MY FAVORITE “ANYTIME” MOVIES….BY DECADE (Not Quite Random Favorites….In No Particular Order)

Some time in the distant past when I used to listen to sports talk radio (and boy is that time getting to be distant), I heard a segment where a bunch of junior noncoms in the Dead Brain Cell Count Brigade opined about movies they could literally sit down and watch anytime.

The DBCCB being what it is, Die Hard came up a lot.

Nothing against Die Hard, which I like, but I always thought I could do better ….so, being, as they say, snobby but not runny snobby:

The Thirties:

Carefree (1939, D. Mark Sandrich)

As many have noted, more a screwball comedy than a musical. As not enough have noted, a first class screwball comedy. And while it may not be a musical, strictly speaking, it does have Ginger doing “The Yam,” my favorite five minutes of film. My second favorite five minutes is Ginger, hypnotized, running loose with a shotgun, muttering “Shoot him down like a dirty dog!” while Luella Gear explains to Jack Carson that  “It’s probably one of the silly rules.”

The Forties:

Colorado Territory (1949, D. Raoul Walsh)

Walsh’s superior remake of his own High Sierra, the movie that made Humphrey Bogart a star. It’s easier to have sympathy for a western outlaw than a modern sociopath (even if the sociopath has had the rough edges smoothed away for the box office). Joel McCrea’s at his very best as a man looking for a second chance in the same wrong place he lost the first one, and VIrginia Mayo makes for one fetching half-breed. Plus it’s a heist flick, always a plus in my book.

The Fifties:

Rear Window (1954, D. Alfred Hitchcock)

Top drawer Hitchcock of course. It’s not so much remembered now, but this sat in the vaults for decades before being restored and re-released to theaters in the eighties. I took my mom to see it and, every time Grace Kelly came on the screen she would murmur, “Isn’t she so-o-o-o-o-o beautiful!” I could hardly disagree, but I thought I would go back a week or two later and watch it by myself, just to see what it was like without the sound effects. Met a girl from work in the lobby and, since we were both there by ourselves, it would have been rude not to sit together. First time Grace Kelly came on the screen: “Isn’t she so-o-o–o-o beautiful!” Interestingly enough, we spent the time before the movie mostly talking about a girl in our office who actually was the only woman I’ve ever known who was as beautiful as Grace Kelly in Rear Window, and had just quit to move back to Orlando. I found out a year or so later that she had wanted to date me, in part because I was the kind of guy who took his mother to the movies….Oh, wait. You thought I was gonna talk about the movie? Come on. You know about the movie. Hitchcock’s serious side and his comic side, perfectly married. That’s the movie.

The Sixties:

El Dorado (1967, D. Howard Hawks)

This is probably my all-time “anytime” movie. It’s a not-that-loose remake of Hawks’ Rio Bravo, which everybody, including me, knows is “superior.” But there’s nothing in Rio Bravo I’d trade for the hour in the middle when John Wayne and Robert Mitchum are just a couple of roughnecks trying to keep law and order in a cowtown while Wayne keeps seizing up from the effects of a bullet in his back and Mitchum–with so little polish on him you can smell the whiskey, if not the vomit–is trying to dry out in time to dodge the next bullet. And if that’s not entertaining enough, I can always sit and ponder the mysteries of a universe where Michele Carey could smoke that many holes in the screen and fail to become a star.

The Seventies:

The Rockford Files: Season Four, Episode 8, “Irving the Explainer” (1977, D. James Coburn)

Not a movie. Okay, but there’s enough plot for three movies and it never gets resolved or leaves you wishing it would. People ask me what my favorite television series is and I say The Rockford Files. People ask me what my second favorite television series is and I say “I’m sorry, I don’t understand the question.”  Pick to click:  “Let me get this straight: You have a client who has the same name as Herman Goering’s house?”

The Eighties:

Midnight Run (1988, D. Martin Brest)

Way funnier than Die Hard, and the action sequences are no sillier. I’m not sold on Robert De Niro’s serious mode. (The whole Brando school leaves me…bemused.) But there’s never been a better comic actor. Not even Cary Grant. Matched here by the entire cast, including Charles Grodin, who I can usually take only in the smallest doses.

The Nineties:

Wag the Dog (1997, D. Barry Levinson)

Preston Sturges for the Age of the Security State and a road movie to boot. We forget. That’s the only explanation for a world where this movie exists and you still have people running around crediting the CIA–or, better yet, “the intelligence community”–as a reliable source. Comic genius from Dustin Hoffman, the aforementioned Mr. De Niro and Anne Heche, as the Girl Friday from both Heaven (oh, the efficiency) and Hell (she doesn’t care the job or the master, she just wants to serve someone and, buddy, you better be it).

The Current Millenia:

I know we are in the second decade of the new millennia, but it hasn’t been the sort of millennia that produces a lot of things worth revisiting. Forget two, I’m surprised there’s one.

Knight and Day (2010 D. James Mangold)

That’s the whole movie right there. Two people who are amazed by each other. One’s a superspy and the other likes to work on cars. Guess which is which? This is almost enough to make me forgive James Mangold for his wretched remake of 3:10 to Yuma. Almost.

I WAS GOING TO GIVE IT A PASS…

And not dedicate a song to President Obama as he leaves the scene.

The reason I wasn’t going to dedicate a song to him is because, from Lyndon Johnson onward, only one song can ever be dedicated to a departing U.S. President, and I was inclined to be generous toward Obama because I remembered the night he was nominated at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

After that evening was over, I happened to catch a bit on PBS where Tavis Smiley convened Cornel West and Julianne Malveaux to comment on the significance of it all.

You would have thought the last dog died.

No group of liberals I saw this season were anywhere near as depressed by the election of Donald Trump as that blacker-than-thou trio was on the night the first African-American candidate to receive the nomination of a major American political party failed to surpass Martin Luther King.

I remember thinking: “If these are his friends. He is going to have one tough row to hoe.”

He has had one tough row to hoe.

So I really was going to leave it alone–just go ahead and start the new world, where I go back to writing about the music or movies that moved me this week today, instead of waiting until tomorrow.

Then, while I was watching some post-inaugural blather today, I heard Rachel Maddow, desperately clinging to the idea that Obama’s legacy will not be written in sand, reporting that Obama had fought Isis up to his very last day, ordering a bombing strike that killed sixty “fighters” on either Wednesday or Thursday (I lost track even as she was speaking) and another hundred either yesterday or today (ditto).

Not long after, I was flipping around to see who had the best pictures of the parade and caught Lou Dobbs repeating the one hundred figure.

When I looked it up online just now, it was eighty.

But I’m sticking with a hundred, because anything the Pentagon releases to both Rachel Maddow and Lou Dobbs must be the truth.

Hey, by another count I read online today (which seemed about right) our Overlords have launched fifty-seven attempts to overthrow somebody’s government since the end of WWII. They must have gotten good at body counts by now.

So I was still going to let it to.

Then I remembered how I learned about body counts back in the seventies.

It was from a Doonesbury cartoon–beyond my capacity to research at the moment–which went something like this:

Frame One: Conclusion of successful firefight. Soldier (probably B.D. but don’t hold me to it) is standing next to nameless officer. Nameless officer is reporting to headquarters. He is asked to give a count of the enemy dead.

Frame Two: Officer: “What’s the date soldier?”

Frame Three: Soldier: “The fifteenth sir.”

Fame Four: Officer (speaks into field phone): “Fifteen enemy dead here.”

Of course, the memory hazes. Maybe it was seventeen for the seventeenth or eleven for the eleventh.

It wasn’t eighty or sixty or a hundred. We don’t have enough days in the month to rely on the old match-em-to-the-date routine anymore. Not when war is waged strictly by drone and stealth bomber.

That’s the world Barrack Obama found. And that’s the one he leaves to the future.

Same old, same old after all and sometimes it just isn’t enough to say: “What could I do?”

So, in the end, like every departing president from 1968 to now, he earned this:

 

MY PREFERRED TAKES…

…On the season just past, as Trump’s inaugural nears.

“I was just thinking how epic it would be if donald and ivanka sang a cover of the Kendall’s heavens just a sin away.”

(k.d. lang on twitter 1/17/17)

I’ve read five thousand tweets on the lib side of the spectrum in the last few months. That’s the first one that possessed either bite or wit.

That’s maybe not surprising. I kept waiting for the anti-Trumpers to come up with some kind of spark–some flash of the old Yippie-style hit-and-run cajolery–maybe assemble in front of Trump Tower and chant “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” until they had taken the song, and the revolution, back.

Never happened. This won’t happen either.

But if it would get somebody–anybody–to release the Kendalls’ albums on CD, I’d not only be for it, I would watch every last second.

At his Archdruid Report, John Michael Greer has the best take I’ve seen on the deep roots of the Trump phenomenon and the most logical reason for the freakout of the elites.

As I’ve said before, we might be in trouble when the smart guy in the room is the druid.

And just to add my own addenda–the destruction of Rock and Roll America, which had heralded a real class revolution (as opposed to the eternally phony Marxist brand) before all else, was a necessary component of keeping us in our place.

Whatever happens with Trump Ascendant–and I’m more sanguine than most, if only because I’ve never expected much of my fellow earthlings and counted the Republic well and truly lost long ago–I’ll always believe we were better off with Elvis, who, had he lived, would have known which Kendalls’ song to dedicate to any incoming president preparing to do what they always do…

Happy Inauguration Day.

TOUCHING THE SKY (Steve Wright, R.I.P.)

Steve Wright was the bass player for the Greg Kihn Band, the only one of the fine power pop bands on the famous cult label, Beserkley, to ever really achieve any mainstream success. I confess I was never as close a follower of the Beserkely sound or scene as I should have been. I’m not really sure why, because I always liked what I heard of it. Just not world enough and time I guess.

I was, however, intrigued by this statement from Kihn on the occasion of Wright’s recent death following a heart attack:

“We traveled the miles together, made the videos, cut the records, rehearsed the band, played the gigs, and all the while we thought we were invincible.”

That was enough to lead me to this version of my favorite Beserkley record, one of many Kihn and Wright wrote together…from one of those nights when invincibility comes in the form of blowing your fine recorded version of your best song away.

Baby, that was rock and roll.

STALKING THE MALLS AND LEVITATING O’ER BROADWAY (Memory Lane: 1969, 1976, 2005)

Leaving New York City through the Lincoln Tunnel, you drive through the neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen. On Tenth Avenue, the kids have for many years approached stopped cars at traffic lights and wiped their windows, hoping for quarters. One afternoon in 1964, the Four Seasons’ Bob Gaudio was leaving the city on his way home to New Jersey when he noticed that the kid smearing the glass was a girl.

“I saw her face–just the picture of her face and the clothes tattered…with holes in her stockings, and a little cap on her head,” Gaudio told Fred Bronson, author of The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. She finished the job and stood back as Gaudio searched his pockets for change. To his mortification, he had none. The smallest thing he had was a five.

“There was a split second where I said, ‘I can’t give her a five dollar bill.’ But I couldn’t give her nothing. So I gave her the five dollar bill. The look on her face when I was pulling away–she didn’t say ‘Thank you,’ she just stood there with the bill in her hand and I could see her in the rearview mirror, just standing in disbelief in the middle of the street with the five dollars. And that whole image stayed with me; a rag doll is what she looked like.”

(The Heart of Rock & Soul, Dave Marsh, 1989)

Jersey Boys, the musical based on the lives of the original Four Seasons, Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito and Nick Massi, closed its decade-plus run on Broadway this past Sunday, after playing 4,642 shows.

The one I saw in December, 2005, was in the first hundred…and thereby hangs a tale I’ll never have a better reason to share:

Back around 1969, when the Merritt Square Mall in Merritt Island, Florida opened, they had a record store.

I never went near it.

Throughout the early seventies, whenever my ten, eleven, twelve-year-old self ran loose in the mall and I happened to be walking anywhere near the record store, I always made a point of crossing over to the other side. I wasn’t under any instructions or warnings. I just thought the place looked fishy. The people who always–and I mean always–hung around the entrance looked a little too much like the pictures you saw of the Manson Family.

Oh, sure, I knew they were probably harmless. We had hippies at church now and again.

But why take chances?

Bottom line is, I never saw the inside of a record store. Not until later.

Later, I saw the inside of many record stores, more than I can possibly remember. But in those days, I heard very little of what was on the radio anyway. Even if I had cared to brave the Mansonoids at the record shop, there was no need. Let them live in their world. Let me live in mine. If Jesus ever compelled me to witness to them, I would cross that bridge when I came to it.

Until then, I deemed it best to leave well enough alone.

That all changed after we moved to North Florida in 1974. Not right away. I listened to the radio a little more because my parents seemed to play music stations a little more. I have no idea why. Maybe there just weren’t any interesting talk and/or public radio stations where we lived now, just like there weren’t any hippies.

The real change came in the fall of 1975, when my Memphis nephew, who is five years older than me (19 to my 14 then), moved in with us.

My Memphis nephew didn’t go anywhere without the radio playing music. If we went somewhere in the car, he played the radio. If we went to work on one of my father’s paint contracting sites, he played the radio. If we were just sitting in my room, shooting the breeze, he played the radio.

It was kind of interesting, kind of fun, not much more. Then, come the last few weeks of 1975, the radio started playing this:

For the next few months, wherever I was, if my nephew wasn’t there to turn the radio on, I turned it on myself. And, for the next few months, I never had to wait more than half an hour to hear “December, 1963.”

Then, as such things happen–as I did not quite yet know such things happened, never having stopped to think about it–it no longer came on every half hour, or even every hour.

Not long after that, it didn’t come on every day.

And not too long after that, it didn’t come on at all.

I thought it might be okay, though, because, in the interval, I had made a discovery.

One day, while strolling through the local Sears store in Dothan, Alabama, I had happened across a bin full of 45’s.

I only knew what a 45 was because my sister left a few behind when she got married and moved out. By a few, I mean three: “Ode to Billie Joe,” “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” and a Little Richard record which was too beat up to play (and hence too beat up to hang on to, which is why the title has slipped my memory…”Tutti Frutti”? “Long Tall Sally”? “Rip It Up”?…the memory hazes…anyway, my sister had good taste).

Now, when I say I knew what a 45 was, I don’t mean I fully grasped the concept.

Oh, no, far from it.

For one thing, I thought they made 45’s to sell to people after a song was played on the radio enough to be considered a hit. That the 45 might be the actual method of distribution to the radio stations that played the music had never occurred to me.

So, in the spring of 1976, I was excited to discover that a 45 which contained “December, 1963,” by the Four Seasons, was actually laying in a record bin in a Sears store not twenty miles from my house, where I did at least have a record player.

I would have been a lot more excited if I had possessed the $1.19-plus-tax required to purchase the 45 or any means of acquiring that sort of cash in the foreseeable future.

Such was not the case.

The first impulse I ever had to buy a 45, then, was accompanied by the first of many similar experiences where the record I held in my hand was beyond the power of my eternally limited purse.

I mean, it wasn’t the sort of thing I had any chance of cajoling my father into buying for me.

And all the money I made working for him went to my college fund.

By “all the money” I mean every last red cent.

What to do?

Start working on the idea that maybe the world wouldn’t end if the college fund was spared a few bucks every now and then? Yeah, that sounded like a plan.

My dad was Scottish. He was also attending bible college full time and we were subsisting on the poverty wages raised by those weekend paint contracting jobs. Negotiations were bound to be difficult and ongoing.

It took me until the summer to wear him down.

We were back in Central Florida by then. Painting the Orlando-Seminole Jai Alai fronton every summer was the big yearly contract that made going to bible college in the fall and winter possible. If you think painting a jai alai fronton during the summer breaks from attending bible college was a contradiction you obviously didn’t know my dad.

And, if you don’t know what jai alai is, let’s just say it’s a sport closely connected to the term “parimutuel betting.”

Anyway, come summer of ’76, my dad and I were in Orlando, staying at the fronton during the week, commuting to my sister’s house in Titusville (that’s on the east coast of Florida and, yes, the same sister with the good, if limited, taste in 45’s).

Negotiations safely concluded, I one day found myself with five dollars of my own money in my pocket.

Nearby there was a mall. (Searstown? Miracle City? The memory hazes….)

Inside the mall, there was a chain record store. (Camelot? Record Bar? The memory….well, you know what memory does.)

Inside the record store, there was a big bin of 45’s that seemed to have every record in the world, or at least every record on the charts.

On a certain beautiful day in June of 1976–first time I had the chance–I begged a trip to the mall (I was still too young to drive) and found my way to the record bin in the record store.

I had one clear intention.

That was to buy “December, 1963.”

I had the $1.19-plus-tax. I had more than that, enough to buy at least three records that cost that much.

And by then, having cracked the code, there were actually quite a few records I knew I wanted to buy.

But I was determined to make “December, 1963” the first 45 I bought with my own money.

It didn’t happen.

It didn’t happen because there was a little card in the empty slot where “December, 1963” 45’s were being stored and the little card had the number 15 crossed out next to an order date two weeks before.

Seems they crossed out the number next to the order date when they sold out. There were a lot of dates on the card, with a lot of numbers crossed out going all the way back to December of the previous year. All the numbers were crossed out. They had been selling fifteen or more copies of “December, 1963” every couple of weeks for six months straight.

It was clearly going to be at least two more weeks before I got back to the record store and while I was pretty certain they would be reordering (fifteen copies? in two weeks? six months after the record came out?…yes, they would be reordering), I had no confidence they wouldn’t all be sold out again by the time I got back.

And while there were other record stores around, since I couldn’t drive myself, there was no telling when I would see the inside of one of those.

What to do?

Swallow my disappointment and look for other records. Obviously.

Which was how, a month or so before I found a copy of “December 1963” in a Woolworth’s (right next to the jai alai fronton as it happened), this became the first 45 I ever bought:

“Fallen Angel,” was not selling like hotcakes. It had scraped the Top 40 (another concept I was just beginning to grasp). Far from playing every half hour, I had only caught it a few times. I knew I liked it, and it turned out I liked it a lot. But that wasn’t the reason I picked it from the bunch–ahead of “Shannon,” by Henry Gross and “Let Your Love Flow” by the Bellamy Brothers–that particular day.

I picked it from the bunch–and first–because it was a Frankie Valli record and I knew he was the lead singer of the Four Seasons. I did not know, at that point, that “December, 1963” was the first of the Seasons’ many hits he had not sung lead on (he sang second lead, behind Gerry Polci).

Had I known, it probably would not have made any difference. The point for me was to honor the Four Seasons and still walk out of the record store with a record in my hand. The closest I could come, on that day, was “Fallen Angel.”

And, for the next thirty years, that was basically a footnote in my record collecting history: “Fallen Angel” was the first 45 I bought because Frankie Valli was the lead singer of the group whose record I really wanted to buy. And I really wanted to buy that other record in part because it had an impossibly cool vocal sung by someone other than Frankie Valli.

The memory of settling always did bring a smile…and a shake of the head.

This crazy world. What can a poor boy do?

You only get the buy your first record once. Then you gotta live with it. Who knew.

For thirty years, all that was just another stone laid in the pathway of life.

Then came 2005. Thirty years gone by.

In 2005–very late in 2005–I decided to give myself a vacation.

Through a weird series of events, I found myself with a windfall that meant I could go anywhere in the U.S. that a thousand bucks could take me. In my world that is a whole lotta money, but, wherever I was going, I wanted it to be worth it, because I also hadn’t had a real vacation in almost six years.

I was leaning toward Cleveland (hadn’t been to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since my last vacation) or San Francisco (hadn’t been there since 1991, when I didn’t get to stay long) or Chicago (1993 and ditto), when, by some freakish chain of coincidences, I was following an internet thread one night and it took me to a rave review of what appeared to be a new Broadway show based on….The Four Seasons?

It’s hard now–after a decade long run, a movie version, a new box set, a hatful of Tony awards and the like–to convey just how shocking this news was at the time.

The Four Seasons on Broadway?

Before that moment, New York wasn’t even on my radar. After that moment, the idea started lighting up my brain.

I hunted around and read more reviews. I investigated hotel and airfare prices. I did mental calculus and then actual addition and subtraction on a scratch pad.

I figured I could just barely manage it.

And I figured I had to, because, well you only live once…and it was the Four Seasons.

But, still….

I had to come up with a few hundred bucks extra. I had to pre-plan way more of the trip than I had ever planned for any trip before (my understanding was that they didn’t let just anybody in to a hit Broadway show…and that booking a Manhattan hotel was not exactly like stopping off at the Best Western by the interstate). I had to fly in winter (one previous experience, not a good one as I have a habit of developing stopped heads in winter…a stopped head at 30,000 feet is not a pleasant experience…when I did this a third time, in December, 2015, I temporarily lost my hearing).

I began to have second thoughts.

I decided to do a little more research.

I mean, Four Seasons or no Four Seasons, I had never heard anything good about a so-called jukebox musical. How good could it really be?

Before I made this kind of commitment, even for the Four Seasons, I needed to look beyond the hype.

So I asked myself: “I wonder what songs are in this show?”

It seemed an important question because who were the Four Seasons if not their songs? I hadn’t exactly stopped at “December, 1963” after all. Within a year or two of buying my first 45, the Four Seasons had become one of my two or three favorite groups and they had remained that through thick and thin. I had grown used to defending them against all comers–and in those days, there were a lot of comers. To put it bluntly, the Seasons never had the cred that the Beatles or Stones or Beach Boys or Byrds (or any of a dozen other groups) had. For a lot of people (then more than now, though it’s still a problem), they were some kind of early version of Bon Jovi: Sold a lot of records, impressed a lot of girls (and God knows they never count), never got themselves much written about in the proper journals.

Jersey boys indeed.

I knew they deserved better–that they had gotten shafted a bit for lacking a sensitive Brian Wilson-type genius, when dozens of lesser bands had better crit-reps that existed on that and nothing more. And even those who did have something more, even a lot more (think Arthur Lee and Love, think Skip Spence and Moby Grape), still weren’t the Four Seasons.

I knew the Four Seasons and I knew they deserved a hit show on Broadway.

But that still didn’t mean it was a must see.

To make that judgment, I needed to know about the songs. Absent a sensitive genius, the songs would be what such a show rose or fell on.

So I made a point of looking for a song list and was pleasantly surprised to find one. A long one. From an official source (i.e., the show’s website).

Long and reliable then.

So long that it took me more than a glance or two to get to the bottom–by which time I had concluded that they certainly were being thorough. Except for “Silence is Golden”–admittedly a B-side–they had everything in there that I would have insisted on if they had asked me.

And I still wasn’t quite convinced.

Yes they were hitting all the high points. All the songs any Seasons’ lover would insist on. But what about filling in the cracks? In a catalog as deep as the Four Seasons’ shouldn’t there be at least one off-beat pick? One sign of eccentricity? “C’mon Marianne” was nice (speaking of sensitive genius bands, maybe the show would mention how the Doors lifted the intro for “Touch Me,”) but it was still a pretty big hit and available on every major Seasons’ comp I ever saw.

I kept looking for a sign….

And then, very near the end, two or three songs from the bottom of a list of dozens, I saw this:

“Fallen Angel”

That’s when I knew I was going to New York.

*   *   *   *

So I went. Had a grand time. Got swept away by the museums and the shows (if I was going, I wasn’t putting all my eggs in one basket!) and the food and all the other stuff people get swept away by if they tourist in New York with at least a little money in hand.

I flew up on a Thursday. I went to a museum and an off-Broadway show on Friday. I went to another museum on Saturday morning and a Broadway show on Saturday afternoon. I saw St. Patrick’s Cathedral by moonlight. I ate fabulous meals in little hole-in-the-wall joints that my dad had trained me to spot back in the days when we traveled together.(“Watch where the Chinese people go,” he told me once when we were in San Francisco’s Chinatown. We did, and, if you ignored the cockroach that crawled out of the phone book on the chipped Formica counter and concentrated on the food, it was beyond belief.) I walked around for two days with a giddy smile on my face. Hell, I even figured out the subways. Not so hard, I found, when you were always going to and from Manhattan (i.e. Grand Central)–another trip, years later, when I made the mistake of chintzing and staying somewhere else, learned me that it ain’t hard to turn into an Out-of-Towner.)

And then, finally, it came Saturday night. The big event…

I wore a black denim shirt and white jeans. I didn’t care if it was after Labor Day. I was going to see Jersey Boys on a Saturday night on Broadway, a month after it opened a hop, skip and jump (or anyway a fast cab ride) from Newark (where at least one Broadway blue-nose had suggested it should have stayed). A month after it opened, Jersey Boys was being heavily attended by a mostly Jersey crowd–by the one group of people in the world who didn’t need to be told that the Four Seasons were every bit as good and important as the Beatles or the Beach Boys.

Give or take a vowel or two, I was, at last, among my people.

And still I wondered.

Would it really be worth all that?

Then the show started with a rap version of “December, 1963,” and I really started to have my doubts.

Then the guy playing Tommy DeVito (Christian Hoff–a few months later he would win a Tony) walked out on stage and announced that was the version that had just been a hit in France.

Thirty seconds later, I said to myself: “This is where I’m supposed to be.”

 *  *   *   *

Jersey Boys is a long show. Two-and-a-half hours with a fifteen minute intermission.

By the intermission, I was wandering around the lobby thinking of all the people I wished had been there with me. I was also wondering how it was possible for me to have had such high expectations and see them all surpassed within the first five minutes–and then surpassed again and again.

I wondered if they could possibly keep it up.

Five minutes into the second half I stopped wondering. I knew it wasn’t going to play me–or itself–false.

Then, near the very end, the stage went dark and a familiar chord rose from the orchestra pit…and, in the space of that single chord, I remembered what I had forgotten.

I had forgotten “Fallen Angel.”

Not only had I not thought about it since I arrived at the August Wilson Theater or in the city of New York, I hadn’ t thought about it since I saw it in the show’s song list on-line and knew instantly where I would be a week before Christmas in 2005.

It was the forgetting that made it memorable. If I had been thinking about it all along, or anywhere along, I would have known it was coming–would have been wondering how they were going to fit it in, when, unlike all those dozens of hits known to all, it could not really be part of the Four Seasons’ story.

Turned out it was the heart of the Four Seasons’ story. By the time I heard that first chord and it all came rushing back–1969, 1975, 1976, a month before–I knew a whole lot about the Four Seasons I hadn’t known before and I also knew that the young woman walking across the stage was representing the ghost of Frankie Valli’s daughter, whose death-by-overdose he blamed on an absent fatherhood created, in part, by the fame and fortune he had crawled across broken glass to reach, and in larger part by the three hundred nights a year he played for a decade and more to pay off Tommy DeVito’s seven-figure gambling debts because DeVito had gone to prison rather than snitch on him when they were teenagers back in the ‘hood.

That’s the best moment I’ll ever know in a theater, sitting with two thousand locals who worshiped the Seasons and realizing I was probably the only one who knew what was coming from the first chord–the one unrecognizable, eccentric, off-beat musical selection that was the show’s big payoff. All those dozens of hits, but only one of them was called “Fallen Angel,” so, to fit the harshest fact of Frankie Valli’s life–and Tommy DeVito’s–it had to be there, even if it never made the top thirty.

The show didn’t end there. It ended with the Seasons reunited, rising from the floor at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction (which also served as Valli and DeVito’s personal reunion after years of not speaking) to sing the greatest of the records that had made them the truest American working class heroes between the fall of the original fifties’ legends and the rise of Creedence Clearwater Revival*….

which made #1 in 1964, in the teeth of the British Invasion, as the A-side of my pick for the greatest-ever two-sided single, the B-side of which was…

…the only thing the show was missing.

But, by then, I had forgotten all about that, too. Even with an un-programmed encore of–you guessed it–“December, 1963,” giving me one last reminder that this had been where I was supposed to be, and a three-block hike to my hotel that amounted to levitating above the sidewalk, I knew which highlight I would always remember first.

My only regret is that–like buying that first 45–it could only happen once.

*The fantastic book for Jersey Boys was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. During one of the early development meetings, Brickman mentioned to Gaudio that he had missed out on the Seasons in the sixties, in part because he had been so heavily engaged politically, especially in protesting the Viet Nam war. Gaudio’s reply was “Well, when you’re writing this show, just remember that my audience were the ones fighting it.” The beat goes on.

OKAY, NOW I’M WORRIED….

[NOTE: For those interested in my previous takes on Homeland, they can be found here and here.]

The jury will be out until next year (for me, at least, as I don’t have Showtime or a desire to keep up with a weekly series), but if this whole Change Election thing has caused Homeland to lose its nerve, I may just have to throw one of those hissy-fits that are all the rage.

Nerve is what Homeland has. And nerve is all the show has in the sense that, no matter how reliable Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin are, even they are lost without it.

The rest of the show is hit-and-miss anyway. The acting is mostly fine, but the casting is all over the place. The payoffs (until Season 5) have been powerful, but the narrative runs hither-and-yon elsewhere. The one element that was bankable before now, besides the quality and commitment of the two perfectly cast leads, was the instability of the basic idea: that the national security of the world’s superpower comes down to a barely stable bipolar blonde who’s a borderline sociopath and works better–often way better–off her meds, plus a Wise Old Owl’s uncertain ability to control her.

Most of that went away in Season 5 and the signals for Season 6 are decidedly mixed.

On her meds, Carrie is apparently a catch. She’s got men falling at her feet, a trait that required a fair suspension of disbelief even when former paramours Brody and Quinn could at least be explained by crazy being drawn to crazy. This season, where she’s Miss Responsibility all of a sudden–something like a real life CIA agent might be if you buy the vision of the CIA being currently promulgated by its various media assets–she’s still grabbing off top male talent like she was Jennifer Aniston or something.

There’s an idealistic lawyer. There’s his boss at the foundation. There’s a sanitized Quinn. Carrie’s ability to manipulate people because she wants to be in their heads more than they want to be in hers spends most of the season under wraps. Without it busting out of the pen once in a while–and, more to the point, threatening to bust out at any time–I found myself nodding off.

That’s something that never happened in the first four seasons, no matter how many plot-holes I counted up without trying, or how low the burdens of all the inevitable “family” stuff bent my back.

“Carrie will be back,” I kept muttering. “And she’ll be proving, once again, that the CIA’s best agent–the one who stands between us and the Eve of Destruction–is as stable as an open vial of nitroglycerine in the hands of a drug addict being chased by a Grizzly.”

Without that–and with Carrie and Saul kept apart for most of the season by the professional and emotional break that occurred at the end of Season 4–there was just a spy story. It was all about double and triple agents double and triple-crossing each other and nothing the early Brit-masters (Ambler, Greene, Buchan) didn’t do better before Hitler invaded Poland.

I’ll be back in another year. I’m not giving up on a show that has had its finger on the pulse of modern paranoia for four seasons just because they threw in a stinker.

But I’m putting it on notice. It’s not a good sign that the promos for Season 6 indicate the show-runners predicted a female president. Pulp masters who can’t sniff the air just wind up sucking for oxygen.

Oh, I’ll hang in.

But no more backing down. No more making Carrie Mathison likeable. If Danes is exhausted, I don’t care. Take away her producer’s credit and put her back on salary. Show no mercy.

For down the current path, the worst monster of all lies.

You know the one: Banality.

Too much of that and there won’t be a paycheck for anyone. This is too important to muff, people. Get back on the stick.

JUST SO YOU KNOW…

This is not a political blog. I routinely insert political thoughts (and more occasionally, theological ones) into my regular writing because that’s the way I see life. As I said to a friend of mine when I started the blog: “You know me. Rock and roll is just a way of seeing the world.”

But since we now live in such interesting times, I’ve been revisiting my history of little personal political insights and what’s a blog for if not to share random thoughts that invade the mind, unbidden, now and again?

At the end, I might just talk myself into making a prediction about the direction of Donald Trump’s presidency. Before all that, you can check my track record.

From this, all else grows…

1974 (Age 13): Richard Nixon resigns from the presidency to avoid impeachment and conviction. He is pardoned by Gerald Ford. Me: “I bet there’s gonna be a lot of criminal presidents from now on.”

My logic: If Richard Nixon was as bad as everybody said he was–and everybody said it, even in my Nixon-supporting part of the world–and the penalty for whatever he did was early retirement, then it didn’t seem like much of a deterrence.

My track record: After Jimmy Carter, they all look like crooks to me. If only some of them look that way to you, you might want to open that other eye. Unless, of course, you’ve accepted ol’ Dick’s logic that it’s not criminal if the president does it!

1980 (Age 19): Campaigning for president, Ronald Reagan promises that he will increase spending, cut taxes and eliminate the budget deficit, which was then standing at a scandalous sixty-something billion dollars. Me: “I bet if he wins, we’re gonna have a whole lot more debt.”

My logic: Math.

My track record: Reagan won. By 1988, when he left office, the deficit stood at a hundred and eighty-something billion dollars and we had switched to a permanent credit economy which would allow us to borrow without limits and never have to pay it back. The deficit is now around twenty trillion. We rack up another sixty billion every week or two. Good going, 1980.

1984 (Age 23): At the Democratic National Convention, party nominee Walter Mondale uses his acceptance speech to capitulate (I always assumed it was his attempt at imitating Franklin Roosevelt in Firesign Theater’s “Nick Danger, Third Eye” bit). I decide I will not vote in the election. I also decide I will not vote in any future elections.

My logic: What’s the point if it doesn’t matter?

My track record: Mondale lost in a record landslide. I have voted in every election since. I’m not going to discuss who I voted for in any of those elections because it has not mattered.

1990 (Age 29): We invade Iraq. In the run-up up to the invasion, Christopher Hitchens, still lucid at that point, says if we invade it will be the start of a new hundred years’ war. Me: “That sounds about right.”

My logic: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to….yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.” Santayana. Smart guy.

My track record: We’ve entered the war’s 27th year. Christopher Hitchens, who began supporting the war around it’s twelfth year, lies a-moldering in his grave. The war goes on. A hundred years still sounds about right.

1990s (Age “sometime in my thirties”): Me, apropos of nothing: “Free people do not need a security state…”

My logic: “….Because security states exist to preserve themselves, not freedom.” Me in my thirties. Not Santayana, but not half bad.

My track record: Hard to tell. But I used to say: “Everything I really needed to know I learned from rock and roll.” Now I say: “Everything I really needed to know, I learned from Philip K. Dick novels.”

2001 (Age 40): On September 11, the World Trade Center is leveled by terrorists in hi-jacked planes. The Pentagon is attacked by another. Another goes down in a Pennsylvania field, prevented by the passengers from incinerating either the White House or the Capitol. George W. Bush responds by fleeing from Florida to Nebraska. Later, much later, after everyone has patted his hand and told him everything will be alright, he gives a speech to a joint session of congress. Then him and Tom Daschle (Remember him? No? Lucky you.) give each other a big ol’ bear hug to celebrate our victory. (As imitations of “Nick Danger, Third Eye” go, this was almost hallucinatory). Me, in an e-mail to a friend: “I hope we don’t need leaders in this fight, because we ain’t exactly got Churchill.” My friend tries to assure me it will be alright because the generals know what they are doing. I refuse to be comforted.

My logic: Wars are not won by men who return to Washington from Florida by way of Nebraska because Washington might be dangerous. You can be stupid and win a war. You can be a criminal and win a war. You can be a mama’s boy who, in Ann Richards’ immortal phrase, “was born on third base and thought he hit a triple” and win a war. You can’t be a coward.

My track record: Well, if we ever do win that war, it won’t be on the coward’s watch.

2004 (Age 43): John Kerry runs for president. He debates George W. Bush. Bush sends a batting practice fastball down the middle, saying that it sounded to him like if Kerry had been president (on the aforementioned 9/11), Saddam Hussein would still have been in power. Instead of saying “If I’d been president, Saddam would be in jail and Osama Bin Laden would be in the cell next to him,” Kerry gave a two-thousand word response that amounted to “Now that’s no necessarily so.” Me: “Goodbye.”

My logic: The coward or the pedant? Who cares.

My track record: John Kerry lost his election. Eventually he became Secretary of State and achieved his life’s goal of turning pedantry into an art form whilst the world burned.

2008 (Age 47): Barrack Obama is elected president. Me: “Interesting. And it’s really nice to check that ‘first African-American president’ box. But, in the midst of all this euphoria, I do wish I could see him.”

My logic: “He’s a real nowhere man, sitting in his nowhere land…” John Lennon: Smart guy.

My track record: Too soon to tell, but if a tide comes in, it does tend to wash away the castles you made of sand. And tides do usually come in.

2015 (Age 54): A couple of Beltway reporters kibitzing on Diane Rehm’s PBS show, spend a few minutes trying to one-up each other on just how impossible it will be for Donald Trump to win the Republican Nomination. Me: “If you think he has no chance, you’re crazy.”

My logic: “Call out the instigators, because there’s something in the air.”

Did I mention that, once upon a time, I learned everything I really needed to know from rock and roll?

My track record: Donald Trump will become president on January 20.

And so….

One factor, which peeked through the underbrush throughout the last year-and-a-half as Trump systematically (yes, systematically) ripped through everyone from Jeb Bush to Hillary Clinton to real power brokers like Megyn Kelly and Jeff Bezos, is that the Security State is not simply worried but frightened. Since the election the peepin’ and a hidin’ and the slippin’ and a slidin’ has become something close to full-blown warfare. Trump has made it abundantly clear that, on Jan. 20, he intends to become the third sitting president to take on the shadow government.

I have no prediction on how it will come out. It did not work out for John Kennedy or Jimmy Carter, whose respective penalties were death and political humiliation.* The Security State is, on one sense, more powerful than ever. Its tentacles gained strength and length by leaps under Bush the Younger and leaps and bounds under Obama. But it is not the top-down machinery that took down JFK (allegedly) and Carter (allegedly**). Without Cold War clarity, there is deep consensus about needs (more power), but much confusion about goals (to what specific end?). Battling cave-dwellers has simply not been as simple or as satisfying as taking on the old Evil Empire. That, plus the sheer size and scope of its expansion has left the Leviathan dazed and weakened at the moment when it will have to face its greatest threat.

So whether they can defeat a determined Trump is an open question and I have no feel in my stomach’s empty pit for how it will come out.

Neither do I have any feel for how Trump would handle either victory or defeat. The great danger–one which is barely hinted at in all the incoherent babbling about fascism and the like–is that Trump will be both willing and able (and at this point it would be far safer, if that’s the right word, to bet against his will than his ability) to replace the praetorian guard we’ve long allowed, in true fascist style, to build around state security, with one built around a cult of personality, one which could presumably be transferred with little fuss to his handsome, hungry children. I will only say that, should he turn in that direction, there will be precious little to stop him and all who had faith in an ever-deteriorating system–me included, as I did keep “voting”–will share the blame.

I wish there was a song for that.

*Eisenhower doesn’t count, as his famous warning about the military industrial complex, while virtuous, was issued on the way out the door. Of course he was right. But that’s like dissing your tyrannical boss at your retirement ceremony.

**There is voluminous literature on the Kennedy assassination, too much to take in really. My best take on all that is here.

There is precious little literature on Carter’s demise and I’m not even up on what does exist. But I can pass along this anecdote.

Back in the early 80’s my dad was a home missionary for the Southern Baptist Convention. One of his duties was to visit local conventions around the country and trade ideas for effective mission work. That put him on kind of a rubber chicken circuit several times a year and, at one congregational supper, he found himself next to a recently retired Army general.

As I’ve mentioned before, my dad was a personality and strangers generally had one of two responses to him: run screaming from the room or tell him things they wouldn’t have told their own mother. Evidently, the general was in the latter camp. The subject of Carter came up, as it nearly always did in Southern Baptist circles in those days, and my dad mentioned that, despite everything, he had voted for him.

The general said: “You weren’t wrong.”

From there, the discussion went to the general’s dark knowledge, only a little of which he could share, of course, of the failed Iranian hostage rescue mission. Long story short, the general was of the informed opinion that the mission had been sabotaged. When my dad pressed him as to who would do such a thing, the answer was nonspecific but the general did say the forces behind it were aiming at a change in the presidency. The way my dad reported it to me, the general said: “They were looking to replace him with either Ted Kennedy or George Bush.”

Reliable assets both.

Take it all with a grain of salt.

But, if that was their aim, they came close enough. And, until Trump the Dread says otherwise, we still live in their world, patiently, and helplessly, awaiting the fate of all who accept a Security State’s version of “safety.”

THEY WON’T EVEN SLEEP WHEN THEY’RE DEAD (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #95)

Forget wheel chairs, my sources at CIA–as reliable as any–inform me that Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham have mutually reinforcing codicils in their respective wills that instruct their legitimate heirs to send their embalmed corpses on an international tour every three years until the seventieth generation times seven has passed from the earth.

This war will never end.

And, as long as Mick Fleetwood’s heirs are willing to provide one of grandpa’s drum loops, you can bet it will still sound pretty damn good.

ANTHONY MANN’S EPIC AUTUMN (Segue of the Day: 1/7/17)

El Cid
(Anthony Mann, 1961)

The Fall of the Roman Empire
(Anthony Mann, 1964)

Anthony Mann does not yet get his due. There are occasional professional contrarians who will tell you he’s better than John Ford, but they are a cult and Mann, who would have been the first to tell you he wasn’t quite John Ford, deserves far better. I’ve been counting him as one of my five favorite directors for a while now, but in the latest list from “They Shoot Pictures Don’t They,” the most exhaustive ranking of great films available, he has one entry (The Naked Spur, at #969 of a thousand).

That’s one fewer than Michael Mann, who I still think of as the Miami Vice guy, and the same number as John Avildsen, who’s on the list for Rocky.

All of which adds up to just another brick in the towering wall of our modern delusion. Mann made a handful of noirs and a hatful of westerns (hence the Ford comparisons) that are better than anything Michael Mann has done. He also made these two epics from the early sixties, which time is beginning to reveal as masterworks in their own right.

Watching them together (as I’ve done since I discovered them a few years back…this was my third go-round), in these hurly-burly days is an experience. And, for me, what was even more salient this time was having recently seen Marketa Lazarova, the Czech film from 1967 which I wrote about here, for the first time.

The long view of history I mentioned there is as fiercely present here, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Mann’s films served as some sort of inspiration in how to handle narrative and editing in Marketa or any other epic-minded film that uses similar devices to collapse time and space for the purpose of expanding our imaginations.

Of course these carry some Hollywood gloss–big stars playing against ethnic type, fabulous sets and costumes, casts of literally thousands. But once you absorb all that, and understand the level of obsession that went into these films (obsessions that encompassed and enfolded Mann himself, producer Samuel Bronston, the set designers, even the composers, all properly lauded in the fine documentaries that accompany the 2-disc versions from the Miriam Collection) it’s possible to recognize just how thorny and disorienting they are, how fully they (like Marketa) capture not merely lost worlds but lost value systems.

El Cid was a big hit, so big it made The Fall of the Roman Empire’s impossible air of art-house risk possible. For better or worse, the presence of Charlton Heston, then strongly identified in the movie-going public’s mind with The Ten Commandments and Ben Hur, massive hits that had done a fine job of capturing value systems not yet lost in the previous decade, was able to carry El Cid to similar box office heights. But he refused to work again with his co-star, Sophia Loren, on the second film. Mann was already pushing the boundaries of acceptable narrative in El Cid. Any chance that he wouldn’t push past the edge in the followup was gone the minute Heston refused to sign on.

Whatever the reasons, Heston’s absence allows Fall to play as the more contemporary film.

I won’t say “better” because I’m a long way from comprehending either film at the level required to make that judgment. But, purely in artistic terms, Heston’s absence may have been as much a blessing as it was a box office curse. Fall became a famous flop, effectively breaking both Mann and Bronston in ways that went beyond the merely financial. Sadly, neither lived to see it redeemed by recent critical appraisals in a way that Cleopatra, a similar back-breaker from the same period, never will be. El Cid needed Heston because it’s a hero’s narrative. Fall didn’t need him (and one wonders if this was the real reason he passed on it), because it’s an anti-hero’s narrative.

The neck-snapping irony in this, is that El Cid is set in a moment when the Christendom just emerging (sotto voce because it’s never mentioned) in The Fall of the Roman Empire, is being saved from extinction.

The further irony is that Fall is even more opulent, something that seems impossible while you are actually watching El Cid.

In terms of both spectacle and historical accuracy, Bronston was determined to make David O. Selznick look like a kid in short pants. With Fall he succeeded. It took me this third viewing to comprehend how much his obsession with the details of Rome’s face, at the singular moment when the mask was finally beginning to show its cracks, has as much to do with creating the film’s unique aura of displacement as Mann’s sudden shifts of tone, mood, lighting, weather.

In the midst of the towering monuments to Rome’s glory, literally recreated with stunning scale and specificity on a plain in Spain, Christopher Plummer’s Commodus (the role of his career), and Stephen Boyd’s hapless Livius, really do seem like they are being toyed with by ancient and angry gods.

Livius himself–the hero Charlton Heston wouldn’t play–is redeemed only by his devotion to the old ways and Commodus’s sister. And it becomes clear, over time, that these virtues are inextricable from a stubbornness and pride that end up costing the lives of nearly everyone and everything he holds dear.

Boyd puts every bit of the bitterness that would come from such a man’s recognition of his own failures into his final line, a line sufficiently damning that one wonders how anyone thought they could get a hit out of this.

What we’re left with is indescribable opulence (it really has to be seen to be believed and I can’t even get my head around what these films must look like on the big screen), endless back-stabbing among cabals who vie for the loyalty of the military and the deep state, a hapless legislative body made exclusively of fops and fools, the endless peddling of influence. All these qualities course through El Cid and finally overwhelm the characters who populate The Fall of the Roman Empire.

The history runs in reverse, as history is wont to do.

The first film replicates the preservation of what rose in the place of what fell in the second film.

Whatever order one views them, these films, especially The Fall of the Roman Empire, which broke Samuel Bronston’s bank account and Anthony Mann’s health, are in the DNA of everything from Star Wars to Kurosawa’s late epics to the best work of the similarly under-appreciated Ridley Scott (who now must labor under the burden of CGI, an empire whose reach and grasp far exceed Rome’s…one hopes that Mann appreciated how lucky he was to fall in with a fellow visionary like Bronston even for a heartbeat).

You can take your pick of which reminds you most of the City by the Potomac these days, as the man who the Alt-Right likes to tweak all and sundry by referring to as the God Emperor ascends, rising from the bottomless sea of our present corruption, within which the deepest muck he was born to rule.

THE JTP AND GIVING UP ON THE PLAME GAME (Monthly Book Report: 12/16)

For December, I finished two more books in the Josephine Tey Project (all re-reads) and decided to abandon my effort at continuing Valerie Plame Wilson’s memoir. Thoughts on all and sundry below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brat Farrar (Josephine Tey, 1950)

An ingenious idea, put at the service of Tey’s darkened post-War sensibility. A young man is lured into impersonating an heir–the long-thought-dead twin of the present heir. The twist is that the impersonator is riven by an uneasy conscience and the twin whose fortune he has usurped may or may not be a sociopath.

The dichotomy unfolds only gradually. The first strong impression of the usurper is unsettling:

And Brat, walking down the street, was shocked to find himself exhilarated He had expected to be nervous and a little ashamed. And it had not been in the least like that. It had been one of the most exciting things he had ever done. A wonderful tight-rope sort of thing. He had sat there and lied and not even been conscious that he was lying.

Clearly, he’s at risk for sociopathy himself. It’s the “shocked” and “expected” more than the “ashamed” that leave a path for escape without tipping whether he’ll take it.

After that, it’s not merely lives that are stake, but souls.

The book is told almost entirely from the usurper’s perspective and it holds its secrets until the very end.

As happened with her previous book, The Franchise Affair, Tey seemed unable to bring herself to plunge all the way back in to the darkness and pity that made Miss Pym Disposes her finest hour.

The result is something like what Patricia Highsmith might have been if Highsmith had been constrained by civilization. This might be the difference between a very good writer and a great one, but it is hard, from this distance, to fault anyone for an excess of decency–let alone someone who could make the language sing as gently and beautifully as Josephine Tey.

Superb, then…as far as it goes.

To Love and Be Wise (Josephine Tey, 1951)

By now Tey had settled into her great post-war theme: Yet again, a stranger is inserted into a bucolic setting and becomes a disturbance in the force. Tey’s great trick–and, in her hands, it’s more than that–was to keep the reader guessing about who the real force-disturber is. Often as not, the stranger is a catalyst only in so far as his/her presence reveals what was hiding in sight all along. Even if one considers that no more than a trick, it was no easy one, especially since, in this instance, she folds it back into a procedural.

This was the first true Alan Grant novel since 1936 (he had made a cameo in The Franchise Affair). As ever, the intervening war left a mark, but this is clearly an attempt to get back to old fashioned crime solving.

And in Tey’s procedural world, before or after the war, the mark of civilization is that crimes are solved by the persistence of decent men of reasonably high intelligence–men like Alan Grant–rather than by the individual genius of a Holmes or a Poirot. She understood that when there are too few of the former, the latter will be left hanging just like the rest of us.

Again, what is missing is the sense of dread. Somehow you know things will work out right and they do. So, in lieu of any great suspense, we’re left with Tey’s keen eye for post-war social carnage. For instance:

“Yes, according to Silas country existence is one cesspool of rape, murder, incest, abortion, and suicide, and perhaps Silas thinks that it is time that Salcott St. Mary lived up to his idea of it.”

One suspect casting aspersions on another, of course, but is anyone surprised to find that Silas is a novelist of the modernist-realism school? Or that either suspect is capable of anything?

There’s just enough of that to keep this going, though the trend was clearly towards safety and away from the spark of genius that had briefly flowered in the shadow of the war’s own grim reality.

Fair Game (Valerie Plame Wilson)

Speaking of shadows and grim reality…

I picked this up a few years back after I saw the 2010 movie based on it. I had hoped to learn a little more about Ms. Plame and dig deeper into the film’s reasonably convincing portrayal of the police state now lurking within.

After several tries at engaging it, I’m giving up on page 58. Stick with the movie. It’s not so much that Plame Wilson writes like a CIA analyst–that I was prepared to accept. But just enough of the book is redacted to make it both a literary slog and a dysfunctional narrative of either the author’s personal life, or her not insignificant role in a series of world-altering events.

(NOTE: Spoilers ahead for Fair Game and The Interpreter…don’t read any further if you’re planning to see either movie.)

The movie has its problems, mostly a cop-out “up the people” ending, which is probably an accurate reflection of how Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson, really see the world (who is ever more naive than low level intelligence agents with a streak of personal decency?), but is also a denial of every dark, rat-infested corner the rest of the film was meant to fumigate.

Still, it’s worth seeing for its nicely understated performances by Naomi Watts and Sean Penn. I recommend it especially in tandem with 2005’s The Interpreter, a similar you-should-probably-see-it-once flick Penn did with Nicole Kidman.

The cop-out in that one was that, having gone to some lengths to make every other outcome less than feasible, Hollywood couldn’t bring itself to have Kidman shoot a black guy in the head, even if that black guy was a film version of Robert Mugabe.

I wonder if “Hollywood” will be so sanguine a generation from now?

By then, the Neo-Nazis now rising in Europe will have produced their own inevitable Mugabes. They’ll have been aided in part by the presence of so many monsters in Africa, who have created a flood of refugees no mere continent can absorb in the old way of liberal democracies run–and serviced–by the personally decent, even if men were angels.

Did I mention I’m looking forward to a Happy New Year?