Party Like a President

Remember that time we let an outsider artist lead the country for eight years? What about Chester A. Arthur—who, it was said, “never did today what he could put off until tomorrow”? There was also the retired B-movie actor who engaged in a nearly decade-long war against poor people. We’ve had some doozies, America!

Indeed, it can be difficult to take every U.S. leader seriously—a fact that makes Party Like a President: True Tales of Inebriation, Lechery and Mischief from the Oval Office a particularly useful volume. Freshly published by Workman, the book was created by a pair of Lowbrow Reader contributors: writer Brian Abrams and illustrator John Mathias (the pen behind every Lowbrow cover going back to 2001’s issue #1). Chronologically featuring all 43 democratically anointed presidents, plus George W. Bush, Party Like a President focuses not on war, legislation, or economics, but rather the various leaders’ habits of drink, debauchery, sloth, and gluttony. So it is that we learn of John F. Kennedy and crew lounging around Bing Crosby’s Palm Springs pool, chatting up airline stewardesses. (“Everybody was buckass naked,” claims an eyewitness.) George H.W. Bush’s presidency, naturally, is reduced to that time he vomited at a televised Japanese state dinner. Then there is Calvin Coolidge (a chapter already familiar to readers of Lowbrow Reader #9), who was in the habit of waking from one of his afternoon naps and asking an aide, “Is the country still there?” Throughout the book, readers can feast upon Mathias’s lush illustrations.

As Lowbrow Reader muse Gilbert Gottfried says: “I’ve read the book, and I can pretty safely say that most of the words are spelled correctly. He’s got a good sense of where to put commas and periods.” Indeed! Congratulations, Abrams and Mathias! Get to your nearest bookstore and dig into Party Like a President today!

We Love You, Taylor Negron

We are heartbroken over the loss of Lowbrow friend and contributor Taylor Negron. He died at 57 after battling cancer, but in our minds he was forever 25 and as healthy as a child. Taylor was preternaturally funny, smart, generous, and warm—the kind of guy you were always excited to hear from. He was monstrously charismatic. Seemingly everybody in New York and Los Angeles, the cities he bounced between, was friends with him. About a year ago, Taylor started working on “My Name Is Julio: I’m So Bad, I Should Be in Detention,” an essay about filming Easy Money that appeared in last year’s Lowbrow Reader issue. He worked on the piece in his Upper West Side apartment, the now-closed West Village vegetarian restaurant ’sNice, and, bizarrely, a five-star cruise traveling from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans by way of the Panama Canal. (Naturally, while onboard, Taylor did a reading of the piece in progress.) We were so thrilled to publish his beautiful essay; we are so sad that we will never again get to see Taylor.

Illustration by Doreen Kirchner

Vinyl Tigers: Feel the Roar

Regular readers of The Lowbrow Reader have long been acquainted with the work of Doreen Kirchner, whose ravishing illustrations have appeared in our pages since issue #2, back in 2002. Most recently, Kirchner’s art accompanied Taylor Negron’s essay about filming Easy Money, in Lowbrow #9. (Just feast your eyes on her Rodney!) When she is not practicing the visual arts, Kirchner is busy with the rock & roll ones. And a fine rock & roller she is. Vinyl Tigers, Kirchner’s new trio co-starring TV Wayne and Jeff Preischel, just unleashed its debut, a self-titled album. The record is spare and chicly scuzzy, invoking Cats and Dogs–era Royal Trux. No surprise there: We first became acquainted with Kirchner through her work illustrating The Adventures of Royal Trux, a comic book written by another prolific Lowbrow contributor, Neil Hagerty. So, how to proceed? Check out Vinyl Tigers via Bandcamp. Or, better yet, order a CD. Each copy features an original handmade cover—beat that, other bands of America!

Golden Age

At Confession

Man: Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been five months since my last confession. These are my sins. I rejoiced over the death of somebody I once deeply cared for. This person was not a good man—in fact, he committed some horrific, altogether heinous acts. But he had repented. And yet when I saw him hanged, in a public square, before bloodthirsty Iranian masses, I could not help but rejoice in his execution.

Priest: Are you…excuse me, but are you talking about Brody, from Homeland?

Man: Yes, Father. Yes, I am.

Priest: Oh, come on! That character had gotten so annoying!

Man: I know, right? Phew! I can’t tell you how relieving it is to hear you say that.

Priest: If I had to endure one more scene of Carrie crying over him, I swear, I was about to lose all faith. In the show, that is.

Man: The thing is, the writers put Brody in a corner. If he had survived any longer, Homeland would have lost—

Priest: Any credibility. Have you watched True Detective?

Man: No, I’ve been really busy at work.

Priest: Hmmm.

Man: I should watch it, shouldn’t I?

Priest: It’s only an eight-episode arc.

Man: Okay, okay! Forgive me Father, for I have sinned! [Laughter]

At the Therapist

Man: So, work has been going much better the last couple of weeks. I think I resolved things with my supervisor. And I feel fairly confident about how I approached the situation. It’s funny, but you know what I keep mentally comparing it to? In the new season of House of Cards, when Frank Under—

Therapist: I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to cut you off there.

Man: Excuse me?

Therapist: My wife and I are still working our way through season one. (more…)

NYC Traffic Study

In conjunction with New York’s Vision Zero initiative, which aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities in the city within a decade’s time, our committee has concluded its study of New York’s sundry traffic hazards. Here are our findings.

The New York Police Department, while doing yeoman’s work in its ticketing of cars that have been illegally parked for more than nine seconds, could take more aggressive steps to curtail unsafe driving. The department’s policy of allowing exotic sports cars to travel at triple-digit speeds, on the theory that “they seem more comfortable going fast,” should be reconsidered. And while motorcyclists do, at times, “look really scary,” that should not give them carte blanche to roar through the city’s streets like Genghis Khan’s Mongol warriors rampaging through Eurasia.

The current prerequisites for a taxi driver’s hack license—“a pulse, change for a twenty, and an unquenchable thirst for danger”—prove woefully inadequate. The Taxi & Limousine Commissioner of Responsible Driving (the well-intended yet overtaxed Popeye Doyle) would be wise to institute a handful of reforms. Henceforth, all cab drivers should be dissuaded from attempting to break the sound barrier in the intervals between red lights. The alarming percentage of cabbies who learned to drive by mimicking the motions of actors steering against blue screens in old-time movies should be encouraged to pursue their driver’s education through more formal channels. Note that courses completed at Coney Island’s Eldorado Bumper Car attraction should no longer count toward accreditation.

When transporting documents within the city, businesses currently call upon former extras from The Warriors to ferry the papers on battered bicycles, beseeching pedestrians to steer clear in vocal intonations typically associated with Godzilla. (more…)

Recommended Reading

A pair of funny books recently hit our office’s (virtual and wooden) shelves: Brian Abrams’s e-book And Now…An Oral History of “Late Night with David Letterman,” 1982–1993 and Stephin Merritt’s 101 Two-Letter Words, a hardcover featuring illustrations by Roz Chast. The books share the Lowbrow Reader’s coveted, Oprah-esque stamp of approval, the phrase “Letter,” and little more. Let’s check ’em out!

New York is in an eerie and mildly depressing state. Joan Rivers and Lou Reed have left the planet; Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera have left the ballpark; Philip Roth has left his writing desk; and in a few months, David Letterman will be leaving the television. We turn to younger generations to replenish our stock of heroes—the pressure is on, Generation Y! But first, we can salute the outgoing idols. And Now…An Oral History of “Late Night with David Letterman” gets in early with Letterman adulation. The book examines not Letterman’s current CBS show but its wildly influential precursor, which ran on NBC between 1982 and 1993. Abrams (a Lowbrow Reader contributor) talks to an army of Late Night writers, guests and machers, narrating the creation and execution of the program that essentially redesigned the talk-show mold. It is being published as part of Amazon’s Kindle Single series.

For more than two decades, through his various recording projects—most famously the Magnetic Fields—Stephin Merritt has proven himself one America’s most consistent and funny songwriters. Somehow, 101 Two-Letter Words (a title that seems fodder for a Top Ten List) is his first book. Few Merritt projects come into the world without a set of strict conceptual rules. This one? Each spread features a four-line verse about one of the two-letter words allowed in Scrabble, alongside an illustration by Roz Chast, the New Yorker cartoonist. The author and illustrator are unlikely bedfellows. Chast’s work is about motion and hysteria; Merritt is still, deadpan and monochromatic. Yet this is a smart pairing, with Chast’s illustrations helping the writer’s quiet jokes scream. Here is Merritt on the favored two-letter word of our grandparents:

“Oy gevalt! Oy vey! I often
wish I spoke Yiddish;
but then I’d have to eat chopped liver,
and gefilte fish.”


The Fall Line-Up

KC Nights
Members of the chattering class will spend October curled in fetal position, their only human contact coming in the form of a Guatemalan pizza deliveryman, growing fat and sloppy as they binge-watch this enigmatic drama. KC Nights features an ensemble cast that includes seven Oscar winners, two rappers/business moguls, and at least one retired Pope. The show displays all the hallmarks of the great American novel, only it is more literary and novelistic. Is there a character outside of Shakespeare’s stronger works as rich with torment as Detective Lincoln Gibb, about whom we know less with each passing episode? The whole series hurtles toward a climactic finale that you will not understand. Note that KC Nights airs on neither broadcast television nor cable, but rather an Internet streaming service that is thoroughly incompatible with the rest of your home entertainment system.

Street Vikings
Critics are agog over this urban crime drama, which resembles not a traditional TV program so much as a masterpiece from the golden age of film, if only Valentino had talked onscreen and frequently employed the N-word. (more…)

Fire Up the Turntable with Hess Is More

Sure, in the most strict, technical sense, 2014 has some life remaining in it. But unless Redd Foxx transforms into a zombie and crawls from his profanity-strewn Las Vegas grave wielding Funky Tales from a Dirty Old Junk Man II, we have our album-of-the-year candidate: Myheadisaballroom / Whoneedsapalaceanyway, by the NYC/Copenhagen aggregate Hess Is More. Or perhaps it’s Hessismore—lord knows what the space bar did to this band, but it must be both personal and vicious. The album, released as a joint venture by This Is Care Of and Concierge Records, is the latest of several orchestrated by the drummer and singer Mikkel Hess. Yet Ballroom marks the first Hess album to spotlight the commanding New York band that has gathered around the musician in recent years. Like all smart New York entertainers, the Hess players are veterans of the Lowbrow Reader Variety Hour, having performed at our 2010 Housing Works Bookstore concert. Furthering our connection, Lowbrow Reader editor Jay Ruttenberg contributed liner notes to the album. What’s not to love? Order the record today!

Professor Irwin Corey Turns 100

Wondering why banks are closed today, mail delivery is canceled, and fireworks are lighting up the North American sky? A glance at your calendar should clear everything up—it’s July 29. That’s right, it’s Professor Irwin Corey’s birthday! In fact, not only is it July 29, but it happens to be July 29, 2014, which means it is Professor Irwin Corey’s 100th birthday. We salute the New York comedian and Lowbrow Reader friend while wishing him another century of mischief. Read all about Professor Corey in the new Lowbrow Reader issue (in our Gilbert Gottfried article). Above is a picture of Corey (by Sam Johnson) performing at The Lowbrow Reader Reader book release show in 2012, when he was a young whippersnapper of 97.


Announcing…Lowbrow Reader #9!

We are thrilled to announce the publication of our new issue, Lowbrow Reader #9. It is the first Lowbrow Reader to hit stands since Drag City published our book anthology, The Lowbrow Reader Reader, in 2012. Order the issue today via our handy ordering page!

Lowbrow #9 will set you back $4, shipping included. Is it worth it? Come on! Check out the Table of Contents: