The Un-Man Falleth

As we grow older it sometimes proves difficult to make new friends, especially for someone like myself who is more reserved. On a rare occasion, you may meet or be introduced to someone with whom you quickly connect. I recently made a new friend, Barrett Martin, whom I met because he married one of my closest friends, Lisette. He is an accomplished musician, visual artist, and prolific writer. The essay shared below comes from his new book of short stories, The Way of the Zen Cowboy: Fireside Stories from a Globetrotting Rhythmatist. I recommend that everyone read (and re-read) The Un-Man Falleth.

He recently asked if I would take some photographs of him for his website and press. I jumped at the chance because I think he’s an extremely interesting subject and I love the chance to create an image for someone. Hope you enjoy the story.

–MG


“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

—Abraham Lincoln


President Lincoln’s quote above is probably more true today than it was when he said it back in the mid-19th century, and this is evidenced in the rampant corruption that has seized Lincoln’s own party today, at every level of government, from the lowest municipal bureaucrat up to the White House. Over the last 50 years, and long before the presidential election of 2016, I’ve watched as the United States devolved into a wave of angry male misogyny, bigotry, and outright racism that has embarrassed our country to a degree that I didn’t think was possible—until it became a reality. However I do believe that this is the last gasp of a dying patriarchal power structure that was born in the fraternities of the Ivy League and, paradoxically, in the most remote areas of rural America where ignorance can prevail. I think it is perfect timing that we now focus our attention on the removal from power of this lowliest of characters that I have come to call the un-man.

The un-man is the kind of creature who barks at his children and manipulates his wife in the privacy of his tiny domestic dictatorship. Perhaps he beats and abuses them as well, but at the very least, his verbal and possible physical violence is rooted in a rage that he has no control over, nor does he have the mental capacity to understand. He runs his household like a petty tyrant where he practices this behavior until he can ascend to a higher office in life.

The un-man may worm his way into the lower ranks of the corporate world where he can perfect his violence. In that world, he fancies himself a military officer, although he likely never served his country and perhaps even dodged the draft. In this unconscious and passive aggressive manner, he’ll berate the fine men and women of the military and create endless excuses as to why he avoided his service.

The un-man likes to bully, harass, and underpay his employees, and if he rises to a position of power in a large corporation, his behavior will become even more insidious. There, he’ll harass women more openly and will silently sabotage their careers if they don’t comply with his advances, and he’ll go well out of his way to make other subordinates live in fear of his reprisals. He will use whatever power he has accumulated over the course of his absurd and ridiculous life to shame people less powerful than he, attacking women and minorities from the pulpit of his office. He’ll especially relish an attack on a handicapped person, the economically disadvantaged, and particularly those from a foreign country who have no voice to speak in their defense. The un-man thrives in this kind of one-way power structure, and he relishes the boot licking and ring kissing that his sycophantic followers duly give.

If he becomes a politician, he will shout and rant at his rallies on topics he doesn’t understand.

If he becomes a politician, he will shout and rant at his rallies on topics he doesn’t understand, and he’ll use jingoistic catchphrases that have even less meaning but will send his followers into a frenzy. He lies constantly, even compulsively, and he’ll falsely offer his belief in the Christ to deflect attention away from his gross transgressions.

With his political opponents, he shows no respect to their humanity and he tags them with insulting nicknames. If he feels that his power could be legitimately threatened, he will threaten to imprison or even assassinate his opponents as they do in Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and other authoritarian states.

The un-men are currently expressing a great deal of rage in the American public, yet they refuse to listen to rational voices as they try to force through legislation and confirmations that are clearly at odds with the health, stability, and credibility of our institutions. This is because the un-men are owned by even more powerful un-men who pull their strings, gleefully, as we might presume.

However there is hope, and that hope lies in the power of the real man who lives in stark contrast to the un-man. Fortunately there are far more of them, and one hopes that they too will rise to counter the petty tyranny of the un-men.

The real man is naturally kind and he tends to be more of a listener than a talker. When he speaks, he is clear and calm, and he never shouts. On the rare occasion when he does raise his voice, it’s usually because he’s keeping a watchful eye over the neighborhood and the local kids are about to do something stupid, like playing with firecrackers and gasoline. The real man drives to work carefully and allows space for others who are also driving. He cares about his job and the quality of his labor, and he compliments other men and women for the good work they do. With women, he is always respectful, courteous, and aware of the immense power that the feminine creature wields. He knows she is a goddess and goddesses always have the final say in the world of men, including both categories described here.

The real man can be found in many places, and in many institutions, but he does not draw attention to himself unnecessarily. He is the school teacher who spends his evenings and weekends working with the students he cares about, even when he is not paid to do so. He is the fireman who runs into buildings to save others, the matter of his own life always a second thought. He is the police officer who extends a calming word instead of a gun, and thus saves a life instead of needlessly taking one. He is the road worker who smiles and waves as you pass, even though he has been standing in the freezing rain for almost 8 hours. He is the nameless bus driver who picks you up and drops you off at your destination, safely. He is the quiet janitor who cleans your office and bathroom at night so that you can return to a clean workspace the following day.

The real man works the land and the sea and he draws from it food for his people, even for those who might live in a far away nation. He cares about their health and well-being because he has carefully grown the very things that will accomplish this task. He also protects the land and the sea from violators and polluters, because he understands the importance of conservation, clean water, and uncontaminated soil. He cares for the welfare of his animals, and he deeply cares for the people in his community, and that is because he understands the mystical connection between the land, the sea, and all things. He knows this intuitively as a master of his landscape, because he is always learning, and always evolving.

The real man does not use religion as a blunt instrument, but he is spiritual in his own, quiet way. He has a magnanimous mind and he understands that there are many different ways to worship the Creator. He fiercely protects those who seek refuge, who are marginalized, less fortunate, and unable to defend themselves, and he especially protects those with a different view because he loves a country where this is even possible. His greatest strengths and powers are revealed in the moments when he fails, because his own humility allows him to see his mistakes, learn from them, and realize that he is just a man. And then he returns to the battle.

When you read the real, undoctored, history of the United States, you’ll find that Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson all studied the American Indian system of democracy known as the League Of The Iroquois. It existed in upstate New York and Canada for centuries, and it consisted of about 6 Indian nations from that region, growing larger over time. Our Founding Fathers sent emissaries to the League, to learn as much as they could from them, even as they were trying to create the fledgling American democracy. They had already learned about the Greek version of democracy, and they had spent time in France reading much of the Enlightenment philosophy that was popular at the time. They knew they needed to create something entirely new and different, something that would embody the highest qualities of an exceptional nation, an enlightened nation, and nothing less.

In the League Of The Iroquois they discovered that it was the women who granted or rescinded all power. They would elect Sachems, who were the equivalent of what we call senators who represent a particular district. If the women decided their particular Sachem wasn’t representing them justly or ethically, they had the power to revoke his power and elect a new Sachem. That’s the part we need to remember, the part where the women decide who gets to have the power—or have it taken away. This is the model that Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin decided to use for our fledgling nation—the original, indigenous, Native American democracy.

Statistically speaking, the higher the percentage of voter turnout in any election, the more the political spectrum leans to the liberal, progressive side, and the evolutionary good of the country.

Statistically speaking, the higher the percentage of voter turnout in any election, the more the political spectrum leans to the liberal, progressive side, and the evolutionary good of the country. Most people feel this way naturally, because it’s the liberal progressive side that ended slavery, gave us racial and gender equality, fair labor laws, progressive social policies, and laws to protect us against those predatory un- men. The conservative side has generally tried to prevent these very things from becoming law, because they don’t believe people should have automatic “rights”—they believe that only money gives you those rights, and this is why they will eventually fail. The evidence of this is in the disdain the un-men show for the real man and real woman, the working folks, and the artists and intellectuals who interpret their story.

Even now, the un-men are at work trying their best to repress the nation’s voting electorate, lest they lose another general election as they did in 2018. They’ll try to purge legitimate voters, and they’ll make it as difficult as possible for minorities to vote because they know when the minorities vote together as a unit, then the un-men will lose every election. You see, the un-men love to talk about “democracy” and the “silent majority,” until they lose an election, and then they’ll do everything in their power to keep democracy away from those who don’t agree with their narrow, stilted view of the world.

All of this begs a final question: who exactly is the largest demographic in the United States, and who has the highest percentage of the vote? It turns out to be the women of course, and by the year 2020 it is projected that there will be 170 million women in the United States as opposed to 163 million men.

With all the violence, corruption, and outright incompetence of the un-men in every sector of the country, I think I’m done with most male politicians for a while. It’s time for the women to revoke the un-men’s power, just as the League Of The Iroquois did 250 years ago.

Maybe a woman should be the next President of the United States, and maybe for quite some time. I’d sure as hell vote for her.


Barrett Martin is a Grammy-winning producer, composer, and renowned session drummer and percussionist who has played on over 100 Rock, Blues, Jazz, and World music albums. His work can be heard on albums by REM, Queens Of The Stone Age, Mad Season, Screaming Trees, Walking Papers, Tuatara, Blues legend CeDell Davis, and recording sessions that range from the Peruvian Amazon, to Brazil, Cuba, and even Jerusalem. He recently won a Latin Grammy for his production work on the Brazilian album “Jardim-Pomar.”

Monk with a Camera

About fifteen years ago I was introduced to Geshe Nicky Vreeland through a lawyer friend who had been helping Tibetan refugees with their immigration. At the time I had been practicing Buddhism for about five years and my friend thought I would really appreciate meeting Geshe Nicky as we share a love of photography.

Nicky grew up in very sophisticated surroundings, between his father, who was a diplomat, and his grandmother Diana Vreeland, who is one of the most renowned fashion editors of all time. In the 1970’s, Nicky became an assistant photographer to Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, who both worked for his grandmother at Vogue, and were two of the most important American fashion photographers. It was when he was working at Irving Penn’s studio that he became interested in Buddhism, and started to pursue becoming a monk instead of, in his terms, a playboy.

Photo by Saskia de Rothschild

Photo by Saskia de Rothschild

Michael Gordon and Nicky Vreeland

Michael Gordon and Nicky Vreeland

All of this you can discover in the documentary film about him called Monk with a Camera which came out in 2014. It talks about his life and about his deep connection to the camera, which was a bit of a sticky point for him for some time. But I don’t want to ruin the film for you, I’ve watched it several times and it’s quite significant. Both the film profits and the exhibits of his photography go to support his monastery, Rato Monastery, in India. It’s amazing that he has this talent that helps fund the growth of the monastery and feed all the young monks. I am grateful to call him my friend.

Monk with a camera is available on iTunes, Amazon, and Youtube.

Some examples of Nicky’s photography can be seen below.

On Photography: Part One

My very first camera was something my father bought me when I went on a school trip to Switzerland when I was twelve. It was quite a long time ago so it was beautiful, but not terribly sophisticated or expensive. I had no idea how to use it. It was a classic black and white film camera, you gave it to the drugstore, and they processed and printed postcard-size pictures. My biggest regret in life would be not documenting everything I experienced, the way Jacques Henri Lartigue did from the age of five. I would have loved to have had an iPhone fifty years before anyone else did because I have so many memories of such extraordinary things, especially when I started working at René of Mayfair.

Twiggy photographed by Barry Lategan in 1966

Twiggy photographed by Barry Lategan in 1966

I befriended the photographers, that’s what I remember. My favorite was Barry Lategan, a South African who came to London and eventually became one of the top Vogue photographers, specializing in beauty and hair, and he was good at fashion too. He took those iconic images of Twiggy that helped launch her career. He and Leonard of Mayfair worked together frequently, and I just loved his photography.

I got to work with him once when I was quite young, maybe 20, and I was hopelessly terrified to actually be in a studio with Barry Lategan. I was working for Elizabeth Arden, and they gave me a piece of paper and told me to go to this studio in Chelsea to do hair for a photoshoot. So I got there and it’s filled with people: a famous makeup artist, Barry (who I don’t think even said hello), three statuesque models, and then there’s me, with my little bag of tricks. At lunchtime the photo assistants would set up a ten-foot long piece of wood over a trellis table, and all this food came out. I had never seen food like this before. It made a deep impression on me. My ambition was to work with Barry in his studio more often, but it didn’t happen. I left England in 1972 to move to South Africa.

I started doing hair for one of the best fashion photographers in South Africa, Georgina Karvellis. She would send a girl in, often her girlfriend Marge, with a tear sheet from American Vogue. I would do the hair, and they’d jump in a car and go to the studio without me – and yet, amazingly enough, the hair looked pretty fantastic in the photos. I had a friend, Alan, who was a yoga teacher and a photographer, and he had a studio in his house where we used to do pictures for Bumble.

I moved to New York in 1977, and then Barry moved to New York around 1978 – he fell in love with someone, that happened a lot. I used to work quite a bit for Mademoiselle magazine, where the beauty editor was very supportive of Bumble and I was comfortable with her. I overheard her talking about doing a beauty story with Barry Lategan, so I asked to do the hair. The studio was in the West Village, I still walk by it sometimes. He didn’t remember I was the same little guy from London.

Michael cutting Aldo Coppola’s hair

Michael cutting Aldo Coppola’s hair

I started talking to Barry about living in South Africa, and it turned out he knew my first wife Di, because she’d been a model there. We all had dinner together a few times. He asked if I’d like to come to Rome and shoot the collections with him for Italian Vogue. I said yes, I’d like that very much.

In those days Rome was the fashion capital of Italy, and had fashion shows twice a year. There were two studios, with Barry and I in one, and David Bailey with the legendary Italian hairdresser Aldo Coppola in the other. They actually asked me if I’d cut Aldo Coppola’s hair, that was kind of a thrill. We’d start getting the models ready and photographing them at 6pm, and it would go on until about 4 o’clock in the morning. It was a great experience.

I did a few more shoots with Barry. There was one stunning story that we shot in Fort Lauderdale, with ten pages of saturated blue skies and colors. (This was where I first heard the name Steve Hiett, because people kept asking if it was inspired by his work.) I also did a few ad campaigns with him. But I realized that if I was going to make Bumble a success, I couldn’t be out of the salon so often. I stopped dreaming about being an editorial hairdresser at that point.

Barry Lategan for Vogue Italia. Hair by Michael Gordon. Styling by Nicoletta Santoro.

Barry Lategan for Vogue Italia. Hair by Michael Gordon. Styling by Nicoletta Santoro.

I started taking photos for myself around the early ‘80s, when my daughter Sian was maybe three or four. I used to take her and her big sister Heather away once or twice a year on vacation, just the three of us. I took pictures of the girls at the beach, and they came out well. I’d always been around photographers, and one day I just knew how to take a picture.

Eventually I moved from photographing kids to photographing models. In 1985, we had moved Bumble to the new location on 56th Street. On the top floor of the building was a model agency called Zoli, one of the top agencies at the time. They often sent their new girls downstairs to Bumble to ask us to make their hair different, to give them a look. That’s where I met Stacy Williams, from Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. It’s common that if you’re a model with a photographer boyfriend, they usually take the best photos of you, because there’s trust and intimacy between you. Stacy’s friends started asking for pictures, so we had a steady stream of girls that wanted to test at Bumble.

I got so much information about photography just from watching talented people on set. I was never formally trained as a photographer. There were only four things you could control on a camera, which did a lot: the f-stop, the speed of the film, the aperture opening, and the shutter speed. Eventually it just clicked for me. Photography must have been just occupying my brain until suddenly I figured out how to do it. I was also building a library of images from English Vogue, American Vogue, Italian Vogue, Avedon and Penn and everyone I’d worked with – my eye was becoming more sophisticated.