Ass-chompin' in the free world

We litigate therefore we are: Ellroy and Condi Nast may have to suck fur; drummed out of U.S., rock legend Ginger Baker will solo polo in South Africa; and (not again!) the Freemasons are cookin' up a world-domination scheme!


Douglas Cruickshank
June 5, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Lewis Carroll was right: The time has come to talk of many things, but even he couldn't have imagined that this week's fun couple, James Ellroy and Ginger Baker, would be among them. On the other hand, those fine blokes might well be escapees from the Mad Hatter's tea party -- or its inspiration. Either of their minds -- as different as chalk and cheese -- could readily rototill a rock-strewn hectare in a Havana hurricane. Be that as it may, both cocky canines made appearances in the New York Observer last week, and ass-chompin' led the agenda.

We all know Ellroy as the loquacious author of nouveau noir mysteries like "The Black Dahlia" and "L.A. Confidential," but by now it may be only a handful of jolly oldsters (those few with tread remaining after their trip down the autobahn of time 'n' toxins) who will recall red-haired Baker as one third -- "the drumming third" -- of the seminal, incendiary and unfailingly psychoactive '60s supergroup Cream. Bassist Jack Bruce and a lead guitarist (and reluctant deity) by the name of Clapton completed the tripped-out triumvirate. Anyway, we'll get back to the carrot-top skin beater in a few.

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Ellroy, the man with the obsidian soul and the polychrome brain, showed up in the Observer because he's getting his bad self sued to the tune of $20 million by an elderly ex-furrier named Albert Teitelbaum. Mr. Teitelbaum, 84, dropped the bomb on Ellroy because his novella, "Tijuana, Mon Amour," first published in two parts in GQ magazine earlier this year, invades the former furrier's privacy and libels him. Or so Teitelbaum charges. "Tijuana, Mon Amour" is included in Ellroy's recently published "Crime Wave," a collection of his GQ pieces.





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Though Teitelbaum is now retired in Oregon, he was once the owner of Teitelbaum Furs on Rodeo Drive in the rolling-in-it Hills of Beverly, "a bit player," as Carl Swanson's Observer article describes him, "in the postwar Los Angeles that has so captured Mr. Ellroy's imagination."

One of Ellroy's gifts is his ability to seamlessly weave real characters into the fabric of his fiction -- always tough and tawdry stuff. Unfortunately, as Swanson points out, that's why Teitelbaum's putting the whomp on him. "It seems that, usually, the real characters who populate Mr. Ellroy's books are 100 percent libel proof," Swanson writes, "because they are (1) public figures and (2) dead." Teitlebaum, however, is neither 1 nor 2, but he is employed as a major character, described as the "furtive furrier," in "Tijuana, Mon Amour." In the story, Ellroy has Teitelbaum indulging in bad behavior, such as posing "buck naked" in photos with two women, one of whom is real-life convicted murderer Barbara Graham (executed in 1955), and staging a fur heist to scam insurance money (for which Teitelbaum -- something of a lost angel in his Los Angeles days -- actually served slammer time).

But in his suit -- let's call it the Birthday Suit -- Teitelbaum states, in Clinton-colored phrasing, that "he never met [either the fictional or the non-fictional nude woman], has never lain in a bed with either or both of those women; has never been photographed with either or both of those women ... nor has he ever engaged in any arrangement to have his furs transported to any 'fence' for stolen furs ... " etc. While such suits come down with some regularity, the bad news for Ellroy and Condi Nast Publications (owners of GQ) is that the furious furrier is represented by lawyer Charles Morgan, who helmed the libel suit that psychoanalyst Jeffrey Masson brought against writer Janet Malcolm and the New Yorker. Morgan lost that one, but only after more than a decade of embarrassing legal revelations for Malcolm. It's a bit of real-life drama that must now be foremost in the minds of Condi Nast and the author, who's described himself as "the death dog with the hog log, the foul owl with the death growl."

On a lighter note, but not much, come with me now as we step into the adventures of our friend the Gingerman. Baker's situation is less grave than Ellroy's, but not to hear him tell it. The fact that Baker still walks the earth (he was a mega-smack pumper, but has been clean for 18 years) is perhaps even more of a miracle than Keith Richards' relative sentience. Observer writer Joseph Hooper conjures Baker as "looking like one of those leering skeleton figures in a medieval woodcut." In Hooper's story, Baker, recently living in Colorado as a gentleman polo-pony aficionado, reports all manner of misfortune. We won't go into the whole sordid story, but let it be said that those who have somewhat fictionalized their visa applications should not go around bashing the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and particularly not on the radio. Baker eventually received an invitation from the INS to cease residing in the United States immediately, if not sooner. (He and his polo ponies are relocating to South Africa.) The good news is that Hooper deems Baker's "third and finest jazz album, 'Coward of the County,'" released earlier this year, a "splendid ... swinging, horn-laden affair with a batch of impassioned, metrically shifty tunes ... "

In Hooper's piece, Baker, who "credits his love of polo ponies for keeping him off heroin" (certainly a more appealing fix than methadone), gets a number of gripes off his chest. "Polo in America is appalling," he fumes. "In South Africa they keep horses to the standard I'm used to." When he finishes insulting our hooved stock, the short-fused drum slapper moves on to Paul McCartney. Apparently, there was a "condescending mention" of Baker in the liner notes to McCartney's 25th-anniversary reissue of Wings' "Band on the Run" album, wherein McCartney confides he'd recorded one track for the record at Baker's then-studio in Nigeria just to be nice. This ruffled Baker's feathers something fierce and now he's even more cranky than Ellroy's fractious furrier. "I am fuckin' angry," Baker softly coos to Hooper. "Paul McCartney is an asshole ... Sue me, Paul, go ahead and sue me because you'll lose several million dollars." OK, OK. Paul, you go over there. Ginger, put the sticks down and go to the time-out room.

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And I don't want be around when Baker hears about this one: Last week a Vancouver, British Columbia, conspiracy-theory researcher revealed that NASA's Cassini space probe, scheduled to pass over the Earth in 11 weeks, is step one in a plot to take over the world. Alfred Webre claims that the probe could, in fact, be a nuclear bomb designed to explode during its fly-over. The whole thing sounds a bit nutty, until you hear the airtight case that Webre has constructed. The conspiracy is being orchestrated by the Freemasons and the Bilderbergers, Webre says, who, he insists, are affiliated with numerous world leaders, including President Clinton, Queen Elizabeth and the pope. But relax, you (and Condi Nast) should be relieved to hear that neither James Ellroy nor Albert Teitelbaum have been implicated. (And Mr. Travolta, please return to your aircraft -- no one even suggested that the Scientologists are involved)

As for you, Paul, if Ginger hears you've got anything to do with this, your derriàre is lawn, baby.

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Douglas Cruickshank

Douglas Cruickshank is a senior writer for Salon. For more articles by Cruickshank, visit his archive.

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