Uncovering ‘A Crack Up at the Race Riots’ With Harmony Korine

If you ever feel like you’re losing your mind, like you’re hanging by your toenails on the brink of insanity, watch some videos of Harmony Korine from the late 1990s. Not only will you realize, okay yes, I am probably selling my lucidity short, but also, if there’s anyone who can turn manic energy and a deranged psyche into something brilliant, it’s Korine. And in 1998, the absurd realist filmmaker, writer, photographer, and artist sat down with David Letterman for one of many strange and hilarious appearances on his show to promote his new novel, A Crack Up at the Race Riots.

In his previous visits to the show, Korine had been dressed like a well-mannered schoolboy in sweaters and khakis, the words coming out his young mouth standing in sharp in contrast to the pleasant looking fellow sitting in front of you. But when he appeared this time, Korine came clad in a ratty yellow sweatshirt, scruffy-faced, and very twitchy. It was his final time on the show before being banned after Letterman caught him snooping through Meryl Streep’s purse in her dressing room. But he did love having Korine on there, shining a light on this odd specimen, a sample of youth culture to show the world before telling the very jittery Korine to “go back the hotel and take a long shower.” But the book he was there to promote was not only his debut work of fiction, but would go on to be a cult classic that perfectly encapsulated Korine’s geniusly crazed and frenetic mind, but would however fall out of print until this month, sixteen years later.

And after more than a decade and a half off the shelf, A Crack Up at the Race Riots is available again—just in time for all those sixteen year old kids who went to see Spring Breakers and walked out of the theater clutching their smartphones, faces permanently frozen in an expression of, “What the hell, man, that wasn’t like The Hangover but with chicks?!” And what you’ll get from A Crack Up is an unhinged and fragmented multimedia portrait told through slices of conversations, frantic drawings, news clippings, hypothetical lists, suicide notes, letters from Tupac, and much more, giving you a glimpse inside the mind of one of our generations most radical and bizarre voices. “It’s about a race war and it happens in Florida. And the Jewish people sit in trees. And the black people are run by M.C. Hammer. And the whites are run by Vanilla Ice,” said Korine on Letterman and well, you’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out what that all means.

With the reissue out now from Drag City, I got the chance to chat with Korine for the second time this year about letters from Tupac, schizophrenic cohesion, and replacing Barbra Streisand with John Holmes.

So why did you choose to reissue the novel now, after sixteen years?
It’s been out of print now for more than a decade and I know that people were selling it for a lot of money, and I didn’t really like that. I thought enough time had gone by that it would be good to republish it and let people see it again.

So you said recently in an interview with Little White Lies that you haven’t read a book since the 7th grade. Now how does that fit into here?
Well, I’d read a lot of joke books, I’d read the beginning of a lot of books, or certain like middle parts of certain books but just on principle I never finished the book. So technically, I probably haven’t finished a book since That Was Then This is Now. I had also read a bunch of Choose Your Own Adventure books in the early ’90s.

And you originally said that you wanted this book to be a Choose Your Own Adventure novel.
I wanted it to be the Great American Choose Your Own Adventure novel with pages missing in all the right places.

So how did A Crack Up at the Race Riots become your version of that? Where did all these fragmented bits and pieces come from?
It’s hard for me to remember exactly how it happened because it was a long time ago and I was tripping out really, and some of the pages are even just like hallucinating or something. I just had all these ideas and I was seeing all these connections in things—micro-movements and  ideas about authorship and anti-authorship. So I was trying to write a novel that existed in the margins that had as much to do with what was undefined as what was written, that had as much to do with the whiteness around the ink, you know? And so I’d walk around and hear someone like on a bus talking to themselves or ranting to themselves or hitting themselves in the head or singing some type of opera or something and I would just write what I saw. And then I would imagine like, what if Woody Harrelson said that? Or what if that conversation those two gay vagrants on the corner were having was between John Ford and his wife? And I liked how it would transform it and turn it into something so hilarious that so much of it was about context and the shifting humor and the re-contextualizing of things. I love those Sherrie Levine photos of all the Walker Evans pictures that she re-photgraphs and I remember wanting to do that but in words, in a way that was not just an experiment or just an exercise in craft but had a heartbeat and told a story. So I did that and the process was more abstract and I started writing a lot of that stuff in my early 20s and it took place over a couple years. I would just write notes and ideas and fragments on paper and crayon on the side of my wall. And then after I felt like there was enough of that stuff around me, I tried to make sense of it and re-collage it and re-contexualize it and give it some narrative in its own way to tell a story.

And like you said about how it’s about the white space just as much as the words, or about the context of what’s on the page, for the person reading it, it’s about their own experience with it and how they see it and how they interact with it. The pages of suicide notes with blank spaces from signatures that you have. Those pages are some of my favorites, but for the reader, it’s a participatory element.
Yeah, yeah yeah, yeah. Back then I thought that would be insane if you could write a suicide note that was like a form letter. So for someone who wasn’t creative enough, it had a blank signature space at the bottom. It’s horrifying but also, it’s funny.

A lot of the book is horrifying but also very funny. You mix dark humor with the banal, casualness of offensive things like homophobia or racism, but it seems natural because in the voice that they’re written in, you can imagine someone saying it on the street in passing to another person who felt the same way.
Which is like the way I remember things growing up.

And there are themes that run throughout that make it not a schizophrenic but a cohesive story.
Yeah, I was trying to deal with all the great philosophical strands of the American psyche. [laughs]

Back in 1997 when you went on Letterman to talk about the book, you seemed pretty passive about promoting it. When you see that now do you feel differently?
I thought it made sense of the book—like when I went on Letterman I thought I should just promote someone else’s book.

Yeah, you said that you didn’t know why someone would buy this and not an older book.
I didn’t understand why you would buy a new book, there’s so many older books that you haven’t read before. So I didn’t want to go out there and tell people to buy this book, I wanted to go out there and tell them to buy some other book. I love the idea of promoting other people’s shit for no reason.

The book originally came out just after Gummo and mainstream people seeing you on a show like that still didn’t really know what to make of you. Do you think the public perception of you has changed in recent years or do you not care?
All I wanted to do was just be great. But I never really think about it too much or spend too much time on it. I think it’s all perfect just the way it was meant to be.

And in your early interviews you talked a lot about wanting to create a new type of film. So with this book were you looking to rework the classic confines of a novel and create a new writing style?
No, because even the thing with film, what I was trying to do was develop a language and an idea that was very specific to the way I was thinking and the things I was feeling, but I couldn’t necessarily articulate it. And so it was more of a unified aesthetic, this idea that everything’s connected and that I wouldn’t try to differentiate between any of it—between the writings or the films or the actions or even like the demonstrative behavior—it was all connected. In some way it was all part of a single vision or an idea or an energy. It was like Vaudeville.

Do you a favorite section of the book?
I like all the letters from Tupac a lot, I like some of the jokes, and I like the list of rumors.

I like the list of imagined movies. Did you ever actually think about making any of those?
They were all ideas for films and I thought just the idea would be better than the film. Or like, I was writing the titles of books I wanted to write, but then when I would look at the titles, I just liked the way they functioned on their own. There’s even one page where all it says is the word “hepburn.” And that took me like four or five years to write that one page because I was trying to come up with what you’d think if the greatest novel consisted entirety of one word, what would that word be? And so I struggled with that for years and years and one day I saw the word “hepburn” and thought that word said so much, there was so much, the entire history of the world was just tangled up in those letters.

And some pages just have one word like that or something like “Robert Frost Bite,” some pages are handwritten notes, and some are more formal notes. Were you trying to create a sort of collage of different mind sets and different tones?
Yeah, yeah I was making a lot of fanzines at the time and was writing a lot of jokes and obsessed with joke books. I had all the dirty joke compilations and knock knock jokes; I would cut up the joke books. I liked the long set ups like “the guy walks into a bar and blah blah blah” or I had these books that were just lists of Hollywood mythology and specific horrible attributes of dead celebrities, and I thought those were hilarious so I would use those and add things or take them away. Like, what if I read an interview with Barbra Streisand but then you just change Barbra Streisand’s name to John Holmes or something? It becomes so much greater.

I feel like a lot of your work is taking something apart and re-appropriating it or changing people’s perception of something very set in their minds. Do you find that there’s a crossover for that in your films too?
I’d say there’s definitely a connection.

So do you think you could write something like this now, or was it specific to being really young and whatever insanity was going on in your world then?
I’d like to think that book is just so juvenile and base that it’s something I could only do back then. But I probably haven’t really grown all that much and my humor hasn’t really evolved, so it probably wouldn’t be too far off from something I’d come up with now. I’m writing another one right now though, it’s maybe a bit more centralized or something.

In the same cut-up style though?
Yeah, it’s something that someone with a head wound would write.

I can be very into that. But you did write this at a time when you were first getting to make films and produce work and it seemed like you were just sort of bursting with a million ideas. What was that time in your life like?
It was great. I used to sit in my room and think like, what if someone had a gun to your head and you had no fingers, and they said to write a book about the history of, I don’t know, prostitution, and you have three hours to push away on that keyboard—what would that look like? And then I would just try to do it. Or let’s say someone duct-taped a tree branch to your hand and then gave you a huge bowl of ink to dip it in and said that you had thirty five minutes to render your version of the Mona Lisa on this canvas. A lot of it was just playing games with myself to see where it would go.

And do you still do that?
Yeah but it’s different. I don’t really do it in that way. Now I understand things differently. There are certain things that … I don’t want to use the word refined…

How about evolve?
Well, to a certain extent there’s still some of that going on.

See David Letterman and James Franco Rehash Harmony Korine’s Ban From the Late Show

For the countless hours I have spent watching videos of teenage Harmony Korine on the internet, some of my favorite moments have come from his uncomfortably wonderful appearances  on David Letterman. And last month, when we learned that Drag City would be re-releasing Korine’s 1998 novel A Crack Up at the Race Riots, we recalled the episode in which he went on the show to promote his new work:

A scruffy, sweatshirt-clad Korine went on Late Night with David Letterman to promote the book, in one of his many odd and hilarious visits to the show. When Letterman asked Korine how much the book sold for, Korine answered: "Uh…I don’t know…regular book price? I can’t imagine why anyone would buy a book nowadays." Letterman asked if Korine would go out and buy the book himself, to which he responded, "Um…I’d probably read an older book." Letterman also told a very jittery Korine to "go to the hotel immediately and take a long hot shower."

You can watch the rest of that one HERE, an adorably weird one from 1995 HERE, and his 1997 appearance HERE. And although it seemed Letterman enjoyed having Harmony on the show—giving America a taste of this 20-year-old absurdist creature telling jokes with no punch line and jabbering on in his nonsensical way—he hasn’t been allowed back on since. And last night, James Franco went on the show to promote Spring Breakers, of course, and was not only looking unusually adorable, but questioned his host about his good pal Harmony’s ban from the show.

Franco recalls that the "legend"—and by legend he means what Harmony told him—that back about ten years ago, he signed in for the show but never went on air, to which he claims was because he pushed Meryl Streep backstage. Apparently Harmony was not so sane at the time and was probably "on something" because duh. But Letterman went on to say that actually he, "went upstairs to greet Meryl Streep and welcome her to the show," when he "looked around, and she was not in there, and I found your friend [Harmony] going through her purse," he said to Franco, "and so I said, ‘That’s it, put her things back in her bag and then get out of here.’"

Sounds about right to me.

‘Sports Illustrated’ Is Cool With Nearly Killing Kate Upton

Kate Upton, who dons bikini bottoms and a puffy white jacket on the cover of Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issue, admitted before the cover’s reveal that the Antarctica-based shoot nearly killed her. "I don’t think you can go to Antarctica and stand in a bikini without that happening," she said. "But I didn’t die, and I’m OK now." Well, thank goodness, because who else could possible smash their boobs together on the cover of a magazine? Upton has taken the practice to a new level. Of course, the editors at Sports Illustrated see nothing wrong with the fact that their editorial vision nearly killed a half-naked woman.

Amanda Hess of Slate writes about getting a comment from the magazine:

I called Sports Illustrated to ask what the magazine was thinking putting Upton in that situation, and what it thinks of the decision now. Knowing Upton’s symptoms, which are consistent with hypothermia, does SI feel that Antarctica is an appropriate place to stage swimsuit shoot? “It’s on the cover,” was the magazine spokesman’s response. Later, in an emailed statement, he volleyed the responsibility back to Upton. "From the very beginning, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit franchise has put the models first,” he wrote. “We foster a very collaborative environment working closely with the models throughout the planning and execution of our shoots. This was again the case for the Antarctica production which we worked on with Kate for several months before embarking on the trip and during the six-day shoot." (Upton, for the record: “I was very surprised by the news that that’s where my shoot was going to be located.”)

As a reminder, here’s Upton going into details of how she suffered during the shoot:

“I’m naked and trying to change,” she told David Letterman of her weeklong experience in subzero temperatures. “I literally couldn’t move my legs, so the editors would have to pick up my legs and put them into my next outfit.” The effects continued when Upton returned to American soil. “When I came back, I was losing my hearing and eyesight,” she said with a smile on the Today show. “My body was shutting down because it was working so hard to keep me warm."

I mean, is worker’s compensation even an option here? I get that models are basically freelance workers, but I can tell you I’d never risk hypothermia for a gig, even if it got me on a giant billboard in New York City.

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter.

Harmony Korine’s ‘A Crack-Up at the Race Riots’ Gets Its Long-Awaited Paperback Release

As many a Harmony Korine fan will tell you, the absurd realist filmmaker dabbles in just about every medium. Whether it’s putting out some of the most controversial films of the last twenty years, photographing abandoned parking lots or writing novels, Korine’s unique and bizarre voice spills into many territories, always filled with a radical view on life. And this April, his first novel A Crack-Up at the Race Riots—originally published in 1998—is being re-issued on paperback. "It’s about a race war and it happens in Florida. And the Jewish people sit in trees. And the black people are run by M.C. Hammer. And the whites are run by Vanilla Ice. I wanted to write the Great American Choose Your Own Adventure novel," said Korine on his premiere work. 

In 1998 a scruffy, sweatshirt-clad Korine went on Late Night with David Letterman to promote the book, in one of his many odd and hilarious appearances on the show. When Letterman asked Korine how much the book sold for, Korine answered: "Uh…I don’t know…regular book price? I can’t imagine why anyone would buy a book nowadays." Letterman asked if Korine would go out and buy the book himself, to which he responded, "Um…I’d probably read an older book." Always his own best self-promoter.

A Crack-Up at the Race Riots presents a multimedia fragmented portrait through print, drawings,  news clippings, handwriting, a poem, attempted diagrams, clip-art—but mostly text. It includes hard-luck stories, his signature off-brand jokes, and other bizarre ground exploring the world of show business "with fingers prying in the cracks and feet set lightly in the black humors of the real ol’ world."

In addition, the book also features some semi-attempted scripts, letters to Tupac (because why not?), and a set of eleven suicide notes with empty space for your signature. Speaking to Crack Up, Werner herzog said, "I was struck from the very beginning that there is a totally independent & new voice in writing. I believe that [he] is a great talent as a writer."

The lists in the book include:
Titles of Books I Will Write
Ten Ethnic Adolesecent Atrocities: Pictures
Books Found in Monty Clift’s Basement
The Most Famous Home Movie
Bowery Boys
Tupac Shakur’s Ten Favorite Novels
Three Or Four Claims to Fame
Ethnic Atrocities: Pictures Continue
Son’s Favorite Foods

Get the novel in paperback April 16th via Drag City and watch his wonderful Letterman interviews below.


Howard Stern Apologizes For Calling Lena Dunham Fat (Sort Of)

"It’s a little fat girl who kinda looks like Jonah Hill and she keeps taking her clothes off and it kind of feels like rape," said Howard Stern in an attempt to describe Lena Dunham’s Girls. Quite a classy move! Obviously, people got a bit upset, as they are wont to do when a dude calls a woman fat in public, and Stern has already apologized for his comments. Kind of. 

Yesterday on his show, Stern "clarified" his comments (which you can hear in the video below, via The Observer), which basically come down to this: Lena Dunham is still a fat little girl, but he likes Girls and hopes Dunham doesn’t think he doesn’t like her. And he hopes he comes on her show. Looks like someone figured out that talking about Lena Dunham is great for ratings (and, um, page views). 

Of course, the Golden Globe-winning actress and writer is taking it all in stride, as Howard Stern is likely not the first dude to call her fat. Dunham was on Letterman last Friday and told the host that she hopes to have Stern’s comments—"She was a little fat chick and she got it going."—on her tomsbtone. 

Follow Tyler Coates on Twitter

Check Out Another Clip from Tonight’s ‘Girls’ Season Premiere

It’s a good night for television tonight, folks. The Golden Globes are finally here, but if you’re not one for scrutinizing outfits on the red carpet or just over awards season already, it’s also the premiere of the much-anticipated second season of Girls. According to Lena Dunham, who spoke about the show with David Letterman on Thursday night, this season "all the girls get new boyfriends, all the boys get new girlfriends, and then we’re just bringing’ the drama." She always went on to say, that if you hated the first season, "you’ll hate this one—a lot."

The sophomore season will take the cast on a series of new self-discoveries, mistakes, and themed-parties but Dunham also spoke to the reoccurrence of "the things that people objected to in the first season: the characters are self-involved, people who shouldn’t be naked are naked…" Whatever, we’re excited. And thanks to HBO, a new clip from tonight’s episode has been released, centering around a house party thrown by Hannah (Dunham) and her new roommate/college ex-boyfriend Elijah (Andrew Rannells). Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) makes her enterance at the end, like totally ready for the affair—tiny hat and all. Check out the clip below, as well as Dunham’s response to Howard Stern’s sexist remarks and also a fun look at what it would be like if the world of Girls was shroud in horror.

Watch The Shins Play ‘Simple Song’ on ‘Letterman’

James Mercer has a lot of ground to cover on The Shins credibility reclamation tour, especially because he’s the only original member of the band still available to do interviews. But his new record, Port of Morrow, seems to have been warmly received by critics, and he’s still getting booked on late night shows. How hard can it be? Last night, the band took to Late Show with David Letterman to perform "Simple Song," one of the better songs off the album. Watch him hit all of those high notes after the click, via Stereogum.

You might think that was sometimes collaborator Danger Mouse playing keyboards on the left side of the stage, but no, it’s just a white guy with curly hair. Hooray for assumptions! Port of Morrow is out right now.

David Letterman’s Extortionist Gets a New TV Job

Remember Joe Halderman? Back in 2009, he tried to blackmail David Letterman with knowledge of the late night host’s extramarital affairs. Letterman sort of got out of the fiasco — he told the world that he’d cheated, underwent the requisite bout of public scrutiny, and went about his way. Halderman, on the other hand, was sentenced to prison last year, because blackmail is illegal and also not very cool.

Prison wasn’t enough to keep him out of the workplace, though. TV Newser reports that Halderman’s gotten back to his previous line of work: television production. He’s a producer on Investigation Discovery’s On the Case with Paula Zahn, which profiles real life crime stories. You know what would be a great way for his new co-workers to welcome him? By designating the Letterman case as his first episode to work on. "We’re all just playing around here, Joe. Playing around with your stupid past." A statement from the show reads:

On behalf of On The Case’s production team, we have been impressed with Joe Halderman’s professional accomplishments as an Emmy award-winning producer for 48 Hours and CBS News. With the network’s prior approval, the team has brought Halderman on as a producer for On The Case. We are confident that Halderman will make significant contributions to the success of our award-winning investigative newsmagazine.”

That’s a very nice statement of confidence, and I’m sure Halderman’s stoked for the second chance. If you’re interested in the show, you can watch it on Sunday night at 10 PM. 

Responding to Letterman, Rosie O’Donnell Goes Hard

Most celebrity feuds are pretty boring to follow. Someone Tweets something rude, someone Tweets something back, they bicker and snipe through statements given to E! until reconciling on a giant pile of money. But when comedians go at each other? They don’t kid around. On his show, David Letterman made fun of Rosie O’Donnell’s recent engagement, cracking, "The woman she is marrying, her fiance, was driving and her car broke down. And guess what happened? Rosie pulls up right behind her in her tow truck.” In response, Rosie didn’t whine about the unfairness or the double standard or what have you, though she could have. She simply used her talk show to get even.

Showing the Letterman clip to her audience, Rosie spun around and asked, “Why is that Dave? Why? I don’t remember making fun of you when you had sex with all your interns! I didn’t do that. I didn’t make fun of your rampant, throbbing heterosexuality, did I Dave?” She then dropped a Top Five list of her own: "The Top Five Reasons Why I Won’t Do Your Program." Her number five reason: "Dave, when you had that heart surgery, you shouldn’t have told the doctors to take out that whole thing." Cold! Frigid! Burning ice! (You can watch a partial video at Entertainment Weekly.)

When taking sides in a celebrity feud, you have to consider two things: Who acted first, and who delivered the harshest burn? Keeping that in mind, how could you not be on Team Rosie? Or don’t pick sides at all, I guess; all things considered you’d be better off reading a book or doing your taxes. But it’s still pretty funny. Below, watch Rosie serving it to Elisabeth Hasselbeck, because why not.