A Very Special Issue of Tiger Beat

Hollywood Hunks Disavow a Serial Killer

John Stamos was just a 17 year old aspiring actor when he first met Doreen Lioy. It was 1980, and he was putting off college applications while flipping burgers at his father's southern California restaurant. A mutual friend introduced him to Lioy, who was then one of the editors of Tiger Beat magazine. Doreen saw something in Stamos, and included a photo of them together in the editor's section of an issue of the teen magazine. "She groomed me," he recalled in a recent Entertainment Tonight article. Tiger Beat cover features soon followed. 

In 1982, Stamos landed his breakout role on General Hospital, for which he'd later earn a daytime Emmy nomination. In 1984 he moved on to prime time, starring in two different short-lived but high-profile network shows over the next few years. In 1987 he accepted a role on Full House, a sitcom whose massive popularity would cement his celebrity status and keep him busy for the next eight years. I imagine by that point he had very little time to hang out with Doreen, but that's okay because she was keeping busy, too. In 1988 she accepted a marriage proposal from then-incarcerated Satanic serial killer Richard Ramirez.

Years later, Stamos found an article that his mother kept about the serial killer that mentioned Lioy. “Here [Lioy’s] talking about Richard Ramirez,” he says, freaked out that she’s saying the same things about Ramirez that she once said about Stamos. “What did she see in me that she saw in him?” 

I mean, the obvious answer is “cheekbones,” but yeah I get what you mean, Stamos. I’m not sure what to make of it, either.


Australian hard rock band AC/DC has a more legitimate claim to a Ramirez connection than any other celebrity, though they probably aren’t super interested in actually defending that claim. The fact that Ramirez left behind an AC/DC baseball cap at the scene of one of his murders is one of those Things You Don’t Bring Up Around AC/DC, sort of like how the whole schoolboy look is uncomfortably close to the adult baby roleplay fetish, or could you please write one goddamn song in a different time signature just one I am begging you.

The band faced harsh criticism in 1985 following Ramirez’s arrest, with some cities attempting to prevent them from playing scheduled shows on their US tour. Here’s founding guitarist Angus Young defending the group in an LA Times article from that year:

Young pointed out how people constantly misinterpret their material. In defense of “Highway to Hell,” he pointed out: “It has nothing to do with devil worship. We toured for four years at a stretch with no break. A guy asked how would you best describe our tours. We said: ‘A highway to hell.’ The phrase stuck with us.”

Another song, “Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be"--from the “Let There Be Rock” album--also supposedly indicates the band’s satanic leanings.

“That song is a joke,” Young countered. “We’re saying if you’ve got your choice between heaven and hell, you might pick hell. In heaven you have harp music and in hell there’s a good rocking band and rocking songs. That’s what we’d chose. So hell ain’t a bad place to be. It’s all in fun.

“What happened to people’s sense of humor? We’re kidding. We’re more of a tease than anything. We’re more like naughty little boys, not out-and-out villains.”

I mostly agree with him, but I also think this answer is kind of a cop-out. It’s hard to accept “haha just kidding” as the overall artistic intent when you read the lyrics to “Night Prowler,” the specific song in their catalog that reportedly spoke to Ramirez:

Somewhere a clock strikes midnight

And there's a full moon in the sky

You hear a dog bark in the distance

You hear someone's baby cry

A rat runs down the alley

And a chill runs down your spine

And someone walks across your grave

And you wish the sun would shine

'Cause no one's gonna warn you

And no one's gonna yell attack

And you don't feel the steel

Till it's hangin' out your back

I'm your night prowler, asleep in the day

Night prowler, get outta my way

Yeah I'm the prowler, watch out tonight

Yes I'm the night prowler, when you turn out the light

Too scared to turn your light out

'Cause there's somethin' on your mind

Was that a noise outside the window

What's that shadow on the blind

As you lie there naked

Like a body in a tomb

Suspended animation as I slip into your room

I'm your night prowler, asleep in the day

Yeah I'm the night prowler, get outta my way

Look out for the night prowler, watch out tonight

Yes I'm the night prowler, when you turn out the light

To be clear, it’s not that I have objections to the content of the lyrics so much as Young’s blanket dismissal of their sincerity. I can understand why he wouldn’t want to embrace a real life murderer’s appreciation for his art, but it feels disingenuous for him to pretend that the band wasn’t intentionally using the imagery of a savage killer to establish a morbid, violent mystique for themselves that was already pretty common within the heavy metal genre. Ramirez’s endorsement probably did just as much to solidify that mystique for the band as any of the songs on Highway To Hell, and while that’s obviously not something any musician should want, it’s an outcome you risk when you try to present dark subject matter with authenticity. It is simultaneously the worst and also the most meaningful compliment the band could have received for their song about murder, so I get why they don’t want the credit, but it feels phony to say it was all just a joke.

Then again I held back the final line of that song to better support my argument here, and that line is, “Shazbot. Nanu nanu.” So maybe it is all a joke? Maybe the song is actually about Mork from Ork being a Satanic rapist? Don’t listen to me, what the hell do I know.


Sean Penn had a connection to Richard Ramirez too, and I don’t just mean that they both beat up women. Penn served a brief jail sentence in 1987 for assaulting a photographer, and when prison officials decided that he was too famous for gen pop, the actor ended up doing his time in a secluded wing of the facility, just a few heavily-reinforced doors over from you-know-who. Here’s Penn’s story, from The Hollywood Reporter:

"He wrote me [a letter]," said Penn. "I was down here on Bauchet Street, in L.A County Jail, in the cell kind of across from him. And after about a month of seeing each other around, he wanted my autograph. So he sent one of the deputies over, [and the] deputy came to my cell and told me: 'Hey, Richard Ramirez wants your autograph.' And I didn't trust the deputy because I'd gotten in some trouble inside there and just passing a piece of paper is contraband, so you can get extra days for that, and I already had extra days and I didn't want more. So I said, 'Bring the sergeant down here, and I'll talk to him and if he approves it. Then I want him to write something first and I'll write him something back.' So the sergeant came down and approved it, and they went over to Ramirez — this guard basically wanted to play Cupid, in some way. So, I get this thing from him and it says, 'Hey, Sean, stay tough and hit them again — Richard Ramirez, 666,' with a pentagram and a rendition of the devil."

Penn wrote back: "I said, 'You know, Richard, it's impossible to be incarcerated and not feel a certain kinship with your fellow inmates. Well, Richard, I've done the impossible, I feel absolutely no kinship with you. And I hope gas descends upon you before sanity does, you know? It would be a kinder way out.'”

OK Sean, just a quick “fuck you” and let’s move it along, huh? You’re disavowing a serial killer, not writing another Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff novel. Presumably Penn left the letter anonymous, as signing it would technically have counted as an autograph.

The funniest thing about this is that in 1987 Sean Penn hadn’t yet cemented his “tough guy/deep thinker” public persona, so when Ramirez asked for an autograph he was definitely expecting to interact with fun party animal Spicoli, and ended up receiving a tiresome and overwritten lecture from a Serious Artist instead. Or maybe the funniest thing is that literally three paragraphs later in that article, Penn goes off on an angry rant about tabloid photographers invading his privacy, demonstrating that his post-release recidivism potential is basically the same as Ramirez’s would have been. I honestly can’t decide.


Of course, the gold standard of “celebrities responding to Richard Ramirez” is, without question, actor Ted Levine. Levine played Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb in The Silence of the Lambs, which you will probably not be surprised to learn was one of Ramirez’s favorite movies. From a New York Post article:

The “Night Stalker’’ serial killer was obsessed with the actor who played the mass murderer in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs,” the dying con told The Post in his final interview.

“That guy on the show ‘Monk,’ I really liked him in ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ ” said Richard Ramirez in a phone chat from San Quentin Prison last month, referring to actor Ted Levine.

...

Levine, who went on to portray a detective in TV’s “Monk,” yesterday told The Post, “F–k him. I hope he’s in hell. That’s all I have to say about Richard Ramirez.”

Levine’s brevity here is the only appropriate response. No one actually needs to spend any time analyzing Richard Ramirez’s opinion on anything, because Ramirez was a sick and hateful moron. Fuck him. That’s really all that needs to be said.

Buuuuuut…Ramirez identifying Levine as “that guy on the show Monk” is just the funniest detail, and I can’t let it go. I keep picturing Ramirez leaning forward on his shitty prison mattress, watching Tony Shalhoub perform his OCD Mr. Bean routine on a 10” TV, murmuring “Adrian, how are you ever gonna solve this one?” to absolutely no one as he slowly and painfully died alone, literally turning green while his liver failed as a complication from lymphoma. The image of one of history’s most brutal and sadistic serial killers finally receiving his just punishment for his litany of evil deeds - and that punishment being the Wednesday night primetime lead-in to an all-new Burn Notice - is so fucking funny to me that I want to cherish it forever, returning to it periodically to soothe myself whenever things get too stressful or difficult.

I hope he’s in hell too, but I couldn’t stop talking about him if I tried. We can’t all be Ted Levine.


In 1988, the same year Doreen Lioy made a phone call to her parents to tell them about their new son-in-law, John Stamos appeared in the music video for the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo.” He plays additional percussion with the band as they perform the hit at some sort of oceanside concert hall or cult mass suicide pavilion, it’s hard to tell which. And while I’ve always cringed at the song’s nihilistic celebration of all-consuming leisure, I’m now coming to appreciate its specific philosophy of escapism.

It isn’t hard to imagine Stamos asking his new friend Mike Love for advice on how to navigate Hollywood as a celebrity with a noted connection to an infamous criminal. Love, along with “Kokomo” co-writer Terry Melcher, definitely could have provided his own insight on the topic, having once utilized the services of a disgruntled freelance songwriter on the Beach Boys’ 20/20 album before eventually coming to regret it. Mike, perhaps with a tropical drink melting in his hand, could have offered some sympathy, maybe to the rhythm of a...well, you get it.

The song used to bug me because I couldn’t imagine what stress or problems a bunch of millionaire rock stars (and one moonlighting sitcom star) could possibly need to escape from. “Kokomo” still sucks, but I can see now that it’s not just about physically running away to a tropical island to escape from anyone who wants to ask you uncomfortable questions about the murderer you sort of know through a friend of a friend. It’s also about artistic escapism, stripping your art of any eccentricities, any complications, any potential meaning that might be attractive to or misinterpreted by some psycho who’s then connected to you and your legacy forever. If your art means absolutely nothing, it can never hurt anyone. Kokomo isn’t just an imaginary island off the Florida Keys; it’s a soothing balm, a lyrical coping mechanism. It’s hopeful and sad and kind of beautiful in its utter emptiness.

Then again, one of the other co-writers of this song was John Phillips, who may or may not have been engaging in an incestuous relationship with his daughter Mackenzie around the time the songwriters were hastily scrawling tropical island lyrics on a legal pad in between snorting lines in a sweaty wood-paneled recording studio. There’s really nowhere you can go to get away from it all. We’re all in hell together already.

Shazbot. Nanu nanu.

Killdozer For Congress

Bodies Upon the Gears

Marvin Heemeyer was fucking pissed. He'd just spent four years working to block the construction of a concrete plant on the lot next to his muffler shop, knowing that the subsequent rezoning would cut off access to his business from the road and require an absurdly expensive update to his drainage and sewer connection, and the Town Council of Granby, Colorado had ultimately voted to allow construction to commence. This concrete plant was going to ruin him, and none of his protests seemed to matter at all to the powerful people making the final decisions.

So he did what any one of us would have done: he spent the next year and a half secretly reinforcing a Komatsu D355A bulldozer with steel plates, concrete slabs, and bulletproof glass (It was later dubbed the “Killdozer” by the media), and on June 4, 2004, he used it to mount an assault on the concrete plant, the homes and businesses of town council members, and Granby Town Hall. By the time he was finished he had destroyed over a dozen buildings and caused more than $4 million in damage.

I guess now that I've written it out I can see I probably wouldn't have done that. You probably wouldn't have, either. 

We can dream, though.


Last week I read this New York Times article about US senators dumping their personal stocks immediately after attending a confidential briefing in January about the then-approaching coronavirus pandemic (And in at least one case, jumping on the exciting opportunity to invest in telecommunications futures). It might just be the stress of being stuck inside basically quarantined during a global pandemic, or the fact that the Senate’s recent stimulus bill provides $500 billion to corporations but doesn’t expand anyone’s healthcare, but this story is really making me want to shop for a used bulldozer.

Maybe a Congressional insider trading scandal would be easier to process if we all hadn't just spent the last two months watching our elected officials perfect their impressions of the Mayor from Jaws, insisting, "The beaches are perfectly safe! So's our economy and our healthcare infrastructure!," the whole time they were making pandemic investments. Actually I take it back, this is an unfair comparison. There's never a scene in Jaws where you see Mayor Vaughn make a frenzied call to his broker to sell all his suntan lotion and inner tube stocks after he sees the first couple of shark-chewed corpses.

These people have known for months exactly how bad things are about to get. And instead of using that time to determine any consistent national plans for social distancing or medical preparation or economic relief for those likeliest to be devastated by what's about to happen, they've been updating their stock portfolios. “What Now?”, that above Times headline asks, providing you a fun Choose Your Own Adventure-type opportunity to decide for yourself what an appropriate response would be. I know I have some ideas.


Heemeyer revved up the Killdozer at just past 3 PM. He used a mini crane to lower the reinforced armor shell onto the vehicle, effectively locking himself inside. Once secure, he drove onto the neighboring property and began tearing down buildings at the concrete plant. “His first target was the small precast shop,” according to this archived article from The Concrete Producer. “Heemeyer flattened it, yet somehow the two employees inside escaped injury.” Cody Docheff, the owner of the plant, jumped into his own front-end loader and attempted to ward Heemeyer off, but his vehicle was no match for the armored bulldozer.

Heemeyer then started ramming the building while slowly circling it. Parts of the building caved in on themselves. Sheriff's deputies came, but were powerless. About the only part of the building Heemeyer didn't damage or destroy was the batch plant. The Docheffs speculate Heemeyer feared that if he knocked it over, it would topple onto the bulldozer.

Heemeyer turned his bulldozer onto Agate Avenue and pointed it south in the direction of the rest of the town. He had a plan and knew exactly where his enemies lived and worked.

Heemeyer smashed through Granby for over an hour. He crushed a bank, a general store, an electric company, a newspaper office, and a printing company, among other buildings. He pulverized street signs and parked cars, and unsuccessfully attempted to detonate propane tanks and electrical transformers.

The destruction was personal. At the bank, he aimed directly at the corner office where a woman who sat on the zoning board worked. Dick Thompson served on the town council for 20 years and was mayor when the zoning dispute started, but died recently. Heemeyer destroyed the home where his 82-year-old widow lived.

Cops fired over 200 rounds at the rampaging Killdozer, and Heemeyer shrugged them off like they were gnats. One officer climbed on top of the moving vehicle as it roared through town and dropped an explosive device into its exhaust pipe, but the blast had seemingly little effect. The Killdozer continued bashing through town like a diesel-fueled juggernaut. Heemeyer had really thought this all out.


President Fuckhead has been saying for days now that this whole social distancing thing has been fun and all, but it’s time for you poor impoverished haters and losers to get back to work so we can keep the stock market humming along the way he likes. Two weeks ago he had the Federal Reserve throw $1.5 trillion at the market to counteract an economy-imperiling drop and then we watched the drop continue more or less unabated. Now it’s looking like this piece of shit wants to try the same thing again, only this time instead of pumping money that could have gone toward healthcare into the market, he wants to feed it the bodies of our nation’s elderly and immunocompromised. 

Just as a quick fun contrast, check out this story from the New York Daily News, in which ISIS has warned its membership roster of Islamic terrorists to stay away from Europe until the pandemic is under control. 

Would-be martyrs learned of the travel ban in the ISIS newsletter al-Naba just before the weekend got underway, according to outlets including Homeland Security Today.

The newsletter reportedly urges ISIS’ operatives outside of Europe not to enter the continent while asking supporters and insurgents already there not to leave.

Terrorists serving the Islamic State are also reminded to wash their hands and cover their mouths when yawning and sneezing. The warning reportedly included a full page info-graphic teaching ISIS members how to avoid spreading the pandemic.

It’s encouraging to finally see some real leadership in a time of crisis. Also, ISIS has a newsletter? Oh damn, are they also using Substack? Would they want to trade links, you think?

Meanwhile, it’s been just as distressing to see lots of people who should know better express confidence in New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, pictured above in a press briefing last week in which he used a visual aid of a seesaw to sell the idea that there’s an acceptable number of old people who we can offer as a blood sacrifice to the Dow. I know that everything’s relative, so the guy who’s actually testing for the virus is bound to look better than the guy who has said the virus is a liberal hoax, but it’s a pretty depressing binary nonetheless.

It’s enough to make you start shopping for some big fuzzy dice to hang from the reinforced closed-circuit video monitors you’re using in place of a rearview mirror.


Heemeyer’s rampage ended when he demolished Gambles General Store, another business owned by one of the town council members. The weight of the reinforced Killdozer was too much for the store’s wooden floorboards, and the vehicle stalled out after crashing through to the building’s basement. At 4:30 PM, authorities heard a muffled shot from within the bulldozer’s cab. Heemeyer had taken his own life.

“Depression is just anger turned inward” is one of those unhelpful psychological catch-all bromides that has always irritated me more than it’s ever been helpful, but I have to admit it applies pretty well here. Heemeyer turned his anger on as much of Granby and its town council members as he could, and when he ran out of those targets he had nowhere left to aim that anger but at himself. He might have found help if he’d had access to mental healthcare, but as you’re probably already aware, that access is pretty unlikely when you’ve just lost your job.

In case I’ve been unclear - and before I receive a visit from the Secret Service - I’m not a violent person, and I’m definitely not advocating any violence (lol please don’t build your own Killdozer). Marvin Heemeyer was a dipshit with an anger problem, and just because no one was physically harmed during his tough guy bulldozer temper tantrum doesn’t mean he’s some hero of the disenfranchised. Heemeyer held a dumb grudge over some money, and he almost killed a bunch of children who were reading in the library inside Granby Town Hall just before he demolished it. Fuck him.

However, I’ve long been fascinated by the way that Great Depression-era bank robbers attained a level of celebrity among Americans who had lost everything to failing banks and an indifferent federal government. Destitute farmers knew that bank robbers weren’t good people, but if those bad people were hurting the banks and the government, it provided a small amount of vicarious power and comfort. Heemeyer wasn’t a hero any more than John Dillinger was, but as our current institutional precarity increasingly resembles the era that allowed the latter to become a celebrity, I’m allowing myself some idle fantasies.


At Rikers Island in New York City, preparations have been made. Not preparations regarding the health and safety of the incarcerated or the corrections officers at the island’s detention facilities, because the city really could give a shit about any of them, but preparations for the death toll the pandemic will inevitably take in one of the wealthiest and most densely populated cities in the world. 

According to this Daily Beast article, plans have been made for Rikers inmates to earn $1/hour digging mass graves for coronavirus deaths on Hart Island, “a desolate spit of land off the coast of the Bronx in Long Island Sound that functions as the city’s public cemetery.” Rikers inmates have already been digging these unmarked graves for the city’s poor and homeless for over a century, burying 20-25 unembalmed bodies per week. That number is about to rise, and all those unembalmed bodies will now likely be carrying a virus.

One wonders if these workers will be allowed to use a bulldozer.


Antisocial Distancing

Stay home!

This past Sunday was David Cronenberg’s birthday, which is an official religious holiday as far as this newsletter is concerned. My wife and I took the opportunity to cancel our social plans, sequester ourselves indoors, and crack open our stock of hoarded canned beans as we settled in to ease our anxieties about the world by submitting ourselves to hours of cinematic body horror that chronicled everything from scientific and medical catastrophe to the inevitable failure of our own flesh. Wait, what’s that? What do you mean “pandemic self-isolation”? That’s just what we do every weekend.

I’m not sure how everyone else manages their panic, but the most effective treatment for me has always been distracting myself with a bunch of fucked up horror and crime movies. And since we’re all probably about to spend a lot of time in our homes with not much else to do, I thought it would be a good time to provide another round-up of some lesser-seen and underappreciated titles from the streaming services we all otherwise mostly use to watch old sitcom episodes for fleeting comfort because we can’t afford medication or therapy.

NETFLIX

THE WICKER MAN (1973)

Christopher Lee is Lord Summerisle in the greatest folk horror film ever made. If you liked Midsommar, you will like this. And please don’t reply to say something negative about the 2006 Nicolas Cage remake, because that one is a) good, and b) constantly willfully misinterpreted.

THE BLEEDING EDGE (2017)

This documentary about the dangers of medical implants is the scariest film I saw in 2017, and I basically only ever watch movies about terror and death. I still sort of squirm in my seat when I think about it.

DIRTY HARRY (1971)

You could watch Zero Dark Thirty and The Report and get a meticulous, researched overview of The War On Terror, but if you really want to understand American foreign policy in the 2000s you’re also going to have to watch 300 and Team America: World Police. All of which is to say, I love Zodiac and its painstakingly recreated 60s/70s San Francisco as much as anybody, but racist supercop Harry Callahan’s civil rights-defying hunt for the Scorpio Killer is just as authentic in its own way.

ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT (2017)

A perfect documentary, if your ideal documentary viewing experience is “Getting so furious at the movie that you’re red-faced screaming at the absolute morons on the TV by halfway through it.”

THE TRUST (2016)

You may have heard that I’m a fan of actor Nicolas Cage*. My favorite Cage roles are the weird character actor parts where he can free himself of the burden of anchoring a film as something approaching a relatable human being, allowing him to commit completely to a more expressionistic style of acting he refers to as “Western kabuki.” For instance, why does his character in this film put hot sauce on a lemon wedge and eat it like weird tapas? No idea really, but I can’t deny that it very effectively lets you know how unhinged this guy is, well before the heist plan starts to go bad.

(*If for some reason you wanted to hear me say a lot more about Saint Nicolas, you could listen to this episode of the Screen Drafts podcast, in which my buddy Marc and I become pariahs of Film Twitter for daring to love all Cage performances unironically.)

AMAZON PRIME

THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)

Seems like a real missed opportunity on Amazon’s part to make this Roger Corman/Vincent Price Poe adaptation available to stream right now and not the more relevant The Masque of the Red Death, but what are ya gonna do. That’s okay, this one rules too. 

THE KILLING OF AMERICA (1981)

It would be pretty irresponsible to call this fearmongering trash a “documentary,” in the same way you probably shouldn’t call the 1940 Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew a documentary. But if you share my mesmerized conflicted fascination for fearmongering trash (And you do; after all, you’re here reading this right now), this collection of race riot, school shooter and serial killer footage will scratch that itch you’re ashamed you have.

DEAD RINGERS (1988)

Cronenberg takes the wearying sadness that’s lurking just under the surface of all his previous goopy prosthetic make-up effects films and makes a whole movie in which that empty sucking melancholy is the monster. Jeremy Irons gives probably the best dual-role performance of all time as twin brother gynecologists developing “instruments for operating on mutant women.”

For what it’s worth, there are also two timelier Cronenberg-directed films about viral epidemics that are available to stream for free (Shivers and Rabid, on Tubi and Amazon, respectively), but neither is as good as Dead Ringers.

KING OF NEW YORK (1990)

Aside from being one of the best-ever showcases of 90s character actors (Steve Buscemi! Larry Fishburne when he was still Larry! James Lorinz from Frankenhooker!), this features my favorite Christopher Walken performance, playing a not-at-all-reformed drug kingpin emerging from prison to reclaim his empire. He veers back and forth between charismatic warmth and sociopathic rage so fluidly that it’s very hard not to think about Natalie Wood by the end of the movie.

MANIAC (1980)

Last time I recommended this one, it was only available on Shudder. Now it’s on Amazon and more of you may have access to it, so here’s what I wrote back in October:

I got to meet makeup effects legend Tom Savini at a horror convention in Burbank a few years ago. I told him how much I loved his work in this nearly plotless film about a sweaty oaf murdering women and nailing their scalps to mannequins in his disgusting studio apartment. He must have noticed a real Mark David Chapman-type gleam in my eyes, because he squinted at me and said, "No one should watch that movie." 

SHUDDER

(It’s free for a month, go sign up! Just try not to think too much about the fact that a horror streaming app is currently providing more meaningful economic relief than the federal government!)

DEADWAX (2018)

Technically a limited series, but since all the episodes together add up to about 90 minutes I sort of suspect this was made as a feature film and later edited into episodic chunks to make it an easier sell to distributors. Either way, the “cursed piece of media” subgenre is one of my favorite kinds of horror, and the deadly vinyl record featured here is absolutely something I would listen to, given the opportunity.

THE OLD DARK HOUSE (1932)

Spending your teen years obsessively listening to Nine Inch Nails and then eventually discovering David Bowie’s Low is a real eye-opening artistic experience, as you absorb the art that influenced the artist who influenced you. Bowie is to The Old Dark House as NIN is to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

THE ROAD MOVIE (2016)

This is literally just a long compilation of Russian dashboard camera videos, of car accidents and road rage and disasters, and it’s easily more thrilling and compelling than most big budget studio action movies. I said “Holy fuck” out loud a bunch of times when I watched this, which is probably as meaningful a compliment as I could give to any movie.

TUBI

PEEPING TOM (1960)

Sixty years ago, Alfred Hitchcock made a movie about a deviant serial killer with Mommy issues and it became one of the most popular and influential films of all time. Michael Powell released a Daddy-obsessed serial killer film that same year, but in his movie the killer commits murders with a camera and symbolically implicates the viewer in his endless lust for blood and misogyny and death, so critics despised it and Powell’s career was destroyed. Go figure.

SURVEILLANCE (2008)

Jennifer Lynch (Yep, of that Lynch family) directs this thriller about FBI agents receiving conflicting information during a series of interrogations. It’s like Rashomon for people who thought Rashomon didn’t have enough sexual sadism.

THE SACRAMENT (2013)

One of the best films from last decade’s wave of found footage horror. Journalists travel to interview members of a cult at their South American compound, where they find that everyone is happy and thriving, and their not-megalomaniacal leader always has their best interests in mind. Nothing to worry about here!

HOT COFFEE (2011)

A documentary about a woman who was horribly burned by McDonald’s coffee and became an undeserved punchline just for seeking justice. A corporate boot stomping on your neck is pretty bad, but don’t say anything too rude to the boot or God forbid sue the boot, or Jay Leno might leer over the boot’s shoulder and make fun of your dumbass broken neck on national TV for months.

FRED 2: NIGHT OF THE LIVING FRED (2011)

The single most annoying movie I have ever seen. Remember earlier, when I said I would consume a cursed piece of media if given the opportunity? This one is as cursed as they come. If you watch this while you’re stuck inside with other people, it will instantly give you Overlook Hotel levels of family-annihilating cabin fever rage. I’m certainly not telling you to watch this (Really, don’t!), but in the spirit of the newsletter I feel obligated to make you aware that such a dangerous film exists. If you gaze long enough at Fred 2, Fred 2 will gaze back into you.


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Personal Pan-demic

Dean Cain, Kristy Swanson, and Edgar Allan Poe

The red death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal -- the madness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease, were incidents of half an hour.

Anyone read any good epidemiology stories lately?

The above passage is of course from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” and thankfully that’s the only paragraph that’s even remotely relatable to the current world health gun barrel down which we all find ourselves currently staring.

But Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his crenellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts.

Oh wait.

Oh fuck.


They resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the "Red Death."

Whenever a politician or a lobbyist or a cable news correspondent uses the word “choice” in regard to healthcare, this is the logical endpoint of what they mean. Healthcare industry profits are worth more to these people than your life is, and you get to choose how to deal with that valuation. You can choose to financially decimate yourself in the event you or a loved one falls ill or has an accident, or you can choose to die. They’re not telling you to die. It’s your choice.

Personally, I’m excited to find out exactly how much these people think an “affordable” vaccine should cost. It’s gonna be like that time I decided not to buy any of the books my professors assigned in college because I realized I only had enough money to either complete the assigned reading or eat, but not both. Just like that, only instead of missing out on Studs Terkel and Introductory Philosophy, I’m going to contract a life-threatening respiratory illness.


In this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes were scarlet -- a deep blood color… In the western or back chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.


It was within this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. It pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang...At each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and while the chimes of the clock yet rang it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused revery or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then...there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.

It occurred to me when I saw the above article being shared last week that it wouldn’t really have been the virus itself that the markets would fear. It would have been a lot more accurate to say (a) that this fucking idiot cut CDC funding and eliminated the NSC post dedicated to managing pandemics, (b) that healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are organized crime rackets that routinely prevent even the people who can afford their insurance premiums from seeking care because it’s too expensive, and (c) that service industry and food preparation jobs pay so little and offer such negligible sick leave and paid time off that infected employees have no choice but to continue to show up to work and touch everyone’s food, and that the combined fear generated by these reasons is what would actually tank the markets. I guess this is mostly an academic distinction once the coughing starts, though. Six of one kind of over-the-counter cold medicine pill, half a dozen of the other.

How comforting, then, to hear that our federal government is now taking the pandemic threat seriously enough that it’s in the hands of the guy who caused an AIDS epidemic when he cut health services as Governor of Indiana and was writing op-eds as recently as 2000 in which he argued that cigarettes don’t cause cancer. Good thing he doesn’t already have a demonstrable history of downplaying or outright denying critical public health issues, or we’d all really be in trouble.


It was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for color and effects. He disregarded the "decora" of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure he was not.

The replies to this tweet are almost uniformly critical of the President’s priorities in the middle of a potential viral pandemic, but I have to admit this is the only aspect of this story I can really wrap my head around. If I was the one who had cut public health and emergency management funding just before the rise of a terrifying virus, and then the New York Times reported that my general incompetence and stinginess led to untrained, ill-equipped Health and Human Services employees probably doing more to spread the virus than treat it, I’d want to say “fuck it” and go hang out with some movie stars, too. Except in his case, all the real movie stars think he’s a piece of shit, even the lifelong conservative movie stars, so the best he can do is hang out with Dean Cain and Kristy Swanson. It’d be kinda funny, if exactly this empty sucking dependence on validation from F-level celebrity wasn’t a big part of what got us all into this mess in the first place.


He had directed, in great part, the movable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fete; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. 


There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made.

At this point in Poe’s story, Prince Prospero and his revelers are upset when they notice a mysterious figure among them, a proto-edgelord who dressed for the masquerade as a “stiffened corpse” covered in the specks of expectorated blood that mark the afflicted. But this is where my carefully supported extended metaphor falls apart, because Prospero actively chases the figure through the castle after taking offense at the costume, whereas I cannot imagine our bloated pigfuck President doing any running in any castle, except for maybe a White Castle.

Prospero dies instantly upon confronting the figure, and when the other revelers rush in and grab the mystery guest they’re left holding a torn and empty costume, “untenanted by any tangible form,” before they all die as well. 

The costume is empty because a global pandemic is not a villain. You can’t call in an airstrike on it. You can’t lead a crowd in a “Lock Covid-19 Up” chant at a rally. You can’t send hitmen to strangle it to death in its Manhattan prison cell and make it look like a suicide. All you can do is try to ensure that everyone for whom you are responsible, regardless of their income or political affiliation, lives with comfort and dignity and receives the care they need. 

No wonder he transparently doesn’t give a shit.


And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

Foot Traffic

Fuck it, I give up.

On the beaches of the Salish Sea, a collection of interconnected straits and inlets and various other waterways in the area of the Pacific Northwest between Seattle and Vancouver, people keep finding severed feet. Since 2007, 21 human feet have washed ashore, all of them still clad in socks and shoes. Investigators initially suspected a serial killer was dumping these grisly remains, but it turned out that various unrecovered victims of drowning and suicide are just naturally decomposing at the bottom of the sea, and the buoyant rubber soles of their shoes are carrying their feet to shore after the tendons that once connected feet to legs finally give out. No need to worry about a serial killer; it's just a giant pile of suicided corpses at the bottom of the ocean, periodically sending us little rotting pedi-grams to say hello. Hopefully you find this explanation as comforting as I did.

All of which is to say that this one's going to be a little more scattered than usual. More "a collection of parts washing up on shore" than a polished essay with themes or like, a point. 

(Don't say, "When have these ever had a point." Fucker.)


The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced that Nine Inch Nails would be among its inductees for 2020, which is fantastic news because I really needed a brand new way to feel painfully aware of my own age and advancing cultural irrelevance. Nothing preserves the defiant spirit and mystique of your favorite art quite like its placement in a museum where you can also spend $6.99 on a souvenir tumbler glass with the word "rebel" on it.

Of course, I'm severely oversimplifying - I'm actually happy that a musician I've loved for almost as long as I’ve been listening to music is being recognized by and among his peers. And the Rock Hall is really fun too, even if you have to sit through a bunch of Skynyrdy bullshit before they let you see the Talking Heads Polaroid mosaic. But obviously, awards ceremonies for art are going to value populism and sales, so it’s always sort of a mindfuck when you personally value that art more for its abrasive and challenging qualities. In other words, if you don’t love me at my “Commissioning a fake snuff film to promote my 1993 EP Broken without the knowledge of my record label,” you don’t deserve me at my “20 million records sold, with 13 Grammy Award nominations and a new career as an Oscar-winning film composer.” 

Oh, well. At least they’ll never induct Jello Biafra.


Saturday's New York Times featured an article about Clearview AI, a new facial recognition company currently partnering with various state and federal law enforcement organizations to strengthen a growing surveillance network and maybe also create an unlivable tech dystopia. Law enforcement has been using facial recognition tech for years, but they used to be limited to a database of only official government photos - mugshots, driver's license photos, etc. Clearview's tech provides an exponentially larger photo database by culling images from Facebook and Instagram and every other website and social media service where you might post photos, or where photos of you are posted. It’s a scary escalation of an already scary surveillance state, even before you read that investors in Clearview expect the service to eventually be available to the public.

Now wait, you might be saying, doesn't an unauthorized commercial co-opting of people's photos violate Facebook's terms of service? It does, but it turns out that doesn't make much difference when one of the investors in your Orwellian nightmare company is Peter Thiel, who also sits on Facebook's Board of Directors (A Facebook spokesman "declined to comment on Mr. Thiel's personal investments" when asked about the conflict of interest, because of course he fucking did).

This would be depressing news on its own, but I don't think it's helping that I finally watched that crappy new Terminator sequel the night before I read this article. It's a weird feeling, being nostalgic for a time when dreading your potential future techno-death involved liquid metal and killer cyborgs, and not, say, some random psychopath wearing Google glasses that allow him to instantly obtain the address and employer and social circle details of anyone he sees on the other side of a political protest, or walking into a Planned Parenthood, or reacting to his catcalls in a way he doesn’t like. It’s a good thing, then, that Hoan Ton-That, founder of Clearview AI, is treating the likely eventual public availability of his technology with the gravity and circumspection it deserves.

Asked about the implications of bringing such a power into the world, Mr. Ton-That seemed taken aback.

“I have to think about that,” he said. “Our belief is that this is the best use of the technology.”

Hasta la vista, baby.


For no reason at all I'm thinking of May 2002, when I was in high school and Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man movie had just come out. As I was walking through the halls the following Monday I saw a group of morons horsing around, pantomiming the little devil horn-type hand gesture that Spider-Man makes when he’s shooting webs. One of them was a bully who’d spent years shouting homophobic slurs at me, so it was a bit jarring to see him identifying with the hero of a movie that also featured a seemingly more applicable high school bully character.

I used to waste a lot of time wondering how someone could be so immune to shame and hypocrisy that they cheer for art that illustrates their own role in worsening the lives of people less powerful than they are, but now I recognize that these tone-deaf sadists most likely never even think about anyone who isn’t a fellow bully, or paying $10,000 a plate to hear them condescend to the idea of Medicare For All at a political fundraiser, or sitting across the table from them at a dinner party with Jeffrey Epstein. And now, thanks to the cancerous proliferation of social media, every year around awards season we have to hear some dumbass bullshit like “Lynndie England thought The Report was a fantastic docudrama with an important message” and then we have to go about our day without trying to burn down a bank.

I have long since abandoned the hope that any members of our privileged elite will ever face any consequences for the various ways they’re destroying the world to enrich themselves. But it sure would be nice if they could stop going out of their way to rub our faces in it.

Fuck it. I give up.


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