Category Archives: Popular culture

Lake Street Dive is in Columbia tonight, which is cool…

Hey, y’all — Lake Street Dive will be in Columbia tonight!

I just heard about it last night from one of my kids, who have heard me talk about enjoying some of their stuff on YouTube.

They’re playing at the Music Farm. Or Tin Roof. Or The Senate. Which is all right there together, so you should be able to find them if you go to that general area. Just park and wander about until you hear Rachael Price‘s distinctive voice. It’s nice. (It goes down smooth, you might say.) And they strike me as a good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

The tickets I’ve been able to find are between $24 and $47. Why the range? I have no idea, since they’re general admission. Something to do with markets and what they will bear when buying on the Web. Or something.

I’m not planning to go. I’ll spend $7 to go hear my son’s band at New Brookland, but that’s about it. If you want me to spend more than that to see someone I’m not related to, you’re going to have to bring John and George back to life and reunite the Beatles or something.

But I know there are some of you who have disposable income and like to go out, so I thought I’d give you a heads-up.

Because as I say, I’ve enjoyed some of their stuff on YouTube, so I think it’s cool they’re coming to town. If I were a going-out kind of guy, I’d go hear them…

A good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

A good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

Will we as a country ever do great things again?

Will McAvoy loses it after hearing the pat answers of the 'liberal' and 'conservative' on the panel.

Will McAvoy loses it after hearing more than enough of the pat answers of the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ on the panel.

I really should have had more faith in Aaron Sorkin.

After all, there’s never been anything on television I like more than “The West Wing” (although I’ll note that “Band of Brothers” ties it).

But until this week, I had refused to watch “The Newsroom.” Long ago, when HBO first launched it, I read things about it that made me not want to see it, on the grounds that I thought it would just irritate me no end. But what I read was either a misrepresentation, or I misread it.

When my wife suggested, as I was clicking around in Amazon Prime, that we check it out, I trotted out the objections as I recalled them: First, it was about a TV news anchorman — and you know, I’m a print guy. I don’t even WATCH that TV stuff, network or cable. Next, he was an anchorman who one day loses it and launches into a rant that supposedly “tells the truth” for a change, and nothing is ever again the same for him or his network. That, of course, sounded an awful lot like “Network,” which I’ve always thought was overrated. (You probably have to have been around in 1976 to recall how “brilliant” it allegedly was.) I’ve never yet understood what Peter Finch’s character was “mad as hell” about, or why that supposedly connected with a wide audience. It was gibberish to me — sensationalistic gibberish. Unfocused emotionalism, signifying nothing.

Then there was my memory of the content of the rant on “The Newsroom” — which, as it turned out, was mistaken. As I told my wife, the “truth” he was sharing was paranoid nonsense like what we hear from Bernie Sanders and in slightly different form from Donald Trump, about how everything is fixed and the little guy stands no chance. My memory was clearly wrong. His “truth” was something else that tends to evoke a similarly dismissive reaction in me: a rant about how this is not the greatest country in the world, essentially a rejection of American exceptionalism. (There are a lot of things that prompt similar reactions in me, and sometimes I confuse them.)

Actually, when I relented and watched the show, I saw that even that wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. Here’s what Jeff Daniels’ character Will McAvoy says after being badgered into reacting while sitting on a panel in front of a college audience:

And yeah, you… sorority girl. Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know. One of them is: there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are, without a doubt, a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite?!

Here’s the video. In the context, and in light of his irritation at the pat answers given by the stereotypical “liberal” and “conservative” on the panel with him (irritation with which I fully identified; he could have been me sitting there, losing patience with their stupid game — so by the time he erupts, I’m in his corner), it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. I was willing to keep listening to him. And I was rewarded for that, because what followed redeemed what he’d said before, if it needed redeeming:

It sure used to be… We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed… by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

Right. Absolutely. That’s what I mean by American exceptionalism, and it describes the country I was born into and grew up in. And it evokes the sense of loss I have as I look around me today. (And the outrage I feel at the Trumpistas saying they would “make America great again,” when everything they want to do would accomplish the precise opposite.)

Anyway, I was hooked on the show right there. I’ve still only seen the first episode, but I look forward to watching more.

As I said above, I should have more faith in the creator of “The West Wing.” By the way, when I first heard about “The Newsroom,” I had not yet watched “The West Wing,” and in fact had avoided it for similar reasons. I had heard it was a liberal fantasy of what a presidency should be, and I don’t like that kind of stuff from either left or right. But again, I had been misled. And I’m beginning to think the reason why I keep getting misled about Sorkin is that he writes with an intelligence that other media have trouble describing, because their limited “left vs. right” vocabulary lacks the necessary words.

Having had them inadequately described to me, I simply wasn’t ready for shows that spoke so clearly to me, striking a chord that I’d not been told was there.

I may never like it as much as “West Wing,” but I’m pleased so far.

(Oh, and a brief digression that will only be of interest to fellow Sorkin fans: I think in this one, he managed to avoid a mistake he made in “West Wing.” Remember the pilot? Remember how Josh feels blindsided and gets upset because the White House is about to hire back a woman he used to be involved with? Well, the first episode of “The Newsroom” has the exact same plot point: the network boss has hired a woman with whom McAvoy has a past, and he is at first all bent out of shape about it. But this time, I think its going to work out. On “West Wing,” the woman in question, “Mandy,” was the one and only truly grating, irritating character on the show — and Sorkin wisely “ghosted” her before the season was over. She just disappeared, without explanation. This time, I think the character is going to work — I’ve even gotten to where I no longer expect her to mention “avian bird syndrome.” No need to send her to Mandyville — yet. Apparently, Sorkin learns from his mistakes.)

Anyway, to get to my point, more than 1,200 words in…

Let’s go back to that bit about how “We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior….”

Good stuff.

And why don’t we do stuff like that any more? Why did we lose our confidence? Was it just Vietnam, or what? In any case, I’m ready for us to get it back.

As 2019 dawned, The New York Times ran a piece about 1919. An excerpt:

To promote the idea of interstate travel, a military convoy left Washington for California in July 1919. The New York Times called it “the largest aggregation of motor vehicles ever started on a trip of such length.”

But the convoy broke down repeatedly, and took 62 days to reach its destination. It averaged just six miles an hour, and almost didn’t make it out of Utah. As it turned out, there were almost no paved roads between Illinois and Nevada. Decades later, the officer who led the convoy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, would push for a national highway system as president. Even with a well-publicized divide between red and blue states, we can generally reach each other when we need to, and that is another unexpected result of a pivotal year….

No roads? No problem, to the man who whipped Hitler. We’ll build an interstate highway system. It may have taken him awhile, but he got to it eventually.

The first episode of “The Newsroom” is titled, “We Just Decided To.” I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it takes us back to something Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell says in “Apollo 13” (one of the best movies ever about what’s special about this country):

From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.

We just decided to go. And we went.

This week, the Chinese landed a robot on the other side of the moon. They might as well. We lost interest in the place after 1972 — 46 years ago. Yeah, I know, we have those pictures of Ultima Thule, and that’s cool and worth celebrating, truly. But such accomplishments are too few and far between these days.

We live in a time when the most ambitious proposal to “do something big” is to build a gigantic wall on our southern border. It’s big, all right — you’d be able to see it from space. But as a monument to xenophobia, it diminishes the country. It makes us less than we are. It’s about closing, not opening. It is a big, fat NAY to the universe. It is in fact a profoundly depressing thing to contemplate, seeing what we’ve descended to.

Yeah, Ultima Thule. That’s great and all. But I want more. I’ll close with the words with which Hanks closed “Apollo 13:”

I sometimes catch myself looking up at the Moon, remembering the changes of fortune in our long voyage, thinking of the thousands of people who worked to bring the three of us home. I look up at the Moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?

'We just decided to go: Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, ponders the moon.

‘We just decided to go: Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, ponders the moon.

People are still putting out albums?

00602547143723-cover-zoom

An album that truly marked its territory in 1971.

As I’ve said, I tend to interact with my subscription to The New Yorker via the emails they send me. And today, I was puzzled to find this headline in my IN box: “Eight Albums That Defined 2018 for Me.” It was written by someone aptly named “Brianna Younger.” I don’t see how such a piece could have been written by a “Brianna Older.”

But even then, I have to wonder at the following:

  • “Albums?” People are still putting out albums in 2018? That’s so… ’70s. So vinyl (and yes, I know vinyl experienced a resurgence — like, a generation ago). It’s album-oriented rock on FM stations with DJs who sounded like they were on Quaaludes. Aren’t we several technological developments beyond “albums?” There were albums, then cassettes, then CDs, then stolen MP3s and iPods, then free access to all music ever recorded via YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, etc. And you say albums are still a thing? If so, in what sense — mere collections of recordings, or concept-based, like Sgt. Pepper and Aqualung?
  • Who can possibly name eight albums from this year, much less special ones? Personally, I can’t name one — and perusing the list in The New Yorker didn’t help. And before you scoff at the old guy, this is largely because media are so fragmented today. In, say, the ’60s, old people couldn’t miss the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or Herman’s Hermits. And young people couldn’t miss Frank Sinatra, Robert Goulet, or Engelbert Humperdinck. And no one could possibly miss Herb Alpert or Burt Bacharach. They were ubiquitous, layered thickly upon the limited spread of available media. That just isn’t the case today. Listeners can go off into their own private world and groove on their own private sounds that the person sitting next to them have never heard and never will hear. Our culture is not shared as it was.
  • In light of both of the two previous points, how can any albums, the eight in question or whichever ones you pick, define a year in this century? An album might have done that in the 70s, when they were as central to the mass culture as bell-bottoms and leisure suits. But this just seems the last sort of thing that could define the year. Albums just don’t do that in this decade.

Here are the eight albums in question:

  1. BbyMutha, “BbyShoe”
  2. Janelle Monáe, “Dirty Computer”
  3. Kendrick Lamar, “Black Panther: The Album”
  4. Noname, “Room 25”

Oops. That’s only four. Either there’s something wrong with my computer, or even Brianna could only come up with four. (Let me know if you can find the other four; I’m curious.) Whatever. The point is, I’ve heard of Janelle Monáe (the name has stuck because my mother and one of my daughters are named “Janelle”), and I saw “Black Panther.” Neither causes any particular music to come to mind. The others mean nothing to me.

Granted that “Black Panther” actually was a mass cultural phenomenon in the past year, I have to ask, in what sense do you feel these recordings were essential to an understanding of 2018? Forty years from now, to what extent will today’s young people — much less their children and grandchildren — be listening to this music, or seeing it as essential to this moment?

If you don’t think that’s a fair question, allow me to cite eight albums from a year in which albums mattered, in which they truly served as a broadly-perceived soundtrack for the time, and even could have been said to “define” the time, and echo in our memory of that year on mass media to this day.

It may be a bit unfair, but I’m going to pick my eight from 1971…

…Sorry, I can’t narrow it down to eight. Let’s do 10 that still loom large in our culture:

  • The Who – Who’s Next. This one may be the one with the most singles that you still frequently hear on the radio. “Baba O’Riley.” “Behind Blue Eyes.” “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
  • Al Green – Gets Next to You. All I have to say is, “Tired of Being Alone.
  • Joni Mitchell — Blue. The best-remembered cut was probably “California,” but the album overall was a cultural touchstone.
  • Marvin Gaye — What’s Going On. Which was, of course, about what was going on. So, definitive of a time.
  • Rod Stewart — Every Picture Tells a Story. Anything you connect with “early Rod Stewart” (not counting Jeff Beck days) is on this one. Let’s just skim the second side: “Maggie May.” “Mandolin Wind.” “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” “(Find a) Reason to Believe.” All that’s missing is “Handbags and Gladrags.”
  • The Rolling Stones — Sticky Fingers. Arguably their best, although “Let if Bleed” and “Exile on Main Street” are right up there. Let’s go with a non-hit from this one: “Moonlight Mile,” which weirdly invoked Huckleberry Finn and Jim for me. It made me feel like I was rolling down a river at a leisurely raft pace. Listen to that rhythm and tell me I’m not right. You don’t have to listen to the words. If that doesn’t do it for you, go lose yourself in “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Mr. Bobby Keys on sax!
  • Carole King — Tapestry. Like, a lifetime of stellar songwriting distilled into one shot and dropped upon an unsuspecting public. Let’s go with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
  • Jethro Tull — Aqualung. “Sit-ting on a park bench… DAH, dah-dah…” (Remember Jack Donaghy and Pete Hornberger 39 years later conveniently forgetting the second line, thank goodness?) Still, my favorite cut from the album is “Wind-Up.” It was in ’71, and still is today. He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.
  • John Lennon — Imagine. The title cut is hauntingly beautiful, even though I hate the lyrics. I prefer “Jealous Guy” and “Oh Yoko!” Even though Yoko isn’t one of my fave people, for obvious reasons.
  • Janis Joplin — Pearl. She died in October of the previous year and this was released posthumously in January, but it’s such a part of the year’s soundtrack that it shouts “1971.” Let’s pause and give a listen to “A Woman Left Lonely.”

Notice that I’m completely ignoring James Taylor, David Bowie, and my main man Leon Russell, and many others doing ground-breaking work at the time.

To use an expression that entered the culture sometime between then and now, at this point I will drop the mic.

I wanted to LIVE in this picture with Carole. Could have done without the cat, though...

I wanted to LIVE in this picture with Carole. Could have done without the cat, though…

Suddenly, from out of the cold mist, a blog post

The-Band-self-titled-Album-Cover-web-optimised-820

I just looked poked my head our from campaign HQ for a moment, and I can report that we now have perfect weather for listening to The Band.

Start with the brown album. If you have time for just one song, go with “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)“…

Other good listens for precisely this weather, this time of year, in this latitude, is John Lennon’s “Imagine” album. Not the title track so much because it’s overdone (and, good as it is, overrated). Go with “Jealous Guy” or something along those lines. You want to listen to this in an empty room (like the one in the video) with lots of reverb.

Finally, these climatic conditions are also conducive to the enjoyment of some of Rod Stewart’s early hits, such as “Maggie May,” “Handbags and Gladrags” and “Mandolin Wind.” All very autumnal.

That is all. You may go… And I must get back to work. The music helps…

Top Five Movies (or TV Shows) for the Fourth of July

  1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” — Frank Capra really gets America. Or at least, he got the America of his day, and that means he got it the way I get it. (It feels like I was right there, in a previous life.)
  2. Young Mr. Lincoln” — If you don’t do anything else today, watch the clip above. You only have to watch the first minute and 18 seconds. It’s amazing, the best thing Henry Fonda ever did. I thought about Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” which is magnificent and of course has superior, modern production values. But I had another Spielberg flick below, and besides, this one’s awesome.
  3. John Adams” — Yeah, this one’s a TV show, which is why I added the parenthetical in the headline. I can’t think of anything better on how America became America. And as I keep saying, Adams is my fave Founder. He’s the one who rammed independence through the Congress. Jefferson just wrote it out — because Adams picked him to do it.
  4. Saving Private Ryan” — Yeah, I know — Bud and maybe others will say, “This isn’t Veteran’s Day, nor yet Memorial Day!” Yeah, well, freedom isn’t free. And this is the best film evocation of that ever made. I get chills, and misty eyes, during the cemetery scenes at the start and end. July Fourth message to us all: Earn this!
  5. Yankee Doodle Dandy” — Because there had to be a musical, and have you ever seen anything better than James Cagney dancing down those stairs? Particularly amazing if you only thought of him as a gangster type.

Honorable mention:

All the President’s Men” — Because America. Because First Amendment. Because scrappy newspapermen taking down a corrupt administration. Best part — the scenes in which Woodward and Bernstein interview people who do not want to talk to them. They are wonderfully ragged and awkward, which is what it’s like in real life. I really appreciate the director leaving them that way and not trying to slick them up, Hollywood-style.

"Yankee Doodle Dandy"

“Yankee Doodle Dandy”

How is Wyoming more patriotic than WE are?

This seems kinda screwy to me, but we did make the Top Five, so that’s something:

patriotic

I’m sort of wondering about the criteria that have states that voted for Donald Trump being on average “more patriotic.” I also wonder about Massachusetts — you know, the home of Paul Revere and John Adams (THE guy who persuaded the Continental Congress to declare independence) — ending up 50th. Who’s gonna tell the New England, you know, Patriots?

And what’s with Wyoming edging us out? Is it the Cowboy Factor or something?

Anyway, it’s something besides today’s runoff election to talk about, and I thought y’all could use a break…

Who's gonna tell THESE guys?

Who’s gonna tell THESE guys?

Hidden camera footage from McMaster HQ: ‘People like that RE-form’

Oops. Wait a sec. Perhaps I should explain that this is a joke, before the cries of “fake news” start.

Anyway, I love this scene, and will use any excuse to go watch it again.

“Maybe we should get US some…”

I especially love the warning, storm-cloud look on Pappy’s face as he waits for what he just knows will be a monumentally stupid observation…

Pappy

Amazon sees me as a regular, action-oriented kinda guy

movies 1

I got a kick out of this….

I found a new option on my Amazon account and clicked on something that said, “Brad’s Amazon.”

That led me to category after category that Amazon had decided, based on my activity in the past, Brad liked.

Above and below you see the movies that Amazon thinks I’m most interested in. Apparently, I really dig some 007. (But I assure you, I much prefer Sean Connery to Roger Moore.)

Y’all know me. I like that stuff, sure, but my tastes are a bit… wider. Why just the other day, didn’t I get all artsy-fartsy with that French romantic musical I went to see? That was pretty eclectic of me, don’t you think? And if I look at the stuff I’ve watched recently via Amazon Prime, it’s at least somewhat broader that these options.

I’ve been watching stuff like old episodes of “House,” and the Irish cop series, “Single-Handed.” And “The Last Post,” about British Army types in Yemen in the early ’60s. And that scandalous Hedy Lamarr picture, “Ecstasy.” (Or at least, I watched enough to tell you it’s not as racy as people let on.)

Actually, that’s not all that broad a selection, is it? Maybe Amazon knows me better than I know myself. Maybe I’m really, just an uncomplicated, macho, action-oriented kind of guy. So… somebody run get me a beer (and not light beer) while I watch James Bond use the ejector seat on that guy again in “Goldfinger.” I liked that part…

movies 2

Coincidence of the day: ‘Lovergirl’

Teena

Yeah, I know it’s probably not really a coincidence, but simply a matter of my brain being alert to something it would otherwise have ignored, but it impressed me when it happened.

Last night, I was catching up on this week’s New York Times crosswords. I zipped through Monday’s and Tuesday’s over dinner, and was doing well on Wednesday’s when I got stuck. So I cheated. I do that sometimes when I know there’s no way I know the answer, and that one word is creating a logjam that’s preventing me from getting several others. I’m not proud of it, but I’d rather do that than not finish the puzzle.

The clue was “_____ Marie, singer of the 1985 hit ‘Lovergirl’.” Five letters. I had no idea. I remember a lot of songs from that year — sort of a big year in the MTV era, as I recall. But not that one. So I Googled “Lovergirl” and found “Teena.” Yeah, I wasn’t going to get that one.Lovergirl

I bragged to my wife about how quickly I’d done the crosswords, but of course confessed that I’d cheated on that one. I said I didn’t recall her. My wife suggested that maybe she was a country singer, which would explain my not remembering. I said maybe so…

This morning, driving in, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” (I suppose when I had last been in the car, I had gotten tired of some topic on NPR and switched to a commercial station.) Anyway, I got to noticing the rhythm of it, and tried to decide whether that was a human drummer or a drum machine. I decided I couldn’t tell.

Later, while I was eating breakfast, a speaker in the ceiling at Cap City was softly churning out pop music, and the room was quiet, and I heard an intro that caused my brain to go “another ’80s tune,” although I didn’t recognize it. But the genre was unmistakable. As I listened again just now, it seemed to me that someone was trying to sound like Prince.

A moment later, my iPad froze up in the middle of trying to read something, as it does sometimes, and I looked up in irritation, and heard, “I just want to be your lovergirl…”

WHAT!?!?!?

I queried SoundHound, and sure enough, it was “Teena.” I still didn’t recognize the song. As I listened, it sounded a bit more familiar, but there must have been a hundred unremarkable songs that sounded like that in the ’80s.

Anyway, it’s probably not weird, but it felt weird…

Yeah, I know this isn’t the most compelling topic, but it’s what I was thinking about just now, and it involved pop music, although not very good pop music, I admit…

I’ll post something more substantial soon….

Philip Roth, the last of the literary lions of the ’60s

At least, I don’t think there are any left… Joseph Heller, Tom Wolfe, Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, John Updike… who’s missing?

Anyway, Philip Roth’s gone now, too.Philip_Roth_-_1973

I don’t have a lot to say about this one. I had read and largely loved most of what Tom Wolfe had ever published, so he meant more to me.

I think all I ever read by Roth was “Goodbye Columbus.” That was pretty good, but not exactly something that set my mind on fire the way, say, Catch-22 did. I think I liked some of the other stories in that collection better, such as “The Conversion of the Jews.” So I appreciate that one writer eulogized him as being “forever the little boy on the roof threatening to jump, forcing the Rabbi into an apology.” Nicely said, especially since it’s an allusion I actually get.

But I never heard anything about Portnoy’s Complaint that made me want to read it. (Of course, I never heard much about it that rose above the level of a dirty joke.) Maybe I should. You know, to have a better grasp on the serious literature of my time, the way I made myself read a couple of Updike’s “Rabbit” books, to be better in touch with the alienation and discontent of my generation and yadda-yadda.

Or maybe not. I had a pretty happy childhood, and have only ever had a limited appetite for disaffected moral aridity. Thoughts?

Or anything else you’d like to say about Roth? I’m outta ammo…

Goodbye, Columbus: I not only read the book, but saw the film. I'll say this for it: If forced to watch an Ali McGraw movie, I'd rather see this than "Love Story."

Goodbye, Columbus: I not only read the book, but saw the film. I’ll say this for it: If forced to watch an Ali MacGraw movie, I’d rather see this than “Love Story.” That’s about as far as I can go with it. I liked Benjamin better in “Catch-22.”

‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’

UMBRELLAS-OF-CHERBOURG

Having recently become members of the Nickelodeon, my wife and I on Sunday attended a special showing of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, ” the film that launched Catherine Deneuve as a star.

I’m not what you’d call a big fan of colorful romantic musicals of the early 1960s, but this one was unusual, if not unique. And not just because it was in French.

First, it was at first glance visually very much like Hollywood films of the time — very Kandy-Kolored, none of that somber continental auteur black-and-white stuff. In fact, the colors were sort of a foreshadowing of the later psychedelic portion of the decade. The wallpaper alone in some of the interior sets would make you suspect there were some very funny mushrooms in the vicinity of Cherbourg.

Then there was the fact that it wasn’t just a musical musical, in the sense of people suddenly and without warning breaking into song for no good reason. Every word of dialogue, down to the most pedestrian remarks, was sung. A bit disturbing at first, but this operatic device worked, even with me. In the opening scene, a guy who works with one of the protagonists at a garage sings that he doesn’t like opera; give him movies instead. I could identify, ordinarily. Anyway, it made for a nice little internal joke.

If you get the opportunity to see the film sometime — it’s no longer showing at the Nick — it’s worth it just for the moments when suddenly, you recognize a tune the characters are singing. I was delighted and frustrated by this, because these tunes were very much a part of the background of the 1960s — the grownup, Muzak, “standards” part that was always playing somewhere, even though it’s not what we kids sought out. Here’s a cover of one. I’m proud that I made the connection on this one before the film was over, when suddenly my brain replaced the French words with “If it takes forever, I will wait for you.” Here’s another earworm from the film.

I had never heard of the film back in those days, but I certainly knew the tunes.

SPOILERS to follow…

That warning seems a bit unnecessary, but I’m hoping that some of you who haven’t seen it will see it sometime. As for those who have seen it, I’d be interested in what you think about how the film turned out.

As happens at the Nick, there was discussion of the film there in the theater before and after the showing. At the start, we were told that this apparently light story was set within the context of France’s traumatic experience in the Algerian War. But… I didn’t see any heavy political subtext. The structure of the film was in three parts, the first being boy-meets-girl and the second boy-leaves-girl-to-go-to-war. It could have been any conflict, or some other cause. The point was that the boy went away. There was nothing special about the fact that it was to Algiers.

Madeleine -- not only was there character in her face, but she had a sort of Katharine Ross thing going on...

Madeleine — not only was there character in her face, but she had a sort of Katharine Ross thing going on…

Then there was the ending, which in a sense was the least Hollywood thing about the film. And this is the real spoiler. We’d been set up to think it would be a terrible thing if Geneviève and Guy didn’t get back together — in conventional Hollywood terms. But from the moment Mssr. Cassard and Madeleine made their appearances, I felt that they were better mates for our star-crossed lovers. Sure, in Hollywood-values terms, Deneuve was beautiful as Geneviève — being beautiful was her specialty, especially when she was older — but Madeleine was more my type, and Guy’s, too, I thought. Not only did Ellen Farner have a kind of pre-Katharine Ross thing going on (and it was a law of movies in the ’60s — if Katharine Ross appears, you the male viewer will fall in love with her), but there was depth of character in her face. This is the girl you marry, Guy. And Messr. Cassard was more the kind of mate Geneviève needed, despite — or perhaps even because of — his over-trimmed mustache.

Anyway, I guess that’s enough on the subject of a film you probably won’t see unless you go out of your way. But it impressed me and I wanted to share that…

The psychedelic wallpaper was well ahead of its time.

The psychedelic wallpaper was well ahead of its time.

OK, let’s talk about Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’

Doug and Norm were talking about Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video. So I made my usual joke about “What’s a Childish Gambino?,” and then I went to look at it. (I had recorded SNL over the weekend, but hadn’t watched it yet.)

Apparently, this is the “I Am the Walrus” or “American Pie” of the moment, with everyone trying to interpret the references. So I went and watched it. And I didn’t find it to be all that mysterious, although I’m sure I missed a lot on that one run-through. I felt like I “got” what I saw, but I’d need to watch it a few more times to catch things I missed, and wonder about things I don’t get.

This was my stream-of-consciousness reaction, which I’m rethinking even as I post it here, but this was the way it played for me as I watched:

I watched it. I get it.

It’s about reparations.

And it’s also about a whole lot of other images and ideas from the black experience in America, spanning centuries. You have the references to “contraband” all the way through apparently random gun violence, and life going on around it.

The care of the guns just refers to the way we cherish them in America. We have another shooting, and elected leaders sort of close ranks in making sure nothing changes and the holy gun is protected.

He also runs through various caricatures of the Dangerous Black Male that white society has traditionally feared — the sexualized dancing, the violence, the drugs. His mugging facial expressions, some of his dance moves, the whites of his frightened eyes being the first thing you see in the darkness when he’s being chased at the end — all those things make cultural references to the black man as a ridiculous figure of entertainment for whites. So you have this jarring, sudden, back-and-forth going on between a minstrel show stereotype and the dangerous stereotype.

And the old cars remind me of the days of Hollywood’s blaxploitation fad, although they may be a little more recent than that.

The kids are in school uniforms, which seems a reference to the way people think one way of addressing social ills is to put kids in such uniforms. Yet the chaos goes on around them.

It’s interesting. I like that the music has a Caribbean feel to it (at least to my ears). After all, the black experience in America largely came first through the West Indies. South Carolina, the most pro-slavery state in the Union, was initially settled by people who had practiced a particularly brutal form of chattel slavery in Barbados.

And on and on.

Doug thinks I’m clueless. I’m not. The old guy who’s out of it is just a character I play on TV. Or on social media, anyway…

That’s first-blush, without looking to see what others thought of it.

Thinking back, I’m not sure I should have said “Caribbean.” It sounded exotic to my ears, and for whatever reason I thought “Caribbean.” Maybe it’s the way the guy’s dressed, as a combination between a slave working in cane fields (the American form of slavery got its start with sugar cane cultivation) and a Calypso dancer. Wait… I searched on that, and it seems calypso dancers aren’t as a rule shirtless. Don’t know why I thought they were.

Anyway, there’s a lot to unpack here…

Oh, and Childish Gambino? It’s Donald Glover. The guy I keep thinking is related to Danny Glover, but isn’t….

mugging

THAT’S kind of a cool, idiosyncratic ad…

Fenimore

Google Adsense gives me a lot of odd ads that I’d rather not see on the blog.

But I thought this one was pretty cool, and kinda weird — a James Fenimore Cooper ad?

I just flashed on my fave line in that movie with Daniel Day Lewis, when the British officer asks Nathaniel how he can possibly go to Kentucky when there’s a war on where he is, and the reply is, “Well, we kinda face to the north and real sudden-like turn left…”

Although, now that I think about it… Since this was set in Upstate New York, shouldn’t he head south and then turn right? Or head west and then turn left? Maybe the actor got confused because they filmed it in North Carolina, which would have made those directions perfect…

Wes Studi: One scary villain

Wes Studi: One scary villain

I don’t know, but I liked the film for two reasons: One was the incredible menace of Wes Studi, who played Magua. That was one scary villain.

The second was how well Day-Lewis inhabited a character who is probably THE prototypical American character. There’s no one in literature more American, unless it’s Huck Finn.  (That quote, displaying his utter lack of regard as to what a representative of the Crown thought of his doings, perfectly illustrated that.) How do the Brits do that, time after time? This may well be the ultimate example of the phenomenon.

Of course, not all the Google ads today are awesome. At the same time the Cooper one was showing, there was this across the top of the page….

No, not the great picture I took in Thailand. I mean the thing under it...

No, not the great picture I took in Thailand. I mean the thing under it…

 

Finally, some substance: James Smith’s campaign playlist

James Smith playlist

Before I get into the important stuff, I’ll share this: On my downtown walk yesterday, I ran into James Smith and Mandy Powers Norrell leaving the State House, and I asked James why he hadn’t released his tax returns — since some of y’all keep bringing that up.

He told me he was going to make them available to the media on Thursday and Friday. He said he wasn’t passing out copies, but folks would be free to peruse the documents on those days. I didn’t dig into why he doesn’t want copies going out: We were talking while crossing the street, he was going to meet with his campaign manager at one of those sidewalk tables in front of restaurants on the first block of Main north of Gervais, and I was in a hurry to get back to the office and drive to the twins’ school to hear them sing. So I just made a mental note: financial disclosure, Thursday and Friday, and hustled away.

At least, I think he said Thursday and Friday. So if I’m right, you read it here first. If not, I’ll correct it.

Anyway, in keeping with my campaign to drive Bud crazy (Look, Bud, more style over substance!), I’m more interested in something the candidate sent out today: his campaign music playlist, which he describes as “what’s been keeping me rocking as I travel the state.”

In my defense, this is more relevant in his case than in other candidates’, because he’s a musician himself — he used to play bass with the Root Doctors, many years ago. As he put it in the release:

Music has always been important to me — it can lift you up when you’re feeling low, make you run when you are tired, and inspire hope just when you need it.

Here’s his list, which you can find at Spotify:

  1. Sunday Bloody Sunday,” U2
  2. One,” U2
  3. Perfect Duet,” Ed Sheeran & Beyoncé
  4. Message in a Bottle,” The Police
  5. Happier,” Ed Sheeran
  6. Beautiful Day,” U2
  7. Pride (In the Name of Love),” U2
  8. De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” The Police
  9. Find Me,” Kings of Leon
  10. Castle on the Hill,” Ed Sheeran
  11. Sign, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours),” Stevie Wonder
  12. We Take Care of Our Own,” Bruce Springsteen
  13. Come Together,” The Beatles
  14. Feeling Good,” Nina Simone
  15. Vertigo,” U2

Some general observations:

  • OK, we got it: You like U2. And “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is a perfectly fine song for kicking off a playlist, particularly in this case because it’s politically serious. It’s sort of the pop music equivalent of quoting W.B. Yeats. (For this purpose, we would also have accepted “Zombie,” by the Cranberries.) But five out of the 14 songs? Come on! You don’t want to come across as that… I don’t know… monochromatic. And let’s face it: U2 isn’t that great. Two or even three songs from Elvis Costello maybe, but five from U2? Nah…
  • Who is Ed Sheeran? I think I know what you’re trying to do here: Jack Black, as Barry in “High Fidelity,” would describe it this way: “Ohhh, kind of a new record… Very nice… A sly declaration of new-classic status slipped into a list of old safe ones….” I would not say that, of course, because I’m nicer than Barry. I appreciate that there’s something this old guy doesn’t know (the singer was born in 1991, saints preserve us!). And he sounds good. But again — should he appear on the list twice?
  • “Come Together” — the messaging may be a bit heavy there, but a communitarian like me never tires of that message. Thanks for including something for us Boomers. Which is smart, since we vote.
  • Good Springsteen choice, and I know it’s meaningful to you as a guy who served in the war. And no harm in reminding people of that. And while I’m not a huge fan of the Boss, another song from him couldn’t have hurt. Something fun, like “Pink Cadillac.” Or, especially since you’re doing some of that campaigning in the Pee Dee, “Darlington County.” Bruce is good politics for a Democrat, and he’s better than U2.
  • Who are the Kings of Leon? Never mind; we’ve already covered that ground with Ed Sheeran. And in the end, a guy who’s serious about music should have some performers not everyone has heard of. Broaden people’s horizons a bit. Be a leader, not a follower…

Anyway, that should get a discussion started. What are y’all’s thoughts? And speaking of High Fidelity, remember Rob’s rules as you consider the list:

To me, making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do. You’ve got to kick off with a corker, to hold the attention ***, and then you’ve got to up it a notch, or cool it a notch, and you can’t have white music and black music together, unless the white music sounds like black music, and you can’t have two tracks by the same artist side by side, unless you’ve done the whole thing in pairs and… oh, there are loads of rules…

Yeah, he says “tape” instead of “playlist,” but give him a break: It was the 90’s and anyway, he’s a fictional character. But the rules are the rules…

Yeah, U2's good, and they sort of have political seriousness going for them, but they're not THAT great...

Yeah, U2’s good, and they sort of have political seriousness going for them, but they’re not THAT great…

JFK and RFK worried, a little, about poll drop to 70 percent

This was the image on the screen as we heard Bobby say, "God... the poll..."

This was the image on the screen as we heard Bobby say, “God… the poll…”

The last couple of mornings during my workouts, I’ve been watching the Netflix documentary series, “Bobby Kennedy for President.”

I’m motivated to do so by the enervating despair that today’s politics instills. I was young then and not following politics very closely, but it’s always been my understanding that RFK’s campaign had an inspirational effect on voters, and I’d like to see a candidate that I might be able to feel good about — because it’s been awhile.

I’m through the second of four parts, and I’ll give you a full report when I’m done later in the week.

But I’d like to share one tidbit from the first episode, which I watched on Monday.

A recording of a phone conversation between President Kennedy and Bobby was played. RFK, ever his brother’s campaign manager, informed JFK that he had dropped in the Gallup poll — from 76 percent to 70 percent. Jack says he had read the papers, but had missed that (that’s how people learned things back then, children — they read newspapers).

They didn’t act like it was the end of the world, but it was still a cause for concern — mainly because they’d dropped six points in a month. Bobby started the conversation by saying, “God… the poll…”

I thought maybe I had heard it wrong. A president with an approval rating of 70 percent? A number that high seemed impossible. Especially since, a moment before, we had seen footage of a Kennedy detractor reminding us that “He got elected by just a gnat’s eyebrow.”

So I looked it up. And not only was that probably right, but 70 percent was Kennedy’s average during his time in office, according to Gallup. It was the highest average in history (that is, since Gallup starting measuring when Truman was president), easily topping Eisenhower in second place at 65 percent.

For comparison, Barack Obama’s average was 47.9 percent. The last president we had with an average over 50 percent was Bill Clinton at 55.

Wow. Imagine that. Seventy percent. And Bobby was concerned about it, at least a little…

Galup averages

Again, what is WITH people who worship celebrities?

Yes, that headline is a blast from my past, from my earliest blogging days, when I looked at this picture of some Michael Jackson fans waiting breathlessly for news of a verdict in his 2005 trial on child molestation charges.michael_jackson_fans

I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. Yeah, I can understand someone liking the guy’s music, and being amazed by his dance moves earlier in his career.

But to care about somebody you don’t even know to that degree? How do people get to be that way? What is missing in people that they try to fill the void with celebrity worship?

Anyway, I was reminded of it after running across one item after another about an allegedly (I can’t seem to find video of it, so I can’t confirm its awesomeness) awesome performance by Beyoncé over the weekend. The web is filled with headlines such as “Beyoncé makes history at Coachella” and “What It Was Like to Be in the Audience for Beyoncé’s Historic Coachella Show.”

In my effort to understand this no doubt amazing event, I first had to look up “Coachella,” because I had never heard of it before — something that amazes my wife, by the way, but there it is. To me, it sounded like a name the Disney people would give to a wicked stepmother/sorceress sort of villainess. Like “Cruella De Vil.”

I’m hip. I’m with it. I’ve heard of Bonnaroo. But this was a new one on me. So I’ll just have to take others’ word for how “historic” — how like Caesar crossing the Rubicon, and the 13th Amendment, and the Yalta Conference — this event was. I am, however, willing to learn — if someone can direct me to video of the lady’s stupendous performance.

It would have to be historic, for onlookers to wear expressions such as these (sorry about linking to it rather than showing it, but I can’t afford Getty’s prices). Those folks look like they are witnesses to the Transfiguration, and are as overwhelmed and addled by it as Simon Peter was. (I found that picture on an NYT piece headlined “Beyoncé and the End of Respectability Politics,” which I was tricked into reading by the fact that it was in the Opinion part of my NYT app.)

Someone will no doubt point to some cultural touchstone from my own youth, and say something like, “Look at how audiences reacted to the Beatles!” But that will not score many points, because — while I think the Beatles were great, unique, unprecedented, even historic (or at least historical) — I always thought the screaming-teenybopper phenomenon was ridiculous, too. It was… uncool.

But aside from having never been a teenage girl, I think maybe I just was never really young in that sense. My wife will back me up on this, since she’s known me since I was 19. (Alla you kids get offa my lawn. And get a grip on yourselves.)

But seriously: What makes people get so worked up by entertainers and other celebrities?

And remember, to our generation, it’s all about being cool

Some of you may think I was easy on Ralph Norman in that last post, saying he was only guilty of being uncool.

You forget that I’m a Baby Boomer, and Ralph Norman is, too. I look at him and I don’t see a member of my generation. I see a member of my parents’ generation, or maybe someone older than that. From his pictures, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn he is a Lawrence Welk fan. He looks like your parents’ friend who corners you at the party because he wants to share one word with you: “Plastics.”

Me in about '73.

Me in about ’73.

But eerily enough, he’s just a little more than three months older than I am. I looked it up.

And members of our generation asked little of life, beyond having other people see us as being cool. One of the things I love about the film “Almost Famous” — which is set in 1973, the year I turned 20 — is that it captured that facet of that moment rather well.

We didn’t seek to be rich, unless that just happened to us, in which case we wouldn’t object. We lived in a time of lowered expectations, with Watergate unfolding and America heading for the exits in Vietnam.

But we did hope, most fervently, to be cool. Or rather, as I said, to be seen as cool. Was that really too much to expect, we demanded of the heavens?

Anyway, it is against that cultural backdrop that you should consider the fact that Ralph Norman has been weighed, he has been measured, and he has been found to be decidedly uncool…

Bottom line, Ralph Norman’s just not cool

Norman during the meeting with constituents...

Norman during the meeting with constituents…

If you’ve seen “In the Line of Fire” as many times as I have, you’ll remember this part. Clint Eastwood and his partner are trying to track down would-be assassin John Malkovich, and are following a lead that takes them into the subculture of plastic modelers.

They’re talking to a friend of Mitch, the Malkovich character, who says see my expensive wheelchair? Mitch bought it for me. Then suddenly, he pulls out a semi-automatic handgun and says this is in case Mitch ever comes back — because he had credibly threatened his “friend’s” life.

The Secret Service agents sort of go “Whoa!” at the appearance of the gun. They do this not because they’re sissies who are afraid of firearms and other mean things. (Remember, one of them is Clint Eastwood.) They do it because there are times when it is uncool to whip out a loaded firearm, and one of those times is when you’re being interviewed by a couple of worried Secret Service agents.

Another such time is when you’re a member of Congress chatting with your constituents.

What I’m saying is that basically, Ralph Norman did a really, really uncool thing when he took out his piece and put it on the table during a meeting with voters.

He didn’t do a criminal thing — at least, not to my knowledge. And I don’t think anyone needs to have a cow over it the way Democratic Party Chair Trav Robertson is doing.

But it seems to me quite obvious that it fell way short on the cool-o-meter.

Your thoughts?

SCNormanGunREVISEDAriailx

‘Breakers’ above Columbia

tulips

I’m having a busy day with little time for blogging, so I just thought I’d share a picture that I like.

This is what I saw from my table at breakfast Monday morning. They were left over from the Capital City Club’s Easter dinner the day before.

They struck me particularly because the night before, we had started to watch a new Netflix movie called “Tulip Fever.” It’s about the market bubble in tulips that drove Europe, and particularly the Netherlands, mad in the 1630s, before the inevitable collapse.

We didn’t make it all the way through — it started to devolve into one of those tiresome plots in which bad things happen because of mistaken identity. But I watched enough to learn that multicolored tulips like the ones above were called “breakers,” and were particularly highly prized. Or at least, that’s the way this film told it.

Of course, right after I took this picture, I moved the flowers so I could pull down the blinds so the sunlight wouldn’t blind me while I read the papers on my iPad.

Beautiful vistas are sometimes wasted on me…

An image from the film, "Tulip Fever."

An image from the film, “Tulip Fever.”