Category Archives: WC78 – Community

WC78 – Review of Zany Mystic

Rvu_white Tales of a Zany Mystic
by L. B. White
Booksurge, 211 pages, $14.99

Reviewed by Steven LaVigne

Do you have books on your shelf that practically glow and demand your attention?  These books may be a rarity, but I’d like to recommend one for your shelf that not only has a glowing cover, featuring a beautiful picture of a rainbow, but explores a heartbreaking through a personal journey that becomes surprisingly uplifting! L. B. White, also known as the Zany Mystic, shares moments from his bumpy life in his autobiographical document, Tales of a Zany Mystic. 

While White’s experiences may not be as outrageous as those which Augusten Burroughs relates in his books, there are similarities.  Born of alcoholic, bisexual bohemian parents in southern California, his parents never attempted to have typical lives, with a house and a picket fence. White’s mother was more Neely O’Hara than Harriet Nelson.  Still, like the children of many dysfunctional parents, he found a level of normalcy with his grandparents, who shared a ranch near his hometown.

Over the years, White tries to lead the life of a “normal” person, marrying, working for a living and attempting a positive relationship with his father.  This was clearly not in the stars for White. He found himself continually sinking into the world of the addict, the high points of which included dealing. Treatment programs and bouts in jail worked for a while, but before long, White was back at his old habits.

A few years ago, I reviewed Ron Nyswaner’s memoir Blue Days, Black Nights in these pages. In that volume, Nyswaner took us to the dark side, but his tome was nowhere near the whimsical, refreshing trek that White takes us on.  He shares his journey with a marvelous blend of humor, spirit and authority, as he straightens himself out. and takes control of his cosmic consciousness. Taking a Kundalini approach to his relationship with higher power, White now shares his advice as the Zany Mystic with a blogspot and a weekly radio Fireside Chat.

Uplifting, readable and inspirational, Tales of a Zany Mystic deserves a place on that shelf of glowing books!

WC78 – Music Review of Theo Bleckmann

Rvu_bleckmann-lasvegas Rvu_bleckmann-berlin Theo Bleckmann
Berlin: Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile/Winter&Winter 910 138-2
Las Vegas Rhapsody/Winter&Winter N° 910 116-2

Reviewed by Bo Young

Genre-bending, -skipping and -skirting vocalist and composer, Theo Bleckmann has been a force in the music scene in New York for over 15 years. Since moving to Manhattan in the late 80’s from his native Germany, Bleckmann has forged a unique sound in jazz and contemporary music, drawing from jazz, ambient and electronic music, integrating extended vocal technique as well as live electronic processing and looping.

He has performed worldwide on some of the great stages including Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall, the Sydney Opera House, L.A.’s Disney Hall, The Whitney Museum and the new Library in Alexandria, Egypt. The New Yorker called him a “local cult favorite”, Downbeat a “ “mad” genius”, The New York Times “excellent” and according to OUT Magazine, Bleckmann is “a singer who has only recently fallen to earth“ and indeed Bleckmann's style has something otherworldly and ethereal.

For the past two years, Bleckmann has been voted into the small group of artists called "Cultural Elite" by New York Magazine and was recently interviewed by Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air. That podcast is here.

In 1989 Bleckmann moved from his native Germany to New York City after meeting legendary jazz vocalist Sheila Jordan at a workshop in Graz, Austria, who remains an influential mentor and supportive colleague to this day. Together they can be heard on Sheila Jordan's "Jazzchild" (High Note). Since his move to Manhattan (and ultimately taking on US citizenship in 2005) he has worked with such artists as Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, Meredith Monk (whose core ensemble Bleckmann has been a member of since 1994), Michael Tilson Thomas, John Zorn and the Bang On A Can All-Stars and was a featured soloist with the Albany Symphony, San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Estonian Radio Choir, Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Mark Morris Dance. The boy moves in heady circles..

For all his vocal experimentation with electronics and ambient, his most recent recording is a virtual classic venture in tradition, again with Fumio Yasuda, Berlin: Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile. I purchased his delightful Las Vegas Rhapsody. The name is a tad odd…the boy is queer you know…the songs are all Broadway and film classics…but the performances and the production are first rate.

I’m as enamored of the great divas (Lady Day, Sarah Vaughn, Garland, Midler, Ross, the Pattis) as the next card-carrying homosexual conspirator — but I have a preference for the male voice singing love songs. And here we have some of the most beautiful, most romantic love songs ever written, sung in Bleckmann’s Berlin insouciant alto: We Kiss in A Shadow (The King & I), Out of My Dreams (Oklahoma). The Night They Invented Champagne (Gigi) and …this is the kind of music you stay at home with someone special, draw the blinds, and cuddle up on the couch..and sip some champagne! Lush satisfying arrangements by Fumio Yasuda with the Kammerorchester Basel only add to the pleasure. There are times, he evokes Nico at her most androgynous best.

Bleckmann range, vocally, emotionally and physically (he  was once a junior ice dancing champion), inspired some of today's great composers to create pieces especially for and with him. He teaches on the jazz faculty of New York's Manhattan School of Music and has been an adjunct at New York University, The New School and Queens College and teaches voice privately and in workshops and masterclasses worldwide.

Give Berlin and Las Vegas a taste. You’ll be delighted.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

WC78 – Review of Murder Most Gay

Rvu_simpsonMurder Most Gay
by John Simpson,
Dreamspinner Press, 220 pages, $11.99
ISBN-13: 978-0981737225

Reviewed by Steven LaVigne

When John Simpson contacted me about reviewing his mystery novel, Murder Most Gay, he was concerned that it wasn’t appropriate for readers of White Crane, because its an “erotic thriller.”  I assured him that I’d still like to read it, and could determine its value later. I’m glad I did, because Murder Most Gay is a delicious, entertaining contribution to the great tradition of cop and detective tomes. 

The book is told in first person by Pat St. James. Fresh out of the Academy, he finds himself sharing coffee and donuts with his superior officer on nightly patrols. That is, until evidence shows up that a serial killer is targeting gay men, attracting prey at bars and cruising areas and leaving their violated bodies all over town. Finding himself attracted to Dean, a successful investment banker, Pat finds himself in the difficult position of keeping his sexuality hidden at work. That is, until he and fellow gay rookie Hank are assigned to the case. The book draws the reader deeper into this intriguing case, as the murderous rampage reaches an almost epic nature before it’s concluded.

John Simpson has a method for storytelling that keeps the reader consistently at the edge of their seat. This is tough to put down. He even pays homage to the writers of classic thrillers, by creating descriptive sequences that are, for example, reminiscent of the manner in which, Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia, was discovered in Hollywood. When he’s writing erotic passages about the sexual relationships Pat has with three different men, he’s created a tone similar to the manner Judith Rossner took in her terrific novel, Looking for Mr. Goodbar.

Erotically charged, but absorbing as well, I think Murder Most Gay is a sexy, intelligent and thought-provoking novel about the world we live in and the difficulties the men in blue face on a daily basis. I'm certain that White Crane readers will enjoy this.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

WC78 – Review of What Becomes You

Rvu_razlink What Becomes You
By Aaron Raz Link and Hilda Link
University of Nebraska Press, 296 pages, paperback, $14.95 ISBN: 978-0-8032-1642-6

Reviewed by Chris Freeman

Sometimes the most obvious observations are the most profound. Early in his memoir What Becomes You, Aaron Raz Link writes, “Being a man, like being a woman, is something you have to learn.” Aaron was born Sarah and grew up Jewish in Nebraska, the daughter of a feminist-poet-professor, Hilda Raz, who is also the co-author of the book. Aaron’s story comprises two-thirds of the volume, an autobiographical journey told by a trained scientist. Aaron’s analytical point-of-view is at times clinical, as in a discussion of taxonomy and the way that we need categories to understand things. Of course, with transsexuality, we have a meltdown of generally accepted categories.

Aaron’s intelligence and survival instincts pay dividends. He recognizes early on that the psychiatric establishment and “caring professions” work against people like him: “I learned that real is a word that means ‘whatever the person who’s bigger than you are says is true.’ I learned that you can avoid ever having to go to the psychiatrist again if you just never tell anyone anything that matters.” Imagine the isolation and confusion that comes from such a realization. In this case, too, what we have is evidence of how our culture refuses to listen to kids, to take them seriously as individuals with sexuality and with some self-knowledge.

Community is an important aspect of the becoming and self-education that Link undergoes. Moving to Los Angeles helped: “I moved to the big city and hung out in what used to be called the bohemian district, is currently called the gay community, and will probably get another name just as soon as Socially Acceptable Homosexuals finish distinguishing themselves from the queers. From watching the queers, I knew enough about drag queens to know that some of them had surgery so they could be women.” In this statement, Link’s politics become clearer: he identifies with the queers. The socially-acceptable folks have never welcomed him, so the journey toward something like community becomes part of his new becoming.

Aaron sought out a support group at the Gay and Lesbian Center in LA. What an awakening. Everyone at the meeting “looked like men pretending to be everything I knew women were fighting against. I went in and sat down anyway, staring around at the panoply of stereotypes. What I didn’t bother to figure into my righteous indignation was that these were women who had only recently mustered the courage to walk down the street and found the whole world responding to a man in a dress. A stereotype is a kind of camouflage; the eye finds what it expects to find and passes over the details. At the time, I didn’t understand the difference between meeting someone else’s expectations and meeting your own.” And that is Aaron’s epiphany.

One of his biggest obstacles in that growth is her mother. The central tension in the book—and that seems to me to be just what it is—is the vexed relationship between the two authors. Hilda Raz is every bit Sarah’s mother, so she struggles—eloquently and emotionally and intellectually—to be Aaron’s mother without losing Sarah. Indeed, if this were Hilda’s book, a fitting title would be Losing Sarah.

Hilda has to come to terms with her own training and conviction as a feminist. She likes women more than she likes men; she likes daughters more than sons.  Her woman’s body becomes a site of crisis for her, as she battles cancer. So the surgical alteration of the body becomes a connection between mother and child: “I lost my breast to cancer. My ovaries and uterus, too, another illness nine months before cancer. The body Sarah changed was her own, is Aaron’s body now. Not mine. Not my body, even though it grew in my center like the very air. Not from the start. Never.”
Hilda Raz admits—and one has to admire her candor and courage—“For months, even years, I grieved hard for the loss of my daughter. . . .Now, looking back, I’m amazed that the one thing I wanted—more than anything else—was a daughter to carry on the next generation of my life as a woman. Women just want to have fun. I wanted brilliant Sarah to enlarge and expand my understanding of women and what we can be in the world, the best kind of fun for me. Instead I am learning from Aaron new uses for our story of power taken, earned and transferred from generation to generation.” A parent’s investment in a child, including the egomania and selfishness, is something Hilda has faced down, seemingly successfully , allowing Aaron his own self-determination and trajectory.

What Becomes You is an uneven book, to say the least, partly because it has an identity crisis as a text: two authors, three main characters (Sarah, Aaron, and Hilda), and a blend of memoir, theory, and social commentary and criticism. The bluntness of the confrontation between child and parent—and between self and world—may be the best element it has to offer. The understandings finally arrived at by Aaron and Hilda are clear to the reader and are illuminating and inspiring. The search for self becomes the search for community, connection, and understanding, a universal tale if ever there was one. In a short chapter titled “Men,” Link says, “If you want to survive, you must find a way to love what you are.” Learning how to do that is central to the “becoming” in the book’s title—and to everyone’s struggle to become our best selves.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!