The surest way to ensure the continued abuse of people of color under the auspices of the drug war is to reduce or eliminate any corresponding threat to white Americans. This seems to me to be such a fundamental of realpolitik in the United States that I’m still a little bit astonished that The Nation, in a recent assessment of marijuana reform efforts and racial bias, can’t see any forest from the trees.
I’m fresh out of a theater in Santa Monica, California where I’ve watched 12 Years A Slave for the second time, having seen it several days ago on a laptop screen through a dedicated download. I’ll be honest. I wanted to write something after absorbing the narrative and the imagery the first time, but I was so wrought that I didn’t trust myself.
Had a film with American participation actually addressed the original sin of our nationhood so bluntly, so honestly? Was the film really as careful and delicate and dispassionate with the historical reality? Was the restraint that i felt in the telling really there, or had the punches been carefully loaded as Hollywood is so apt to do?
A master departs.
It isn’t that he merely took a blowtorch to all the affectations and pretenses of genre fiction. No, he made the lines between genre and literary fiction ridiculous and arbitrary for all time. Fuck your categorizations: This guy did some of the best writing in the last half of the Twentieth Century. He leaves behind narratives that make us think harder about the human condition, not to mention all of our presumptions about how our society actually functions — or doesn’t.
I had the distinct honor of being asked to write an essay for the recent release of Steve Earle’s extraordinary post-1995 songbook, when he came roaring back from addiction and a brief incarceration to reassert himself as one of our most relevant songwriters. Yes, Steve is at this point a friend and colleague, having worked with us on “The Wire” and “Treme” both. But I’d’ve written what follows if I had only the music itself on which to rely. For those who have not yet savored Mr. Earle and his work, the new boxed set, “Steve Earle: The Warner Brothers Years,” which includes audio and video live performances from that period as well as three essential studio recordings, is a perfect entry point into what has become an extraordinary canon of American roots music.
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Okay, I owe Tony Bourdain a good bit of karmatic equity. The banter in those Treme kitchen scenes didn’t exactly write itself, after all.
So I am pretty much trying to say yes to my boy when he calls me and says he’s subbing for Mr. Morgan on CNN and he wants me to guest on a segment with David Carr of the NYT. I don’t do the talking-head cable shtick often, especially not on complicated issue-talk because the format is too cramped to progress a real discussion. I’m up for a little nonsense if I have a show that I’m trying to pitch, or if it’s some wordy, hour-long PBS thing where the asides can have asides, but otherwise, no. And this is quick and dirty. And I’ve got nothing on air to plug at the moment, and nothing recently published. But still, it’s Bourdain. I owe the guy. And, at the end of the email, noting that the other half of his show is all-foodie talk, he writes: “And cronuts!”