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The Pot Bust That Scared Bill Murray Straight

February 2, 2014

When he was 20 years old, Bill Murray was busted trying to smuggle ten pounds of marijuana out of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

After his conviction, he decided to give up his career as a drug trafficker and pursue something slightly less risky — like acting — so he joined Chicago’s famous Second City improv troupe. The rest is history.

Here’s a link to the original Chicago Tribune article on the Smoking Gun.

Happy Groundhog Day everybody!

Bill Murray Groundhog Day Pot Bust

The Dakota’s Dead Hero: John Lennon Warned Us Not To Turn Him Into A Deity

December 8, 2013

Bigger Than Jesus: a shrine at Japan’s now-defunct John Lennon Museum

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot to death outside the Dakota apartment building on New York’s Upper West Side.

Lennon’s murder sparked a deluge of worldwide grief on an unprecedented scale. Sales of his music soared in the months following his death. Meanwhile, some thirty thousand fans gathered in Lennon’s hometown of Liverpool, while separate memorials were organized at various locations around the planet. (This despite the fact that no actual funeral for Lennon was ever held.) Mourning fans gathered for days outside the Dakota, chanting and singing Beatles songs until Yoko Ono complained to authorities that the noise was keeping her up at night.

When the dust finally settled, there was little doubt that Lennon’s death would instantly transform the consummate Eggman from respected artist to revered deity. In fact, no other dead musical figure, with the possible exception of Elvis Presley, has so rapidly achieved calendar-ready status in the vast pantheon of Western pop culture.

And yet, ironically, the one person who had hoped to avoid such a fate was Lennon himself, who just three days before his death criticized the idol-worshiping culture vampires who seemed so determined to turn him into a musical martyr. “What they want is dead heroes like Sid Vicious and James Dean,” Lennon griped in his final interview with Rolling Stone magazine. “I’m not interested in being a dead fucking hero. So forget ‘em.”

In that same interview, Lennon also expressed a strong desire to break free of his culturally imposed image as the former Beatle turned renegade peacenik. And at the young age of forty, he still believed he had “plenty of time” to explore new territory. Sadly, it took only the actions of one deranged fan to show him otherwise.

Every year on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death, hundreds of doe-eyed fans converge on Central Park’s Strawberry Fields to celebrate his life and remember his music. In doing so, they also mythologize a man whose last request was that we not turn him into a myth. Imagine that.

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Gifts for Artists? Here’s the Book for Every Tortured Artist, Author, Writer, Painter or Singer

December 2, 2013

Folks, if you’re looking for a Christmas gift for that temperamental artist in your life, don’t settle for another Bob Ross DVD box set this year. Stop by your favorite independent book store (or Amazon or Barnes & Noble if you want to go the evil-corporate sellout route) and pick up a copy of Tortured Artists

It’s cheaper than paint. And sexier. And it won’t stick to your dental work.

broodings2

All great art comes from pain. I’ve always believed that. Whether it’s the magnum opus of a Renaissance master, a three-chord riff from a seventies punk band, or a keenly strewn allegory by Dr. Seuss, it all starts with the same thing: a shot of intractable unpleasantness bubbling to the surface from deep within a tortured soul. The courage to reach into the ugliness of one’s messy subconscious is what separates great artists from mediocre ones. It’s why Michael Jackson completely transformed pop music and why Michael Bublé just makes us want to cancel our Pandora accounts.

And it’s always been that way — Van Gogh painted The Starry Night while in emotional torment; Lennon and McCartney forged their creative partnership following the death of their respective mothers; Milton penned Paradise Lost after losing his wife, his daughter, and his eyesight.

Tortured Artists examines the maladies that drive creative types to the brink of despair and the inspired works that are born from their anguish. Spanning artistic disciplines from painting to literature to music to drama, the book reveals the common thread of unpleasantness that binds artistic expression of every conceivable type.

Little-known facts surrounding history’s most influential artistic achievements are found in this ample collection, including—

• The worldwide natural disaster that inspired Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

• The personal betrayal that prompted a disillusioned young Walt Disney to create Mickey Mouse.

• The bitter divorce that transformed Lenny Bruce from a lackluster workaday comic into a dynamic counterculture icon.

• The startling scientific proof that reveals why Taylor Swift is one of the worst things ever to happen to the tortured-artist mythos.

Tortured Artists is a personal homage to the long-suffering creative geniuses who touch our lives at the expense of their own well being. Pick up a copy for your tortured artist friends. Just knowing you’re trying to understand them will make them happy — at least temporarily.

Tortured Artists: From Picasso and Monroe to Warhol and Winehouse, the Twisted Secrets of the World’s Most Creative Minds (Adams Media Corp., an imprint of F+W Media).

Happy Birthday, Will Shakespeare

April 23, 2013

Shakespeare and his wife, Anne Hathaway, celebrate Will’s 449th birthday. By the way, our friends at Because America, That’s Why seem to think everyone’s American.

Anne Hathaway and William Shakespeare.

Anne Hathaway and William Shakespeare.

Tortured Artist Fact: J.D. Salinger

January 2, 2013

Little-known tortured artist fact: J.D. Salinger, the father of American teen angst, was a New Year baby, born January 1, 1919. Happy New Year, all.

J.D. Salinger New Year Baby

Tortured Artist Fact: J.R.R. Tolkien

December 15, 2012

Long before he rose to fantasy-novel fame with The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein was sent to the front lines of World War I, where many of his school chums were killed in battle. He referenced the traumatic war throughout his life, calling it a “hideous” experience and sometimes expressing disdain for the fact that its horrific effects on his youth were overshadowed by the even larger war that came less than two decades later.  “By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead,” Tolkien wrote.

Learn more about tortured artists here.

J.R.R. Tolkien and Gollum

Before he conjured up Gollum, J.R.R. Tolkien had to live through World War I.

Are Liberals More Creative Than Conservatives? Science Says Absolutely

December 13, 2012

Blue and Red BrainIf you lean a little to the left, or even a lot to the left, you may secretly believe that you would make a great artist. And if you happen to have Republican friends, you may equally believe that they would not. In fact, you may even feel a little guilty for believing that your Republican friends, all three of them, are seriously deficient in the creativity department.

Damn liberal guilt. Shouldn’t you be out hugging a tree or saving a dolphin or some shit?

Actually, no, you shouldn’t. The truth is, you are empirically justified in feeling more creative than your conservative counterparts. There is solid science to back you up.

In the landmark study “Creativity and Conservatism,” Stephen J. Dollinger, a psychologist at Southern Illinois University, assessed the creative aptitude of 426 undergraduates. He found that left-leaning students — or pinkos, ideologues, and America haters in talk-radio speak — unequivocally performed better than right-wing students in creative activities spanning visual art, literary art, and performing art.

To assess these skills, Dollinger asked participants to finish drawings that had already been started by an artist. Each drawing was rated for its creativity by three separate MFA students. The researcher also asked participants to take photos and write essays about each photo. These works were judged objectively by psychologists.

In the end, the judges largely agreed on the creative merit of the finished products, and the results showed that students who held favorable views on liberal issues — marriage equality, multiculturalism, reproductive rights, and whatnot — produced the most creative work. Meanwhile, those who held favorable views on conservative issues — pre-marital virginity, literal interpretations of the Bible, the death penalty, and other such niceties — produced art of a less inspired variety. Or crap in pedestrian speak.

This isn’t new research, by the way. Dollinger’s study was conducted in 2006 and published the following year on the research portal Science Direct. It followed a similarly revealing study that showed conservatives tend to eschew artwork that’s too abstract or challenging and instead prefer simplistic works (hence Thomas Kinkade and the films of M. Night Shyamalan). In other words, not only do GOPers make bad art, they also make bad art lovers.

Dollinger theorized that such reduced creativity could be the result of a greater threat-induced anxiety among conservatives (e.g., feeling threatened by the ambiguity of creative tasks), or conservatives’ inclination to follow convention and devalue imagination.

Mind you, Dollinger’s findings have surprised pretty much no one, with the exception of Karl Rove, who I hear is preparing a live rebuttal to air on Fox News. (Okay, not really.) But then why should we be surprised that the conservative mindset is one wholly lacking in creativity or artistic inspiration? Let us consider, for a moment, the kind of world most conservatives would prefer to live in. First of all, it would be a world devoid of homosexuals, so you can kiss theater goodbye. Ditto for sculpture and commercial photography. It would also be an all-white world, which rules out decent music, and a world that prohibits women from entering the workforce, so literature and dance would be out the window, too. What’s left? You guessed it: Ted Nugent and Craig T. Nelson.

To be fair, conservatives have, on occasion, contributed great things to the creative community. The late Johnny Ramone, for instance, was a bona fide Bush-loving, NRA-touting right-winger who still managed to be the greatest guitarist who ever walked the planet. And let’s be honest: Moby is further to the left than an ecology major at Evergreen State College, and that hasn’t exactly turned him into a creative genius. Statistical anomalies, after all, are part and parcel with the scientific method. Also, it’s worth pointing out that Dollinger found only a 5 percent creative variance between conservatives and liberals, but the results were still substantial enough to “support the presumption from a number of disciplines that conservatism and creativity are in some opposition,” as he put it.

Fortunately for conservatives with creative ambitions, all hope is not lost. Science may be against them, but let us never underestimate a conservative’s talent for ignoring science.