Symonds, Whitman, Rossetti and Rake

Outrage cover image

Before Christmas I checked out a book from my little public library branch: Naomi Wolf’s Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love. I had a lot of other things to read and left it for last, not knowing what it contained, vaguely recognizing the author’s name. Turning to it, I recognized Wolf’s photo. If nothing else, readers might remember her defense of Julian Assange when he was accused of sex crimes in Sweden. I thought the book would be a history of censorship, but it’s more comprehensive. By returning to a cast of characters Wolf creates an intimate narrative against the mise en scène of her historical sweep and sociopolitical stance. Continue reading “Symonds, Whitman, Rossetti and Rake”

Marx and Eno

Marx and Eno collage

An instance of years-ago seeming yester-day. My recently departed comrade, Lowell May, in a fortunate instance of synchronicity, on September 12, 2011 forwarded a snippet of Karl Marx just two months after musician Brian Eno had issued his collaboration with poet Rick Holland, Drums Between the Bells (and six days before Occupy Wall Street). What Lowell sent was a blog post of the same date by one N Pepperell, lecturer at an unnamed university in Melbourne, who felt the quotation from Marx “is on point for the sorts of reading strategies I apply to his style in Capital.” The language of this relatively obscure open letter, published twenty-four years before Capital, when Marx was 23, abstractly mirrors that of Holland’s words atop Eno’s soundtrack. Continue reading “Marx and Eno”

A Perfect Crime?

Phrenological Diagram, Leopold and Loeb

Yes, this involves Leopold and Loeb and their victim Bobby Franks…

Killing time a week ago in the expansive area devoted to new releases at the central branch of the Denver Public Library, a title beckoned: Nina Barrett’s The Leopold and Loeb Files: An Intimate Look at One of the Most Infamous Crimes, issued last summer.1 If overly familiar with The Crime of the Century—title of Hal Higdon’s 1975 book2—one might ask, Why another rehash? Continue reading “A Perfect Crime?”

The feeble strength of one

Gestetner Factory photo image

Comrades in Denver recently attended a performance by the Manitoba band Propagandhi. I knew the group’s name but not their music and poked around a bit. If you like your tunes hard and fast, guitar-driven and polemically positioned, with gorgeously apocalyptic album art, this is up your alley. But I was quite surprised to learn that John K. Samson was the band’s bassist for nearly six years.

According to the cliché about art school, you learn the rules before breaking them. Samson can be seen, superficially, as having worked in reverse, with a minimalist-with-message band before leaving school to fashion, with The Weakerthans, a new song in an old mold: figurative, more muted, embellished with just enough magic in its realism to keep us inquiring. Perhaps the finest example of this craft is the band’s ballad “Pamphleteer.”

Continue reading “The feeble strength of one”

Paul Benard: Mattachine Misfit

Janitzio headline image

A profile of Paul Benard.

In my time looking at the lives of members of the early Mattachine, perhaps the most enigmatic was Paul Benard (April 24, 1916–November 7, 1954).

One of the eight men pictured in the famous “Christmas tree” photograph taken by Jim Gruber in 1951, Benard turns out to have been considered for a role in the Mattachine’s leadership. He left the group and left Los Angeles but remained in contact with members, only to die in 1954.

To my surprise last year, a chance query by Víctor Macías-González, Professor of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at University of Wisconsin–La Crosse provided me with Benard’s birth name, and I was able to construct a very detailed account of his early life. Had the existing Mattachine leadership known about his involvement in the “little” and leftist theater endeavors of New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, they’d have seen him as a comrade.

This profile of Paul Benard is adapted from my work-in-progress with the working title The Feeble Strength of One: Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, Maxey, Marx and the Mattachine. Because its length likely would prevent its eventual publication as-is, I offer it here. Lengthy as it is, more study of Paul Benard is warranted.

Vile Vault: The FBI Gets Its Man (or Woman)

"Put up or shut up" FBI Report image

The Federal Bureau of Investigation turned 108 this year, originally having been considered a reform of what the New York Times called a “tangle” of the Secret Service. “The plan is nothing less,” wrote the Times in 1908, “than the merging of the Secret Service and the detective agencies of all departments of the Government into a Bureau of Criminal Investigation, a sort of Federal police, to be incorporated under the Department of Justice.” Lest the notion of such a Federal force strike fear, the Christian Science Monitor cooed:

These employees of the government are not ‘police spies’ and should not be denominated as such even by those who entertain a passing resentment toward the system. In the great majority of cases they are simply confidential agents of the government, and their calling is just as legitimate as that of the confidential agents of corporate and private business concerns.

People interested in what the FBI has been up to during the last century can browse its Vault, an online treasure trove of thousands of documents released either via Freedom of Information Act requests, or by the Bureau’s own largesse.

A sexually circumscribed stroll through The Vault’s index reveals files on several shady characters: Alfred Kinsey, Amelia Earhart, Alger Hiss, Bishop Fulton Sheen, Black Dahlia aka Elizabeth Short, Bayard Rustin, Bettie Page—that’s just the A’s and B’s. (All subjects are listed—but not precisely sorted—by first names.) The C’s are worth a gander, revealing the Bureau’s political inquiries: Cardinal Francis Spellman, Clark Gable, Carl Sagan, Casey Kasem, Christic Institute, César Chávez, Carl Sandburg, Coretta Scott King, COINTELPRO, and none other than Clyde A. Tolson—J. Edgar Hoover’s first mate in the FBI.

Vile Vault examines the FBI investigation of the Mattachine Society and ONE magazine. And the identity of a snitch.

Profile: Wallace de Ortega Maxey, Mattachine Foundation Member, Free Speech Champion

Sex Life Of A Cop cover image

Wallace de Ortega Maxey was a founding member of the Mattachine Foundation, which was the public face of the clandestine Mattachine Society. In that capacity, Maxey is best known as having hosted the Mattachine’s constitutional conventions, in the spring of 1953, at Los Angeles’ First Universalist Church where he was pastor. Later, Maxey became a champion of free speech, to the point of being a defendant in a significant obscenity case.

I composed two versions of the profile of Maxey.