"Neither highbrows nor lowbrows nor midbrows, but elastic-brows.” — George Orwell

His vision glued together the most complex mythological narrative ever.

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Seuss’ politics aren’t liberal — they’re Situation­ist.


He took the weight of English sexual anxiety on his shoulders.

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Led by MAURICE WHITE (born 1941), Earth, Wind & Fire were by far the most commercial cousins of the cosmic-jazz entity known as Sun Ra, lacking Funkadelic’s edge or Pharaoh Sanders’ experimentalism. Don’t be distracted by the band’s shiny spandex jazz-space-suits, though. White not only delivered what the public wanted (tight, light disco-funk grooves), he […]

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LITTLE RICHARD (born 1932) arrived to pulverise our senses in the same pitiless manner that he attacked the upper register of the piano. He called himself the “Architect of Rock’n’Roll,” which is far more respectable than “King,” and it’s completely deserved: in less than three years during the mid-1950s, Little Richard laid the foundations upon […]

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Steve Ditko — 1965 self-portraitSteve Ditko — 1965 self-portrait

Spider-Man and Dr. Strange co-creator STEVE DITKO (born 1927) is the third member of the triumvirate of genius that originally conceived the Marvel Universe. Yet while Stan Lee and Jack Kirby reflected aspects of the New York Jewish psyche, Ditko hailed from a small (Johnstown, PA) Czech-American community. In fact, Ditko’s work is suffused with […]

Ed Wood and Bela LugosiEd Wood and Bela Lugosi

Ironists don’t understand Wood.


All hail the Mighty Fin! For was it not JIMMY FINLAYSON (1887-1953), third banana in 33 Laurel and Hardy films, who offered us emancipation through his unique enactment of The Double Take & Fade Away? Let us explore the three stages of political consciousness that The Fin elucidates. The First Take: The conventional bourgeois response […]

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Miles Davis once said that the history of jazz could be summed up by two names: Charlie Parker and LOUIS ARMSTRONG (1901-71). I’d go further, and claim that the ABC of 20th century pop culture are: Armstrong, The Beatles, and Chaplin. Though we know him as “Satchmo,” his fellow jazzers called him “Pops” — which […]


JAMES WHALE (1889-1957) was born in England’s industrial Black Country. Here’s a typical gag from those parts: An old left-wing activist is on his death bed. He announces that he’s joined the Conservative Party. His comrades are shocked: “Why’s yow doon eet? Yow beyn a Labour man aw yer loyfe!” He responds, “Ar, bood bedder […]


While it’s conventional to call Oliver Hardy a “straight man,” it would be more accurate to think of the character created by British comic actor STAN LAUREL (1890- 1965) as the duo’s “curved man.” Though he may seem idiotic, perhaps Stan’s character developed as a result of knowing too much. Ollie, who insists on recognizing […]

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MILES DAVIS (1926-91) was the son of a dentist, but visited a primal Oedipal rebellion upon the smug bourgeois sadism of his father’s profession. A dentist, as you know, uses your mouth to cause you pain, embarrassment, and discomfort, whereas Davis used his chops to create an unfolding narrative of modernist beauty that profoundly transformed […]


FATS WALLER (1904-43) lives in some impossible space between Paganini, St. Augustine, and James Brown. Tracks like “Handful of Keys” show Fats challenging Art Tatum in sublime stride-piano ostentation. But Waller was also fearlessly upfront in his depictions of tougher aspects of Harlem culture. Listen to “The Joint is Jumping” for references to rent-party violence, […]


Both PHIL SILVERS (1911-1985) and his best-known character, Sergeant Bilko, were driven by a manic energy that sought to control, disrupt, and ultimately collapse all forces of linear, mathematical, or hierarchical order — reflecting the devout wish of the obsessive gambler. Silvers had a Royal Flush-level comedic virtuosity, while Bilko’s monomaniacal obsession with material self-advancement […]