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  • Bright Eyes -

    Bright Eyes: Cassadaga
    If I'm Wide Awake... was "the New York City album", then Cassadaga is "the America album", in which Oberst diaries his travels around the country and articulates his sense of history in the landscape. In first single "Four Winds" he is "off to old Dakota where genocide sleeps/in the Black Hills, the Badlands, the calloused East/I buried my ballast, I made my peace." Cassadaga itself crops up in the same song. The town, a community for psychics in central Florida, is visited in order to "commune with the dead". This wandering spirit is crystalized in "I Must Belong Somewhere" a song which was already a staple of live shows by the end of the 2005. "Hot Knives" is particularly spirited, bringing to mind the true energy of a Bright Eyes show. Likewise, "Soul Singer In A Session Band" - a rousing paean to an oxymoronic profession - enlists all of the elements which make the Bright Eyes live band such a euphoric experience. "Make A Plan To Plan To Love Me" is Bright Eyes at their most playful; a straight-up love song, replete with girl group vocals and Burt Bacharach strings. Oberst, the fumbling guitarist whose impassioned prose tumbles out under stark stage spotlights, is still recognizable in every track, but the songs are rich with elaborate production, cinema-sized orchestration and, at times, sprawling, almost psychedelic, atmospherics. The line up of Bright Eyes players includes Andy Lemaster (Now It's Overhead), Ben Kweller, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Janet Weiss (ex-Sleater Kinney), Jason Boesel (Rilo Kiley), John McEntire (Tortoise) M.Ward, Maria Taylor and Rachael Yamagata. (*****)


  • Denis Johnson: The Resuscitation of a Hanged Man

    Denis Johnson: The Resuscitation of a Hanged Man
    Leonard English, a failed suicide from Kansas, arrives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in bleakest November to begin a new life as a private detective. The first thing he notices is that the women in town look remarkably mannish; then he realizes that they are men. The one real woman he meets is gay, but he pursues her anyway. A self-proclaimed "knight of faith," English tries to embrace Catholicism, but the local priest doubts his sincerity. Cut off from God and convinced that a secret paramilitary group is on his trail, English arms himself for a violent last stand. Johnson, author of the noir classic Angels (1983), here rehabilitates the Kierkegaardian religious novel. At once hilariously funny and profoundly serious, Resuscitation of a Hanged Man is philosophical fiction of the first order and a minor masterpiece of New England local-color literature. --Edward B. St. John (*****)

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Trouble With Anna Gaskell

Jim_cownieChildren of the Staircase, meet Jim Cownie, above, also known as Des Moines-born, New York local artist Anna Gaskell's (top) legal guardian after the odd and unhappy coincidences of each of her parent's separate sudden deaths.

This would be regrettable, but of no personal consequence to The Wit Of The Staircase if it had not been for the extremely coordinated and professional physical and psychological harassment Mr. Wit Of The Staircase and I underwent subsequent to Mr. Wit creating an artwork entitled Winchester, a video trilogy based on the violence and guilt in the life of gun-company heiress Sarah Winchester and her subsequent neurotic construction of a house of endless new wings and rooms and doors and stairways meant to accommodate the ghosts of the victims of her family's dangerous product.

The harassment Mr. Wit and I are still enduring featured as its centerpiece an FBI file I earned as an undergrad in Detroit for protesting the plant closings there and doing other labor organizing. I also wrote several eloquent articles for Wayne State University's student newspaper demanding a Federal investigation into the Iran-Contra cover up when I was a freshman. Wit's family has generations of working class factory workers on my father's side, and generations of academic specialists in radical political movements on my mother's side. My mother, who currently works at Wayne State University and has a PhD in politcal science that is focused on Black Panther and other radical movements in the Midwest, also recently received harassing phone calls, as did my younger brother.

On the other hand Mr. Cownie--who built a wing on his Des Moines, Iowa home to house the orphaned Anna Gaskell and her younger brothers Jon, Jake, and Zach after their parents' untimely demise--is very generous in looking after his former business partner John Gaskell's children. He recently devoted $1.5 million to build a sports complex in Des Moines (named after himself, naturally) and gave $50,000 to the Des Moines Art Museum after that institution declined to fund a work that Anna Gaskell, who is also an artist like Mr. Wit, has been lobbying to permanently install there.

In addition to this community largesse, Cownie is a major Republican donor with ties to the Midwest's Heritage Groups, founded by the ultraconservative Adolph Coors with money from his brainchild The Heritage Foundation. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Heritage Foundation's support for the Nicaraguan contras and Angola's Savimbi proved extremely influential with the United States government, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council and other governmental agencies. The Heritage Foundation presented its case for armed support for these movements, and United States support soon followed.

According to this website at media, "among other Heritage efforts have been the publications Beware of the Union Label, The Case for Plant Closures, Upsetting the Balance of U.S. Labor Law: The Striker Replacement Bill and In Praise of Corporate Radiers: Junking Three Fallacies About Hostile Takeovers.

The site further reports: "The U.S. labor movement is a particular target for Heritage. Ronald Reagan's first appointment to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was Robert Hunter, a conservative activist who wrote the chapter on the Labor Department for the foundation's 'Mandate for Leadership.' In that paper, Hunter called for increasing the use of NLRB injunctions against unions, gutting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and drastically cutting the Bureau of Labor Statistics."

Mr. Cownie is such an admirer of the Heritage Foundation's political program that he apparently went so far as to name the company from which his mysterious fortune emanates "Heritage Communications." Despite Mr. Cownie's funding of Anna Gaskell's Des Moines Museum vanity project and his keen interest in Mr. Wit's Winchester Series, he and now most of the younger male members of his family are professionally devoted to using Homeland Security pork to overturn decades of social progress and subverting values that the art coummunity struggles to represent and uphold. For example, author Russ Bellant states in his book The Coors Connection that The Heritage Groups "will continue to be a key element in the phalanx of rightist groups with an agenda of austerity for the poor, hostility to minorities and women, upward distribution of wealth for the rich, economic domination of the Third World, with repression and bloodletting for those who rebel.”

In addition to his business bona fides, Cownie also has a more colorful side behind the cryptic Bruce Wayneian businessman front. According to Mr. Wit of the Staircase, aka artist Jeremy Blake, (who briefly dated Ms. Gaskell for a year or so as an undergrad in art school and who as such was more than once a personal guest of Mr. Cownie's in the early 1990s) Jim Cownie has an oddly vast collection of firearms--an entire out building devoted to them in fact. Mr. Cownie also had a Hummer in 1992, way before they were a common sight. Then there were the mobster "friends" in Las Vegas who comped Mr. Wit and Ms. Gaskell with an eye roll and a groan when they mentioned Cownie's name at the front desk, as he had instructed them to do. In addition to the Gaskell orphans, Cownie has four or five children of his own. The oldest male Cownie child, then a teenager, even bragged to Mr. Wit during one visit "My Dad's going to get me in the CIA!"

Once the harassment of The Wits began, these disparate old Anna Gaskell anecdotes, which up to the late summer of 2006 had been completely unknown to me, began to suddenly bob up in Mr. Wit's memory. Mr. Wit's recollection was further jarred after we repeatedly witnessed Ms. Gaskell's brother Zach mysteriously pacing in front of our Venice California home. Then there were the many cars with Iowa license plates following us around Los Angeles at the time. (We took photos of these, naturally.) Mr. Wit during this time also suddenly remembered that busy Cownie often travelled to South Dakota to attend some of the Midwest's more unsavory biker rallies. But I guess being friends with ex-con bikers and Vegas mobsters doesn't necessarily point to somebody who would, like, hire thugs to harass, threaten or--wow--maybe even kill people.

Much of the harassment of me and Mr. Wit was also conducted by the Church Of Scientology in L. A., who Cownie also no doubt also "does business with." U.S. Intelligence "black ops" and "psy ops" have long relied on (or just outright invented) religious cults (including the Manson Family--Charles Manson received 150 hours of in-prison Scientology "auditing"), biker gangs, and the like in Federal Counterintelligence prorgrams in order to disrupt the counterculture since the 1960s. Read more about the CIA and cults here and couch jumping, Katie kidnapping mind controlled movie star Tom Crusie's meeting with Scooter Libby and State Department head Richard Armitage here.

While this ongoing illegal harassment of Wit using Federal employees (or their "cut-out" counterparts) and Federal funding (your Homeland Security tax dollars at work!) is meant to deprive us of work and our livelihoods and even sanity, the harassment also has a curious sexual focus on Wit that mirrors this J. Edgar Hoover campaign against Black Panther organizer and actress Jean Seberg.

Like the Federal "Cointelpro" campaign that deliberately drove Seberg to suicide, the smear campaign against Wit and Mr. Wit uses as its basis pre-existing, completely invented smears started by married art professor Ralph Rugoff and his student girlfriend Hilary Chartrand in order to cover up their 2000 affair while both worked at the California College of Arts And Crafts. This is something that sharp-eyed Wit accidentally discovered during one particularly dreary art dinner in November of that year. Hilary Chartrand is friends with Anna Gaskell, who is also known for carrying on affairs with her married professors in order to have access to ethics-challenged art world log rollers like NY Times critic Roberta Smith and her husband Jerry Saltz. (See article below.)

To add the final dessert topping to this apocalyptic art world sundae, Mr. Wit says that normally dour Cownie frequently made jokes about child molestation as a "training" tool. This wouldn't be so fucking spooky, friends of the Staircase, if Des Moines wasn't the land of the Project Monarch/U.S. Intelligence rumored disappearance of Johnny Gosch and the odd resemblance of poor little Johnny to Bush White House gay hooker-psychological operative Jeff Gannon.

Anyway, Ms. Gaskell and I don't seem to have much in common besides her very brief intersection with the life of Jeremy Blake, a period about which Mr. Wit says "She was so dumb, so arrogant and so mysteriously smug. She really thought she had some sort of advantage in every situation. I could never, ever figure out where that came from, because it sure wasn't coming from anything she did. But I guess now I know.")

This is a pretty ugly set of circumstances, and a weirder true tale than even Wit usually presents. But, as usual from what I hear, Ms. Gaskell has gotten somebody else to do the work of articulating and then cleaning up her mental messes for her. If you're reading this, Anna, here's some free advice: Stop accepting payoffs from Cownie immediately, get your younger brothers away from him, get a lawyer using only your own money, and have the lawyer get Cownie to answer a few questions about your mother and father.

If I were you, I'd even take a job in a factory in order to do it.

At this link below are the members of the board of one of the many oddly nondescript companies Cownie is linked with. It looks like a roll call of the unsavories from "Lumberton" in David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Wexford & James LLC.

Anna Gaskell: Magazine News - THE ROYAL FLUSH.


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I don't know anything about this guy Cownie, but I am familiar with the "Church" of Scientology. Why do you think Cownie "does business" with the CoS?

Current and former Federal intelligence officers are often employed by the CoS in attacking, researching and harassing their pereceived enemies.

I was harassed by the Church of Scientology during and after my boyfriend and I worked with their member Beck Hansen.

I have dozens of pictures of this harassment, including a dead cat, grafitti on and near our property, and four of five police reports with the LAPD to bear this out.

Also during this time, someone named Reza Aslan, a Muslim "scholar" and friend of a friend who attended school in Iowa came to my house in Venice, CA and freely chatted about an FBI file of mine he seemed vividly aware of, even though at that time I myself did not know such a file existed. A consequent FOIA filing revealed his "magic" knowledge of these documents to be true.

The overlap of a Muslim American seeming Homeland Security agent from Iowa asking me about my life in Detroit and the large Muslim population there (a population I sadlly never mixed with while I lived in Detroit as a lass) during the height of the Scientology harassment, and the continual mention of my heretofore unknow to me FBI file by members of the CoS indicates a blending of the two communities that is borne out in the history of the church's use of current former members of Federal intelligence agencies.

Also, as I mentioned above in the Cownie article, MK Ultra and other Strangelovian secret intelligence mind control techniques often used cults like the CoS, the Manson cult, and the Jim Jones cult to manipulate and infiltrate the left and the counterculture.

This "Cointelpro" program using cults and hypnosis, mind control, etc. is now well known thanks to lawsuits filed against the CoS, the Federal govt. by victims of these programs, and through the declassification of documents related to these Federal programs.

Also, a couple investigative journalists in the Midwest and California have been helping me look into Cownie's many companies' adresses, SEC filings, and other "follow the money" trails that conclusively point to financial dealings with the entities I suggest in the article above.

Scary business. I appreciate the explanation. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the CoS would be involved in this sort of thing.

But why harass you with dead cats and such because you were working with Beck? Even if you had some sort of conflict with him, why couldn't he "handle" it with the amazing abilities he's gained from practicing Scientology? The fact that the CoS felt it had to play mob enforcer doesn't speak much for what the "tech" has done for Beck!

Best of luck with your investigation and dealing with these thugs.

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