I like skyscrapers, you see. My Mom and I visited New York City when I was twelve, and I loved the place. It was my first ride up the Empire State Building and I have never forgotten it - I was totally blown away by the view. Ever since, every few years or so, I get the same dream: I am atop a skyscraper, feet dangling over the edge, looking down. I always wake up with sweaty palms.
The yard sale CDs are a combination of rock and classical (mostly Heitor Villa-Lobos - I must have happened across a fan of his music). I bought a two CD set of Jimmy Buffett songs. I've always wondered about that guy... will I like his music or not? Am I a repressed Parrothead? I shall find out. I was on the hammock listening to a really fine CD of Sir William Walton choral works yesterday - that's the nice thing about finding yard sale classical CDs. When I'm at a store I ponder whose music to buy... at a yard sale I just buy what's available and discover some real gems.
From my desk calendar: Dilbert's pointy-haired boss decides to blog.
Burbank, California, has a block letter "B" overlooking it on the Verdugo Hills. For the upcoming 100th anniversary of the incorporation of the city next year, they gussied it up some. This is an improvement over how it looked for a few days in August, 2005 when it was vandalized! Can you imagine a city of over 100,000 inhabitants looking up into the hills and seeing that?
Here is a great little piece of amateur cinema, capturing history: VJ Day in Waikiki. Look how good the Kodachrome looks!
Spain's Giant Baby. The "passion" China has for children? EXCUSE ME? The Red Chinese (and yes, I mean to use that olde tyme phrase) scorn humanity as infants and as adults. What impossible nonsense!
I saw some good films noir recently:
The "Phenix City Story" (1955): A hard-hitting, gritty film noir about a local good old boy mob in a small Southern town. From wikipedia: "The drama depicts the real-life 1954 assassination of Alabama attorney general Albert Patterson in Phenix City, Alabama, a city controlled by organized crime, and the subsequent imposition of martial law." Martial law! Imagine that. Anyway, good film.
The Brothers Rico (1957): A proto-Goombah Flick starring the smoothest gangster in classic period noir, Richard Conte. (He of the oddball tombstone.) I always enjoy a good Conte flick - he's just fun to watch. In this one the Mob executes two of his brothers - it's just business - and he gets even.
The Lawless (1950): Surprising in that I've never heard of this film and yet the subject matter - race relations between whites and Mexican-Americans in California - is still very topical. A good unknown, in other words. It starts out slowly and builds to a great climax featuring themes of yellow journalism on the part of the local media. I'm not sure this one really qualifies to be a film noir, but it is a nice companion piece to The Sound of Fury (1950), another film about yellow journalism that is a noir.
My wife and I also watched "Dreamgirls" (2006) last night. While I acknowledge that it was a good film with many fine performances, it didn't really do much for me. Not my kind of flick...
I was in a music store recently to buy a Hanon book and spotted these: classical composer action figures. I may want the one of Beethoven to sit on my piano. I see there is also a Bach action figure, as well as other historical personages including Einstein and Edgar Allen Poe. (I would have the Poe one strangling the Jane Austen one.) Guess what most boys are going to want to do with the Marie Antoinette one?
These are sad times for me. As I mentioned before, my favorite video place and hang out spot, Video Vault, is shutting its doors. Reasons: a bad economy, a changed Netflix video rental model, no parking space around the building in Old Town Alexandria and a truly predatory landlord (more about him at some future date). The movers arrived yesterday; today they have to be out by midnight. Total bummer. I shall really miss discussing oddball and obscure movies and actors with the owner, a fascinating gent who has forgotten more about films than I shall ever know.
He told me that he caught an interview with the CEO of Blockbuster, who stated, "I don't know why anyone would want to watch a movie other than a current release." Ack! The wrong rental company is going out of business!
Video Vault closing article. Another. A message board.
Here's my amazon.com review of a yard sale paperback I just read: "Why Do Men Have Nipples? Hundreds of Questions You'd Only Ask a Doctor After Your Third Martini" - Have you ever bumped into a person who uses vulgar language freely and speaks in an offensive and overly casual way? That's the tone of this book, combined with unfunny, self-serving attempts at humor. While some of the medical trivia was interesting, completing the book left me hoping that I never have to endure a meeting with the authors.
As I was telling a friend earlier this week, one of the greatest tragedies of my life involved my comic book collection and a foolish decision regarding same. But my readers are great! One sent me an old photograph of one of the players in that decision, and I have linked it here. Scroll down to the photo of the Simpsons' "Comic Book Guy" and read all about it. I maintain that I met the original, Burt Blum - a pox on his memory!
Weight: Friday morning is scale day, and I am down 4.2 pounds from last week, for a total of 7.2 pounds in two weeks. I am backing away from the abyss. How am I doing this? Go here and scroll to the bottom. No fads, just simple physics - you have to burn more than you take in.
I see lots of neighborhood yard sale signs around - that's promising - and the weather in Northern Virginia is forecast to be sunny and in the high eighties! We have a Five Families thing going on for Saturday night, too. (For my birthday they gave me a joke photo in a frame. A Nikon teacher once told me: "Photoshop can only be used for two things - good and evil.")
Have a swell weekend!
I had once read somewhere that the little drops of sweat that cartoon characters exude when agitated were called "plouts." As I like words, this one stuck with me. The problem, however, was I could find no confirmation for this anywhere on the Internet. Odd.
So yesterday, while doing a google search for images of Nancy I could link to, I found this, "The Happiest Cartoonists of All Time." For some bizarre reason Life magazine had prominent cartoonists, Nancy's Ernie Bushmiller included, drawing upon women's swimsuits - while the women were wearing them. I'm guessing this one didn't make it onto the pages of Life.
As is often the case with the Internet, one link led to another and I discovered this wikipedia entry. Eureka! The word I was looking for was really "plewds" - I had misremembered it. (See the image at left for a graphical depiction of plewds in action.) I like clever words... who knew that what one thought were stink lines were really "wafterons?" And that I had been drawing dites for years in my handmade comic books?
Also funny: Cartoon physics.
The other little personal mystery dealt with film noir. On the Turner Movie Classics channel there's a little promotional spot they usually broadcast before old mystery films; it's made from snippets from various films noir. I like it because I can identify all the movies that the scenes are drawn from - except one. It's a wonderfully evocative shot of what looks like a 1949 Ford pulling to the curb in an impossibly bleak cityscape at what looks like 3 AM. There's a bridge in the background with some cars driving over it -- you can see their headlights.
Turns out it's from the film noir I just watched, "Where the Sidewalk Ends" (1950), an engrossing flick from director Otto Preminger and a worthy inclusion into the mid-century Night Gallery that is film noir.
I love these old films so.
I have a piano piece stuck in my head, the piano lounge one I'm learning with the arpeggiated chords and the heavy pedal. But fortunately I play it acceptably for the most part, so I'm not torturing myself with repeated mental replayings of my playing it badly. When I took up piano I hadn't anticipated this sort of thing; it's a bit maddening. But this happens to me often when I hear new music - it settles in my head.
Don't let the fact that it's a silent film deter you; Maria Falconetti, as Joan, gives one of the most articulate and nuanced performances in all of film. Pauline Kael said it might be the finest performance ever captured in cinema. But... I see that I have reviewed this film before, when I first saw it three years ago. To prevent me from repeating myself, I'll simply link you there. Scroll down to the second paragraph - in my usual wildly topically diverse manner my first paragraph is about the B-52's.
Yesterday for my birthday I got a book about my favorite funny pages girl: Nancy. I have always been a fan of Ernie Bushmiller's unadorned style. The book contains reprints from 1957-1958 comic books. The first story contained the introduction of Oona Goosepimple, the creepy little protogoth girl who seems to have been an adaptation of the Addams Family's Wednesday. (As near as I can tell, Wednesday is the original stereotype.)
I also got a book about hoboes I haven't yet read: "Beggars of Life," by Jim Tully. I've read that it's excellent. We shall see.
What's with today's odd image, Colonel Sanders feeding a woman a piece of chicken? I saw it on the Interweb and thought it was too good not to use. That's all.
I greeted the day by muttering, "Oh, what is it now?" when the alarm clock went off. I was dreaming that I was flying (actually, floating and paddling through the air forward with my arms) over a river and was slowing losing altitude before reaching the shore. A swimmer wanted to grab me but I said, "No touch!" Thus, when I heard the alarm clock go off I interpreted it as another problem and uttered, "Oh, what is it now?" Sheesh.
I watched two lesser films noir yesterday:
"Hell's Island" (1955): Boring. And in Technicolor, which is always a strike against any film noir. ("Chinatown" overcame it.) It would have been far better were the island more hellish. I fell asleep while watching it, in fact. There - that one was easily dispensed with.
"I, the Jury" (1953): A hyperbolic Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer thriller. Overall the film wasn't much, but what made it entertaining was the exaggerated violence and sex (within a 1953 standard, of course). Hammer barges into rooms, shoves and slaps people around, talks way too loud, declares his thirst for revenge, makes suspicious facial expressions at signs of homosexuality and rebuffs women. All of this in 3-D and with Christmas card images used as scene transitions. (The action takes place during the holidays.) Sadly, Hammer was portrayed by an unconvincing actor named "Biff." That's not going to work. Parklane - the production company - tried again with a Mickey Spillane novel adaptation in 1955 and got it right by casting the sneering, unlikable Ralph Meeker in "Kiss Me, Deadly" - a favorite noir of most critics, including the Birthday Boy here. Director Robert Aldrich put it over the top in a way the novel didn't by including a nuclear explosion at the end. Good stuff.
I was a fan of the 1980's Stacey Keach Mike Hammer television show. It wasn't authentic noir, but it was one of the more watchable productions along with Magnum, P.I. It had the good sense to use "Harlem Nocturne" as opening title music.
Lately, for some reason, I've felt nostalgic about the 1972 Ford LTD we used to have. It wasn't quite the car I learned how to drive in - that would have been a '72 Chevy Caprice that the school system used for driver's training - but it was the first car I had access to when I was sixteen. It therefore represented freedom and coming of age to me. Here's a shot of my mother driving ours just after we first bought it. I loved this car, it was so powerful and quiet. And green (my favorite color)!
Recently I bought the 1972 Ford full-sized car brochure on e-Bay. Some scans:
Wide shot - I have always liked the lines on this car. Every now and then during the Seventies they got something right.
Front end - The nose was another favorite feature of this car. Back then it looked bold and distinctive. I guess it still does.
Interior - As I said, it was quiet and roomy. Ours was in this dark green patterned cloth, as shown here in burgundy. We have had more luxurious cars, but this one was my sentimental favorite.
Dashboard - Looking at this, it looks like the face of an old friend!
I see I can repurchase this car in brown for $5K. 67,000 miles. Is the trip to Oregon worth it, do you suppose?
My clever friend Don - who really ought to write a blog like this of his own - points out, as regards my Friday blog entry about the English monarchy, that we missed a photo opportunity to pose with Queen Vicky at the March Bentonville Civil War reenactment. DRAT! I would have loved to be in a photo with this woman: We Are Not Amused. (What is Queen Victoria doing at an American Civil War battlefield site in 1865? Who cares? Just go with it.)
Also, looking at the still from "The Young Victoria" that I used as a blog photo on Friday, I noticed something interesting: the throne she is sitting upon (called properly "King Edward's Chair," by the way) is not nearly covered in enough graffiti. I've seen the real thing in Westminster Abbey - it's a mess.
The still from the movie.
A replica of the real thing.
A comparison of the two. Los Angeles Dodgers! (And, by the way, there is a Curzon Street in London. Same family, I wonder?)
The Young Victoria DVD features showed a segment with a fellow whose job it was to ensure authenticity in the production; I assume he did some research and determined that most of the graffiti is post-Victorian, I don't know. I'll give them that one.
So... the present monarch, Elizabeth II, is 84. Her mother lived to be 101. If we assume that she lives as long as her mother - it could happen! - that means another coronation upon that chair would take place in 2027. (Whether it's King Charles III, who would be 79 or King William V, who would be 45, is conjecture. Presumably Charles.) I'll be 71! Geez, think of it - a woman who well remembers World War II and the Beatles dying in 2027... amazing.
I am now watching a film I remember seeing play at Grauman's Egyptian all the way back in 1974, when Mike and I used to cruise over to Hollywood to visit Tower Records: "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" (1974). I'm 45 minutes into it. Roger Ebert claims that it's some kind of bizarre masterpiece - he's wrong.
That's it for a cloudy, rainy Monday.
Since it's a post-feminist film, Victoria is portrayed as a spunky, strong and determined young woman. When was the last time you have ever seen a young female in a film portrayed as something other than spunky, strong and determined? Since before Karen Allen introduced the now universal stereotype in the first Indiana Jones film in 1981, that's when.
English history is a major interest of mine, and so I'm always up for a film about the English monarchy. For the most part you can't go wrong watching one as they mostly seem to be quite good. Here's a quick assessment of some monarchical films (I am excluding films about King Arthur, which is really a different genre):
The Lion in Winter (1968) - One of my favorites despite the presence of Katherine Hepburn, whom I find difficult to endure. (That whole New England outdoorsy prep school persona gets on my nerves.) Great score by John Barry. Peter O'Toole plays Henry II in fine, roaring form.
Becket (1964) - Another favorite. Peter O'Toole, in his first stint as Henry II, is excellent but the most subtle acting is that of Richard Burton.
The Queen (2006) - An excellent production and a fine film. Helen Mirren is justly celebrated for her acting as Elizabeth II. This film is notable in that it helps put recent events in perspective.
The Madness of King George (1994) - It looked like a really good episode of Masterpiece Theatre. Nigel Hawthorne gives a fine performance as the poor, mad king.
Elizabeth (1998) - Another winner with a wonderful cast. Kathy Burke as Queen Mary Tudor is very memorable, as is Fanny Ardant as Mary of Guise. I like the part at the end where Gloriana the Virgin Queen turns into a creepy sort of statue.
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007) - Almost as good as the preceding film. As Roger Ebert points out, it suffers a bit from over-opulence.
Mrs. Brown (1997) - A good companion piece to the film about Victoria we saw last night. Almost a sequel to it, in fact. Judi Dench is Victoria in this, and is quite convincing.
Alfred the Great (1969) - Not terribly good - it suffers from being made in the 1960's, when conventional notions about plot, acting and character development were all being revised - but still watchable. I have to give the filmmakers credit for avoiding the Tudors, however. Making a film about a Saxon ruler is a risk. It's so much easier to make yet another film dealing with Henry VIII, there's such a ready audience. Speaking of whom...
The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) - If I have to watch a film about this wretched monarch (I find him, his reign and all his wives depressing to read about), this is the one I prefer. Charles Laughton was one of those actors who completely dominates every scene he's in.
Cromwell (1970) - True, Cromwell was not an English monarch, but this is still a watchable film. It has Alec Guinness as Charles I, which is reason enough to see it.
Henry V (1944 and 1989) - You can't go wrong with either version, Olivier's or Branaugh's; they are both excellent, but in different ways. Branaugh's suffers from a lower budget but a grittier, more naturalistic approach and the inclusion of the Harfleur siege. Oliver's is a finely crafted bit of theater with a wonderful score by William Walton and a terrific charge of the French knights at Agincourt. I'm glad both exist.
Beau Brummel (1954) - Not a film about the monarchy, per se, but I have to include it because Peter Ustinov does such a remarkable job as George the Prince Regent (later George IV) - as does Robert Morley as George III.
Edward and Mrs. Simpson (1978) - Not a film, but a TV series. Very watchable, and Edward Fox depicts the Prince of Wales in fine, pampered and diffident style. Personally I think Edward VIII was a sap, a weak man and, worst of all, sympathetic to the Nazis. In short, a real embarrassment to the Crown. But this work has as its main angle the "he gave up the crown for love" thing, so women will like it.
Richard III (1955) - Laurence Olivier's production is quite good. A bit 1950's in style, but still an artistic triumph with a fine William Walton score. But I think the balance tilts more towards the BBC Time/Life teleproduction from the early 1980's. Problem is, however, that in order to get the feel for the work you have to start with Richard II and work your way through Henry IV parts one and two, Henry V, Henry VI parts one, two and three and finally see Ron Cook tear it up as an especially villainous Richard III in the cycle's conclusion. But you will be very well paid artistically if you watch all these.
Edward II (1991) - Without a doubt the worst of the lot. An exercise in homo-promo. Avoid like the Great Plague of 1348.
Hey... why has nobody done a good film dealing with Harold Godwinson, William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings, I wonder? (The closest thing we have is Charlton Heston as the War Lord, 1965.) With the success of Troy and 300 you'd think it would have happened by now.
Come to think of it, there are a bunch of interesting English monarchs who haven't had film treatments of their reigns: Edward I (Braveheart doesn't count, no way!), Edward III, Edward IV (1939's Tower of London, counts, perhaps?), WilliamandMary, Queen Anne, George V and VI (World War I and II), etc. Why not?
Weight: I've been counting calories for three days and this morning I am three pounds less than I was when I weighed in last Friday morning. I am on my way.
Have a great weekend!
I posted scans of more old slides, these are of Cari and I from 25 September 1980. The Way We Were. Frankly, I'm happier with The Way We Are Now. I know America is youth obsessed, but youth isn't everything, you know. It seems ridiculous to me to front load the importance of one's life into the first, say, 30 years or so. And I've always felt a sense of sorrow for the Civil War veterans who spent the rest of their lives obsessing about, reliving or thinking about their brief time between 1861-1865. How sad to characterize one's life by something one did as a youth. I'm not saying "Get over it and move on" - I'm merely saying that life has more to offer.
You know the character Uncle Rico in "Napoleon Dynamite?" The fellow who continually regrets not being played in the final moments of a 1982 football game? The film is a comedy but this character is finely written and more than a little pathetic - and memorable. I admit that live in the past a great deal of the time but I'm not wedded to it. There is a happy medium. And regarding aging, well, what else can one really do save put one foot in front of the other and soldier on?
(By the way, an interesting article about the "Napoleon Dynamite Problem" in programming predictive movie preference algorithms is here. Did you know that Netflix had a one million dollar prize to improve its movie recommendation engine by 10 percent?)
I was looking through a catalog we received this morning, and saw something called a "boyfriend vee-neck tee shirt" (for women). I put this in a category with spectator pumps and sweetheart necklines - who names these things? (I expect a patient comment from my wife explaining these things.)
An American Top Gear: I am not enthusiastic. No Stig, no British humor. No, thanks. (By the way, the British version of "The Office" is light years funnier than the American version.) The dolts in Hollywood screw up nearly everything they touch.
I finished reading that book about vernacular architecture yesterday - you know, ice cream cone stands housed in giant ice cream cones, etc. - and came across mention of a company that fabricates novelty items out of fiberglass, the F.A.S.T. Corporation in Sparta ("Madness? This is Sparta!"), Wisconsin. Check out their National Brands, Mascots and Characters page. Since when did Jesus Christ become a "national brand, mascot or character?" Anyway, there are five pages of these - check 'em out.
I am now rereading Jean Anouilh's play "Becket"; I first read it as a teen back in 1972 or so. Anouilh based his facts upon an outdated history of England which had Thomas a Becket as a Saxon - we now know he was a Norman (Becquet). A friend pointed this out to Anouilh but the playwright sensibly kept it as is because the drama works better if Becket is from a conquered race. Of course, I've seen the Peter O'Toole-Richard Burton movie adapted from the play. I lived for that stuff - or, as they say today, "was all about" it - when I was a teen voraciously reading books about medieval England.
Finally, last night's film noir, "Street of Chance" (1942) was quick and entertaining. Based upon a mystery by pulp writer Cornell Woolrich, who furnished many a noir plot line, this one starred the always interesting Burgess Meredith, my favorite hard-boiled dame Claire Trevor and... Sheldon Leonard! I guess it's Sheldon Leonard Week Chez Clark. This film used one of Woolrich's favorite plot devices, amnesia - I think this was the first film noir to do so.
Last night I did an assessment of the canonical noirs I have yet to see (based on entries in Silver and Ward's encyclopedia). I have 67 yet to see. I have VHS tapes of six of these. Only nine are available on Netflix. How am I going to see the others?
Clark Family Portrait, 1966 - These appear to have been taken in Kodachrome; they still retain accurate color values after 44 years! This is the first time I have seen them all. I didn't even know I had this many shots... It's weird, seeing new old pictures of my Dad and Mom. Naturally, I provide captions.
Engagement photos, 7 June 1980: I am not what one would call naturally photogenic, so getting a decent shot for the Official Engagement Photo was something of a chore. You can see that in this series. Read the captions!
(Speaking of accurate color values over time, digital photography is the best, of course. Here's a shot of my daughters from my very first series of digital camera photos shot with a 1.5 megapixel Kodak D260 in May 1999. Looks great!)
I had my piano lesson last night and got that wretched Bach piece out of my life. I never want to hear it again. I got a few rather easy classical pieces assigned and one piano lounge type piece with heavy pedal and broken chords; I seem to do well with these.
Hey, I saw a swell film noir last night: "The Prowler" (1951). The review I linked to calls it a "bourgeois noir," and so it is since class-consciousness figures in it rather prominently. A cop makes a play for a married woman - a cool blonde played by Evelyn Keyes - and reveals his wrong-side-of-the-tracks upbringing. Sure, he could have been a college athletic hero, but somebody had it in for him (legitimately, you begin to suspect) and he lost his scholarship. So now he's a cop - and a crooked one at that. His dreams clue you in that this guy will never overcome his humble roots: he wants to settle down out in the desert and run a little motor court. This being film noir, however, things begin to deteriorate and the cop winds up gunned down like a dog on a pile of dirt. Great stuff!
I've had enough. I need to lose some weight. So I'm counting calories again. I shall report later. And if I don't... it means I fell off the wagon.
I am proud to note that Maxam and I have the United States Marine Corps and Burbank High School in common. (But there the resemblance ends!)
I saw "Decoy" (1946) last night. It is a very characteristic film noir - all fedoras, attitudes, cigarettes, betrayals and the meanest femme fatale (Jean Gillie) ever. It's now available on a DVD, but for years this film wasn't distributed in any other form than a videotape dub from Croatian television - this is the version I saw. (By the way, "doctor" in Croatian is "doktore.") It was excellent, and it's time to mention one of the great, unsung noir guys, Sheldon Leonard.
When this former Eagle Scout first got into acting, I'm sure the minute he opened his mouth the casting people must have thought, "New York hoodlum." So he played a thug for years in many films and television appearances. But he later became a successful producer, with Make Room for Daddy, The Andy Griffith Show, the Dick van Dyke Show and I, Spy to his credit. In fact, he's the one who made the decision to cast Bill Cosby in I, Spy - making Cosby one of the first black leading men on television. It might not be a stretch to say that the Cos owes Sheldon Leonard his fabled career.
From wikipedia: "Leonard also has the distinction (along with author Mickey Spillane) of being the first Miller Lite spokesman. Using his trademark accent, he told the audience 'I was at first reluctant to try Miller Lite, but then I was persuaded to do so by my friend, Large Louis.'" And here's a notable quote: "Inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, after receiving five Emmy awards for his producing/directing efforts. In 1995 he received a lifetime membership into the Director's Guild of America. Accepting the honor, he quipped, 'Giving a lifetime membership to a guy 88 years old -- big %$#%^***ing deal!'"
Jean Gillie would have had a more notable career except that she died just three years after Decoy was released, at age 33. But she certainly earned her place amongst the Dark City Divas with her portrayal in Decoy, her last lines a scornful laugh.
Noirheads love this film - and here's a great little five minute documentary explaining why.
As always, I like to figure out how many degrees of separation there are between me and the characters in a noir - the Connections Game. For Sheldon Leonard, it goes like this: Leonard undoubtedly shook hands with Andy Griffith, whose show he produced. But he also undoubtedly shook hands with Griffith's young co-star Ron "Opie" Howard. Ron Howard was in Happy Days with Anson "Potsie" Williams - Burbank High Class of 1967. I met Williams at the BHS 100th anniversary in 2008. So that gives me a Sheldon Leonard Number of 3.
Sometimes it's a bit challenging. For instance, last week I saw the obscure "Stakeout on Dope Street" (1958) with a cast of relative unknowns. Hmmmm. But wait! Abby Dalton was in it. She was married to Jack Smith, whom my father-in-law knows because they both graduated from Burbank High in 1945. (In fact, last week they met again at a Class of '45 reunion in Burbank.) So I have an Abby Dalton Number of 3.
I mentioned that I am working on a Bach Anna Magdalena minuet; it is driving me crazy. I have a piano lesson tonight - I play it for my teacher and get it out of my life. Hooray!
At yard sales I got a two CD set of historical California songs I listened to - interesting - as well as some books. One nice one about the Smithsonian I got for fifty cents looked familiar, then I realized that I bought a copy at a yard sale years ago. I hate when I do that. So it went to a friend to grace his bookshelf or coffee table. I also got a big hardcover coffee table book about space - signed by the author! - for my daughter for the lordly sum of fifty cents.
There was a yard sale at the little red school house near me... this is a little one room school that was built in the late 1920's. A big old upright piano was therein - the roll player works were removed from it and the finish looked dry and dusty. I sat down and played it a bit; it sounded tinny for its size. I wonder if the soundboard was cracked? I'm sorry now that I didn't inspect it more, my curiosity is piqued.
I attended the Navy chamber ensemble's performance at a local Baptist church - it was wonderful. I saw one of the trumpeters playing a piccolo trumpet in the Respighi "Ancient Airs and Dances" part. It's a Baroque instrument, and you've heard one before - think of the trumpet break in the Beatles' "Penny Lane." (I have seen this very instrument encased in glass in the D.C. Hard Rock Cafe, by the way.) They also played a Mozart wind ensemble serenade that I thought would be only okay - but I was blown away. Who knew you could get so many sonorities and effects out of a bunch of wind instruments? I underestimated Mozart.
My wife and I watched another installment of Goombah Theater (films about Italian gangsters) over the weekend, this time it was Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets" (1973). After about twenty minutes we realized that it was boring and tedious - what a difference between this and Goodfellas, which was riveting from start to finish! We watched the last half hour or so in fast forward. Not a recommended film.
Sunday night we went to a friend's house to eat fudge and wound up playing an intricate board game ("Who dreams up this stuff?" - my wife), "Settlers at Catan." It was developed by a German. I had a "largest army" card but was very disappointed to find that I couldn't use it to march it down a road to overwhelm anybodies settlements or cities. This is clearly a tamed, post World War II German who came up with this game...
A more or less standard reference work for film noir is Silver and Ward's encyclopedia; Appendix A lists 303 of these as "canon." Checking off this list over the weekend I note that have seen 76.2% (231) of them. I'll have to finish up via Netflix, I guess...
Over the weekend I also finished scanning some scrapbook pages and got DVDs of them off to my kids. There's that job done. And rooting around in some attic boxes I found a bunch of old slides - I'll scan them later this week to see if there are any unseen or forgotten images therein...
I mentioned yesterday that I'm scanning (digitizing) photo album pages with my flatbed scanner. This would normally be drudgery except for the fact that I'm listening to old cassettes as I do it. From 1976 to about 2003 - 27 years! - I made mix cassettes of music and records I was listening to at the time; I used to listen to them in the car when I was driving. "Car tapes," I called them. When I drove home on weekends from Camp Pendleton my Dad used to ask, "Well, was this a one or a two tape drive?" It depended upon traffic.
I think I have nearly a hundred of car tapes, all easily accessible via an innovative storage system 3M came out with in the Seventies that I still use. These were stackable, interlocking, spring-loaded plastic boxes. I made black dymo labels to put on the red plastic faces... I always thought they looked quite nice. Now perhaps my son-in-law would call them "vintagey" (which is the tactful term he used to describe my spinet's sound). These cases were actually standard equipment in late 70's Porsche 911's, a few of them mounted in the center console back when car cassette decks represented luxury. I used to display the 3M cases proudly in my audio bookcase - but they now reside in drawers.
It's funny... the music in drawers upon drawers of these things and more can now reside in one cigarette pack-sized iPod.
Anyway, it's fun to rediscover songs that I liked twenty years ago and have forgotten about. It's the closest thing I have to a time machine. Want to go back to June 1985? Pop in the cassette. In fact, I have a 1983 Elton John song running in my head as I type this, "Kiss the Bride." (We now know that Elton John was really more interested in kissing the groom.)
I think old audio formats are groovy. I shall never give up my Lps, for example. In fact, I listened to one yesterday... The Guckenheimer Sour Kraut Band's "Music for Non-Thinkers" from 1958. Horrible. My wife yelled down from the kitchen, "Is that who I think it is?" (Meaning P.D.Q. Bach, I suppose.)
As may be obvious from the above, when I was a teen I was really, really into audio. I had a quadraphonic system in 1972, when they more or less first came out. And when I was in the Marines I had a quadraphonic system in my VW Beetle!
Always interested in the next Big Audio Thing, I recall a scene in Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" (1971) when Alex is in his room and wants to listen to some music. He takes out what appears to be an impossibly tiny and futuristic-looking Deutche Grammophone (their yellow label is unmistakable) recording of Beethoven's Ninth and inserts it into a component. I was always intrigued by this - what format was this? I recently acquired the DVD of this film and froze on the scene... it was nothing more than the lowly lo-fi microcassette - used generally for small dictation devices - with packaging made up by Kubrick's prop people to make it appear as if it was pre-recorded DG release. Hmf.
I watched a decent British heist film last night, "The Day They Robbed the Bank of England" (1960). It wasn't really film noir, though. Some heist films - "The Asphalt Jungle" (1950) is the best example - can be noir if they have the right fatalistic tone - this one didn't have it. But it was still fun, as I love London and its history. For instance, when they called the Bank of England "The Old Gray Lady of Threadneedle Street," I was acquainted with the nickname. I also knew that the Walbook was a river that flowed underground in London. It's neat to see things like that appear in a film. And it brings back fond memories of when my daughter and I did the B of E tour last year, and munched sandwiches outside of the Royal Exchange. I WANT TO GO BACK.
Ahhhh... Friday. The weekend looms. There's a Navy Band chamber music performance at a local church tomorrow and my convertible, hammock, local yard sales and all the other usual factors in my weekend will be present as well. My bride and I will probably also watch another installment of Goombah Theater. I might even Kiss the Bride.
Have a great weekend!
While there I had a doctor-patient conversation that went as follows:
Doc: You're gaining some weight, I see.
Me: That I am.
Doc: How come?
Me: I'm bored at work.
Doc: Are you doing anything about it?
Me: I try, but it just raises my blood pressure.
Doc: The weight raises your blood pressure.
Me: This is a tautology.
Last night I watched a blah film noir: "The Man Who Cheated Himself" (1950); Lee J. Cobb phoned in his performance. However, this film was visually interesting for two reasons: 1.) One of the protagonists drives a 1950 Nash Rambler Airflyte Convertible Landau, a weird looking thing. It looks like an inverted washtub on wheels. 2.) The climatic chase scene takes place in Fort Point (first built just before the Civil War) located below the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. So even when a noir is commonplace or dull it still can have some visual or historical interest!
I am working on a Bach Anna Magdalena notebook minuet that is just bedeviling me. No matter how often I practice it I cannot seem to be able to play it any more smoothly or confidently. Usually, with repeated playing, I learn the piece and am able to play it convincingly. Grrr. So I get frustrated and punish my piano by playing loud, strident dischords. That'll teach it.
I held an interesting Webelos meeting last night. As we're working on the Forester pin one of the requirements was to bring in three pieces of wood and discuss how they're used in construction. As we've just finished putting down thousands of dollars of hardwood flooring, I brought in a plank of that and introduced them to the Hebrew term for the wood as found in Exodus 25:10 (describing the Ark of the Covenant): "And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof..." etc. When I explained that shittim is a Hebrew plural - the wood comes from the shittah tree, I saw a room full of smiling ten year-old boys. One asked, "Isn't that a bad word?" "It's in the Bible!" I replied, "Tell your parents."
I explained that the somewhat more polite word for it used today is acacia. When I wrote it one the board, one of the boys asked, "a-CACK-cah?" I said, "Yeah, it doesn't sound much better, does it?" It kind of reminds me of the story my wife tells when she was a girl - she had to stand up in class and give a report about Lake Titicaca in Peru. (Name origin here.) I think an international movement ought to be set forth to rename the lake; no poor girl should be forced to get up in front of her peers and say "titicaca."
I'm doing my thing again in my copious spare time - scanning and archiving the pages from some scrapbooks I assembled late last year. The idea, of course, is to turn all childhood photographs into a digital format so that future generations can see how incredibly cute I was.
Finally, a household tragedy of the highest order: the cotton ropes on my hammock are fraying and breaking. This is not good - not good at all.
The next generation Beetle. I don't like it.
Last week, in conjunction with my posting of Burbank's Pumpkin Inn, I mentioned that Southern California seemed to have more than its share of whimsical buildings (ice cream stores in the shape of ice cream cones, hot dog eateries shaped like hot dogs, etc.). I have learned that these are called "programmatic buildings," or "vernacular architecture" from a book I checked out of the library: "California Crazy & Beyond - Roadside Vernacular Architecture" by Jim Heimann.
Thumbing through the pages I was delighted to find an old photo of "Barkies," a doggie-faced place I recall seeing when I was a little boy. The address puts it right near the Silver Lake district we lived in. I always wanted to go in there, but my parents would never take me; I'm guessing that it was no longer an eatery by the early Sixties. But I certainly do recall that doggie face!
I also found some additional text for Burbank's Pumpkin Inn - as well as photos of another odd-looking Burbank eatery from the late 1920's, the Mushrooms. I suppose... the hamburgers served there... were offered with mushrooms? I have no clue.
Also shown is the Tam O'Shanter, where I took my wife for dinner on our first date (after a day at Disneyland) in 1979 - it's still there. I recall seeing Curries ice cream, but never ate there. I did, however, eat in the Dog House with my Mom once, when I was about seven.
My wife and I watched "Goodfellas" (1990) last night for the first time. (I do watch recent films worth watching - it just takes me a while sometimes. The older and more obscure stuff takes precedence.) As everyone says, it is an excellent film. It is somewhat insidious in that it portrays being a mobster like any other career choice. Is it really like that? Do Mafia guys think, "I could have been a school teacher or a wiseguy. I chose this. I hope I can retire." And I was a bit surprised at how much comedy is in it. However, I couldn't watch this film without thinking about the Goodfeathers on the old Animaniacs show. Remember them? The pigeons who would argue amongst themselves and roost atop the statue of Martin Scorsese?
Goodfellas was the second in my Goombah Theater movies. ("A Bronx Tale" was the first.) I'm not sure what the third will be. "Mean Streets" (1973), maybe? I haven't seen that...
I have a doctor's appointment this morning... I negotiate with him about my blood pressure medication. He has me on Diovan HCT, which works great. But it's $23 a month. The other stuff I was on that I thought gave me coughing fits but really didn't (I think it was construction dust from putting in the hardwood floor), lisinopril, is only $1.50 a month. I want to go back on it. It works fine, too.
I watched a damned peculiar film noir last night: "The Big Night" (1951), starring John Barrymore Jr. (aka John Drew Barrymore). It's one of those "rite of passage" works, but this rite is in accordance with the Gospel of Noir. The plot: a shy and easily embarrassed young man turns seventeen, so his father presents him with a birthday cake at the bar in which he works. However, the young man's father is humiliated and savagely beaten in front of his son by a malevolent sports writer with a cane. Distraught and in search of revenge, the teen grabs his father's gun and goes after the sports writer.
During the course of a long night he attends a boxing match, gets conned out of ten bucks by a hustler (Emile Meyer, whom I blogged about here) whom he later beats up in the men's room, insults a black woman, becomes drunk and wakes up in the apartment of a couple of sisters - one of who gives him his first kiss. He finds out that his father is a cad and shoots the sports writer and, thinking he murdered him, flees through some great-looking industrial sections of Los Angeles. At the end of the film he and his father are escorted away by the cops. Wow, all in the course of only 75 minutes! An excellent write up of this film (for which I have provided comments), by the way, is here.
This movie was directed by Joseph Losey, who produced another odd film, 1948's " The Boy with the Green Hair." I really can't talk up these old films enough... oddness is in fashion nowadays and it's more or less expected - Tim Burton has made a career of it. But when you encounter an offbeat older film there's more of a shock because it's so unexpected.
John Barrymore, Jr. - who looks very much like Sean Penn in this film, by the way - is the son of John "The Great Profile" Barrymore. He's also the father of current actress Drew Barrymore. The Barrymores are, of course, the most famous theatrical family in America, but they definitely had skeletons in their closets. I mean almost literally. Click here and scroll down to the last long paragraph in the "trivia" section to read about John Jr.'s disgusting exploits with his father's rotting body.
I mentioned a great-looking industrial area of Los Angeles... this would be near where some large natural gas towers are located. I know this area because, when I was about thirteen, my Mom had some business down there and took me with her. I recall sitting in the car looking at the bleak surroundings and fantasizing about running off with Kelly Beal - the thirteen year-old redhead who lived up the street near the railroad tracks - and finding a place somewhere in Los Angeles. Talk about hormonal.
Finally: This is the second noir I've seen with a Pabst Blue Ribbon beer sighting. As the protagonist is getting his birthday swats from his friends, guys are unloading boxes of PBR from a truck. How cool is that? Perhaps I should introduce a new sub-genre of film noir to the UCLA Film School: Pabst Noir.
I saw this Porsche Boxster for sale Saturday morning in a commuter lot in my yard sale territory. Does it seem like a good deal? I don't know... buying a Porsche from a man who doesn't know how to spell "Porsche..."
I bought a "Great Battles of the Civil War Animated" (computer graphics) 4 CD set for fifty cents. It was unopened and marked on the back "Eastern National" (which means it was bought at some battlefield park), $29.99." Deals like this make it difficult for me to justify buying expensive software... I also bought some paperbacks and a VHS tape (see below) for next to nothing. Total expenditure: $3. That was it. I let the Porsche remain in the commuter lot.
Over the weekend I watched four films:
"Corridor of Mirrors" (1948) - An artsy film that is one part Bluebeard, one part Dark Shadows and two parts Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast." The black and white cinematography was very noirish and shadow-filled, which gave the entire production an otherworldly look. It starred a beauty from South Africa named Edana Romney, whom I had never heard of.
Pink Floyd, "Pulse" 1994 concert film - This one blew me away; what an incredible light show! (Perhaps you've seen excerpts on PBS - it's the one with the large circular screen above the band.) The level of musicianship was also very high. I bought this VHS tape at a yard sale for fifty cents! The only problem is David Gilmour (shown above, looking very much like a cabinet minister and not at all a rock star). As good a guitarist and as well produced as his guitar his on this - incredible sound- he is no front man. His personality just washes away. Recommendation: Get the DVD.
"Stakeout on Dope Street" (1958) - Great title, huh? Right up there with "Kiss the Blood Off my Hands." Given the low budget and unknown cast, it's a pleasantly surprising and well-made little noir. It involves three high school teens - who, as always with films of this era, look like they're well into their twenties - getting involved with a heroin deal. Most of the film focused on their internal warring about whether or not they should become involved in drug distribution, which was a good artistic decision on the part of the director. I quite enjoyed it.
"Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992) - This is one of those films which is praised to the hilt that failed to make much of an impact with me. Oh, sure, Jack Lemmon is good in it, but generally it just sort of left me cold. I liked David Mamet's "House of Games" (1987) far more than this. The moral of the story? Being in sales sucks.
Do you want enough cardboard for your needs for a year? Buy an HP computer from COSTCO. The trash guy wouldn't take the box, so I was out there with a box cutter for about ten minutes reducing it to something that would fit in a trash can.
Organ recital: I put down six bags of mulch over the weekend and my left shoulder hurts. I've had shoulder pains ever since I played my last rugby reason in 2006 - which I am now regretting. One of the Five Families dads told me, "Everything you've ever done in life comes back to haunt you in your fifties." I think I now have osteoarthritis in my shoulder - yipes.
And that's it for today. I'm telecommuting today. We need to replace our lawn mower, which, after thirteen years, gave up the ghost. I bet it comes in yet another cardboard box I'll have to dissemble. Roll on, Monday.
The Southern California of my youth was a great place in which to grow up, and my generation inherited the fanciful architectural/promotional ideas of preceding generations. For instance, if you wanted an ice cream cone, you'd walk into a store built like a giant ice cream cone - there was one such in Glendale. If you wanted a hot dog, you could find one in a building shaped like a hot dog in North Hollywood. We also had various oversized tee pees (Chatsworth), barrels (Van Nuys), a Brown Derby (Hollywood), etc.
Burbank had its Pumpkin Building (where, presumably, pumpkin pie was sold) - now more or less forgotten. I am in the process of assembling a web page about this attraction... I hope to get some comments from Burbank old-timers about it to add. In general, whimsical architecture is no longer to be found in Southern California... a pity...
I had to have my brogans resoled. (Brogans are Civil War shoes - the word comes from the Irish word "brog," meaning shoe or boot.) After many years of hard campaigning a hole appeared. So my pard Don suggested that rather than buying new ones for $130 plus, I simply get them resoled. He did this once... and "Biltrite Since 1888" appeared on the new rubber soles of his brogans. Rather than ruin an event for an onlooker who might happen to glance upon an imprint left in mud he used a pen knife to modify the 1888 to 1838, making it perfectly authentic.
That was a Civil War reenacting joke, there, folks. :)
Anyway, I had leather half soles put on for $45. When I picked them up, the Asian fellow looked at me and laughed, saying, "Special job! Big sole! Rots of reather!" I was greatly amused to see the word "Gigantic" upon my soles. For the record, I take a 13E - not all that exceptional, these days.
Hey, look what I saw parked in Old Town Alexandria yesterday: an LTI TX 4 taxicab. I saw a bunch of these in London on my two past visits; they're built in Britain for the British and world taxicab market. In London, they come in a multitude of colors - including the traditional black - and wild advertising designs. They're just as much a part of the cityscape as the red doubledecker buses, the Tower of London and Big Ben. I'm very surprised I've never seen a spot about them on Top Gear...
Last night my wife and I watched a perfect film - one that could not be bettered - "A Bronx Tale" (1993). Directed by Robert De Nero, it stars a then sixteen year-old Lillo Brancato, who later appeared in the Sopranos and got in trouble with the law. He is now in prison. I suppose when he gets out he'll have enhanced acting creds.
It takes place on Fordham Street in the Bronx, the location for another excellent film, "The Wanderers" (1979).
Other perfect films: Chinatown, Stand By Me, The Godfather I and II, The Killing, Black Narcissus, The Manchurian Candidate, American Grafitti, Star Wars (1977), The Wizard of Oz... a fairly long list.
Great weekend coming up - sunny weather, perfect for a convertible Beetle or a hammock. Should be some yard sales, of course. Have a great weekend!
A good percentage of this LeDuff book I'm reading is a bar tour of New York City and its environs. Personally, I find bars to be rather hopeless and desperate places. It's not because I'm Mormon - it's because, as a teen, I watched hopeless and desperate blue collar guys drink themselves to oblivion in places my mother has worked and owned. (One died in his sleep and wasn't found in his apartment for days - over the Christmas holidays.) It's probably correct to say that one reason I'm Mormon is to put distance between myself and the world of alcohol that bedeviled the occasional member of my family.
And I don't care if that last sentence does sound sanctimonious.
The World's Smallest Electric Guitar - with a couple of tunes being played thereupon. But much better than this, on June 4th I'm going to the Kennedy Center to hear the National Symphony Orchestra (my favorite musical instrument) play Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade and Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring! I like both and am well familiar with them... the Stravinsky work is my favorite classical piece of all. Last time I heard it there I was surrounded by young music students - fledgling conductors - who were following along, scores in hand. Say... I wonder if Johannes Brahms will be in attendance?
Last night I watched a fairly unimpressive Britnoir, "The Depraved" (1957). It was a pallid and formulaic knock off of "Double Indemnity." That's a problem I see with British film noir: it is often too mannered and restrained, and draws back from the DAME HUNGRY KILLER COP GOES BERSERK sensationalist style of the best American noirs. One Britnoir, "The Frightened City," has a giveaway line of dialog from a Scotland Yard inspector, decrying the crime in London and likening it to Chicago. Oh, no, jolly well can't have that, old chap. I have seen some good Britnoirs - "Odd Man Out" and "They Made Me a Fugitive" comes to mind - but they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.
French film noir? They appear to have trouble with the genre as well; they too self-consciously ape the American style. In other words, when you see a French hoodlum put on his fedora and smooth the brim, you get the inescapable impression it's because the director saw Humphrey Bogart do that in an American film. Oh, monsieur, le film noir Americain, c'est magnifique (kisses fingertips)! Sure there are some great French noirs, but, once again, they seem to be the exception rather than the rule. When it comes to film noir, we Americans do it best.
I am unaware of noirs from other nations. A gritty crime drama with a femme fatale, betrayals, plot twists and a conflicted protagonist taking place in Auckland might be interesting...
Yesterday I wrote that the Kid from Deliverance was neither inbred nor mentally deficient. The same, sadly, cannot be said for a member of Congress, Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA), as he recently suggested that the deployment of military personnel in Guam might cause the island to tip over. My pal Don and I think the Navy ought to give the admiral he spoke to a commendation for having the restraint to not suggest that plans were underway to redistribute Marines so the island would be more balanced.
I note that Representative Johnson is from Georgia's Fourth Congressional District, the same electorate that gave the nation the estimable Cynthia McKinney. Remember her? What's up with Georgia's Fourth Congressional District? At the risk of alienating some readers, I cite this excerpt from wikipedia that perhaps explains it: "The 4th is one of the most Democratic districts in the South..." Ah. Democrats. The party with the smart people - like Hillary Clinton, the woman with the IQ reportedly in the hundreds who walked around talking to Eleanor Roosevelt. Well, we can at least be thankful that Johnson is no Dan Quayle!
When I was younger and first started working for an engineer who was close to retirement, I once asked if he was a Democrat or a Republican. His response was, "Neither! A pox on both houses!" At first I found his reply a bit off-putting, but have since approached his point of view. I have come to agree with a sentiment I once read somewhere: "Politicians are like diapers - they need to be changed frequently and for the same reason."
I've avoided it because I suspected I wouldn't like it. (The older I get, the more accurate I become at this.) And, sure enough, I didn't. I recognize that it's a well-made film that people will enjoy, but it left me cold. Part of the problem is emotional disengagement. There's a famous male rape scene in it that, sadly, I found rather funny. The reason for this was because we once had a guy in my reenactment unit who knew the scene line by line. At the 125th anniversary battle of Chancellorsville he stepped out in front of our company and taunted a small army of Confederates with it at the top of his lungs in his best "country" dialect; it was so funny my eyes were watering. I couldn't watch the film scene without recalling it.
(I haven't seen this fellow in over fourteen years; he is now a "sweater girl" clubbing in D.C. It points up that, once again, the prime concern in reenacting is know who you are tenting with.)
As for the famous banjo-playing Kid from Deliverance - whose name is Billy Redden (shown above in a recent photo) - Martin Short once portrayed him in an SCTV talk show skit featuring Count Floyd and Lucille Ball. The Kid kept scaring Lucy while discussing the wage scale of a linebacker in the NFL. (It's hard to describe... you need to see the SCTV Christmas DVD to get the concept.)
I am gratified to report that, despite what you may think by looking at him in the scene, Redden was neither inbred nor mentally deficient. (Unlike many Confederate reenactors with whom I share occasional weekends.) He has a wikipedia entry. And yes, playing the connections game, I have a couple of degrees of removal from him. In 2003 Redden was found by director Tim Burton and cast as a banjo player in "Big Fish." Tim Burton went to my high school, Burbank High, as well as my junior high. He appears in two of my yearbooks.
Last night I watched a prime bit of 1950's Communist paranoia film making: "The Whip Hand" (1951). In this Howard Hughes-influenced RKO film, those reprehensible Commies recruit a former Nazi scientist to run a germ warfare laboratory in a small American town. Fortunately, due to the investigative efforts of an All-American photo journalist, G-Men armed with Tommy guns arrive like the proverbial cavalry to shoot up the place and save the day. Sheesh.
The other day I was reminded of a bit in Top Gear where the presenters looked at a car they considered over-styled. "The car is finished... move away from the CAD workstation and leave it alone," they intoned. And what reminded me of this? Walking through the Metro parking lot the other day and seeing the front grill of an Infiniti FX35. Have you seen one of these? What possessed them to insert a plastic piece suggestive of mountain ranges, vibrating strings or the roiling seas on the front end of a car? Ridiculous. Step away from the workstation.
But it's not as bad as an Aztek. Nothing is as bad as an Aztek.
Thanks to a fifteen minute afternoon snooze on my hammock on Monday in my pajama bottoms I am now in possession of the weirdest sunburn ever. It begins at my sock line and runs down. I stepped into the shower yesterday morning and wondered, what the heck? At first I thought my skin had some kind of reaction to the soap used to launder my socks until I finally put two and two together.
Finally, I had a piano lesson last night and my teacher gently reprimanded me for falling behind somewhat. (I've been doing home maintenance projects instead of practicing.) But that's okay... last night she assigned me a classical period piece, "Agitato," that I figured out in about 25 minutes. And I have the other half of a famous Bach minuet from the Anna Magdalena Notebook to learn. I play the first half haltingly. Problem was I was dorking around trying to figure out the piano and bass structure to I Only Have Eyes for You. No more. Must get cracking.
I once did something somewhat like this in 1984 - but only in terms of function and nowhere near in terms of danger and extreme conditions. I had to climb atop an antenna mast atop the Eyring Science Center building on the BYU campus to remove a wind measuring device. (I was working part time for the physics department as a electronics repair guy.) The total height was only about six stories, but it was scary nonetheless because I don't like heights.
And the older I get, the less I like them.
I was the natural candidate because I had done telephone cable repair work atop telephone poles when I was in the Marines. I well recall the Fear of Heights Test at the Sheppard Air Force Base Comm-Elec school... it involved climbing a 200 foot antenna mast. I wore a safety belt with a ratcheting device that went click-click-click on the ladder as I ascended - which seemed to take forever. When I got to the top the instructor yelled, "Okay, lean out with your belt!" I closed my eyes and did so. "Are you gonna die?" he asked. "No," I hollered back. "Okay, then come down - you pass," he shouted. So I came down. I was scared to death and my heart was racing, but I didn't let on. I wouldn't. No Marine is going to admit fear to an Air Force guy!
Back to the BYU Eyring Science Center: I shimmied up the mast wearing a safety belt and gingerly reached upwards to remove the three bolts holding the device onto the socket, and took it down. I could see students on the ground looking up at me... and it was kind of shaky at the top - the mast moved a bit with the breezes. While up there I was thinking that if the mast collapsed with me at the top it would be an ignominious way to go. It was certainly a memorable part of my BYU experience.
The other cool thing I once had to do was to remove and replace the electromagnet ring that powered the Foucault Pendulum in the same building; this involved a climb into the rafters of the attic. A bit tricky but nowhere as bad as the antenna mast.
As readers of this blog know, I love music. In fact, I can't imagine life without it. One of my all-time favorite songs - perhaps my favorite song, ever - is the 1959 Flamingos (shown above) adaptation of "I Only Have Eyes for You." It is the ultimate doo-wop nocturne. I recall being in the car with my parents one night; I must have been only four or five or so. We were out in the middle of nowhere - the desert? - and they had the radio on. This song played on the radio just as we arrived at a Chevron station (then called Standard Oil). The red, white and blue neon sign lit up in the interior of the car for a time, then everything got dark again as we drove on.
I recall thinking that the song perfectly matched the environment. The production of this Flamingos song is celebrated for being ethereal and dreamy; I wondered about the song being carried over the air on radio waves, and that it sounded like it was... I was a somewhat precocious boy.
Anyway, I found this website that describes the production and recording sessions behind this great song - fascinating! It started as a completely bizarre and over the top Busby Berkeley number in the 1934 Dick Powell/Ruby Keeler musical "Dames." (Video here - watch it, it is jaw-dropping. Before there was CGI there was Busby Berkeley.) But it was the Flamingos' arranger Terry "Buzzy" Johnson who realized that the song would work better slowed down and made romantic. According to the article he arrived at the sound in a dream!
"I was so tired that I fell asleep, and in my dream I heard ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ just the way it came out on our record. I heard the ‘doo-bop sh-bop’ [backing vocals], I heard the way the harmony would sound — I heard the harmony so clear, and I heard the structure of the chords. As soon as I woke up, I grabbed the guitar off my chest and it was like God put my fingers just where they were supposed to be. I played those chords and I heard the harmonies, and so I called the guys. I woke them all up and I said, ‘Come over to my room right now! I’ve got ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’!'"
I once exchanged e-mails about the song with Johnson; he still tours with "Terry Johnson's Flamingos." I get their e-mail announcements - some day I hope to see them in concert.
And now you should listen to the song...
I bought three old LPs at yard sales on Saturday morning: two adult comedy albums by Woody Woodbury and "Music for Non-Thinkers" by the Guckenheimer Sour Kraut Band. I've listened to only one of the Woodbury Lps so far - it is pretty bad. Drunk jokes. As this article states, listening to a Woody Woodbury album these days is primarily an exercise in patience. But it sits alongside my Rusty Warren albums in my collection. Woody Woodbury, by the way, is still alive!
I also watched George Pal's 1951 sci-fi epic "When Worlds Collide," goofy, lame and immensely disappointing. It doesn't help that the male lead reminds me of Danny Kaye, whom I can't stand. There are some great 1950's sci-fi productions - "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "The Thing," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," etc., but this isn't one of them.
I am now starting a book by Charlie LeDuff: "Work and Other Sins." I liked his other book, "US Guys." He's an interesting writer... sort of an educated hobo aesthetic.
And... that's it. It's a Monday and I am chronically depressed that it is. These days I am very much living for the weekends.
Speaking of Burbank, I just uploaded this. As a teenager I used to sit in this very library and use those very turntables to listen to their classical music Lp collection - and, later, to listen to their Alice Cooper albums. (My Mom once asked, "Why are you listening to this swing music now?" Alice Cooper... swing... ha ha.)
The House of Hammer was celebrated for its many 1960's horror films, but it also did some film noir early on. Everyone did - it was the prevailing post-war film style. Last night I saw one: "Man Bait" (aka "The Last Page" - 1952) a thriller which takes place in a book shop in London. One wouldn't normally think of a book shop as being the center of intrigue, lust and murder, but so it becomes when the "man bait" of the title was supplied by Diana Dors (shown above) "Britain's Marilyn Monroe." Born Diana Mary Fluck, she said, "They asked me to change my name. I suppose they were afraid that if my real name Diana Fluck was in lights and one of the lights blew..." But didn't I include this great quote in a previous blog? Perhaps - I'm losing my mind.
Dors reputedly left a hidden fortune, the location of which could be solved by cracking a code involving her real name. The details of this interesting tale are here. As a closing remark I should note that Dors' hometown of Swindon provided a really horrible example of commemorative statuary to her, here.
This was a clever little film at only 78 minutes... very entertaining. As is often the case with British films of the classic period, the screenplay and direction was literate, direct and accessible - this film was easy to like.
Yesterday the carpet crew came in and installed our new wool carpet up the staircase, one of the sub-projects to our Great Hardwood Flooring Project, or, empty nesters feather their nest. Looks nice, feels nice. I like the feel of wool under my toes. Synthetic carpeting is fine for the bedrooms, where you want a plusher feel, but wool just feels right somehow. The last effort we have before I declare completion is the runner rug in the hallway, which should be coming in soon...
I'm almost done with the David Bowie book I'm reading, thank goodness. I'm just about Bowied out. The problem with fans writing biographies is that they tend to consider their subjects the end-all and be-all of art. David Bowie wrote some good songs and did some inventive videos, agreed. And while his influence in rock and roll is fairly major... it still is only rock and roll - popular music.
While it's possible to make rock more articulate and subtle, it still is an art form that is rooted in adolescent rebellion. But what happens when one is no longer interested in rebellion, or outgrows the constant hormonal urge to be defiant? Or becomes middle-aged and interested in other things? Rock becomes so much less relevant, that's what.
Don't get me wrong... I am very happy I discovered Alice Cooper, David Bowie, the Blue Oyster Cult and other such acts when I was young. But I am happier that I also acquired a taste for orchestral concert music when young. I can pull an Lp out of my library and listen to, say, a Runaways record I liked when I was young. And I cringe. But I can also listen to the opening movement of, say, Sibelius' First Symphony and it, too, brings back days when I was young. But I don't cringe. In fact I hear new things in it that I can relate to the other symphonic concert music I've heard since, and this is a very satisfying thing intellectually.
Oh, dear... I'm probably coming off to you like a major snob. Time to change subjects.
I understand there's a Runaways movie. Believe it or not, I want to see this. It's reputedly good. I bought their first album in 1976 and loved it; but, as I said, nowadays it makes me cringe. It seems to me a film about teenage girls forming a band under the supervision of a Sunset Strip Svengali - Kim Fowley, a Bowie insider - seems like a good subject for a film.
My pals Mike and Bob saw the Runaways in concert on the Sunset Strip in 1978; for some reason I couldn't go and have regretted it ever since.
Mike? Concert report?
Looks like a promising Saturday for yard sales. I can't wait! Hope I get my VW back today from the shop to cruise in... have a great weekend!
Due to technical reasons and an increasingly totalitarian workplace I can no longer look at it in the morning after it's posted. (At least I think I can't.) So grammar fixes will have to take place in the evenings - if I'm not too busy!
Last night, instead of watching the Liz Scott-Edmond O'Brian film noir I had rented from Video Vault, I watched the David Bowie videos my son once bought me for a birthday. My favorite is the 1980 "Ashes to Ashes" one. The Bowie book I'm reading answered a question about it that I have always had: What's with the arm sweeping motions in this (and in the "Fashion" video from the same year)?
The story is that Bowie had a section of a beach closed off for filming, and noticed the construction vehicle parked thereupon. He wanted it in the video, and so negotiated with the owner to have it driven behind him and his extras. Problem was, it kept snagging the long black robes that the extras were wearing, so in rehearsals they would periodically reach down to free themselves. Bowie liked the motion and so incorporated it into the choreography. You've got to either be an artist or a coke head to think like that, and Bowie was both.
In my little story yesterday of getting ejected from a David Bowie concert in 1974, I forgot to mention that I finally did get to see him live, thirty years later at the Patriot Center in Fairfax in May 2004. It was an excellent concert - in fact, the best rock concert I ever expect to see, unless I happen to catch a Paul McCartney concert at some point.
Video of an amazing German engineering feat. That show host looks like he's trying to be a German Doctor Who...
We've been having great weather lately... and I'm without my convertible Beetle. It's in the shop, getting the latest scrape repaired. My wife was backing out of a parking spot when a guy with no driver's license and no insurance backed into her, scuffing the rear bumper. So we get it fixed with our uninsured motorist coverage. I pick it up Friday - I hope. I'll want it to blast around with for Saturday morning yard sales, one of the highlights of my week. They're calling for mostly cloudy with a high of 80 - certainly convertible weather!
Today we're getting new carpeting - wool! - installed in our upper staircase and hall... pictures will be posted as soon as I am able. This is a part of the general nest feathering that I'm calling the Great Hardwood Flooring Project of 2010. But soon I must turn my attention to the outside of the house, where I have leaf raking and lawn fertilization to do. I really hate gardening, and I think I would be just as happy with pavement spray-painted grass green.
And... that's it, really. What you just got is what I'm able to come up with when I really have nothing to say and have writer's block.
Well, I do have things to say, but they're political, and I try to avoid political content here. It riles people, even if you agree with me. So I tend to keep to the Elvis philosophy: I'm an entertainer. I think you come here to be entertained, not riled.
Have a pleasant, un-riled day.
And be sure to vote in November.
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