PRINT February 2001


Bob Nickas

Bob Nickas is a curator and critic living in New York.

  1. TOM T. HALL, “I LOVE”

    Were this the only song he’d ever written, Tom T. Hall would still deserve his place in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Some of the things he loves: “coffee in a cup, little fuzzy pups, bourbon in a glass, and grass”; “honest open smiles, kisses from a child, sleep without dreams, music when it’s good, and life.” They ought to dig up the original page of handwritten lyrics and put it in one of those big glass cases with the Bill of Rights.


    I think of this as a love song too. At one point Nina offers to “swim the ocean” to prove she means what she says, and boy, that voice. Even on the radio, going out over the air to anyone who happens to be listening, it’s like she’s singing directly to you. Backed by a rousing Sunday morning choir, her voice just swings: “The only way that we can stand in fact / Is if you get your feet off my back.” Whenever I hear this song, I find myself making the same to-do list: 1. Fall in love. 2. Overthrow the government (more tempting now than ever). 3. Go to Paris (Nina left America for France a long time ago, so if you want to catch one of her rare concerts . . .).

  3. GARY INDIANA, SALÒ, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (London: BFI Publishing)

    The movie Quills was a sure sign of renewed interest in the Marquis de Sade and, though I’m horrified by the thought, his rehabilitation as an acceptable subject for something like Hollywood entertainment. But Gary Indiana’s essay on Pasolini’s scandalous final film, adapted from de Sade, is an event. Long banned in England, the movie recently got its first public showing in years thanks to efforts by Indiana and the British Film Institute. Pasolini and de Sade are a hard act to follow, but Indiana’s reportedly writing a book about murderous mother-and-son grifters Sante and Kenneth Kimes, so it sounds like he’s on a roll.

  4. JUDGE JUDY (WNBC, New York)

    When I was a kid, the only thing that stopped me from killing was the idea of life behind bars. (The electric chair was never a deterrent. Better dead than bored, I thought.) Now, there’s a different reason I (mostly) obey the law: I don’t want to face Judge Judy. Talk about scared straight. On a recent show, she made short work of parents who took money given to their children by their grandfather, using it for rent, car insurance, and a family trip to an amusement park. Judge Judy was livid. “You stole from your kids! Chuck E. Cheese and pony rides do not constitute an emergency. You’re outrageous!”


    Songs as stories that help us tell right from wrong, by way of a group that believes “the family that prays together, stays together.” But don’t let that get in the way; the Danielson Famile have managed to unite homespun folk art (they quilted for the cover of this record!) and experimental art rock, and you’ve never heard anything quite like it. Out in April, their fifth record is their most sophisticated and yet every bit as handmade as the music they played in their basement years ago. The idea of play is key, and here, in a pristine recording by Steve Albini, is all their infectious charm: bells and toy pianos, kids whistling, vocals on nitrous oxide, hands clapping in time.

  6. STRAIGHT TO HELL (Box 20424, New York, NY 10023)

    If you’re entirely beyond redemption or just want to be, this fine journal awaits you. Gore Vidal has called it “one of the best radical papers in the country,” and for more than three decades, it’s proffered true anonymous stories of sex between men. The sensibility of the early issues—even with the ’50s physique pictorial models—registers as nothing less than irreverent proto-punk. STH is a true record of its time (they tell me it can be found in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress). It’s smut, but it’s important smut. New York City may have been temporarily neutered these last few years, but the Manhattan Review of Unnatural Acts reminds us that life, or something like it, goes on.

  7. VAGINAL DAVIS, “YES SIR THANK YOU MA’M, MS. DAVIS” (Zen, Los Angeles, Jan. 15, 2000)

    Can a six-foot-six, black drag queen named after female genitalia and ’70s revolutionary Angela Davis make it in a vanilla-milk-shake world? Stranger things have happened. Perhaps none, though, as strange as this performance, a takeoff (literally) on Vanessa Beecroft’s naval maneuvers. The stage at the Silverlake club isn’t as large as a flight deck, but it’s far more accommodating. In drag as Vanessa, Ms. Davis paraded boys in Soviet Navy jumpers and tighty whities, read from her bawdy version of the Marine Corps handbook, and allowed s jarhead in full-dress uniform to be thoroughly manhandled. If the art world could choose between VB and VD, I'd vote for a guilt-free, frisky dose of fun. Wouldn’t you?


    Two Detroit upstarts, brother and sister Jack and Meg White, cover songs by Captain Beefheart and, in paying tribute to the undisputed master of avant/roots music, prove beyond reproach that the blues are alive and well. “Open another case of the punks,” indeed.


    When J.G. Ballard said, “Follow your obsessions like stepping stones in front of a sleepwalker,” he couldn’t have known about Ralph Wiggum—the brain-soft child from The Simpsons. A recent online search for Ralph turned up 163,475 matches. Lots of sites have sound files, and all the classics are there: “I glued my head to my shoulders”; “My knob tastes funny”; “Sleep—that’s when I’m a Viking!” I didn’t exactly have my way with The Interactive Ralph Wiggum (, supposedly set up so you can type in things for him to say. “So, you like . . . stuff?”


    Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody.