Happy National Absinthe Day!

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It’s March the 5th again and I am sadly working late tonight to the point that I won’t even have the chance for a glass of “medicinal green” to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of absinthe. Still I have to take the opportunity to say a few quick words.

As most students of absinthe history know, the ban itself came about both through the efforts of the French wine trade and the Temperance Movement to counter the threat of the growing rise of absinthe and from the fallout of supply and demand making absinthe so cheap it cost less than a loaf of bread. Treachery and greed know no limits and have no rules. That’s why they’re treachery and greed.

Never forget to question the accusations of those who condemn, children. It’s what separates the humans from the herd.

Even though I only have coffee on hand at the office, here’s a toast to clarity of vision and to liberty. Sante!

Happy National Absinthe Day (US)

National Absinthe Day (US) is today. Perhaps a more appropriate day would have been March 1, as it would have been the 7-year anniversary of the repeal of the absinthe ban in Switzerland (absinthe’s birthplace). Nevertheless, this evening I will be celebrating it.

The holiday, whatever the origin and day, is an important one whether you partake or not. The rescinding of a ban is always a cause for celebration. The only reasons why bans are put into effect in the first place are because either the item in question is a threat to the powers that be or because the abuse of a banned thing is dangerous due to ignorance and stupidity. Both apply to absinthe.

The remedy for this is tolerance and awareness. If people act based on a lack of information, they should expect to take responsibility for their actions and either get informed or suffer the consequences of leaping before having looked.

Therefore, let’s all raise a green glass this evening in a toast to responsibility!

“The Divine Marquis”

On this day, I spare a thought for Donatien Alphonse Francois, Marquis de Sade. Though his art was wrought in depravity, his message was golden.

I had the privilege of first reading the Marquis in college, when I acquired a copy of The 120 Days of Sodom which was much abused and thumbed through. I managed to get through the whole thing and I thank hell that the man only had the chance to put the last four parts in point form.

I used to say that the Marquis was far ahead of his time. Now, I have come to think that he came at just the right time. He was gasoline on smouldering cultural embers and he set the road to freedom, for good or ill, in the minds of the masses. We can thank him and curse his name, simultaneously, for this. On the one hand, the knowledge that neither church nor state nor externally-imposed morality can restrain the human will if it does not wish to be. On the other hand, we have Britney Spears and Kesha, all of their pop-culture clan and the fallout from their mutation.

I remember when I was in college, an acquaintance of mine picked up my copy of The 120 Days and started reading random snippets. Her response, predictably, was “Oh my god, that’s disgusting [turns the page and keeps reading] Oh! That’s just gross! [turns the page and keeps reading] Jesus! That’s just…ew! [turns the page and keeps reading]…”

We all rebel against both of our natures at times. We’re the only species on the planet that struggles both for and against our moral mandates. We know that there are urges that, if we are healthy and functioning properly, come naturally. We also know, however, that in our civilization, the needlessly selfish and the depraved can beset culture with a plague of inconveniences, when not checked. Liberty is one thing. Chaos is another. The quest for the one is desirable, seeking the other is an insult to evolution.

I often had a fantasy of locating the Marquis’s grave, digging him up and plundering his skull to preserve as a talismanic relic in the name of liberty. Then I remembered two things. First, the Sade’s funerary wishes (ignored by the authorities at Charenton) were to be interred in an unmarked grave to be strewn with acorns and grown over. In essence, the Marquis wanted to disappear, and to enshrine him thus would be a paradoxical insult to his memory. Second, his skull was already plundered by some phrenologists somewhere in the world, who have, in essence, done Sade the very wrong I just addressed.

If I could find his skull, therefore, I would happily steal it and keep it hidden from the world, then. As with any art, the Art should remain as the legacy, not the person or personality of the artist.

Vive la oeuvre du Sade! Vive la Libertinage!

A Pearl of Great Price – the 100th Birthday of Vincent Price

His eyes, innocent and sinister at once, would twinkle in a candle-lit room. His voice, deep, yet delicate, would resonatingly penetrate through the crust of one’s soul.  His laugh would send chills of horror and delight through the spine.

He was Vincent Price. The world shall never see his like again.

We each recall where we were when certain events took place. Where were we when Kennedy was shot? Where were we when the Challenger blew up? Where were we when September 11 went down or when Arrmstrong stepped on the moon? I remember where I was when I heard that Vincent had passed (lying in bed, listening to the news on the alarm clock radio, irritatedly not caring that we had a new prime minister and bolting upright when the horrible news struck me).

It takes an actor with such character and style to be able to both play a role with sensitivity to its essence and, at the same time, permanently endear himself to his audience. He adapted beautifully to medieval, gothic, renaissance or modern settings and infused each role with the same spark that was uniquely his own.

His passion found its way into every corner of his life. In addition to his culinary passions (a whole other story on its own), Vincent had always had a hand somewhere in the art world. When his artistic ambitions fell through, his love for art demanded he become a collector of original pieces. He promoted the experience of classic art to students and patrons by donating a substantial collection to a university in California. Today almost 100 pieces from that collection can be seen in the Vincent Price Gallery.

But his versatility as an actor is what he will always be remembered for, No actor, to my mind, could make so graceful a leap from heart-warming artist to tragic villain like he did as Professor Henry Jarrod in House of Wax or Nicholas Medina in The Pit and the Pendulum. No other could combine the devilish and the sentimental as he did as Prince Prospero in Masque of the Red Death or as Giacomo Rappaccini in Twice Told Tales. No other actor was a better alchemist.

I recall reading an anecdote about Vincent from Johnny Depp. The anecdote went something like this: Vincent and Johnny were sitting in the latter’s trailer during the filming of Edward Scissorhands. Vincent noticed a copy of a Poe anthology on Johnny’s table and began to thumb through it. He began to read “Ligeia”  aloud. Then, without stopping, he closed the book and recited the rest of the story, verbatim.

I would have sold one of my ears on the black market to have sat in that trailer on that day. The astounding thing is that he displayed the same superhuman ability to memorize his lines during the filming of his vignettes for The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.

There isn’t space enough to extol the virtues of Vincent. To mirror a sentiment I expressed to Roger Corman when I met him a few years ago, Price’s’ films made the darker world a beautiful place for me and countless others. The art world misses him greatly and tonight I will drink a glass of Taboo while watching him with the same love as I would bear for a grandfather.

As a final note, I would like to direct my readers to VincentPrice.org, which features a VAST collection of audio and video recordings of the man himself.

And second, a tribute which was fashioned for YouTube as a tribute to his genius…

“That Man Who Paints Those Dreadful Pictures” – Francis Bacon

His work screams at us from the gallery. The bleakness of his composition is unrivaled and cannot be resisted. The horror of his vision of humanity cannot be denied. Today is the 19th anniversary of the passing of Francis Bacon.

There are several artists whose work had left an indelible scar upon my heart and mind, though very few of the modern artists seem to have the depth to have any real greatness. Tim Vigil, Tim Bradstreet and HR Giger are the only ones still alive who have influenced me deeply. Bacon’s work, however, did something I never expected it to do when I first encountered his work in my teenage years. It reflected the disgust and anguish I felt at the world around me at the time. The certain knowledge that I was not alone made the agony of not just being a teenager, but a teenage pariah on all sides, that much more bearable.

I’ve had three religious art experiences in my life. One of the deepest was standing in front of Bacon’s triptych inspired by TS Elliot’s “Sweeny Agonistes”.

Seeing it on a screen (or on a printed page, as I had only experienced it back then), does not do the painting justice. The depth of the paint, caked on the panel in an almost Van Gogh-esque style, gives the horror that much of an organic nature. To this day, I still have not read the poem. Looking at the painting, I’m afraid to do so, for fear that the reading would dispel the warm, comforting horror of the triptych.

To my as-of-this-moment shock, I haven’t even seen the film based on him with the incomparable Derek Jacobi portraying him. I think I will need to rectify that this evening, somehow, while drinking a glass of absinthe and pondering his oeuvre.

Requiescat in Pace, good sir. You have found apotheosis in my pantheon.

Even the Joker approves.

NB: The title of this article is the epithet used by former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher to describe Bacon.

Happy Birthday, Droog!

In keeping with my tradition of commemorating the anniversaries of interesting people from the history of art, let us all pause for a moment in praise of the memory of Anthony Burgess. Anthony would be 84 today, if he hadn’t died of lung cancer eight years ago.

Everyone knows about A Clockwork Orange. Even more people, probably, know about the eponymous film. The phenomenon Burgess created had enough essential potency to it that it etched an indelible tattoo on the brains of those who partook of it. Its violence was sensual. Its irony was palpable. Its warning was variable. Its power was undeniable.

Indeed, if it weren’t so unwieldy to the North American tongue, the whole Nadsat lingo would likely have found its way into common English slang. This should come as little surprise, as Burgess was a master linguist (largely self-taught, apparently). If one requires proof of his competence, watch Quest for Fire. Burgess created the prehistoric language they spoke.

Sadly, I am uninitiated into his larger ouvre, but what work I have come in contact with is sufficient to earn him a bust in the museum of my mind. I raise a glass of absinthe (or spiked milk) in your honour, sir!

Cheers! Happy birthday, real horrorshow!