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Ball of Fire: Jimmy McDonough


Jimmy McDonough manning the slate
for Andy Milligan’s Monstrosity.
Flash frame from dailies, 1987.

I’d never heard of him. Found his book, The Ghastly One, on sale at Skylight Books; a whole volume on Andy Milligan, the Staten Island schlockmeister usually referred to as the more prolific, “worse” Ed Wood. I knew enough about Milligan’s awfulness to be intrigued and found Jimmy McDonough’s paperback unforgettable, moving, and brilliantly put together. I sought out his other three books and they were all funny, compulsively readable, staggeringly well researched and ragingly well written. What kind of gutter-dwelling genius would write not only The Ghastly One, but Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography, a vast, fevered journey through the life, times and music of the infuriating icon; Big Bosoms and Square Jaws, the tragicomic biography of sexploitation auteur Russ Meyer, soon to be a major motion picture from David O. Russell; and Tammy Wynette, Tragic Country Queen, a bittersweet, evenhanded appreciation of a singular talent most simply worship, deride or ignore? Who was this Jimmy McDonough, who had bushwhacked a course through the night traps and neon thickets of America’s postwar counterculture? I had to know. I requested an interview and got a “yes.” Learned he lives in Portland. Drives a Dodge Dart. Loves rayon shirts, Casino and Eyes Without a Face.

But he wouldn’t or couldn’t meet me. Or even talk on the phone. He agreed to field questions lobbed in over the Internet and returned answers honed to an off-handed perfection.

Maybe it’s that he’s a reclusive crank; maybe he’s just a control freak. Or maybe it’s that Jimmy McDonough knows how to get a subject to come alive on the page; that getting prose to read like a person’s talking, requires prose writing, and not just talk transcribing. “I’d like it to be accurate,” he says. “Other than that, bombs away!”

Jimmy McDonough

My first profile was on the honky-tonk singer Gary Stewart for The Village Voice in the mid-’80s. He was hiding out in a Florida trailer with the windows painted black. Much to Gary’s surprise I conned my way into that trailer by finding an old 45 he’d been searching for. Gary was maybe the most talented person I ever met. He just didn’t give a shit about fame. He was happier at home on the couch, watching Bronson in The White Buffalo for the 400th time. Gary had great country hits in the mid-’70s like “She’s Actin’ Single (And I’m Drinkin’ Double)” before falling off the face of the earth. I wanted to find out what happened to him, tell the world how great he was.

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Yes, you can make money without exploiting the poor, but...

I was (briefly) a guest on a BBC World Service radio program this morning discussing Obama’s state of the union speech and income inequality in general. To my mind, this has always been a no-brainer. My argument is: we’ve done this experiment (of lowering taxes on the rich) twice now, once in the 1920’s and again in the 1980’s (and doubled-down in 2000). We have also done the control experiment. Between 1945 and 1980 top marginal tax rates in the U.S. ranged from 70 to 90%.

The results are clear: high marginal rates correlate with broad-based economic prosperity and an expanding middle class. Low marginal rates correlate with extreme income inequality, reduced prosperity overall, and ultimately, economic catastrophe.


Despite three entries at Sundance, Canadian documentaries are in dire shape
With three documentaries in competition, a feature film in the spotlight and a buzz-ready debut in premieres, this year’s Canadian contingent at the Sundance Film Festival may be the best in recent memory. But while official agencies have been quick to put out logo-laden news releases and party invitations celebrating our success, filmmakers say it’s no time to wave the Maple Leaf.

The Canadian funding system that gave birth to hometown heroes in the past, and the very core of the documentary tradition spawned by John Grierson, has been eroding in recent years, as a result of continuing budget cuts and shrinking broadcast windows.

Documentary production in Canada declined to its lowest level in six years, resulting in rising unemployment in the documentary field as a whole, according to Getting Real, a March 2011 report prepared by the Documentary Organization of Canada.

“Essentially, we are finding less and less support,” says Peter Wintonick, a veteran documentary director and producer who attended Sundance in years past with projects such as Manufacturing Consent, a film about linguistic guru Noam Chomsky. (Illustration by Andrew Barr)


I hope you all enjoyed the holidays. I’ve begun posting, as promised, sections of my novel Isn’t It Pretty To Think So? on Scribd. Tonight we’ve started by posting the first twelve pages and we plan to keep adding more (every Monday and Thursday) until the official release date of the novel. I hope you enjoy it. I’m so grateful for your support. 

Here is the link:  

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