The article below is from: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/857588/posts?page=32
Michael Savage's long, strange trip
a Jewish kid from the Bronx
went from swimming naked with Allen Ginsberg to spewing the ugliest bile on talk radio.
By David Gilson
March 5, 2003 | At
first glance, Michael Alan Weiner seems like an improbable candidate to be America's angriest, most vicious conservative radio
host. Born 60 years ago in the Bronx, Weiner has lived in Northern California for most of
his adult life, making a living as an herbalist and nutritionist. He communed with Fijian traditional healers, got married
in a rain forest and studied ethno-medicine at the University of California
at Berkeley. He swam naked with Allen Ginsberg, dreamed of
being the next Lenny Bruce and wrote a rambling novel about a half-mad alter ego. His son's middle name is Goldencloud. For
years, he made a name cranking out a pile of books on alternative medicine, recommending bizarre remedies such as using vitamin
C to stop AIDS and kicking cocaine with coffee enemas.
These days, Weiner's more interested in purging the body politic. Using the pseudonym
Michael Savage, he's launched a one-man mission to save America
from its enemies at home and abroad, which on any given day includes liberals, gays, academics, the homeless, the Clintons,
immigrants, feminists, CNN, the American Civil Liberties Union, Muslims and other minorities. Broadcasting three hours a day,
five afternoons a week, from a studio inside his home in the affluent San Francisco
suburb of Larkspur, he gives voice to the right wing's darkest fantasies. He muses about launching preemptive nuclear strikes
on the Middle East ("I wish to God the hatches were open and the missiles were flying!"), suggests gunning down illegal immigrants
("If we had a government, we'd blow them out of the desert with airplanes!"), dreams of dispatching with "commies, pinkos
and perverts" and other undesirables ("I say round them up and hang 'em high!") and even paraphrases a remark attributed to
Nazi leader Hermann Goering ("When I hear someone's in the civil rights business, I oil up my AR-15!")
Woe be unto those who label him racist, sexist or homophobic -- or even worse, threaten
his livelihood. When an Oregon group started a boycott of
his advertisers last summer, he became downright apoplectic. "I'm more powerful than you are, you little hateful nothings!"
he screeched, before intoning darkly in his trademark New-Yawk accent: "I'm gonna warn you again: If you harm me -- and I
pray that no harm comes to you -- but I can't guarantee that it won't." Just last week, Savage fumed about the "brownshirt groups" who dare to criticize him: "You stinking rats who hide
in the sewers! ... You think I'm going to roll over like a pussy? You're wrong!"
Such vitriolic ranting is over the top, even by the ever-declining standards of talk-radio
decorum. Yet, in this time of war fever and hyperpatriotism, inflammatory rhetoric draws conservative ditto-heads and liberal
rubberneckers alike, and that translates into big ratings. Since launching "The Savage Nation" on San Francisco's KSFO 560 AM more than eight years ago, Savage has gone from being just another
right-winger with a big mouth, a hyperinflated ego and a sizable chip on his shoulder to becoming the nation's fifth most-popular
talk-radio personality, a host with enough leverage to land Vice President Dick Cheney as a guest. His book, "The Savage Nation: Saving America From the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language
and Culture," has been perched at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for over a month, and now he's slated to get
his own program on MSNBC.
Michael Weiner's long and circuitous road has taken him from being a scientist and
entrepreneur, through stints as a hipster, novelist and aspiring comedian, to becoming the personification of straight white
male rage. Today he likes to play up his unconventional career path, to an extent. He's the kind of guy who never lets anyone
forget he has a Ph.D. His Web site reminds visitors that he is a "World Famous Herbal Expert" and the author of 18 books.
But just as his gap-toothed grin has been replaced by a row of airbrushed pearly whites on the front cover of his new book,
he gives his audience a whitewashed version of his past. The real story is far more interesting, not just for its ironies
and contradictions, but for the often disturbing clues it provides about the man now so well known as Michael Savage. He's
gone through at least one political makeover. He's turned on old friends, or they've turned on him. If his semi-autobiographical
novel is any guide to his own life, he's keeping a few skeletons in his closet.
In the end, the picture that emerges from his books, from interviews with past and
current associates, and from his radio show is that "The Savage Nation" is just the latest undertaking of a man who's spent
his life trying to get the world to notice him.
Savage's office said he was too busy preparing for his TV show to be interviewed for
this article. Earlier interview requests by phone and e-mail prompted an irritated phone call from a woman named Janet, who
announced that Savage would not speak with me. Asked if she was his wife -- who happens to be named Janet -- she said she
was not. "I am not affiliated with him," she insisted. "I'm just a fan." After a few minutes of testy back and forth, she
suggested that it would be unfortunate if my e-mail address and phone number were somehow posted across the Internet.
Savage has come a long way since he emceed school assemblies at P.S. 42 in the Bronx. His father, a Russian Jewish immigrant, made a living selling antique bronzes on Orchard Street. An imposing figure who died of a heart attack
in the early 1970s, he is the frequent subject of his son's on-air stories. Speaking at a convention sponsored by the trade
magazine Radio & Records in March 2001, Savage recalled getting his first lesson in politics -- and cynicism -- from his
dad. "[H]e explained politics to me very clearly. He said, 'You see, this is how the world works ... In this beautiful country
of ours there are two bands of thieves: the Republicans and the Democrats.'"
Though Savage waxes nostalgic about such father-and-son moments, it appears that his
parents were no Ozzie and Harriet. "I was raised on neglect, anger, and hate," he writes in "The Savage Nation." But growing
up with little parental approval or praise was a good thing, he says. "Frankly, that's why I'm driven the way I am."
Savage, who now decries "propaganda about America
being the Land of Immigrants,"
isn't ashamed of his own immigrant parents. However, his Jewish upbringing is strictly taboo. And he often makes Joseph Lieberman,
Barbra Streisand and Larry King the butt of stale ethnic jokes. Brad Kava, radio columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and
a longtime Savage critic, thinks Savage's ambivalence toward Jews is a misguided attempt to pander to conservative Christians.
"He's Jewish, but he always acts like he's Christian," he says. In his book "The Savage Nation," for example, he complains
of an anti-Christian bias in America.
When Kava, who is Jewish, "outed" Savage several years ago, Savage reported him to the Anti-Defamation League. Dr. Robert
F. Cathcart, a longtime friend of the talk-show star, speculated in a telephone interview that Savage says little about his
background so that he appears more "neutral" when he discusses Israel
or religious topics.
Everyone who has ever known Michael Weiner seems to agree that he has always been a
big talker. One of his classmates from Jamaica High School in Queens, which Weiner graduated from in 1959, recalls him as
a garrulous character: "He was on the short side, and he was intense -- a fast talker, and always hatching some scheme or
other." "The fellow I knew was a natural comic and as reliable as a clock," remembers another classmate, who says the teenage
Weiner was "non-political." His yearbook page notes his participation in the Chemistry Lab Squad, school government, and the
Rifle Squad, presaging his interest in science, politics and firearms.
Weiner was also something of a dreamer, and he hoped to follow in the footsteps of
his hero, the naturalist Charles Darwin. After getting a biology degree from Queens College, he went as far west -- and as
far from home -- as possible, winding up in Oahu, Hawaii, where he earned master's degrees in anthropology and botany from
the University of Hawaii. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, he traveled to Tonga,
Fiji and other South Pacific island nations
to study traditional herbal medicine. His new wife, Janet, and their young son, Russell Goldencloud, often accompanied him
on his travels. Local healers warmly welcomed him, and he became passionately convinced that their expertise could be used
to cure modern ailments. Thus began a quest to salvage-- not savage-- this "ethnic wisdom" before Western influences destroyed
it. His research on the sedative kava kava and other Fijian medicinal plants served as the basis for his doctoral work at
U.C. Berkeley. His 1978 dissertation, on file in the U.C. Berkeley library, shows his degree was in nutritional ethnomedicine.
However, the bio in the back of Savage's book and on his Web site says it was in epidemiology and nutrition science.
In 1974, Weiner moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. His family first settled in Fairfax,
a sleepy town in Marin County
that Michael Savage would lambaste three decades later as "un-Fairfax," hometown of "Taliban Rat Boy" John Walker Lindh. From
there, he started making trips into San Francisco to hang around the North Beach literary scene. According to Stephen
Schwartz, who was then a left-wing activist and writer, Weiner carried an unusual letter of introduction. "He had met Allen
Ginsberg in Fiji," he recalls. "He had
this photograph of himself swimming naked with Ginsberg." Poet and biographer Neeli Cherkovski says Ginsberg and Lawrence
Ferlinghetti, the owner of City Lights Bookstore, introduced him to Savage in 1976. "All I knew was that he was this hip guy
who'd been traveling in the South Seas, finding ways to use tropical plants to help end diseases,"
he recalls. The two became friends. "We had a lot of fun times. He's very smart, intelligent and very lively," says Cherkovski,
who is now writer-in-residence at San Francisco's New
College. Weiner told Cherkovski that he dreamed of becoming a stand-up
comic in the mold of Lenny Bruce and they talked of doing a comedy routine together.
But he didn't make the big splash he had hoped for. Schwartz says Weiner's increasingly
bizarre behavior eventually alienated him from the North Beach crowd. "After he had been there a while, his personality began to change. He became
much more aggressive. He would collar you and demand that you eat with him, listen to him," he says. According to Schwartz,
Weiner openly carried a gun and made public scenes when he ran into his former friends and acquaintances. "He would come into
Cafe Trieste and start yelling at me that I was a nobody and he was a somebody."
Today, Savage still has few kind words for his old lefty literary friends. In "The
Savage Nation," he writes off City Lights as "that once-famous communist bookstore" and rips into an unnamed beat poet, calling
him "latrine slime." "Now he just screams at us in the streets," sighs Ferlinghetti, who once went to Hawaii with Weiner and his family. He views Weiner's reincarnation as Michael Savage as
"total opportunism," the crowning achievement of someone who was "always looking to make a fast buck" and "always trying to
think up new schemes to get famous."
Weiner did have a knack for combining the promise of herbal medicine with good old-fashioned
hucksterism. From his home, he started vanity projects such as the Fund for Ethnic Medicine and the Alzheimer's Research Institute,
which he plugged on his book jackets and in letters to the New York Times. He concocted feel-good beverages like Tea of Life
and Herbal-Seltzer and sold a line of herbal supplements from a Web site called Herbs That Heal. Visitors to the now-defunct site were welcomed with photographs of Weiner collecting
herbs in the South Pacific, soulfully soaking in the culture of what Michael Savage belittles as the "turd world." The 1992
edition of "The Herbal Bible," published by his wife's imprint, Quantum Books, modestly noted that its author was "credited
with starting the herbal revolution."
He was also a prolific writer, churning out 18 titles in 20 years. "[D]on't assume
for a minute that they were junk books and marginally published," he snaps in "The Savage Nation." "They weren't. They were
top of the line. They were the Rolls-Royce of the field." "Earth Medicine -- Earth Foods" and "Weiner's Herbal" are well-respected
references and are still cited widely on herbal and homeopathic Web sites. Most of his books, with their glorified lists of
plants and their properties, are about as dry as a handful of powdered dogwood root (which, according to Weiner, makes a good
tonic for treating fevers). But buried in the details is a sprinkling of flaky affirmations and kooky assertions.
For example, in "Plant a Tree: a Guide to Regreening America," Weiner wrote dreamily
about our "plant allies" and suggested that every state appoint its own "tree czar." "Dictators seem to like trees," he ruminated.
"Who knows what a benevolent, nature-loving tyrant might do for the retreeing of America?" In "The Way of the Skeptical Nutritionist," he ventured that a person's
ideal diet should be determined by his or her ethnicity. "Getting Off Cocaine: 30 Days to Freedom" promised blow addicts "an
alternative plan for getting 'high' -- legally and naturally!" The treatment involved ingesting a daily cocktail of Sudafed,
vitamins C and E, and amino acids, as well as self-administering the occasional coffee enema. "Use a good quality coffee,"
Weiner advised. "Not decaffeinated or instant."
Michael Savage's homophobic rants against what he calls "anal rights" were foreshadowed
by the 1986 book "Maximum Immunity." In it, Weiner glommed onto some of the wilder ideas about AIDS that were circulating
at the time. He called for mandatory nationwide AIDS testing and suggested using massive doses of vitamin C to slow down and
even reverse the disease's progress. When he was done suggesting cures, he looked for scapegoats. He demanded that gays "accept
the blame" for the rise of AIDS, then grumbled, "Those who practice orgiastic sex, with many partners, and use street drugs
are not likely to respond to reason."
"Maximum Immunity" also hinted that its author was dealing with some heavy issues of
his own. In one passage, Weiner wrote about his decision to take up jogging so that he might avoid his father's untimely fate.
Everything went well until he started hearing things. "An inner 'voice' began to demand, 'Stop ... I can't take this anymore.'"
he wrote. Fearing a "nervous collapse," Weiner traded his running shoes for a bike and soothed his jangled nerves by curling
up on the sofa with a mug of passionflower herbal tea and ingesting "megadoses" of vitamins. Feeling much better, he concluded:
"I learned to calm the inner debate that had threatened to drown me in madness!"
Such extreme mood swings are regular occurrences on "The Savage Nation." Even the phrase
"I can't take this anymore!" (usually shouted at full volume) has become a Savage catchphrase. James Hilliard, who produced
"The Savage Nation" at KSFO for nearly three years in the late 1990s, says that talk radio provided Savage with an outlet
for his unpredictable temperament. As he recalls, "The show was really driven by Michael's mood. At times, he could be very
quiet, mellow, low-key, and then be a maniac on the air."
This maniacal tendency, and the roiling emotions that fueled it, were laid bare in
"Vital Signs," Michael Weiner's first and only book of fiction, published in 1983. A collection of confessional, stream-of-consciousness
stories, it follows the exploits of Samuel Trueblood, who just happens to be a 40-ish New York Jew, an herbalist and writer
with a tumultuous personal life, a substantial assortment of inner demons and a bit of a Napoleon complex. "I am physically
not tall, but my eyes burn with fire," he states. "Two black fires of Hell." Trueblood narrates a series of misadventures,
from procuring an illegal backroom abortion for his fiancée to beating the stuffing out of an abusive cop.
Trueblood describes his life as one long search for inner peace. He blames much of
his discontent on his "childhood beneath tyranny," during which he was cowed by his bullying father. Trueblood describes how
his father mocked him with "brutal jokes and chides, 'gentle' kidding: 'You're not a fag, are you Sam?' the little man would
say each time the boy dared wear a colorful shirt or flashy trousers." Unable to shake his dead father's disapproving influence,
the adult Samuel is tortured by feelings of weakness and inadequacy. "I am filled with fears," he admits, "nearly all the
time feeling I am about to become totally insane."
Even after moving to mellow Marin
County, becoming a successful herbalist and starting a family, Trueblood
remains plagued by his "underlying sadness." Not even trusty passionfruit tea can bring him off this bummer. In one passage,
he almost loses it in front of his wife and two young children:
"Inner voice screaming at me for years, first rational, then crazy, telling me to do
mad things. Every form of relief tried, painting, psychotherapy, running, diet, vitamins, etc., etc. Almost uncontrollable
now. Impulses to stab children, strangers, wife, self with scissors."
Eventually, Trueblood seeks solace in chasing skirts. (Though he admits to being drawn
to "masculine beauty," he confides that "I choose to override my desires for men when they swell in me, waiting out the passions
like a storm, below decks.") While his wife stays home with the kids, he beds a young "cockswell" with a "dykish haircut"
and skin "[s]ofter than that Northern Indian prostitute in Fiji
whose covering was as soft as that of my own penis." And so it goes for another 50 pages.
No doubt the anti-abortion, anti-gay, pro-family Michael Savage would disapprove of
such a perverted excuse for literature, with all its gratuitous references to illegal abortions, repressed homosexuality and
shameless philandering. But it's impossible not to notice the similarity between Trueblood, the tormented seeker, and Savage,
a man whose "inner voice" precipitated an existential crisis over jogging. Neeli Cherkovski says that the chapter in "Vital
Signs" about Trueblood's father is based on Weiner's own life, recalling that he went with the author back to the Bronx to see the site of his father's store. But Cherkovski won't speculate about the rest. "I think
he [Weiner] is a person who had a lot of wild experiences," Cherkovski says. "He tested a lot of waters." Even the book's
dedication, to Weiner's wife, suggests that he wasn't making everything up: "Who would listen to such tales and live with
he who lived them but she, the unshakably faithful Janet."
For most of the 1970s and 1980s, Weiner focused on curing people's illnesses, not society's
ills. "For 10 or 15 years, I was the revered herbal doctor," he recollected at the Radio & Records convention. "I was
Mr. Nice Guy Nutritionist. Nobody knew my politics. I was talking about healing and I'd go to health food conventions and
I'd give speeches about vitamins and herbs. Nobody ever saw this as controversial ... They liked me!"
But beneath the surface, Weiner was becoming more and more conservative. Stephen Schwartz,
who went from being a self-described Trotskyite to neoconservative and is now senior policy analyst at the Foundation for
the Defense of Democracies, says that Weiner was a "typical left liberal" in the 1970s. Neeli Cherkovski, who is gay, notes
that Weiner was not homophobic when they first met. However, he says Weiner's shift rightward coincided with his increasing
aversion to gay activism. Robert Cathcart, who's been close to Weiner since the mid-1980s, says he's always known his friend
as an outspoken conservative, at least in private.
Since Weiner's conservative leanings took a hard right turn, he's complained that he
was held back because of his race, gender and political beliefs. He currently gripes that no institute of higher education
would hire him, despite his qualifications. "I discovered I could not gain a professorship even after applying many times,"
he writes in "The Savage Nation." "My crime? I was a white male." The résumé he has presented over the years tells another
story. On air, he's mentioned that he was once affiliated with Harvard. On the back of his books, he has boasted of being
a faculty member at U.C. Santa Cruz, a visiting scholar at the Hebrew University School of Pharmacy and a senior research
fellow at the University of Heath Sciences
at Chicago Medical
School. He's also claimed to have done "important research" for the National
Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Not bad for someone who's been blacklisted from the ivory tower.
The last straw apparently came in 1994, when publishers rejected Weiner's latest manuscript,
"Immigrants and Epidemics," which contended that infectious diseases such as T.B. were being brought into the U.S. by Southeast Asian immigrants. Fed up, Weiner rented
a recording studio in Sausalito and produced a mock talk show
with his wife and a couple of buddies playing callers. Michael Savage was born. -- by David Gilson, reprinted with original
link included at the beginning of this article.
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