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Why Must We Tarnish the Glittering Legacy of Italo Disco with Petty Squabbles

Den Harrow, either during a performance or just after escaping from a pack of wild boars.

Italo Disco was the disco that no one really needed: “English-language vocals, whose repetitive lyrics, often accented and malaprop-laden, were set to catchy melodies filigreed with synthesizers.” One of its biggest stars was Den Harrow, an invented performer cobbled together out of Tom Hooker (the singer) Stefano Zandri (the on-stage lip syncer). At GQ, Alice Gregory tells the story of Den’s sharp rise, unsurprising decline, and the fallout from two blowhard, sort-of partners who really, really don’t like one another.

Tawny and taut, with twinkly eyes and TV teeth, Tom looks even more like Rob Lowe than Rob Lowe looks like himself. He has the appearance (faultless) and bearing (dauntless) of a very lucky person, which he is, and which he is usually capable of remembering. Tom has a loving family, a beautiful home, a creative career, and lots of money. He also has a mortal enemy. When Tom talks about Stefano Zandri—or, as he calls him, “Stefano or Den or Whatever”—the grace with which his life has been blessed disappears, instantly it seems, from the foreground of his mind. He begins to swear and to brag; he becomes bothered by minor three-decade-old slights. Tom mocks Stefano for not speaking English, for “not having a pot to piss in.” He calls him “obnoxious,” a “chronic liar,” “a horndog with low standards and no selection process.” To observe this transformation, from blessed family man to apoplexy incarnate, is to bear witness to something almost mythic. Like if Achilles’ problem wasn’t his heel but his toe, which he stubbed, repeatedly, over the years and which every time he did sent him into a temporary infantile rage.

To be fair, Stefano himself isn’t above Tom-directed barbs, which he spouts in Facebook posts, Instagram comments, and national radio interviews, and which he tends to express with an impressive, almost poetic specificity. “Needle dick” is one of his preferred insults. For years he’s been preoccupied with the notion that Tom bought the exact same Porsche as he did in 1989. On Facebook, he’s called Tom “envious and troubled,” a “clown,” a “brown-noser with no personality,” a “small penis man,” a “Coward!” “You should be ashamed that you sold your voice,” he’s written. “You are clumsy and you have a bad energy as you are a bad person.” A few weeks after writing “I would put your head in your butt for real,” Stefano threatened Tom, saying, “I know where you live. I will come to Vegas and kick your flaccid ass.” Tom’s two daughters were 5 and 6 at the time, and the threat to his family infuriated him. Tom insisted to me that he wasn’t actually scared but then added, “I don’t know—maybe he has some guys around!”

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Exile, Compounded

The 77-meter (250-foot) Baris cargo towed by a Greek Navy Frigate, as a man looks on from the coastal Cretan port of Ierapetra, Greece, on Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Masood Hotak was displaced for the first time when he left Afghanistan, trying to reach Europe, then displaced for a second time when he disappeared from the ranks of migrants and smugglers en route. His brother Javed mounted a multi-year, multi-country effort to track him down, to no avail. For Harper’s, Matthew Wolfe accompanied Javed during his search to tell the story of the profundity of this disappearance.

In the midst of this unprecedented wave of dislocation, thousands of migrants disappear every year. These disappearances are a function, largely, of the imperatives of secret travel. Lacking official permission to cross borders, “irregular migrants” are compelled to move covertly, avoiding the gaze of the state. In transit, they enter what the anthropologist Susan Bibler Coutin has called “spaces of nonexistence.” Barred from formal routes, some of them are pushed onto more hazardous paths—traversing deserts on foot or navigating rough seas with inflatable rafts. Others assume false identities, using forged or borrowed documents. In either case, aspects of the migrant’s identity are erased or deformed.

This invisibility cuts both ways. Even as it allows an endangered group to remain undetected, it renders them susceptible to new kinds of abuse. De facto stateless, they lack a government’s protection from exploitation by smugglers and unscrupulous authorities alike. Seeking safe harbor, many instead end up incarcerated, hospitalized, ransomed, stranded, or sold into servitude. In Europe, there is no comprehensive system in place to trace the missing or identify the dead. Already living in the shadows, migrants who go missing become, in the words of Jenny Edkins, a politics professor at the University of Manchester, “double disappeared.”

Taken as a whole, their plight constitutes an immense, mostly hidden catastrophe. The families of these migrants are left to mount searches—alone and with minimal resources—of staggering scope and complexity. They must attempt to defy the entropy of a progressively more disordered world—seeking, against long odds, to sew together what has been ripped apart.

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The Pain of Loss, Through Centuries and Books

Photo by x1klima via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

In LitHub, Katharine Smyth explores the grief surrounding her father’s death with the help of Virginia Woolf — quasi-shared experiences, 112 years apart.

Virginia Woolf described the days before her mother’s funeral as a period of “astonishing intensity.” She and her siblings “lived through them in hush, in artificial light. Rooms were shut. People were creeping in and out. People were coming to the door all the time. . . .The hall reeked of flowers. They were piled on the hall table.” It was the spring of 1895 in London, but it may as well have been the winter of 2007 in Boston, a stretch of weeks I remember above all as crepuscular and silent, shot through with the cold beauty of a hundred pounds of flowers and the hollow chiming of the doorbell. I couldn’t shake that crystalline, hyperaware feeling one gets on important occasions—on birthdays, for instance, or on losing one’s virginity. My father is dead, I said to myself, my father is dead. Again and again I said it, and still I failed to grasp what it meant.

Her astute observations on the bewildering fog of mourning are resonant for anyone who has struggled to cope with loss.

I lacked the kinds of elaborate customs that governed the Stephens’ behavior, of course; thanks to my era, and to my father’s hostility to organized religion, I lacked any customs at all. But while I wouldn’t have traded the freedom to mourn as I liked for those claustrophobic, false-feeling Victorian practices, or even the comfort of a god I didn’t believe in—how gratifying, that afternoon of sitting shiva!—I did find myself longing for ritual, for structure, for some organizing principle by which to counter the awful shapelessness of loss. The conventions of sorrow may give rise to hypocrisy, but sorrow uncontained holds its own perils.

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Power to the People

The words Pray and Obey on a chimney at the former home of Warren Jeffs in Hildale, Wednesday April 5, 2017. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

For years, Hildale, Utah, was controlled by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and more specifically, by Warren Jeffs; under his watch, every element of civic and social life was dictated by the church, and powerful church families controlled the lion’s share of wealth, creating a steep economic divide. Jeffs is now in prison and Hildale is trying to redefine itself — last year it elected a secular mayor, a woman — but as Tarpley Hitt explains in her story for The Daily Beast, “redefining” is about a lot more than transferring government power back to the actual government.

For the new government, bridging that divide is a top priority. In a sense, they have a head start (most of their 1 percent is now incarcerated). But inequality in Hildale is not like inequality anywhere else in the United States, where disparity usually stems from an unbalanced capitalist system. For decades, Short Creek operated as a quasi-communist state. The original settlers wanted to establish a radical kind of cooperative society that adhered to the New Testament value of holding “all things in common.” They pooled all their resources in a collective trust, and for decades—the vast majority of Short Creek’s existence—everything in the town was shared: from homes, to food, to health care.

After Jeffs and his father, the communal trust crumpled. When the federal government seized all the town’s assets in 2005, it was valued at a staggering $110 million, much of which had been leached from apostates and less powerful families. Not long later, the feds ordered the town to subdivide, and in the years since, Hildale has been gradually—and painfully, for many townspeople—divvying up the land, establishing private property for the first time in history.

The new council has been tasked with overseeing the town’s transition to an entirely new economic system. But they’re trying to do that while nursing the wounds Warren left behind—in a deeply divided constituency, where the act of drawing lines in the sand (sometimes literally: the council had to draft zoning laws) runs the risk of driving people even further apart.

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Did Your Walls Keep Them Out, or Lock You In?

Gabriela Garcia‘s story is short, but her main character is richly drawn — multidimensional, flawed, and real. “Frosted Glass,” in The Iowa Review, tells the story of Ms. Mendez, seamlessly layering together mother-daughter strife, the immigrant experience, neighborhood one-upswoman-ship, racism, and the folly of trying to solve problems by building walls. It manages to be both timely and timeless, deeply personal and culturally trenchant.

Mrs. Mendez fumed. She watched the lights go on at the neighbor’s house. The Mendezes had installed the trendiest windows they could find—frosted glass, cut into identical squares. They could see out, but anyone looking in would see just blobs and shapes. They’d see silhouettes moving in and out of shadows like creatures stretching and curling into their caves. This is why Mrs. Mendez had busted her back for twenty-five years. This is why she had arrived with her one suitcase and cleaned homes for so many years while taking classes at the community college where all her teachers assumed by her accent she understood nothing. Why she’d studied accounting with an English-to-Spanish dictionary at her side and spent years working her way up a ladder full of splinters and snapped legs at every turn. So she could have goddamn frosted glass spy windows she could see out of but nobody could see into.

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Wayne Byerly’s Redemption Through Ratting

USP Florence, whose banal exterior belies the house of horrors inside.

After a lifetime of bank robberies, Wayne Byerly ended up in U.S. Penitentiary Florence, an overcrowded high-security prison housing violent criminals with a reputation as the most dangerous prison in the United States — “In one seventeen-month period, USP Florence logged 94 inmate stabbings or beatings, roughly one for every ten inmates.” But USP Florence’s real calling card is the fate of its snitches, recounted in Alan Prendergast’s Westworld story about Byerly, his time in the pen, and his extensive work as an informant.

A few days later, drug smuggler Mirssa Araiza-Reyes got into an argument with his cellmate, Frank Melendez, whom he suspected of being a snitch. Araiza-Reyes had strong feelings about snitches, having attacked another suspected informant with a padlock and razor. He required all his roommates to sign affidavits swearing they that they weren’t snitches. Unable to come to terms with Melendez, Araiza-Reyes beat and strangled him. He kept the body in his cell for four days, a period during which staff paperwork indicates Melendez went through several counts, received meals, and was taken to showers and the exercise yard. When he could no longer stand the smell, Araiza-Reyes notified a guard that Melendez was dead.

“I took care of that snitch for you,” he said.

The incident became known as the Weekend at Bernie’s killing. But that grotesquerie was soon overshadowed by a more extravagant foray into corpse abuse. In October 1999, bank robber Joey Estrella was killed and eviscerated in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) by his two cellmates, cousins William and Rudy Sablan, after a night of drinking and playing cards. It’s not clear if the Sablans regarded Estrella as a snitch or just a nuisance, but the cousins removed portions of his liver and spleen. By the time officers arrived to videotape the aftermath, the Sablans were covered in gore, mockingly gnawing at Estrella’s excised organs and drinking his blood. While the camera rolled, they stuck a cigarette in the dead man’s mouth and used his hand to flash the finger at the guards.

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This Is the Excellent Foppery of the World

Image by Zeeveez via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Humans: we like explanations for things, and we like it when things are not our fault. To the stars! In The Baffler, Lauren Oyler writes with both great care and great wit about astrology, why we’re drawn to it, why it’s seen a resurgence in the past seven or eight years, and how we find identity (and social media content) in the skies.

It’s difficult to write about astrology—the idea was to write about astrology, to examine the nature of its trendiness right now—because the two questions the topic brings up most are “Is she serious?” and “Who cares?” A friend points out that my Gemini moon is likely to blame for my inability to settle on an argument here, but regardless: I don’t really know how to answer either question because the latter depends on the former, and because determining the seriousness (or not) of a person’s professed viewpoint requires a detailed checklist, one that takes into account author, subject, context, and micro-context (what jokes are popular on social media that day). The horoscopes women—mostly women—read today also take themselves pretty seriously; they’re much more elaborate and astronomically informative than the ostensibly personalized fortune cookies once found in the backs of newspapers and magazines, which were easy enough to justify as meaningless daily ritual. The authority of the contemporary astrologer is alternately expert (Susan Miller’s long-running Astrology Zone, Broadly’s Annabel Gat), speaking in friendly, straight-talking tones about things like Jupiter’s position and geometric aspects, or mystic-poetic (Astro Poets, The Cut’s Madame Clairevoyant), as if written by a medium in Los Angeles receiving garbled messages from Elizabeth Bishop. The popular Co–Star app—which uses your birthdate, place, and time to algorithmically generate lengthy, “hyper-personalized,” koan-like forecasts for you in each of ten (ten!) life-areas (transcendence, innovation, love & tenderness, thinking & communication, intense transformation, responsibility & limits, sex & aggression, ego & identity, emotional world, growth & progress)—combines the two. It also allows you to compare your natal chart—a diagram of the relationship of the sun, moon, and planets to your place of birth at your time of birth—with friends’ charts to assess your compatibility in all the life-areas. The daily horoscopes it produces are so long that I usually do not finish reading them, though they often contain gems like “The present moment is its own hellscape,” which it served me on my birthday when I had woken from a night of short, drunk, bad sleep in an un-air- conditioned apartment in Berlin, which was experiencing a heat wave.

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The Family Is Political

Elad Dvash-Banks, right, and his partner, Andrew, play with their twin sons, Ethan, left, and Aiden in their apartment Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

American Andrew met his future husband, Elad, in Israel. They married in Canada, and had twin boys — Aidan, and Ethan, one fathered by each man — with a surrogate. When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Obergefell v. Hodges, they decided to move to California to be closer to Andrew’s family. It did not go as planned.

A few months after Ethan’s citizenship had been denied, the Dvash-Banks family landed in Los Angeles. Andrew and Aiden carried their US passports; Elad carried his Israeli passport and a green card. Ethan passed through US customs at LAX with a Canadian passport and a six-month tourist visa. What they would do next was anyone’s guess, but at the very least they were determined to live the life they had planned as an American family for as long as they could.

“Of all the hundreds and hundreds of things I worried about, this one never crossed my mind,” Andrew said of the ordeal. “How could it? They’re both my children. I’m on both birth certificates, Elad is on both birth certificates—exclusively. No one else appears on the birth certificates. I am the legal father. I am the father of both children. It never would have crossed my mind in a million years.”

Now, LGBTQ immigration rights organization Immigration Equality is bringing a lawsuit on their behalf, hoping to highlight the ways in which immigration law is not keeping up with reproductive technologies and changing definitions of family. Raj Telhan‘s story at VQR is a comprehensive, accessible dive into the history and future of U.S. immigration law, what makes a citizen, and what makes a family.

Immigration Equality also argues that the sections of the INA concerned with citizenship (as opposed to immigration), do not include specific definitions of the terms “parent,” “person,” “mother,” “father,” and “out of wedlock” that are being used by the State Department to impose a genetic threshold for parentage on married same-sex couples like Andrew and Elad. This last intriguing argument essentially amounts to a critique of the State Department’s reading of the statutory language of the INA. Tacitly, the complaint asks what we really mean by parent or mother or father. And more profoundly: What, precisely, is family? And this is where the precedent-setting power of the Dvash-Banks case stems from. Until recently, these definitions were taken for granted, their interpretations rooted in age-old understandings of hereditary bonds. With advances in assisted-reproductive technology, however, the supposedly reliable assumptions don’t always hold. The outcome of the Dvash-Banks family’s case will hinge, in part, on whether the courts acknowledge the biotechnological and social forces that have transfigured traditional definitions of family.

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This Post Was Originally 200 Words Longer But They Weren’t Sparking Joy

Photo by Luis Paulo Oliviera Paula via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Marie Kondo wants us to live surrounded by items that spark joy. Instant Hotel and Stay Here want us to turn our living spaces into personality-free, Instagram-ready tableaux that command maximum rates on Airbnb. And in The New Republic, Kyle Chayka wants us to think about what these makeover shows really say about life in a late capitalist gigtopia.

Unlike, say, HGTV’s Fixer Upper in which we see reinvented structures, there isn’t much of a satisfying reveal at the climax of these episodes. Clothes have been folded, kitchen appliances aligned, and books jettisoned, causing consternation among literary watchers. (Kondo gives a lesson relevant to the fake news era: “Books are the reflection of our thoughts and values, so by tidying books it will show you what kind of information is important to you at this moment.”) The subjects are generally enthused at their new, joy-sparked lives, but it is a minimalist process of refinement rather than renovation. Progress is abstract, which is one reason the episodes could have been half as long.

The commandment to think carefully about what you own isn’t so radical, after all. “Sparking joy” still relies on material goods to form the basis of an identity: Each object must feel like it is an ineffable part of you, as if your old T-shirts emitted a Benjaminian aura. It’s not about taking up meditation or therapy; Kondo is advocating for something as close to perfect consumption as possible. The idea that things don’t matter is anathema to KonMari.

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We’re Updating Our Privacy Policy

Image by Blue Coat Photos via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Longreads is owned by Automattic, the company that makes WordPress.com — which is what powers Longreads. As of February 1, 2019, Longreads will also be covered by the same Privacy Policy Automattic uses, one designed to maximize transparency and data privacy.

We’re retiring the separate Privacy Policy for Longreads to keep things straightforward across all of Automattic’s sites and services and wanted to let you know ahead of the switch in case you’re interested in what changes and why, or wanted to take a look at the policy.

The first words of the policy are, “Your privacy is critically important to us.” For Automattic, that means being fully transparent. Only keeping the data there’s a reason to keep. And being thoughtful about how to collect, use, and share personal information.

Here are some of the key updates you’ll see in the policy:

  • Real-world, concrete examples to give you a clearer picture of how personal information is collected and used.
  • More information about how you can limit and control the data that you provide to us when become a Longreads member.
  • Added information about your data protection and privacy rights, and how long we keep information.

Our new Privacy Policy will take effect on February 1, 2019. If you continue to use our services on or after February 1, 2019, you acknowledge that your use will be subject to our new Privacy Policy.

If you’re a Longreads member, you’ll get this information in an email as well — feel free to respond to it with any questions, and thanks for reading!