the Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia recommended them to Mick and the boys. As for porte-potties, no idea but Altamont was a last-minute/ditch effort to stage the concert after the city of SF freaked out over using Golden Gate Park or whatever it's called and Sears Point. In hindsight, they should have cancelled the concert. But the Stones needed to do this "free" concert because they'd been tarred and feathered in the underground press for being such disgusting mercenaries and charging a ludicrous/offensive non-smile-on-yr-brother cost of $7 a ticket or whatever.

    And Keith Richards is the Stones' guitarist. Bill Wyman was their bassist at that point in time.

    1. Appreciated. In addition to being unaware who the Stones' bassist is, I'm also unsure what exactly a bass is without Googling it.

      The Hell's Angels UK/USA thing makes their hiring more understandable, too — thanks.

      Do you think the band is ended, with Charlie Watts' death?

    2. Good question. I dunno. Right now they're fulfilling their contractual obligations with Keith Richards' solo career drummer Steve Jordan. If Mick and Keith are in good enough health, it wouldn't surprise me if they kept going. Neither of them can draw the crowds that they collectively as "The Rolling Stones" can. They both like performing. It gets them out of the house, so I assume their partners like it, too.

    3. Well, Jagger hasn't called to ask my opinion, but I hope the Stones keep rolling, and bring in new players as needed.

      I'd tell Mick, though, please don't give new hires the Darryl Jones treatment. It seems fair to slice up the royalties so Jones doesn't get paid for songs they recorded in the 1960s and '70s and '80s, but he ought to at least be in the photos, along with whoever replaces Watts.

    4. Rolling Stones, Ltd. is one brutal organization. Second guitarist Ronnie Wood (who is the band's third in that position after Brian Jones and Mick Taylor) was considered a junior partner at the firm for decades. I believe it was sometime in '90s when he was finally promoted to full partner after playing with the group since 1975.

      The decision to leave Daryl Jones out of all band photos is really disgusting. If they wanted another older white British dude to give their image the 'consistency' they appear to crave, then they should've done that. By leaving the younger, African-American member out of the photos looks pretty damning to me.

      But, yes, Sir Mick hasn't called to ask my opinion, either. A shame, since I have so many great suggestions.

    5. I assume it comes down to money more than race, but it sure *looks* bad.


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