TIGER HILLBILLY: MEMOIR OF AN AMERICAN FARMER, SCHOLAR, EDITOR--AND 70s REBEL
"It feels like a perfect night to get dressed up as hipsters
Forget about deadlines, it's time...
I don't know about you, but I feel 22." (2013)
Literature can be a crime just by not being silence or emptiness. Just the very uttered phrase "tiger hillbilly" could be a threat somewhere. It's 11:59 somewhere--actually everywhere, as we have known since 1945.
Tom Pitoniak, Oct. 20, 2018, 10:50 a.m. kitchen countertop, HP laptop
Sick of being dumbed down? Whoah, that's a passive situation. Flip the script, as Aubrey Plaza says in Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, which book I copyedited, and which movie I quote in my book--ready for it? I mean got it?--and change the mood and the action to Smartening Myself Up.
I will be challenging English-language poet and fellow brave soul Taylor Swift, the daughter of a banker and marketing executive, just as my grandfather was a big Irish urban banker in industrial Chicopee, Mass. to a live SCRABBLE game on TV, e.g., TODAY show, with no mean words. LOL is okay, though, or OK, as Associated Press would say.
It was in Chicopee that Edward Bellamy wrote LOOKING BACKWARD. We've had enough of that, can't even afford that now in year 2 TT (Trump Torture).
Let me let Taylor tell you something telling:
"I always look at albums as CHAPTERS in my life. And to the fans, I'm so happy you like this one. But I have to be really honest with you about something: I'M EVEN MORE EXCITED ABOUT THE NEXT CHAPTER."
--Taylor Swift, American Music Awards, October 9, 2018
Pinnacle thinking is a phrase that just occurred to me, that such-and-such a celeb is No. 1. Easy to do since the highly ambitious artist unconcerned with highbrowed wallflowers along the mainstream that he or she usually makes no secret about that CAREER desire.
That doesn't mean a given specific famous person thinks they are better than you at all, and hence people get so surprised to find that celebs have insecurities, fears, shames.
Not only did I copyedit THE MIRROR EFFECT, by DR. DREW and THE NARCISSISM EPIDEMIC, more clinical and less fun for a general reader, but I was inside the soul of so many famous people's lives that I could see the pain of pinup-blowup but also reduction of the person inside, to another shard or packet. Once you have so many haters you have to be within walls, another category out there doesn't matter. So the cynicism sets in.
TIGER HILLBILLY has global quality and relevance, world-class sheen, but actual real human-based emotions, impressions, experiences, and thoughts.
The author is a human overused suburban kitchen sponge of rock stuff, i.e., ERMA BOMBECK buys a bong and his dad put in septic tanks for a living.
Whereas, here in year 2 TT, meaning Trump Torture, and given that...
my old employer MERRIAM-WEBSTER can lower itself to mostly a database and sporadic Companion to Twitter, a bluebird on a profitless branch with a shallow dog whistle, then...
hereupon and whatsoever, whatnot--and whatever!--I put...
TIGER HILLBILLY forth to the world as...
a companion to the instant classic by Taylor Swift, REPUTATION. I used to do interviews on country radio around the United States when that young girl got her Faith Hill groove going. We saw the pre-blacklist DIXIE CHICKS on the same bill as TEXAN GEORGE STRAIT in FOXBORO in 1999, my wife pregnant, the old stadium crumbling and sewage backed up across the interior concourse floor.
After all, this is America, and I worked in the same newsroom where TOM WOLFE once did in Springfield, City of Homes and home of TIMOTHY LEARY. There is no big Author up in the sky, only proven presence of aliens as in off San Diego in 2006.
Check out that gorgeous dining room in CRAZY ASIAN RICHNESS, oops, I mean CRAZY RICH ASIANS, in SHANGHAI, COMMUNIST CHINA. The other night the tennis channel had that tournament from Shanghai and the MERCEDES LOGO was bigger than a North Carolina tobacco barn, the land of onetime CNN ally JESSE HELMS. See book.
You can substitute "percent" for class and set up the same shards of resentment that worms like Steve Bannon can then scoop up and call the font and base of your penthouse populism.
Meanwhile I have known some wealthier folks my age here and there who would never consider the dreaded BRIDGE-AND-TUNNEL world of real, non-Kavanaugh suburban America in which to raise their kids. Too leveling. David Brooks saw India prints and such but only that, only shallow surfaces and political colors to trap inside more cartoon outlines of aging hippies.
I think of this book more and more as a screaming sunburst of positive energy. I mentioned Bob Marley's song "Positive Vibration" at my mom's funeral in 2007. Irish American kindergarten teacher and unreal grandmother on top of mother. The last book MAYA ANGELOU wrote, I copyedited at the publisher's specific request: MOM & ME AND MOM.
I copyedited NAOMI JUDD's RIVER OF TIME and Cissy Houston's MISSING WHITNEY. MIKA's KNOW YOUR WORTH and JANET JACKSON's TRUE YOU. This book has a sensitive soul like its author, a dad and former teacher with a long-established easy way with national media of any sort, never mind all the fun local stuff everywhere.
But HEADLINES even outside clickbait need improvement and I have tips that will help us all DEFLAME faster--guess who was lined up and watching his inbox for MIO YIANNOPOULOS--and will help anyone involved in textual media, including on-screen titles, crawls, etc.
Readers will find among all the other riches in my book a long-overdue tribute to two forgotten great women of nineties rock, COURTNEY LOVE and TONI HALLIDAY, and TAYLOR SWIFT. I studied with the greatest FEMINIST scholars in the world for eight years.
I saw the now-dead JACQUES DERRIDA speak in 1985 in the one building on campus left from the original BLOOMINGDALE INSANE ASYLUM at 116th, that being tiny brick Maison Francaise. I saw JESSE JACKSON campaign "for" his victorious primary rival MICHAEL DUKAKIS on the steps of Low Library. One night the cables and air were humming with eerie, brutal tension, since SALMAN RUSHDIE was up there in Low Library where the big black snaky cables I stepped over terminated, as they did on the big MEDIA awards nights. I saw GERALDINE FERRARO speak at UMASS in 1984 when a political columnist for the largest college daily newspaper in New England, circ. 15,000 every day, PRINT...
Then at Merriam-Webster I defined DECONSTRUCT, DECONSTRUCTION, POSTMODERNISM, etc.
In the 1960s out on the frozen snow by the barns I would help my dad and his brothers butcher cows with tools like BONE SAWS. Nobody once mentioned the Civil War.
QUIZ FROM FORMER MERRIAM-WEBSTER DEFINER AND LANGUAGE EXPERT
WHAT IS THE BEST CHINESE TRANSLATION FOR TIGER HILLBILLY?
1. Driven peasant
2. Ambitious peasant
3. Wild peasant
4. Fierce peasant
ANSWER: All of the above. Free the camps of Xinjiang.
TIGER HILLBILLY is being read by an agent.
Amazon, aka "a River of Books"...it said on the box...
Westfield: 1669, 2019
Part I: 1960–1964
Chapter One: WMA
Chapter Two: Sweetest Pie
Chapter Three: Daddy’s Gonna Treat You Right
Chapter Four: Country Road
Part II: 1965–1975
Chapter Five: Help!
Chapter Six: Teacher, I Need You
Chapter Seven: Sensation
Chapter Eight: Can You Hear the Music
Chapter Nine: Celluloid Heroes
Chapter Ten: Ventura Highway
Part III: 1975–1980
Chapter Eleven: Run Like Hell
Chapter Twelve: Cirrus Minor
Chapter Thirteen: Song Is Over
Chapter Fourteen: Fingerprint File
Chapter Fifteen: Mountains of the Moon
Chapter Sixteen: Beware of Darkness
Chapter Seventeen: Sea and Sand
Chapter Eighteen: No More No More
Chapter Nineteen: Downbound Train
Part III: 1980–1993
Chapter Twenty: Zoo Station
Chapter Twenty-One: New York State of Mind
Chapter Twenty-Two: Welcome to the Machine
Chapter Twenty-Three: Unreadable Communication
Part IV: 1993–2018
Chapter Twenty-Four: My Hometown
Chapter Twenty-Five: Paper and Fire
Chapter Twenty-Six: Moonlight Mile
Every word of this story, including the trippy seventies stuff, is true. There is not a single line of made-up dialogue in this book, written a quarter mile from the lumber yard where I worked in the early 1980s and my dad worked while in college on the GI Bill after returning from Hawaii in March 1946, disembarking in Boston.
Buckle up for safety and remember that speed kills.
Chapter One: WMA
In the beginning in what Neil Young dubbed the Age of Monsanto there was a horror hole down which I slid and which came back to me as a nightmare for years when a wee little shaver. Now I was lying on my back and felt brutal jabs into me, through what I would now call my “skin.” Above me and slightly to my right was a “man,” I’d have to say now, who was proving himself pretty adept with these pointy things I saw approach my body through the air, called “needles.” Above me to my left were shelves holding small boxes, one small box next to the other like in a hospital closet on Nurse Jackie—but a lot less fun.
It was October 23, 1960, at Noble Hospital in Westfield, Massachusetts, about one hundred miles west of Boston and six miles from the Connecticut line.
When my parents were getting down, one finger or toe hit the CTRL button, another hit the N button, laying out a huge white sheet of consciousness down which my thoughts flow like words on a screen or thoughts in a nondead brain and by the time we get to the end of this what are we going to save it as, Save As. You must help me decide. Hawthorne wrote a great sketch once about a gravestone carver on Martha’s Vineyard, called “Chippings with a Chisel.”
And to save the earth—something we all must do—what do we save it as? On that one the first emergency selection is probably just SAVE. But do help me dream and grow a saner world, saved as a nicer world working harder for nutrition and shelter and what I call not-violence, since the right-wingers caricatured nonviolence a long time ago as meaning what weak people like Democrats advocate. But get this straight: liberals didn’t lose Vietnam. China won it. Those myths are vicious and serve to exempt individuals from accountability regardless of party or slur/label/word/text/gif/etc.
The population of Westfield today is about 41,000 but there are more than 1.5 million people total in the three counties I call home: Hampden and Hampshire Counties in our state, and Hartford County in Connecticut. Even in 1970 they totaled about 1.2 million. You get the picture: suburban America in two states always near the top in education and per capita income.
Though the western part of the Bay State is an economic and cultural backwater compared to the east, compared to areas I’ve seen in northern New England and upstate New York and rural eastern Canada it’s like living on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, which was named for Beverly, Massachusetts, just as Granville, Ohio, was named for ours since its settlers came from here.
I voted twice for Republican gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney even though he predictably backstabbed my native state even as sitting governor, just as the Oval Office is a mere meaningless tool or stool for Trump to shit on or watch somebody else piss in. Even though I have pretty much always been a Democrat—I shook vice presidential candidate Edmund Muskie’s hand at our Barnes Municipal Airport in 1968—I would still vote for Romney today with those same match-ups.
The reason: I am a businessperson and the Democrats in Boston are as corrupt as they come. My own proud and shameless Democratic affiliation is not going to apologize to a millennial member of a supposed progressive “base” to the nationwide, hardly monolithic party, nor will it hinge on those Beacon Hill establishment clowns who are indifferent to what I call the Hillbilly Zone, which is what you enter on the Massachusetts Turnpike westbound if you don’t peel off by Sturbridge for the very start of Interstate 84 and a sign as big as Texas that says
New York City
But I do like Hooterville living overall. In a real-world parallel of astounding perfection, I have a photocopy of a check from Magda Gabor Hotchkiss to my dad for seventy-five dollars for septic-related soil-testing work he did on land in Becket, Massachusetts. She dated it August 24, 1979. The bank is ChemicalBank, 1242 Second Avenue, and her address was 500 East Sixty-Third Street.
It’s not from sister Eva Gabor, who played the Park Avenue gal stuck in hick-town Hooterville on Green Acres, or Hollywood Squares starlet Zsa Zsa Gabor, recently deceased at age ninety-nine, but still . . . I read a cool Vanity Fair article about the sisters titled “Glamour and Goulash.”
Romney of course prefers to be associated with sparsely populated Utah, and that’s fine with me. One of my very favorite movies as a middle schooler was filmed there, Robert Redford’s Jeremiah Johnson, and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead wrote a funny song called “Salt Lake City” for his slicked-up but solid album Heaven Help the Fool, released in 1978.
I probably saw the Dead about eighteen times if you count the Jerry Garcia Band and Weir’s band Bobby & the Midnites together at New Haven Coliseum on brutally hot, broken-AC June 17, 1982, standing there with friends on the floor but drunk and disconsolate from being dumped by a female friend at UMass a week earlier. It’s about the same number of times I saw Bruce Springsteen, including for Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town.
I am a few years older than Yale Law stud Brett Kavanaugh, whose female clerks were sometimes given creepy advice back in his New Haven by Amy Chua, mobility pimp extraordinaire. She even handed conservative Rust Belt spokesperson J. D. Vance her literary agent, an enormous gift, as anyone in the industry knows. So his own tale had that nice Alger upward arc to it, versus all the shiftless folks back at Walmart in Ohio.
One day two years ago when staying at a Vermont lake resort, on a gray but bone-chilling day, about zero degrees Fahrenheit, I took a solo afternoon drive over to the chronologically very first Mormon landmark, the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial, in Royalton, about forty minutes away.
A Mormon couple of about sixty were very kind, making me feel at home in their beautiful visitors’ center, blessedly warm after the walk from the parking lot. They were from out west and said they just rotate people in and out short-term for liberal Vermont duty like The Dirty Dozen or something; any warm Mormon body will do.
I told them of my interest in New England history and my farming roots in Western Massachusetts, my hometown about one hundred miles due south as the crow flies.
At their suggestion I watched a large-screen film about church creator Joseph Smith, his upbringing in Vermont, then life in western New York. He discovered a book written in a strange language and buried in the ground, in the middle of the forest to boot, in utter Nowheresville, the site unnoticed or at least undisturbed, I have to assume, by peoples of that land for a fuckuva long time.
I had this pristine Mormon-max theater to myself as the screen rained shafts of golden glow from top to bottom, down through the tree canopy to the golden spot in the woods where the founding document of Mormonism lay in a glowing golden box.
Long story short, I came away with a free copy of the book and a better understanding of the man ultimately behind Weir’s tune. I hear those Mormon girls are really great . . .
Hold on, Bob. I know of at least one black-robed rascal in days of old who would not agree.
The worst damage was caused by [federal] Associate Judge William W. Drummond, who came into conflict with the Saints as soon as he arrived in Utah in 1854. He attacked the jurisdiction of the probate courts, which Utahns considered their most important legal defense against enemy assaults. He was also an unprincipled man who brought a Washington, D.C., prostitute to Utah as his mistress. At times he had her sit on the bench with him while he harangued the Saints about their lack of morals. It was later learned that he had abandoned his wife and children in the East.
When I was about four I asked my mom about my painful experience at birth. Catherine Jean McDonnell, later Pitoniak, was born on the Fourth of July in 1926 and was the booming industrial city of Chicopee’s Bicentennial Queen in 1948. At this point, 1964, she was a kindergarten teacher in West Granville.
One of Mom’s students in Granville in the 1980s was future New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise. One day a few years ago I emailed Tavernise, who wrote back right away to say my mom was her “favorite teacher!” I have a long letter from her parents to mine from the 1980s. Tavernise has worked everywhere from Moscow to Baghdad.
“Mom, was I jabbed with needles when I was born?”
“Yes, you were jaundiced, and they had to give you shots.”
My mom thought of sending me to a Montessori school. Taylor Swift went to Alvernia Montessori School in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, in the mid-1990s, right when we built a house on a country road for our kids to grow up on, Honey Pot Road.
If you are a real American and like things spoonfed, this book is for you. You see, I ain't no expert on whether Montessori education is good or not, so you don’t even have to get a spoon of that tangential or at least space-consuming or at least more-text-requiring stuff in the first place.
I cut it off at the pass just for you, my friend! Or as Johnny Depp sang in the song “People Who Died” at Foxwoods this spring in 2018 with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry and the rest of the Hollywood Vampires,
This one is for you my brother!
So that will give you something to do in your spare time.
No, that is not my decision, how you do your existing. If I had had a wild shit like me to deal with the Montessori option would probably have come up, but, again, I am just as lazy as you are, right down the line, and I worked on so many soporific memoirs you can sure I tried to keep this one at least above total flatline at all times.
It’s easy to deify someone since the highly ambitious artist unconcerned with highbrowed wallflowers alongside the maligned American mainstream often makes no secret about their career desire and unconcern for the herd.
That doesn't mean a given specific famous person thinks they are better than you at all, and hence people get so surprised to find that celebs have insecurities, fears, shames. Meanwhile, some celebs will act out, and that itself could have varying reasons, including fucked-up childhoods like you wouldn’t believe but actually of course would.
Not only did I copyedit the superb The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America, by Dr. Drew Pinsky, and the more clinical and academic The Narcissism Epidemic, but I spent fifteen years inside so many famous people's stories that I could see the pain of being pinned and pegged by every moron whoever walked the earth or could manage to get language text into a networked device.
The result is the reduction of the artist or other publicly known person to another piece of “material culture,” the Marxists might say, no biggie since it’s just commodification. I wrote added two relevant senses of commodity to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. I recommend concentrating on the first one first, the business-world sense, versus the usual observation aka criticism thing, more sleek “neo-Marxist” analysis tied to a highly unsleek tradition inside ivory towers or leather-patched whiners who never held a real job in their life, never mind worked in business in the true deep sense.
Definition of commodity
a good or service whose wide availability typically leads to smaller profit margins and diminishes the importance of factors (such as brand name) other than price
4 : one that is subject to ready exchange or exploitation within a market … stars as individuals and as commodities of the film industry. — Film Quarterly
Once you have so many haters you have to be within walls, another category out there doesn't matter. So the cynicism sets in. And the more you as an observer then decide, well, okay, I will judge them by their humility amid their struggles, or wait for them to get humbled—that can be an enactment of that basic perception-impulse that “that asshole has it better than I do.” I’ve spent my whole life being an American consumer and couch potato so I feel familiar with this stuff.
In 1977, if I had known, I would have been pissed that she hadn’t finished the job.
Because as ZZ Top once sang,
I was born my papa’s son
When I hit the ground I was on the run
I have two original bills for my birth. The first is dated October 28, 1960, when I was five long days of hell old.
Room, 5 days @$20/day 100.00
Operating Room or Delivery Room 35.00
Nursery, 5 days @$8 per day 40.00
M/S dressings, pads 3.00
An updated bill on November 11 changes the lab charge to $8.00. Both bills also notate an “Expected BC Credit” of $100. Thus subtracting Blue Cross, my parents’ out-of-pocket cost was $114.
My dad was working full-time for the city of Westfield and my mother was still a secretary at the sprawling Monsanto chemical plant in the Indian Orchard section of Springfield, the plant then still called Shawinigan Resins.
Tom Sr. was the only one of seven children to attend college. My mom and all four of her sisters graduated from the College of Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee in the 1940s. It was a lot different in a Slovak farm family than in an Irish, urban banking and teaching one. The difference is stark and fascinating and highlights cultural backgrounds, familiarity with the American educational system—indeed what one might call basic nonfarm mobility literacy.
Even though Westfield City Hall creeps me out a bit, I will always be proud of my father for heading the same health department that, thanks to his predecessor Lewis Allyn, slain mysteriously in 1940, helped give rise to the Westfield Standard, and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. My neighbor and former Westfield State athletic director Ken Magarian once had a trove of materials on the Allyn murder from my dad, and Ken said that my dad said that my grandfather, Baldy, had gone to deliver a load of honey the day famous Dr. Allyn was killed but was told when he got there that the dude hadn’t been murdered yet—seriously, my grandfather, whose English was borderline, was told to come back later, by someone who no doubt was also in similarly Victorian Fall River the hot August day Ma and Pa Borden got whacked in 1892.
When Baldy returned with the honey a second time, there were cops all over the place and vans set up with satellite dishes, practically. Trust me, it’s a creepier and more classical than average unsolved murder in Victorianish Bedford Falls America. One of the first books that mesmerized me as a kid was an already ancient paperback on the Lizzie Borden case. It reminded me so much of the streets of Chicopee around Elms College, all proper but as a mammal you feel the sultry heat and vegetation, too, hear the crickets at night, cats hopped up on roofies.
It fascinates me no end that one grandpa was a banker and another a peasant, but cripes, in the end they were both male mammalians named humans and even Baldy was not without ambition. It’s not very well-known that he was also a poet, not just my dad, and that he crafted a song that captures his tigerish hillbilly mind-set better than I ever could as we gaze at him outside the big doctor’s house.
This stuff is straight out of Beverly Hillbillies, Muswell Hillbillies, Green Acres, hilarious single mom Heather Graham in The Hangover—the video Baldy made for this tune in his editing room in the big barn shows a woman who looks like Iggy Azalea and started rapping to us like hillbilly pre–finishing school Ellie Mae Clampett on a plush hotel bed with a plush and real live tiger in the foreground now walking away from Cheetah’s strip club in Vegas, where my brother is the top real estate CEO, the skyscrapers tall in the night behind her, and hopefully no Trump in any of them.
The grouchy lady in the manureless white suit being cuffed and thrown in the cruiser down by the casino doors? That’s supposed to be me, the fuckup.
In 1968 at the Park Theatre in the center of town, I saw The Party, just as I did Navajo Joe in 1966, by myself, about ten rows back on the right aisle, and just like Fairuza Balk’s movie-loving character in Gas Food Lodging, one of my favorite films ever. And of course there’s the haunting The Last Picture Show, whose director, Peter Bogdanovich, plays Tony Soprano’s therapist’s therapist.
I used to live in a roomful of mirrors. All I could see was me.
What struck me in The Party was simply the niceness of Hollywood residential life—yes, that is literally the most exact description, not glamour, not dry hills, but the house where the toilet overflowed out the second-floor window above the pool area. So I think that at least shows some class.
Here’s . . . Baldy!
You used to dealing with basic bitches
Basic shit all the time
I'm a new classic, upgrade your status
From a standby to a frequent flyer
Hop out your past life
And I'll renovate your future
Then I integrate my genius shit
We purchasin' not perusing
Yeah I love your hustle, baby
Just let me add a little bit of muscle, baby
Joint venture, we'll partner up until the shares are up
And I up your wages
On a private island, Dolo
One across the Cono
Them broads before me was locals
Through customs accustom your wardrobe, damn
Stamped passports where they all pass ports
Til the clocks fast forward
There'll be dark blue shores
Where they don't do chores
We just get chauffeured
Damn, this is the life
Exclusive shit with all access granted
In the country where the accents are grand
And they landin' on top of all the mansions
Because my father was very smart, an engineer as well as a poet, even named poet laureate of Westfield for his sometimes lengthy but always witty and riveting municipal retirement poems—we had a plaque from City Hall on the wall of our farmhouse living room—he quit his boring city job after a fourteen-year span in 1972 and began designing, installing, and repairing septic systems.
My grandfather and dad both worked menial jobs for years in a Strathmore paper mill just two miles from my house, once known as Salmon Falls. The Westfield River was so rich in beavers that it made for a bad outcome for the Woronoak and other Native Americans very quickly. William Pynchon, ancestor of novelist Thomas Pynchon, knew he could intercept a lot of beaver trade that was going to Hartford by establishing a settlement in what is now Springfield in 1636, the same year Harvard College was founded in Cambridge.
This was wilderness, and the area around Cobble Mountain Reservoir and the Little River Gorge from General Knox Road is forbidding indeed, misty Westfield Mountain just a hop and a skip and a trip to the ER across the way.
The original Saks Fifth Avenue has marble from my hometown in it, the old quarry up in the woods across from my uncle’s farm at 308 Northwest Road; ditto the Empire State Building, Lincoln’s Tomb, and post offices from Glendale, California, to Washington, D.C. Slovak men named Oleksak and Pitoniak worked hard below and atop Russell Mountain for the big WASP-dominated Operation America of that time.
I grew up baling hay starting fifty years ago on an enormous estate sprawling across the base of the mountain, 1259 Western Avenue, whose house was once known as Washington Tavern and which lies just yards from precipitous General Knox Road in Russell, called the Devil’s Stairs in early European days around here.
Crumbling Western Avenue was literally the first road west through free soil. It terminates at the base of Russell Mountain and was replaced by the Eighth Massachusetts Turnpike in 1829.
According to a local history published in 1973 by my late dad’s late second cousin Stephen Pitoniak, some whites once wanted to invest in a relocation camp for Indians by today’s Russell Pond, on General Knox Road, in exchange for land in Maine (eventually itself a battleground in the slave-state wars, since the territory of Maine, owned by Massachusetts, became a free and full-fledged American state in 1820 as part of the great Missouri Compromise).
One time I tried explaining to two clueless male colleagues at Merriam-Webster why the misogynistic sense of bitch in the print Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, needed to be labeled offensive, not merely “vulgar” as it was at the time. The word offensive did not occur in that entry, unless my memory is really failing.
The two others, one a notorious bland dickhead who could barely speak to females above clerical level—to bitch at, of course—and left not long after, literally just stared at long-married and Alan Alda–loving me.
At some point that improvement must have been made, which is good.
Definition of [noun] bitch
1 : the female of the dog or some other carnivorous mammals
2a often offensive : a malicious, spiteful, or overbearing woman —sometimes used as a generalized term of abuse
b often offensive : a lewd or immoral woman
3 : something that is extremely difficult, objectionable, or unpleasant
4 : COMPLAINT
“Petals” is a stunning, haunting finale to Celebrity Skin, a grave-sounding splashdown. The YouTube slide show put together by user Phosphene H H is a must-view for you, if you ask me, and I know you didn’t.
And the haters gonna hate-hate-hate-hate-hate.
Taylor Swift penned the words of our age in that song, “Shake It Off.”
I love near the end of her liner notes for her newest album, after she talks about all the hatin’ and stuff, and how we only know the “version” they show to us. I worked on a book just a month ago about that, how you have more than one self. Beyoncé, for example, is shocked at what she sees when she watches her own performance. You know what this boils down to—a trancelike engagement of creative and emotional energy.
If you can be creative but void of emotion, congrats, and let me know when you and the other chimps finish typing up Hamlet.
Swift writes in her notes, “There will be no further explanation. There will just be reputation.”
One side of the album poster shows her in a getup that says rep across her chest, but there’s also something in her eyes and her game expression and the way her hair almost looks wet that makes me think she just came back from the shower across the institutional hall at Northampton State or Smith. Is that a gendered slur by me, a repeating of the madwoman in the attic? No, I just mean she almost looks as pushy as me even when she doesn’t know what she’s pushing next yet.
If you just dismiss all this pop culture as mere superstructural icing for the system you socialists are gonna fix up, there is no actual person on the planet with a consciousness that belongs to that name or text Taylor Swift, just a big nodal growth from the Big Machine and set of cultural products by that name in this era of late capitalism, as the Marxists call it.
Okay, whatever, man. Or, I should say, better “late” than never.
If even the communists in China are capitalists now, we Americans have to figure we are on the right side of the supposed dialectical highway. The Marxists had to save their system from the open exposure of binary thinking, but that was at the heart of dialectical materialism. To this day they know their own little arched structure is inexorably horseshit in terms of any assertion that their theory is anything but.
I went off to grad school in 1985 to study and then spend the rest of my life teaching literature but got sick of the winds of clueless anti-American Marxism blowing through the kiddies’ playground and so came back to my hometown an expert in text, which is somewhat more flexible than literature-via-academia and definitely textable now.
This Scrabble-playing woman who was not afraid to sing from her often-envied American background reminds me of some of the female grad students I spent years with at Columbia. Taylor-real-person might agree that for anyone on the grid of life in our twenty-first-century world, you feel like the real you is invisible, which of course it really is, since it’s really just inside your brain, the you that you know nobody else knows is the Real You, and which is subject to editing and revision or other actions, till you go out in one big stream of glory, like that classic scene in Sid and Nancy where Sid says at his nutjob girlfriend’s parents’ dinner table that he figures he’s just gonna go out in “a blaze of glory” and the Cranky Conservative Dad gives a look that says, What the fuck did my daughter bring home.
As with many other things, you’ve got to own your words, your flames, your hate, your annotations—literally to tack more note/text onto other text—and comments and such, because if you are a real person, who the hell else can or really should? So we live in sociality and almost look like just one more outsider or Other at our
In that same vein in fall 2017 I almost named this book “Unreadable Communication,” after a song by Curve on the British band’s masterpiece Cuckoo, which was released in 1993, the year I bailed out of English and literary theory.
You want to talk about unreadable communication? I’d rather not, and in fact I have earnestly tried to make this book as easily and breezily enjoyable as possible for ordinary readers just out for a good time.
The first Curve music I heard was from Döppelganger in 1991, zipping through in the air in the pleasant and plain American record store right next to Mama Joy’s Deli, across the street from my window on Broadway for two years at 600 West 113th Street.
In the song “Unreadable Communication” you can literally hear singer Toni Halliday and co-creative genius Dean Garcia and the whole unusual band and indeed the entire world slide into the Internet as if a continental slab were opening up and tilting us all in.
That fall as I worked under the table at Barnard Bookforum all these students kept asking for this paperback called The Internet Companion.
Last night I saw a commercial for Ralph Wrecks the Internet.
Cute. But the Chinese State Ministry of Information might dispute who gets to make that kind of call. If the totalitarianism ain’t broke, you can’t wreck it. You can only deconstruct it socially and politically and built a more free system, and peacefully, hopefully. Today, October 16, China said its Muslim-concentrating camps in Xinjiang are actually occupational training centers.
Freedom is not free, nor is it software. It is a yearning more than it is ever an absolute attainment, at least in our times, which are so microscopic even in the human run around this planet like the dogs on the old commercials for the Meadowlands track, that and the harness racing.
There is a charming 1991 interview with Halliday and a guy from MTV’s 120 Minutes on a front stoop in London.
There’s always been really strong women in rock anyway, Patti Smith being one of them, and Annie Lennox, and Deborah Harry, you know, really powerful women, you know, who’ve really—Joni Mitchell even. She’s kind of like not rock but she’s really powerful, you know—States woman. I mean, they’ve always been there and more power to them.
If our country and all the others had had more powerful stateswomen like Joni Mitchell and Toni Halliday in the halls of power all these centuries, we all would be a lot better off. Also, I have a hard time believing that if the lead singer of this paint-melting band had been a man the media would not have ignored them amid the manly shit in the Pacific Northwest.
In New York City in the early 1990s my NMH-related friend Dave Buckley liked to see this new band besides Primus and Chili Peppers, really crazy scene, balcony diving, that band whose big club ads in the Village Voice were hard to miss—Nirvana. In December 1993 I returned to the city to take Dave to Curve and Engines of Aggression at Irving Plaza, just one week after moving home for good to Western Massachusetts.
My friend Michelle Joyner, a mom and wife and former actress who appears in the film Cliffhanger and whose parents live two doors down from me, told me back in the winter of 1993–94 that she knew the publicist for Curve at Universal. I had expressed puzzlement at the band’s failure to get big as we chatted for a few minutes when Michelle was home from Los Angeles for Christmas and I had been home like home since Thanksgiving weekend from New York City.
I remember April 8, 1994, when news broke—in four years I started working at a newspaper and wrote THOUSANDS of headlines, among other duties—Kurt Cobain killed himself. Tonight as I was waiting for the Pats game in 2018 I read that in his suicide note he called his wife and the mother of his kid a something-or-other with zits. So then I thought, that must be where the skin thing comes from in Celebrity Skin. Makes sense, anyway.
I remember a few years later hearing like everyone else the general media and fanboy fangirl noise to the effect of, Oh, look at that lost puppy Courtney Love, so confused she went Hollywood. She wore this dress that night and this dress that other night. Who gives a shit? Nothing in the media is more pathetic than the celebrity and entertainment observation industry.
Never mind that the guy left his wife and kids. Like he is the only guy who ever eyed the self-checkout lane, maybe felt like his wife was put on this earth to produce just that end? Bullshit; things are tough all over.
I get so high, oh
Every time, yeah every time you’re lovin’ me
You’re lovin’ me
Trip of my life, oh
Every time, yeah every time you’re touchin’ me
You’re touchin’ me
Every time, yeah every time you’re lovin’ me
Oh Lord, save me, my drug is my baby
I’d be usin’ for the rest of my life
Usin’ for the rest of my life, oh
Don’t blame me, love made me crazy
If it doesn’t, you ain’t doin’ it right (doin’ it right, no)
Oh, Courtney was no saint? Again, who gives a shit? The obsession with other people’s lives serves to increase stupidity and decrease productivity, both on a mass basis.
So I tend toward empathy for the mom and away from bad-boy or punk-ass nastiness and snark, another word for trying to be as rude and “edgy” or provocative—literally meaning nothing more than spurring more voices, more noise, such as in unreasoning reactive anger—as possible to gain attention in whatever form applies: tickets, clicks, hate-watching, etc. Merriam-Webster lost its soul down that negative hole just within the past half decade.
In two weeks there is a tribute to Courtney Michelle Harrison Love, who was born on July 9, 1964, in San Francisco, her dad a road manager for the Dead and her godfather none other than bassist Phil Lesh, at Basilica Hudson, a nonprofit space in Hudson, New York (basilicahudson.org).
An article on NME from three weeks ago quotes Melissa Auf der Maur, who runs the place with her husband, filmmaker Tony Stone:
“She’s one of the most misunderstood, wild card, strange individuals, and Hole’s legacy is important to me, as far as it being looked at with the respect it deserves and the impact it made. The impact is very real. The #MeToo moments, Courtney was always saying this stuff.”
Auf der Maur went on to defend her former bandmate against the often negative portrayal and wild conspiracy theories about husband Kurt Cobain’s death.
“They just wrote her off as a crazy bitch,” she continued. “That’s not OK. In the ’90s, there was much less of an understanding of how complicated people are complicated for a reason and they deserve a lot more compassion.
“I watched her be burned at the stake. How many people get accused of murdering their husband when they’re left with their daughter? It’s just unacceptable. I’ve always defended her in terms of any of that negative stuff.”
Drugstore cowboys in Portland, Oregon, and little roguish Shakespearean princes with the homeless in the marginal urban ruins of Seattle. I saw all those movies in the Village when they came out, at Angelika Film Center. They all sucked and betrayed one more American media obsession with bad boys, at least—more than at least compared to Allison Anders’s Gas Food Lodging, which came out in 1992 and was forgotten, like Curve, like Courtney Love the person, never mind Kurt Cobain the shy person who sure as fuck didn’t entertain shy. You have more than one self and so do they, the self you are to your mom versus the guy at the liquor store, etc
Whoever scored that first scene with the music and Shitsville through a dirty windshield should have received an Academy Award.
Big reputation, big reputation . . .
100 STUDIO GEMS...
Thomas F. Pitoniak Jr., BA, MA, MPhil, PhD, alias “Tom,” was born on a farm in Westfield, Massachusetts, two weeks before John F. Kennedy was elected president from his native state. From 1958 to 1972 his dad, Tom Sr., ran the same Health Department that made Westfield not just the Whip City, and thus the iconic buggy-whip-decline town, but also the Pure Food City, leading to the federal Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the Food and Drug Administration. Dad was also a noted local historian and theater historian, his first cousin the actress Anne Pitoniak, born in Bitumen, Pennsylvania, where Tom’s grandfather was a coal miner.
Tom Sr. and wife Catherine, both deceased, obtained in 1978 a never-before-published (other than the local paper) 1939 local history of Bitumen from the Lock Haven, Penn., library, including horrible mining accidents and rich detail about Swedish and Slovak immmigrants in particular. Baltazar “Baldy” Pitoniak even worked as a miner in Calumet, Michigan, made famous in a song written by Woody Guthrie and then recorded by son Arlo as well on his best album, Hobo’s Lullaby.
Tom’s mom and all four of her wonderful McDonnell sisters (one prim, four less rigidly conventional and then some...) graduated in the 1940s from the newly built College of Our Lady of the Elms, in Chicopee (the bishop: "I'm building it for you, Ed!"), their parents a banker who managed the Holy Cross football squad in 1912, his senior year, the mom a warm-eyed schoolteacher, their very modest house one block from the Gothic and ivy-covered college main building. In 1960 Catherine Jean McDonnell Pitoniak was still a secretary for Monsanto in Springfield. During World War II she visited servicemen at Westover Air Force Base—mentioned on Hogan’s Heroes when Hogan reads an intake sheet down in the tunnel for some new POW—and was Bicentennial Queen in 1948.
Two sisters taught English and Irish literature for decades at Springfield Technical Community College—on the grounds of the original Springfield Armory—until retirement and penned an extraordinary poem for Catherine’s retirement from tiny Granville schools in 1988. They were aristocracy in the oldest Catholic parish in western New England above Hartford. Holy Name Church was demolished in 2016. (Tom's great aunt young Sarah Bowe welcomed the first French nuns to their convent in Chicopee in 1867.)
In 1975, Tom went to Northfield Mount Hermon School in the footsteps of his one, older brother, Ed, Amherst College class of 1978, BA in English, God bless him, Frost country, and currently CEO of the top real estate investment trust in Las Vegas, Vici Properties, which in spring 2018 had a successful IPO after spurning a last-minute offer from MGM Resorts. So Ed stayed on track.
In his freshman and sophomore years, Tom was 1) the top student in four sections of freshman English, 2) winner of the French Award in 1976, and 3) the only student on either campus to ace a 96-question geometry final in fall 1976.
Tom was busted in the dorms twice for pot in late 1976. The second bust was the night before the varsity cross-country race against Exeter; Tom was kicked off the team permanently that Saturday morning. The team had been unbeaten but lost its last two races, Exeter and Andover. Tom got an A-plus in Geometry in fall and then an F the very next semester. He eventually withdrew in April 1977 and never finished sophomore year anywhere.
His rapid, booze- and drug-fueled decline in prep school took place against a school-wide eruption over the expulsion of three popular and athletic seniors in their final spring merely for being in the girls’ half of giant Crossley Hall during daylight hours, the broad colossus aka the Zoo split right down the middle after the 1971 merger of Mount Hermon School and the Northfield School for Girls.
Tom was arrested in and perp-walked from Holbrook Hall by Massachusetts State Police after returning to campus one time too many in May 1977 as a drop-out.
By some miracle Tom graduated on time from Westfield High School in 1979 and worked a succession of grueling but entertaining blue-collar jobs before enrolling in September 1980 at his dad's alma mater, the only college Tom Jr. applied to, the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English in early 1985 and was a political columnist under a friend, Josh Meyer, who went on to be an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and Politico. It was 1984 on campus already.
In late 1983, as an assignment in his one journalism course, Tom wrote a column on 1984, the upcoming Ma Bell breakup, and the new networking, mobile, and SURVEILLANCE technology emerging in telecom. "Move over, Big Brother. Here comes Big Mother."
For seven years Tom researched the fishy 1980 Republican presidential campaign and its penetration of the Carter presidency and in his book he describes his dealings with such folks as Seymour Hersh, the Village Voice, and Gary “October Surprise” Sick himself, who was ensconced in his office at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs while Tom was working the microfiche and microfilm like Brick on The Middle, final season 2018.
He was literally down in the basement of the palace like Will Ferrell in Elf, the big institutional AC and other, globalizing machinery humming.
In 1985 Tom went off to study and then spend the rest of his life teaching LITERATURE but saw the winds of clueless and anti-American Marxism blowing through the kiddies' playground and came back to his hometown an expert in TEXT.
After receiving an MA, MPhil, and PhD in English and specifically American literature from Columbia University but failing to receive a single job interview in early 1993, Tom worked full-time from 1994 to 2011 as an editor for America’s beloved dictionary company, Merriam-Webster Inc., in Springfield, thirteen miles from his native Honey Pot Road.
From 1998 to 2007 layoffs, as a dad with two and then three kids he worked three nights a week at the abolitionist-era Springfield Republican.
Since 2003 Tom has copyedited books by the biggest names for the biggest publishers in the United States.
Tom's entertaining and often harrowing story is a good example of how technology can indeed make different kinds of lives possible today than he could have imagined when making his main career decision in 1984, to wit, a “tenure-track” path with English PhD, to teach literature to young people. What a concept.