Classy Can Be Weird in a Classless Society


It's really hard being a Yankees fan, but I can't help it. I got this way simply by growing up in the American League and watching the Yanks of Mantle, Maris, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Whitey Ford, et al. It was hard hanging with George during the Winfield, Mattingly, Guidry, Goose years, but the team has almost always displayed true character, no matter how vile the ownership and management seemed.

But lately George has mellowed, and the fact that he has allowed Joe Torre to continue through the ups and downs of this most professional of teams makes one believe that growth is possible, even at an advanced age. Maybe Seinfeld humanized the guy.

I like the Yanks a lot, even at 13-and-1/2 back of the Red Sox. Yeah, they are a bunch of rich "overdogs," and sure, they are corporate and imperial (I loved Phil Mushnik's joke that Roger Clemens was seeking to pitch for Houston when the Yankees were traveling), but I like this group of personalities. Derek Jeter, who just broke Joe DiMaggio's record for hits, has the best attitude in baseball, projecting heroic enthusiasm and a fantastic love of the game, while Hideki Matsui appears as a noble samurai warrior. Jorge Posada is a stoical phenomenon and an utterly complete player, while A.Rod is a magnificently complex athlete and human being. Mariano Rivera combines hall-of-fame play with hall-of-fame class. That's just the cream of this group of casual superheroes.

But right now I'm really feeling sympathy for Jason Giambi, who is, apparently, in hot water for being perhaps the only one of the players publicly linked with chemical abuse to have apologized in any way or owned up to his errors. As Bonds cruises toward an embarrassing date with destiny, and while Mark McGwire has been bizarrely silent since breaking the all-time home run record, dropping off the face of the earth, and while players like Gary Sheffield (see the issue of GQ currently on stands) employ double talk to skirt the issues, it is clear that the record-breaking boom of the nineties was broad and involved many, many players. It is also clear that chemicals such as amphetamines have been a mainstream part of the game since long before Jim Bouton chronicled the 1969 season in Ball Four.

I admire Jason Giambi's courage, not only in getting off performance-enhancing drugs, but in recovering from major injuries and illnesses, and returning to top form as a feared hitter and a real gamer. But more than that, I admire the fact that he has been a man about these issues, while everyone else, from the commissioner to other suspect players and their teammates, pussyfoot around them.

It seems that Jason Giambi has failed a test for amphetamines in the last year, but he has been a man about it, and he is the only person to state that players using prohibited substances should have apologized for it. Meanwhile, the giant egos continue to deny any wrongdoing, or expect us to believe that they were so naïve as to have no idea that the various exotic treatments they underwent that yielded such spectacular results might have contained prohibited substances. Garbage! If the relatively forthright Giambi, who has apologized over and over for admittedly vague sins, is punished while Barry Bonds is rewarded, and the others in spectacular denial get off free, it will greatly amplify the stink that hangs over baseball.

The day that Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's record, Pete Rose should be admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. They should just put his plaque in the phone booth.

Help Make Compton Maddux Famouser

I met Compton Maddux through a Chicago poet named John Rezek, who speaks in a deep baritone, knows the difference between zeugma and syllepsis, and can recognize an authentic voice through a locked door. He figured I'd dig Compton, a musician/wordsmith who also has a very nice baritone and a deep sense of humor. He is what they call a singer/songwriter. Maybe he's a songwriter/singer. But, you know…he somewhat resembles Steve Earle genre-wise, although he looks nothing like him and tends to stay out of trouble. He's sort of urbane country. As my wife said, "You know why he's not famous? He lives in Nyack! He should live in Austin or Memphis or Nashville."


I had Mr. Maddux on my old cable show TV Party several times, and he appears in the documentary about the show that's available on DVD (and which Jerry Stiller says "belongs in the Smithsonian Institution.") He dressed in surgical scrubs and sang a couple of great songs—"I'm a Clone of Myself" and "Ka Ka Disco"—backed up on vocals by me and Debbie Harry. He put on a great show. (He also put in a great comic turn playing the celebrity chauffer in the film Downtown 81 starring Jean-Michel Basquiat.) I think the problem with his career was that he was sort of a man without a category—he was country, funny, new wave, singer-songwriter. Since then, Compton has countrified considerably, digging into the music he loves, but still he is not a household word. Talent is not enough, my dear readers, oh no. Other factors abound such as luck, the stars, suffering, chance, synchronicity, payola, truckling, and toadying, etc. If it were just talent and persistence, well, this guy might have come in as Mr. Congeniality in the Sexiest Man Alive competition.

Maybe the wife is right. Compton lives in Nyack, where he makes better and better music and maintains an expertise on many things. For example, he came over to my place and explained why the "Decorator White" oil-based paint on my doors and windows was turning yellow. Then he gave me his CDs "Feats of Clay" and "Dirt Simple," and then he fixed my trim. It was strange. It felt like having John Hyatt help you move or Bonnie Raitt give you a haircut. But talent knows no bounds. Nyack, however, does. I have told Compton that if he moved to Austin, the live music capital of the world, he would probably make it big. But he expects me to drive him.

I've got Compton's music on my MacBook now, in heavy rotation along with Jarvis Cocker, Duke Ellington, Lee Perry, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lou Rawls, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, King Pleasure, the Gothic Archies, Dean Martin, and Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs. Since the radio turned to trash I pretend my computer is a radio, and WGOB plays a heady mix of reggae, soul, funk, disco, singer-songwriter, and jazz, attempting to achieve absolutely zero format. So Compton fits right in, right along with all those famous artistes. The guy writes gems and performs them delightfully. But he's way underfamous. That's what happens sometimes when you don't do the obvious thing.

Compton Maddux was born in New York City. The country in him comes straight outta Compton, right from the DNA. He is country because country is white blues. He is a true country singer from the most urbane and densely populated area of the nation. This would seem to be a disadvantage, as Gina points out, yet Billy the Kid was born on Allen Street in Manhattan, and I believe that coming to country from the outside is exactly what gives Compton rare perspective and trenchant irony. See, he's also a poet, having studied with Ed Dorn and Stephen Spender and Tony Hecht. But of course being a poet is, professionally, in the same category with being a lutist or a shepherd—no, actually there are less openings—so he starting playing music and writing songs. Often they were humorous, which can be the kiss of death. And often they were exquisitely sincere: ditto. But as we all know, suffering and struggle is supposed to be great for artists and poets, so Compton now has a tremendous advantage, having put in years of both. Check out the lyrics:

She's half saint and the part that ain't
Is the part that's good to me…

That's from the song "Designated Driver":

She's my designated driver
she drives me to the Bar
she drives me to drink in her car

And I love "Bible Belt":

I'd swear a month of Sundays
This sorry hand I'm dealt
Deep down low she hit me
Way down low
Below the Bible belt

Both of Mr. Maddux's discs stink of excellence, including the musicianship, which features the fine guitar licks of Jeff Golub and Jim Lauderdale on "Feet of Clay" and the brilliant fiddling of Allison Cornell (Shania Twain) on "Dirt Simple." Help me make this fine songwriter famous and, well, not rich, but comfier. I think he could be New York's answer to James Hand, the great soulful country singer from central Texas who released his first album last year at the age of 53. (And check out Mr. Hand, please! The Truth Will Set You Free (Rounder Records) is produced by the eminent Lloyd Maines, producer and father of one of the Dixie Chicks.) His albums are available on, singles through iTunes.

Young whippersnappers have nothin' on these ripe type cats who have been working hard at it a shy lifetime. Mr. Compton Maddux will be playing The Turning Point in Piermont, N.Y., Saturday, May 26th at 9:00PM. Call (845-359-1089) for reservations.

A New Voice in My Head

I never thought I would get into MySpace, anymore than I'd get into Friendster. I have more than enough friends. I mean, I'm always open to a new one, but I'm not out there looking for them. But then my friend Chris Stein, the famous guitarist from Blondie, signed me up for MySpace to promote our old TV Party DVDs. He put a twenty-year-old picture of me on it, and now I have lots of young girlfriends from all over the country, as well as lots of band friends. I think it was really bands who made MySpace such an interesting phenomenon. You can put music and videos up on your home page and the music spreads—I'm not crazy about the term, but you know what I mean—virally.


I don't know how to put music on my page, and I'm sort of too busy to deal with it, but I love how it works. Lots of MySpacers demonstrate their cool by displaying their curriculum vitae to their favorite soundtrack, either original or borrowed. Every time somebody asks to be my friend and they happen to be a girl I actually go to their page to make sure that she is not fronting for some corporation trying to sell me something, and that she is not offering to show me naked pictures. Please! I've got work to do around here, and I'm not Terry Richardson. Anyway, a sweet young thing asked to be a friend the other day and, when I clicked on her page, this great voice reached out across the Internet and spoke to me. It was a song by the Gothic Archies, called "Shipwrecked." It sounded like a collision of Tom Waits and Merle Haggard doing an impression of Cole Porter. The voice was that of Stephin Merritt, a great genius songwriter and performer, as I would soon discover.


I had some Magnetic Fields tracks on my MacBook, like the poignant, curmudgeonly, dark broken-heart anthem "I Don't Want to Get Over You." Or "Papa Was a Rodeo," a sort of perfect meld of Johnny Cash and Morrissey. But I hadn't focused on them or made the connection or really understood the gravity of this guy and his many creative fronts and/or sides, which also include Future Bible Heroes, the Three Terrors, and the 6ths. Now I see there is much to be listened to from this artist and, so far so excellent.

I guess I'm starting out with the three-volume set 69 Love Songs, which seems to provide much food for thought and tinder for feeling that should carry me well into the heat of summer. I'll let that stuff wash over my head and headquarters and then I'll still have the Gothic Archies to look forward to. I have noted from Mr. Merritt's website that "What makes this band different from The Magnetic Fields is that any glimmer of hope is absolutely extinguished." Sounds perfect for September. And just the idea of Gothic bubblegum makes me invisibly happy.

It's always inspiring to find an artist who uses words brilliantly and unexpectedly, expanding the language like lungs. Lines like, "You know you enthrall me/and yet you don't call me/It's making me blue/Pantone 292." That's a gem. Or, "I see that kiss-me pucker forming/but maybe you should plug it with a beer." This cat could be the Kaiser Soeze of lyricism.

Lumberjacks of the Subcontinent

When I was back there in high school, learning Latin and Greek with the Jesuits, we lads were required to keep our hair trimmed so that it didn't hang over our ears like that of the invading British singing groups, and we were required to wear leather shoes and ties. The hair was always being contested, and sometimes Father Verhelli would hand you five bucks and say, "Don't come back until you have a haircut."

Sometimes we would wear turtleneck sweaters and the Jesuits would grab us by the neck and roll it down to make sure there was a tie under there—the Jesuits believe in the letter of the law. As for the ties, well, we'd often buy vintage monstrosities, sometimes combining them with inappropriate shirts to demonstrate our rebellion. Especially on Lumberjack Day, an impromptu special day held once a year and dedicated to looking unlike gentlemen, on which we would all wear flannel lumberjack shirts. Naturally, a day on which a school assembly was scheduled would be chosen as lumberjack day.

Then, round about senior year, my friend Dennis Cashman and I came upon a different strategy: clashing madras. Classic Indian madras was really big then, so we were able to display numerous variations of plaid overload. Our concept was to wear three or four different tartans—shirt, trousers, jacket, tie. Quite spectacular.

I thought of it the other day when I found a madras suit as separates on the first-floor Ralph Lauren boutique at Bergdorf's. Now I have a rather vocal plaid suit. Last Friday, the day the pants came back from the tailor, I got a new Jack Spade madras tie. The shirts are waiting in the closet. I am just waiting to pick a good Indian Lumberjack Day. I'll let you know.


Shirt by J.Press
Tie by Jack Spade
Jacket by Ralph Lauren
Mask drum by Chokwe tribe
Photo by Glenn O'Brien

Ann Magnuson

My idol, the great comedian B.S. Pully, had a terrific expression that he used often in his stage show: "I'm too smart for the room." How many times have I used that line myself when faced with a deafening silence after a particularly sparkling bon mot?

It's a fact of modern life that we are often disappointed by generally low standards of drollery, especially when we have trained for the Algonquin Round Table. I know many entire careers that have had a tendency to be too smart for the room. One of my favorites is that of the wonderful Ann Magnuson, a comedian, actress, writer, and musician who has perhaps erred on the side of intelligence throughout her distinguished, though clearly under-recognized career. Born too late? Too early? Perhaps we shall see…

In the heyday of the "new wave," Ann was New York's ruling-elite comedic performance artist (along with Eric Bogosian). She not only created many extraordinary one-person shows while serving as genius-in-residence at the legendary Club 57, but she would also launch entire bands based on her satiric vision, from the feminist-primitivist collective Pulsallama, to the psycho-psychedelia of Bongwater (which released five albums), to the remarkable heavy-metal extravaganza Vulcan Death Grip.

As one would expect of someone so brimming with genius (and foxiness), Ann left the threadbare, hardscrabble art world and went off to Hollywood where she was clearly too smart for the universe. And yet she succeeded, first with small roles in big films, then starring in considerable films such as Susan Seidelman's Making Mr. Right, opposite John Malkovich, and A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon, opposite River Phoenix.

In 1989, Ann crossed over to TV as a regular on Jamie Lee Curtis's situation comedy Anything But Love, but we weren't getting the full blast of Magnusonic satire. Still, Ann's enormous talent took her along the usual road to All-American success, with appearances on Caroline in the City, The Drew Carey Show, Wanda at Large, Frasier, and even CSI: Miami. And she was in big films like Jodie Foster's Panic Room, and not-so-big ones like Mariah's Glitter. But Ann Magnuson is a top banana, not a second banana, and diehard fans longed for the full effect. One of the reasons I hate Hollywood is that they have never given Ann Magnuson her own Carol Burnett Show. Of course, compared to the great Carol Burnett, Ann is a little…how do we put it…too smart for the room?


(Photo by Rocky Schenck)

Well, she's not too smart for my room, where her new album is in heavy rotation. The delightful new Ann Magnuson compact disc is called Pretty Songs and Ugly Stories and it was produced and arranged by Ann's sometime collaborator (they had a faux fake folk band together, Bleaker Street Incident) and genius in his own right/write/rite Kristian Hoffman. All dressed up in spiritualist Victoriana photographs, it harks back to various gentler, smarter times, to the delightful sensibilities of music hall and tin pan alley or at least the darker corners of the Brill Building. Ann has a lithe, crystalline, lilting voice, and at times she sounds like a sweet girl group like Angels or the Murmaids produced, perhaps, by Kim Fowley, or like Ruth Etting produced by Devo. Each song is a little gem, with the form embracing the content, like a Harry Winston setting embraces a three-carat diamond. You must buy this record if you have any hope for the advancement of comic literacy, or if you have high standards rubbing up against the calloused elbows of society. Why not buy this marvelous entertainment directly from the artist?: It comes autographed, for $13.98 plus shipping and handling.

Speaking of rooms that Ann Magnuson is not too smart for, Joe's Pub is one of them, and Ann is playing two shows there on May 18th. I'll be the guy in the pink carnation.

White Shoe Anarchy

Customs are all well and good, but as Miles Davis said to Rahsaan Roland Kirk, "everybody gotta change." That's why I have decided that I will no longer observe the no-white-shoes-before-Memorial-Day "rule." I am moving the annual inaugural wearing of white shoes back to April 22nd, Earth Day. Henceforth, white shoes may be worn without compunction after that date if the temperature is 68 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. I am also moving the cut-off date for wearing white shoes from Labor Day to the end of baseball season. I see no reason that common-sense dress codes should be linked to honoring our war dead or trade unionism. Should anyone question my wearing of white shoes or suggest that it's inappropriate, I will inform them that this is my way of expressing that global warming is a reality.

I am especially happy to break out the summer shoes this spring, mainly because I have a nice, rather new pair of bucks from Brooks Brothers and a beautiful pair of saddle shoes from Ralph Lauren. They aren't just from the store, mind you, they are from Mr. Lauren himself. The man who brought American menswear back from the brink almost singlehandedly does so many things right, and one of the reasons for that is his determination and curiosity. Whenever I have seen him he's asked my opinion on what he could do better. In fact, Mr. Lauren does what he does so well that I have little to say, but last time I did manage to inform him that I had found it impossible to find his men's saddle shoes in a size twelve. I should add that Mr. Lauren seems to make the only genuine white saddle shoes for men that are not intended for golf (Alden makes nice cordovan saddles), so I considered this a matter of some importance.

Well, feast your eyes on these:


I have also recently debuted a beautiful pair of Brigatti golf shoes that had been sitting in my closet since I bought them in Milan five years ago. Brigatti, founded in 1884, is perhaps the world's most stylish sporting goods store, and I got a fantastic deal on these pebble-grain-and-calf spectators. I don't know why I didn't wear these spikes, but they made their debut in Austin, Texas, and performed splendidly for a pair of new shoes. I had one little tiny blister, but felt so magnificent in them that it was nothing. I'm sure by the end of my next 18 they will be totally in harmony with my large yet sensitive feet. Have you ever seen a better-looking pair of golf shoes?


Here are the Brooks Brothers white bucks. Much more comfy than my old ones, and they were easy on the wallet.


And finally, these venerable Church's of England wingtips have turned the color of clotted cream. They have true patina. I think it's going to be a good summer for walking. And remember, if you're out tonight on your bike, wear white.


Texas Traveler

This space has been quiet for about a week due to my heavy travel schedule. First I went to Houston to attend the 20th Anniversary Gala of the Menil Collection, one of America's most important museums. Their surrealist collection alone makes a visit worthwhile, and that's just the beginning.

I was invited by my pal Michael Zilkha, a member of the Menil's board, who thought I would enjoy the evening because the entertainment was provided by Chic, the great dance band headed up by our mutual amigo Nile Rodgers. I hadn't seen Chic play since…well, since Studio 54 closed, so I wasn't about to miss it. Actually, I love Houston. I always have fun there, and I can never pass up a chance to put on a tux and do the boogaloo.

This grand event was, in fact, a masked ball, and my wife and I toyed with the idea of making corrugated cardboard masks in homage to Robert Rauschenberg and his corrugated sculptures, which are now on display at the museum, but I got lazy and we arrived maskless—which turned out for the best because about six hundred of Houston's richest and most fashionable people went all out, coming up with really great masks, from homemade jobs to authentic African ones. Luckily my friend Christophe de Menil, a daughter of the museum's founder Dominique de Menil, showed up with a bag of sixty masks that she had made, copying various works of art. I picked up Andy Warhol's face and walked around as my old boss's self-portrait for a while.

Chic was fantastic. It wasn't quite the same as the old days, as Nile's partner, the brilliant bassist Bernard Edwards, died from pneumonia at the age of 43 ten years ago, and then the drummer, Tony Thompson, died of cancer at 48 in 2003. But the current lineup did right by Chic's repertoire, performing all of the band's hits, including "Dance Dance Dance," "Everybody Dance," "Le Freak," "I Want Your Love," and "My Forbidden Lover," as well as songs written by Nile and 'Nard for Sister Sledge ("We Are Family") and Diana Ross ("I'm Coming Out" and "Upside Down"). We danced nonstop through the entire set.

Nile said goodnight, but I knew there was more to come because they hadn't played "Good Times." As a joke I went up to the stage and yelled for "Rapper's Delight," the number-one hit by the Sugar Hill Gang that appropriated the music of "Good Times," which had only reached number two on the charts. Nile launched into the song, which rocked the place, then stepped to the microphone and did the entire rap from the track: "Everybody go hotel motel Holiday Inn…if your girl starts actin' up then you take her friend…" He acquitted himself superbly, his precise diction making the original vocalists Wonder Mike, Master Gee, and Big Bank Hank seem sloppy in comparison.

Nile is an amazing guy. Ten years ago Billboard called him "the top producer in the world," which would be hard to argue with considering what he's done for Madonna, Miss Ross, Sister Sledge, Duran Duran, the B-52's, Debbie Harry, David Bowie, Ric Ocasek, Sheena Easton, Eric Clapton, Southside Johnny, David Lee Roth, INXS, Bob Dylan, Thompson Twins, Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Beck, Paul Simon, Laurie Anderson, Mick Jagger, Bryan Ferry, Grace Jones, and let's not forget Beavis & Butthead. But he's also a tremendous guitar player. Anybody who gets hired by Eric Clapton for a Hendrix tribute album is serious. And there's the little-known side—the great Scrabble player, the ventriloquist. The man is a star's star, and I don't plan to wait so long before seeing him play again. Watching him work is an inspiration.

So then it was back to New York for two days, and then back to Texas—Austin this time, to attend a GQ function. I can't comment except to say that Adam Rapoport, GQ's Style Editor, has a nice golf swing, and Austin was really a pleasant surprise. The rolling hills outside this rather cosmopolitan city reminded me a bit of Tuscany. Fonda San Miguel makes a hell of a duck tamale. The Salt Lick, a barbecue located in ranch country, has terrific vittles and perhaps the most persistent, indefatigable, and egregious rock band on the planet in residence. I plan to return to Austin next fall to play the other three courses at the Barton Creek Resort. Loved the Crenshaw Cliffside course, though I could have used a six-pack of mulligans, being more rusty than usual in my season opener.

I was glad to get back to New York, as I was beginning to understand why everything is bigger in Texas, including the people. Texas is tied for the seventh most obese state in the Union, with 25.8 percent of the population officially corpulent. You just can't stop eatin' that barbecue.

And then, there I was, innocently driving up Route 22 through Wingdale in Duchess County, headed toward my country home in Connecticut, when I spotted it: Big W's Barbecue. We stopped and the whole family pigged out on ribs, pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, dirty rice, and cole slaw. Big W's is run by a former French chef from Manhattan who got tired of the grind and opened up a roadside stand. It grew to be so popular that now there's a little restaurant there, serving barbecue very similar to the fare at Austin's Salt Lick. In fact, both establishments use the same industrial-strength smokers. You don't have to go to Texas to get awesome barbecue. And you can get your pulled pork on the traditional hamburger bun, or—and this may qualify as some sort of sacrilege—on challah bread.

I think barbecue is a movement and, like its adherents, it's growing. There's another fantastic joint in New Milford, Connecticut: The Cookhouse. Yup, Texas is comin' to us. It's okay. It's good for the willpower. I'm taking it one rib at a time.