“The truth,” Lenny Bruce once noted, “is what is, not what you want it to be.” Of course the pillars of upright 'n' tight society proceeded to arrest and attempt to imprison him for speaking truthfully. Eventually the performance satirist was pardoned by the governor of New York 37 years after his death, but as people like to remind me when someone's getting fucked over, no one ever said life is fair. That doesn't prevent us from trying to make it fair by speaking truthfully. Historians such as Howard Zinn and Harvey Wasserman have written books about American history told from the point of view of the working class and racial minorities, i.e., the fucked over. Thaddeus Russell's excellent new tome A Renegade History of the United States (Free Press) has a different slant; it's the story of our country told by the fuck-ups. Prostitutes, zoot suiters, gangsters, drunks, minstrels, looters, et al — the outsiders of American life — are celebrated herein. Furthermore, the politically correct will be horrified when they learn that there were Japanese-Americans who “pledged to carry out sabotage against the U.S.” as World War II began and that Martin Luther King was critical of displays of open sexuality by African-Americans and urged blacks to spurn rock 'n' roll, the music that “plunges men's minds into degrading and immoral depths.” (King supposedly had mistresses, but to be fair, he wasn't “open” about 'em.) Russell will read tonight from his fascinating book, reminding us that while the truth may hurt, it's rarely dull.
Tue., Oct. 5, 7 p.m., 2010
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