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June 29, 2010


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Peter Nellhaus

I remember some people even crediting Bob Dylan for "Eve of Destruction" - protest lyrics plus a little bit of harmonica probably being the cause of confusion. Those of us who were passionate about Bob Dylan of course knew he left the protest songs far behind.

On the bright side, the movie using the same title, about the beautiful terrorist robot, was kind of fun.

Michael Adams

Once heard an interview with Mark Volman in which he recalled the Turtles' being offered "Eve of Destruction." He seemed amused that anyone would think the "Happy Together" bunch would be interested in a protest song.

Andrew Wyatt

I'm probably a touch more sympathetic to Hitch's atheism than yourself, Glenn, but I found "Got Is Not Great" to be the best of the current crop of godless manifestos. Dawkins' and Harris' books just felt like collections of worn essays, whereas Hitch's tome was erudite, witty, and dripping with the sort of acid contempt that makes his writing such a guilty pleasure. I fully concede that that guy appears to be an insufferable prick, and that his political views are frequently contemptuous, but I enjoy reading him even when I disagree with his every word. That has to be the mark of a compelling writer, right?

About his musical knowledge or taste, I cannot comment.

Dan Coyle

The funny thing is, at this point, I rather would have Saddam in power, and sadly, I bet most Iraqis would too.

Glenn Kenny

@ Andrew: I'm not at all bothered by his atheism per se—some of my best friends are atheists. What's bothersome is the forced way he brings it up throughout this memoir. He'll be in the middle of a potentially compelling story and he'll come out with an equivalent of "Oh, and by the way, have I mentioned that I'm an atheist?" If one didn't know better one would think he was indulging in a branding exercise. And in fact one doesn't know better.

Andrew Wyatt

@Glenn. Yeesh. I can imagine how that would grate on one's nerves. I'll consider myself warned off of this one. As much as I like reading Hitch, I think I'll stick to his work in Vanity Fair and elsewhere. Again, I love his erudition when it is turned outward, but a few hundred pages of self-congratulation and that sort of conspicuous "branding," doesn't sound like a good read. No matter who the author might be, but especially when it's a guy known for his arrogance.


@Dan - Yeah, that's really funny.


Well damn it, now "Eve of Destruction" is stuck in my head. To get it out I better listen to something more powerful and authentic, like say..."Billy Don't Be A Hero."

Fuzzy Bastarrd

I suspect the Barry McGuire reference is more a matter of genre than actual taste. These neo-neocon memoirs always include references to frankly implausible stupidities that the author engaged in before he Became Enlightened. Perhaps the most risible was David Mamet's claims to be a compassion-loving, soft-on-crime liberal before Reagan opened his eyes, a statement flatly ridiculous to anyone who actually read a single Mamet interview in the 70s.


Re: Hitch's compulsive atheism - there's an interesting (if poorly executed) documentary (called COLLISION) chronicling his tour of the college circuit with a Christian apologist (Douglas Wilson). I've always been a fan of Hitchens's marching to an idiosyncratic ideological drum. The doc reveals, however, that the drum seems to be beating him these days. He looks so TIRED.

James Keepnews

Way to reference that caption from Miles' autobiography, easily one of my and my closest friends' favorites, as well, and one ready to be applied to any jive motherfucker we never did like.

Much like the man's music, much in the Autobiography is eminently quotable, albeit indifferently reflective of the pure, toxic evil he was capable of dishing out to anyone outside of his bands, starting and not finishing with his multiple ex-wives. But Lord knows, pace Mr. Davis, I have been "broker than a broke-dick dog" any number of times in the past...

James Keepnews

Oh, and somewhat more on topic...

I really loved Hitch once upon a Gulf War I. His "debate" with Charlton Heston on CNN prior to Bush I's "liberation" of Kuwait was as hysterical as it was inexplicable -- I believe CH begins his retorts by expressing amazement that a news org has actually set him up to debate Moses. And the collected essays in his For the Sake of Argument were truly essential to my own political (and journalistic) development.

But something was clearly off about him thereafter, maybe beginning with his pro-Bosnian boosterism during the 90's troubles there -- surely, a plague on several houses was in order, though Hitch was less sanguine about these being applied to the long-suffering Bosnians. Because, after all, "he started it" has always been such a stellar defense for fomenting genocide at war crimes tribunals...

Then, 9/11 did indeed "change everything" where he was concerned and his continued assertions that Saddam's countenancing of small-time Al Quida presence in the mostly Kurdish north of Iraq amounted to aiding/abetting/justifying BS aggression really casts so much of what he says now into reasonable doubt. Yes, even about Kissinger or this G-d chick. That's the price you pay for having your cake and drinking it, too.

Andrew Wyatt

That's the price you pay for having your cake and drinking it, too.

You, sir, win the Internet.

Matthew Fisher

I'm a relative youngster who has tried to keep abreast of recent criticism, literary and otherwise, during the past few years. I've also been slowly making my way through some of the greats from the past, and since there's a mountain range of great stuff, I've got my work cut out for me.

I've had to deal with the shock, shock of discovering, as I suppose everyone does if they read/live long enough, that Great style, subject, erudition, personal life, and politics are not always to be found grazing together in the same pasture (of course, this goes for the arts as well as criticism). I've had my naive little heart broken many times by folks I'd been polishing up for idol status. Sometimes, if the author/artist has meant a great deal to me, their failings/blunders/prejudices have felt like personal betrayals, despite my determination not to let it get to me. Guess that's growing up, huh? I think of Octave, when he says, "The only horrible thing in life is that everbody has his own perfectly good reasons," and it means more to me with each passing day.

Hitchens is a case is point, and I won't try to top Glenn and everyone else's excellent comments. He has been properly taken to task by many of his ex-friends and comrades, never with more deadly precision, in my opinion, than by Norman Finkelstein's 2003 essay, "Fraternally yours, Chris." My own take is, yes, he can certainly still write like blazes, but the moral core (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) that he made a point of displaying front and center, once upon a time, is now nowhere to be found.

And I'd like to say, apropos all of the above, that although I'll probably never get to know the actual "Glenn" (personally I mean), my admiration for "Glenn," the feeling, thinking critic, grows with nearly every passing post. My brain and heart thank you.



That Barry McGuire clip is from the episode of "Hullaballoo" co-hosted by Gary and Jerry Lewis -- the latter of whom introduced McGuire as a young man with "something important to say," which should have been everyone's clue, yeah?

The Lewises began the show with a duet of "Help!", btw, and ended by running roughshod over a number by Paul Revere and the Raiders. Worth finding should you have a bag of shrooms around.


Dan Coyle

Like Dennis Miller, Hitchens was driven mad by Bill Clinton and never fully recovered. He can still write like hell, though, when he puts his mind to it.

Bob Westal

It's true, the Hitchens madness at least goes back to Clinton. For sure, there were a zillion things to anger a good progressive about that somewhat feckless and under-achieving administration, but there was no evil he could not imagine of them. Clinton wasn't just a liar, both personally and politically, and a serial philanderer, he was a rapist! No wonder he was practically a regular on Fox News.

Nor were his critiques of Mother-freakin-Theresa years before nearly so damning as he seemed to feel was self-evident. ("She took money from bad people!" "She's a religious conservative who promotes policies that seem absurd and destructive to secularists!" Pardon me while I demand she be hauled immediately before the ICC of failing to live up to what an ardent athiest's view of what a saintly cleric should be.)

Still, he does know how to put words together, even when drunk, which I imagine is pretty much always. (I can't work on half a beer, or without caffeine, so I find this impressive.) And there have been times when we agreed. I loved some of his defenses of the Afghan war in its early days against the Noam Chomsky wing of the left. It's amazing how much more palatable writing can be when you agree. Of course, now, I sort of disagree with myself on that war and, in any case, when he came out the same way for Iraq and insisted that everyone who disagreed with him did not love their fellow man sufficiently to kill hundreds of thousands of them in order to free them of the Butcher of Baghdad, well, that's when I just felt like I couldn't trust him on anything, anymore.

On the other hand, when comes to pop music, at 18 a lot of us take some pretty silly things seriously. Of course any good young Dylan or (in my case) Elvis Costello fan could tell you that P.F. Sloan's lyrics were a mite simplistic and silly, but still, I think of the some of the things I liked at that age....

Also, Glenn's not an atheist? I didn't have him pegged for being a Penn Jillette/Dawkins/Hitch type, but I figured him at least for being some sort of secularist and certainly not as a religious person. Was I wrong? None of my beeswax, I suppose.

Glenn Kenny

Bob, let's just say that I have my spiritual side (and that I'm uncomfortable with the, um, certainties of atheism) and leave it at that for now!

Tom Carson

Years ago, chatting with a colleague who was about to interview Hitchens, I idly called him "the rich man's Orwell." I later heard Hitchens was not pleased with said characterization when my pal cheerfully tried it out on him in the Q &A, which of course tickled me no end. But it's obvious that becoming Orwell is his ultimate fantasy. He thought he'd get the brass ring for contrarian morality by supporting the Iraq war, but we all know how that gambit worked out. Hence his shrewd move to reposition himself as the atheist truth-teller, an almost Bowie-esque way of winning back leftist/secular cred without committing apostasy on That Other Issue.

As for "Eve of Destruction," I'm still disappointed that John Glenn didn't use the immortal "You may go up for four days in space/but when you come down, it's the same old place" to jump-start his presidential campaign. But maybe that's just me.

Glenn Kenny

@ Tom: Wow, that's the first time I've ever seen anything Hitchens has ever done referred to as "almost Bowie-esque." I've got to say, though, that I consider Bowie's ch-ch-ch-ch-changes a bit more entertaining overall, and certainly more beneficial, or at least less potentially harmful, to humanity in general...

Tom Carson

Ah, well, Glenn. If you live in Washington awhile, you learn to be cynical about Hitchens even from way up in the cheap seats. As the Beltway's tame cocktail-party leftist, he always did seem like Mischa Auer imitating a gorilla in My Man Godfrey. And as a born-again Iraq war cheerleader, he was more like the monkey in Toy Story 3.

Besides, in my defense, he's only two years younger than Bowie. For ambitious Brits their age, what mattered most was a) image and b) making it big in the U.S.A.

Glenn Kenny

Tom, that weren't a criticism, just an observation. I think the comparison works. And given their respective appearances at their close ages, Bowie really IS an advertisement for giving up one's bad habits by a certain point in one's life. Or for expensive doctors. Or for both.

Michael Adams

In my haste earlier I forgot to mention Maguire's memorable appearance in The President's Analyst. I've just learned that he's also in Werewolves on Wheels, which I've never seen or heard of. Is anyone familiar with this film?

Dan Coyle

I LOVE the President's Analyst. One of my favorite endings ever.


I knew it. Glenn's a Scientologist.

Jeff McMahon

I've watched Werewolves on Wheels, but I couldn't tell you much of what happened except that a single werewolf shows up pretty late into the movie.


I think Hitchens's pathological antipathy for Clinton really reached a head when he led the pack in accusing BC of wagging the dog after Clinton bombed the Al Shifa facilities in Sudan during the Lewinsky madness. Now we know "the rapist" was freaking out about al Qaeda terrorism and intelligence (of disputed merit) linking AQ to the pharmaceutical factory there. Needless to say, Hitch has never retroactively applauded Clinton for his prescient vigilance in recognizing the enemy and keeping an itchy finger on the trigger.

So I always marveled that people didn't make more of the irony of Hitchens's willful and adamant credulousness (to this day!) over the slightest whiffs of AQ connections that were used to justify the invasion his buddies Wolfowitz and Chalabi were planning. It all just shows how disgustingly opportunistic his political outrage has always been, and how simplistic and Manichean his world-view is. From campus Marxist rebel to imperialist torture supporter. Who knew, in the end, he was just David Horowitz with a nicer prose style.

Tom Carson

Obviously, the news of Hitchens's cancer diagnosis makes me rue my words. I'm not taking them back, but now ain't the time.

Glenn Kenny

I know what you mean, Tom, but I don't think you or anybody else was piling on Hitchens but merely taking part in a spirited colloquy and polemic of which he might approve in the abstract.

That said, I want to express my wishes for his recovery. Not least because I know what he'll have to say when he comes out from the other side of this will be anything but dull.

As dire as his diagnosis is, an old and dear friend of mine has made real progress against the disease. Here's a musing of his from the Huffington Post back in February:



Looks like it might be the eve of Hitch's destruction: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/reliable-source/2010/06/rs-_hitchens.html

Done in not by the demon alcohol, but the tobacco fiend. Huh.

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