I appreciated the fact that it was shot on black and white film stock using 8mm and 16mm cameras, often handheld. (How else does one get shots from aboard a moving freight train?) The film has a great classic look to it that wouldn't have been the case if color stock were used. It was also well edited. Some scenes were cleverly cut to coincide with rail noises.
A flaw with it is that its major premise - who is the hobo who draws the Bozo Texino graffiti on trains? - doesn't seem to be the major part of the work. It's almost an afterthought. In other words, the title premise isn't well defined in the film. But then, should we be expecting Ingmar Bergman's level of expertise from a hobo filmmaker? No. This is an excellent amateur work - rough edged, but it suits the material. I have seen far worse involving more resources from more respected filmmakers. I would like to see Bill Daniel make another hobo film.
(By the way, who is Bozo Texino? The answer is here.)
Back in Burbank, California, my hometown, my friend Mike has been digging up material on Joseph W. Fawkes. Who? The inventor of America's first aerial trolley, which detractors dubbed "Fawkes' Folly." Yesterday I dedicated my Burbankia update to this interesting man. We figured out where his celebrated quarter-mile trolley prototype ran, in 1907, and I found the patents for it in the U.S. Patent Office database. Mike dug up a 1964 article in a magazine and some census records. I think the Burbank historical society ought to put up a little sign commemorating the man, one of the San Fernando Valley's first crackpots. (There would be many, many more.)
I've been having scads of fun organizing my hundreds of mp3s using iTunes. Actually listening to them seems to be a secondary joy. But today I plan to finally give a good listening to four songs I somehow acquired seven or eight years ago: very early recordings by the band that later became The Blue Oyster Cult. (I omit the umlaut - too much trouble.)
I discovered the BOC in 1974 and have been a fan ever since. I saw them in concert five or six times. I was there getting hit by their laser beam show in the Long Beach Arena in 1976 when "Don't Fear the the Reaper" was a huge nationwide hit - the girl next to me couldn't keep her joint lit - and more recently watched them perform in the greatly reduced and crowded, smoky confines of Jaxx in Springfield. I even own a concert DVD. (The DTS mix sounds great - far better than live.) "On tour forever" is their motto.
Tyranny and mutation... tyranny and mutation...
I've always liked the arty perversity of their lyrics. "Catholic schoolgirls have thrown away their mascara/They chain themselves to the axles of big Mac trucks" is a favorite mental image. "Helpless people on subway trains/Scream bug-eyed when he (Godzilla) looks in on them" was rendered more funny by my pal Mike ("Helpless people on subway trains/Scream 'Oh, s--t!' when he looks in on them.") Heh. Still makes me laugh. Good one, Mike.
Or how about this invocation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, "Frontenac Chateau baby/I'll cross the frontier at ten/I got a whip in my hand baby/And a girl or a husky at leather's end...?" And I've always been intrigued by the botanical pursuits of the Quicklime Girl, reduction of the many from one - whatever that means. The Cult and I also see eye to eye on the subject of Joan Crawford - what a fright. She even makes policemen's eyes turn the color of frozen meat!
Showtime reads like the basis for a good film noir. And what about the haunted farmland lit by the Harvest Moon? (A far different landscape than the one lit by Neil Young's Harvest Moon.)
I could go on... Bob Dylan once claimed that Alice Cooper was an under-regarded songwriter. I think he could say the same for the guys in the Blue Oyster Cult.
Yes, the crowd was middle aged. How middle-aged? Cari was in the restroom at one point and heard a couple of women talking about their skin cancer. Another chimed in about having brain cancer, and so Cari mentioned once having breast cancer. That's how middle-aged the crowd was. Cari and I were among the younger cohort in the Birchmere that night.
And yes, there was a crowd. At first we thought we'd be getting there way early, showing up an hour and fifteen minutes before showtime. Wrong! The place was almost filled by the time we arrived. We got decent seats, however, and got a good view of the stage and performers.
I learned that there are nine hits that HH had that I recognized; not a bad career. So I got on itunes and bought a retrospective CD.
The other thing I did over the weekend is play with my new iPod. We had bought it for my son's wedding background music a couple of years ago, and he sent it to me as a Father's Day present. (He now uses his iPhone.) So I've been jamming my mp3s onto it - what fun! iTunes is clunky, but it's an excellent organization tool; I now fully understand the folder structures, something I've been wrestling with on mp3 players for years. I'm now making sense of all those mp3s I've collected over the years, and am configuring my iPod just so, with the right album designations, photos and so on. You know how guys used to obsess over their record collections, putting them in a certain order? (I always did that.) The iPod is the 21st Century manifestation of that.
It's a common sentiment from people who own iPods, but I'm surprised and pleased that I can find and play one song in a huge collection of music in a matter of seconds - amazing.
Mine has 80 GB of drive space, so I won't be filling it very quickly (unless I decide to load a bunch of Top Gear episodes onto it.) It's a far cry from the little Samsung 1 GB mp3 player I've been using for the past few years...
Over the weekend we also bought a new teak bench for our front porch. We had a cheap pine one from IKEA that I smashed into smithereens by sitting on it on an uneven lawn surface last year. I missed my front porch bench - one of the things I like to do is sit there at night and feel the evening breezes, watch the feral cats wander around and listen to the sounds of the evening (including, of course, the occasional train). So last night I did it while listening to Julie London sing, "How Long has this Been Going On?" a small ensemble torch song masterpiece. It's recorded in mono, but recorded very well - it sounds like she's in the room. (Or in your head, if you're listening to it with headphones.) But don't take my word for it - listen to it!
Ahhh... Julie London. A better torch singer never lived.
I mentioned that my son Ethan and I did the Civil War reenactment at New Market last month. He wanted a photo of himself in uniform using his iPhone - he submitted it and it got used in engadget.com, here. I like the caption, "Are you telling me I'm not eligible for an upgrade until 1865!?" - Ha!
I'm halfway through "Quincunx." It's okay, but it isn't quite the book I had hoped it would be, an Umberto Eco style mystery like "the Name of the Rose" or "Foucault's Pendelum." It's essentially a Dickens knock off. I was concerning pitching it and not investing any more time on it, but I'm rather interested to see how our young protagonist overcomes all his hurdles and challenges.
I also watched "Fellini - Satyricon" (1969) over the weekend, which is to say that I tried to watch it. I found it pretty slow going and sort of blew through it in fast forward. Roger Ebert called it a masterpiece. (Well, he did in 1970. In 2001 he wrote, "Today I'm not so sure it's a masterpiece, except as an expression of the let-it-all-hang-out spirit of the 1970 world that we both then occupied." Give the man some credit for honesty.) Anyway, I call it boring. Yes! Despite all that gore and sex. I suppose it would help if I read some of the Petronius that "inspired" it, but I seem to want to spend my Classics time reading Greeks rather than Romans. I liked Fellini's "La Strada" (1954), "Il Bidone" (1955) and "Nights of Cabiria" (1957). As I didn't like Satyricon, "Juliet of the Spirits" (1965) and couldn't sit through "8 1/2" (1963), I guess I can say I much prefer early Fellini to later Fellini. So at least I know that much.
I don't know what Noone does by way of personal health habits, but he has always struck me as being perhaps the most well-preserved musical celebrity of the 1960's. He's 61. He looks far better today than, well... Michael Jackson did for the last decade or so of his younger life. And Bob Dylan.. have you seen him recently? Yikes. I was surprised to learn that Noone has been married to the same woman since 1968 - good on him.
Michael Jackson... hmmm... also on the subject of older men who pursue the young, last night I saw a film I've known about nearly all my life but have never seen: Stanley Kubrick's "Lolita" (1962). One Internet reviewer wrote, "As film experiences go, this is one of the most provocative, enthralling, disgusting, entertaining and satisfying I've ever been through." While admitting that yes, this is a masterfully directed film, I'd have to add "creepy" to the list of adjectives. I mean really creepy, like watching some old guy hit up on one of the lifeguards at the neighborhood pool. Eck.
All during the film I felt a rising sense of repulsion, which started with Shelley Winters (gad, she can be repulsive!) and culminated with James Mason portraying a total creeper and Peter Sellers' over-the-top weirdness. There really isn't a sympathetic person in this entire film.
The film wasn't at all what I expected, and I had to point out to my wife that this film was, at heart, a comedy. Or at least that the comedic elements heavily influenced the tone of the piece. (How else to explain the name of the girl's camp that Lolita attends, "Camp Climax?")
And, given the theme, would anyone in 1962 have tolerated a more serious or sympathetic film?
It strikes me that with the much freer and more permissive society we have now, this film, if remade, still couldn't possibly have more impact than it does with Kubrick's restrained approach. In other words, it could certainly be more visually explicit, but Kubrick says it all without pulling any punches within the confines of the film making standards of the early Sixties. That's the mark of a fine artist, in my opinion - drawing within the lines but creating a masterpiece nonetheless.
Whenever I think along these lines I think of Igor Stravinsky. His first two ballets, which established his fame, were more or less conventional pieces. His third ballet was the famous primeval "The Rite of Spring," which caused a riot when it premiered. Stravinsky broke all the rules in classical music for that one: instruments used out of their usual registers, multiple beats and polyrhythms, crashing dissonances, no melodies or melodic development to speak of - it sounds fresh and raw. And yet, his subsequent works for the rest of his life were characterized by an intense restraint and a desire for boundaries - and he wrote many other masterpieces. He understood that, after all is said and done, limits make for great art.
I'm at page 317 of 781 in "Quincunx." Our young protagonist has just (apparently) escaped the English Boarding School from Hell. There's one of those in Dickens' "David Copperfield" that probably supplied the inspiration for this one, but Charles Palliser, the author of Quincunx, seems determined to out Copperfield Copperfield. The boys work farm drudgery all day, get beaten, whipped and even killed and are given only potatoes to eat - and they have to fight one another for their share after an exhausting day in the fields. As Oscar Wilde once said, "It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at it." I have no doubt, however, that more and worse things are in store for the plucky lad in the next few hundred pages.
Really, this book is like concentrated literary child abuse. And yet, I've kept with it for over three hundred pages, now. There's sort of a limbo effect at play, here. How low can their fortunes go? Makes me think of a scene in Blackadder's Christmas Carol, when a beggar woman says, "Oh, Mister Blackadder, we're so poor! All we have to eat is what we can scrape from between Grandmother's toes! We shall all starve!"
My post of old Burbank photos continues. Today I posted this one, a shot of my hometown in the 1940's. This was taken from the local Inspiration Point. How many wartime babies were conceived there (or in Burbank's celebrated space capsule of love) I cannot venture to say. What's cool is that I can pick out my high school in the shot.
I am happy to report that I got the monkey off my back and am now caffeine free. The headaches have ceased. See? I can quit any time I want. I may celebrate with a Coke tonight...
Have a swell weekend! Tomorrow morning I have to do yard sales earlier because I have a 10 AM practice with my band. Time to dust off the Fender Jazz Bass; we have a gig in September to ready ourselves for. Maybe we'll also do the associated wine tasting thing in the evening. (The more people drink, the better we sound.)
Another thing about Facebook (continuing my rant from yesterday): the use of the term "poke" - to "poke" people - seems inelegant. I am reasonably sure I don't want people poking my wife. I haven't poked anyone yet, so I'm not sure what it is. I'm guessing like a ping, or a zetz.
I asked if my two oldest (real) friends Mike and Bob have Facebook pages, and both responded along the lines of "Why would we want that?" So now I feel kind of silly, like I just completed some stupid e-mailed survey.
This afternoon we go to a closing on a home mortgage refinance. The lowered interest rate allows us to produce some cash which we will mainly stick into savings. Some of it will be used for some for needed home repairs (like a new driveway). As I'm not in the practice of discussing our finances, this is all I'll blog, save to say that I was surprised to learn how high our credit rating is. We could get into a lot of trouble with it, were we not disciplined.
In the course of our married life, we have known quite a few families who have gotten into trouble by accumulating credit card debt - a pernicious evil. I recall once being involved in a church clean up crew for one family who had to move out of their house suddenly. There was a marriage break up compounded by drug abuse on the part of the husband and years of improvident spending. I shall never forget seeing a big pile of unopened bills and statements on the kitchen floor, and the wife's wedding dress abandoned in a closet. Very sad. It isn't often that one sees such compelling evidence of a wrecked marriage - usually the damage is emotional. It made a big impression on me...
I am haunted by some music that I got on CD recently, specifically the first and final movements of Samuel Barber's Cello Concerto, Op. 22. It is a wonderful work, and I like it whenever I have new classical music stuck in my head. I feel improved somehow. I've never been a fan of the cello - it sounds too "meaty" for me, I prefer violins - but I like this piece a lot. (Come to think of it, a few years ago I also grew fond of another cello concerto, Henri Dutilleux' Tout un Monde Lointain, so perhaps I'm getting to like their sound...)
The other piece of Barber music on this CD is his Medea Suite, which I am slowly getting used to. I was attracted to this because I am attracted to Greek classical subjects. Medea - pictured above - was an interesting gal. You've heard of Jason and the Argonauts, right? Medea was Jason's wife, whom he betrayed. She got her murderous revenge by killing her two sons by Jason. You can read about her on the wikipedia link I've provided.
I once recall hearing a taped lecture about Euripides' play Medea, and how he (as the explanation goes) made her a sort of a poster girl for dissent of the shameful way Greek males treated women in classical Athens. (Simply put, women were married and were expected to stay at home and not be heard from.) The idea was that when Greek men chatted about Medea and how could she be so beastly, the answer came, "Because we men treat our women so badly. What do you expect?" Well, that was the professor's opinion, anyway.
The writer H.D.F. Kitto once gave it as his opinion that, if you ignored the availability of personal comforts like air conditioning, etc., classical Greece had the best and most magnificently-developed civilization in all of history - including ours. Being a Philhellene myself, I'm almost inclined to agree with him, but there's always what might be called the Women's Issue in classical Athens. How could such an incredibly intelligent populace, who achieved so much in the way of civilization, have treated their women so badly? Kitto's argument, as I recall in his book, was simply, they really didn't. But it seemed unconvincing.
Ah, well, as that cliched statement goes which ends every doctoral dissertation, More work is needed in this field.
I posted more interesting old photos of Burbank, my home town. This one, an aerial view taken during the construction of the Golden State Freeway (I-5), is especially good. It contains something of a puzzle. As you can see, Bonnywood Place is a wide, prominent street, and later became the path for I-5. Problem is, I've never heard of the street before and neither has my father-in-law, who lived in Burbank before I-5 was built. I'm checking with another old-timer about it; perhaps he remembers driving on it.
By the way, that flood channel I've marked is, in fact, a branch of the Los Angeles River - a sad body of water by any standard. I recall an early episode of the Beverly Hillbillies where the family is brought to a narrow concrete channel where the river flows and Jed comments, "Pitiful, just pitiful." The Potomac or Susquahanna it ain't!
McMahon's signature call, by the way, was meant to be the sound of John Wayne rounding up the cavalry and moving on. McMahon described it as happening spontaneously one night on the Tonight Show as a response to a bad Carson joke. But it wasn't Ed who first yelled it - it was somebody else. (I forget who.) Ed just adopted it as his own.
Regis Philbin, a friend of McMahon's, said that he and Carson are in heaven together, and perhaps this time Carson introduced McMahon: "Heeerrrrrrrrr's Ed!"
And that's as show-bizzy as I'll ever get. No more "Heigh-ohhh!" Rest in Peace, Big Ed.
Another olde tymey Burbank photo (before there were video games, there was industrial equipment).
I am now enduring the throes of going cold turkey with caffeine. (John Lennon's song comes to mind.) I was describing some health symptoms to my doctor and he said, "Do you drink sodas? Caffeine will make that worse." (What "that" is is a matter between me and my doctor, Gentle Reader.)
Normally I have a 20 oz. bottle of diet Coke first thing in the morning which lasts me until Noon or so (I keep adding ice to it and watering it down). I may have a can later that night, but that's it. So... for the past week I've been drinking what my wife calls "Why bother?": a diet drink without caffeine. Diet A&W for instance, or caffeine free diet Coke.
I've had withdrawal headaches for the past few days. It feels like somebody has been kicking the back of my head. Don't let anyone tell you caffeine isn't addictive!
It's funny, though... when I quit drinking coffee back in 1979, when I became a Mormon, I didn't get the headaches. And I was a six to eight cup a day man when I was in the Marines. The headaches must be age-related.
Okay, I'm at page 150 of "Quincunx," that 781 page Dickinsian mystery novel I've decided to tackle. Looks like I'm hooked. However... I am detecting a difference in stance between Charles Dickens and Charles Palliser (the author of Qunicunx). Dickens inflicted the worst treatment and ill fortune upon his hapless characters, and one got the idea that because he was a Victorian, he fully sympathized with them. Or was making a point with an eye to bringing about some social change. With Palliser, one gets the feeling there's a sly, post modern wink going along with the descriptions of poor treatment and misfortune.
Anyway, I'll stick with reading Quincunx - for the time being. (By the way, what's a quincunx? Also known as a Galton Board, it's a mechanical device, based on Baise Pascal's celebrated triangle, that demonstrates bell curve distributions. See here.)
I have created a Facebook page for myself. Why, I'm not sure; it may have been a mistake. I am currently getting hammered with automated e-mails from "friends." More properly, from friends' Facebook pages. I'll have to figure out how to manage these. I'm not sure I need to know when somebody has responded to somebody else's comments.
And I just got this odd request in an automated e-mail: "Cari said on Facebook that you two are married. We need you to confirm that you are, in fact, married to Cari." Oh, really? Why? Is Facebook monitoring friends for bigamy? (And if you'd like to mentally supply the usual Mormon jokes on this subject, feel free.)
Anyway, when I confirmed that, yes, indeed, we are married, I got a note "You are now in a relationship with Cari Clark." Now? Well. Nice of them to tell me. I wasn't sure if that woman I've been climbing into bed with for the last 28 1/2 years was a stranger or not.
Finally, I saw a first class British comedy last night, "Last Holiday" (1950). It had everything I expected: a great cast - those postwar British actors were amazing - the usual fine Alec Guinness understated acting, a funny plot and a wicked, wicked ending. The idea behind this one is that a man is diagnosed with a fatal disease and decides to cash out and have a fling at a posh hotel, a "last holiday." It's one of the best dark comedies I have ever seen.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MIKE!
Over the Father's Day weekend I watched an odd choice of material: Laurence Olivier's staging of King Lear, the tale of a man with three daughters, two of them rotten and conniving, one faithful and true - and, at the play's beginning, he doesn't know which is which. Needless to say, subsequent events set him straight, and how. It was excellent, an triumphant closing chapter to Olivier's famous career as a Shakespearean.
For me, when all is said and done, I prefer Olivier's Shakespeare productions to Kenneth Branaugh's. Branaugh's may be more lavishly produced, but his tendency to do oddball Hollywood casting calls annoys me (in addition to other quirks). I much prefer Olivier's more conservative approach, using tried and true British actors who were raised with Shakespeare.
No, I haven't yet seen the Mel Gibson "Hamlet." I've been avoiding it.
A newly posted old photo on Burbankia is this one, taken in September 1954. I provided a detail showing a trainload of lumber making its way down the tracks, halting traffic. The train is passing by an old familiar landmark in Burbank, the Burbank Junction tower. Twenty years later I'd walk by the structure on my daily path down the tracks on the way home from school. By then the city built an overpass over the tracks so traffic could flow freely, and it eclipsed the tower's prominence. I used to throw rocks at the pigeons high up who used to roost under the overpass (I never hit one - I had lousy aim); one day a railroad employee lectured me about how I was trespassing and needed to continue walking and not loiter.
I completely ignored him and continued to use the railroad right of way to get home. I liked the fact that it was out of the way, industrial looking and lonely. Odd thing, though... on all the walks home along the tracks I don't recall a single train pass by. Must have been poor timing.
I have always been attracted to trains; it's been a latent interest all my life. When we first moved to Burbank - I was eight - on my first night in my new bedroom, mattress on the floor because the rest of the bed hadn't arrived, I recall being surprised to hear a train go by up the street a few blocks away. "I'll have to investigate that," I thought as I drifted off to sleep. Ever since I have liked the sound of a faraway train.
I played by the tracks for hours when I was a kid, throwing rocks and putting pennies on the track to be crushed. What always surprised me was when I turned around and noticed a train coming a half mile or so away. How did it get there so quickly? I didn't see it last time I looked in that direction... There was always an oddly pleasurable sensation of being alarmed by its arrival.
In my readings I've come across a few mentions of hobos expressing a unique thrill to stand by a freight train as it passes by quickly; I understand that. There's something awesome about being near all that powerful metal moving by so quickly. It's not safe - it doesn't look, sound or feel safe, with the flange squeal, the ground rumbling, the tracks moving up and down and the sound of the wheels clacking over the rail joints.
When I was a kid I never did anything I considered risky and I always kept a respectful distance from the train as it passed by. All told, my play around the tracks was pretty safe, but as a parent I'm pretty sure I'd freak out if I thought my kids were playing around moving freight trains...
Saturday morning led to breakfast, and the scouts tried a new taste sensation: omelets in a bag. That was partially successful; I passed on it as they looked undercooked. And, of course, there was Sunny D (formerly called "Sunny Delight") - a vomitous insult upon the good name of orange juice that, for some reason, scouts are crazy about. Let's look at the ingredients: By volume, water and high fructose corn syrup appear first in the list - so Sunny D is mostly water and sugar. Not more than 2% fruit juice. And canola oil. Gak - who adds canola oil to a juice?!? And a host of emulsifiers and stabilizers all lovingly whipped up (probably) by International Flavors and Fragrances off the Jersey Turnpike. Certainly not Mother Nature. YUCK.
Ticks aplenty; we were pulling them off scouts constantly. I had none thanks to generous amounts of Off.
Saturday morning was going along fine until the lightning, thunderclouds and heavy rain arrived, and the Powers That Be cancelled the rest of the camp out. (One of them showed me a Blackberry display of a line of heavy weather on the way.) Can't say that I was too tremendously disappointed. However, it was a bad call as the weather cleared a few hours later and blue skies and pleasant weather developed. By then I was safely at the pool.
My dear wife bought me a new tripod for Father's Day - a good one. I've been making do with a succession of cheap plastic ones since 1976. You mount the camera atop it and one or more of the legs start to slip down. This new one is all metal construction and should be the last one I need to buy.
I posted more Burbank photos. Have you ever heard of a department store chain called "Zody's?" I have a c. 1973 photo that shows the Burbank store sign. We used to shop there; for a time, c. 1965, it was really The Thing. I remember that when I was nine the toy section later had the AMT Sonny and Cher His and Her customized Mustang plastic models. I wanted Sonny's but never got it, babe.
When Star Trek was first broadcast in September 1966 I was tuned in. Dad's Brooklynesque comment about the futuristic uniforms of the crew of the starship Enterprise was, "It looks like they're wearing Zody's pajamas." I was never quite sure what he meant by this, but I knew that it wasn't a compliment.
The Zody's exterior had the oddest concrete finish I have ever seen. Imagine big panels of wet concrete with sheets of plastic draped over them. Then stick your thumb into the plastic, leaving indentations everywhere. The plastic is removed and the panels are hung when dry. The effect is somewhat like grey punched bread dough, or an alien planet surface. Unless I'm mistaken, it's still there. (Mike?)
I am not really looking forward to this - it's supposed to rain. Actually, the weather report says "severe thundershowers," so that'll be exciting. And I'm pretty much burned out with sleeping in tents, and in one of those contradictions in terms, the sleeping bag. But I'm committed.
Still posting photos to my Burbankia page - I'm a faithful homie. Here's one: The Dip, April, 1972. This was located where five major avenues met in a location called, appropriately enough, "the Five Corners." The Dip was a familiar landmark by night and by day. By day because everyone would sit in traffic waiting for the light to change. (With five avenues of traffic it took a while.) By night because the eyes on that chef were a couple of light bulbs that would flash on and off. It looked weird!
I used to walk past it each day on my way home from high school 1971-1973. Naturally I'd stop and get one of those malts advertised by the sign. A brother and sister used to work there. The brother had a riotous sense of humor; he once told me a dirty joke that I have never been able to forget. (It's the familiar one about making doughnuts. I'm sure you know it.) His sister was sweet and pretty, had great legs, and moved like a ballerina - mainly because she was one.
You can just see a shadowy person under the metal awning to the left, where the picnic benches are. That's where I would sit and have my malt, and most of the time a cantankerous old man named Pete sat nearby. Pete was a Lockheed retiree with time on his hands. He had the crankiest personality of anyone I had ever met. I'd mention some book I was reading, or a movie I had plans to see and he'd dismissively wave his hand and go "Ehhhh." He disapproved of everything. After I got to know him better, it became fun to push his buttons and elicit a hand wave and a "Ehhh."
As it turned out, my dad and Pete knew one another from Lockheed; this fact emerged in a conversation one day. So one day I got home and said, "Hey Dad, Pete says 'Hi!'" "Pete who?" Dad asked. Then I did the hand wave and the "Ehhh," and Dad laughed, my imitation was so dead on.
I watched - or, rather, fast forwarded through - a film old Pete would certainly not like, "Ned Kelly" (1970), a cinematic vehicle for the decidedly minimal acting talents of Mick Jagger. I remember when this came out, and was intrigued with it. Why would an Australian outlaw wear homemade armor? The answer is contained in this interesting wikipedia entry. So don't bother ever watching the poorly made film; read the article instead.
I've seen a lot of good U.S. Army band concerts, but last night's was the best. They did a Leonard Bernstein jazz suite from (I think) the Fifties. Very cool, jazzy sound. And they also did a 1930's dance ensemble arrangement of what may be my all time favorite song, "I Only Have Eyes for You," plus a Gershwin suite for the entire band. I have always liked the sound of grouped saxophones...
Last night I learned that the United States Army employs over 4,500 musicians, making them the largest single employer of musicians in the country. I also learned that during the transition from Big Band to Rock and Roll, arrangers weren't sure what kind of dances to link with published songs. Therefore, Bill Haley's 1954 hit "Rock Around the Rock" was listed as a foxtrot, making it the all-time best selling foxtrot ever.
Have a great weekend!
One of the songs is Toni Fisher's 1959 hit, "The Big Hurt." (You can hear it here.) I had never heard it before; when I first heard it I thought, "Is that a phase shifter I hear being used in the mix? This must be a very early example of its use." Sure enough... as wikipedia cites, "The Big Hurt is notable because it featured phasing effects which at that time were rare in popular music; DJ Dick Biondi on WKBW would introduce the record as 'Toni Fisher's weird one.'"
What I find interesting about it is - as this article claims - is the influence it had on an eighteen year-old Jimi Hendrix. Yep... the phase shifter... that's the sound I want!
Also notable is the use of the phrase, "The Big..." In movies, this is often an indication of a film noir.
The Big Combo
The Big Heat
The Big Sleep
The Big Knife
The Big Clock
The idea is that of a force, or fate, that cannot be averted.
(I hear you asking, "What about the Big Lebowski?" The Coen Brothers are film noir fans...)
I am now reading "How the Irish Saved Civilization," by Thomas Cahill. An excellent book, except for some nits here and there. In one section he describes what led to the fall of Rome. All that sound familiar? We're there. Of course they didn't have the crushing public debt burden that we have...
For instance, on one sunny day in 1956 or 1957, an airplane pilot buzzed over Burbank and snapped photos while they were building I-5, the Golden State Freeway. We're trying to work out how Bonnywood Place, a street I had never heard of prior to finding the photos, became I-5. In one section of the photo, blown up greatly, it looks like Greek ruins, where the pillars for an I-5 overpass were built. Cool.
Also in this shot is the Standard Brands Paint Company on Victory Blvd. Boy, do I remember this place. Dad used to come here to buy his cheap paint, and he almost always took me with him. It was a sort of rite of manliness. In fact, every few years I have odd little dreams about the place.
I should mention that my father was a maintenance painter at the Lockheed plant in Burbank (now gone) - so he painted for a living. He painted men's rooms, offices, walkways, machinery - whatever needed painting. His nickname at Lockheed was "Rembrandt." He owned no watches that didn't have tiny drips of paint on them, and snorted Vicks VapoRub in an effort to battle paint fumes for supremacy in his lungs.
Standard Brands was presided over by a guy Dad identified as "Big John," an old dude who shaved his head and wore white painter's overalls. He bore more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Clean. Whenever Dad and I walked in there'd be a Hail Fellow Well Met greeting, as if they were members of some club. Big John would then peer at me to see if I gained any height since the last gallon of paint. Since I was growing like a weed at the time, there was always some comment.
Dad would proceed over to the left hand side of the store, where the "Standard Brands" were located. If we ever paid more than $5 a gallon for paint I don't recall it. In other words, even considering the lower cost of living back in the Sixties and Seventies, this was cheap paint. What's more, Dad used to thin the latex with some water. I have no idea why - it barely covered full strength, and the practice used to rile Mom to no end. Perhaps it's some vestigial trait of living during the Great Depression, when latex thickness had to be sacrificed to keep food on the table.
The other big Standard Brands product, as I recall, was luan, a thin wood product from some banana republic. Where other people would use a respectable plywood for occasional household use, we used luan. I remember once Dad nailed up sheets of the stuff onto the backyard fence in an attempt to dress things up - an ill-advised procedure since luan was certainly not an exterior use product. Needless to say, we soon had rotten and warped luan for me to break up, burn and hurl around in the back yard. I recall that broken luan had sharp, needle-like edges. I was forever pulling luan slivers out of my hands during my childhood.
Another trait of luan I remember was that small chunks of it were flat, and, when thrown, could sail like a Frisbee. There was a certain tactile gratification in throwing a piece of it, like flinging a D-cell across the yard. Whereas the D-cell would hit with a nice "thunk," bits of the luan would satisfyingly fly apart upon contact with a wall.
As I said, Mom was never a fan of "that damn" Standard Brands, and finally angrily took things in hand for one major painting project, and purchased a much better grade of paint somewhere else in Burbank. As I did a considerable part of the painting, I greatly appreciated the better quality paint, which went on and covered much, much better than any of the Standard Brands ever did.
One memorable last use of the leftover Standard Brands paint was on our family business, a cafe. We took every old can we had - in many colors - mixed them all together and wound up with an odd shade of chartreuse, which we used to paint the exterior.
The Standard Brands Paint Company was a chain in Southern California, and whenever we went for a family ride and passed one, I always noticed the familiar sign and had a sort of mental "urp," as if wondering what this pretender store was doing in Torrance or Van Nuys. Did they also sell luan? I bet there was no Big John in residence, though.
I see that Standard Brands filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1995. I guess people got tired of having to paint walls three or four times in order to get proper coverage.
I watched a 1942 Preston Sturges comedy last night, "The Palm Beach Story." Not ha ha funny, but witty and unusual. (Unusual, that is compared with modern comedies - which I often find unfunny.) It had Rudy Vallee in it; an curious sort of star who could have only risen to stardom in the 20's and 30's. By the time I had come to an awareness about such things in the early Sixties, he was a parody, like college freshmen playing ukuleles and wearing furs - that sort of thing.
In 1966 somebody had a hit with a song called "Winchester Cathedral," which mimicked his style (including singing into a megaphone).
Ever hear of Preston Sturges? He did a 1941 movie called "Sullivan's Travels" about a wealthy man travelling the U.S. as a hobo - perhaps the earliest known recreational or Yuppie freighthopper on film. The wealthy man, a film director, wants to make a film about the poor in society entitled "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" He therefore goes tramping to get a taste for what it's like. Sullivan's Travels was a favorite of the Coen Brothers, who also made a film about the unfortunates in society - O Brother Where Art Thou? - which was partially inspired by the Sturges work. That scene where the inmates file into the theater are shared by both films. However, in the Sturges film it's an epiphany; the director realizes that comedies are also needed in society, just as social problem films are.
I also saw "A Night at the Museum" over the weekend - ho hum. Predictable as all get out with the usual tropes. Ben Stiller has a schtick and he doesn't deviate from it in this film. If I were a monkey I'd pee on him, too.
You can probably tell from my blogs, but it's really hard for me to enjoy modern Hollywood product. I'm now thoroughly burned out with mannish/spunky/independent women, sequential massive explosions, politically correct social commentary, comic book adaptations, the latest rework of Batman, movies inspired by theme park rides, etc.
I could be wrong, but I keep getting a feeling that movies made by adults for adults starring adults pretty much went away in the late Fifties or early Sixties. A some point, perhaps with the rise of the Beatles, teenagers and people who never evolved past the teen years started calling the cultural shots in this country. We used to have cultural critics. Now we have fanboys. And in the United States, the Simpsons represents what Punch used to at the height of the British Empire.
It's depressing, really. Have we no real literary culture left?
And television... last night I was watching television theme songs from the Fifties and Sixties on youtube. I was somewhat stunned to realize that, back in 1972, the opening credits to "Room 222" was allowed to play for nearly a minute and a half. Nowadays it's Short Attention Span Theatre - they don't even allow the closing credits to roll without halving the screen and playing ads and promos.
I'll stop. Over the weekend my wife said, "Wes, you're starting to geez." Perhaps I'm doing that now.
I keep finding old manual SLR cameras with film still in them at yard sales. (Last week a Nikon, this week a Pentax.) Don't people check this? No telling what great photos may be on that old roll of film...
We picked up my wife's Longines from the watch repair guy on Saturday. I always like poking around to see what it is he's working on. A woman who works with the Edgar Allen Poe House in Baltimore brought in what she described as Poe's grandfather clock, a French job with an enamelled dial. She told the clock repairman that it inspired his short story "The Pendulum." Hmmmm. I couldn't remember any such short story. "The Pit and the Pendulum," of course. Everyone knows that one. So I looked it up in my complete stories and poems of Poe book; no such story.
The case also doesn't strike me as being old enough. The movement, yes. The case, no. Anyway, if it can be documented that this clock's pendulum inspired The Pit and the Pendulum then she really has something. But I'm guessing that it's just a story.
Visiting the Poe house in Baltimore is kind of iffy... it's in a bad neighborhood.
I ate and ate and ate and ate all weekend long. Attended two graduation parties for friends' kids. Which, of course, makes me think of my own high school graduation. I didn't go to prom, homecoming or grad night; I spent the entire time I was in high school with my face in a book. I regret this now, of course. My kids had absolutely normal high school experiences, however. In fact, they tell me that they had wonderful childhoods - which is credit to me and my wife.
I have a scout camp out this coming weekend that I am not looking forward to, frankly. Being outdoors in June heat is something I'd gladly forgo (which is why I no longer do summer Civil War reenactments). I plan to find whatever shade is available - hopefully the people in charge put the stations in as much shade as they can find at Ft. Belvoir!
Sixteen years ago today (1993) I reported for my first day of work at the United States Patent and Trademark Office. I never, ever thought I'd be working at any one place for that long. It's another example of where time creeps along unnoticed until some point at which you notice and say, "Has it been that long?"
One last thing about "Cat's in the Cradle" (see last blog): Chapin got the idea from his wife. This article explains the genesis of the song.
...and that's all for today. I've got a bunch of other things to do...
I took a little aging survey sent out by a cousin in New Hampshire; he's older than I am and so remembers stuff I don't.
Before I reveal what song I think is the most depressing ever I must nominate Johnny's Cash's "Hurt" as an honorable mention. When I first saw the video I was fascinated. Coming as it did at the end of Cash's career it's an amazing artistic exit. Sadly, his wife June died before he did, adding pathos to the line, "Everyone I know goes away in the end." Whew.
But for me the all time most depressing song is Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle." Lyrics here. Performance here. Unlike the case with the theme from "Exodus," however, I know precisely why I find this song so agonizing.
The first time I heard it was on the radio in 1975 when I was a young Marine in Comm-Elec School, in a lab doing some soldering. The weekend before, as was the case on most weekends at home, Dad wanted to go out for a drive somewhere, but I didn't want to. I had stuff of my own I wanted to do (visit a guitar or record store, hang out with friends, etc.). So I was sitting in this lab congratulating myself on being so free and independent, "discovering myself," as the hackneyed phrase goes.
"Hit pigeons flutter," said Joseph Smith, once. That song hit home.
I'd like to be able to say that it influenced me to spend more time with the Old Man, but that didn't happen. I merely tuned the song out of my life. But it appears every now and then, needling me.
When my father died in 1983 I had it running through my head, non-stop.
In 1983 my wife was pregnant with our first child. My father was looking forward to his first grandchild by buying diapers and, generally, just being excited. However, he died during the pregnancy and never saw my son. It's one of those infrequent things that has happened in my life that causes me to ask, "Why, Lord?"
Anyway, just before Ethan was born I had a dream: I'd come home from work and learned that my baby had, say, learned to roll over. "When did that happen?" I'd ask my wife. "You were away at work." Then he started walking. "When did that happen?" I'd repeat. "You were away," was the reply. I woke up feeling bereft and sadder than I could express.
My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
Perhaps I internalized the song - I don't know. But, chastened like Scrooge after visitations from the Christmas spirits, I spent as much time with my son (and my other two kids) as I could, having lunch with them at school, being a chaperon for field trips, volunteering in Scouts, cheer leading Dad, high school theatre, church events, etc. Most important of all, I avoided becoming a careerist, and was always home as early as possible. Now that the kids are grown I am very happy that I did this. And I am happy to say that my relationship with my son is excellent. (Ethan: Is this so?)
But that song. If we stumble across it on the radio it's a race to see who can change stations faster, me or my wife. We both hate it.
Yard sales, poolside eating, dashing around in the convertible, two Five Families graduation parties... looks like a great weekend coming up. Enjoy yours!
Today's depressing song is an oddity in that there are no lyrics. So I can't even explain why it depresses me! It's the theme to the 1960 Otto Preminger film "Exodus." My parents had the soundtrack when I was four or five (the Saul Bass burning hands design was another cause for puzzlement for my young mind), and whenever they played the damn thing I'd burst into tears; I have no idea why and didn't know why then, either. When my mother asked I just described it as a "sad song." I recall hearing it on the console stereo at home, on TV, on the radio in the car, on jukeboxes... it seemed we couldn't get away from it. And every time, after that big orchestral build up prior to the main theme, my eyes would well up in tears and I'd sob uncontrollably, poor little boy.
I'm not even Jewish.
I said it had no lyrics - that's not quite true. In fact, Pat Boone (Pat Boone!) wrote some for it along the lines of, "This land is mine/God gave this land to me..." in keeping with the Israeli theme of the story. But the lyrics never affected me. In fact, they somewhat stripped away the emotional bite of the piece.
I recall that the Luther Burbank Junior High School band "played" it at my 9th grade graduation ceremony. Needless to say, their musical gifts made it sound even more forlorn.
It's funny... even grown up as I am, I still get a mild panic attack when I hear those opening chords... what is it with that music, anyway?!?
By the way, my friend Bob, a perceptive reader, notes that none of the depressing tunes I've cited this week are what might be called "broken heart" songs. That is true. I am avoiding that theme altogether. These songs are lachrymose for other reasons.
Tomorrow: The song I think is the A number one all-time most depressing. It's such a bummer my wife can't stand it, either.
I'm at the Middle Ages part in my clock book ("Revolution in Time" by David S. Landes) that describes how clocks were simply automated bells - no dials. What is a clock but a bell? In fact our English word clock is akin to the the German word for bell, glocke, and the French word for bell, cloche.
I also learned that the foliot is so named due to its "mad" movement. The maddest clock movement to me, however, is the Harrison H1, which I saw in the Greenwich Observatory in London last year. Those rods, with the brass balls on top, crazily wig and wag towards and away from each other in a mesmerizing way. Truly unique. On Bond Street in London earlier this year I saw a Harrison-style clock for sale with the same goofy mechanism. I would love to have one, or a Jaeger-LeCoutre "Atmos" clock, which is powered by mere temperature differentials.
Yes, you can have too many clocks in a house. We are perilously near that. There's my cool old 1912 Ithaca grandfather clock in the dining room, a mantel clock over the fireplace in the living room and a pendulum wall clock in the kitchen. Since the three rooms are close together when they're all ticking it sounds like a clock shop.
But my wife once wrote that a ticking clock is one of the three things which make a house a home, and she's right.
But that's not the featured song for today, no. The next in my list of depressing songs is "Comfortably Numb," by Pink Floyd. This one is so well known I'm not even going to bother linking to a mp3 of it. Like Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?," I actually like this song. In fact I think it's very well crafted, with perhaps the most soulful and lyrical extended guitar solo I've ever heard.
I think this song is about sickness and drug abuse; certainly, that's how it's depicted in the "The Wall" movie. A troubled and sodden rock star has to be revived for a performance.
But the best song lyrics have a universality about them that sells the song, and it's easy to see oneself as the protagonist here. My adaptation came when I used to drive a long commute from Laurel, MD to Springfield, VA and back again in a Toyota that had an alarming random tendency to overheat. To shed some of the engine heat to prevent an engine seizing I'd turn on the heater - in the summer, mind you. Therefore, as I sat miserably in gridlocked traffic, the song's lyrics about having a fever and feeling hands (on the steering wheel) swelling up like two balloons made some sense. It seemed the best way to get through the commute was to render myself numb; to not rage at the annoying halts and idiotic fellow drivers. Only I was uncomfortably numb.
(I am happy to report that I haven't commuted since 1993. I take a bus and the Metro for a short hop to work and read while riding. What a difference that makes!)
I've always liked the beat of this song - like a slow heartbeat. I also like the gentle tone of voice in the delivery of the lines, "Just the basic facts/can you show me where it hurts?" (No, I can't - it just hurts.)
The song is interesting in its chord structure, too. I recall once being in a echoey Boston subway station hearing it played on an acoustic guitar by some busker; it took me a minute to realize what the song was, so used am I to the recorded version's "sound." The performer also did the old arranger's trick of opening the song with the middle section; that made it elusive.
Anyway, Comfortably Numb is a great song. I can appreciate it not even ever having been stoned or dissolute.
I've been having problems with an external USB hard drive at work; as it heats up it becomes intermittent. It's really annoying - I'll be going along extracting gigabytes of data off of it when "bink-bonk" goes the PC, signalling that the drive has just failed, crashing while doing a copy to another disk. The problem is I have most of my important archived files on this drive. So... how to keep the drive cool long enough to get the data off of it?
I came up with the bright idea of taping the exhaust of a small industrial vacuum cleaner I have to it to dissipate heat. That worked well until the cleaner warmed up - then the warm air just preheated the drive. Bad. So then I stuck it in the refrigerator in the pantry for awhile, and set a big block of ice atop it. That seemed to work just fine. Now I just need another few hundreds of gigs of storage space to finish the process. (I have a drive on order.)
I am now reading "Revolution in Time - Clocks and the Making of the Modern World" by David S. Landes. It was given to me by my friend Don, who knows I love clocks and watches. I was reading about Su Song's ancient water-powered clock. Cool! Landes calls water-powered clocks a "magnificent dead end," which of course it was. The important question, however, is that how was it that Europeans and not the Chinese discovered the verge and foliot and, later, the pendulum? Chinese society had the same need for timekeeping that the Eurpopeans had, and had an earlier start on complex timekeeping. One of the great imponderables...
Really, is there a worse tree than the Bradford Pear? Last night a severe thunderstorm blew through town, and the neighbor of the scout leader I meet each week had a tree crack apart. Since Bradford pears grow quickly (which is why developers like them) but poorly, they're always cracking apart in high winds. The guy across the street from me had this happen, as did our neighbor and a guy down the street.
Anyway, we spent an hour Scouting in Action helping this guy haul tree branches to the curb. Look... if you want a tree you won't have to be cutting apart and hauling away when it falls on your house or car (the one last night fell on his car), don't plant a Bradford pear!
I remember exactly when I first heard it and I remember especially the sense of disquiet it gave me. I was nine (Sinatra was 50); it was playing on the car radio, and I asked my father questions about the song - why it was so sad, what it was about, etc. My Dad (who was then 53) responded that it was a song about a man who was, "…in the September of his years." This was the first time I ever heard this phrase and I puzzled over it. When exactly can a man be said to be in "the September of his years?"
I once calculated it.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average life expectancy for an American male and female combined is 77. For a white male it's 74.8, but I'll be optimistic and use 77 - after all, I'm a rugger and am therefore tougher than average, right?
Dividing 77 into 12 gives, roughly, 6.4 years. So each "month" of a man's life lasts 6.4 years. Doing the math gives the following result - and you may check to see where you are on life's calendar:
January: birth to 6.4 years.
February: 6.4 to 12.8 years.
March: 12.8 to 19.2 years.
April: 19.2 to 25.6 years.
May: 25.6 to 32 years.
June: 32 to 38.4 years.
July: 38.4 to 44.8 years.
August: 44.8 to 51.2 years.
September: 51.2 to 57.6 years.
October: 57.6 to 64 years.
November: 64 to 70.4 years.
December: 70.4 to 76.8 years.
A few things become apparent:
1. Oh, dear. I, too, am in the autumn of my years, as I am 53. This damn song is about me!
2. This scheme makes some poetic sense. After all, when a man is between 25 to 44 years old he may be said to be in his prime, or high summer, of his years.
3. This scheme kind of falls apart for me in December. That's a jolly, lively month - like the repentant Scrooge. I'd expect one's last failing years to psychologically be more like February (the dead of winter).
There is only one thing more depressing than Frank Sinatra's version of "It Was a Very Good Year": William Shatner's rendition of it. As I don't have an mp3 of it ready, I won't inflict it upon you. Unless, of course, there is a demand...
Hey, check this out - the parrot flower.
I watched my daughter's videotape of "Cats" with her last night; consequently I had that achingly sad tune "Memories" in my head all last night. When you think about it, the major-minor system of music is pretty amazing. It's been around for hundreds of years prior to Cats, but interesting, original music - like Memories - can still be written using it.
I wish I was a better musician than I am. I was trying to figure out what time signature it was written in, but it took me a while. The main theme is in waltz time, 3/4, and that middle section is in a slow 2/4 march time. I think. Wikipedia has a good explanation, but it some animated musical .gifs showing a bouncy ball would be nice.
It's a Peggy Lee song entitled “Is That All There Is?” - and this one has quite a tale behind it. It was released in 1969 and made it to #11 on the U.S. pop charts, but I first heard it in 1972. I recall hearing it for the first time on a car radio and was immediately hooked. I have always liked it. Not only was it wildly unlike everything else on the radio when it was released (in 1969 pop was preoccupied with trippy, pompous songs with drug overtones usually exhorting listeners to "open their minds" – this song was an old-fashioned cabaret number), it was profound. Even in art music (classical), I am unfamiliar with any other song that expresses disillusionment in life so well. But there’s a good reason for that.
Its musical quality was assured since it was written by songwriting giant Jerry Lieber, half of the famous Lieber-Stoller songwriting team that wrote many hits, including “Hound Dog,” “Love Potion Number Nine,” “Kansas City,” “Stand by Me,” “Poison Ivy,” “Jailhouse Rock,” to name a few. Elvis Presley recorded over twenty of their songs.
But where did Lieber get the lyrical content from? His (then) wife, Gaby Rodgers. She had been reading a piece by the famous German writer Thomas Mann entitled “Disillusionment,” written when he was but twenty. The following summary, taken from Colin Wilson's book “The Craft of the Novel,” also describes the song lyrics:
The narrator is sitting in St Mark's Square in Venice when he falls into a conversation with a fellow countryman. The man asks, "Do you know what disillusionment is? Not a miscarriage in small unimportant matters, but the great and general disappointment which everything, all of life, has in store?" He tells how, as a small boy, the house caught fire; yet as they watched it burn down he was thinking, "So this is a house on fire? Is that all?" And ever since then, life has been a series of disappointments; all the great experiences have left him with the feeling: "Is that all?" Only when he saw the sea for the first time, he says, did he feel a sudden tremendous craving for freedom, for a sea without a horizon... And one day, death will come, and he expects it to be the last great disappointment. "Is this all?"
The songs omits the part about the sea, but concludes with Mann’s sentiments about life’s last great disappointments. Rodgers had given the book to her husband to read, and he, too, was impressed with the ideas behind the work – enough to incorporate them into a song.
Gaby Rodgers is an interesting person, known in the film noir buff world as the woman who opened the Great Whatzit in “Kiss Me, Deadly” (1955). The Great Whatzit is a stolen container that that people – including Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer – are desperately trying to get their hands on. Lives are lost over obtaining it. It’s always described metaphorically and sometimes mythologically, being compared to Pandora’s Box. When it eventually is opened by Lily Carver (Gaby Rodgers’ character), at the end of the film, all hell breaks loose. What’s pictured next suggests nuclear fission.
Remember the Ark opening scene in the first Indiana Jones film, "Raiders of the Lost Ark?" Most film historians credit that as a reference to the Great Whatzit. There’s also a cryptic scene in Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction” when Samuel L. Jackson opens a briefcase, which emits a glow. “Is that what I think it is?” he asks. This is confirmed. You never find out what it is. This is probably another Kiss Me, Deadly reference.
Kiss Me, Deadly is a film noir which has inspired much commentary, some of it valid, some of it unpromising. It’s a favorite of critics because it seems to portray 1950’s style and paranoia mores so well.
So… what’s in the box? I once tracked down Gaby Rodgers to ask – my interview notes with her are here. When she asked the director she got a short reply: “It’s atomic.”
Rodgers confirmed that as a young child, in Holland, she was a playmate of Anne Frank’s, the child who penned a famous diary of her captivity as a Jew under the Third Reich. And she also confirmed that she had a role in writing the Johnny Cash hit “Jackson” with her husband, Jerry Lieber. (I think I've seen her credited as the songwriter on that one.)
I think you now know everything about Peggy Lee’s “Is that all there is?” to know, except perhaps that Randy Newman did the arrangement. He later became a star in his own right.
I am now reading "A Mormon in the White House? - 10 Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney" by Hugh Hewitt. I saw it at a yard sale last month and bought it, being intrigued by the title. I'm about halfway through. It confirms what I already knew: the GOP went with the wrong, wrong, wrong candidate in the 2008 general election.
Lots of yard sales on Saturday, but I only bought a Frank Sinatra CD and a videotape. The CD contains tomorrow's most depressing song, and the VHS tape was Laurence Olivier's TV production of "King Lear" from 1984. I was on a business trip when it was first broadcast and kicked myself because I missed it. That's okay - 25 years later I get a copy for $1. Life is sometimes like that; if I wait long enough I usually get what I want.
Over the weekend I watched some Ingmar Bergman films I recorded from TCM broadcasts. One of them was "Persona" from 1966. One critic claims that it's a pretentious film that somehow escapes being pretentious. I say it didn't make it over the barbed wire. Simply put, it's a film about two women - a patient and a nurse - who interchange personalities. At one point there's a camera shot of the two of them merged together optically that was sent up in a hilarious SCTV spoof of a Bergman film, "Whispers of the Wolf" (a blend of Bergman's "Hour of the Wolf," "Persona" and "Cries and Whispers"). Bergman's style just begs to be parodied.
The other is a work I had a real struggle staying awake through, frankly: 1969's "The Passion of Anna." The novelty in this one is that the actors are interviewed about the roles they play during the course of the film. That's a Bergman thing, making sure the viewer knows that what he's watching is really a film, not reality. Okay, already, I get it.
I counted; this is the twelfth Bergman film I've seen - I sometimes wonder why I bother. For me, his best stuff is his earliest: "Wild Strawberries," "The Seventh Seal," "Tinsel and Sawdust." Later on he just got weird, which sets off my B.S. alarm. The film critics go ga-ga over this stuff, however, in much the same way art critics rhapsodize Jackson Pollack's paint splotches. I suspect there's more than a little snake oil on the canvas.
So is that all there is? Is that all there is to Ingmar Bergman?
Scale: You weigh 266.8 pounds.
Me: How can that be? I've been restricting my calories faithfully for the past week and just yesterday I only weighed 266.
(I step on again)
Scale: You weigh 266.8 pounds.
Me: Okay, I know how this works. For some weird reason I always weigh less after I've showered and shaved. I'll try again.
(I shower and shave, and step back on)
Scale: You weigh 266.4 pounds.
Me: Okay, that makes more sense, but I still don't believe you.
(I step on again)
Scale: All right, already. You weigh 266 pounds. There. Happy? Now please go away.
I am now reading "The Long March" by William Styron - a yard sale acquisition. It's a book about Marines on a 36 mile training hike in the Carolinas. So far it's quite good, but he (or the publisher) makes the grievous mistake of failing to capitalize "Marines." Everyone knows that while there are soldiers, sailors and airmen, Marines are always Marines. The author knows better: He was once in the Marines, and was a Virginian to boot.
Styron's major work was "The Confessions of Nat Turner," which I have also read. An excellent read. The Long March is quite short; for some reason I only have an interest in reading short books these days. I just can't summon up the dedication or executive skills to read anything longer than about 150 pages. Perhaps I was traumatized by David Copperfield last year.
My hometown pal (esai!) Mike has been once again digging up great historical photos of Burbank, California, from whence I hail. I like this one. I wish I knew what kind of car that is... it doesn't appear to be a Ford Model T or A; I looked. He's parked at the base of an easily-identifiable building in early Burbank; easily identified because of that odd, early Russianesque pointed cupola. ("Early Russian?") You can see that later on the cupola was more elegantly supported by angle pieces off the wall in the car photo. By the way, that building still stands, minus the cupola, sad to say. It's now a restaurant/bar. I was in it last September.
My daughter Meredith blew into town yesterday for a prom... yes, even though she's in college she gets invited to high school proms. My son also went to two high school proms as a college student. I think it's kind of weird, but my wife thinks it's unremarkable. My kids are in heavy social demand, undoubtedly because of their outgoing personalities (inherited mainly from their father).
Another thing I think weird but my wife thinks is great is painting the ceiling of my front porch sky blue - which I did the other day. She wants to commission an artist friend of my daughter's to paint some clouds upon it, trompe l'oeil. Now, me, I think my home is a success if somebody comes to the door thinking he made a mistake and is really at some local historical structure, like Mount Vernon or Gunston Hall. If somebody came to my door, looked up and saw clouds painted upon a sky blue ceiling, he'd wonder how many cats the lady inside had.
I mentioned trompe l'oeil; just to make sure I got the spelling right I looked it up on google. I found some entertaining examples of the art:
Building before and building after - Cool! Tres presentable.
Oculus - The artist missed the opportunity to have a cherub hover in midair.
Memorial - The patriotic folks in Mt. Pleasant, Utah, have a go.
I learned that this sort of thing, when painted on a wall, is called a quodlibet. The only other place I had run across that term is with P.D.Q. Bach, when he puts snippets of, say, "She'll be comin' 'round the Mountain," "Yankee Doodle" and the Beatles' "Day Tripper" in a concerto. Ya learn something new every day.
Have a great weekend!
My requirement for constant novelty and mental stimulation (as my wife describes it) is bad and good. Bad in that I flit from one interest to another without ever acquiring any real expertise in it, the classic "Jack of all trades - master of none." I am not like some of my rugby and reenacting acquaintances who stick with the sport and hobby all their lives and get lifetime satisfaction from it. I get involved for a time, then discover another shiny object.
But it's good in that I will never become one of the sports or hobby wraiths Bob describes, hanging around the site of former activity or glory with "virtually nothing to say."
I am slogging through the remainder of John Updike's "Rabbit, Run." I don't think I'll read any of the sequels because I feel like I'm wasting my time reading this one. Also, I don't think it's especially well-written. It's yet another case of where I read or hear about something being praised to the hilt, try it for myself and find myself wondering what all the acclaim is about.
For instance, I see from the bio on the back page that Updike was a frequent contributor to the New Yorker; that sort of explains things. I have often looked through issues of that magazine, but for the cartoons. Whenever I attempt to read one of the articles my eyes start to glaze over, my mind wanders and I think of other things to do. New Yorker articles always seem to be diffuse and boring to me. But perhaps I'm not supposed to admit that... perhaps you now think less of me because I find the New Yorker diffuse and boring. Maybe it's a little IQ snobbery joke people play with one another.
Wait... don't I recall somebody telling me about a Seinfeld episode about that?
(Pause while I look it up.)
Yes... partial transcript here. But the humor in Seinfeld is that the cartoons don't make sense, a point I will readily grant. While New Yorker cartoons are often droll, sometimes the humor evades me, too. (By the way, I have about five or six books of New Yorker cartoons... all purchased at yard sales!)
I finished watching the second Fantastic Four movie last night with my wife. It was... okay. I liked the original comic book version Jack Kirby and Stan Lee came up with better.
(I think I now may be thoroughly burned out with comic book movie adaptations - these seem to be designed for teenagers. Very little nuance or subtlety, just a series of explosions. One tires of seeing things blow up.)
But back to the Silver Surfer/Galactus storyline... as I recall in the comic book, a figure named The Watcher intervenes. I always got a kick out of that guy - he must have been a Jack Kirby creation. I can see Stan Lee asking Kirby upon getting the pages for the next FF magazine, "Who's this guy in the toga supposed to be?"
Lee used to script pretty much the same lines of dialogue for the Watcher whenever he appeared, "The Fall of Ragnarok has caused battles of cosmic significance between the gods! The universe trembles at the outcome! But I must not interfere! Though the fate of millions depend upon the outcome I must do as I have done for many millennia... observe and record! For I am... the Watcher!"
Heh. Some of us go through life that way, professional spectators, never participants. And who's to say that's such a bad idea?
The Silver Surfer was the invention of Jack "King" Kirby, Marvel's best comic book artist and, arguably, the best comic book artist of all time. Well, I think so, anyway. I watched an hour-long documentary about him that is contained on one of the Fantastic Four DVDs, and noted that various interviewed comic book world artists and writers all say the same thing: Kirby was uniquely talented. I think he was to comic book art what Jimi Hendrix was to electric guitars and Mozart and Beethoven were to the art music of their time - artists who entirely changed things.
He certainly set the style in the Sixties. When I drew my version of the Fantastic Four - the Foney Four - I tried to imitate Kirby's style, especially with the shorthand way he had of designing shadows and suggesting musculature. The point was made in the documentary that anatomy was a weakness in Kirby's art, but nobody else came close at suggesting action and movement.
My own comic book drawing, while a source of escape for me during a difficult period (I describe this here), was problematic. I would get a creative rush doing the cover and coming up with the concept, but actually working on the story became a drag after a few pages. I guess my talents as an eleven year-old were more in line with editing or publishing than with actual storytelling.
My drawing was always a source of embarrassment to me as well. While I was an enthusiastic artist I was never a good one. (1969's "War on Poland Hill" makes that clear.) By 1969, however, when I was thirteen, I was making the move away from comic books and into book literature. I recall reading a collection of Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allen Poe stories that would seal the deal, and I put my comic book collection aside.
The sad little postscript: By 1975 I figured, at the wise old age of nineteen, that I was all grown up and finished with childish things. After all, I was a big, bad Marine. So I sold my comic book collection, all 1,200 of them. In among them were the first fifteen issues or so of the Fantastic Four, a good early run of the X-Men, the first Spider-Man and many other early issues, the first appearance of Iron Man, and many others worth several tens of thousands of dollars nowadays. (I found these at a yard sale in 1968, all in perfect condition and sold for next to nothing.) I got $190 for the entire collection.
If I could go back in time and warn myself, the first thing I'd tell is to not sell my comic books. Not only was it a shortsighted thing to do financially, I discovered when my son became old enough to enjoy comics that it would have been great to share the same stories with him that I liked as a kid. To some extent I could do that with reprints, but it would have been better to present him with a big trunk full of fantasies and memories - illustrated, in large part, by Jack Kirby.
I'm somewhat more than halfway through John Updike's introductory work about his modern Everyman Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, "Rabbit, Run." I'm not sure if I like this book or not. In many ways it's leaving me utterly cold - I feel no sense of having improved myself at all with the reading of it - and in some ways I'm curious to see what happens next. I'm kind of hoping that a speeding train will suddenly come by and slap the selfish bastard into the next world - but I know that doesn't happen.
There is one theme in the book that is really pushing my buttons, that is, the idea of Rabbit as having been a high school basketball star who accomplishes very little of importance since then. This, to me, is a kind of personal hell. Have you ever seen the film "Napoleon Dynamite?" There is one character in it, Uncle Rico, who continually harps on the what-may-have-been from his high school years in the early Eighties, if only he had made State (champions). This frustrates me to no end; I want to scream, "Go find a rugby club and forget the past!"
In my readings about the American Civil War I have always been sorry for an entire generation of men in the North, who would find that the most notable thing to happen in their entire lives was a war that they took part in for a couple of years in their twenties - which, for the rest of their days they would commemorate in a constant series of G.A.R. reunions and camps. For some, the last of which would be in the late 1930's! I would hate to be defined by something that happened in the first decades of a long life.
I suppose I could blog about how home technology enables people to make media that looks and sounds like real major movie studios product, but I'm guessing that the professional look and feel probably stops the moment a non-professional actor - directed by a non-professional director - opens his mouth. After all, I have seen the painfully bad acting in many reenactment videos and, a few weeks ago, "Rail Kings" (the hobo-inspired thriller), the ne plus ultra of bad amateur filmmaking.
As you know I've been dubbing stuff on VHS onto DVD. I was considering putting my 125th anniversary Gettysburg commemorative video (from 1988) onto DVD, but quit when I again saw the horrible, horrible reenacted Union Army war council scene.
General Meade: Gentlemen, what are (misplaced pause) your recommendations?
General Hancock (too loud and enthusiastically): I say DRIVE THEM!!
(Overlong pause while the next guy to speak forgets his cue)
General Gibbon: If General LEE (over emphasis on the word "Lee") attacks, we should hold our position.
Another general (muttering): We should hold this position.
...and so on. There is really no substitute for trained and skilled actors in these productions.
It's funny. At one job I was at, a little job came up for a corporate promotional video. The poor guy in charge of the thing remembered that I was a reenactor, and asked if I would be in it. "Sure," I said, because I was bored out of my mind with my normal assignments. My role involved chatting with a female co-worker and taking a FAX out of a FAX machine. It turned out okay, but he made the common mistake of supposing that reenactors were actors. We are not - as the Gettysburg Council of War scene conclusively proves.
I watched a fourth 1979 gang film (along with the Warriors, the Wanderers and Walk Proud) last night, "Boulevard Nights," about East L.A. Hispanic gangs. This featured some non-actors in roles but was, overall, very convincing. I understand that this film has now become a cult film among the gangstas in East L.A. (As one director said, "You cannot make a cult film. Only an audience can make a cult film.") I'm not surprised. It shows some gang members tagging with spray paint cans and crossing out other gangs' tags, and huffing spray paint. You don't see that too often in films!
It could be argued, however, that the real stars of the show were the lowrider cars with the hydraulic hopper mechanisms. I used to see these now and again at stoplights in L.A. and was always thunderstruck and entertained. Why anyone would want to make a full size car lurch up and down is beyond me. But... if it keeps a vato away from the handguns it's worth it.
Speaking of slang I finally figured out that a common word heard in these movies, esai, means, roughly, "homie" or "brother." A male inclusion word. I've heard that one all my life but had no idea what it meant. I thought it was a filler, the way English speakers would say, "You know?"
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