“YOU FURNISH THE PICTURES AND I’LL FURNISH THE WAR.” –Dec 28, 2002

Despite the rising din of war drums I managed, lately,

to read a few newspapers. The recent flap over alleged Iraqi atrocities

when they occupied Kuwait (rehashed in the HBO movie of CNN’s

purportedly valiant efforts in covering that war) reminded me of

the anecdote surrounding William Randolph Hearst’s dispatch

of artist Fredrick Remington to Cuba. He was to illustrate the fighting

in Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain. Remington,

having a few things to learn about the war correspondent’s

craft, wired Hearst from the vantage point of the patio of the Hotel

Inglaterra, “EVERYTHING IS QUIET. THERE IS NO TROUBLE HERE.

THERE WILL BE NO WAR. I WISH TO RETURN.” To which Hearst famously

replied, “PLEASE REMAIN. YOU FURNISH THE PICTURES AND I’LL

FURNISH THE WAR.” -W.R. HEARST. Of course, we know things have

changed these past hundred years since the United States fought

so unselfishly for Cuba’s independence—from Spain. Apparently,

for this next and all foreseeable future wars, the Defense Department

will be in charge of both the wars and the pictures.

A bad week for mid Centurians, it was. First, the

death of Joe Strummer, who composed one of my favorite pieces of

music, the soundtrack to Alex Cox’ under-appreciated film Walker,

and then the passing of glamour photographer Herb Ritts. These deaths

no doubt raise the chill factor among the overabundant male baby

boomer generation who in so many ways display an undaunted disregard

for mortality or even the decrepitude of aging.

As Mark Feeney by-lined the obit/appreciation of

Herb Ritts in the Boston Globe, I approached my reading of

it with no trepidation. My confidence in Feeney’s intelligence

and judgement was again reaffirmed:

American culture has always had a healthy regard

for cash, calculation, and celebrity (especially celebrity - what

other flag boasts so many stars?). Yet something changed in our

relationship to those things in the 1980s. What had once been

considered commodities were now seen as virtues. The Reagans were

in the White House. ''Dallas'' dueled ''Dynasty.'' Madonna ruled

the charts. ''The Bonfire of the Vanities'' topped the bestseller

list.

It was Herb Ritts who took the decade's family

portrait.

Not so, in Ginia Bellafante’s obituary in the

New York Times. Here’s her first graf:

Herb Ritts, the photographer whose glorifying

images of the well known helped to further mythologize celebrity

in the 1980's and 90's, died yesterday in a Los Angeles hospital.

He was 50 and lived in Los Angeles.

Now, granted, Feeney had about 150 more words to

form something with, but I wondered why one would read further into

Bellafante’s piece...except, perhaps, for some sign of thought

and reportorial craft. Which, alas, did not obtain.

Feeney had much else in the way of incisive observation about Ritts’

place in the celebrity industry, much of it the result of some keen

thinking and an easy grasp of the cultural milieu of ‘80s and

‘90s. Not so the NYT writer who called, what I guess

are the right people: Vogue’s Anna Wintour, Ritt’s

gallerist, Ethleen Staley, Richard Gere, and Vanity Fair’s

Graydon Carter— who was able to get the word "iconic"

in the piece.

I met Herb Ritts a few times. A nice man. I was

always impressed that Herb had taken pictures of Stephen Hawking

and Charles Bukowski and some other folks who were not, you know,

beautiful. But my story will have to wait for the publication of

my highly anticipated memoir-in-progress, currently entitled Primum

Non Nocere.

There is an inverse relationship between my avowed

disinterest in reading book reviews and reviews of any kind and

my wanting to avoid disparaging my comrades who, for some reason,

are ploughing and back bending in the potato patches of criticism.

As Steve Almond recently told me, “The life boat is small enough

as it is…” On the other hand, just having read Dutch Leonard’s

(yeah, I feel like I can be familiar because, I have met the man

and he even told me why he is nicknamed ‘Dutch’. But,

why digress?) story collection I couldn’t pass up perusing

the New York Times review on When the Women Come Out to

Dance. Truthfully, my dance didn’t begin well:

“If you were to tell me you had just read an

Elmore Leonard novel where someone says something out of character,

I'd say you were a liar.” What kind of fahcockta way is that

to start a conversation? Then this, “Reading the clipped, unfailingly

accurate dialogue that comes out of the mouths of Leonard's characters

can make you feel as if you're in the presence of a writer who is

both ventriloquist and psychic.” I’ve read over twenty

of Leonard’s novels, some a few times, over the past ten years

and it would never have occurred to me to cast Dutch in this light.

Was it my failure of imagination? But here’s the capper on

that, “It's not just that Leonard captures the cadences and

elisions of each character's speech, it's that he has an uncanny

sense of knowing what each will say next.” Oh my!

This piece wends its way toward conclusion with

this lofty and sage proclamation, “There are plenty of literary

luminaries who could learn a lot from the discipline and craft of

writers pigeonholed — or dismissed — as genre writers.”

And then —I must confess I was frothing as I read and reread

— “My Christmas wish this year was that when Cormac McCarthy,

Michael Ondaatje and Toni Morrison, to name but three, looked under

their trees, they found that some kind soul had been thoughtful

enough to send them a copy of Elmore Leonard's latest."

That this is self-evident idiocy, I am convinced.

Meretricious glibness masquerading as literary criticism? Maybe.

A good reason never to read Charles Taylor’s goofy blabbering

again? Absolutely.

herb ritts

Herb Ritts, photographed by Red Diaz

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