Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Movies of the Lost Barry Goldwater Administrations (1965-73)

How short can I keep these? I am reluctant to drop off from keeping a record of them because my lists are about the only area of my life that is at all organized any more, and serve as a kind of placebo for a sense of actual accomplishment.

This really was a good era for movies, and I say that as somebody who was resistant to much of its appeal for a long time. All three of today's well-known selections were ones I had never felt much of an pull to see, but they all have a more than usual interest about and are well worth the time, if you are going to use your time to consume entertainments anyway.

Mean Streets (1973)

Maybe I am the only one, but speaking as a 42-year old in 2012, I had long grown tired of Scorcese and DeNiro, not because I don't think they are any good, but because one gets tired with almost all people who are as constantly ubiquitous for as long a time as they have been. Here they appear before they became 'themselves', and the movie surprised me by how fresh and lively it is.  The subject matter for the most part hints at impending darkness, I suppose, but the darkness is not I don't think what it is primarily concerned with. Johnny Boy (the DeNiro character) is such a knucklehead that he apparently doesn't care about provoking people who are used to resolving their problems with firearms, which relieves the viewer of a lot of the stress of anticipating that eventually happening. It is Johnny Boy's outrageously oppositional attitude that mostly carries the movie, along with its vignettes of other unbounded characters, of places and attitudes of the time, and the collisions of these forces with each other. This is honestly the first movie I have seen as an over-30 in which I actually enjoyed watching Robert DeNiro's acting (though I suspect I would like him in  Raging Bull if I saw that again). Almost all of the actors in this inhabit their roles with an unusual seamlessness and honesty, or at least the ones playing the neighborhood guys anyway. You also believe that their lives are somehow worth having, maybe more than yours, because they seem so self-actualized.

While the film probably exaggerates it, the amount of casual violence and general mayhem, apart from 'business' related matters, that the movie depicts is pretty amazing. At one point Johnny Boy is up on the roof of his apartment building firing his gun off randomly for half an hour, putting out a few windows in the process, apparently without attracting the attention of either law enforcement or annoyed neighbor. He also on at least one occasion assaults and delivers a beatdown to a random person on the sidewalk and leaves him in a bloody heap while other pedestrians just step around the prone body. Women are hit, thrown to the ground and so forth almost as a way of establishing atmosphere and the characters of male protagonists.

The use of 60s girl group songs in the soundtrack is more than usually effective here. Their exuberance and, even in 1973, suggestion of nostalgia, doubtless matches the mood of the filmmaker and the other creative talent, if not the nominal storyline.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972)

If you are of that impossibly exalted class of person for whom even the professional upper middle class constitutes in its collective stupidity a source of near-endless mirth, this is apparently one of the most hilarious movies ever made. I think it is interesting in many ways, but it is clearly intended as an inside joke for friends and kindred spirits of the great Luis Bunuel and other instinctive artistic types--it can hardly have been expected to communicate hard truths to the real bourgeoisie, because for the most part they won't have any idea what the hell they're looking at (and won't care) and the people like me who perceive they are being made fun of and believe they would like nothing more than to change and become an irreverent artist/sage/ independent soul or whatever it is they ought to become obviously do not have any idea how one might set about doing so.

This movie actually won the best foreign picture Oscar in its year, to the confusion of all the writers of the time who both presumably liked the movie and had made their name in part by eviscerating institutions like the Oscars as frequently as possible. The choice does seem not to be consistent with most of the other winners in that category even at the time, mainly because it is by Oscar standards so unconventional and even outrageous. I am curious as to what inspired the academy to vote it the award.

I don't have to tell you that Bunuel is one of the most purely revered masters in the history of cinema. I am not going to, and probably can't, break down all of the messages and symbolic layers of this film, but I tell you there are few directors, if any, who project such absolute confidence as well as a lack of any evidence of mental strain or self-conscious effort in rolling out a movie. This guy is psychologically off in another world from just about everybody, at least when he is behind a camera. Although the film about his life that came with the movie gave the impression that he grew up in a village that was essentially medieval until World War I (Bunuel was born in 1900), his Wikipedia page states that his family moved to Zaragoza, which is a pretty large city, when he was four and a half months old, and that they were among the wealthier and more aristocratic families in town, which background makes his eventual artistic attainments seem more plausible. At the University of Madrid he became good friends with, among other future luminaries, Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca, out of which Spanish Surrealism was hatched. The 1920s was a golden age for magical youthful circles in the arts.

One person who is not a great fan of Luis Bunuel is my wife, who has had enough of his take on the world to unconditionally reject it. If you wanted to try to get her to watch one of his films and admit to its genius at this point you would have to try to sneak it past her, which however I don't think you could. I tried it with The Exterminating Angel, Bunuel's 1962 masterpiece about guests at an aristocratic dinner party whose ennui prevents them from physically leaving the dining room, but we only got about a third of the way through the movie before she threw up her hands and broke out in an accusatory tone: "This is that guy, isn't it? You know I can't stand that guy."

While I was watching this--alone--the dear one, who was doing something constructive, such as making Halloween costumes, at the time, came into the room for some purpose, causing me to pause the movie, at this scene:

She: I hate that guy.

Me: Yes, I knew you probably wouldn't want to see this. You have often expressed exasperation with the works of the legendary surrealist Luis Bunuel.

She: No--I mean, yes of course this movie is ridiculous, but I am talking about that actor.

Me: Fernando Rey? Who doesn't like Fernando Rey? The man is all suave sophistication (I stole this characterization, which for some reason struck me as both apt and hilarious, from Billy Friedkin, director of the French Connection, in which Rey also memorably appeared).

She: Ugh. He is slimy. And the beard is so repulsive! (shudders).

All right. I personally think Fernando Rey is great. He is in fact one of my favorite actors. But I suppose I should be glad that guys like this are not openly at least potential rivals in love for me, because I certainly can't beat them on their own ground.
Among the bonus materials there is some lovingly documented film footage of Bunuel ca.1970 mixing martinis on some kind of urban balcony or patio. I'm going to keep this in mind as a beginning prop or motif if I ever decide to do some video blogging.

Repulsion (1965)

This movie was never high up on my list of things I was eager to see, if it was ever on it at all, but having seen it I rather like it. Of course, I love this part of the 1960s, before everything became dirty and ugly and everyone became so adept at expressing how much they hated society and everyone in it apart from a few transcendent super-people. That accounts for part of it. Also it is set in the cool London of the time, and if not of the city itself, with a Polish director and French leading actresses, it was of that cool quality at least. I realized in watching this that this is a kind of story and style of direction that for whatever reason, probably because it resembles the way I experience life, I really take to. A small number of characters who have limited interactions/connections with other people, as well as an equally limited range of actions, these almost all routine in nature, which are drawn out enough in the film to attain heightened significance, such that the whole world of the film is equally appealing and disturbing enough to sustain interest.

I have to admit I am developing a certain amount of fascination with Roman Polanski both as an artist and an alpha male, which he certainly was/is. (I am of course aware of the terrible crime that he is accused of, and probably guilty of; it is a deficiency both of my soul and intellect that I can form neither strong opinions nor passions, either objective or subjective, in matters of punishment where crimes are concerned. Therefore I am going to consider my subject without pretending to feel an obligation to opine on what ought to be the outcome of his legal situation. Also, I strongly suspect that the percentage of prominent men in the film industry in this generation who technically committed crimes of a sexual nature, especially by today's standards, even if not as thoroughly degoutant as that Polanski is accused of, is probably fairly high, the point being that if a faultless history of socially acceptable sexual conduct on the part of the primary makers become required to enjoy watching a movie with an easy conscience, there won't be too many good films left to watch). He is short and not, I don't think, by conventional standards especially handsome--I know these things do not matter where the personality and intellect are legitimately strong, but in most instances where the latter are not the former are counted as serious deficiencies. But time after time, in dealings with powerful and, by the standards of normal people, almost unfathomably egotistical men, and beautiful and in some instances famously difficult women, he establishes his superiority over them and persuades them as it were that they must do as he wishes if they in fact want to continue to pass themselves off as whatever it is they think that they are. Most successful people have absolute confidence in their abilities and the propriety of their attaining to the most prominent heights in their field, as well as the will to impose themselves wherever they perceive it to be desirable or necessary, without much concern for possible negative consequences. In Polanski these qualities seem to be even more developed than in the run of celebrated artists.

The presence of Catherine Deneuve, fresh off of her iconic presence in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, here in light makeup as pretty much the embodiment of naturalistic 1965 blonde beauty, brought up the question, never really explored in depth on this site, of who my all time favorite French actresses would be. To which the answer is, I don't really know. There is among us a class of sophisticated male cinephile who, not finding his counterpart in sophistication, or perhaps just general adult maturity, in American women, movie stars and otherwise, seems to think Jeanne Moreau or, if he is really feeling good about himself, perhaps Anouk Aimee, would be the true girl for him. The contemporary or near contemporary analogue to these legends as far as highly civilized erotic appeal goes seems to be Juliette Binoche, or maybe Isabelle Huppert. One of my old college classmates, who was desired by many women but deemed very few acceptable to his standards, allowed 1980s vintage Beatrice Dalle to be at least worthy of consideration, which was no small concession coming from this gentleman. Then of course there is always Brigitte Bardot

Who else is there? Isabelle Adjani, Emanuelle Beart, the current French superstar (are they like white college basketball stars, you get about one every few years?) the truly delightful Marion Cotillard, and her immediate predecessor Audrey Tautou, you can go all the way back to Arletty...I don't know, it's just so gosh darn hard to get to know them as people, Catherine Deneuve maybe especially. You want to like to her but...can you? What exactly is there? This is going to take some time to figure out. I am not clear on my real feelings for anyone yet, other than that I think I like Cotillard and Tautou the mostest (have they been globalized/Americanized by their generation so as to become more accessibly palatable to us?) and Binoche and Moreau, whom I just cannot warm up to, the least.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Survey of Cities I Will Likely Never Visit

Sometimes when I have exhausted, or been exhausted by, my usual rounds of internet reading and cannot think of any other search possibilities that are likely to turn up anything that will excite me, I cast about for blogs by old graduates of my alma mater, not because there will almost always be a sympathy there--in fact this is almost never the case--but because the likelihood of finding one is still much greater than it is around any other association. With me it is perhaps a sympathy rooted in the sadness of having entrusted one's impressionable mind and youthful enthusiasm and affections to the influence of a cult whose relation to the outside world, insofar as it can be positive, was however always well beyond the capacity of one's understanding. Still, a sympathy is a sympathy. Anyway, such sites as I am referring to in this roundabout way are naturally scarce. The most common type of St John's blogger seems to be an ecclesiastic of some kind whose deepest concerns are with arcana of biblical scholarship and religious doctrine such as would not have been out of place in the 17th century (minus the enthusiasm, expressed at least, for having their theological adversaries put to the torch). There are comparatively few post-Great Books lifestyle bloggers such as myself. One I have found that was pretty good, though the site appears to be defunct now, is the Carfree Family blog, which was about a pretty diehard St John's couple with children who lived in Santa Fe for seven years without a car. Recent circumstances seem to have forced them to reluctantly rejoin automobile culture, which transition also has had the effect of ending the blog by stripping it of its governing theme. I do not know these people, as they are a few years older than I am--3 or 4, it looks like--and they went to the Western campus. Their environmental consciousness and dedication to an anti-corporate diet and overall lifestyle are a lot more thorough and strident than I would probably be able to endure, even if my wife had turned out to be the kind of person who demands such things, which one never thinks about as a desperate 20 year-old; but still, if I strain my antennae for the identification of fellow members of the brotherhood, there is a recognition of some faint and highly subtle--highly--kind, whether of taste, or thought process, or comparative restraint/ underdevelopment of the ego, that suggests a relation.

The object of this extravagant introduction is a rather minor observation that this writer made about being forty-five and therefore considering himself to be at about the midpoint of his life. This struck me as remarkably optimistic. It is impossible for me to imagine myself living to anywhere near the age of 90, and even 80 seems a stretch. It is not that I am particularly unhealthy, but I am a large-framed person who probably has a larger than average heart (this was true even when I weighed 160 pounds) and men like that often drop at some point before their mid-70s, and I don't think I have ever seen a 90-year old with my body type. And even if I were to live until 90, I know of very few people who have been able to live either physically or mentally in a manner that I would find at all tolerable much past 75, and almost all of those people were 1) considerably wealthier than I am, and 2) very intelligent, and very educated, in both cases much more than I am. I am sure there are exceptions, but one cannot count on the likelihood of his being an exception in any situation where that is what will be required of him to attain it.

Obviously then, I consider myself to be well past the midpoint of my own life, and as such, reveling as I do in a state of endless anhedonia, I often muse on the rapidly-dwindling number of days that remain to me and the various that it is increasingly likely I will never do and never will have done. For example I have begun of late to think on all of the famous cities I will probably never see, as well as those I have seen but likely won't see again. I decided to make a post estimating my chances where various of these are concerned. I have not taken the time to develop or research a formula that would provide more statistically accurate figures, so if you are wondering how I came up with a probability of 30% for such and such a place, that is based on nothing but a comparison with other cities and my perception of the ease and expense of getting there and indulging in tourism there. Below the 50% threshold I suspect my numbers here are much higher than a professional statistician would determine them to me.


Unless I am killed in a car crash or murdered or drop dead of a heart attack within the next couple of weeks, I will probably make it to Boston again, as it is only an hour and a half away, and I even often have a practical excuse or even necessity to go there, though the advent of online shopping has certainly curtailed these occasions from what they once were too. Indeed my son just went there today with his school on a field trip. So assuming I live a normal life span, I should still have many trips to Boston left me. Perhaps one of my children will even go to college or live there at some point, which thought actually cheers me up a little bit, though perhaps this is a pipe dream in the new economic reality--between the relentless bad news on that front and the New York society papers I have started to become resigned to the idea that my children will likely flunk out of community college, never leave home or have a career and take crystal meth all the time; but even in the harshest foreseeable reality that probably won't be the case for at least a couple of them, right?

97%--New York 

I usually drive through several times a year, though of late I have had intervals of 3-4 years without making it out onto the streets. I always plan at least one annual multi-night trip, even if I don't make, and really I should go down 3 or 4 times a years. It is kind of a disgrace to live this close to one of the super cities of the planet and have been in it as little as I have over the years. I have often lamented that when I have gone there that I have never quite found, I wouldn't call it peace, but a sense of contentment at being in the moment. I have not connected with the great New York themes and experiences. Something has always thrown me off just a little. I have never felt that I had enough time, or enough money, or found a hotel, a neighborhood, a bar, a restaurant, a theater, or any kind of scene where I have been able to feel like I was fully involved or taking part in the life going on around me, which is a level I feel I have gotten to in some other relatively cosmopolitan places. All this said, the likelihood that I will be back at least one more time is overwhelming, though I am getting to the stage of life where taking two or three year intervals between visits begins to become a real risk.

92%--Washington, DC

The frequency of my visits here is dwindling with every decade, but I still make it down to the area every couple of years. It's near where I went to school, and I am familiar enough with it that it's more likely than with some place I've never been to that I will make a pointed effort to get there sometime in the next few years to show my older children the monuments before they are out of high school. The last couple of times I have been there, during which I spent a combined time of about four hours, I have not been able to escape without receiving expensive and to my mind dubious traffic citations in the $200-300 range. One was for parking on the street near the mall in a space which was marked "2 hour parking 8AM to 4PM". In most of the rest of the country, this would indicate that the parking hours were unlimited outside of those hours unless specified but in Washington apparently this can mean that there is no parking after 4pm. Since every car parked on the street at ten minutes past four had a ticket on it and the towing was commencing apace--I was lucky in this that I happened to have parked in the middle and they hadn't gotten to me yet--I am confident that the signs were deliberately deceptive, which is very low policy, and whoever's idea it was to implement it  ought to be ashamed of him or her self. On the second occasion I made the foolish decision to cut through town on 295 on my way to Florida to enliven the journey a little--about a 20 minute detour--and about a month afterwards received a notice that my car had been recorded traveling 68 miles per hour or some such speed by a camera that is doubtless expertly positioned to catch speeding violators. I find this to be a very dark and bad practice. Part of being a civilized society is to recognize that in certain matters having the ability to do certain things does not mean that we ought to do them, and I think it is very telling that it is in our capital cities, where, supposedly, the very smartest and most qualified to wield power of the entire nation are concentrated, that these types of oppressive technologies seem to be most enthusiastically utilized.


I haven't been now for three or four years. I have the impression that the whole family, including the children, need passports to drive into Canada now, though I haven't bothered to take the time to investigate the matter thoroughly. My older boys who fondly remember our former visits there ask from time to time if we are ever going to go back. We used to stay in the "family room" at the youth hostel there, which is a very nice one, with a excellent cafe (craft beer on tap!) and lounge/game room. I fear I am starting to get old for youth hostel bedding, but the atmosphere at this particular place is pretty cosmopolitan, which I like the children to be exposed to.


Maybe I am being overly optimistic, but as it is still quite easy and relatively inexpensive to get to from where I live, and the odds are that if I ever go anywhere overseas again, this is likely to be the first or second stop.


No reason, other than that it is big, not terribly far away, and seems not implausible that if I live another 30 years I might at some point have a reason to go there.


Maybe a few points high, considering that I have only managed to get there twice, and one of those occasions only being for a day and a half, in 42 years, but like New York, I have only had a handful of in-the-moment Paris epiphany type moments, though the source of my dissatisfaction with these, which all came on my second visit, is that my time there was necessarily so brief and harried. I was I think starting to tap into some real Paris type thought and sensory reception motifs, but I could never linger over them as I would have liked. And my poor first visit when I was twenty was just sad (that is to say I was even a sadder excuse for a person at the time than I am now, and Paris dealt with me as such).


Also probably too high, but it still does not seem real to me that I would never go back again.


I'm pretty optimistic about making it back to Rome, as it is a (probably deceptively) agreeable and easy place to visit. Because of the age and layout of the fairly large tourist area, and the apparent lack of a charmless and overwhelming area dedicated to mega-business in the same, the city seems smaller and its pleasures more accessible than they probably are. Plus I threw a coin in the Fountain when I was there before on a suitably romantic and beautifully unhurried evening, so I have to make it back, don't I?


If I can make it to Rome, there is no reason I can't make it back to these places again. I am rating my chances of returning to cities I have already been to higher because I am already familiar with the logistics of getting to and moving about in them, so it is easy to imagine getting back to them. I have not been to Spain, for example, so all the warnings about language barriers and gypsy thieves and the need to be assertive with waiters and hoteliers that the guidebooks are full of tend to be, not daunting to me, but a cause for mild consternation; however the same books give similar warnings with regard to Italy and France and other countries I have been to and I have generally found myself able to cope with such situations as have arisen; and if I can cope with something, you can be assured it must not be any very serious matter to begin with.

43%--New Orleans

I don't know why. I feel like I keep getting closer to it, and someday I am just going to take the final plunge and go there. It doesn't sound like a place where I would have very much fun, as I am generally an inhibited person who is uncomfortable around gregarious 'character'-type people--in other words, I am unfriendly--and I don't know how much I would be able to partake in and appreciate the food and other aspects of sensual culture, which seems to be essential to the experience. But I think it is possible I could enjoy myself if  my time there progressed in a certain course amenable to my being able to relax some of my learned habits of despair and hopelessness and the like in the face of other people engaging enjoyably in life.

38%--San Francisco/Los Angeles

I find it hard to believe I will never go to California, but the years keep passing, and eventually they will run out. It is plausible one of my children could live there at some point, which could provide the impetus for me to go out there; at the same time if they are successful, or trying to be, they might be adamant about cutting off all contact with me, I might be too low to move in such circles as they will have ascended to, and so forth. I understand how such things work, and that it might be necessary. I won't complain endlessly like my mother's old neighbors who slaved to put their daughter through Princeton and which daughter now won't call or allow them to visit her in Manhattan or wherever she lives.

32%--Las Vegas

I would still love to go and partake in the nihilistic partying even at my decrepit age, though I would probably not be able to find my scene. If I do ever go there, it will likely be a very short stop while passing through to get to somewhere else. It is almost assured that nothing will take place that will have to stay there.


I would put the chance of my going to at least one of these places at over 50%. These strike me as the easiest places to get to among the cities I have never been to. Maybe the figure for Athens is overly optimistic.


Similar to the group just above but a notch below in burning desire to get there (at present; desires change frequently).


The third tier of this general group.


Of the places I have been, these strike me as the least likely I will ever return to, though I hope that isn't the case.


Again I am ranking high because of the eventual possibility of child relocation. I'd like to see these places, but it is much less clear to me what there is for adults to do as tourists in American cities than in Europe, where the path to an enjoyable day or evening with some sense of flow to it is laid out somewhat more obviously.


I would like to go here, but as it is very expensive, not essential, and a little out of the way, it is bumped lower down than some of the other cities.


Lisbon suffers from a similar problem to Copenhagen. Barcelona is probably the great European tourist city I am least keen on visiting. I think this is because it is promoted as being a vibrant modern kind of place, with hip attractions and street life and all the kinds of things that are directly opposed to the kind of guy I am. London also tries to do this, but I know what and where all the old stuff is there, so I am usually not unduly affected by it. But especially in Spain I would be there to take consolation in the picturesque relics of a dead world. I may secretly wish to be capable of enjoying and interacting constructively with cutting edge pan-European architecture and international class fusion cuisine; but the truth is, I probably am not.

11%--Moscow/St Petersburg

Not looking good now for me to ever get to Russia.


My problem at the moment is not so much money (though I don't have enough certainly to drag all of my children around to the great cities of the world for months and years on end), as time. I do not have any in the present, and I am running out of it in the future. That is the only reason at present for my not having been to these cities.


Number too high, but I want to stretch out the list. Tourism to Egypt has apparently withered to almost nothing since the recent revolution and continued troubles there. The place has been a mecca for visiting European types since Herodotus, so it is hard to imagine it will continue as a rarely-visited destination in the future. The demographic, political and economic situation there presently is so explosive however that it very well may for a while.


I can't imagine I will ever actually get here--tiny tropical islands thousands of miles distant from any continent rank among the locales that hold the least general appeal to me. However, it is part of our country, I'm not opposed to going there, and perhaps someday the opportunity will present itself.

6%--Mexico City/Melbourne/Sydney/Buenos Aires

Of course I would like to go to all these places, though I don't know much about them, other than that in Buenos Aires they eat lots of steak and it is supposed to be like a cheaper mini-Paris. Psychologically they are, at the moment, very remote. My world, sadly, has become very constricted, and I am not sure how to expand it again.

5%--Rio de Janiero/Tokyo/Kyoto/Beijing/Mumbai

Same as the last group, only even less psychologically accessible.


In my perception, the backup cities of China and India.

4%--Hong Kong/Delhi

And here the number 3s.


There just isn't enough time, unless I can rapidly figure out how to triple my income while working 3 fewer months a year. If I were to spend just three nights in every city above these in the list, that would take up 147 days. How many days do I have remaining to me, while in a reasonable state of health, for traveling of any kind? 400 maximum? The real probabilities here for everything below Las Vegas are about a tenth of what I've listed, i.e. the actual number for Teheran is more like 0.3%.

2%--Dubai/Macau/Bangkok/Perth/Singapore/Cape Town

1%--Sao Paolo/Lima/Osaka/Tianjin

Less than 1%--Lagos /Jakarta/ Manila/ Karachi/ Dhaka/ Kuala Lampur

Southeast Asia is the area of the world that I have always had the least interest in visiting. I know it is supposed to be spectacular and it is likely that if I went there, as long as nothing terrible happened to me, I would probably think it was great. My romantic imagination is not captivated by it in the same way it is by other places. The southeast Asian jungle and vegetation, I must admit, strike me as the ugliest and most unpleasant earthly landscape there is, and the climate is highly unappealing as well. I don't even want to think about what the insects must be like (in New England our modest and harmless bugs are all going away right about now and we won't see them again until April or May, which is fine with me). But none of this is to say that I would not go there, or that I would be miserable, or at least no more miserable than I am generally.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

(Not) Another Trip Down Memory Lane

A few tunes to tide over my own impatience and inner fan till later in the week.

What am I listening to these days to accompany my wallowing in self-pity various energetic initiatives rooted in my manifold passions that promise to further increase the success and influence I already enjoy among my fellow men? I'm so behind the times even my lapses into melancholy have to look back to 1961 to find expression:

While we are still back in the 60s, how did I miss this all these years? Even with the whole history of music and entertainment just about sitting in a box on your desk, it is difficult to stumble upon the kinds of things you want if you haven't heard of them before or have forgotten about them. There is a large amount of randomness in this way, and increasingly time spent searching for something entertaining or otherwise of pleasing interest is squandered as reliably as panning for treasure on the beach. But then occasionally you find something that for whatever reason you like. In the world that I was born into--mid-Atlantic, urban, ethnic Catholic, in my case straddling the line between the traditional working class and the bottom rungs of the professional classes--approximations of these chicks would have been my dating pool. I doubt I would have done very well even if this demographic had not been exploded and such husks of it as survived fractions of the social pools that seemed to exist prior to my being born. I don't want to give the impression that I want to force anyone to return to the kind of social universe where most people had to associate exclusively with their 'own kind'. But as someone who has not interacted socially with any group of which I feel a part in many, many years, I am fascinated that I might ever have been born into and naturally absorbed and integrated into one that was distinct and ready-made. This is probably not how it works, unless you are too stupid or devoid of personality to be of interest to anybody dynamic; but this is how it looked to me to work among my older Philadelphia relatives, though I never saw them enough to move easily in that society myself, for my father, his own relatively prestigious place in it secured, spent most of my childhood determined to avoid it and its rituals and institutions as much as he possibly could.

Speaking of dating pools...people from places like Texas sputter and guffaw and act incredulous when you try to explain this to them, but when you go to high school in a liberal-tinged city in New England, this is more or less what the attractive girls look like, and yes, you learn, or become acclimated to liking that look.

Back to the 60s, or maybe the 50s, though I think the early 60s. I've been getting a little more into Elvis lately. Not overboard, just a song here or there, especially some the ones that aren't totally played out. This apparently was an old song when he did it, with previous versions by Mahalia Jackson, among others. Mahalia Jackson's version is doubtless better, but having listened to it I think I'll need to work up to it, to whatever extent that is possible with a soul that is doggedly mediocre (at best). Right now I actually prefer Elvis's less soaring rendition.

I heard this song on the radio the other day. I had never had any idea what the title was or who the group was--they are like the 5th Dimension, but obviously they aren't--and the only lyrics I could decipher clearly enough to go with were "Can you dig it baby" which  did not seem to me enough to distinguish it in a search from a thousand other songs, but actually that phrase brings you right to this song, the title of which is 'Grazin' in the Grass' which anybody who listens to the song should be able to pick out as a major line, but somehow I was unable to nail this down.

As a mildly amusing sideline I'm trying to remember some of the most pretentious videos of the 80s. I'm pretty certain this one is going to be #1, even though my investigations have barely gotten under way.

This one is close for the opening sequence ('Au revoir, revoir, revoir, Terence') alone, though there is a touch of humorous flair in its outrageousness that redeems it a little. By the way, did you know that Terence Trent D'Arby is now known as Sananda Maitreya. Me neither. I don't see how the new name is an improvement on the old one, but then I wouldn't, would I? Joking aside, this guy had a pretty good look going on back in the day. This is what we had to compete against in the 80s. Everybody is a fat slob and/or a geek nowadays.

I'm just on a roll now. Let's take it back a little (because to me 1987 is practically current). Shep & the Limelights. Good song from 1961.

Doubtless right about now everybody is wondering, "Where are the Lennon Sisters?" Have no fear, I wouldn't leave them out. This festive clip from the occasion of the show's being on the road in Chicago is from '63, when Dianne was out on her 4-year motherhood-induced hiatus, but we still have Peggy at the top of her game. Of the four, she was probably the conventionally best-looking and most thoroughly feminine, the best singer, the nicest, and she even has the easiest and most athletic motion when tossing a fake snowball. In short, she was a really a catch.

I like these outfits (from '67) and Dianne looks extra great here. Peggy is lovely too, as always, though I believe she had just had a baby not long before. Hardcore 60s music fans will probably assert that they are butchering a classic song by a real artist. Their approach to mainstream 60s pop songs is definitely...different, but--they are so very, very good in their presentation and sticking to their established musical personality no matter what, and I am so fully taken in by them that I don't even get what the problem could be.

Hopefully I will have the next post up within a few days.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Wisconsin! Part One of That

After crossing the Mackinac Bridge we drove across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and entered Wisconsin at the town of Marinette, which is north of Green Bay. I read somewhere in the course of my researches for this trip that the rectangle between Duluth, the Twin Cities, Green Bay, The Mackinac Bridge and the Canadian Border is the largest swathe of territory in the lower 48 unsullied by any interstate highways. What I saw of Wisconsin, I liked. I could even imagine myself living there fairly contentedly if I had to, which is not a sense that I get most places. Culturally, the German/Scandinavian/Polish vibe is not alien to me, as my grandparents on my mothers' side were of this stock, and one thing I do lament about New England is the dearth of beer gardens and places to get schnitzel and sauerkraut and liverwurst and all of that sort of food which I like and used to eat quite a bit in my childhood in Pennsylvania. This is purely hypothetical of course, as I don't have the level of career that would justify such a dramatic move, besides which I doubt my wife and children would ever consent to go beyond the borders of New Hampshire or maybe Vermont, if indeed they would even consider leaving our house. I also self-identify as an East Coast person, the northeast in particular, as even though I moved around quite a bit in my youth I have always lived in the U.S. 1/I-95 Maine to D.C. corridor and I still respond to its particular rhythms and manners and such whenever I recognize them. But still, maybe growing up in Wisconsin would have been better for me...    

1. Entering Marinette, Through the Windshield. Taken by my oldest son. The camera was too slow to catch the "Welcome to Wisconsin" sign, but this makes something of a similar effect.

2. Gas Station, Waupun. About an hour east of Madison (?) Note the nearly treeless prairie in the background.

3. Along US 151 Going to Madison. The place definitely has a distinct look. I will add here, probably not for the last time as it was the dominant feature of our time there, that this trip took place in July in the midst of a drought and a brutal heat wave, and without air conditioning in my car, to boot. The temperature at the instant of all these outdoor pictures was no lower than 97, and usually was 98 or 99. It was grueling.

4. More Sample Roadside Views. The extreme heat and the length of this day's drive (approximately 9 hours) aside, the roads in Wisconsin are pleasant to drive on for the most part. This is a U.S. highway rather than an interstate, so there are occasional crossing roads, but it is four lanes and you still go fast, and it's old and more connected to the life around it than the interstates, although Wisconsin had some decent ones of those too: 39/90/94 from Wisconsin Dells to Madison was a nice drive. There are a lot of four lane high speed old U.S. highways, which tend to be scenic and enjoyable as long as the road isn't in too bad of shape, which is usually the case in Pennsylvania. Similar routes in the East would be U.S. 301 on the eastern shore of Maryland, and some of the old parkways in New York, like the Taconic State.

5. Daughter, Holding Up Well. For being trapped in the car all day in biblical heat (I actually don't remember how hot it was in the Bible, but I always imagine it as being often rather toasty).

6. I Couldn't Decide Between the Two Daughter Pictures, So I am Including Them Both.

7. The Parking Lot at Little Norway, Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Odd as it may sound, Little Norway was the germ of the whole trip, being this year's lucky selection from the 1966 Encyclopedia's family vacation recommendations. This is a small sight that, going at as leisurely a pace as possible, stopping multiple times for drinks and ice creams, and scouring every display in the gift shop, it is hard to stretch into a three hour outing, so it sounds slightly ludicrous to say that this was the purpose of our going all the way to Wisconsin, and it wasn't. That said, once we were there I would have been disappointed if we hadn't gone to see it. Here is their website, by the way.

8. Getting in Touch Simultaneously With Our Feminine Side and Our Viking Side. In the gift shop. You get taken on a guided tour around the place, and as we had to wait for a half-hour or so for that and it was 99 degrees out, we hung out inside for a while. The tour was actually very enjoyable. The place is old-fashioned, privately owned and maintained by the same family since the 1920s. There are no iPad guides or any kind of computer things. An actual person, in our case a very pleasant young lady, who admitted however to being of German rather than Norwegian descent, takes you around to all the buildings and points out dusty artifacts and tells stories about them. I hadn't realized how much I had lost, and how I missed that sort of leisurely interaction with other humans.  

9. Boys on the Steps of the Stave Church. Built in Norway for the Norway Exhibition at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and acquired by the museum in the 30s. This is the only building that was brought to the museum from outside, and it is stuffed full of souvenirs and tools and weapons and furniture and things like that. The other buildings were built by the immigrant farmer who settled the land way back when as a shrine to the homeland.

10. View of the Upper Part of the Imitation Stave Church. All of the encyclopedia's recommendations for sights to see in Wisconsin are rather odd in their decided unspectacular-ness. For one thing there are only four places listed; most states have around six to eight, and the big western states with lots of national parks often have ten or more. Those four sights were Little Norway, Devil's Lake State Park near Baraboo, which we also went to, the world's largest grain elevator in Superior, which is way up at the northwestern tip of the state adjacent to Duluth, Minnesota--I am not sure if this site even exists anymore, as I was unable to find anything referring to it on the internet--and Wisconsin's first state capital historic site, which was about an hour west of where we stayed, getting near the Iowa border, and which looks like a pretty modest site as well, as it seems to consist of two old clapboard buildings sitting in the middle of the prairie. But as I say, we really did have a good time. My children are quite good about doing this retro kind of stuff to this point, they make an honest effort to enjoy themselves and get something out of it. Maybe this is because we don't hang out with other people, who are cool and involved the whole cool modern lifestyle, or maybe it is just our personalities, and we can't adapt to or thrive in our actual present environment. 

11. The Little Norway Trail. The layout is kind of reminiscent of a European park or campground, I think.

12. The Food Storehouse. You may note how the grass is all brown and dried up from the drought. If you go to their website in all the pictures the place is lush and green. I actually think there is something about our pictures--it must be the crispness of the light--which looks better.

13. The Spring House. 

14. Happy Campers. No doubt just glad to be out with father getting introduced to America. Besides, if they thought this was hot, how are they going to deal when we go to Big Bend and Arizona and Death Valley and Vegas in some future July.

Happily there was a little lake not too far from this fine attraction, and we were able to get in some swimming before heading back to our historic farmhouse for dinner. All of this still to come...

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

A Few Brief Notes on Rock Concerts

Rock concerts were a big deal among my age-peers when I was younger, but I hardly took part in this area of the culture. I can only remember going to two events that might have qualified--that is, that involved somewhat famous performers and cost what would have been more than a nominal fee at the time (probably $12-20--I cannot imagine I would, or could, ever have spent anything more than that at the time)--and I had an awful time at both of them. I was invited by a group of my high school friends to tag along with them to see George Thoroughgood at the Portland Civic Center in 1987 or '88. The main things I recall about this show was that all the songs sounded exactly the same in the concert as they did on record, that every single song had a guitar solo and a saxophone solo at exactly the same juncture as all the other sounds, and that of the entire crowd, which looked to me to be close to the arena's capacity, which is listed as 6,733, I counted exactly three women, and they were very far away from us. It was this last circumstance of being packed in a hot space with thousands of exclusively and mostly adult men that made the evening so unpleasant. The music I could have handled in a different setting, such as a bar, but as it was it was more like being in prison, or the navy. Some of us moderns are not as accustomed to such extreme segregation from the opposite sex as our forbears were, and thus the effects of its unpleasantness are perhaps more immediately jolting.

The second concert was during spring break of my freshman year of college in March, 1991, at some club in New York City, the name of which is lost to my memory. The group was Fugazi, about whom I knew essentially nothing--indeed, I kept referring to them in conversation as Fuzzaboo before I could keep the name straight in my head--but I was vaguely aware that they were well-known and well-regarded among people whose lives revolved around music and bands, of which there were a fair number in the circles about the edge of which I  hovered at the time. But I would never have thought it was my place to go to one of their shows except that I happened to be on a road trip with my closest friend who also happened to be cool and attractive, and he thought that was what we should do, so that's what we planned to do. I cannot recall whether it was when we were on our way to buy the tickets, or just after, that my cool friend ran into one of his old girlfriends on the street. After a few minutes' desultory conversation he announced that he was going to go off with his friend for a few hours but would meet up with us at the show that evening. Needless to say we did not see him again until we were all back at school the next week. His departure left the company attending the concert as me and a second guy who was also totally inept at dealing with women and assertive men, and a third friend who could manage for himself well enough in these areas but was not so able as to cover for and elevate the rest of us to the necessary social plane at which the concert would have been enjoyable, which our missing friend could have done. The evening proceeded predictably dismally. The concert was another sausagefest, if not quite as extreme as the 5,000 to 3 ratio at the George Thoroughgood event. I would put the male portion of the crowd at about 92%, and I don't remember the few women who were there being of the type to cause me much excitement, which took some doing, or perhaps un-doing would be the more appropriate word, in those days. The opening act was the Deviators from Brooklyn--this was long before Brooklyn became the East Coast's 'it' destination for liberal arts graduates that we know it as today. As far as I could tell, they were as good as Fugazi, though that didn't seem to me to be saying much--more manic and paying more lip service to traditional pop tunefulness anyway. During the main concert a fight broke out near the stage, which prompted the lead singer to rebuke the combatants with "Why don't you use some of that energy to escape from the f**king system?" You can imagine the disappointment with which this day, which at one point, with the prospect of going to a hardcore music show in New York City in the evening, had seemed to promise a multitude of hopes I had long been living for coming to some degree of fruition, closed upon me.

I am not going to count the time John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, of mid-80s Eddie and the Cruisers fame, turned out to be the entertainment at the Concord, N.H. Summer Market Days Festival.

The potentially great lost concerts of my youth? There weren't many. In the summers of '87 and '88, or maybe it was '88 and '89, The Who and the Rolling Stones came to Foxboro (Mass, near Boston, for our overseas audience) as part of their football stadium world mega-tours, and both times groups of my friends, or at least people I knew, went down to the concerts, but they didn't invite me to go. It's not like I was heartbroken--since I never had any great concert memories, I would just as soon go to a bar and hear the records on the jukebox--but I regret missing any opportunity to bond over shared fun, which other people often have. One thing that strikes me as funny about these concerts now is how both of these groups were considered by many serious music fans at the time as absolute dinosaur acts that were abandoning whatever dignity they had left by taking the stage. Of course most of the primary actors weren't much older than their mid-40s at the time, the members of the Who especially in 1987 would have only been 42-43 years old on average, yet their famous 'Hope I die before I get old' lyric was already being used as a punchline. Nowadays there are guys that age who still think they're going to break into the business. I remember Tina Turner was 50 (which would make her about 75 now--jeez) and at least the way the music press presented it, there had never been anyone so aged performing rock music up to that point in history. Today of course the average age of the typical regional rock festival musician is about 63...this is one of those underlying characteristics of different time periods that can slip by unnoticed but is probably more important than is acknowledged.

When I was 19 or 20, this would have been around '89 or '90--it was before I had even started college--I accompanied my grandmother to visit some friends of hers who had a house near the beach at Wildwood, New Jersey. I wandered down to the boardwalk by myself after dinner and I don't even remember how it happened, but lo and behold somehow I ended up sitting on a park bench talking to a couple of pretty attractive (and probably, now that I think of it, Catholic) girls from Cinnaminson, Jennifer and Mary Ann. No, we did not repair to the nearest hotel for a threesome or anything like that, though who knows, maybe we could have, since they, or rather Jennifer, for Mary Ann was more of the quiet and accommodating type, sat there and talked to me about must have been a lot of nonsense--where they were going to college, what they liked to do in Philadelphia, that sort of thing--for the better part of an hour, as though they had nothing better to do. I remember that the Cure was coming to Philadelphia sometime in the autumn and they were excited about that and planning on going and they told me I should go too. I was too stupid to remember to ask them to clarify if they meant I should come with them or if I should just go by myself and watch the concert unmolested by any kind of company or other social interaction because the Cure was just that awesome. I think I said something along the lines of  "Oh yes, I'll have to look into it" or similar rubbish. Eventually they obviously had to get up and leave and go home or find a party or whatever. A blown opportunity? I think so. Any missed opportunity with a New Jersey girl is one you're going to wish you had back. One funny thing was when I went to St John's there was a guy from Cinnaminson who knew exactly who they were, had gone to high school with them, and even claimed to be best friends with them, so I had some hope that maybe we'd all party together or something over Christmas vacation, but none of that ever came to fruition.

Oh, and I didn't make it to the Cure concert either.

Based on very limited testimony from my very limited personal acquaintance, my impression is that the best show in that era centering around 1990 to go to both for male/female ratio and general opportunity for interacting with women was Depeche Mode. Women around my age apparently loved them. Yes, of course they loved the guys in the group more than they would love you, but it's not like there weren't plenty of girls left over after the band took its pick for the evening, and such disappointment is more easily overcome in an atmosphere of overall high spirits, which my sources say prevailed at this concert.