Interesting public forum in Taos, Tuesday, Feb. 6. Mayoral and town council candidates stated their platforms and ideas. The air was rife with platitudes and clichés about regional economic development, as in bringing in industry and new business, and about working together, and about getting more citizen input into local issues, and about keeping the young people in town after graduation from high school by creating jobs. There was some discussion about land, water and acequia issues, but there was NONE, I say NONE, about promoting Taos as an art market.

Taos is an arts town, or it used to be. There are 62 vacant store fronts in Taos and many of them used to be art galleries. So is the council and are aspiring candidates giving up on the arts? The arts used to be the economic engine that drove this town. Should be again if the council would develop a strategy for promoting the arts. We’re not hearing enough about that issue.

All this pie in the sky about bringing in new hi-tech jobs, and new industry—things that don’t exist and may never exist. We have an arts scene and a history as an art market! We have art galleries! We have artists! How about we come up with some strategies to promote what we already have.

"The American Dreamer"
by Sam Richardson

We were treated to a showing of “The American Dreamer” recently at TCA in Taos, the finale of the “Dennis Hopper Rebel Film Festival.” Ironic that Hopper is now celebrated as a cult hero, when at the time “Dreamer” was filmed (1971) he wasn’t that popular in Taos. Sixties Taoseños will remember that Chicanos and Native Americans and hippies didn’t get along in those days, and somewhere in the mix Hopper and his West Coast entourage were getting high, living low and shooting this kinky film at Mabel Dodge Luhan House, which Hopper owned at the time.

I could see this film as something Hunter S. Thompson might have written and called “Fear and Loathing in Taos.” The doc, which had no plot, was sort of a cinema verité run and shoot thing that showed a lot of skin and people smoking dope. Most scenes were disconnected with Hopper philosophizing about everything from oral sex to politics, mooning a room full of women, some of whom were buck-ass naked, walking naked himself down a residential street in Los Alamos, doing a threezy with a couple of gals in a bathtub, and firing several weapons into the sage brush. In his narrative, he tried to attach symbolic meaning to the nudity and sucking face, but somehow the dots didn’t connect.

Even though a 7 p.m. start was advertised by TCA, we sat through an hour of proclamations being read, one by the mayor, a talk about Mabel, and a folk singer. Hopper would have loved it. Much ado about a hippie filmmaker who took the world for a controversial ride on his terms and now whose image has been sanitized in the new century. Some in the viewing audience seemed to take the whole presentation as a religious experience: St. Dennis, the debauched guru who had us over to Mabel’s for sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, but who, unfortunately, didn’t live to enjoy his canonization.

The first and only other time I saw the film was 45 years ago, when Lawrence Schiller, one of the producers, brought it to the University of Texas. At the time, cinema verite was trending, and Schiller sold us on the idea of his great genius due to the random spontaneity of the shooting and editing. Looking at it all these years later, I might say the film wasn’t that well done, even though we must remember that at the time of the filming all those years ago, with all the toking up and scenes with young women parading around au nat
urel, it was considered pretty risqué. Somehow our evaluation of the doc as art in 1971 become secondary in the face of all that bush we were gaping at.

But, overall, seeing “Dreamer” again made for a fun evening, a true Taoseño experience with an actor who gave us a lot of great movies, not to mention a visit to our younger years, when we, too, were along for that wild ride.

A recent exhibit at Taos’ Harwood Museum called “Órale” had three images of Jesus in less than religious context, including one of Jesus in a sink. The images were, according to one artist, to be considered an “open narrative.” In other words, finish the story yourself. Or don’t. Maybe there was no story, just an image.

I asked the artist of one of the pieces if he had any death threats from Bible-belt Baptists or other Christian fundamentalists. He laughed. Said he might have lost a few Facebook friends, but there has been nothing else.

At Taos’ Town Hall, an exhibit of Bill Baron’s cartoons hung in the corridors, earlier this year. He is the editorial cartoonist for the Taos News, and many of his cartoons lampoon and take the Taos Town Council to task; however, Mayor Barrone and the Council welcomed the exhibit.

Imagine that in the halls of power. Could a cartoonist do that in Tehran, Damascus, Cairo, Ankara or Sri Lanka? Cartoonists have been imprisoned, exiled or have disappeared in those places for their work.

Images of Jesus and politicians: whether you like them or not, we’re free to express our views in this country, which is not the case in countries controlled by totalitarian governments, religious theocracies and in countries like France where religious militias—immigrants—have imported their fanaticism and terror.

My view is that if your religious faith is strong enough, no art object can destroy it. Faith is personal. You decide, not someone else. And as to politicians, they know that as many as 49% of the electorate may have voted against them, so a little satire comes with the territory. The best politicians have a sense of humor and can laugh at themselves.

And in times like these, we have to laugh to keep from crying.

Presidential humor

"My choice in early life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there is hardly any difference." – Harry Truman

"From Truman to Ike to LBJ:

The wit and wisdom of the American presidency," 
a presentation by Sam Richardson.

Some past speaking engagements in Taos: Daughters of the American Revolution meeting; Lions Club; Rotary Club; fundraiser for the UNM-Taos Library; Seekers, an adult discussion group; open mic, SOMOS (Society of the Muse of the Southwest)

Run time: 20 to 30 minutes

Events I’ve emceed: The Texas Folklife Festival (San Antonio), The Great World's Fair at Luckenbach; Headliners East celebrity roasts (Austin); The Annual Word Off (Terlingua); various sports and Chamber of Commerce banquets, and a number of fundraisers and auctions.

In Taos:  “The Friends of D.H. Lawrence: A Festival of New Mexico Writers”; “Read it to the Mountain,” the annual reading by the UNM-Taos English faculty.

Available for groups and organizations as a lunch or meeting speaker, as a after-dinner talk, or for any occasion.

Now booking 

Sam Richardson, aka SAM•U•L, is a Taos-based artist, writer, storyteller and emcee. He has taught journalism at The University of New Mexico-Taos and taught art at Austin Community College. His art is displayed in a number of venues and he is a free-lance feature writer for publications in New Mexico and Texas.

"And who is the American President?" asked Ambrose Bierce, the old gringo. “The greased pig in the field game of American politics."

"And what is an editor but one who flings about him the sturdy thunders and lightning of admonition until he resembles a bunch of firecrackers petulantly uttering its mind at the tail of a dog.”

—Ambrose Bierce, the old Gringo

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened.

From: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"With local coverage dwindling, the next 10 to 15 years are going to be a halcyon era for crooked politicians."
– Journalist David Simon,
quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education

"What we want in a media system is
ostensible diversity that conceals actual conformity."

– Joseph Goebels, 1938
“Young people drawn to journalism increasingly see no
distinction between disinterested reporting and hit-jobbery.”
–Mark Bowden

Hit-jobbery: propaganda fed by special interests.

In a special report on the media, “The Story Behind the Story,” (Atlantic, Oct. 2009), Mark Bowden points to a malignancy that’s driving the state of journalism down – hit-jobbery.

“Ideologues have stepped forward to provide the ‘reporting’ that feeds the 24-hour news cycle. The collapse of journalism means that the quest for information have been superseded by the quest for ammunition,” he says.

As ammunition he cites events surrounding the confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor where hit-jobbers, "researchers" with an agenda, dug up snippets from a speech Sotomayor had made at Berkeley Law School in 2001.

The clips, taken out of context, portrayed her as a Latina who thought her judgment was superior to that of a white male and as a judge who saw the court’s role as not to just interpret the law but to “make policy” and perform an end run around the other two branches of government.

Within 24 hours of Sotomayor’s nomination, all three major television networks had the story complete with video clips.

Was this good reporting by investigative journalists or the work of political hit men with an agenda who fed the clips to the networks?

“This process – political activists supplying material for TV news broadcasts – is not new, of course. (But) It has largely replaced the work of on-the-scene reporters during a political campaigns...” writes Bowden.

Bowden concludes his article by saying, “The honest disinterested voice of a true journalist carries an authority that no self-branded liberal of conservative can have.

“Journalism, done right, is enormously powerful precisely because it does not seek power. It seeks truth. Those who forsake it to shill for a produce of a candidate or a party or an ideology diminish their own power.”

The worst of it is that each newspaper disappearing below the horizon carries with it, if not a point of view, a potential emplacement for one. A city with one newspaper, or with a morning and an evening paper under one ownership, is like a man with one eye, and the eye is glass.”
– AJ Liebling

We could use a man like
Crazy Carl today

A reminescence

Crazy Carl Hickerson, a flower child and flower vendor on Austin’s Sixth Street, ran for mayor of the city, once, back in the ‘80s.

Sixth Street was the closest thing Texas had to Bourbon Street: good food, good music, good drink, good times. Respectable bars and restaurants prospered and an interesting street scene grew up around them.

Crazy Carl was a regular at the corner of Sixth and Trinity, appearing there most evenings during good weather, where he sold flowers.

One year, Carl decided to run for Mayor. He qualified, paid his fees, and was even invited to join in a televised mayoral debate. It was great fun.

Said Carl:
“If I win, I’ll demand a recount.”
“I’ll try it if you will but a lot of people think I’ll never sit on the council. I hope
they’re right.”
“People will vote just to vote against me.”
“To a lot of you, I’m just another pretty face.”
“Austin is just an imaginary city.”

Carl got a few votes and went back to selling flowers but his candidacy triggered a little spike in the bumper sticker market when stickers saying
“I’M CRAZY, TOO, CARL!” appeared all over Austin.

Illustration by the editor