It's polka time! When my wife was in Utah last month she happened upon the Big Joe Polka Show on television and was blown away with its... well... hard to describe, really. Utter amateurishness? Complete corniness? Thoroughly geriatric nature? Whatever - I want to watch this show!
We are both longtime fans of SCTV, the brilliant Canadian skit comedy that gave a start to the careers of Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, John Candy, Rick Moranis and Martin Short. This looked to her a lot like the Josh and Stan "Happy Wanderers" polka show (see image above).
I watched another great old postwar British movie last night, "Passport to Pimlico" (1949) an Ealing Comedy. I read a favorable review of it in that book about London I recently finished. The premise is funny: a WWII bomb goes off in a London neighborhood (Pimlico - my daughter and I visited the Tate Britain gallery there last month) which gives rise to the revelation that the area in question actually belongs to the ancient Duchy of Burgundy. The locals therefore secede from the London government - hilarity ensues.
Okay, not hilarity... gentle humor. Ealing Comedies are not generally ha-ha funny, they're wry and clever. This one had the usual cast of wonderful old British character actors.
Margaret Rutherford - A daft old gal and George Harrison's favorite girl film star.
Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford (they almost always come as a pair) - They owned the market for jolly, eccentric cricket-crazy chaps in British films. (Ethan: They're the golfers in Dead of Night.)
Hermione Baddeley - How good a character actress was she? From wikipedia: "Hermione Baddeley received an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Simone Signoret's best friend, music teacher Elspeth, in Jack Clayton's "Room at the Top" (1959). With under three minutes of screen time, hers is the shortest role to be nominated for an Academy Award." That good.
I am now reading "Tough Times" by Milton Meltzer, a young adult novel about the Great Depression and raiding the rails (but I haven't gotten to the rail riding part yet). It's a follow up to my current interest in hobos, hard times and trains. In general, I have always liked the "young adult/teen interest" library genre. The books are accessible, lively and easily read and, often, a lot more fun than the supposedly weightier stuff designed for adults. I have never felt like I was intellectually slumming by reading one. (On the other hand, the minute I read a sentence or two about somebody popular in Hollywood I feel brain cells dying.)
A church friend of mine, Mac, is in his 90's but is mentally alert and active; he's always fun to talk to - the breadth of his life experience is astonishing. At a party on Sunday I asked him about rail riding during the Great Depression: "Oh, it was awful. Very prevalent - lots of people did it." I half expected to hear that he had done it, but he didn't - which frankly surprised me.
But it certainly was nice going to bed on Sunday night knowing that I didn't have to trudge off to the bus and train the following morning. Of course, I'll have to do that on Tuesday, but it still makes a difference somehow, not doing it on Monday morning.
The Seventies live on! I finally got around to replacing the AM-FM radio/CD player in the minivan. The fact that my wife couldn't play CDs was driving her nuts, so I went to a junkyard and got a "new" (reclaimed) one for only $52. This one, however, has a cassette player in addition to the CD player - so I can enjoy my Best of the Spinners tape on the road. "Could it be I'm falling in love?/With you, baby/Could it be I'm falling in love?/With you/With you/With yooooouuuuu..." I love that song. Brings back very good 1973 vibes.
I just got done watching some Little Rascals comedies - the ones about railroads that I'm copying for that rugby guy and his little son I met on Sunday. I really get a kick out of watching those old comedies... One of the my favorites is a silent from 1924, "The Sun Down, Limited." What makes this one so cool is the gang's locomotive engine, cobbled together from trash left in a vacant lot. Pete the Dog (a Pitbull terrier!) runs on a treadmill at a cat he sees in a cage placed before him. When the engineer wants the train to go forward, he pulls a rope which lifts a flap, enabling Pete to see the cat in the cage, which he naturally chases. Pete's running action is imparted from the treadmill to the drive wheel - which naturally pulls the entire train. When they want the train to reverse, a flap is lifted behind Pete revealing another cat - Pete then reverses his running and the train moves backwards. Amazing!
There were a lot of elaborate Pete-powered devices in those comedies; it was a favorite gag of the writers. In another memorable construction, Pete is contained within a wooden shaft, the shaft being balanced on a fulcrum, like a teeter-totter. When Pete runs uphill to one side at a cat he sees, his weight makes the teeter go down and closes the flap, hiding the cat from view. This opens a flap on the other side, exposing another cat and causing Pete to run uphill in that direction. The whole thing, therefore, teeters up and down repeatedly based on Pete's running. Through a series of pulleys and ropes, the action is used to rock a cradle with a baby in it! But the best part is when a little black girl named Trellis (!) straps an accordion to the teeter-totter, causing the instrument to wheeze. (Putting the baby to sleep? Hardly.) You really have to see these things in action to appreciate them!
But Pete isn't just a source of energy for the gang's motorized devices - far from it. In many episodes he's called out to defend the gang by attacking the rumps, arms and legs of hapless bad guys. The ferocity with which Pete does this - he is a Pitbull, after all - is something to behold, tearing fabric and chasing at top speed. If I were one of those actors I wouldn't risk a Pete attack...
Pete in action.
Finally, I am almost finished with that book about London I'm reading. The author has some choice words about the ugly Centre Point building; it's gratifying to see that he shares a tourist's opinion of it. What I didn't know until the last visit is that it is indeed a pedestrian obstruction. Both my daughter and I found it difficult to get around it.
There are lots of guys in the U.S. who specialize in building demolition...
I have come to thoroughly dislike Modernist architecture, you know, the featureless white cubes and gray poured concrete constructions (the kind where you can note the plywood features cast forever into the wet concrete). Ugh.
One of the hazards of the hobo lifestyle is getting locked into a boxcar and being left for days on end; I have read about this. And one fellow discovered to his chagrin that a railroad company will unhitch a boxcar (with or without unfortunates in it) and leave it in the middle of the desert!
I also discovered that that film I saw last week, "Wild Boys of the Road" (1933) was both influenced by and influenced teenage rail-hopping. Perhaps this now little-known film was something of a cultural phenomena back then. Bob "Guitar Whitey" Symmonds (hobos have nicknames like that), who was sixteen in 1938, wrote, “If you see the movie, Wild Boys of the Road, some movie like that showin’ kids travelling on trains, well that put the idea in your head - well, I could do that too. I wouldn’t mind doing that. I'm not going get my leg cut off like that kid did in the movie.”
I checked, Video Vault didn't have any hobo documentaries. I pointed this out to the owner as a shocking gap in their otherwise exceptionally wide-ranging collection. But they did have one real honest-to-goodness rail-ridin' film, "The Emperor of the North" (1973), starring the estimable Ernest Borgnine and Lee "I wuz born under a wanderin' star" Marvin. So I rented it.
The dialogue was awful - most of the time people spoke what sounded like utter nonsense - the motivations for the characters made no real sense (why the violent hate for hobos by the Borgnine character?), the blood was that fake Technicolor stuff and the background music was horrible. But, curious thing, despite all that I still liked the film!
I discovered that the real star of the film, the 1915 Baldwin 2-8-2 #19 steam locomotive (seen above), is for sale. Recently rebuilt, a steal at $645,000.
The film I saw the following evening, "Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow" (1959), was pretty hilarious. Drag racing girls, guys in rubber monster suits and some of the silliest 1950's rock and roll music ever recorded. I recall reading somewhere that 1959 represented the all time low in American popular culture - whomever wrote this must have seen this film. (And was unacquainted with rap and hip hop.) But for any teenage male of the era it was undoubtedly enlivened by the presence of Sanita Pelkey - who was built like a Greek goddess. She has a minor role in this, but certainly not a minor appearance.
Actually, however, Ghost of Dragstrip Hollow was not the worst film I saw over the weekend. And it wasn't even, "The Legend of Hell House" (1973), which sucked. No, the worst was The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966), the flip side to the Dragstrip Hollow one. It was awful.
On Sunday I found myself at the Fairfax Station Railroad Museum, for no reason other than I happened to drive by a sign that said "Open today." There I bumped into a guy I used to play rugby with - one of our Old Boys. I got to sit in a caboose; I've never done that before. It was kind of cool, sitting up in the window section. Anyway, he being into trains (which is why he was there - duh) I promised to mail him a videotape of some Little Rascals episodes featuring old trains. I'm always making these kinds of media commitments; I wonder if anyone really appreciates them...
Every now and then I see something worth knowing on my desk calendar.
I am telecommuting today for the first time ever. It's kind of weird, getting up, showering (unlike Dilbert) and getting dressed to sit at home on my PC. But it was a long time in coming. I helped begin one of the first pilot telecommuting programs at the Patent Office, back in 1998. It's about time I'm able to do it myself! Anyway, every Monday I work from home, now.
As you all surely must know by now, I'm from Burbank, California.
Unlike many growing up in Southern California in the 1960's and 1970's, I never got high. I never felt the desire to, and when adults told me it was a bad idea, I believed them.
But such was not the case with Burbankia guest writer Monte Thrasher, who describes seeing things spelled out in streetlights and UFO landings in my sleepy, uneventful little San Fernando Valley suburban town. Who knew?
I am now reading "London - A History" by A.N. Wilson, a thin little book with an attractive cover. (Where did the photographer get that angle on Big Ben? It looks like it's surrounded by trees, but I know it isn't at all. It must have been from the park space across the street from Parliament, where the Churchill statue is... next time I go there I'm duplicating that shot!) In this book, the author recommends seeing the London skyline from Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath - I can see why. Another box to check off on the next trip!
Anyway, here's a sad little excerpt. Well, I find it sad, anyway. And his comment about ugly buildings is so true. When I was there earlier this month I stumbled upon the Lambeth Towers - ewwwww. What's up with that? London has some of the most attractive architecture I have ever seen in a big city - and some of the worst. Is it a case of Londoners having simply given up trying? We can't top the Georgians or Victorians, so why bother? Is that it?
Prince Charles has attacked modern British architecture; I'm firmly on his side on this one. His most famous speech on the subject was in 1984, and it remains good reading. I like his quote at the end, "There is nothing more dreadful than imagination without taste" - Goethe.
I checked Wilson's book about London because they didn't have any on my current obsessive interest, riding the rails.
My lines about the hobo lifestyle yesterday prompted these word in an e-mail from a reader, "I remember waiting at the train crossing in Leucadia a few years ago as a large freight train came past. Between the cars I got a glimpse of a man (appeared to be a Mexican) clinging for his life as he hung onto the ladder on the back of one of the boxcars as the train came by at speed. It was just a brief vision, but told a story somehow. The man seemed to be the picture of desperation as he hung there. It is a vision I shall never forget."
The Attractive Girls Union. They drive a hard bargain - but every male knows that.
The weather doesn't look good tomorrow for yard sales. (Cloudy with occasional showers. High 53F. Chance of rain 50%.) But I will look anyway; it's high time we got the season started!
Have a great weekend...
It's a William Wellman film, so it's well directed. But what's really interesting about it is the cast - talented youngsters demonstrating just how rough times were back in the Thirties. Goatdog's review (my link, above) is apt; this film is unusually bleak for the 1930's, and it does have an implausible tacked-on happy ending. But it's a memorable film in the same way the best Dead End Kids films were, and a real joy to watch the performances.
A question about the subject matter comes up - just how many teenagers were vagrants in Depression Era America? The answer is, according to the Children's Bureau back in the Thirties, upwards of 200,000.
Another matter that merits inspection is the train-hopping depicted. In most movies (for instance, "O Brother Where Art Thou?") it's seen more as a matter of physical difficulty and inconvenience than a threat to life and limb. But the fact is that hopping onto a moving train is dangerous. Web surfing on a site about hobos, I once read a harrowing account of the frequency with which dismembered legs and feet could be found around city railyards. (In Wild Boys of the Road, one boy loses a leg in this fashion.)
It seems that Trainhopping has acquired a sort of rough and ready chic, as this web site makes clear. In fact, I was interested to see a phrase used, "Web-head Hobos," or those who take to it based on reading articles on the web. (By the way, if you look at this article, be sure to scroll down to the section entitled "A Slow Train" - it's harrowing.) Perhaps a good cautionary sentence is this one: "There's a lot of bad information out there. You click on a Web page and it talks about the thrill of adventure and the open air. But what you're doing is going into the world of the homeless and mentally ill." And the criminal...
While the notion of hopping a train appeals to me, I'd never do it. I know very well from my days in the Marines that me and industrial situations are a bad, bad mix. I get hurt. Broken fingers, cracked foot bones, turned ankles, accidental incisions... In general I stay away from heavy equipment!
But when I was a kid in Burbank I used to play around the railroad tracks up the street which, for some reason, held an irresistible attraction for me. You might think that something has big and noisy as a freight train wouldn't be able to sneak up on you, but I can assure you they can. I vividly recall once, walking along a rail blissfully unaware, hearing a loud horn blown about two blocks down the tracks - it scared the living daylights out of me.
I used to put pennies on the tracks and recovered the flatted, hot copper after the train passed by. And I can still smell the dirt, grease and creosote of the tracks - for me, one of the smells of childhood.
And one spot on a railroad bridge used to be a place of mystery for me; I used to walk by it on the way home from school each day. Somehow there were always pieces of gypsum - drywall? - along the tracks, which artists would use to draw obscene images on the iron. Who did this?, I always wondered. Almost every day there would be a new addition - but I never saw anyone at it.
I see there's a rather celebrated hobo film, "Who is Bozo Texino?" I need to check if Video Vault has it. It was endorsed thus on one web site: "Cool film. Lots of rugged old dudes." Anyway, to answer the question... there are at least two, but the first was J.H. McKinley.
I think my next library book will be about hobos and hobo art. But right now I'm reading "London Noir," a recent collection of crime stories set in various neighborhoods in London. It's part of a series - I read D.C. Noir a few years ago. The first story took place in the red light district just north of Piccadilly Circus, which I stumbled upon during one evening reconnaissance.
Of all the countries in the Communist orbit, it was the East Germans who took such pains to create such a thoroughly infiltrated police state. According to the wikipedia article, "...about one of every 50 East Germans collaborated with the MfS – one of the most extensive police infiltrations of a society in history. In 2007 an article in BBC stated that 'Some calculations have concluded that in East Germany there was one informer to every seven citizens.'" Whew.
This film does a good job of portraying the bleakness behind East German socialism. When I worked in Berlin for a time in 1990 and 1991 (just after the wall fell) this is the thing that struck me about the eastern part of the city - the utter plainness, the workaday dreariness, the overall dirt and shades of gray. Even the cars - the Trabis (see image above) - were drab, ugly and hopeless.
I recall a chat with an outspoken young woman who served as the desk attendant in my hotel, in the Western shopping district. "Are you happy that the wall has fallen and Germany is becoming reunited?" I asked one morning. "No," was her reply, her eyes becoming indignant blue glares. "Put the wall back up and build it higher!" She was unhappy that so many Easterners, whom she regarded as hillbillies, where flooding into the Western part of the city, taking up apartment space.
But then, there weren't a lot of Berliners who were fond of Americans, either. (This was at the beginning of the Gulf War.) Students were out in the streets marching in anti-American protest marches, and angry posters were stuck everywhere.
All I needed to know about young Germans, however, was evident later in the year, during the 1991 Soviet August anti-coup. The pro-Communist forces rallied and, for a time, it looked like they might prevail. I saw a BBC news report that featured a man in the street interview with a young German, who was standing in front of the Berlin university where, just six months earlier, anti-American posters were stuck in abundance. "Are you worried about a strengthened Soviet presence in Germany?" he was asked. "No - not as long as the Americans are here," he replied.
It was one of the many times I have hurled unprintable invective at my television screen. (Something I find myself doing more and more often as I get older.)
An excerpt from the John Lennon book.
I am now at the part where Lennon is in his self-imposed exile from the music business, in the late Seventies, holed up in the Dakota.
John Lennon's father, Freddie, died in 1976 of stomach cancer. His relationship with his son was very rocky, based on many misunderstandings and poor communication. The author of this book, Philip Norman, gives several heartbreaking excerpts from Freddie's autobiography - it is apparent that despite the fact that he was a dishwasher all his life, that he possessed somewhat better than average writing skills.
If there is one thing I have taken from my reading of this long biography it is the completely necessary, utterly precious and fragile nature of the father-son bond. Thank God I raised my own son when I was at least partially aware of this. I have often observed that if you really, really want to do a number on a person and inflict a lifetime of psychological grief, just be an abusive or negligent father. That'll do it nearly every time.
My son Ethan and I communicate easily and frequently. In fact, I think I'll phone him later today...
The Guinness must have been flowing like mad in Dublin.
One of the first things I learned about Ireland, based on a remark from a commentator in a 1999 televised match I saw, was that they play a "disruptive" style of rugby. Translation: They start fights a lot.
And why they added Italy to the Five Nations to make it Six, I don't know. The expectation was that their level of play would improve, having to take on France, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. While this may have happened (I don't know), it hasn't led to many victories. Italy rugby sucks. But you know who sucks more than Italy? We do, for starters.
I always find it jarring to learn when the United States of America isn't Number One at something, such is the power of American self-promotion. In fact, when it comes to rugby we usually hover around the same ranking as Romania. Yes, Romania, where Dracula comes from and the telecommunications infrastructure is paleolithic. When the Rugby World Cup is held every four years we're referred to by the press as one of the rugby "minnows." But we have another, more sinister title: "The Sleeping Giant."
Fact is, the rest of the world is well aware that if rugby union ever became as popular in the U.S. as NFL gridiron football - that is, if rugby was backed up with tons and tons of cash, product endorsements and freakishly gifted celebrity players - we would quickly dominate it.
No danger of that ever happening, though. In my years of playing rugby at the club level and helping to administer a rugby club I have seen again and again how totally dysfunctional USA Rugby (the sanctioning entity in the U.S.) is. If there is any agenda there at all of growing the game in the U.S. by helping or encouraging the small "grassroots" clubs, it was never apparent to me. In fact, I once observed a case of the local unions discouraging play! (Go here and read the entry for Fall 2005.)
I mentioned way back that I bought a 2007 Beetle convertible. Ever since, I have noted the number of other new Beetles that I see on the road which have one headlight out, and drew the conclusion that the headlamps must be hard to replace. I found out for myself last night, when I noticed that one of my lights - those incredibly annoying daytime running lamps - was out.
With the help of an Internet how-to page, I discovered that while the bulb isn't hard to replace once you know how, it's tricky, and that people not used to tackling challenging repairs might be discouraged from doing so. This explains the number of one-eyed bugs I see. The whole headlight assembly has to come out of the fender... this involves releasing a lock and pressing a level to free the assembly. It's not hard, but it's also not obvious at all!
Who really benefits by DRLs? Lamp manufacturers, whom I'm sure lobbied Congress for the laws requiring them.
Last night I saw an excellent postwar British film, Cavalcanti's Nicholas Nickleby (1947). The online reviews are generally unfavorable, but I enjoyed the typically great British cast of actors and wonderful sets. I will admit, however, that the Dickens plot is a lot to cram into 108 minutes and that this production is really a second best work compared to the two immortal David Lean adaptations (Oliver Twist and Great Expectations). But it was still well worth watching. I could watch British character actors for hours... and this one has some good ones.
Who? Well, James Hayter, for one. American audiences know him best as one of the senior menswear assistants on the Britcom "Are You Being Served?" later in the series' run.
Sally Ann Howes was also in this, although not really in a "character" part. She played a sweet young thing. (Ethan: You know her as the teenage girl in "Dead of Night.")
Stanley Holloway was one of the great postwar British comic actors; in this he played a flamboyant actor. He lit up practically everything he appeared in.
Bernard Miles (or more formally Baron Miles, MBE) played Newman Noggs, one of Dickens' many strangely-named characters. A wonderful actor to watch.
In fact, they all were. My Dad used to enjoy postwar British productions for this very reason as well - the actors. In America, the star system creates handsome and beautiful actors and actresses. In Great Britain, the emphasis seems to be less upon looks and more upon acting ability. I'll take a British production any day.
Still reading that Lennon biography. Another interesting character in the John Lennon saga is his father, Alfred "Freddie" Lennon. Here's something I didn't know: In 1966, when he was 54 he met a 19 year-old girl whom he later married. They had two sons, David Henry Lennon (born in 1969) and Robin Francis Lennon (born 1973). So John Lennon had two half-brothers he never met who are younger than I am and young enough to be John Lennon's sons!
Over the weekend I found a excerpt of a song Freddie Lennon recorded in 1965, listen. He sounds just like John! So now we know where that famously nasal voice came from. Another interesting thing - in this 1985 song John's son Julian sounds like his father as well - so that's three generations of Lennons with similar voices! Not only do they look the same, they sound the same.
One of the best things about Burbank, California - my hometown - is Big Boy Bob's and the Friday night classic car show the Road Kings of Burbank put on. Here's a video. The last time I was there, in September, my pals and I ate there and attended the car show. It was great! Can't say I was ever a fan of the hamburgers, however. To be honest, both Five Guys and Fuddruckers make a better burger...
Speaking of the road, over the weekend I watched a film I have always been curious about: Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), starring James Taylor and Dennis Wilson (yes, the pop star and the Beach Boy). I needn't have bothered. Too minimal in dialogue, character development and plot to be really meaningful, the slow pacing had me looking at my watch repeatedly, waiting for something to happen. Nothing really did.
This was not the case with another movie I watched, The Last Hangman (2005). This was the story of Albert Pierrepoint (pictured above) Britain's most prolific hangman, numbering anywhere from 435 to 608 executions to his credit from 1933 to 1955. Timothy Spall, who plays Pierrepoint and is best known to audiences as Peter Pettigrew in the Harry Potter movies, is an excellent actor. The film raised the question of the mechanics of hanging in my head afterwards. Is it really quick and painless when done right? I wonder.
My wife thinks that probably the most humane way to execute somebody is via firing squad, but I think it must be by a guillotine. The problem, of course, is that there is no absolute authority that we can interview!
Pierrepoint became celebrated after World War II, when he travelled to Germany and Austria on numerous occasions to execute war criminals - over 200 of them. This led to the end of his anonymity, and local problems when a movement to end capital punishment developed.
It is interesting that, towards the end of his life, he appears to have become opposed to capital punishment: "I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people... The trouble with the death penalty has always been that nobody wanted it for everybody, but everybody differed about who should get off."
Other statements he made, however, suggest that his real opinion was more towards capital punishment. And his assistant wrote, "This from the man who proudly told me that he had done more jobs than any other executioner in English history. I just could not believe it. When you have hanged more than 680 people, it's a hell of a time to find out you do not believe capital punishment achieves anything!"
More California girls - this time they ponder whether cotton candy is cotton or candy.
Want to hear a pretty and haunting folk song? This is "Tzinskaro," by Hamlet Gonashvili, who is a Georgian. (No, not a Reb Yee-Hawww Georgian - I mean the Georgia by Russia.) Tzinskaro means "by the stream" in Georgian, but I am unsure of what the lyrics describe. I just learned that it's either about longing for a scornful and beautiful woman or a lament to sailors lost in the Black Sea, I'm not sure. Maybe both.
I wrote to the Georgian Embassy in D.C., once, for an explanation, but never got one. So much for cross-cultural understanding. (I see I blogged about Tzinskaro on 5/27/07. So I repeat myself. Big deal, I'm getting old and forgetful.)
By the way, that's the Georgian flag up there. Looks cool, like somebody added Maltese crosses to the flag of England.
Georgian chant sounds different than Western liturgical (Gregorian) or even Russian chant. Here's another example. The harmonies and sung intervals are different. Quite exotic and beautiful.
"Du sublime au ridicule, il n'y a qu'un pas" (From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step) claimed Napoleon Bonaparte, and so from Georgian chant we step to the late Linda McCartney, who performs this 1990 backup vocal to "Hey, Jude." If the youtube comments are to be believed she made an enemy of the sound guy, who produced this isolated track by way of revenge.
She makes Yoko Ono sound like Hamlet Gonashvili. (Which is a sentence you will surely see only in this blog.)
I am now at the point in that biography of John Lennon I'm reading where the Beatles are recording "Revolver." It is often claimed that this is their best studio album, and I am in this group - I love the musical diversity. I recall hearing it all the way though for the very first time on the radio in my VW on the way home from Camp Pendleton in 1977; I was blown away. Actually, this experience caused me to become a Beatles fan again. I liked them in 1964 and listened to their albums, then, in 1965, I pretty much ignored them (except for hearing Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever on the radio in 1967).
One character in the John Lennon saga who is proving to be interesting in her own right is John's Aunt Mimi, who raised him as a child and who survived him by eleven years. Her story would make an interesting little book.
Last night I watched a film entitled "the Moving Finger," from 1963. I was told it was a film noir. Nope! It was fairly interesting in a perverse, documentary way, however. It's one of those films shot with black and white film of sufficient resolution to show every scar, blemish, stubble, lock of greasy hair and pock mark. And it had one of the homliest, most unwashed casts of any film I have ever seen. You could practically smell the beatniks from the screen. Know what I mean? You kind of wanted to take a shower after watching it.
Two of the lead actors were genuinely creepy. The corrupt cop had eyes so blue they sort of whited out on the film - weird. I thought that went away with the advent of panchromatic film stock in the late 1920's. At one point he tries to seduce a young woman who has the highest hairline and biggest forehead (and most unkempt, greasy hair) I have ever seen on an actress in a movie. Strong Ewwww factor, there.
I was discussing films like this with the Video Vault folks the other day, and how much I have grown to dislike the usual Hollywood production style stuff. They made the point that these offbeat third rate films can grow on you to the point where you no longer like or appreciate big budget Hollywood efforts. I'm pretty sure I have arrived at that point.
For instance, on the flight back from London I watched the Al Pacino/Robert De Niro film "Righteous Kill" (2008) - what a total waste of time. There was absolutely nothing there I haven't seen dozens of times before. But an icky girl with a huge forehead and greasy hair - that's novel!
Friday! Which means that tomorrow is Saturday! Will it be the start of yard sale season? I shall see! What treasures are out there waiting for me?
Actually, one of the great realizations in my life is that not only is there life outside of Southern California, but that there's a better life available elsewhere. Yes, I know it's odd, but growing up in Los Angeles in the 1960's, it seemed like L.A. was the place. After all, people from other states were moving there (like my parents), the Tonight Show relocated there from New York City, and when I was a kid we became the state with the greatest number of electoral votes. All this on top of owning the film and television media. So it's no surprise that kids my age growing up there figured that living anywhere else was more of less something people had to do because of circumstances. If they could, in other words, they'd live in L.A.
But you couldn't get me to live in Southern California any more; I like Virginia. Well, okay, if somebody gave me a multi-million dollar (and that's what it would cost) property high up on the coast overlooking the Pacific, maybe, yes. But that's not going to happen.
As my Burbank pal Mike realized when he visited here some years back, there's more bang for the buck - value for the dollar, as the British say - here in the East. We think it's expensive to live in the D.C. suburbs, and it is, relatively speaking, but when we compared every metric (home costs, groceries, gasoline, insurance, water, power, sales and income taxes, etc.) it's less expensive in every metric to live in the D.C. 'burbs than Burbank.
(By the way, have you ever seen the CNN Cost of Living Calculator? Enter in where you live, then enter in where you want to live. Will you have to earn more or less? For me to move back into L.A. I'd need to earn more.)
One thing I think about lately is, where will we retire? Retirement is still a long ways off, if it even happens, but we realize that this may hinge on where in the U.S. our kids - and the grandchildren - wind up.
Isn't this fascinating? The concerns of the middle-aged? Change the subject!
Have you ever seen the Britcom "Red Dwarf?" I used to watch it all the time on PBS - it was a great sci-fi/comedy hybrid. The story lines often easily outdid anything any other sci-fi production could offer in eye-popping weirdness. (For instance, one time the crew landed in Dallas, Texas in 1963 and screwed up the Kennedy assassination; they finally had to convince JFK to shoot himself from the grassy knoll. In another episode they landed on a planet where everything runs backwards except them.)
Anyway, the producers are in the process of mounting a mini revival for TV. Here's a production image. The guy on the right is a cat that evolved into a human being. The fellow in blue next to him is a hologram, made out of light. (Which is why he wears an "H" on his forehead.) The fellow in black is a slob from Liverpool, and the guy on the left is their fussy robot. Brilliant stuff!
Speaking of Liverpool, I'm at the point in that John Lennon bio I'm reading when the world went mad with Beatlemania in 1964. In most ways, it is revealed, John Lennon was a real jerk: thoughtless, selfish, antagonistic and insensitive. He improved as he got older, but, I hate to say it, the thought keeps occurring to me that his getting gunned down was a kind of karma for his earlier life.
The author points out that in the series of photos journalists took in New York City upon the Beatles' arrival in America, the Dakota building can be seen in the background, where Lennon would later live and die.
In fact, death runs though this account of Lennon's life like a connecting thread. And the author recounts an aspect of Stu Sutcliffe's death that I didn't know. I knew Sutcliffe (the Beatles' first bassist and a great friend of John's - image above) died of a brain hemorrhage likely caused by a past blow to the head, quite possibly when he was set upon by Teds (British juvenile delinquents) in Liverpool. A story I didn't know was recounted by Sutcliff's sister after John's death, that the beating may have been administered to him by a drunken John Lennon. The claim is that Paul McCartney was there and witnessed it, but Paul says he doesn't remember it.
An interesting little mystery in the Beatles Saga.
Since I list genealogy as one of my many hobbies I can state that I am, in fact, 4/8ths French-Canadian, 3/8ths English-American and 1/8th German. An American mutt, in other words.
The Irish comes from an ancestor I am linked to via YDNA testing and not documentationally - that is, I cannot furnish the link between my documented line of Clarks ending with my great-great grandfather and this other, Irish, line of Clarks. But I have a 99% assurance that there's a common male ancestor there somewhere!
What I think is probably my 8th or 9th great-grandfather is a fellow named Gabriel Clarke, who lived in Yorkshire, England; he was born circa 1630. A visiting Irish peer, John Clotworthy (aka Lord Massarene) liked the way he built mills and invited him to County Antrim, Northern Ireland, to build mills for him there. Against his (unnamed) father's wishes Gabriel accepted, and established a line of Clarks living in County Antrim.
These Clarks became Quakers and later moved to Pennsylvania. Somehow or another there's a link between these Clarks and the New Jersey Clarks that I descend from, but I don't know who that link is. Some male named Clark, obviously.
The rule of thumb in genealogical research is, "work from the known to the unknown," that is, establish links backwards in time. But what I have is two lines of Clarks with a gap between them. One way to figure out the gap is to work forwards in time with the YDNA line. I just haven't started that yet. I'm kind of hoping that some great informational nugget will miraculously drop into my lap with the advent of more and more people putting data on the Internet.
(Hey - it worked before. I started research in the early 1980's and made very slow progress, then gave it a rest to raise three kids. When I returned to genealogical research in 2004, information came to me very quickly because of the Internet.)
Yesterday I learned yet again that the Internet is an odd place - mainly because it is inhabited by odd people. In the past I've mentioned that I run a website with my high school pal Mike about our hometown, "Burbankia." I got an email from one fellow pointing to a video sequence from a 1962 episode of the old TV show "Route 66." The sequence in question was of a camp revival meeting taking place in a rainstorm at night. You can see nothing beyond the crowd under a tent. His question was, "Is this Pass Avenue in Burbank? Do you have any photographs of Pass Avenue circa 1960?"
Being somewhat physically and mentally wiped out yesterday, I responded with a kind but rather dismissive statement of fact, "I hate to sound like a teenager working at a retail store, but everything we have is posted to the website." In response I got a very rude e-mail closing with a suggestion having to do with my zipper.
Now, really, was this called for? A stranger writes me to research a location that isn't even remotely visible in an obscure excerpt from an obscure episode of a 37 year old television show, and then becomes hostile when I decline to rummage through my hard drive looking for street photo images that can't possibly match his video. I mean, WHO CARES? What, did a cast member bury treasure there or something?
Granted, the Internet is a place where even the most trivial of subjects can get dissected - and I recognize that I am sometimes guilty of this myself - but come on. So I refused to rise to the occasion to respond in kind. I didn't respond at all.
I watched "Paper Lion" (1968) last night; I saw it originally when I was twelve and thought it was okay. It's about George Plimpton (shown above), a Harvard graduate and journalist, attending Detroit Lions football practice and making a play in one preseason game. As he's a skinny intellectual of the liberal Northeastern type, the interest comes from the utter impracticality of his being there at all. I also read the Paper Lions book about a decade ago, which came my way in a yard sale. As I was playing rugby at the time the subject (Does this guy really belong here?) seemed relevant.
It's not a bad film. Alan Alda can act, the real life football players and coaches can't. No big surprise there. What was amusing was a scene showing Plimpton's gigantic circa 1968 telephone answering machine, which is about the size of a stereo receiver, sitting on a night table. It made me think of Mike Hammer's answering machine in "Kiss Me, Deadly" (1955), which is set in the wall and used huge reels of magnetic tape. It's always fun to come across ancient technology in old movies...
Lennon would later exorcise his mother's death in various songs, singing gently ("Julia") or screaming ("My Mummy's Dead").
Speaking of death... I was a bit bored and watched some of a favorite film last night, Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" (1957). A truly great film, it often appears on critics lists of the greatest movies. Anyway, as is often my practice, I looked it up on the Internet. I didn't know the plot line about a knight playing chess with death was inspired by a painting on the wall of a medieval church.
The final scene where death leads a line of people away to the "dark lands" (see above) is famous. It inspired a similar scene in Roger Corman's 1964 Edgar Allen Poe adaptation "The Masque of the Red Death."
That film, Corman's, made a real impression on me when I first saw it as an eight year old. The credits sequence at the end, where a red hand (presumably the Red Death character) deals out tarot cards, was my first exposure to them. I recall thinking, "What are THOSE?" Years later they would become one of my little obsessions when a friend gave me a deck.
Everyone knows that within a fortune telling deck of cards - tarot or otherwise - there is a death card. (In the opera Carmen it's the ace of spades.) It's usually depicted with an image of the grim reaper. What ghastly drama! But what most people don't realize is that this is usually not interpreted as a card of physical death, but, rather, of transformation.
I remember hearing a news report about a tarot death card being found at a site of one of the 2002 D.C. sniper attacks. I instantly thought, "It's a teenager." I was right!
Sigh. This gray and cloudy weather is getting me down. While I enjoy seeing an atmospheric half-day, half-night grayness depicted in films noir, living in it for days on end is another matter. The weather was sunnier in London!
(LATE INSERT: Somebody reminded me that today is St. Patrick's Day. Hoo-hah, whatever. I'm not Irish and I don't drink so I've never paid much attention to this day, other than to read my kids a story book about a little Irish boy climbing up a hill.)
A few of the better photos: Britishness, Big Ben from the London Eye, USMC sticker on a Beefeater's apartment door, Baby-faced Tower guard, a watchful Bobby.
I had a wonderful time in London. As my account makes clear, I love that place. There's something to discover on nearly every street. It's a Disneyland for history buffs like me. London: A Historical Theme Park That More Than Seven Million People Happen To Live In.
I'm still mildly jet-lagged, I think. I woke up this morning at 4 AM even after having to gone to bed at my usual time, and now I feel loggy and disinterested in everything. (But that may be the usual post-vacation workplace culture shock.) I couldn't even muster enough motivation to shave, let alone put on a tie. The weather isn't helping, either - this weird, gray, half-daylight we exist in right now. I feel like crawling back to bed.
I'm on page 128 of 822 of my John Lennon biography; he just met Paul at the church fete. Which would lead to the formation of the Beatles, which would lead to a recording contract, which would lead to recording at the EMI Studios in Abbey Road, London, which would lead to my daughter's visit...
I am really surprised that people aren't getting killed trying to reproduce that famous album cover at the zebra crossing in front of EMI. It's a busy street, and the City of Westminister hasn't yet constructed a small traffic island that photographers can stand on while getting the picture. They might as well. Let's face it, given the fame of the Beatles, discouraging people from trying to get that shot is impossible. And it must be a pain from drivers, too, since there are Belisha beacons there. (The black and white poles with the flashing lights on top - it means "If a pedestrian walks onto the street, stop.") If my experience is typical, people are crossing that street repeatedly just to say that did it.
And EMI abandoned trying to keep people from scrawling things on the low white wall in front of the buidling... in fact, people are now encouraged to write little honorific things. (Well, that's what the girl at the counter of the little Beatles store at the St. John's Wood Tube Station told me, anyway.) Meredith was sorry she didn't bring a Sharpie.
These don't require a lot of imagination: "All You Need Is Love" is popular, with "Here Comes the Sun," We All Live in a Yellow Submarine," etc. One I liked was, "This is to notify the general public that I, Simon the Celebrity Spotter, came to this very spot last week and attempted to spot at least one celebrity."
Continuing from yesterday - "Putty Face" - here are some other actors I really don't like, actors whose films I avoid:
Errol Flynn - I have always had the impression his jock strap is on way too tight.
Katherine Hepburn - That whole woodsy, upper-class New England thing she radiated annoys me.
Nicholas Cage - Looks like a grown up version of the guys we'd throw into wall lockers in high school. How he gets roles as a leading man is beyond me.
Jane Fonda - Traitor.
Alec Baldwin - If George Bush wins the election I'm leaving the United States, wah, wah, wah! (He didn't.)
Jack Nicholson - With the sole exception of Chinatown, he plays Jack Nicholson over and over and over again.
Johnny Depp - He was graceless enough to say that the people buying tickets to his films are dumb puppies.
...there are others. A legion, in fact.
Conversely, there are actors whom I like so much that I will make a point of seeing their films simply because they're in it. They are:
Edward G. Robinson - He has always projected intelligence and when he's on the screen he's impossible to ignore.
Richard Widmark - A film noir stalwart.
Charlton Heston - Larger than life in a way that no other actor has ever been able to pull off.
Julie London - Words fail me.
Alec Guinness - A face and a personality in service of the role, never the other way around (see Jack Nicholson).
Robert Newton - Superb and manic character actor.
Liz Scott - Husky voiced femme fatale, need I write more?
Richard Boone - A man's man.
...and there are others. Many of them turn up in films noir.
A thing of mesmerizing beauty: The Hamm's "rippler" beer sign. I could watch that thing for hours. And before hallucinogenic drugs, there was the Hamm's "Starry Night" display. How did they make those beer glasses appear in the sky like that?!?
I am now reading Philip Norman's new biography of John Lennon. It starts out cleverly. I never knew this about the Lennon family! What really stopped me in my trackes, however, was an assertion that a Confederate Embassy still exists in Liverpool. Huh? Anyway, here are links: photos, map. (He means the building still exists. There are no Confederate diplomats meeting there.)
I saw an article in a morning paper today about Bonnie and Clyde. I didn't read the article; I didn't want to. I lived through the Bonnie and Clyde cultural epidemic of 1967, you see. It corresponded to the release of the Faye Dunaway/Warren Beatty film of that year, Bonnie and Clyde. For some reason - probably because this film was strongly in sync with the misanthropic youth culture of the time - this production was a monster. There was simply no getting away from it. Turn on the radio and there's that twangy Flatt and Scruggs theme music. Watch TV and some variety show is doing a Bonnie and Clyde comedy skit, how droll. Go to a head shop, and there's That Poster.
I clearly remember the cultural shock I received when I first saw it. To my young mind (I was eleven), the pair were handsome and stylish. After all, this is a big budget Hollywood movie we're talking about. The real thing... why, they looked like a couple of the hicks I'd see at swap meets - not at all like Dunaway and Beatty. A sense of profound anger took place. I was being had by the entertainment industry.
I also got tired of my schoolyard friends going on and on about how totally cool that final shoot 'em up sequence was. I was unimpressed. To this day, rednecks with firearms (Confederate reenactors) does nothing for me.
And I remember hearing some horrible jazz-influenced song about Bonnie and Clyde on a TV show one night that contained a lyric about Bonnie being, "...as pretty as a primrose." "Yeah, right," I said to myself. "I bet she had missing teeth!" And Georgie Fame's "Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde" was just as bad: it started out with the line "Bonnie and Clyde were pretty lookin' people." Clearly a whitewash of massive dimensions was taking place.
As much of an eleven year old curmudgeon and contrarian as I was, Dad topped me. Dad was from Brooklyn - he topped everyone. Having lived through the Depression, he immediately pooh-poohed the whole thing. "They were a couple of stupid hicks," he told me. "This is why we live in California and not Oklahoma." (Dad had nothing but contempt for Southerners.)
He saved his most damning phrase for Michael J. Pollard (see above), who played a gang member in the film and went on to a career of minor notoriety as a result. "Putty Face" is what Dad called him. (You have to admit, the name fits.) Channel surfing at night we'd come across some show with Pollard in it; "Ugh! Putty-Face!" Dad would exclaim. "Change the channel!" When I first met my wife I called somebody with similar features this, and she found this phrase hilarious. To this day it's a joke between us.
(As for Dad, his most ringing and memorable phrase is a good Brooklynism, "That rat bastard!")
So no, thank you, I have no interest in any newspaper articles about Bonnie and Clyde. I've heard all that before.
The only aspect to Ivanhoe I have ever liked is the complex relationship between the chief antagonist, Brian deBois-Gilbert, and Rebecca the Jewess. And evil and passionate man, he captures her but cannot bring himself to rape her. (She stands on the battlements of the castle and threatens to jump.) Damned as he is, he has fallen in love with her. She only pities him - and when he is killed by Ivanhoe, an unredemptive death, she is left with no one and remorseful. In that way the story ends on a far from happy note. But otherwise it's Victorian schmaltz. (Perhaps the Rebecca/Bois-Gilbert thing I just described is also Victorian schmaltz and I just don't know it.)
It has also long been noted that the two main characters in Ivanhoe, Wilfred of Ivanhoe and his lady love Rowena, are the least interesting characters in the book. In the book, one sort of gravitates to the comedy relief characters, Wamba the fool and Gurth the Swineherd. In filmed productions, Bois-Gilbert and Rebecca are the interesting characters.
In Scouts last night a fellow Scoutmaster told me about a Lord Baden-Powell statue in London I have to have my photograph taken with. I looked it up on the Internet; the Baden-Powell House is only a few blocks from where I'll be staying in Kensington, so I guess I do have to visit and buy a souvenir patch!
Since I graduated from high school in 1974 my 35th anniversary reunion is coming up - that is, if one gets organized. I raised the question ("Is anyone doing anything I need to fly out to Burbank for?") in an e-mail to a bunch of my classmates and one of them is now in the preliminary stage of organizing something - a picnic, perhaps, or some other small thing. Not a full blown hotel ballroom affair with dinner and music, etc.
The challenge is in getting the word out. The Class of 1974 slogan was "Apathy," which certainly suited the bunch we had as well as the times. (In 1974 everyone - but yours truly - was busy getting stoned.) There are some signs that, with middle age, people are naturally tending to look back... Anyway, I offered to help get the word out. Those who know me know I'm sort of a natural at this sort of thing; newsletters, websites, blogs and e-mail distribution lists.
The preceding classes, those of 1965-1967, are far better organized in this regard. I'm guessing it may be because many of them are retired or approaching retirement and have more time. Or, perhaps, they were a more tightly-knit bunch from the beginning.
I'm still wrestling with Mahler's Ninth, which I am finding a difficult work. The first movement is about a half hour long and complex. And the more I listen to the second movement, which is described as a "Dance of Death," the more I'm convinced that this assignment is off the mark. It sounds like more or less conventional dance music to me. A lot of what Mahler wrote in his symphonies is derived from or reminiscent of a German dance in 3/4 time called a ländler - in fact, he sometimes substituted the traditional scherzo movement with one. Perhaps I'm being an undiscriminating listener, but I'm not hearing anything deathly in this movement. It's generally in major key and cheerfully buoyant.
Or... my ears have been poisoned by modern music - rock and modern classical - and I can't hear things that would have been considered out of the norm when the symphony was written. That happens. What was considered wildly outrageous in the 19th century becomes traditional or even passe in the 20th or 21st.
Whoa! Did you hear about 2009 DD45? From Crikey, an Australian website: "For the astronomers ... the closeness of the approach will allow more accurate predictions of future visits by this intruder, which is big enough to incinerate a large city if it hits Earth or as is more likely, turns into a Tunguska-like fireball on hitting the atmosphere at a closing velocity of tens of kilometres per second." Hitting where?
By the way, did you see the conjunction between Venus and the crescent moon on Friday night? It was awesome. It was a 60 degree night, and I was buzzing around town in the VW with the top down when I spotted it.
Star Gazer: Check out this week's dance between the Full Moon, Saturn and Regulus.
Have you heard of Microsoft's new gift to the world of great music, Songsmith? I think what the software is doing is sampling the source (usually a vocal track), picking out the key and transitions, and assigning music to it - hideous, hideous music. Karaoke in reverse. Naturally people (mis)use this to create funny results. It reminds me of something a teacher in a Nikon class said about Adobe Photoshop: "Photoshop has two uses: 1.) Good, and 2.) Evil." Anyway...
"Roxanne" by the Police - Bringing out the mambo beat that was hidden.
"We Will Rock You" by Queen - My favorite.
"Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor - One commenter calls it "pussified."
"Hotel California" by The Eagles - This could be heaven or this could be hell. (No... it's hell.)
I am now watching a 1997 five hour adaptation of the Sir Walter Scott historical romance "Ivanhoe." It has been updated for contemporary audiences - which means that it now has references to sex that were not at all present in the original work.
Scott's book is, in a word, crap. Excessively Victorian pretty much describes it. I knew this about it even when I first read it as a fifteen year-old enthusiastic and accepting of just about anything having to do with medieval English history. The odd thing was, at about the same time I also read the arch-horrible "Harold, or the Last of the Saxon Kings" by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (image above) and judged it to be the better work! (In case you didn't know, the name Bulwer-Lytton is now synonymous with bad writing.)
I should probably mention that Mark Twain absolutely loathed the works of Sir Walter Scott. In fact, he almost blames him for the American Civil War: "Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war. It seems a little harsh toward a dead man to say that we never should have had any war but for Sir Walter; and yet something of a plausible argument might, perhaps, be made in support of that wild proposition."
Finally, I finished watching Shakepeare's The Winter's Tale last night, which means I'm done with my Cruddy Shakespeare Project - just in time for a London visit! Naturally I wrote up an article with my take on the plays: Second Rate Shakespeare. (I think everything I have ever said or thought is on a web site somewhere. Forget cryogenics. When I die, you can clone me by doing a dump of my HTML into some willing mental vessel.)
Shakespeare's "The Winter's Tale," which I am now watching, is certainly an odd work. I see scholars call it one of his "problem plays." From wikipedia: "The play contains the most famous Shakespearean stage direction: 'Exit, pursued by a bear,' describing the death of Antigonus." Indeed, in the BBC/Time-Life production I'm watching this was staged by a guy in a ridiculous bear suit!
It seems to be one of those works that abruptly changes tone and mood halfway through (which is where I am in it). The first 90 minutes was exceedingly tragic. I guess somehow the Bard is about to turn it into a comedy. Weird.
Another odd thing is the title of the play - The Winter's Tale - which apparently refers to nothing in the play save a meaningless "spooky" story started, but quickly interrupted, by a child. I see on the web that scholars extend this to mean that the winter is the best time to tell spooky tales (like Dickens' Christmas Carol, perhaps). I recall an English professor telling me that ghost stories in the winter is an English tradition; perhaps that's what Shakespeare's getting at, that the tradition was practiced in his time. I really don't know!
My son likes the Flight of the Conchords (a comedy and music duo from New Zealand), and directed me to this video - which I thought was funny, clever and unique. I didn't think that was possible in pop/rock anymore. That ex-girlfriends choir is stuck in my head. I'll have to search for media from these guys at Video Vault. I find I like stuff from New Zealand, like Split Enz, Neil Finn, hakas and the All-Blacks...
On Friday I wrote about dialects - everyone speaking English has one, whether he thinks so or not. As a Southern Californian, mine is General American. Well, that's what wikipedia calls it. My wife and I have always called it "Network Broadcast Standard," although Cari probably speaks a purer form of it than I do. She claims I have various New Englandisms in my speech due to my parents (calling a fridge an "ice box," saying "pocketbook" instead of "purse," etc.). It's funny, when we first moved East to Maryland and Virginia, I got a couple of comments from people detecting that I was from Pennsylvania. This had me puzzled until I saw a regional dialect map of the United States in "The Story of English." As it turns out, there's a dialectical band of English that reaches from Pennsylvania all the way across the country (more or less midway) to California.
To this day I am uncertain if a child growing up in the U.S. learns the dialect of his parents or that of his school mates - or a mixture of both. My three kids all sound like they're speaking Network Broadcast Standard to me, except with some Eastern regionalisms thrown in (pronouncing Reese's Peanut Butter Cups as "Reece-eez," which I first heard from a Baltimore native). But they went to school where there is no real Northern Virginia dialect. The Virginia dialect begins to be heard once you reach Fredericksburg, about an hour south.
I think the favorite dialect of my wife and I is the Utahn dialect. What's funny about it is that when we do it for Utahns they seem to have no idea that they sound different than everyone else in the United States. Have we written an article on the web about it? Indeed - at length. We call it Utahnics. (Except there it would be pronounced "u-TAH-neeks.")
Cari does a bravura Utahnics sentence when called upon: "Lardy, Darathy, what a gargeous arange farmal!" ("Lordy, Dorothy, what a gorgeous orange formal.") She also points out that in Utah "sail," "sale" and "sell" are pronounced the same - like "sell."
I like dialects so much that I pride myself upon identifying them quickly, like Henry Higgins. One day I met someone utter a sentence that allowed me to ask, "Where in New Zealand are you from and do you fancy the All-Black's chances in the next World Cup?" that had the fellow gob-stopped. (The refinment of this, of course, is determining what island - north or south - the fellow is from.) And yesterday the Cox Cable guy came by and I was able to ask, "What part of Ireland are you from?"
Yeah, I show off occasionally. What good is knowing all this trivia if you don't use it?
The section on historical reenacting is especially bad - which grieves me because Cullen uses me as a source for some assertions! Civil War reenacting is a recreational pursuit involving a few tens of thousands of men, women and children. (Nobody is sure of the exact number at any given time.) Battle recreations often involve thousands of men portraying soldiers. There is a tiny minority of soldier reenactors who are, in fact, females. To me they stand out like a sore thumb despite their assertions that they are convincingly and authentically portraying musketmen. But in his book Cullen chose to extensively interview one to make her the representative reenactor. This is puzzling and, to me, wrong-headed. Perhaps Cullen is a closet feminist - it would certainly go along with the overly academic mindset which I detect in the book. But if you want to examine the motivations of a group of people, why would you choose to pick out an unrepresentative member of that group for analysis?
In the reenacting section Cullen mentions what has, for years, been a continuing source of frustration among reenactors, namely, the lack of respect and validation accorded to the hobby by professional, published historians. I have spoken to reenactors who feel that taking part in a survey of material culture (haversack manufacture variations, for example) puts them on a level with historical authors with advanced college degrees. Often times, there almost seems to be a yearning among reenactors for academic credibility.
As my primary motivation for attending reenactments is recreational, I could care less what the pros think of me. And certainly, there are published historians out there of enviable reputation whose works border on the amateur (I am thinking of Jay Winik). So live and let live, I say.
One last thing about this book and I'll be content to let it settle on the ash heap of 1990's sociological history: note the cover. At first glance this would appear to be a photograph of a fairly authentic recreation of a Civil War battle. But note the faces: it appears that nearly everyone is smiling - hardly an authentic reaction to combat! It's kind of metaphorical to the book, actually... a compelling subject that doesn't hold up to scrutiny.
My next book promises to be far better: "Something from the Cellar - Selected Essays from the Colonial Williamsburg Journal" by Ivor Noel Hume (pictured above) I have read a number of Hume's books before; he is the chief archaeologist at Colonial Williamsburg and a Virginia state treasure. He possesses a wonderfully entertaining writing style - examples are here and here. I recommend his fascinating book Martin's Hundred to anyone interested in 17th C. America. It's a work so strong that after a reading both my wife and I made a point of visiting the Carter's Grove site in Williamsburg to see what Hume was writing about.
Hume wrote a book which I possess - the name escapes me - dealing with the in's and out's of archaeological projects, almost a how-to book. In it there's a short section of the perils of employing college-aged women along with college-aged men in excavations during the summer months (the women tend to abbreviate their clothing, causing a disruption) that had me laughing out loud on the Metro. As Hume has supervised many such projects he surely knew what he was talking about...
Time to go. I have to get ready for church.
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