STUPID STUFF PEOPLE SAY ABOUT ELVIS (Quote the Twentieth)

Well this proves it. Donald Trump’s election didn’t change everything. The beat goes on….(for those who are new to the site, this is a full category and previous  entries can be accessed at the right…recommended reading!)

Vis-a-vis, women in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame:

“1986: Inaugural induction class consists of all men, including Elvis who gained fame from covers and influence of women of the blues who have yet to be inducted 30 years later.”

(“An Open Letter to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Women Merit Conversation,” Desarae Gabrielle and Lily Grae, Inspirer Magazine 4/19/17…link entire piece here.)

In case you don’t read the whole thing (which I recommend–it makes some salient points on its main topic), one element is unsurprising:

Only Elvis is singled out as someone who “gained fame” covering and being influenced by “women of the blues”–or any other kind of woman. (The three girl group covers that provide major highlights on the Beatles’ first LP are among numerous other instances which might have been adduced….but weren’t.)

Yes, Elvis listened to women–including Big Mama Thornton and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who I presume are the “women of the blues” referenced here.

Since the authors know enough to stay quiet about the Beatles, and so many others, even though making a little noise would buttress their points, I assume they know at least this much about Elvis.

Then again, if they know all that, they should also know that Elvis listened to everybody, including a lot of women who had little to do with the blues.

They might even know that he named Toni Arden’s “Padre?” as his favorite record when he was going off to the Army.

In other words, Elvis didn’t exactly make his admiration for female artists a secret, as this clever wording suggests. (Nor did he dump on his female fans, in public or private…for that, I once again recommend studying the Beatles, among many others.)

I’ve been lobbying as hard as I know how for the inclusion of deserving female artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since the early nineties (by which time it had become obvious it was going to be a problem). Anyone who wants to read (or, better yet, engage) my longstanding arguments, is recommended to the categories “Shangri-Las Forever” and “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” at the right.

But the question for today is whether you can advance this, or any righteous argument, by saying Stupid Stuff About Elvis?

Can you get any of the women mentioned in the linked piece’s accompany video one step closer?

Can you make the case for them–or the many others (including some even more deserving) the video does not mention?

Can you?

Having been at this for a quarter century, I make you this promise:

You can’t.

Saying Stupid Stuff About Elvis never makes you part of the solution. It just makes you part of the problem.

See, the reason Elvis was Elvis wasn’t because he belonged to a demographic (white, male, hillbilly, truck driver). It was because he was the only one who really got both this…

and this…

..and made “getting it” sound like breathing.

FAVORITE FILMS….FOR EACH YEAR OF MY LIFE…BY DECADE…CUE THE SIXTIES

At least according to Terry Teachout, this idea has been going around. Terry’s own list is here (it’s a pretty good one). The idea is to take each year of your life and list your favorite film from that year.

For me, “favorite” is a simple concept. It’s whatever resides at the matrix of what I like the best and what has meant the most. I tend to emphasize this quality over what I think is “great” anyway (though, unsurprisingly, there is considerable overlap…we tend to elevate what we like, though I also like to believe that what we like can elevate us).

I want to drill down a bit, though (including links to those films I’ve written about at length and mentioning the close competition, when it exists), so I’m going to post these by decade…starting conveniently enough with the decade I was born in and am most fascinated by…

1960 The Apartment (Billy Wilder) (over Swiss Family Robinson and Psycho)

1961 The Guns of Navarone (J. Lee Thompson…and, for once, truth in advertising)

1962 The Miracle Worker (Arthur Penn) (over The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Ride the High Country, Cape Fear, The Manchurian Candidate…I could go on. Easily the strongest film year of my lifetime.)

1963 Charade (Stanley Donen)  (over The Great Escape and Hud)

1964 The T.A.M.I. Show (Steve Binder) (Actually a strong year, but….no competition)

1965 A High Wind in Jamaica (Alexander Mackendrick) (over That Darn Cat and The Truth About Spring)

1966 Gambit  (Ronald Neame) (over A Man For All Seasons and El Dorado)

1967 The Graduate (Mike Nichols) (over Wait Until Dark, Hombre, Don’t Look Back and the Soviet version of War and Peace)

1968 Monterrey Pop (D.A. Pennebaker) (over Where Eagles Dare…Interesting decision if I took one of those liberties I’m prone to take and considered Elvis’ Comeback Special a film. Glad I don’t have to make it.)

1969 Medium Cool (Haskell Wexler) (over Support Your Local Sheriff...it was a very strange year.)

Overall, a strong decade. As will be the 70s. After that….dicey.

 

 

 

 

 

MIDNIGHT GIRL (Lola Albright, R.I.P.)

I recently revisited the three seasons of Peter Gunn, trying to figure out why it will never die.

I’m trying to work some of my broader responses into a larger piece, but in case it never comes to pass, I’ll just note here that the show’s success rested entirely upon mood, music and casting.

Plot was, well, kinda secondary.

And that was fine, because Blake Edwards was in charge of the mood, Henry Mancini was in charge of the music….and the three leads were perfectly cast.

Lola Albright (her real name…I always thought she should have changed it to Edie Hart, so she could be Lola Albright in the series) was the girl you had to believe Craig Stevens’s private eye would always come back to. There were about a thousand P.I. shows on TV in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Few of them even tried to have anybody test the hero’s character to that ridiculous extreme. None succeeded anywhere near as well as Lola playing Edie. On top of all the obvious attractions, she was a better-than-good Julie London style saloon singer–in the show and in “real” life, if anything happening in and around Hollywood can ever be described as real.

She had a lengthy career before and after, with a typical list of period credits, including an Elvis movie….

…but her place in the firmament was settled between September 22, 1958 and September 18, 1961, as the definitive midnight girl in the original midnight town.

And buddy, they don’t make dreams like that no more…

LEARNING ABOUT THE AIR (Race in America: 1977)

(This is a new category which I’ve been thinking about adding for a while. Most of them will also be additions to my informal, uncategorized series which I like to call “Scenes From an Actual Boyhood” a play on Richard Linklater’s film Boyhood, in which he fantasized about boyhood and left out anything and everything pertaining to boys that didn’t fit the dream life of middle-age soccer moms.)

Back in the Spring of ’77, a time in American history which seems to have left no trace on the future, I was in my junior year of high school in the Florida Panhandle, that part of Florida which is sometimes jokingly, sometimes wistfully, referred to as L.A.: Lower Alabama.

One Monday morning I showed up at school, stepped out of my ride’s car in the parking lot, and felt something different….something I hadn’t felt since the spring of ’74 when I was in the eighth grade in another part of the state known, then and now, as the Space Coast.

I had been in Lower Alabama for three years by then, but the culture shock hadn’t worn off. (Comes to that, I’m not sure it’s worn off yet–must be some reason I prefer living like a hermit.) That feeling in the air when I got out of the car that Monday morning was the closest I had ever felt to a real connection between the two places.

So I knew right away it had something to do with the one thing every Southern place shares with every human space occupied by what are now called “multi” cultures: Race Tension.

The Tension soon had physical manifestations: The sound of a body being thrown against a classroom wall. Black kids with picks and blades trying to decide whether they wanted to descend from the school’s back door to a parking lot (yes, the same one my ride parked in) full of rednecks standing next to pickups with hunting rifles hung in the back windows (the black kids thought better of it–first Rumble averted). Reports of a fight. An actual fight. Then another actual fight.

That was the first couple of days.

After that: A teacher promising to give everybody ten points on next week’s test if the violence planned for Friday recess (planned by who, nobody knew….the plan had its own life, like the new Air) failed to materialize. White boys muttering darkly about the privileges granted blacks. Black kids muttering darkly about the privileges granted whites. Me telling my ride how not entirely unhappy I was to no longer be riding the bus where, in my freshman and sophomore years, I had usually been the only white kid (an experience worthy of its own post some day, now that I’ve opened this can of whup-ass memories).

And, of course, discussions all around about “here it all came from.

A general consensus formed, among white folks at least, that a black kid from New York had moved to the area. Though he didn’t go to our school, he shared Vo-Tech classes with some who did. Word was he had a habit of calling the local kids Uncle Toms for not standing up to the Man, meaning White People, meaning….us. Word was some of them had decided to show him–and us–what they were made of.

It seemed outside agitators had come to Lower Alabama.

Once that idea took hold, no amount of Confederate cannon-fire could have dislodged it.

The additional word was this had all come to some sort of head–at a party? a club? an impromptu meeting of a newly formed local chapter of the Black Panthers?–the weekend before the Monday I showed up  at school and, from the nearly empty parking lot, with no evidence available to the eye or ear that suggested it was anything but another school week, I thought, unbidden: This feels like eighth grade.

Through all that I’ve described above and more, that feeling persisted and grew for two full weeks. Every day a little stronger.

There were moments when it not only seemed possible that some terrible thing might happen but that–no matter how many times we white kids reassured ourselves that it would be absurd, ridiculous, suicidal, for black kids to “riot”–there was simply no way it wouldn’t happen.

It was coming. There was no way to avoid it.

Because it was in the Air.

And what did I, no great respecter of the Air, do through all this?

I did what I always did.

i practiced the careful art of doing nothing.

Except for the day when the art of doing nothing sort of accidentally became the art of doing something.

My usual nothing consisted of sitting around during break times–recess, lunch, school assemblies I had a habit of spending in the library—with my nose in a book.

None of that changed during the two weeks of the Race Tension.

Come recess, lunch, assembly, you could still find me, alone in a room, or off in a corner somewhere, reading.

And the time you could be most alone, I found, was recess.

I actually did get out and about a bit at lunch. Even I had to eat.

And not even I could get out of every assembly.

But literally nobody else stayed in his seat reading a book during recess.

Which is why I found it a little odd, on Wednesday of the second week of the Tension–to find myself in Social Studies (my next class), during recess….and not alone.

I was sitting in my usual seat. Second row if memory serves (and dammit, memory, you better serve–this is a memory piece!). And there were several kids sitting behind me.

The room had risers, so they were not only behind me but above me. All black kids–four? five?–whispering among themselves. Whispering, I assumed, because they did not want to be heard by the only other occupant of the room. Namely me. The only white boy.

As time passed, their voices got a little louder. This was a phenomenon I was already a bit familiar with, one which time has consistently reaffirmed: If you are in a room with a group of people from which you are for some reason excluded, they will begin by worrying about whether you can overhear them. If you are quiet long enough, they will become worried that you don’t hear them.

So their voices got louder. And, eventually, I heard them.

They were talking about the Rumble. The new Rumble that was going to be, if nothing else, more effective than the Rumble that had broken on the wave of all those rednecks standing next to all those shotguns. It was going to be more effective because it wasn’t going to be a Rumble. At least not according to any definition I had ever heard.

This was all going to be planned, rather like D-Day. Nothing would be left to chance this time!

Come Friday recess, every black kid was going to find a white kid–their special white kid, by prearrangement with all the other black kids, so there would be no duplication of effort–and “get even.”

This was the memo.

By the Wednesday before the Friday of the new, improved Rumble, everybody had gotten it. Some of the white kids were complaining because all they were allowed to pack was a pocket knife, which wasn’t much good against a steel pick. At least a couple of white kids were rumored to have started carrying their own steel picks (though I confess I never saw one).

And what the black kids who were sitting up behind me at recess on Wednesday in my Social Studies classroom were talking about–I see you Michael. I see you Daryl, Jeffrey, Ricky….Walter, is that you?–was the memo.

Who was going after who.

More time passed and I heard some names: “I got ____!” “You got____?” “Who got ____?”

I also heard their growing indifference to my presence becoming mingled with their increasing need to engage me–their awareness of my awareness of their awareness.

So, finally, one of them–Jeffrey, is that you?–speaking low enough to pretend he didn’t want me to hear and loud enough I couldn’t miss it.

“Who got Ross?”

At which point there was a small silence.

Apparently nobody had Ross.

Which I took for a good excuse to put my finger in my book, bend the page over the finger, and turn around.

I made sure to smile the smile with which Michael and Walter, at least, were intimately familiar and to shake my head.

Then I rolled my eyes.

Then I held up my book.

“If ya’ll get it figured out,” I said. “You know where I’ll be.”

At which point we all started laughing.

Did it matter? Did it matter that it was me? That it was them? That I reacted the way I did? That they reacted the way they did? That I was there, where I always was? That they were there, where they never were?

Who knows.

Maybe the Rumble–the Big One, the Efficient One, the One that Couldn’t Possibly Fail to Come Off This Time!–would have failed to come off anyway.

Maybe one of the hundred other things that can prevent such a thing would have happened and the whole thing would still have died on the vine.

Maybe one–or ninety-nine–of those things did happen and I never heard about it.

So far as I know, none of the others who were in that room with me, ever ventured any ideas about why it never came off. They certainly didn’t say anything to me. After the other kids started filing in, on the Wednesday-Before-the-Friday after recess, it was like it never happened.

What I did notice was that, for me–and I suspect for them–the air broke in that moment we all started laughing.

It broke because, in a single instant and all together, we realized how stupid it all was–and, far more important in our teenage world, how stupid it would all look….if it even tried to come off.

Suddenly, we all saw there was only one way for it not to come off stupid, not to come off looking the one thing no teenage boy ever wants to come off looking–and that was for it to never come off at all.

Coincidentally or not, it didn’t come off.

Of course, when I got out of that class an hour later and walked the halls again, amongst all those people who hadn’t been in that room, I realized that the Air hadn’t broken for anyone else. For everyone else the Tension was still real and palpable. For them, the Rumble was still inevitable and queasy-making. It was still all of that even on Friday afternoon, after first recess, then lunch, had passed into history, and the Rumble hadn’t come off.

Even then, the Air was still the Air.

It still promised we had come to a place–a place perhaps even teenagers in Lower Alabama in a time as lost as the late seventies must come to now and again to feel alive–where anything was possible.

And me and the kids who didn’t know the answer to “Who got Ross?” and everybody else, spent the weekend wondering what the following week would bring.

The confidence in the power of absurdity to finally embarrass everyone into inaction–the power I had felt so strongly in my Social Studies room at recess on the Wednesday-Before-the-Friday–waxed and waned.

Sometimes I laughed. Sometimes I shook my head. Sometimes I felt a little queasy.

What next?

Monday morning my ride took me to school like always.

Monday morning, on the drive in, me and my ride made some lame jokes to each other about what the new week would bring.

Monday morning, we drove into the parking lot and nothing felt any different there inside the car, where it was just us, with the Air left over from the weekend and the Friday before.

Monday morning, we rolled to a stop and then opened our car doors like usual.

Monday morning, we stood up in the actual air…and knew instantly that the Air was normal again, and that there was no more explanation for the return of Normalcy than there had been for its abandonment exactly two weeks earlier.

That was when I to respect the Air.

Since then, I’ve learned to pay attention to it as well.

It’s how I once knew something as historically insignificant as that it was okay to stay in our seats the last time FSU and the local HBC, Florida A&M, played basketball, even though a hellacious fight (which ultimately resulted in the suspension of the game) was breaking out on the court.

It’s also how I knew, as far ago as the summer before last, something as historically significant as that Donald Trump–a man I had never previously spent ten seconds thinking about–had a real chance to become President of the United States (and why I felt confident predicting his win on this blog).

It’s useful, respecting the Air.

Among many other things, it keeps you from being too surprised.

And, as I’ve mentioned here a time or two, it’s also defined my respect for artists, especially popular artists.

The best of them know the Air far better than you or I do.

They also know it way-y-y-y-y better than the highbrows do.

The Air belongs to the pulps, the singers, the comedians.

That’s why Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were able to dream Rock and Roll America into being while the intelligentsia slept. It’s why Philip K. Dick’s “science fiction” novels have the jittery feel of the modern Security State down to a tee, while Norman Mailer’s “political” novels feel like ad copy and the famous dystopian models of Orwell and Huxley read like tracts. It’s why Ross Macdonald’s detective stories carry the weight of impending middle class doom and John Updike’s are strings of adjectives. It’s why Mary Weiss’s voice, from 1954, carries everything true that would come to pass in the cross-cultural maelstrom known as “punk” and why Johnny Rotten–who didn’t have the Air–always sounded like a fake to anyone who did. It’s why the primal scream of the inner city crack epidemic can be heard and felt, years earlier, in the voices of Al Green and Marvin Gaye, or the comedy of Richard Pryor, but not in the most beautiful or painful or lucid essays of James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison. It’s why the muffled moan of the “White Death” meth epidemic that has since descended upon Appalachia can be heard in Patty Loveless’s voice a quarter century ago.

The Artists–the real artists–know. They’re the canaries in every modern coal mine. They’ll tell you about the Air if you let them.

And they’ll keep on telling you.

Whether the big Rumble building just now comes to pass or not.

 

TO THE DWINDLING PRECIOUS FEW, AKA “THE SURVIVORS OF THAT ENTITY TO BE NAMED HEREIN” (Late Night Dedication #5)

NOTE: I’ve spent the last year working on a detective novel which (unlike my previous fiction projects) actually fits the commercial norms of the modern publishing industry, such as it is. I’m pushing myself to finish it by the end of March which is the principal reason posts have been short and sweet of late. There’s only so much “writing time” in a day. That said, these dedications are fun for me and I hope they are for you as well. I’ll be back to longer pieces and deeper thoughts (hah!) in the near future, but, for now, the hits just keep on comin’. 

My erstwhile fellow blogger, Neal Umphred, also one of the world’s great authorities on record collecting, has a couple of very interesting Elvis-related posts up (Links below**). We’ve had some back and forth in his comments section which led down the circuitous trail that, via a reference to his experience wearing a Kinks’ button in the late sixties, inspired tonight’s dedication….which is not a record by Elvis or the Kinks.

Of course it’s not. That wouldn’t be circuitous at all!

Neal’s experience (in the late sixties) wearing a Kinks’ button as a kind of secret language understood by few reminded me of my experience with another band and another kind of secret language in junior college a decade or so later (circa the spring of 1980).

I was, by then, the editor of my ju-co newspaper on my way to a career in journalism. That was before my journalism professor, a Florida State grad, inadvertently talked me into becoming an English major (FSU does not have a journalism school) by convincing me I should attend her alma mater. This was happening at the same time my yearbook professor, a University of Florida grad (the only reason I wasn’t editor of the yearbook was because I had already accepted the position as editor of the newspaper), talked me out of going to UF, where I had previously been headed, by suggesting I’d be happier as an English major.

Got it?

Good.

Anyway, with all that roiling around me–I’d been spotted as a talent! Pressure, pressure!–one of the ways I insulated myself from the madness was by walking up to the chalkboard in the journalism room every week or two, taking a furtive look around to make sure no one else was present and writing the following:

Sebastian, Yanovsky, Butler, Boone.

There was a reason I thought somebody–somebody!–might get this.

John Sebastian had been a ubiquitous presence in our high school lives, via his #1 hit with the theme song to Welcome Back Kotter, which also played every week when that show aired. (It was, God help us, very popular with high school audiences of my day. Not everything that was wrong with us could be blamed on the hippies!)

I thought somebody–somebody!–might see the name Sebastian, and think “I wonder if that means the guy who sang ‘Welcome Back Kotter?'” And that after that somebody might have some vague memory that John Sebastian had been the lead singer of a certain rock and roll band from the long lost sixties of our elementary school years.

I waited a whole semester for this to happen. I waited through all the speculation about who might be writing this mysterious message on the journalism school’s chalkboard every week or two. I waited through the occasional dark murmurings that it might be somehow linked to the school’s occasional bomb threats (ubiquitous even on rural southern college campuses back then, lest we forget), which forced evacuations in one building or other (usually around test time) throughout my two years there (though never of the journalism school…which only made some people more suspicious that it might be one of us, utilizing the classic diversionary tactics of guerrilla movements everywhere!)

I waited through the occasional fellow saying that he didn’t know why, but those words continually appearing on, and disappearing from, the board, were driving him crazy!

I waited, hoping somebody–anybody!–would get it.

If it was a guy, I was going to shake his hand and buy him a Nehi Grape sody pop and a Heath ice cream bar (my college drugs of choice).

If it was a girl, I was going to marry her.

I had my priorities straight!

Only….

Nobody got it.

Ever.

I finally had to fess up it was me.

But I never did tell anybody what it meant.

Let the Philistines figure that out for themselves.

I was off to Florida State. To major in English and stay broke the rest of my life!

I’ve stuck to my guns. I got my English degree. I’ve stayed broke.

Many years later, permanently literate, permanently broke, wandering about in the new millenia, I chanced upon Little Steven’s Underground Garage one late night (probably coming home from watching an FSU football game at my friend MG’s house). Little Steven was expounding on the virtues of some sixties’ moment or other (The Big TNT Show?…the memory hazes), and, at the end of a long monologue on how there had been one shining moment when we were truly together he set up the next song by saying:

“before the Empire divided us.”

And he played this, which I now dedicate to whoever’s left in the Empire’s wake, still trying to muddle along, just outside of its Leviathan reach.

Courtesy of Sebastian, Yanovsky, Butler and Boone:

**Link to Neal’s very worthwhile pieces here and here!

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.

SIGNS OF THE….END TIMES? (Segue of the Day: 1/2/17)

A friend of mine sent me a link to this Rolling Stone story, which is worth reading in its entirety. Let us hope Matt Taibbi is not soon resting with Michael Hastings. 

This is a pretty brave piece, but one not-very-brave line stood out:

“The idea that it’s OK to publish an allegation when you yourself are not confident in what your source is saying is a major departure from what was previously thought to be the norm in a paper like the Post.”

My immediate response was “Who thought this? I want their names!”

It could be I’ve just been conditioned by thirty-five years of what my friends like to call paranoia and what I, watching them recede ever further into their cocoons, like to call reality.

You know, as in: It’s not paranoia just because the rest of ya’ll are too damn stupid to know they’re out to get you too.

Or it could be I was just extra-sensitive because I had been listening to a little Creedence over the New Year’s break….because that’s always good for some perspective on a bright, sunny new year. And what I thought when I played this one particular video (part of a small DVD package that comes with the Creedence Singles‘ collection), was that  I had not only missed the significance of John Fogerty’s ability to measure up to Marvin Gaye’s finest paranoid hour, but the significance of his band being able to measure up to the Funk Brothers’ finest hour of any sort period.

Which then further made me consider, to a degree I hadn’t before, that I never really missed what the Beatles left undone because I never thought they left anything undone. But if I could turn back time and change a few things, having Creedence stay together, and somehow always be as they were here, would be high on my must-do list.

It also made me consider that, if Van Morrison really was the most important white blues singer between Elvis and Ronnie Van Zant, then it was really saying something, because the competition was even fiercer than I thought.

 

THE LIGHTS GO DOWN (Carrie Fisher, George Michael, Richard Adams, R.I.P.)

The best line anyone will write about Carrie Fisher is in Sheila O’Malley’s lovely tribute at Roger Ebert’s site: “It’s rare to have your father leave your mother for Elizabeth Taylor.”

Fame’s a beast, an especially hungry one if you didn’t ask for it. Star Wars, which must have seemed like a job of work when she signed on, probably derailed any chance she had at fulfilling herself as herself and the performances she gave in Shampoo, When Harry Met Sally, Hannah and Her Sisters, hint at who that might have been, as surely as the biting wit in Postcards From the Edge provides the best glimpse into who she became instead–who she probably had to become to survive.

Her death in proximity to George Michael’s is one of those instructive coincidences. Two fine people  made–and then unmade–by late boomer excess. The kind that kills you at 50, 60, instead of 27.

On the rise, though, they each left a mark beyond mere fame: Fisher was one of the earliest to speak and write openly about addiction, star-childness, bipolarity. According to reports that have circulated here and there over the years, she also kept Alec Guinness engaged on the sets of the only Star Wars movies that will matter in the end (and will matter, in part, because Guinness, under her influence, didn’t totally phone them in). In light of her becoming a legendary script doctor and best selling novelist, rumors will always persist that one reason those early movies are the only ones that have life–that matter as anything more than a cash register–is because she was there to deliver the best lines, uncredited, especially to her own character. Given the quality of dialogue George Lucas has tended to write when left on his own, those rumors will never die.

Michael was one of the few white artists to cross over to the R&B charts in the rock and roll era proper–to take full advantage of the space Elvis had opened up in the fifties. He beat “Blurred Lines” to the punch by thirty years and he did it with better records, many of which he wrote and produced himself. And, for better or worse, there’s no boy in “boy band” without him to provide the template.

All Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, did was whip up an entire universe–and a beautiful, enchanting novel–out of stories he invented to amuse his young daughters. Years later he revealed that the stories had been shaped by his experience–and those of his unit–in Operation Market Garden, the WWII expedition that culminated in the Allied failure at the bridge at Arnhem, which inspired the poet-journalist Cornelius Ryan to give the phrase “A Bridge Too Far” to the English language.

The epic adventure of the rabbits, the Star Wars universe, the rise of the boy band.

Turns out they all had one thing in common and it was the single element you would bet against being the key to such artificial worlds: Travel to whatever faraway land you can find or imagine and it’s the people who matter after all.

Just like Paul Simon said in the song he wrote about the one who was his wife for a while:

YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE (At the Multiplex: December, 2016)

New category…where I write about new movies I actually see in the theater.

Hell or High Water
(D. David Mackenzie, 2016)

and…

Manchester By the Sea
(D. Kenneth Lonergan, 2016)

Jeff Bridges and Michelle Williams are pretty much the only two working actors I’ll pay full price to see act in a theater anymore. (I’ll pay to see Jennifer Aniston, but that’s mostly to see what she’s doing with her persona, of which eing even a very good actress is not the most essential part). Especially since Williams tends to make the kind of movies that rarely play around here, I don’t expect to get many chances to see them both in the same month. Some day they should do a movie together. Maybe he could play her dad. I’d pay to see that.

Bridges saves Hell or High Water even though he’s coasting. He hasn’t reached the state of post-Lonesome Dove Robert Duval yet, where he just plays the same guy over and over and looks sleepier and cootier every time out, but there’s a lot of his Rooster Cogburn (True Grit) in his Texas Ranger, Marcus Hamilton, here. And, though I’ve only seen clips of it, I suspect a lot of his Bad Blake (Crazy Heart) as well. In theory, the movie should have a lot of other things going for it. The plot is a nice twist on the Robin Hood theme, the writing and directing are efficient, if hardly inspired, and the rest of the cast is good enough to get by, with Gil Birmingham a standout as Bridges’s Half-Indian/Half-Mexican partner.

There’s fun to be had. It didn’t bore me, a quality which, at today’s prices, I don’t take for granted.

It didn’t grab me either, hard as it kept trying. The best chance it had at pulling me in was with a soundtrack that tried a little too hard to match the desolation of its West Texas setting. The comparisons to The Last Picture Show, noted by a number of critics as a nice metaphor for our current bleak state of the national heart, are not entirely off base.

The problem is, it stays metaphorical. The connection never hurts and that’s where I know the right soundtrack could have helped because the one selection that strikes all the way home–the one that plays out with Texas losers Chris Pine and Ben Foster (the Howard brothers…nice joke for the Jesse James crowd) running down the dusty roads listening to a radio that, for once, plays something that sounds like it came from that dust–is so perfect it throws the rest of the movie off stride.

I don’t usually concede that anything Elvis did so well was done better elsewhere and I don’t concede it here. But it does fit the setting better. There’s a quality in Waylon’s voice–and Waylon’s alone–that nails the wasteland spirit of the new Texas dirt the way Al Green’s voice once nailed Black America’s Crack Epidemic, and Patty Loveless’s voice nailed Hillbilly America’s Meth-driven White Death, years before they actually happened.

Anybody who knew enough to put one Waylon song in this should have known enough to give him the whole show.

If they couldn’t do that, they should have hired Michelle Williams and given her one big scene. That’s just about what she gets in Manchester By the Sea, Kenneth Lonergan’s drearily well-made chamber piece set on the other side of the country in contemporary New England.

It’s not the first time she’s blown the nihilism clean out of a movie. She did it in a better movie called Me Without You as far back as 2001, and, more recently, in 2008’s Incendiary, which was not as good.

She does it again here and could have probably done it for Hell and High Water if somebody had just asked.

I imagine she has done it in a few other movies I haven’t seen–much as I admire her for taking this task on, and much as I believe it’s necessary for somebody to take it on, I really have to be in the mood for this stuff. When she picks up her Oscar next spring it will be for blowing nihilism out of whatever movie she’s been in for fifteen years running and because it’s her turn. God bless her for that. The best thing about that, if it happens, is that it will just be possible the thing is being done in time to save her sanity. I can’t believe she can take much more of this.

She’s so good in that one big scene that she actually allows Casey Affleck’s previously bewildered performance to finally come together–to merge the ruined man he’s become in the movie’s present with the vibrant man we’ve seen in the movie’s flashbacks.

And when he wins his Oscar this spring (assuming his alleged tendency to abuse women doesn’t catch up with him first) he should really thank Michelle Williams.

Because, without changing a single thing more, his performance stays together the rest of the way. By the end, I almost liked a couple of the people I was supposed to like. I even almost liked him. The only thing lacking by then was nerve.

What it needed, as the last scene played and gave way, yet again, to the dreary score, was one perfect kick in the modern gut. One song that nailed everything in place and turned the whole thing from a chamber piece into something worthy of Michelle Williams showing up, yet again, to save the day.

What it needed was something to reestablish the filmmaker’s true fake vision, to show that he didn’t really believe everything would be alright in the godforsaken land he had just gone to such mighty lengths to portray in so much excruciating detail.

Of course, the song that would have nailed it all in place came straight into my head. They really should call me in to help out with this stuff.

Since they don’t, sometimes I just have to turn the sound off in the movie theater behind my bloodshot eyes and let the right song play in there and walk out with a grim smile on my face.

I was never more right than I was this time. By the time I hit the parking lot, I had convinced myself I had almost been in the presence of greatness.

 

TIS THE SEASON (Segue of the Day: 12/16/16)

Recent Christmas seasons, my “shopping” consists of a trip to the local antique mall, where I can usually find what I need for the one or two people I still exchange actual gifts with. This little spree is usually accompanied by sitting down for lunch somewhere, a few errands, riding around in the car, the kind of activities that expose you to Christmas music.

I’m not saying I never hear anything good, but even if I do, it’s an awful lot of the same old same old. Which made coming into contact with the Christmas Elvis–the later incarnation, not the “Blue Christmas” one–was a jolt to the system as I browsed the book stall, looking for what I was going to get myself (the rest was already bought).

It was even more of a jolt to realize that the whole album was playing. I picked it up near the end, so I heard these three in a row, the last as I was checking out (when your pockets are short, it takes even less time to shop for yourself than for the few remaining others).

And I wondered, yet again, who could range so broadly across so much American space with so much off-handed ease–on three songs for a kinda-sorta throwaway Christmas album no less?

You know the answer to that.

Nobody. That’s who.

Wake up Putt….