Archive for the '3 Four From the ’90s:' Category

20
Apr
17

Waiting for the Cut (a skit)

1991
With Matt Gaetano Levin

Two men, STEVE and HAROLD, both in their early twenties, and with long hair styles, are standing outside a small hair cutting salon on a sweltering July afternoon. The salon is closed. STEVE, after offering a cigarette to HAROLD—who waves it off—lights one himself and begins to pace.

STEVE: [Checking his watch.] I hate fucking Brooklyn.
HAROLD: [Wipes his face with a balled-up handkerchief.] Brooklyn? I don’t know about Brooklyn. Brooklyn may not be as terrible as I thought it was. It’s hard to form an opinion when you’re rapidly losing consciousness. Jesus, it’s like we’re standing on the sun here.
STEVE: [Looking away.] Brooklyn’s where you have to wait for this jerkoff.
HAROLD: [Rolls his neck.] This isn’t what you meant when you said he always keeps you waiting, is it? He doesn’t pull this every time you come here? Did you confirm the time with him?
STEVE: Yeah. Yesterday.
HAROLD: And he’s got your number? Could have reached you this morning?
STEVE: Yeah.
HAROLD: [Feeling his wrist.] Dude, my pulse is gone! [Panicked. Holds his head with both hands.] And my memory—it’s gone too!
STEVE: All of it?
HAROLD: No. I think just the last year.
STEVE: If it’s just the last year then you can still remember the last time you got laid. [Shades his eyes. Peers into the salon window. Then looks down the block.] He’s never been this late before. He’s gotten much better at it. [Looks at his watch again.] My fucking watch is sweating.
HAROLD: [Calmed down. Wipes his face again.] I think they said last night that, factoring in the wind-chill index with the temperature-humidity thing, today would be the hottest day in the history of the world.
STEVE: [Distracted.] If they did they got it right. [Looks up and down the block.] It’s a goddamn hour. Where is this asshole?
HAROLD: Don’t quote me on that. Okay? I could be way off.
STEVE: [Shaking his head.] I wonder sometimes why I come here. I mean I probably should have mentioned something else:
HAROLD: What?
STEVE: He can also fuckup. In fact, he can also fuckup in a major way. There was one fuckup that was actually beyond major, really spectacular—worthy of its own wing in the Hall of Fuckups.
HAROLD: Yeah?
STEVE: He loved what he did. He was proud of himself. He even took a Polaroid.
HAROLD: Yeah? I don’t remember. . .
STEVE: You don’t remember because you didn’t see me for a month. I cancelled all my public appearances.
HAROLD: Wait. That was. . . ? It was that bad?
STEVE: Put it this way: I would definitely have gotten mucho action—if it’d been 1964 and I had a cockney accent.
HAROLD: You looked like a Beatle?
STEVE: Early Ringo Starr.
HAROLD: Okay. I’ve got a statement and then a question. The statement is: Yeah, when you were bugging me to give him a shot and finally getting me to make this trip—which I never wanted to do because nothing I’ve seen of his work for you has blown my skirts up past my ankles—you fucking probably should have mentioned that! The question is—and I’m anxious to have your wisdom on this before it’s too late, while your brain scans are still registering occasional blips. Do you figure I can find my way back to Manhattan by myself? The “3” train, right? What is it—four blocks this way, then hang a left?
STEVE: Let’s give him a little while longer.
HAROLD: Why? Damn. I was expecting an acceptable level of mediocrity. I thought the worst thing I had to worry about was getting wasted in a crossfire.
STEVE: Because you’re my friend and because speaking of “getting it right. . . ”
HAROLD: You know the barbershop in the 86th Street subway station? It’s beginning to loom as a viable option.
STEVE: We’ll give him another fifteen minutes. Okay? [Looks at his watch.] Fifteen minutes. Exactly fifteen minutes. You can handle fifteen minutes, can’t you?
HAROLD: [Hugs himself and pretends to shiver.] My sweat just turned very cold. You ever hear of someone freezing to death in his own sweat?
STEVE: Listen to me. Let me tell you this. The first haircut he gave me—when I was working the lights for a music thing in the little park around the corner and needed a quick trim. It was strange because I asked him for just a simple trim and at first that’s all that I thought I got, you know? There was nothing noticeably out of the ordinary. If anything, it seemed a little on the flat side.
HAROLD: Right. But after you washed it—and probably factoring in certain favorable atmospheric conditions…
STEVE: No. Yeah—maybe something like that. I don’t know what it was, what he did, and whenever I bring it up he changes the subject.
HAROLD: When was this exactly?
STEVE: 1987.
HAROLD: 1987? That’s four years back in the dank and murky past—that’s back when you were with Beth, the lost love of your wretched, woebegone life.
STEVE: Actually it was the day before I met Beth.
HAROLD: [Startled.] He gave you a haircut the day before you met Beth?
STEVE: [Looks away.] Beth came here with me for the haircut after that one. It was on a perfect fall afternoon—cool and clear. You could smell apples in the air.
HAROLD: [Stares at STEVE. Then abruptly turns away from him; walks a few steps off; stops; comes back.] Let me have one of those.
[STEVE gives HAROLD a cigarette, takes another one himself; lights them both.]
HAROLD: If he’s not here yet he’s not coming—we know that, don’t we?
STEVE: Yeah. . . I guess.
HAROLD: [Turns away again. Turns back.] Actually. . .
STEVE: What?
HAROLD: I was thinking that he could be coming. I mean there’s a chance that he stumbled into a serious crisis situation on his way here, you know? It’s possible that he was called upon to administer multiple emergency mullets and buzz cuts and shit, and he could have every intention of showing up when he’s done.
STEVE: This is weird. I was just thinking the very same thing.
HAROLD: [Motions toward STEVE’s watch.] How much time did you…?
STEVE: [Looks at his watch.] Twelve minutes now.
HAROLD: Considering that the disaster he may be dealing with could have a heartbreaking size and scale, he might need more than just another twelve minutes.
STEVE: A disaster of the magnitude we’re talking about. . . Yeah, I’d say he…
HAROLD: What I think is that, under the conceivable circumstances, we should go another round—give him another full hour.
STEVE: [Taken aback. Emits a quick laugh.]
HAROLD: Hey, another hour’s not unreasonable, man—not under the conceivable circumstances.
STEVE: [Holds up his hand.] No. You’re right. Absolutely. Another hour’s more than reasonable. [Looks at Harold with a suddenly pensive expression. Says softly. . . ] You’re on my page now.
HAROLD: And, if you think about it, man, under the conceivable circumstances we owe him that much, don’t we? Under the conceivable circumstances it fucking behooves us to give him another hour.
STEVE: [Looks at HAROLD with mock admiration.] That’s very good. Shit, I could learn a lot about living from you.
HAROLD: It’s not like we even have any respectable options here.
STEVE: I can’t think of any.
HAROLD: Then we’re doing it—we’re doing another hour?
STEVE: I don’t think we could live with ourselves if we didn’t. [Looks at his watch.] Make that sixty minutes. [Squints down the block. Looks at his watch again. Purses his lips. Grimaces.] Exactly sixty minutes.
HAROLD: [Sits on his haunches. Wipes his face with his handkerchief. Thinks aloud.] Yeah, another hour. Who knows? That might do it. That might be just what the prick needs us to give him.

BLACK

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15
Feb
17

3c) Get Your Face Out of My Cigarette!

An Open Letter from an Inveterate Smoker to the Anti-Cigarette Crusaders

(Note: This piece is from 1994 and rereading it thirteen years later I can see that its tone makes it susceptible to misunderstanding. So let me say that, notwithstanding judgments expressed about the accuracy of smoking’s dangers and the zealotry of the anti-smoking crusaders, the piece was never intended to promote, condone or make light of the use of cigarettes. Coming from the mindset and emotions of the intransigent and put-upon smoker, my purpose was to illuminate where his habit and his resentment toward the antismoking campaign might be rooted. I especially wanted to convey that one becomes addicted not to a drug per se, but to what the drug makes one feel.)

“Do you smell that? Someone must be smoking in here. Is someone smoking in here?”

Yeah, someone is smoking in here. It’s me. I’m smoking insistently and unapologetically. And the next fool who asks that question within earshot of me, I’m going to spill his yogurt into his sneakers and scatter his lecithin granules.

I know I’m expected to be contrite about my cigarette habit and that the unrepentant attitude I’m displaying is a source of consternation to you. You wonder how I justify it. Could I somehow remain ignorant of the jeopardy my cigarette puts you in?

Well, I could remind you that studies from which you draw your ammunition—studies by the National Cancer Institute and the World Health Organization—have been shown to be less than reliable. I could point out that one of these studies was, in fact, deemed fraudulent by a federal court, and that the stabbing of a California waiter who demanded that a restaurant customer extinguish his cigarette is the only real example that we have of a smoker killing a non-smoker. But the possibility that the danger I represent to you has been exaggerated, or that it may even be bogus, has nothing to do with my position. Even if I was thoroughly persuaded that side-stream smoke is a genuine threat to you, your face in my cigarette would still provoke my anger.

So where am I coming from? Why am I holding on? Am I helplessly nicotine-dependent? The prisoner of a compulsive oral fixation? One of those combination suicidal/homicidal maniacs who wants to take you out along with himself? Worse, am I some kind of First Amendment freak?

No. It’s none of the above. What it is, friends, is something we both have in common, something we share. Like you I’m dealing with an out-sized fear of dying.

Just like you (whether you conceptualize it in this manner or not), I live too intimately with the knowledge that I was born under a death sentence that can’t be pardoned and that might be invoked at any time and in any of numberless ways. And just as it does with you, my hyperawareness of my eventual dissolution—of the hideous fate that nature has in store for me—forces me to live not only with too much consciousness of my vulnerability but also with a crippling burden of guilt.

I must have done some serious shit to be in so much trouble.

So, like you, and in order to fully partake of the world, I need to feel less vulnerable, less guilty and less afraid. Like you I need to believe that I have some control over my destiny and that I’m doing what I can to perpetuate myself for as long as possible. Where we part company is in how we’re pursuing our internal equilibrium, in what we’ve discovered can work for us in this regard.

What you’ve been handed with the certification of tobacco as the “number one cause of preventable death” is a winnable battle to wage with mortality—a project which, by every measure, is a terrific way to address and alleviate dread and diminish guilt. Indeed, it can be an intoxicating thing. You can float around believing that you’re securing an extension of your life by ridding the air of a lethal pollutant. At the same time, you can feel that by protecting other lives—by the absolute righteousness of such work—you’re acquitting yourself of any and all transgressions in past lives or in this one. If you become sufficiently obsessive about it you can even get to feel sometimes that everything that’s wrong has been reduced to a single locus and that you’re engaging—and wounding—evil itself. Not only can you move with less trepidation in the world, but you’re positioning yourself for an ultimate promotion to heaven, an infinite perpetuation of yourself.

That’s a very good deal.

But if the “bad news” about cigarettes has been a boon for you it’s also presented me with an opportunity to address my problem with mortality. I’m referring, specifically, to the consequence of cancer that cigarettes propose. Cancer, at once the most insidious and retributive of diseases and a disease that ordinarily takes decades to develop.

My emotional circumstances inclining me to assume the worst as a given, it was automatic for me to interpret the authoritative conclusion that I risked the most hideous of results when I smoked as a certainty. I immediately took it for granted that I would die of cancer if I smoked. If, for you, a similar reaction was a good reason to demonize cigarettes, for me the opposite was true. My attraction to cigarettes, already strong but not yet compulsive, took the leap into addiction. I recognized that there was an inherent blessing in the certainty of a cigarette-induced death, and that it was a considerable one.

When, and not so long ago, smoking was perceived as a minor vice or a vaguely unhealthy practice, the best you could do with a cigarette was to use it as a surrogate tit to suck on in moments of tension or as an aid in the fabrication of a social posture designed to mask insecurity and self-doubt. Cigarettes were a wonderful palliative and piece of business, but those functions constituted the limits of their utility. Now, however, I could derive that much and more from cigarettes.

By smoking cigarettes, by implicitly taking on the most terrible of deaths, I could effect an arrangement with nature that served to ease my anxieties at their very root. By embracing the ultimate punishment, I could, that is, own a sense of being insulated against all other causes of death. And armored in this way by my cigarette habit I could feel not only less likely to die by accident or violence or from germs, but significantly free of the constraints guilt imposed on my ability to experience pleasure.

Moreover, with my sense of immunity to such eventualities, I could feel something like confident of thirty to forty years of survival on the planet—many more years, certainly, than I could otherwise feel confident of. Finally, I could feel that cigarettes might ultimately assure my salvation itself, that I could arrive at the moment of judgment having fully atoned for my felonies as well as my misdemeanors and with at least a balanced account.

You expect me to give this up?

I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say that what I’ve come up with is insane, stupid, grotesque and awful and, in this case, you’ll be right. But in as much as your cause is fueled by what, just perhaps, is less than solid fact, and since you’ve placed yourself on the side of angels who after all may not exist, I would think you’d appreciate that certain existential horrors are impervious to rational responses and that insanity and stupidity are often best understood, not as handicaps or pathological conditions, but as tools we employ to keep our sense of balance in creation.

So are we straight with this now? What we have here is a collision of self-perpetuation projects and, given the urgency of our needs and the diametric opposition of our methods, a situation without an equitable resolution. I mean I don’t want to hurt anybody but, much as I’d prefer it otherwise, I can’t demonstrate any more consideration for your need to stay afloat in creation than you can for mine.

Of course in this respect we’re alike still again. We both mimic nature herself.

17
Apr
09

3a) Why the Yankees Finished Second

Inexplicably, all of the postmortems I’ve come across have ignored the two most important reasons the Yankees came up short in 1993. Am I alone in seeing the obvious, that the factors most responsible for the Yankees’ second-place finish were the questionable priorities of the people who make our drug rules and the embarrassing reluctance of my fellow fans to get their street clothes dirty?

To take the latter issue first: how often in this past season could it be said of Yankee fans that they were truly into the game? Can we count how many times they sat and watched while a Yankee made a final out, or failed to snatch a ball from the grasp of an opposing outfielder and bring it into the seats when New York needed a dinger? (I’m sorry, but over the course of eighty-one home games, one fan taking the field to keep an inning alive, and one fan deftly lengthening the reach of a warning track fly ball, hardly qualifies as the model of hustle you’d want to see Little League fans emulating.)

Unfortunately, given the contemptible chicken-heartedness of the current crop of so-called ”Yankee supporters” from The Bronx, there are no quick remedies for this grievous situation—none that I can see, anyway. A solution will likely have to wait until Mr. Steinbrenner relocates the team to New Jersey where it will attract fans of proven mettle. (A demonstrably fearless people, New Jerseyans have astonished everyone with their remarkable ability to survive in a cruel and hostile environment the rest of us had written off as unfit for habitation. Although their faculties have been severely compromised they still manage to sort of function. Folks like these won’t be intimidated by the prospect of security personnel bouncing their heads around.)

The other problem, however, could be disposed of as quickly as next season if we can get our leaders to re-think their position, bend a little, and allow Steve Howe to do cocaine again. I mean Howe performing at his best was crucial to a Yankee success this year and, his ERA up something like four runs since he quit using, you don’t have to be a Starfleet Academy graduate to recognize that letting him keep his blow was the way to maintain his effectiveness.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not unmindful of the potential risk involved in granting Howe such a dispensation. There is, indeed, an argument to be made against it. Permitting him to go back on coke could very well subject his friends to yet more rounds of earnest, inane and exasperatingly discursive all-night monologues, and force his lovers to endure more three-hour bouts of limp and grossly sweaty sex with never a climax. But think about it. Isn’t winning a pennant worth the price, especially when you consider that Howe would frequently demonstrate an amazingly generous spirit and an exceptional capacity for affection?

Look. We’re all going to get very sick, really seriously ill, and then we’re going to die. And life, I’m sure you’ll agree, is no bowl of Jack Daniels even before this happens. When a chance to become forgetful of our circumstances and to feel superior to our fate presents itself, don’t we owe it to ourselves to take full advantage of it? And to these ends, how many things, besides winning a Superbowl, are equal to winning a pennant? Blowing the head off a rabbit at fifty yards? Meeting Chuck Norris? (Make your own list, but I’ll bet it’s just as short.) No, winning a pennant is something very special.

I’m reasonably sure that I haven’t had one of those nasty flashbacks since 1975. So why am I the only one who remembers the exchange between Phil Rizzuto and Bobby Murcer that took place during a lightning storm delay in Milwaukee a few years ago and which, the weird static and mesmerizing visual interference notwithstanding, illuminated far better than I ever could, the size of the reward a pennant offers.

”Accomplishing a league championship,” Rizzuto said, ”is to solve a fundamental existential dilemma. Have you ever thought, Murcer, about the euphoria that one observes on such occasions, when big, fiercely perspiring, tobacco spitting and flatulent men pile upon one another in the infield, and with utter indifference to the incredible effluvium that permeates their lungs? Is the matrix of this phenomenon not the sensation, albeit fleeting, of having triumphed over the ephemerality and vileness of the body, of having won a victory over mortality itself?”

”Scooter, I couldn’t agree with you more.” Murcer responded. ”And this elation that we witness is hardly limited to the actual participants, but is, in fact, shared by those who follow them; people whose lives— bereft of heroic possibilities—oblige them to identify with the transcendent achievements of others, and whose joy can actually turn night into day when, in the immediate aftermath of victory, they will sometimes set their stores and automobiles on fire. I would go so far as to say that man invented competitive athletics, and the sportsplex with the skyboxes, that he might create for himself an opportunity to win and, in the winning, experience his apotheosis.”

What could I add to that to make my point? When you consider what we gave up to protect his friends and intimates from a little self-indulgence and hyper-activity, it becomes quite clear that a reassessment of the Howe issue is very much in order. I don’t mean to minimize the gravity of the concerns or to appear insensitive, but listen: I don’t have any friends or intimates. How many might he have? Three? Five! In a year when we could certainly have used a championship, a year of biblical floods, a terrorist bombing in New York City and Billy Ray Cyrus (and in which, let me tell you, I had more than my share of personal and emotional problems), our chance to get one was sacrificed to the convenience of what can’t amount to more than a handful of people.

Are we going to repeat this mistake next year when who knows what fresh horrors nature, the Third World and the music industry have in store for us, and when many of us are also due for a checkup?

01
Jan
09

Schindler’s List: Murder Kills Death

Recently, when a visiting friend who’d never seen it brought it with him, I watched Schindler’s List again. I can report that the marvelous subtleties in Ralph Fiennes’s portrayal of the concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth more than reward a second viewing. But Fiennes aside, I have to say that, for me, watching Schindler’s List has now twice been a vexing experience.

What irritates me about Schindler’s List is that it never goes beyond lamenting man’s inhumanity to man and celebrating the triumph of the human spirit, etc., when it could have thrown at least a quick light on something of consequence that apparently still baffles a lot of us—like what the Nazis were really about!

Normally, of course, the absence of serious probing into the psychodynamics of egregious human behavior would no more disappoint me in a Steven Spielberg film—even one about the Holocaust—than it did in a episode of “Hogan’s Heroes.” Spielberg is an enormously gifted filmmaker, but plumbing the nastier depths isn’t something he does and you don’t go to his movies looking for that. (On the contrary, you go in the hope of retrieving a prepubescent innocence.) So if I have a problem with the film’s limitations in this regard it’s only because Spielberg happens to get maddeningly close to revealing where the Nazis were coming from. Indeed, you could say that he gets to within just an inch or so of accomplishing this.

I’m thinking of the scenes in which Goeth, upon shooting two prisoners from his balcony, repairs to his quarters and urinates.

In this sequence Spielberg is showing how chillingly casual a man can be in the performance of the most heinous deeds. And he makes this statement nicely. To go deeper, however, to create a juxtaposition of events that actually pointed to what it is that turns a man into a homicidal sociopath, all Spielberg needed to do (what David Lynch might have done) was have Goeth, in place of urinating, sit down and move his bowels.

I’m serious. Urine is relatively innocuous, but it’s shit that personifies the hideous fate of decay and dissolution that nature has devised for everything corporeal. Shit approximates, and serves daily to remind us of, the condition our bodies themselves will wind up in. And it’s the problem shit signifies, the mother of all problems, the problem of death, that the Nazis and their “Final Solution” were addressing.

Let’s, just for a moment, allow ourselves to recognize what Ernest Becker wanted us to recognize: To reduce to, at the very least, a manageable degree of apprehension, the terror and panic that constitute the human default condition—and which the fact of being mortal causes us—is the real objective of virtually all human behavior.

As I’ve said elsewhere on the subject: “When, for a straightforward and transparent demonstration, we invent the prospect of an afterlife and then adhere to rules of conduct we’ve determined will assure us of admission, we are handing ourselves a comforting shot at surviving death. But another of the myriad ways we’ve concocted or seized upon to make living with an intolerable reality possible is to pursue and amass inordinate financial wealth. The god-like trappings great sums of money buy enable us to feel superior not just to the common man but, more importantly, to the common fate. Still another way with which we ameliorate the fear of oblivion is to aim for a kind of symbolic immortality by producing, say, a book or work of art that we can hope will exert an influence on the world after we’re gone. And many of the ‘faults’ or ‘neuroses’ we develop are also intended to cushion us against the specter of death. Procrastination, for instance, helps us to fashion the illusion that we are halting time.”

But ways to subdue the dread of death are, as I’ve indicated, multitudinous. They are built into and played out in every culture. In fact, the measure of a culture can be taken by the quality and variety of the made up realities it provides to alleviate our death trepidation. What, for example, are the sports competitions we as fans become so absorbed in if not manufactured opportunities to experience a victory over death? For our side to win means not to die, which accounts for the joy that we’re filled by. (For our side to lose means to die, which explains the profound depression that can engulf us—a depression, however, that lifts with the next new season and the renewed chances to win that we’re afforded.) And the innately predatory character of capitalism speaks to the issue of death terror as well. His true motive masked by “practical” considerations, the CEO who downsizes his personnel isn’t, at bottom, concerned with saving a company. He eliminates people in order to feel like a survivor.*

And then there’s genocide.

Blowing away a lot of people is an especially effective death-dread remedy. When guilt and ambivalence are removed from the act—when the act can be rationalized as serving a righteous or noble cause, like the extirpation of an inferior or evil race that’s corrupting a divine plan—it’s without equal, the ultimate way to feel like a survivor. Mussolini’s son, in a state of euphoria while dropping bombs on the Ethiopians and, in an infamous remark, describing the sight of incinerating flesh as “beautiful,” was only being honest, candidly acknowledging the ultimate high that murder can yield.

“High” meaning, of course, above the body that nature has assigned to extinction.

When we devote ourselves to the preservation of a rainforest we are performing a service for nature that might, come Judgment Day, earn us a special dispensation. When we bulldoze a rainforest we are getting nature out of our face. But when we are killing, when we are exercising destructive force of a supreme magnitude and manifesting a blunt indifference to the notion of the sanctity of life, to the unfinished business of our victims and to the grief of those who loved them, we become what it truly is to be “one” with nature. And the reward, fleeting and costly as it may be, is, once again, unparalleled. Claiming nature’s power and authority for ourselves, merging with the source of death, we stop feeling vulnerable to nature. We achieve a sense of immunity to its victimization of us—a sense of immunity that, in turn, relieves us of the burden our finite bodies inflict on us. In the period of killing we get what we most need and want: we experience ourselves as indestructible.

Murder kills death.

I’ve conceded that it would have been off Spielberg’s spectrum to make even an oblique or passing reference to a reality so repugnant—to step, that is, in shit. But I can still wish he’d been capable of taking the opportunity to maybe, and if only on a subliminal level, jolt and disrupt just a little the reflex of astonishment and incredulity that is our rote response to atrocities. We insist that the cause of human evil is elusive, but it isn’t. We make it so because we’re reluctant to know it. To be conscious of its cause would force us to recognize our own death-denial efforts and would potentially undermine them.

But whether or not we’re prepared to handle the idea that it’s largely our attempts to mitigate an untenable condition that define our behavior—and that, for all practical purposes, make the world go around—it remains true nonetheless. And it’s just as true that a certain percentage of humanity, unable to avail itself of the less malignant death-denial techniques, or finding them insufficient, or seeing through them, will always be willing to become what Elie Wiesel, referring to the Nazis, termed “not human.” It will, in fact, have no recourse but to breach the social contract and enter madness in order to achieve respite from the inhuman reality of living under a death sentence.

.

*And while we’re making reference to cultural resources and contrivances in the service of death-transcendence: what is the push for “freedom” currently taking place in North Africa and the Middle East about if not to enable these populations to access death anxiety antidotes of which they’ve been deprived? —RL, 2011




Books by Robert Levin

When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot
The Drill Press LLC
Reviews

109415877-0-m31
Music & Politics
by John Sinclair and Robert Levin
World Publishing

“Robert Levin’s articles…make up the second half of Music and Politics, and they’re something else again. He’s a quietly briliant writer (not flashy but subtly dazzling) who knows jazz extremely well and who knows how to let us know what he knows. His piece on Sunny Murray says more about the birth of the New Jazz than most writers could say in a volume; the Anthony Braxton interview is one of the freshest, most reassuring articles on the future of music (of the arts in general) that I’ve read; his ‘found critique’ of ‘Space’ by the MJQ, which contrasts Murray’s thoughts on music at the White House with President Nixon’s introduction of the MJQ in that very place, is brilliant; his piece on the unfortunate evolution of Willis Jackson…is a minor masterpiece; and he’s lucid and painful and thoroughly correct when he writes that ‘What is meant by ‘every man has his price’ is that every man has his uncertainty about the validity and sanity of his perception of the truth. To ‘sell out’ is to capitulate to that uncertainty.'”
—Colman Andrews, Creem

giants
Giants of Black Music
Edited by Pauline Rivelli and Robert Levin, with a foreword by Nat Hentoff
Da Capo Press

Music & Politics and Giants of Black Music are no longer in print, but remain available from Amazon.com and other outlets.