Hot Snowy Air

The Scoop

WFHB‘s Joe Crawford blew all the other local media out of the water with this one.

Firehouse Broadcasting’s Assistant News Director took on an ill-conceived Bloomington architectural preservation process that may lead to radical changes in some of our town’s neighborhoods. Crawford found that folks who for years lived in “conservation” districts suddenly do not.

Crawford

Newshound Joe Crawford, Being All Arty

The conservation district idea was an historic district-lite kind of thing. As Crawford explains it, “full-blown historic districts” allowed the city’s Historic Preservation Commission to review and pass on or deny property owners’ plans to alter their structures within those districts. The conservation districts only allowed the Commission to wag its finger at owners who wanted to alter or destroy properties within them.

It might not sound like much but finger-wagging from a public body means a lot in these parts. If conservation designation didn’t exactly legally bar property owners from building a soulless row of townhomes in a neighborhood of charming old brick homes, it made said owners think long and hard about their plans. Often, property owners would drop their plans in the face of such opposition.

Paris Dunning House

The Paris Dunning House In An Historic District

It turns out, according to Crawford, the conservation districts can be upgraded to historic preservation districts after a few years due to a technicality in state law, thereby hamstringing property owners from doing any remodeling at all without submitting to an onerous hearing process. Owners in a couple of conservation districts that have recently morphed into preservation districts in this way are livid.

The original municipal statute creating the two-tiered system was flawed, sure. But the City Council has not done much to rectify the sitch. Listen to Crawford’s report for yourself (or simply read it via the same link). Then stayed tuned to see how the City Council digs itself out of this mess.

And remember, this is the same City Council that gave us our universally beloved parking meters in downtown B-town last summer. Yeesh.

Love The Art; Hate The Artist?

Funny how the two-decade old Woody Allen child molestation scandal is back in the news just now, considering today is the 100-year anniversary of the birth of another artist whose personal life also was less than exemplary.

Far less than exemplary.

William S. Burroughs, who wrote Naked Lunch and a pile of other notable books, and who was a cohort of many of the Beats, shot and killed his common law wife in cold blood in Mexico City in 1951.

Burroughs

Burroughs, Later In Life

First, a caveat. I’ve long considered Woody Allen a brilliant comic, a terrific writer, and one of the greatest American film directors. Burroughs, on the other hand, I can take or leave. Truman Capote’s famous dismissal of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road — “That’s not writing; that’s typing.” — can be applied pretty much across the board to all the Beats’ and their pals’ works. And that includes Burroughs’ tortured, tortuous tomes.

But that’s just me. Many knowledgeable people in the literary world consider Burroughs a fab penman. I won’t argue with them. Perhaps they see something in his words I don’t. I only bring it up in the interest of full disclosure (and to spout the aforementioned opinion.)

Anyway, neither Burroughs nor Allen was punished for their respective alleged crimes. Only Burroughs’ crime really isn’t alleged. He was convicted in absentia in a Mexican court of homicide or manslaughter (the record is not entirely clear). See, he’d taken a powder before his trial was to begin. According to independent accounts, he traipsed around South America, looking to score a storied drug called yagé, while his part in the death of Joan Vollmer was being adjudicated.

The Beats and their ilk eschewed all the trappings of American conformity and the shackles of authoritarianism. So much so, apparently in Burroughs’ case, that he considered himself above the societal norm that kept the rest of the common clay from blowing the brains out of their spouses.

Burroughs apologists say he was drunk when he and Vollmer engaged in a game of “William Tell,” leading to her demise. Numerous times before, they say, she’d put an apple on her head and he’d take aim with his pistol and shoot it off the top of her coconut. They even like to elevate the reckless game to some sort of artistic allegory. Experimental writer Charles Talkoff has asked and answered his own question about the shooting:

After Burroughs shot Joan in the forehead and the apple fell to the ground, what did Burroughs do with the apple? I like to think he ate it.

Burroughs initially told Mexico City cops he’d tried to shoot a water pitcher off Vollmer’s head in a variation on their William Tell game. He missed, tragically, he told the police the first time they interviewed him. The next day he told the police he’d been trying to sell his pistol to a friend and, while handling it, the gun went off and — wouldn’t you know it? — Vollmer’s cranium happened to be in the path of the bullet.

Only much later was it revealed he’d been telling friends moments before the shot was fired that he was sick of Vollmer and the time had come to “do something about it.” Not only that, in the weeks before Vollmer’s death Burroughs had been chasing a young man with whom he’d become infatuated all over Central America.

According to independent accounts, money was passed out to various Mexican officials to ensure the original murder charge against Burroughs would be reduced. Burroughs, you see, came from a wealthy family. In fact, when he finally did go on trial — again, after he’d skipped the country — he was charged merely with a form of culpable homicide.

Headline

The Pistol Did It

It’s been said by people who know his work well that Burroughs’ writing changed profoundly after Vollmer’s death. You can read for yourself if that’s true or not. He’d written a self-described “not very distinguished work” entitled And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks with Jack Kerouac as well as Junkie and Queer on his own prior to the shooting. It was only after Vollmer’s death that he launched into the most productive and, as many would say, the most creative part of his writing life. He later wrote, “I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death….”

Some muse.

Vollmer

Joan Vollmer

The Woody Allen scandal is more notorious. He split up with Mia Farrow after beginning an affair with her adopted daughter, Soon Yi Previn, whom he later married. Amid ensuing child custody hearings, Farrow accused Allen of sexually molesting Mia’s daughter Dylan, whom Allen had adopted. (He’d never adopted Soon Yi, by the way.) Denials and investigations followed, no charges were filed, and the thing went dormant until Dylan wrote an open letter published in the New York Times Saturday.

Dylan laid out a heart-rending tale of the act and its consequences. Now the interwebs are buzzing with opinionators taking one side or the other. Me? I won’t defend Allen, even though I viewed him as an idol when I was in my early 20s. I was so enamored with Allen and his movies that, for a while, I even gave thought to becoming a Jew. A very short while.

Dylan Farrow concluded her letter with a challenge:

So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.

Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?

I used to watch Allen’s movie, Manhattan, again and again, for the laughs, for the music, for the insular and seductive world of the intelligentsia it portrayed. The focus of Manhattan is the Allen character’s love affair with a young girl. He’s 42, IIRC, and she’s 17. Somehow, the weirdness of that coupling didn’t alarm me at the time. After the molestation charges became known, I found myself unable to watch it again. In fact, I haven’t seen Manhattan again in more than 20 years.

I feel soiled thinking about it.

Scene from "Manhattan"

Now It’s Creepy

Our cultural arbiters tell us we must separate the art from the artist. But it’s oh so hard. To this day, the playing of the music of notorious anti-Semite Richard Wagner in Israel arouses howls of protest. I’m not a Jew (despite my childish fantasy when I was 22) but I still feel itchy when Wagner comes on the radio. I can’t enjoy Manhattan anymore. And I’ll probably never again pick up a copy of one of Burroughs’ books. There are plenty of other artists who won’t make me feel so itchy.

5 thoughts on “Hot Snowy Air

  1. David Paglis "Cynicism gives the illusion of understanding." says:

    Good one today Mike, real good.

  2. nrhiller says:

    To Mike and Mike’s readers: A clarification is warranted re. the statement that the change from conservation district to historic district (not “preservation district”) “hamstring[s] property owners from doing any remodeling at all without submitting to an onerous hearing process.” I think I am correct in saying that in most cases there is no restriction placed on alterations to a building’s interior–i.e. the sort of changes involved in the overwhelming majority of remodeling projects.

    Although the additional bureaucratic dimension imposed by this change in district status is unwelcome by many, especially in view of the lack of opportunity for public discussion before the change (and there are significant mitigating factors, though I will not list them here, other than to note that I know no public official who was happy to find him- or herself in the position of having to vote on this issue on the spot that night), I will venture that the end result, in terms of actual limitations placed on proposed remodeling projects, will be far less objectionable than many imagine.

  3. Joy Shayne Laughter says:

    After reading this interview with Dylan/Malone’s brother Moses

    ( http://www.thewrap.com/woody-allen-moses-farrow-says-sister-lying-about-sexual-abuse-mia-farrow-hit-him )

    and this article by Allen documentarian Robert B. Weide

    ( http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/01/27/the-woody-allen-allegations-not-so-fast.html ),

    I’d say there were some parent-child power dynamics in the Farrow clan that would have frozen Hermann Goering’s balls.

    NOBODY said the wrong thing to Mamma Mia, if they wanted to survive.

    And the UK papers have found more: the real molester in the Farrow family.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2478439/John-Villers-Farrow-Mia-Farrows-brother-jailed-sexually-abusing-2-boys.html

    One has to wonder if Mia herself endured abuse she had to bury and deny — and perhaps act out in her marriages to powerful men (Sinatra, Previn) to whom she would appear to be a “child bride.”

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