When Questlove of The Roots chose to introduce Michele Bachmann’s appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with a few chords from punk band Fishbone’s “Lyin’ Ass Bitch,” he was going for an easy joke. But true Fishbone fans, while elated that the fading, three-decade-old band was experiencing a pop cultural revival (and new dowloads) were also aware that “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” was one of the less political songs of an extremely political band.

Born in the late seventies when its members were still in high school in the San Fernando Valley, Fishbone always crossed boundaries. They were a black punk band that incorporated rock, funk, reggae, and ska. Many have noted the irony that an African American band that influenced white musicians like Gwen Stefani, Flea, and even Kurt Cobain is now virtually unknown, while its proteges have surpassed it. (This is the topic of a new documentary on the band called Everyday Sunshine that I plan on seeing.) Fishbone was alt rock before the term existed. Questlove and his bandmates would be among the first to acknowledge the debt they owe to Fishbone, with whom they have toured.

“Lyin’ Ass Bitch” is about a girl who was cheating on Fishbone frontman Angelo Moore when they were both in high school. Though extremely entertaining, catchy, and really fun to skank to, the song demands less of its listeners than some of the other songs on the same album, their self-titled 1985 EP.

The band has said that the opening track, “Ugly,” was meant as a criticism of Ronald Reagan, who Bachmann and her ilk lionize. It is a takedown of a manipulative dissembler who has power. “Boy you’ve got no reason and you’ve got no sense/Your stupid lies, it just makes me wince/Your face is twisted and your mind is warped/You scare me sick ‘cuz I just want to get out/All the children’s suffering lies in your hands/Unless the commies are gonna heed your demands.”

Take away the “boy” and the “commies” references and the band could be singing to Bachmann. “Another Generation” is an optimistic plea for a brighter future and a world in which we all take responsibility for social ills: “Another generation, another forward state of mind/It’s somewhere deep within our consciousness/Problems of the aged, problems of the kids/Problems are the mistakes of the past we’ve made/It’s time to look forward to a third generation.” It’s a foreshadowing of the same anger (and hope) that fuel the OWS movement today.

Fishbone’s second full-length album, Truth and Soul (1990) was their most political. Responding to racial and economic tensions of the Reagan era, it was protest rock — angry, pulsing, electric, and of the moment. And much of it was about being black and disenfranchised in America. “Subliminal Fascism” would have made an excellent intro to a Bachmann segment: “And the hate grows more each day/So when the infected try to affect you/Don’t listen to them when they say/Follow the rules and forget the bomb/Communistical patriotic/The plan is subtle but it’s in the open/Kingpins Nazi scheme getting under your skin/So you better wake up US/Subliminal Fascism.”

If you want to understand the roots of the anger young Americans are feeling today, the anger that has led to Occupy Wall Street and protests in other American cities and on college campuses, a good place to start is to listen to all of Fishbone’s music. If you want to understand the rage of the poor and disenfranchised, try listening to “Ghetto Soundwave,” more prescient today than ever: “There’s a ghetto soundwave/Gets to me everyday/There’s a ghetto soundwave/Gets to me everyday/Another bourgeois politician/Hears our pleas but does not listen/Never, never, never sees the need/But caters only to his greed/Can’t he see there’s no use in lying/And don’t he know all our hope is dying?” Are you listening, Rep. Bachmann?

After the news came out that the Bachmann intro music was “LAB” and she expressed her displeasure, Questlove gave a non-apologetic apology. “The performance was a tongue-in-cheek and spur of the moment decision.” (Not possible when it surely had to be cleared for rights purposes.) “The show was not aware of it and I feel bad if her feelings were hurt. That was not my intention.”

Fallon and an NBC vice president apologized to Bachmann, recognizing that the B-word, even used to describe an abhorrent woman, won’t fly on network television in 2011 -even though the word was never sung. Now there is talk that Bachmann will return to the show – delighted, I am sure, to get another fifteen minutes out of a controversy she was totally unaware of until after her appearance.

I’m glad NBC didn’t fire Questlove and the band, not just because I love their music but because those guys have kids and need the health insurance they get from AFTRA. Health insurance she will surely try to eliminate should she ever be elected.

As a woman I am not offended at the choice of song because as a progressive I am offended and disgusted by Bachmann and I do not see her as a sister. Add in the many layers of the critique – the only lyrics actually sung were “she’s just a . . .” and the only people who got the joke were those who already knew the song – and the insult becomes even more oblique, and more genius.

Asked for a reaction to the Bachmann brouhaha, Fishbone’s bassist and co-founder John “Norwood” Fisher told the Bay Citizen CultureFeed, “When you’re running for president, you become a target for all manner of things. I honestly think, in that context, if you want to be a presidential candidate, you better be able to take a joke.” Is the word “bitch” low-hanging fruit? Absolutely. Should it be off-limits when used in the context of political protest? Unlike some of my younger feminist sisters, I say no.

Just as Fishbone called Reagan “Ugly” to get at darker, bigger truths about power and its abuses, Questlove’s decision to play “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” gets at darker, bigger truths about Bachmann. She misrepresents the truth. She is a self-aggrandizing power-monger who does not care about poor people, women, or people of color. She lacks empathy for anyone who doesn’t share her enraptured worldview, she is a self-interested manipulator, and she is already doing her best to ruin America.

Bachmann was, not surprisingly, outraged by the event, telling Fox News, “[I]f that song had been played for Michelle Obama, I have no doubt that NBC would have apologized to her and likely they would have fired the drummer, or at least suspended him. . . . This is clearly a form of bias on the part of the Hollywood entertainment elite but it’s also sexism as well.”

Let’s parse that for a second. Would The Roots have played “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” to introduce the First Lady if she made an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon? Of course not. Questlove is an Obama supporter who has performed at an Obama benefit, donated to his campaign, and has a Twitter profile picture of him and the President. But Bachmann surely didn’t believe her own stupid analogy even as she uttered it.

What she was trying to say was that a black band would never employ a misogynistic word to describe a black woman. Only about seven million hip-hop and rap lyrics prove her wrong. Have liberal entertainers used misogynistic words to describe one of their own – read liberal women – in the past? Of course! Remember Tina Fey’s “Bitch is the new black” routine about Hillary Clinton on Weekend Update?

But the most intriguing thing Bachmann said in response to the incident was that it was “bias on the part of the Hollywood entertainment elite.” This obvious coding for “bias on the part of Jews against people like me” was classic Fox News shtick, tired, empty, and old. And the “elite,” of course, is an echo of many of the critiques that have been made about our President – that he’s too intellectual, out of touch, snobby, Harvard-educated, and arugula-eating, even if he was raised by a single mother and is black. In Bachmannworld, Questlove and the all-black Roots are Hollywood elitists and she, an elected politician and former IRS tax lawyer, is a persecuted minority. She’s saying black is white and white is black. That means she is lyin’.

If only The Roots had played the song to the end. No, I don’t mean the spoken-word plea that includes the phrase “slut trashcan scummest dirtbag” but the lyric that best applies to Michele Bachmann and all that her party represents: “You know she says she loves you but you know she doesn’t.”

Tuesday, November 22 from 7:30-9:30 I’ll be reading in The Museum of Motherhood Literature and Performance Series.
401 E. 84th St. (betw. First and York Avenues)
NY, NY
Curated by Christen Clifford. I’ll be performing with Ayun Halliday, Raven Snook, Rebecca Gopoian, and Jen Silverman
PAY WHAT YOU CAN (suggested donation $15 to benefit the Museum of Motherhood)
Includes light refreshments!!!
The Museum of Motherhood is a new museum that serves “as a valuable resource for everyone including those who wish to honor mother-work and those who wish to study the cultural family, from lay-people, to school children to serious scholars. As an organization devoted to educating the world about the contributions of mothers both historically and in contemporary culture, we intend to fill a longstanding void by focusing on the many roles of mothers throughout history with our physical and virtual library, exhibit facility, traveling productions, and resource center. We honor the many unsung heroes as well as the famous and great and share the remarkable stories of how birthers and caregivers cope, inspire and prevail. There are all types of mothers here: stepmothers, adoptive mothers, activist mothers, mother artists, single mothers, divorced mothers and mothers who successfully navigated married life. The Museum of Motherhood is the house that is home to all their stories.”

Come to St. Ann’s Warehouse on Friday, September 16, for PEN’s Literary Pub Quiz, part of the Brooklyn Book Festival.

When: Friday, September 16
Where: St. Ann’s Warehouse, 38 Water Street in Dumbo, Brooklyn
What time: 7-9 p.m.

Team captains include Gabe Boylan of Harper’s, George Prochnik of Cabinet Magazine, James Yeh of Gigantic Magazine, Scott Lindenbaum and Andy Hunter of Electric Literature, translator Susan Bernofsky, Ben Greenman, Matthea Harvey, Amy Sohn, and more; hosted by Katie Halper.

PEN is pleased to announce the return of our popular Literary Pub Quiz! This Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend event gives you the chance to compete with (and against!) editors and writers from your favorite literary magazines, including Cabinet, Gigantic, Harper’s, and Electric Literature, as well as authors Matthea Harvey, Ben Greenman, and many more. Come early to reserve your spot on the team with the writer-captain who also knows where Hemingway was born. We’ll supply the paper and the pencils; you bring the literary smarts!

Free and open to the public.

Publishers Marketplace has an item today on a new co-writing gig I have for Ballantine Books. I am excited and inspired by my co-author, abdominally and in many other ways!!

Memoir
NFL Cheerleader Laura Vikmanis’s untitled memoir, written with columnist Amy Sohn, chronicling Vikmanis’s struggle to end a 16-year abusive marriage and go on to pursue (after much rejection) and achieve a successful second act as the oldest cheerleader in the NFL, at age 42, cheering for the Cincinnati Ben-Gals, to Pamela Cannon at Ballantine, in a pre-empt, by Joe Veltre of Gersh Agency and Daniel Greenberg of Levine Greenberg on behalf of Amy Sohn (NA). Film rights optioned to New Line.

This Wednesday April 6 at 7 PM I’ll be attending a talk at Community Bookstore about the new book THE INVENTION OF BROWNSTONE BROOKLYN by my old Park Slope friend Suleiman Osman.
Wednesday, April 6th at 7 PM: The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn
Here is the description from the Community site:
Please join us to welcome Suleiman Osman for a presentation and discussion of The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York. Park Slope native Osman, now an assistant professor of American Studies at George Washington University, has written a landmark study of how this place we call home came to be. If you weren’t among the dozens of people he interviewed for this book, you’re bound to know some of the people mentioned. A follow-up discussion will be moderated by blogger Norman Oder (Atlantic Yards Report). Don’t miss this important event, co-sponsored by the Park Slope Civic Council. (Read Norman’s interview with Suleiman in the Park Slope Patch.)
I’m psyched to attend. I hope some of the old guard shows up to tell their first-person stories. So little is known and understood about the 1960s and 1970s generation that made it all happen – for better and for worse.
See you there!

Tuesday, 3/15/11 at 6:30 pm
The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Race and Gentrification in South Brooklyn
Museum of the City of New York

Before Park Slope, Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Fort Greene and others, there was South Brooklyn. Labeled a “blighted” industrial wasteland by postwar city planners, the area became re-branded in the 1960s and ’70s as “Brownstone Brooklyn,” as idealistic newcomers allied with longtime residents against urban renewal. While some argue that the gentrification of Brownstone Brooklyn is a successful story of neighborhood revitalization, progressive politics, and human scale planning, others argue that it has become a yuppie disaster, driving up property values and pushing out longtime residents. Suleiman Osman, author of The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn (Oxford, 2011), moderates a discussion with Eric Demby, co-founder of Brooklyn Flea; D. Kenneth Patton, former divisional dean of the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate; Amy Sohn, author of Prospect Park West (Simon & Schuster, 2009); and Michelle de la Uz, executive director of the Fifth Avenue Committee, exploring the racial and economic fault lines in the pro-urban ideal and the contested meaning of Brooklyn. This program is presented as part of the ongoing Urban Forum series, New York Neighborhoods: Preservation and Development. $

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED
$12 Non-Members
$8 Seniors and Students
$6 Museum Members

*A two dollar surcharge applies for unreserved, walk-in participants.
For more information please call 917-492-3395 or click here

I’ve been thinking a lot about the new self-publishing movement after reading about Amanda Hocking on HuffPo. Over the years a bunch of people have asked whether I would ever consider publishing my New York Press columns as a collection. The answer was always no because my first novel, Run Catch Kiss, incorporates a lot of them. Still, Run Catch Kiss probably uses about 8-10 columns and I wrote over 80 from 1996-1999.
There is something about the serial, self-contained nature of the columns that got me thinking they would be perfect for consumption on electronic devices. The electronic reader is what alternative weeklies used to be. So as an experiment I’ve put “The Blow-Up Boyfriend,” my most iconic column and the one that got me the job writing “Female Trouble” and pretty much launched my career, on Kindle. This means it’s also on the Kindle App, which you can use on your iPad or iPhone. It’s 99 cents, which was the cheapest amount I could charge besides free.
If you know someone single, someone nostalgic for the nineties, sells herself short, is smarter than she acts, is mildly in love with his or her best friend, grew up in New York City, had or has phone sex, blue-binned, is inspired by Lynda Barry, believes in love but has sex too early, or any of the above, tell that person to read it.

I wrote the Vows column in this Sunday’s New York Times. A lot of fun. And I’m glad it was a Persian wedding (though legally a Catholic one). I don’t know but I may be one of the only people who was in “Vows” and then wrote one.

I am excited to report that Prospect Park West has been or will be published in NINE COUNTRIES: Slovakia, Japan, Brazil, Serbia, Portugal, Poland, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany. Covers will soon appear on this site.

My memory of my day as a day-player on Law & Order
published in NYPress in 1996

Typecast

Mike the PA pages me to find out if I want to ride the courtesy van or if I can take the subway on my own. Even though taking the courtesy van means getting up at 5:15 AM and springing twenty bucks to take a car service to the van, I say yes. Because this is a luxury day and I refuse to settle for less than star treatment.
When I get out of the car, I see two guys with walkie-talkies and “Law and Order” baseball caps. They ask me my number and name. I say I don’t have a number and they ask if I’m an extra. I say, “I’m not sure. I have lines. But not many.”
“Then you’re a principal,” one of them up-talks. “Go to the courtesy van down the block.” They grin at each other snidely.
I wait inside the van for half an hour for all the other actors to show up. I introduce myself to one of the girls playing a hooker. But she’s not too social. She acts like this is Just Another Shoot, adjusts her pillow and goes to sleep.
The episode takes place at Columbia but we’re shooting it at Queens College because it’s cheaper to shoot there. When we get to the campus, a PA tells us to help ourselves to breakfast and then get back in the van. The breakfast isn’t bad. Oatmeal, bagels, doughnuts, coffee, tea, cold cereal, orange juice. I grab some of everything. I feel no shame in reaping them for all they’re worth because you never know the next time you’ll get a meal this good for free.
We enter the campus and stall behind a Lincoln Town. The door to the car opens and Jerry Orbach comes out and heads toward a PA in his slow hunched gait, sipping from a paper cup of coffee. He looks perfect with his hangdog eyes and that “I Love NY” coffee cup in his huge hand, wincing a little after each sip.
A PA shows me my dressing room. He apologizes that I can only get one channel on my TV, but I don’t mind. It is a room with a door and a bed and my character’s name is taped to the front. Myra.
An ugly girl name. A feminist name. The episode is called “Girlfriends.” It’s about a campus prostitution ring which gets busted when Briscoe and Curtis find out that the dead girl was one major professional. It turns out that Shelly, the dead girl’s friend, is running the ring with her dad, a shoe salesman, who uses the girls as perks for the out-of-town buyers.
At first, they think Shelly killed the girl because she was angry she was gonna quit the ring. Then we find out that Shelly’s father was boning the girl, so he might have offed her in a lovers’ spat. At the end, they arrest the dad and Shelly smiles evilly, like she is glad to see him get the rap for the crime she committed. My character is a campus anti-rape activist.
My agent submitted me for the head hooker but they thought I was more right for the activist. The audition was teeming with six-foot-tall model types with legs longer than my body wearing high black boots and short leather skirts. I dressed as butch as I could. Jeans, combat boots, boxy jacket. I actually considered trying to make myself look fatter, because I know exactly what they envision when they say feminist activist. But I figured you can never be too skinny for TV and plus I wanted to look like I was out for justice so I dressed in all black. It must have worked because after I booked it, the costume guy called me to say I should wear my own clothes to the shoot.
When I go into the wardrobe van to show what I’m wearing, they say I look perfect. Their only addition is a red armband which says “WAV, Women Against Violence.” The hair guy curls my hair like Annie. The makeup guy asks me who tweezes my eyebrows. I say Patricia Field and he shakes his head like that is a grave mistake. He demonstrates how to draw an imaginary line from the side of your nose up next to your eye and says that’s where you should tweeze to. Then he plucks the strays and fills it in with pencil so the curve is gradual instead of brutal. He whitens the circles under my eyes and glosses my chapped lips and I’m ready.
While I’m waiting for my call, I read Premiere in my dressing room and watch a soap. I write a letter and eat soup. I complain to Jackie, the other activist, about my agent making me lose weight but then still submitting me on fat Catholic school and homely funny girl roles.
There’s a knock at the door. A PA says they’re ready on set. I feel like vomiting.
Jackie and I walk up to the student activities building where they’ve set up a table that says “End violence to women” on a red and white banner. We’re told to wait inside the building and practice our lines.
We watch a van pull up and unload the lighting and sound equipment. A PA calls us outside and all of a sudden I’m face to face with Jerry Orbach. He shakes my cold hand with a gloved one and says, “I’m Jerry. You must be the feminazi.”
The director introduces himself and walks us through the moves. On my first line, I pick up a crate filled with fliers. The camera follows me to the table, where I put it down, cross around and pick up another crate, then cross to the other side of the table to say my last few lines.
There’s a crowd of students and extras watching as I fumble through the blocking. We rehearse it three times and I get it wrong a different way each time. But just as I think I’m getting the hang of it, the director says he wants to switch the positioning of the two cops and block the whole scene in reverse. So I run through it again and get it even more wrong.
I’m sweating and thinking how they’ll never hire me again and how my dreams of one day playing a perpetrator will soon be shattered, but Jerry smiles nice and this gives me faith. We do the first take. The director likes it, but wants me to pause before I say, “The cops wouldn’t do anything about rape if they did know,” so that the camera has time to pan to me. We shoot it again and Jerry thinks that one should be a wrap. But the director wants one more.
While we’re waiting for the crew to set up for the last take, Jerry says that stereotypes are a funny thing. Once, after a shoot in the West Village, he tells me, the cast and crew went to a lesbian bar nearby and the two women who ran it were cute as could be. He says they were such good-looking women that it wound up being an educational experience. I like Jerry.
We do the final take and break for lunch. I sit right next to Jerry and then Benjamin Bratt, the other cop, sits opposite me. I’m kind of attracted to Benjamin, but I know I can’t ask him out because it would be totally unprofessional and I don’t want to ruin my chances of getting cast again. After lunch, Jackie and I go back to our trailers, give back the armbands, and get in the van to Manhattan. The only disappointment of the day is that now I can’t be on for a year, even though I only had five lines. They do it so viewers don’t recognize actors from previous episodes.
Oh well. Maybe next year, when my hair’s longer and my ass tight and toned, my eyebrows perfectly plucked and my mustache hair waxed, and I’m going up against the next Winonas and Juliettes and Livs, they’ll cast me as a hooker.
With a hot girl name. Like Suzanne.
I’d get to cry fake tears on the witness stand and dress like a high class ho. I’d get big residuals. My name would be in the opening credits. And out of gratitude for their faith in me, I’d get custom T-shirts printed for my parents which said, “My daughter was a prime time prostitute and all I got was this lousy crop top.”