Category Archives: In Memoriam

In Memoriam: Dennis Banks

Former American Indian Movement (AIM) leader Dennis Banks died Sunday night at the age of 80.

My doctoral dissertation (University of Nebraska, 2000) and first book (Texas Tech Press, 2007) dealt with AIM, particularly their controversial political work and on Pine Ridge Reservation (SD) during the 1970s.

AIM was a very important but also highly flawed organization.  Some of their problems were not their fault, as they suffered extreme government persecution and repression, especially in the form of illegal FBI counterintelligence programs.  But sometimes they they made their own mess by not particularly caring who got burnt by their scorched earth rhetoric, or harmed by their often disorganized protests.

In a 2005 review of Dennis Banks’ memoir, I wrote the following:

There is also the brash rhetorical style and techniques that are emblematic of the speeches and writings of many AIM members.  It was shocking and original in the 1970s, and still has the power to move, but three decades later it at times seems tired.

Yes, by then the times had passed Banks by in some ways.  Nonetheless, it was and still is astonishing to consider how far he had come to co-found AIM during the late 1960s in St. Paul, Minnesota, and then become a prominent national figure. Continue reading In Memoriam: Dennis Banks

Singing the Praises of James Bond

Roger Moore died last week at the age of 89.  He is the first important Bond to pass (sorry David Niven!), so predictably heated arguments ensued: Where does Moore rank in the canon of Bond actors?

It was a boring debate.  Moore was the worst, plain and simple.  He helped drive the franchise into a ditch of silly gadgets and bad puns.  Revisionists now praising Moore celebrate the supposed “camp” of his films are badly misguided.  They weren’t camp.

John Waters films are camp.  The Avengers and Charlie’s Angels are camp.  Drag queen lip sync cabaret is camp.  Roger Moore’s James Bond movies were just bad.

Moore’s first turn as Bond (Live and Let Die, 1973) was actually quite good.  That’s because he was still cowed by the towering shadow of Sean Connery, so he played it straight.  But director Guy Hamilton (who also pushed the franchise in the wrong direction) soon told Moore to stop imitating Connery and just be himself.  It sounds like the kind of genuine, supportive advice you should give any artist.  Except that Moore being himself, as it turned out, was little more than a dandy in a tux.  By his second film (Man with the Golden Gun, 1974) pubescent girls were “upstaging” him in a karate scene.  Har Har.  It wasn’t camp.  It was failed comedy, 1970s-style.  At that point Burt Reynolds could’ve been playing the role.

Part of the problem also stemmed from Moore’s age; he was simply too old for the part during most of his career.  Connery debuted as Bond at age 31.  Moore was 45 when Live and Let Die premiered.  From Moonraker (1979) on, his fight scenes were laughable and his love scenes with women half his age or less were creepy.  Bond the charming dilettante.  Bond the well groomed pensioner.  Bond as a candidate for late life romance on The Love Boat.

Jesus, maybe it was camp.

Nevertheless, when my favorite film critic, A.O. Scott of the New York Times, exalts Moore as the best James Bond on the grounds of camp and pshaws Millennials for not getting it, I just can’t go along.  I’m a Gen Xer like Scott, and I do enjoy camp, but this smells of defending the crap of our youth with rationalized nostalgia.  Waters wants to be camp.  Charlie’s Angels has to be camp.  But Bond movies can actually be good without being campy.

Anyway, instead of prattling on about who the best (or worst) Bond was, I’d rather tackle something a bit tastier: The Top 10 James Bond movie theme songs.  Drum roll please . . . Continue reading Singing the Praises of James Bond

In Memoriam: Jimmy Breslin

Chuck Berry died yesterday.  That’s gobbling up a big chunk of the news cycle, as well it should.  Berry was not only a phenomenal talent, but a figure of singular importance in American cultural history.  However, I’ll leave others to sing his praises while I ponder the passing of another, lesser known giant.

Jimmy Breslin died yesterday at the age of 88.  And make no mistake about it.  That’s Jimmy, not James, no matter what his birth certificate said.

Largely unknown nowadays to most outside New York City, and even to those within the boroughs under the age of 50, Breslin was a longtime columnist for several city newspapers.  He was also a bestselling author of numerous books, most successfully with his 1969 novel The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, a send up of the Mafia that was made into a forgettable film starring another iconic New Yorker, Jerry Orbach.

But at mid-century, when newspapers were central to American life, Breslin was among the best known writers in the nation.  And the whole time he was quintessentially New York. Continue reading In Memoriam: Jimmy Breslin

In Memoriam: Muhammad Ali

Photo by John Peodincuk/NY Daily News Archive via Getty ImagesAs a boy, I was a Ken Norton fan.  That means I spent the 1970s rooting against Muhammad Ali, which was usually quite fruitless.  Any Norton fan could tell you: our man had beaten him two out of three, although the judges robbed one of those from Norton with a crooked decision.

So when the vampiric Leon Spinks shocked the world by outpointing Ali in 1977, it was a cause for celebration.  And when Ali got revenge in the rematch, it was to be expected.

The underlying story, however, was that when someone like Ali loses to someone like Spinks, it’s time to hang up the gloves up.  Yet Ali kept going, trudging through a series of embarrassments.  By the time Trevor Berbick finally pummeled him into retirement in 1981, it was hard to hate on Ali anymore.   He seemed like just another sad pugilist who’d hung around long past his due date.

It was also increasingly obvious to most observers that Ali was becoming what was then known as “punch drunk.”  The more technical terms was dementia pugilistica.  Today it’s it’s called CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopahty), the form of brain damage that makes parents think twice about letting their kids play football.

As I came of age during the 1980s, I learned more about Ali, née Cassius Clay.  As a boxing fan, I came to appreciate that he was, in fact, almost certainly the greatest heavyweight of all time,  and undoubtedly one of the greatest boxers of any class.

But far more interesting was the life he lived outside the ring. Continue reading In Memoriam: Muhammad Ali

The Public Professor Site Redesign

cropped-Profile-Picture.jpgFive and a half years after its initial launch, this site is receiving a substantial update for the first time.  Some of it is aesthetics, with new colors, imagery, and font.  Some of it involves updating content.

The “Pages” at the top of the site (eg. “Me” and “Books I Done Written”) are not only renamed, but also updated.  Click inside and see.

In addition, I’ve added two new pages: “Books I Might Write” and “CV.”  The former contains brief overviews of book projects I’m working on.  Beyond the infamous Communities book that was responsible for launching this site but has yet to see the light of day, there are also working manuscripts on music and misadventures from the road.  The “CV” page contains my Curriculum Vitae, which is what professors call their resumé.  Is our pretentious Latin name for it better than your pretentious French name for it?  Who knows.  The bottom line is, we’re all pretentious.


P.S. Yes, I’ll keep blogging here on the front page.  If you’d like to sign up for email notifications, or get them via Facebook or Twitter, that’s just to the right near the top of any page.  Viva la blog! (That’s pretentious Spanish for, “None of this stuff ends up on my resumé.”

In Memoriam: Lemmy

Ace of SpadesThe first time I heard of Motörhead was in the late 1980s.  I was a DJ at WCBN-FM, the college radio station in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  During my late night shift, someone called in a request  for “Ace of Spades” off the band’s self-titled 1980 album, their fourth.

I shuffled through the stacks and found the record.  The cover featured three guys in the desert wearing black leather and cowboy hats.  One of them had a bandalero.  Another wore a serape.

Maybe they’ve got a ZZ Top kinda thing going on, I thought to myself as I slapped the album on the platter.

No.  They did’t sound like ZZ Top. Continue reading In Memoriam: Lemmy

In Memoriam: Yogi Berra

As a boy of 8 and 9 and 10, growing up in the Bronx, I was a big New York Yankees fan.  When you grow up in the Bronx, that’s really all there is to brag about.  A zoo and the Yankees.

Nearly every game aired on channel 11 WPIX, and I watched as many as I could, which was nearly all of them.

The Yankees are by far the most successful team in the history of American sports.  Not even close.  They’re probably the most successful team in the world.  For this reason, rooting for the Yankees has often been equated with rooting for a large, wealthy corporation like IBM or GM.  I’ve always thought it’s a very poor analogy.

Rooting for the Yankees is actually like rooting for the United States.  Each in their own way, the Yankees and United States are the 300 lb. gorilla, that most powerful of entities winning far more than anyone else.  Their wealth creates many advantages.  Supporters expect them to win, and they usually do.  Opponents absolutely revel in their defeats.

All that success means you will be adored by some non-natives who are tired of losing and want to bask in your glory, even if it must be from afar.  But mostly you are hated.  Anywhere you go in America, some people love the Yankees and many more hate them.  Just like the United States is either loved or hated everywhere else in the world.

Who hates IBM? Continue reading In Memoriam: Yogi Berra

In Memoriam: David Letterman

David LettermanAside from the occasional sporting event, it’s very rare that I watch live television anymore.  Hulu often makes me wait a week for many shows, but that’s well worth the convenience of watching them whenever I want.  Meanwhile, Netflix makes me wait the better part of a year and charges me $4/month (I split it with a friend), but that’s well worth never having to watch any goddamn commercials.

Plus, you know, the joys of binge watching a series.  It’s like going face down into a bowl of chocolate pudding and nearly suffocating in the most wonderful way imaginable.

But last night I fired up the flatscreen and fiddled with the rabbit ears to catch David Letterman‘s grand finale.  And I’m glad I did.  Despite the commercials. Continue reading In Memoriam: David Letterman

In Memoriam: Spock

Mr Spock by ZootCadillacThere are many obituaries of Leonard Nimoy being written and published in light of his passing today at the age of 83.  I will not add to them.  I won’t pretend to offer insights into his life or even his career as an actor and director, which spanned six decades.  Instead, I will mourn the passing of his most famous character, Mr. Spock from Star Trek.

I watched a whole lotta Star Trek growing up.  Way too much, no doubt.  When I was in elementary and junior high school, it was running fast and furious in syndication.  In New York City that meant every evening before or during dinner on WPIX channel 11.

Probably about 200 nights per year for several years I watched an episode of Star Trek.  There were only 88 total episodes, so you can do the math.

The peak of my devotion came in late junior high school.  My friend Erik and I took the subway from the Bronx down to the Penta Hotel in Manhattan, across the street from Madison Square Garden on 7th Avenue.  They were hosting a Star Trek Convention and Nimoy was the guest speaker.

I didn’t really know what to expect.  All I knew was that I loved the show and was curious about delving deeper into it. Continue reading In Memoriam: Spock