“FLAMINGO PRIDE”— One Straight Flamingo in the Flock

flamingo pride

“Flamingo Pride”

One Straight Flamingo in the Flock

Amos Lassen

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Tomer Eshed is a man after my heart. I knew it was just a matter of time until someone made a movie about gay flamingos but this was slipped under my radar and was actually made in 2011. It is a rather bizarre short film (just 6 minutes) but it is also fun. Using animation we are taken into the world of a flock of flamingos where all are gay save one and party seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day.

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“Frustrated at being the only straight flamingo in a gay flock, our hero falls in love with a lady stork who flies by. Unable to convince her of his serious intentions, he isolates himself and endures an identity crisis. An intensive encounter inspires him to make a bold move.” It isn’t easy finding love and it is more difficult when you are the only heterosexual in a predominantly homosexual setting. 

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Produced by Germany-based animation studio Talking Animals and directed by Tomer Eshed, “Flamingo Pride” explores the themes of sexuality, prejudices and cultural stereotypes and manages to be funny at the same time.

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The main character (the only straight flamingo from its community) is at first mocked and then rejected by the “normal” birds. A little twist at the end shows comically manner that not everything is what it seems at first sight and that even the apparent “normality” is merely a façade.

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The contrast of the cartoonish designs of the birds characters with the two realistic tigers which appear in one of the scenes was a nice touch but we have to love the flamingos.

“Fertility Holidays: IVF Tourism and the Reproduction of Whiteness” by Amy Speier— A Critical Analysis

fertility holidays

Speier, Amy. “Fertility Holidays: IVF Tourism and the Reproduction of Whiteness”, NYU Press, 2016.

A Critical Analysis

Amos Lassen

Many Americans travel out of the country looking forlow cost medical treatments abroad and these include including fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). The lower middle classes of the United States have been priced out of an expensive privatized “baby business,” while the Czech Republic has become a central hub of fertility tourism offering blonde-haired, blue-eyed egg donors at a fraction of the price.

“Fertility Holidays” gives us a presents a critical analysis of white, working class North Americans with motivations and experiences traveling to Central Europe for donor egg IVF. Within this, patients become consumers, and they are urged on by the representation of a white Europe and an empathetic health care system, which we do not seem to have at home. Amy Speier traces these American fertility journeys halfway around the world uncovering contradictions that are part of global reproductive medicine. Speier shows the extent to which reproductive travel heightens the hope “ingrained in reproductive technologies, especially when the procedures are framed as ‘holidays’.” Combining a vacation with treatment gives couples a stress-free IVF cycle; but, in truth, they may become swept up in situations as they endure an emotionally filled cycle of IVF in a strange place.

Speier has written an intimate and first-hand account of North Americans’ journeys to the Czech Republic for IVF; she exposes reproductive travel as a form of consumption which is motivated by complex desires for white babies, a European vacation, better health care, and technological success.

“Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar” by Brad Tolinski and Alan di Pema— The Electric Guitar

play it loud

Tolinski, Brad and Alan di Pema. “Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar’, Doubleday, 2016.

The Electric Guitar

Amos Lassen

Brad Tolinski and Alan di Pema are veteran music writers who give us an unprecedented history of the electric guitar and its impact on both music and culture as well as of the people that made it live. The electric guitar has been an international symbol of freedom, danger, rebellion, and hedonism. “Play It Loud” is “a story of inventors and iconoclasts, of scam artists, prodigies, and mythologizers as varied and original as the instruments they spawned”.

The book focuses on twelve landmark guitars—each of them artistic milestones in their own right and through them it illustrates the conflict and passion that the instruments have inspired. We meet Leo Fender, a man who couldn’t play a note but who helped to transform the guitar into the explosive sound machine it is today through his innovations.. Some of the most significant social movements of the twentieth century are indebted to the guitar: the guitar became was an essential element in the fight for racial equality in the entertainment industry; it has reflected the rise of the teenager as social force. Today contemporary musicians such as Jack White of The White Stripes, Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), and Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys are bringing some of the earliest electric guitar forms back.

There are interviews with Les Paul, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana (who also wrote the foreword), Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, and many more players and creators. We see how a group of innovators changed the guitar from an idea into a revolution. Play It Loud is the story of how a band of innovators transformed an idea into a revolution. While this is a history of the electric guitar, it is also about those who are responsible for its tones and sounds. Their fingertips helped to bring a revolution in society and politics. As it transformed contemporary music and culture, it transformed us as well.

 

“ALL THINGS MUST PASS”— The Fall of Tower Records

all things must pass

“All Things Must Pass”

The Fall of Tower Records

Amos Lassen

Tower Records was established in 1960 and was once a retail powerhouse with 200 stores, in 30 countries, on five continents. From humble beginnings in a small-town drugstore, Tower Records eventually became the heart and soul of the music world, and a tremendously powerful force in the music industry. In 1999, Tower Records made an astounding $1 billion but in 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy. Everyone thinks that it was the Internet that killed Tower Records that’s not the story we learn here.

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Directed by Colin Hanks, we meet Tower Records founder Russ Solomon. For seven years, Hanks worked on the documentary that both lamented and celebrated the Sacramento-based record store that grew from an American retail powerhouse.

When news broke in 2006 that Tower Records filed for bankruptcy and liquidation with plans to close its doors entirely that year, many of us were sad to see Tower disappear. Many younger people had little reaction as it was not common for them to actually shop at a music store. However, regardless of everyone’s feelings about the closing, Tower Records had changed the music business, set trends, and became an iconic store for the 40 plus years the doors were open.

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“All Things Must Pass” documents the history of Tower Records from the original Tower Drugs store in Sacramento, California with a side business of selling new and used records at the drug store counter and expanded with the Tower Drugs’ owner’s son Russ Solomon who decided to open a store entirely for music, He opened the first Tower Records store on Watt Avenue in Sacramento opened in 1960. A few years later in 1968, Tower Records opened a new location in San Francisco, which at the time was the largest music store in the country. Later, stores opened up in Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, and more along the west coast. Japanese investors considered opening stores in Japan and Tower Records opened their first stores outside of the country in 1979. Following expansion around America in places such as New York, Boston, Nashville, New Orleans and Washington D.C., they also expanded international stores in Mexico, Canada, Thailand, Israel, Argentina, and more. Business was constantly growing and each financial risk they took seemed to only be a step in a positive direction.

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Tower was known for the best selection available and the storers were very large and carried thousands of albums, singles, merchandise, from every genre. They stocked the major releases while also promoting the independents and obscure acts. It also helped that Tower Records employees were knowledgeable about music. The young people who worked at the stores were huge music lovers and showed their appreciation by recommending and pushing personal favorites. Since there was no dress code, employees were able to wear whatever they wanted, giving a fashion sense into the retail world with individual personality. Tower Records published “Pulse”, a free magazine available at all locations featuring everything from interviews, upcoming release information, “desert island discs” sections, and much more. Tower Records advertised heavily, on billboards and on television and it worked. Their national TV ads made people interested and their forward looking and creative TV ads were way ahead of the competition. It was one of the first music stores to open an online store back in 1995 with tower.com.

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Tower Records saw the potential very early on in the Internet age and worked very closely with record companies. The stores sponsored in-store performances and autograph signings to increase awareness. They helped with the artwork and promotion of upcoming records and Tower even had its own art department to create visuals for in store use. Events held at Tower Records were some of the most important ways that even newer artists could get their names known. It was no secret that the employees had a good time at the workplace, sometimes with extracurricular substances helping out the celebrations. For music loving kids it was a place they dreamed of working but it was widely known that there were Tower Records clerks who had total disregard for customers who “lacked knowledge”. For some, it might have made shopping intimidating for some but it was a great place for others. Quite naturally, we want to know what happened?

There were many to put the blame on the easiest target which was Napster with the illegal file sharing network becoming a fast growing way for people to get music for free without even having to go outside. But Napster was not the only cause of Tower Records’ downfall. There were multiple issues to blame for the closure that started from the late 90’s. There was competition from other retailers and pricing wars were issues, with superstores such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart opening stores everywhere, and their lower prices for CDs and DVDs. Superstores might not have had the big selection, but they did have the overall lower prices for the major releases. Failures of international expansion was another case. Japan held on, but places like Mexico, Thailand, Taiwan, and others were struggling.

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The late 1990’s saw a time that recordable CDs became affordable for home use thus making copying in high quantities very fast and easy. Places like Thailand or Taiwan became heavily known for the places to buy bootlegged CDs for a fraction of the cost of the retail price, and for many in those countries, it made more sense to buy the unofficial CDs.. Record companies were also not helping things out. Their ideas were to sue Napster and its users and punish the downloaders rather that to find ways to work with the online distribution system. Because of lower sales figures, they decided to mark up the prices of the CDs, which would again prevent people from buying. Instead of taking chances on new bands or new styles of music, record companies cut back with letting go of employees and bands that were not worth the time and effort to market, while concentrating on bland pop music and bands that were guaranteed sellers. Essentially they were making it so it was more difficult for real music fans to actually buy music.

Hanks interviewed everyone that he could including Russ Solomon and his son Michael, as well as a large amount of former Tower Records employees that helped build it from the ground up. Hanks also includes interviews with famous musicians who talk about the Tower Records experience, Bruce Springsteen loved going to California to visit the stores, Elton John says he is probably the person who spent the most money at the business, and Dave Grohl who was an employee at a Tower Records in Virginia before concentrating on his music career. Throughout the documentary there is vintage film footage, vintage photographs and TV commercials to bridge the interview footage together. This is very well directed and well edited film that gets all its points across but there is something I would have liked to see— the viewpoint from the average shoppers.

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Hanks and writer Steven Leckart are very lucky to have fortunate to have the colorful commentary of Russ Solomon, the l octogenarian who started selling records in the back of his father’s Sacramento drugstore in 1960, and steadily built a global chain of Tower Records outlets. Each store was a mammoth music marketplace where virtually every recording imaginable was displayed for just browsing, shopping and/or impulse buying. Solomon shares screen time with several former employees and associates, all of whom are nostalgic about the wild-and-crazy early days of Tower Records expansion, when sales clerks hired off the street could work their way up to management positions, and lunch breaks often expanded to allow for excessive consumption of booze and drugs. The opening of the first store in Japan served to increase company-wide confidence that the fun and making money would never stop.

But it did stop. Even before Napster and other streaming services in the 1990s, Tower Records suffered dearly for its inability (or unwillingness) to adapt and evolve. The artificially high price of CDs, along with the end of the CD single, bothered customers who gradually rebelled against paying for tracks they didn’t care to hear. It didn’t help much when big-box retailers such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart started slashing CD prices in a loss-leader campaign to increase customer traffic. Steadily mounting debt led to management shakeups and layoffs, desperate measures that proved to be too little, too late, to keep Tower Records afloat.

In 1999, the documentary tells us early on Tower Records recorded $1 billion in earnings. Five years later, the chain entered bankruptcy. What  happened to Tower is all too familiar. We have seen it with Borders and Radio Shack and Comp USA. Once thriving retail chains have found themselves on the wrong side of history. What could have been a boring story comes to life in the hands of Colin Hanks and it is a compelling tale.

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Hanks interweaves talking-heads interviews, archival material and a retailer history lesson that is soundly constructed, briskly paced and affective. The film opens on the empty shelves that once contained endless stacks of CDs and records and then we see Solomon leaving for the airport.

Unfortunately, as the title of the movie tells us, all (good) things must pass. The ultimate reason for the decline of Tower was, as Russ Solomon says, “We weren’t successful in any of the other countries we went into,” further claiming personal responsibility by adding, “I’m stupid for saying yes to partnerships [in other cities] even though I didn’t totally believe in them.”

Solomon always seemed to believe in the people he hired, starting with down-to-earth Sacramentans who were relieved that their town finally had a place where its youth could hang out, even if that did mean essentially spending a lot of time in a parking lot. Heidi Cotler, who started out as a clerk and rose to the rank of VP of Operations, adds, “You know, in Sacramento, there weren’t very many places for kids to hang out. There was, like downtown, there was places. But in the north area, there was hardly any north area, so it was, you know, Tower Books and Records were in like this parking lot surrounded by nothing. And for kids in high school, that’s what you did.”

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By the end ofAll Things Must Pass”, Tower’s world is shrunk from the global to the mere span of Japan, which kept the business open as a result of its independent management. And so, with the final store closing at the original location in Sacramento, it was written, “All things must pass. Thanks Sacramento.” And what Tower was really thanking its city of origin for was that it embraced Tower and that was so special and unprecedented.

There are lots of extras:

Deleted & Extended Scenes

– 8801 Sunset Boulevard (10:35)

There was a public hearing and decision on making the former Tower Records building into a historically preserved location for local cultural resource. This features interviews from city officials who are for it, city officials who are against it, and former patrons sharing their memories. The actual footage of the public hearing and testimonials are presented.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Art of Retail (6:14)

Tower was known for the extensive artwork by the art department, from the outdoor paintings and indoor decorations. Foamcore, paint, cutouts, cardboard, glue, tape, and everything they could find were used.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Bob on Sunset (3:34)

Bob Delanoy tells the unorthodox story of how he became manager of Sunset Boulevard store.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– In-House Advertising (5:24)

Chris Hopson was a liaison between Tower and record labels. He talks about the TV ads created by Tower Records and the use of artistic commercials for national ads. There are a lot of TV commercial clips offered.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– In Stores (7:52)

Former employees talk about some of their most memorable in store appearances by various bands.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Pink Elephants (3:20)

The infamous Capitol Records promo which included a spray painted Pink Elephant is talked about in more detail. They also settle whether it was the elephant peed on the floor inside, or that the elephant peed outside.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

– Record Supply (3:50)

Russell Solomon talks about trying to convince record companies initially and why they all said “no” to his crazy plans.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

Trailer (2:03)

The original trailer is offered here.

in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0

“Christodora: A Novel” by Tim Murphy— The Christodora and Life

christodora

Murphy, Tim. “Christodora: A Novel”, Grove, 2016.

The Christodora and Life

Amos Lassen

The Christodora is an iconic building in Manhattan’s East Village and is home to Milly and Jared, a privileged young couple with artistic ambitions. Their neighbor, Hector, a Puerto Rican gay man who was once a celebrated AIDS activist is now a lonely addict who becomes connected to Milly and Jared’s lives in ways none of them can have thought of. At the same time, Milly and Jared’s adopted son Mateo has matured enough to see the opportunity for both self-realization and oblivion that New York offers. The city is transitioning from the junkies and protestors of the 1980s to the 2000s and they are changing to the glass skyscrapers of the 2020s with the wealthy residents. Tremendous change in the lives of Milly and Jared and those around them is the focus of this novel. We move from the Tompkins Square Riots and attempts by activists to galvanize a true response to the AIDS epidemic, to the New York City of the future, “Christodora” tells of the heartbreak caused by AIDS and the allure and destructive power of hard drugs.

“Christodora” is the saga of the Lower East Side saga as seen through the interlocking lives of Hector, Mateo, Issy, Milly, Jared, and Eva. This is a novel about characters and they drive the story forward. Our characters live at the Christodora and we follow their lives through the 80s to the 2000s. New York City is also a character here and it is through her that we read of AIDS, drugs, race, activism, gentrification, art, and ideas of progress. Mateo is the adopted Latino son of white upper middle artists Milly and Jared, who live a few floors above Hector. After Mateo’s mother Issy dies her son’s future is left to Eva, Milly’s mother, the woman who built a home for women living with HIV when she realized that the city’s bureaucracy could not be dealt with regarding AIDS. She worked for the City’s Health Department and was once Hector’s boss.

I was out of the country during most of the AIDS epidemic so I really only know what I have read about it and this book certainly filled some of the holes in my knowledge. Tim Murphy is such a wonderful writer that I found myself turning pages as quickly as possible and wanting to know more and more. He raises important questions about responsibility and the natures of friendship and love. His characters are brilliantly created and I realized that as I read I was living through them. He also introduces us to addiction in ways I have never read about before. He shows that recovery from addiction is possible but that it is not always the case.

The novel begins with a history of the Christodora and we learn how Jared (and so Milly and Mateo) ended up living there and this let us learn about the dynamics of class during the years that the novel is set.

One of the gaps filled in by the novel is about women and the AIDS epidemic. Murphy writes of the women within the crisis; those living with HIV and also caretakers, heroes, witnesses and lovers. Within the world he has created, women help other women, fall in love with each other, find their places of being available for others as well as get married to straight men, sleep with gay men and take the lead of activism and make the government include them, as they lament the unfairness toward their gender. They become active in the face of this as they also feel the pain of loss as they see their friends and loved ones die. We see that women are vital to and an important part of the history of AIDS.

It is through Hector that we feel the impact of the epidemic on the gay male psyche for men of a certain age. We see the change from anti-gay to anti-AIDS and we see Hector as a man filled with scorn and dying; a man who is not sure of who he is and what is happening to him. Murphy uses his stories to give us a literary look at AIDS and its victims and it is both beautiful and painful to read.

We are reminded of the crude pharmacology and horrible bureaucracy for those struggling with AIDS . We are also given a reminder that despite recent medical advances, the disease still finds ways to ravage people’s lives. “Christodora” recreated the lost world of Manhattan’s downtown and the politics of gentrification and the joys of liberation, a liberation that had to be put on hold as our community was devastated by a terrible disease. We see the cost of activism and we read of the results in this book that is going to be one of the literary highlights not just of this year but also of many years to come.

The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific” by David Bianculli— How Television Evolved

the platinum age of television

Bianculli, David. “The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific”, Doubleday, 2016.

How Television Evolved

Amos Lassen

“The Platinum Age of Television is one of the most anticipated books of the fall. We now all know that television has taken over as the premier and most important form of visual narrative art of our time. This new book by David Bianculli explains historically, in depth, and with interviews with the celebrated creators themselves how the art of must-see/binge-watch television evolved.

Bianculli’s theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way. As he traces the evolutionary history of our progress toward a Platinum Age of Television—our age, the era of “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” and “Homeland and” Girls, he focuses on the development of the classic TV genres, among them the sitcom, the crime show, the miniseries, the soap opera, the western, the animated series and the late night talk show. In each genre, he gives five key examples of the form, tracing its continuities and its dramatic departures and drawing on exclusive and in-depth interviews with many of the most famed auteurs in television history.

This is the first book to examine, in depth and in detail and with a keen critical and historical sense, how this inspiring development came about. All of us have our ideas and it is great fun comparing them with Bianculli’s. The book comes out this November, 2016.

“THE KIND WORDS”— A NEW DRAMEDY FROM ISRAEL

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“The Kind Words”

A New “Dramedy” from Israel

Amos Lassen

When her mother (Levana Finklestein) is admitted into hospital for an operation in Tel Aviv, Dorona (Rotem Zisman-Cohen) and her two brothers rush to be with her. As they deal with their mother’s condition, the siblings put aside what is happening in their own lives. Dorona does not want to stay married to Ricki (Tsahi Halevy) her patient husband who has stayed by her after she has suffered several miscarriages. Netanel (Roy Assaf), her oldest brother has become very religious since marrying his Orthodox American wife. Then there is Shai (Assaf Ben Shimon). He is openly bisexual and dealing with the fact that his son is in Hungary and his brother’s disapproval of his lifestyle.

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But then the three learn that the man they that thought had been their father was not and this is only known to them after their mother dies. Three siblings discover a shocking truth about their parentage after their mother dies. in Israeli director Shemi Zarhin directed this comedy-drama in which secrets from the deep past come to light after a mother’s death and these cause tension as well as bring reconciliation to a family. Zarhin explores family dynamics with insight but unfortunately the film’s terms of reference are so insistently Israeli that many from outside the country might have a hard time with it.

It is basically a film about a sister and two brothers who are superficially very different from each other yet who pull together to solve a mystery and earn something about themselves in the process Homophobic Netanel can’t accept that his brother’s bisexuality but it isn’t a problem for their Algerian-born mother or their father (Sasson Gabai). As it happens, all three kids, especially Dorona, are too busy fuming about their dad having left their mother for a much younger woman to snipe at each other much.

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All that fussing and feuding between the siblings is put into perspective when the mother dies suddenly from cancer. Her three children come together to mourn but then the father drops a truth bomb on them: He’s just found out, because his new wife wants children, that he is totally infertile and never could have fathered the three of them. This sets them off on a quest that takes them first to Paris to see their aunt and then on to Marseilles in search of the man who may or may not be their biological father.

Ricki tags along too and this turns out to be quite an advantage  as his calm demeanor and logic often saves the day when the siblings anger manifests a bit too frequently.  Their father also turns up— he would like some answers also, but they are determined to shut him out and not allow him to be part of it. 

The actors are quite good. Zissman Cohen is excellent as she tries to cover up her heartbreak over her infertility and her mother’s death with a toughness she doesn’t really feel.

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Roy Assaf has a good comic turn as the religious Netanel. Levana Finkelstein, as the mother, is her usual excellent self. Tsahi Halevi as Dorona’s husband Ricki has little to do here but look good while Dorona pushes him away, and he manages very nicely. It is a bit hard to understand how Dorona could just toss him off when he is so kind and good-looking.

Unfortunately, once again, is the fact that there are no real surprises and we never really understand why the secret means so much to the three siblings.

“The Goddess in America: The Divine Feminine in Cultural Context” by Trevor Greenfield— An Anthology

the goddess in america

Greenfield, Trevor. “The Goddess in America: The Divine Feminine in Cultural Context”, Moon Books, 2016.

An Anthology

Amos Lassen

Nineteen writers have contributed to “The Goddess in America”, a new anthology that “identifies the enduring experience of Goddess Spirituality through a four-part discussion focused on the Native Goddess, the Migrant Goddess, the Goddess in relation to other aspects of American culture and the Goddess in contemporary America”.

We read about the many faces of Goddess in America— from the indigenous and the imported, to the “rewritten” goddesses We also learn of Goddess as perceived by American feminists, psychologists, shamans, Christians, and others

I must admit that I knew nothing about The Goddess religion in contemporary America but have learned that it is a growing and very necessary spiritual movement in a country where there has never yet been a female head of state (Of course with the new election that could well change). Forty percent of American households are run by women who are the sole providers, yet women still do not receive equal pay as do men. American women often find themselves in a warrior society and are just beginning to reclaim “the status their ancestral mothers once enjoyed when Goddesses shared the dais with Gods”. Here we meet Native American Goddesses who teach the lessons of humility, self-sacrifice and connection to the Earth and her creatures. We gain awareness that the sacred feminine dwells within the soil and the Moon, meaning that abuse of the Earth is essentially the same thing as abuse of the Goddess.

America has always been an immigrant society and those American women who seek a Goddess must decide whether to adopt the native Goddesses of this land, invent a completely new path, or honor their own ancient lineage based on their distant DNA. We read of “reconstructionists” who urge us to speak to a Goddess in her own language, whatever it may be and this is because words have power and by speaking to the goddess, we honor a deity. It is important to read those primary sources and return to our culture what we have leaned from it. We get a look at Voodoo, Minoan religion, and Hebrew and Canaanite Goddess tradition. The Christian Divine Mother has her place here along with Brighid; the Mary of the Gael. Modern media Goddesses (Marilyn Monroe and Angelina Jolie to name just two), are powerful Goddess archetypes along side other strong women such as Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt. No sex-drunk nymphs enter these pages. The Goddess of the Witches and Druids are seen as a powerful eco-feminist and her priestesses are mature champions of social justice as well as healers and ritualists and weavers of change.

This is a collection of astute new voices with fresh visions and they take ideas forward. Contributors here include serious writers who want to see women achieve what they deserve.

“Lithium Jesus: A Memoir of Mania” by Charles Monroe-Kane— A Natural Reconteur

lithium jesus

Monroe-Kane, Charles. “Lithium Jesus: A Memoir of Mania”,  University of Wisconsin Press, 2016.

A Natural Raconteur

Amos Lassen

Charles Monroe-Kane is a natural raconteur who has stories to tell. He was born to an eccentric Ohio clan of modern hunter-gatherers and grew up hearing voices in his head. During a twenty-year period, he was many things—“teenage faith healer, world traveler, smuggler, liberation theologian, ladder-maker, squatter, halibut hanger, grifter, environmental warrior, and circus manager” and during this period he wrestled with schizophrenia and self-medication. His twenties were a time of youthful idealism and he shares those and other aspects of his life with us. It took Baby Doc’s Haiti, the Czech Velvet Revolution, sex, drugs, and a stabbing to public humiliation by the leader of the free world for Monroe-Kane to say he had enough.

His memoir is brutal in his honesty as he writes of mental illness, drug abuse, faith, and love and he wins us over quickly. He has not only dealt with bipolar ‘voices’ but he did so “via religion, hedonism, activism, and Lithium”. Today, Monroe-Kane is a Peabody Award–winning public radio producer who brings a fresh perspective to familiar memoir territory.

Monroe-Kane holds nothing back and he has learned that the most powerful voice that he has heard is his own. He was out to have the world before the world had him. We see that no one else could have written his life story but him, himself.

“Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend” by Deirdre Bair— The Complete Life

al capone

Bair, Deirdre. “Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend”, Nan Talese, 2016.

The Complete Life

Amos Lassen

Deirdre Bair brings us the first complete life of legendary gangster Al Capone. It has been written with the cooperation of Capone’s family, who gave the author exclusive access to personal testimony and archival documents.

Capone was born in 1899 in Brooklyn, New York, to poor Italian immigrant parents and grew up to become the most infamous gangster in American history. In 1925, during the height of Prohibition, Capone’s multi-million-dollar Chicago bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling operation was not just part of the organized-crime scene, it dominated it. Capone was often in competition with rival gangs and he was brutally violent, taking part in a long-running war that reached its apex with the shocking St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. Through it all, and despite the best efforts of law enforcement and the media elite, Capone remained above the fray. The strongest charge that Capone faced was federal income-tax evasion and in 1931 he was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison. Six-and-a-half years later, he was released but he suffered with neurosyphillis and lived out the rest of his life with his family in Miami. Al Capone’s life has fascinated the public imagination, and his life as a gangster has been immortalized in the countless movies and books inspired by his exploits.

As for the man behind the legend, we know that  Capone loved to tell tall tales that kept his mystique alive; newspapers loved him and frequently embellished or fabricated stories about him to sell copies. Some remember him as fundamentally kind and good while others remember how frightening he was and just a vicious, cold-blooded killer. Deirdre Bair finally gets at the truth behind this eternally fascinating persona. The book will be out in October.