Culture Clash

'86–'95: From Evangelicals to Trannies, the First Gulf War to Tupac Shakur

The platitudinous verbal droppings, more like noises one makes to stimulate horses than actual thoughts, also resemble bromides from a soothing commercial for Preparation H: the proctologist, on close examination, has ruled against radical surgery in favor of something smooth and greasy and easy to dissolve in the collective rectum. In case anybody thought he was some woolly-haired tax-and-spend liberal, Funny Mister Bill throws in enough hard talk about welfare recipients and crime to make you forget he's a Democrat. For this particular crowd, he's already demonstrated his Americanism by letting a lobotomized Death Row inmate go to his end by lethal injection—one of three hideously bungled, "painless" executions the same week in America. And if a fair number of conservatives, even New Hampshire conservatives, wince at the stark realities of capital punishment, quite a few think it ought to be as painful as possible.

If Clinton cares jackshit about anything besides getting elected, it doesn't show on that eerily symmetrical face, a visage of pure incipience: soon-to-be-jowly and ex-ophthalmic, a fraction past really sexy, but warmingly cocky, clear-eyed, with an honorary, twinkly pinch of humility.
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Picture This

On the Set, the Street, and at Dinner, With X Director Spike Lee
by Hilton Als

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November 10, 1992

In the last several years, as Lee has evolved, more and more, away from the loud ineptitude of his early Jerry Lewis-like screen persona—I'm skinny! I'm funny! I'm a geek!—and into the goatee-sporting, public image unlimited voice of black male rage, he has become something of a father figure.

We have watched Lee grow up with a certain misty nostalgia. His rise from street urchin to adult has been the story of boys we used to know who've left the neighborhood but haven't left us. Perhaps reversing the "truth" in many black homes: that Dad doesn't exist at all, that he's a long way from home. Not anymore. There he is as Spike Lee, filling the void on TV, in the news, with unequivocal authority. The subject? That the black male is a great, untapped American subject. And regardless of what Lee says about it—sometimes trenchant, sometimes stupid—he says it like Dad would, sound mixed with fury. Whatever one may think of Lee, he owns his authority.

"Next year, after X, the belt is mine," he's said, throwing the gauntlet down at the feet of our Dionysian Mom, Madonna. It is Lee's complaining the public minds; it is as disjunctive as anyone's Dad crying over the milk he hasn't spilled—yet.
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Death of an idol: Kurt Cobain in 1994
photo: Charles Peterson

No Future


By Ann Powers

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April 19, 1994

People couldn't believe the photograph. The day after Kurt Cobain shot himself faceless in his million-dollar home, his friends and the hundreds of rosy, downcast kids who mourned him found a nasty slice of evidence on the front page of the Seattle Times: a shot taken from above the glass doors of the garage where Cobain died, revealing the suicide scene. Two detectives hover like shadows. But what's cruelly fascinating is the body. The image is only a fragment: one dirty-jean-clad leg with a white sock and a badly tied Converse, one arm from the elbow down in a light blue thrift-store shirt, one clenched fist. Near a detective's foot, another photograph can almost be seen, an official snapshot on a driver's license. The body and the license, both so small they don't seem real, feel unknowable, the definition of not enough.

"That picture was so tacky, I was really shocked," says Kim Warnick on Sunday afternoon, as she bides her time until five, when the candlelight vigil would begin. Warnick fronts the longtime Seattle band the Fastbacks, and she works as a sales rep at Nirvana's former label, Sub Pop; we're discussing the media frenzy, the possible motives, the usual stuff. "But you know what really got me about it? His ID. You can see his wallet opened up to his driver's license, right by his body. Kurt didn't want any mistakes about what he was doing. He wanted to be perfectly clear."

It's a strange bit of the typical that Kurt Cobain would worry that killing himself with a shotgun was an act that might be misinterpreted. Suicide, especially one as violent as Cobain's, is the loudest possible invocation of silence; it's a perfectly clear way of turning your life into a mystery. His commitment to contradiction got him in the end, but even as he cut himself off forever he was trying to make himself speak.
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Love Hurts

Brandon Teena Was a Woman Who Lived and Loved As a Man
By Donna Minkowitz

April 19, 1994

The Lincoln Journal reported that the deceased was "buried in men's clothing, wearing her favorite cowboy shirt and black cowboy hat." But a day later, a Brandon relative will prod the paper to print a correction stating that the corpse had, in fact, sported "a black-and-white striped shirt purchased in the women's section of a local store." The woman christened Teena Brandon caused even greater consternation when she reversed her own first and last names three years ago. "Keep the faith," [Father Paul] Witt encourages her survivors, "even though you have encountered something that doesn't seem to make any sense." It is unclear whether he's referring to Brandon's murder or her penchant for adopting a male persona and dating women.

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