MEANWHILE IN THE “PAST IS NOT PAST” DEPARTMENT (Segue of the Day: 5/21/18)

What with one of those full-blown Constitutional Crisis moments heading for us like a locomotive, sometimes I just like to cheer myself up by reminding myself that nothing really changes. Last night I headed for L.A., via YouTube…and look what I found, recommended just for me!

First this…

then this….

Seems about right.

POLITICS ON THE RADIO….OLDIES RADIO…UNLESS OF COURSE IT WAS ONLY IN MY MIND (Segue of the Day: 5/16/18)

There are no true oldies stations in my market anymore. The last one changed formats more than a decade ago. What’s left is the Hank format and a Classic Rock Formula which has been reshaped from hard-rock-all-the-time (white except for Jimi Hendrix) to a mix of hard rock (white….except for Jimi Hendrix), hard pop rock (all white), a little easy listening (ditto), plus, for the sake of diversity, “Superstition” and “Low Rider.”

It’s not exactly a true re-creation of how hit-oriented radio worked in the sixties and seventies, but it is an accurate reflection of these focus-grouped times.

Usually, I just listen to the gasbags on talk radio who at least keep me up with the news. (And represent the last, best hope Never Trumpers have of taking their nemesis down, even if they don’t know it and would never admit it if they did. Believe me, when you’re in the Byzantine spot Robert Mueller’s in, a place where so many corrupt riddles are wrapped inside so many diseased enigmas your own best hope of staying out of jail is the pubic’s inability to keep up, you couldn’t hope for better than to have Sean Hannity and Mark Levin representing the other side).

But, now and again, when the gasbags either overwhelm me or go to commercial once too often, I still pull up the Classic Hits station in my car.

I had missed a promo-promised Go-Go’s/Queen segue earlier in the day, but now I hit the button just as this one started…and, once it starts, I never change the station…

Strange thing, though. This time, all I could think about while the song was playing (and I was shouting every word–have I ever mentioned that I harmonize with Christine McVie and Lindsey Buckingham like a long lost sibling who shared a mother with one and a father with the other?…Or that I can’t be the first person to have considered the possibility that everyone can do this?)–was how, when the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign adopted “Don’t Stop” as the theme song and wanted Fleetwood Mac to re-unite and play it for some big occasion (the Convention? Election Night? the Inaugural?…the memory hazes, but, for my purposes here, it only matters that they said yes), Buckingham at first refused.

He gave in only when Stevie Nicks called him up and said If you take this away from me, I’ll never speak to you again.)

Whatever harm he may have done to her elsewhere (I wrote about some of it here), on that occasion Lindsey was right.

Never trust a politician.

He might have shown great taste picking your song, but there’s always a chance he’ll end up sustaining and encouraging a status quo (you know,might even be granted permission by his own voters to complete the Reagan Revolution, which they had professed to despise only a moment before, when Stevie and every other good liberal was proving how serious they were by saying things like “I’ll never speak to you again!”–remember?) that will lock up black people at rates old Jim Crow (whose natural born child he was) never dreamed of and make everybody who fought for him twist themselves into pretzels telling themselves how it was alright because he did it, never mind it would have been worse than slavery if the other side merely settled for talking about doing the same.

Don’t mind me. I get peculiar thoughts some times.

Because while all that was running through my head (without my thrush-like throat fluffing a note) I also started wondering if Oo-o-o-hh, don’t you look back might be a sentiment tantamount to civilizational suicide. Didn’t somebody say something once about those who don’t learn from the past being doomed to, etc., etc., etc.?

And wouldn’t not learning from the past you never look back to just about define Bill Clinton’s life and legacy? (Be sure you read Thomas Frank’s blind-squirrel-finds-a-nut article at the link, especially if you’ve forgotten, or never admitted, how much damage Clinton did to liberalism, damage that is likely to remain irreparable…..And, like I said, don’t mind me.)

Boy was I depressed.

Not even remembering how the ghost version of “Don’t Stop” had long since forced me to ponder whether Christine McVie having just possibly conceived the song as pure irony should be one of my heart-of-the-universe questions–how, with the slightest shift of timbre, she transformed don’t look back from the proverbial fear that something might be gaining on you to an anthem worthy of an American presidential campaign, where never a discouraging word must be heard–allowed me to shake the feeling the whole world has been had all over again every time this song plays on the radio and one of us sings along in perfect harmony without missing a note or a nuance.

Then the radio went straight into this…

…which was so much about nothing (a Curfew Riot–which sounds like the title of a Monty Python skit) it ended up being about everything. Including now.

Paranoia strikes deep….

And even though it had been too long since I heard it (and though nothing could ever match the impact of singing it, in perfect harmony–with five kids who weren’t conversant with English, or even born, when it was released–under the eaves of the library at Kent State in 1998) for me to get every note, or even every word, right, I thought…well this radio still speaks in mysterious ways some times, its wonders to perform.

After that, Tom Petty reminding me I don’t have the live like a refugee, usually the highlight of any paranoiac’s day, felt as comfortable as an old shoe.

Then “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” came on and I remembered how talk radio came to be an option in the first place.

Because the Empire planned it that way….That’s how.

Now go back to bed and leave me alone you damned ol’ Politics.

NIGHTFALL (Segue of the Day: 4/26/18)

In honor of Philip Kerr’s recent passing, I’ve begun rereading his Berlin Noir novels. I read the first three years ago but the series got up to a near dozen so it will probably take me a year to acquire and read them all. My memory was that, like Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels, they were good-enough crime stories long on atmosphere–that they gained weight from their superb exposition of time and place.

In Kerr’s case, at least in the early novels that meant Berlin between the wars, and closer to the second than the first. His first in the Bernie Gunther series is set in 1936. Well after Hitler had risen to power then, but with the coming war not yet a foregone conclusion.

The oppression, though, is already everywhere and Kerr’s detective goes back and forth between what the most oppressed citizens would have called kvetching

Corruption in one form or another is the most distinctive feature of life under National Socialism. The government has made several revelations about the corruption of the various Weimar political parties, but these were as nothing compared to the corruption that exists now. It flourishes at the top, and everyone knows it. So most people figure that they are due a share themselves. I don’;t know of anyone who is as fastidious about such things as they used to be. And that includes me. The plain truth of it is that people’s sensitivity to corruption, whether it’s black-market food or obtaining favours from a government official, is about as blunt as a joiner’s pencil stub.

Which–as language, story-telling, social critique–is somewhere between perfect adequacy and modest ineffectiveness.

It all just sort of lays there.

Only to be followed on the very next page with this:

Driving west on Leipzigerstrasse, I met the torchlight parade of Brownshirt legions as it marched south down Wilhelmstrasse, and I was obliged to get out of my car and salute the passing standard. Not to have done so would have been to risk a beating.

Which renders everything in  the previous paragraph superfluous.

Not to have done so would have been to risk a beating tells the reader all there is to know about Nightfall–about being deprived of the opportunity to choose.

I’m hoping the man who was good enough to write that second paragraph learned, over time, to disregard whatever impulse led him to write the first.

We shall see.

In any case, R.I.P. It is no small thing to have brought the worst of the past so close you can feel its hot breath, even in the best of times.

WHAT GOES ON…THE SERGIO LEONE/BOB DYLAN TWO STEP (Segue of the Day: 4/14/18)

I had a chance to finally see The Good, the Bad and the Ugly on a big screen this week so I took it. College audience, pretty good turnout. Writ large, everything great about the movie (Eli Wallach’s magnificent, best-ever Falstaff, Eastwood and Van Cleef’s eyes, Morricone’s music, the more than occasionally striking visuals) got even greater and everything less-than-great about the movie (the leaps in logic–some people call them plot holes but that might be a tad ungenerous–the cruelty for the sake of a joke, or just for the sake of making the audience feel superior to anyone with whom an average person might identify) got even lesser.

Fun night, then. But nothing matched walking out and hearing a group of college-dorm males (do they ever change?) warmly discussing something one of them had read to the effect that Blonde on Blonde was Bob Dylan’s first attempt to either imitate himself or imitate all the other people who were already imitating him.

“So,” one of them said. “Does that mean it’s the greatest Dylan album, or the just the greatest album by a Dylan imitator?”

I walked on by. It took all my willpower not to start singing this…

…just to see if they would laugh.

But, just as I was about to take the leap, one of them started whistling this…

And I laughed instead.

I’ve walked through that space many times. It’s part of the normal time-space continuum, so I know I wasn’t being transported back to the late sixties. It was just another reminder of how little of what has happened in between matters. Twenty year old kids are still taking about 1966 as though it were yesterday….or today.

Because what would they talk about if they talked about what happened since they were born into the Frozen Silence?

Not anything they could be sure the rest of the group would be on board with….or even know about.

They’re left with the only present any of us have, absent a culture.

It’s what used to be called the past.

We’ll know we’ve moved on when it can be called that once more.

Meantime, we still have our memories, even if we have to borrow them from a time before we were born.

LEARNING THE EXISTENTIAL GAME…ROSSELINI AND THE WEST….NOT TO MENTION WESTERNS (Segue of the Day: 2/11/18)

Before today, most of what I could tell you about Roberto Rossellini, the great Italian director who made his name taking Italian Neorealism to the world stage straight from the ashes of WWII, was that I once read where he said of his divorce from Ingrid Bergman that you should never marry an actress because you’ll never know when she’s acting.

It wouldn’t surprise me if even that was wrong.

I’d seen Rome, Open City way back when. VHS. Not a very good print. Left me thinking maybe you had to be there–mid-forties, war-ravaged Europe, the fall of fascism–to get what all the fuss was about.

But some years back I picked up Criterion’s collection of Rossellini’s “history” films about the Renaissance and Enlightenment, mostly because one of them was about Blaise Pascal and there was some kind of sale going on.

The collection’s been sitting on my shelf ever since, waiting for a rainy day.

Today it rained, all day.

Perfect for contemplating The Age of the Medici.

And I was….impressed.

I don’t know how anyone could fail to be…or how anyone could be more than impressed (say moved, say swept away, say any of the things one might expect art to do beyond educate). I know it’s happened, both directions. But, at least on first acquaintance, I was only, and suitably, impressed.

It’s four hours plus of talking.

Good talk to be sure, especially if you are still interested in how a certain We (the West, Christendom, the children of the Enlightenment–those for starters), came to be as we are.

But, still….Talking. The freeze frame above is one of the more active scenes.

Oh, and looking at beautiful things. Much of the talk is about how those beautiful things came to be themselves. What it took to create a platform for achievement and how best to preserve those achievements, meaning, in a four hour mini-series about Cosimo de Medici, there’s some serious political intrigue.

I don’t mean there’s anything like a conventional plot. Rossellini had come to a point in his life and career where he thought cinema was at an impasse if not a dead end. He devoted the last years of his life to educating the masses and this was his medium.

I learned a lot or thought I had. I mean something beyond facts (though I learned plenty of those too).

I assumed that would be enough for one day.

Then a funny thing happened. I needed something familiar when it was all over.  Not comforting, exactly, but something that moved. Naturally, I picked a western.  3:10 to Yuma as it happened. I’ve seen it over twenty times. Familiar enough then.

By the time Frankie Laine’s theme song was done, I had re-learned more than I learned listening to four hours of fine talk on one of history’s most important periods.

Actually, I re-learned that much in one line.

Fate, you see, travels everywhere….

I bet Rossellini could have made eight hours out of that. And never said more.

Movie’s pretty good too.

 

THE SECRET LIVES OF THE NOT QUITE YET RICH AND FAMOUS (Segue of the Day: 1/31/18)

This was actually from a week or so back, but, hey, my blog, my rules. I’m not above toying with the time/space continuum.

Thus…a week or so back….

I was resetting my radio channels after I had an airbag recall replacement in my car and left the new setting on a local channel that plays semi-offbeat music from yesteryear. Most of the stuff is by famous artists, but not necessarily the familiar hits. My internet being out a day or two later, I found myself cruising to the local college theater one evening on a work night to catch When Harry Met Sally, which I had never seen on the big screen (it was worth it…I almost posted about that).

And, in the new dark, I heard this…and I kept thinking, if it’s her, it can’t be from her solo career or her post-Tusk Fleetwood Mac career. Leaving what? An outtake? Thought I’d heard all those too.

Well, I couldn’t find a parking space in time to make the 7:00 show, which meant I had a chance to stop and write down a piece of the lyrics, making it easy enough to find on the net when I got home. Ah, yes, Buckingham Nicks. How could I have forgotten!

I might not have considered it more than a nice find–another fine piece of Stevie’s secret career (a subject that’s probably worth its own post some day) to be tucked away for a rainy day.

Except when 9:00 rolled around, my internet still wasn’t working, so I headed back to the college to catch the 10:00 showing (there’s always plenty of parking that late, after class lets out), and on the way, on the same station, I ran into this….which I’ve never heard on the radio anywhere….

…which, in addition to reminding me of how much Elvis Costello used to hate Stevie Nicks (maybe not as much as he hated Linda Ronstadt, but there was definitely a theme there…if Stevie had dared to cover a few his songs, the gap would have closed in an eye-blink, though of course he would not have failed to cash the royalty check), and how great he was once upon a time, also set me to wondering how different either career might have been if these records had been the hits they deserved to be.

I kept the station tuned all week, waiting for another revelation.

No such luck.

This evening, on the way to the grocery store, I switched back to Classic Rock. Nothing revelatory there, either, but at least I could sing along. I even got to use my Freddie Mercury voice (don’t worry folks, unless the Security State has my car bugged, no one will ever hear my Freddie Mercury voice).

Which made me think about when Dave Marsh, expecting to be taken seriously, called Queen “fascist rock.” I think that meant he either didn’t like them or just couldn’t keep Pauline Kael and Greil Marcus out of his head, kind of a crit-illuminati version of the way Norman Bates couldn’t keep his mother out of his head.

Calling anyone you didn’t like a fascist was very big back then.

The lesson as always: The seventies drove people crazy.

I’m just thankful such things never, ever happen now.

EROTICISM AS SOFT PORN HATE SEX (Segue of the Day: 11/28/17)

NOTE TO SELF; There. That oughta make me go viral….

Last Tango in Paris (1972)
D. Bernardo Bertolucci

The Executioner’s Song (1982)
D. Lawrence Schiller

NOTE TO READERS: Spoilers included.

After I finally caught up with Last Tango in Paris over the weekend–because what else would you watch when you’re existentially depressed?–I found myself wondering (as I often do with these “edgy” films of yesteryear) what all the fuss was about.

I thought I’d give Pauline Kael a try and her contemporary essay is worth reading, if only so you can have an idea of what such debates were like in Last Tango‘s day, a day when “eroticism” was still going to rescue the day in poor old American Life and Art.

Not surprisingly, her essay is mostly about Marlon Brando. Brando had made himself the point of every film he had ever made to date. Once or twice he stooped to interpret a character, but this wasn’t one of those times. No matter how hard the intelligentsia rooted for him, he could never quite get out of his own way. All of which means neither Pauline Kael nor anyone else was likely to explain what Brando himself failed to deliver, which is any reason a young woman as lovely, charismatic and, yes, erotic, as Maria Schneider, about to be engaged herself (to a dweeb, which might have been it’s own explanation if it was say, Paul Newman’s or Alain Delon’s bones she wanted to jump if he just happened along, or if the most erotic scene in the movie weren’t her and the dweeb’s “Oui/No” argument over who is proposing to who), would stoop to anonymous hate sex with anybody as creepy and dessicated as Brando’s “Paul.”

Kael took the position that Brando’s, and, perhaps, “Paul’s” as well, was a tragic character, a sensitive Americano, led on to his doom by a Euro-trash Cookie. We’re supposed to be really sad when she shoots him.

I thought she was about a day late. I was rooting for her to off him right after he anally raped her (in the film’s most famous scene and one which Schneider was not prepared for by either Bertolucci or Brando). Evidently, they didn’t think enough of her acting skills and figured they could only get what they wanted by “surprising” her with a little improv.

They might have been wrong about that, because Schneider’s lovely, lethal and unaffected performance is the only thing time hasn’t burned away in a film that promises to drown you in Art from the first frame.

Why all this put me in a mood to finally re-watch The Executioner’s Song, which I hadn’t seen since the eighties–and certainly hadn’t forgotten–I don’t know. But perhaps Schneider’s presence/performance (and reading about her subsequent reluctance to take her clothes off for the camera) was bound to call up Rosanna Arquette some way or other.

Arquette expressed a similar reluctance to shuck her clothes after her experience with The Executioner’s Song, and she was able to at least cut back on–though not eliminate–the fantasy nude scenes until her real-life encounters with Harvey Weinstein reduced her to taking anything she could get to keep working (whilst being given all kinds of grief from Kael’s natural inheritors–Greil Marcus, Charles Taylor, et al, for tanking her own career). One can respect her choices, but it’s easy to see why male directors became a little disoriented.

Arquette’s Nicole Baker–the real life girlfriend of murderer Gary Gilmore (played in a  very Brando-esque turn by Tommy Lee Jones, who, to be fair, was at least channeling a real-life narcissistic sociopath and was operating with a script that managed to flatten actors as gifted as Eli Wallach and Christine Lahti)–is never so alive as when she’s either got her clothes off (“You and seven other motherfuckers!”) or is trying to scheme her way out of them.

She’s still trying when the only place she and Jones/Gilmore can get it on is the conjugal visit room next to Death Row in the State Pen, where she must have known it was likely to end up all along, even when she, Arquette/Baker, was pulling guns on Jones/Gilmore and withholding herself, maybe, just maybe, with thoughts of driving him to murder.

It’s a lived-in performance and should have had more screen time. It’s also a short, but significant, evolution beyond Maria Schneider in Tango: Yeah, I might have shot him, just like that chick in Last Tango, but he was bound for the firing squad anyway so why bother? Especially when we could get in on right there in the Big House while his lawyers were exhausting his appeals and it won’t even matter if they won’t let me take my clothes off in there. Might even work a double suicide attempt–in which neither of us will quite manage to die–while we’re at it.

One wonders if Nicole Baker had seen Last Tango.

Hard to believe Rosanna Arquette–along with everybody else involved with The Executioner’s Song–hadn’t.

In which case it doesn’t matter what Baker knew. Once Rosanna Arquette got hold of it, with Maria Schneider’s ghost at her back, it wasn’t Nicole Baker’s story anymore anyway.

It wasn’t even Gary Gilmore’s.

But, to Baker’s credit, even Rosanna Arquette never had a better one.

Story, I mean….

THE POET BEFORE AND AFTER (Segue of the Day: 10/22/17)

Smokey Robinson: The Solo Anthology (2001)

Smokey Robinson left the Miracles in 1972, by which time he was already fading to the nether reaches of White America’s radar.

He re-emerged seven years later with the release of “Cruisin’,” which went top five on the Pop charts. After that he hit the higher reaches of the pop charts pretty regularly for another decade or so and clinched his place on the short list for things like Kennedy Center honors and Gershwin Awards and various and sundry other well-deserved lifetime achievement recognition which he had earned before he left the Miracles and almost certainly never would have received if he had left it at that.

Black America never forgot. The extent to which they never forgot becomes evident near the end of the first disc of this fine compilation, as the seventies come to a close.

It’s not as though Smokey had exactly taken the decade off. The tracks that clinched his comeback were preceded by records as monumental as “Sweet Harmony” and “Baby That’s Backatcha,” (the closest he had come to breaking pop in the wilderness years). Beyond that, all he had done was name–and define–a radio format (Quiet Storm) and remain one of the great vocalists of the age.

But the sequence that closes the first disc is still a breathtaking blast-off back into the mainstream….it makes one wonder if the reception he got live was finally what gave him the strength to carry on until the world, however briefly, reawakened.

Because when this comes on–recorded and released a year before “Cruisin’,” with his career at its nadir–you can hear who he was to the audience who had hung with him.

To them, he was Elvis.

After which, bang…

bang…

bang…

…He was Everybody’s Poet again.

On the second disc, you can hear him go to war with the Frozen Silence.

He barely holds on. But then, he was Smokey Robinson, and you know the lesson was learned by everyone else: If we, the Suits and Machines, can do this to him, just think what we can do to you.

By the end he’s duetting with Kenny G.

I think by then the nineties had arrived. If you want to listen to all that, you’re on your own.

STORM BREWING…AND NOT ONLY IN THIS HEART OF MINE (Segue of the Day: 10/19/17)

I was just reminded (by one of those random accidents that are the Internet’s true reason for being) that Michelle Williams has been signed to play Janis Joplin.

It might not happen. The idea of a Janis biopic has been around forever and this particular one has been bobbing up here and there for nearly a decade (this is the second time Williams’ has her name attached, but this time she seems to have actually been cast after a grueling audition). But it’s farther along than any previous attempt.

If it does come to pass, all I can say is Williams is the one actress most likely to connect with Joplin’s unique ethos (and certainly the only actress who could pull off the Marilyn Monroe/Janis Joplin Daily Double).

And it will mean this…

may very well meet this…

Bear in mind that’s not even in extremis….for either of them.

The mind reels.

Much as I want Michelle Williams to be in every movie that matters, I’m not even sure I want this to happen. The concept is frightening and I’m already certain if it ends up a scintilla less terrifying in reality than it already is in my imagination, I won’t know whether to be gut-punched or relieved.

Either way, I can imagine myself running out of the theater yelling “I can’t bear it” with an English accent.

But one thing’s sure. If it does come to pass, I’ll be there.

I might even watch the Oscars that year.

DON’T WORRY FOLKS, IF YOU WANT THE SCOOP…(Segue of the Day: 10/16/17)

….Just check in here first.

Last week (10/11/17) I wrote about the psychic damage Harvey Weinstein, as the man who, for two decades plus, controlled access to more plum “prestige” parts than any other ten producers combined, had likely done to a generation of first-rank Hollywood actresses.

For those who understandably don’t want to plow through the whole thing again, here’s the salient passage (The Round Place in the Middle: 11/11/17):

So read the names: Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette, Rose McGowan. That’s just from those we know about.

And just from those who were attacked by Harvey Weinstein, who exactly no one thinks was a lone wolf.

Even by itself, that’s a gaping hole blown in a generation’s worth of top tier talent.

This week, the idea has taken hold across the big-name spectrum.

Here’s Dana Stevens, checking in from the left (Slate: 10/13/17):