March 20, 2004

Dada in Canada. What do they give high artistic awards for in Canada these days? Well, according to the NYT, Istvan Kantor got $12,000 for doing things like this:
a video showing two performers slashing the throats of two cats and wearing their bleeding bodies as hats (to express his rage at pet lovers who are hardened to their fellow man) and staging the burning of a car filled with white rats.

Good thing he's concerned about humanity. As one prof puts it, he "files a grievance for underdogs, people who are homeless and displaced." Let's kill dogs for the underdogs!
Born in Hungary in 1949, Mr. Kantor is recognized as the founder of Neoism, an international anarchist art movement that some critics liken to an updating of the Dadaism of Marcel Duchamp, who once declared that anything you called art was art.

"What are the limits?" Mr. Kantor asks matter-of-factly. "There are probably no limits. Art is very dangerous."

It should be seen as inherently impossible to "update" Duchamp, whose original insights already implied all the permutations of dadaism and made actually doing them unnecessary. He withdrew from producing more of his own work, because he perceived that, so people who are claiming to build on his work are frauds. Worse, they are boring. They resort to doing shocking things to cover up this boringness. The crimes they commit to attempt to be interesting as artists may be interesting crimes, but we need to realize that our fascination with crime and violence is independent of art. Those who claim credit for themselves as artists because they are producing shock and outrage are engaging in a very old scam.

Kantor has a new video:
[H]e says it exposes "the post-Orwellian technological society in which everyone is under surveillance and everyone is using transmission systems like computers to send information out to everybody."

Well, I'm about to transmit this message out to everybody: that insight of his is too trite to be expressed in casual conversation, let alone to be the subject of a long, pretentious video.

He's some typical artist-blather:
"You have to be an anti-Neoist to be a Neoist," he said in his typically satirical, dialectical sort of way. "It was very important for Neoism to get rid of all the artistic language of space and time and introduce a different language that was more using state and military and religious expressive terms that had been alien to art before, to subvert, to provoke, to ridicule, to make fun of that very used and abused language of art."

Pressed to explain, he added, "There's not just a bit of destructiveness in this. There's a lot."

All right, enough of that. That reminds me of that horrible and idiotic comment someone made after 9/11, calling the attack a great work of art.

Ah, wait, this is familiar: "He started his artistic career in Budapest in the late 1960's, founding a band of musicians who played only instruments they had not been trained to play." Isn't that Throbbing Gristle? No, I guess a lot of people came up with that idea.

Hmm... Googling "Throbbing Gristle" got me to a reference to a Village Voice article from 1988 called "The Triumph of Neoism: The Last of the Old-Fashioned Avant Garde Makes Its Stand"! Yet still it survives and is rewarded in Canada!
Madison, Saturday morning. With my restored iBook, I'm at Espresso Royale, where the cappucino is extra-hard on the nerves, I'm relieved that some people at the next table--who were annoying me for little reason other than the extra-strong coffee--are finally leaving, and I'm happy to have figured out (again!) how to get my photos up for linking. I do too many things by trial and error on my computer, and then when I get something to work, I have to wonder what I did that time, as opposed to the other ten times. But the truth is, the time I got it to work was the time I used the help menu and read the instructions, and all the trial and error efforts were wasted. So after that miniature ordeal, let me give you a look at Madison. It's a lovely Saturday morning, with temperatures in the 50s (which is great for us) and plenty of sun. Walking to the café, I stopped first to photograph the tree in Library Mall that an artist attached lots of little cloth leaves to:

I'm wondering how that is going to look when the real leaves decide to emerge. Near the tree is the Catholic center, which always has something nicely painted on the line of glass doors in front. Here's the Lenten theme, the crown of thorns:

Next to that is the University Bookstore, which really doesn't concentrate so much on books--which is why I shop for books at Borders. It's specialty, as you can see from this window, is Badger-related products. If your monitor is clear enough, you can tell that the reflection is the UW Memorial Library on the other side of the Mall:

On State Street, there are kiosks covered with flyers. These provide endless material for signage photography devotées.

And here's Expresso Royale, where I am right now, slightly pleased with myself for figuring out how to do it, over-caffeinated, and wondering how much time I just spent on this little display. The red bird in the corner of this picture is a cardinal, and Madisonians will recognize it as part of a "best of" certificate from the student paper The Cardinal. Red is a very big color around here.

March 19, 2004

The Rainbow Bookstore. A rich source of crude imagery, just off State Street in Madison.

So I did get out to State Street. Why so crowded during Spring Break? Everyone's wearing red and white ... must be something about basketball. Here are some of the local folk near a secondhand store called Gozira that has nice homemade signage. (I've been photographing signage since 1980, so don't think I stole the idea from this terrific site or anywhere else ... Actually, it's an obvious subject, because it stands still, doesn't object, and provides opportunities for word play along with the visuals.)

UPDATE: Here's how the basketball event looked last night.
Lunch plans, diet tips. I'm heading out to lunch. People are saying it's getting a bit springlike, so I think I'll walk up State Street. I want to test out my new camera and have some Madison images for the blog. I'd like to get some lunch, unlike yesterday, when I became so absorbed by my camera that I did not want to take time out to eat and did not eat all day until 7:30 pm. This could be the basis of a new diet: the complete distraction diet. All you need is to be really interested in something. Food is interesting, but it's not that interesting. Just become sufficiently fascinated by something: weight problem solved. (By the way, are the audiences at The Passion of the Christ eating popcorn and drinking soda?)

But I must go out now and get some lunch, take some pictures, and then pick up my iBook at the Do-It Center. Mac lovers will be heartened to learn that the new iBook, which gave me so damn much trouble, was plagued by a bad memory chip--extra memory, not manufactured by Apple.
Courtney Love, Madonna, CivPro, judges. I rewatched the Courtney Love on Letterman performance and am more convinced than before that she was acting. For one thing, she seemed to be performing. In fact, she seemed to be following the script of the famous Madonna Letterman appearance, which was also, obviously, an act, even though people enjoyed believing Madonna was out of control (a really ridiculous idea). Another reason I'm sure Love was acting is that she's promoting a new album and needs the press: she went out afterwards and engaged in various hijinks. She even got arrested, though it doesn't seem that she did anything to deserve it. I don't know how she gets the police to participate in her stunts, but they did. I liked this info about an earlier run in with the law:
[A]fter her 1995 arrest on charges that she punched several fans at an Orlando concert, the judge dismissed the case, ruling that they had been exposed to no more violence than might be reasonably expected at a rock 'n' roll show.
Hmmm ... I have an old civpro exam about rock show violence. Premised on a tort claim, though, not criminal law. Based on the whole stage diving phenomenon and the extent of negligence by the band and the club and some people at the club. How was that civil procedure? You make everyone from different places with different claims against different parties, and there are jurisdiction and joinder issues galore.

Oh, you know, when I saw Love years ago, she dove into the audience and then, afterwards, accused a guy of sexually assaulting her (touching her in the wrong place when she was crowd surfing and therefore had to be touched a lot). She had the guy dragged up on stage, where she proceeded to yell at him. Let's hope that was all staged too.

Love seems to do well with judges. She had a good line about them on Letterman: "Judges are like rock stars." (I'll have to get the whole quote later. It has something to do with being able to do whatever you want and/or running your own show.) I think the fact that she does well with them is one more indication that her public persona is an act. She doesn't act like that in court.

UPDATE: Here's the judge quote: "The thing about judges that's cool is they're a lot like rock stars. They just get their own damn way." She quotes her judge as saying "I will not have a witch hunt in my state," which she then ties to the Martha Stewart case. She appeals to the audience to side with Martha: "Is that fair? Raise your hand if you think that's fair." A second later she's leaping up, yelling "You are sexist!"
The last abstract expressionist has died. The obit in the NYT has this:
Volatile, acerbic, unfailingly blunt, widely read and singularly dedicated to the ideal of the painter's hard, solitary life, [Milton] Resnick was in many ways the popular stereotype of the bohemian angst-ridden artist.
Abstract expressionists were the people who made painting so godawful serious, and I want to give them credit for helping make Pop Art so very much fun. They are also the people who allow you to get more exercise in museums, because you can walk past their huge canvases so quickly. That's easy to do now, but there was a time when you went to the museum and felt you were supposed to have a religious experience with these rectangles. I can still remember how I felt seeing Robert Motherwell's Elegy to the Spanish Republic paintings in the 1960s. There were so many of them and they were so huge and presented with such reverence that I just felt manipulated and resentful of the self-importance and grandiosity and sheer, crashing humorlessness of it all. Here's a Motherwell quote:
Making an Elegy is like building a temple, an altar, a ritual place … Unlike the rest of my work, the Elegies are, for the most part, public statements. The Elegies reflect the internationalist in me, interested in the historical forces of the twentieth century, with strong feelings about the conflicting forces in it … The Elegies use a basic pictorial language, in which I seem to have hit on an 'archetypal' image. Even people who are actively hostile to abstract art are, on occasion, moved by them, but do not know 'why'. I think perhaps it is because the Elegies use an essential component of pictorial language…
See? You better be moved and have a deep experience or you're lumped together with every loser who's "actively hostile" to all abstract art, the laughable idiots who say their child could have painted it. Well, the Abstract Expressionists were humorless, but that made them a great source of humor. My personal favorite (to bring up Woody Allen a second time today), is this exchange in "Play It Again Sam":
WOODY ALLEN: That's quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn't it?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: Yes it is.

WOODY ALLEN: What does it say to you?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: It restates the negativeness of the universe, the hideous lonely emptiness of existence, nothingness, the predicament of man forced to live in a barren, godless eternity, like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void, with nothing but waste, horror, and degradation, forming a useless bleak straightjacket in a black absurd cosmos.

WOODY ALLEN: What are you doing Saturday night?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: Committing suicide.

WOODY ALLEN: What about Friday night?

GIRL IN MUSEUM: [leaves silently]
"I felt thick inside with happiness." Here's an immensely touching article about children whose gay parents obtained marriage licenses. Some kid quotes to make you cry:
"It was so cool ... I always accepted that `Yeah, they're my moms,' but they were actually getting married. I felt thick inside with happiness. Just thick."

"Before it was, `Oh, your parents are just partners,' ... Now, they're spouses. So it's a bigger way of thinking about them."

"It is something I always wanted. I've always been around people saying, `Oh, my parents anniversary is this week.' It's always been the sight of two parents, married, with rings. And knowing I'd probably never experience it ever."

"I don't think they can take it away ... Maybe they can go into the Hall of Marriages and rip up the papers. But emotionally, they can never take away the feeling that my parents are married."
At first, I thought, how can anyone read this and be opposed to gay marriage? How can anyone not want these children to be happy? A bit later, I realized that a hardcore opponent of gay marriage would have to say that the parents themselves had wronged these children by getting them involved in the concept that their parents were married before the legality of gay marriage had been established. They set their children up for a fall, like, say, a parent who told a child that someone he loved was getting out of prison, even though the parole board hadn't made a decision yet. Or worse, one could say that gay marriage proponents were using their own children to further a political agenda, by letting the kids think there could be a marriage and exposing the kids to reporters who would print charming, innocent words that make newspaper readers cry and cave in to that political agenda. But I think non-hardcore types — AKA most Americans — are going to be influenced by the realities of families that already exist and the interests of the children who are already living in them.
Woody Allen in tights. This is sweet--a quote from Diane Keaton in today's NYT:
""We used to hang out, like, when I was going out with him, we had this thing we called 'The Kitchen Follies.'

And we would just sort of pretend, like, we were, you know, SPENCER TRACY and KATHARINE HEPBURN. And then at one time he had this idea that maybe we could be dancers in a movie. And we took dancing lessons.

"We went to MARTHA GRAHAM and took dancing lessons. It was so pathetic. And he wore those tights! And it was, like, neither of us could dance. But he thought he had a great idea for a movie where we could be dancers."
Learning about faster-loading image files. Sorry about the slow-loading files earlier. I am figuring out how to do some things with these digital images. I had a drawing on a back page (in the February archive), that was an insanely huge file, which turned out to be a good thing, because it drove home that I was doing this wrong. There's no point in providing detail that never appears on the screen. Anyway, I'm going to provide some new kinds of illustrations, as I learn how to do some things properly. I realized I could photograph TiVo stills, so I'm going to have some unique content here soon, in appropriately small files, to go with my usual nattering about television.

March 18, 2004

Yellow place. I've written before that my office is quite yellow. Now it can be seen:

UPDATE: Slow-loading picture removed. You can see it if you go here. It's the third picture.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Don't look there. Here it is:

The morning paper. Yesterday, I got a digital camera, my first one. I set it up to charge overnight, and this morning as I was about to read the NYT, I read enough of the instruction booklet to take my first picture.

UPDATE: Slow-loading picture removed, but you can still see it if you go here. It's the second picture.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Tech problems solved. Here's the picture, the first digital picture I ever took:


It means a lot to me. The book is "Strong Opinions."
Life metaphors of the great authors. Here's a Q&A from an old BBC interview with Vladimir Nabokov:
[Q] Tolstoy said, so they say, that life was a "tartine de merde" which one was obliged to eat slowly. Do you agree?

[A] I've never heard that story. The old boy was sometimes rather disgusting, wasn't he? My own life is fresh bread with country butter and Alpine honey.
Courtney Love ... Richard Perle ... Jessica Simpson. It was fun clicking from Letterman to Nightline to Leno and back again last night. Courtney was certainly energized. Simpson was funny, telling the story about meeting the Secretary of the Interior at the White House and saying to her, "You've done a nice job decorating the White House." Perle--I don't know--I just found it amusing that he was the meat in that sandwich.

Courtney Love performed in Madison some years ago (at the Paramount, which no longer exists). She didn't like the sound system and kept complaining about it, in elevating stages, ending with her taking off her top, and also throwing food from a deli tray at the audience. We kept some of the food wrapped up in the freezer for a while, thinking it somewhat historic, but it isn't there any more. Not that I think anyone ate it. In a sandwich.

Anyway, breast-baring is a very old routine for Courtney Love. I'm thinking she feels it's not fair that Janet Jackson got so much attention recently for baring a breast and that she's the one who's entitled to the publicity. Hence the Letterman antics. Personally, I think she knows what she's doing, as opposed to being out of her mind. When she had her on-stage freak out at the Paramount, there was a break in the middle, where supposedly people were trying to get her to come back out on stage, and later she did come back out. But during that break, we stepped outside for some air, and she was out there talking to the management, perfectly rationally, about how to deal with the sound problem. That was maybe a decade ago, so who knows? I still am going to guess that she has chosen a role and is playing a part.

UPDATE: Cka3n doesn't want to believe Courtney Love was just acting, but he perceptively realizes the reason he doesn't want to believe she was is that it's only funny if you think she's out of control. The material wasn't really that good. It wasn't as good as Jessica Simpson's Leno material quoted above, and I think that was scripted, by the way, because it's just too good. Simpson may be dumb, but she's not that dumb, and if she were that dumb, she just wouldn't get lucky enough to say the great lines she's famous for. Simpson has writers. Love is doing her own material, improvising, and she's a terrific actress and she's smart, so it works. She may seem a bit old for the crazy punk girl role, but like (Whatever Happened to) Baby Jane, she can entertainingly play crazy punk girl into extreme old age. And if she survives to extreme old age, that's how you'll know it's all been an act. And of course I hope it is. (Oh, and yeah, I TiVoed it. But here's a recap if you didn't. Recap link courtesy of Gawker.)

ANOTHER UPDATE: Let me explain the Whatever Happened to Baby Jane reference. In that film, Bette Davis plays a character who had been a successful child star, and who, though quite old, continues to trounce about in baby dresses, acting all cute and coy. No longer the little girl, she's become a really interestingly deluded old lady. So Courtney Love can continue in her punk girl role and, as she ages, let it become wild and outrageous in new ways, like Bette Davis's character. And in fact, Love might do well generally to have Bette Davis as a role model. Just play a raving old hag and grow old in style. Nicole and Drew can't do that. Bette didn't have to be the prettiest or the cutest to be the best actress of them all, and neither do you. And, readers, if you haven't seen that film, you really must. And by the way, it's another one of the great things about one of my all time favorite years, 1962.
TiVo lifestyle.The TiVo website also provides officially downloadable "lifestyle images," and here's one of them. Possible first reactions to the picture:
Let the kid go! ("Son, I'm going to teach you how to really watch TV.")

Why does the man always have to have the remote control?

Would those people really have a sofa like that? Hey, that should be my sofa!

You may have photoshopped smaller feet on that big guy to try to keep me from worrying that he's going to kick the TV off that little table but I'm still worried.

Is that Meryl Streep? What if seven of Meryl Streep's favorite shows were all on at the same time?
"Approachable ... Friendly ... Simple ... Fun ... Clean ... Vibrant ... Playful ... " Searching for a copiable TiVo logo, I came across TiVo's own guidelines for using its logo, which include rules about how you need to set the feet into any horizon line in your drawing so that li'l TiVo guy looks well-grounded. There's also this explanation of li'l TiVo guy's personality:
Simple, friendly and memorable ... with a nod toward TV. It's easy & approachable. It does not suggest technology. ... In as much as subscribers relate to TiVo as a life-changing experience, our vibrant color scheme helps express the enthusiasm of our subscriber base and differentiate TiVo at retail and in communications.

Energizing the base, corporate-style.
TiVo made me an A student! TiVo saved my marriage! The NYT finds the world's biggest TiVo enthusiasts. There's one guy ...
He has a TiVo and a ReplayTV hooked up to satellite receivers with each of his two TV's, and a fifth recorder hooked up to a third, TV-less satellite receiver in his garage. Since each TiVo unit can record two satellite channels at once, [he] can record seven of his and his wife's favorite shows if they are on at the same time.

Good luck with that marriage, TiVo man.

March 17, 2004

Searching ... not finding. It's hard not to find it funny when people come to your site after searching for something that has so completely nothing to do with the site. Today, somebody searched for "mickey mouse magnetic pages photo album," and I sure hope she (he?) found it. But really, why would you click here, when the snippet that appeared in your search results was:
... is a good folky album--and were dismayed to see ... John Kerry the "Best Photo Op" honor for his appearance ... motifs like skulls with Mickey Mouse ears, marijuana plants or ...

You want a Mickey Mouse photo album. What are the chances that skulls with Mickey Mouse ears could possibly take you in the right direction? Or did I lead some innocent soul astray? She just wanted a Mickey Mouse photo album and then she got all fascinated by the idea of skulls allied with her darling Mickey. And nothing was the same ever after. Good luck, o websearching Mickey fan!
The party of love, the party of fear. Prof. Yin is surprised by the nice, signed photo he received in the mail from the Bush campaign. They laid it on thick thanking him for his grassroots leadership, even though he is a registered Democrat. I get tons of stuff like this from both parties, presumably because I subscribe to a wide range of magazines. I always find it weird that they assume you're a hardcore supporter, but they must find that the assumption helps make people feel needed and willing to chip in. I even receive membership cards to things I've never joined and letters inquiring why I haven't "renewed" my membership, letters full of wacky self-examination, mulling about what they could have done wrong to turn me away, like some needy old lover. Those last few things are all Republican moves. The Democratic letters are always trying to scare me about things that are about to happen, how I'm about to lose all my rights and so forth. I would have thought the Democrats would be more about love and the Republicans more about fear, but not so, at least when speaking to people they think might have some money to hand over. The Democrats try to scare me about the Republicans, and the Republicans just want to be loved.
Infinitely cooler devices await us. It's been a day of petty nuisances, but I think I've gotten through them okay now. I even managed to order a cable modem for home use and got a really nice deal that included "SVOD," something I'd never heard of before. For some reason, it cost $10 a month less than just getting the cable modem. Apparently, it's some desperate attempt to hook people on something really cool before something infinitely cooler arrives, which is what TiVo is also doing. I remember seeing a Sony Betamax in the 1970s, one of the original type, which was huge and incredibly expensive. It seemed mindbogglingly amazing. So for now, I guess, TiVo is normal and SVOD is amazing. But frankly, there's a limit to how much stuff you actually want to watch. Having more control can make you realize you don't really want to watch much of anything. In the old days, if something was on, you had to decide if you ever wanted to watch it, and watch it now or never. Today, you can leave some recorded show festering on the TiVo, never waste any time watching it, and then just delete it. Being empowered to do more helps you do less. What a timesaver!
A new realm of computer befrazzlement. Sorry for the lack of substantive blogging today, but I've been locked in struggle with my (new) computer. Or something beyond locked, because that was the better position I was in before today, when my computer would just freeze up and need to be shut down and restarted constantly. Today, I entered a new realm of computer befrazzlement where you keep trying to start it up in different ways, with different discs, and it gets 98% of the way through the spinning horizontal barberpole of start up and just keeps spinning right there, forever. I did learn some new things today though. I learned the term "kernel panic," for example. I learned I'm entitled to swap for a new computer if I'm lucky enough to have hardware failure within 30 days, and I am so cozily, safely within that limit.
Googling in Arabic. Someone visited this site after Googling the name Abdullah Thabet, whom I wrote about here and re-quoted here. How strange to see the Google results running down the right side of the screen! Maybe it was Abdullah Thabet himself. Doesn't everyone Google their own name?

UPDATE: The Google results only run down the right side of the page in some browsers.
Reattaching the O. So I went to the University's Do-It Center--the ridiculous name for our computer technology place, the "Department of Information Technology"--to get my "o" key reattached. Of course it was within the warranty and two nice young men fixed the thing right away, but it still took more than 25 minutes in all, and with 25 minutes the limit on the center's parking meters, I ended up with a $20 parking ticket. Twenty dollar parking tickets--during Spring Break! Damn! And to think of all the times I've waited for an open parking space, with the zeroes blinking on the meters and no parking enforcement in sight. I suppose with fewer cars on campus it's easier for the parking enforcement people to find the cars that are overstaying their time.
St. Patrick's Day = Happy Birthday John.

March 16, 2004

WiFi. Speaking of having my iBook on the table, that last post was the first post I've done from a laptop in a café. Ah! But one of the laptop's keys is semi-detached. The "o." Oh!
Art, commerce, politics. Last week at the law school we had a discussion about free speech, privacy, and commerce, prompted by an article that proposed limiting the first amendment free speech clause to political speech (to be protected absolutely), realigning personal expression rights with the right of privacy (to be protected subject to balancing), and withdrawing protection for expression that is not political or personal. Commercial speech is the big loser in the realignment. This has left me thinking about not just the way the personal is political but also the way the personal is commercial. Filmmaking, for example, is a huge commercial enterprise. So is TV. The lone artist at his easel or writer with a typewriter is romantic--I'm picturing Johnny Depp in Secret Window. ...

Long interlude taken at this point in the writing to buy several Depp DVDs on Amazon ... Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Don Juan De Marco, Dead Man, Benny and Joon (with Mary Stuart Masterson at her easel), and Donnie Brasco .... This art/commerce interlude ties to the point I'm going to make.

The lone artist at his easel or writer with a typewriter is romantic but not the source of the kind of artistic expression most of us spend our time taking in. Where is the line between personal expression and commerce? I think Depp is an immensely individualistic artist, making eccentric choices, yet only appearing in works that are the result of elaborate commercial production, and I'm caught up in the stream of commerce buying the films, but also reaching out to an artistic experience.

And it's not just films, other products are personally defining, even if advertisers push us to define ourselves with products. I had my new iBook on the table during the discussion of free speech and couldn't help feeling personally expressed by it. Earlier that day, one colleague had dropped by to show off her iPod and another to show off a new text-messaging cell phone. Buying clothes, buying a car, choosing a soda. These are also personal expressions. Even if these aren't the loftiest aspects of personal expression, they matter, just like how you cut your hair matters. There's even a political dimension. Andy Warhol said it well:

What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
"Paisley Park Is in Your Heart." I usually don't write about music that isn't at least 25 years old. I will never get tired of the 1960s music and consider myself lucky to have been a teenager in those years, so that great music became part of my mind in a way no other music could be. To this day I'd rather listen to The Kinks "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" or The Zombies "She's Not There" than anything recorded after 1980. You just don't get excited about music the same way when you're older.

But there is one exception to the rule, the one music person I really fell in love with after I was 30 years old. He got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last night, so I just wanted to pay my little tribute to the man whose music I listened to all the time in the 1980s.

March 15, 2004

"When I Was Cool." I had to drive from Chicago back home to Madison today, and I was glad to turn on the car radio to find the very beginning of a Fresh Air interview with Sam Kashner about his book "When I Was Cool," which I've been reading--along with a bunch of other things--for the past month. The interview got me half the way home and was just great, with Kashner telling the story of being enamoured of the beatniks, going to study at the Jack Kerouac School for Disembodied Poetics, and then finding them all old men, somewhat addled and shambling, and himself not quite so much a student as an apprentice.

Ah! Too bad there weren't video cameras everywhere, because that could be the perfect reality show, combining The Apprentice and The Osbournes!

You can listen to the show here today, and click on the archive after today. Memorable revelations from the interview:

1. William Burroughs said he would never have been a heroin addict if he had realized how badly constipated it would make him when he got to be an old man.

2. Allen Ginsberg made a pass at Kashner and, after Kashner declined, started to find Kashner's poetry terrible. Kashner is still angry ... about the poetry critiques.

3. Ginsberg's guru ordered him to shave off his beard because he was too attached to it--and he did!

4. Kashner's first assignment was to finish one of Ginsberg's poems and when it turned out to be a poem about having sex with Neal Cassady, Kashner went to the Boulder Public Library to ask for information!

5. It was Kashner's job to do Ginsberg's laundry, and the method he used was to ship the dirty laundry in a box home to his mother. She did the laundry and shipped it back!

Oh, listen to the interview. And read the book.
If it worked once .... Though only one crucifixion was needed to save all humanity, Hollywood seems to think if one crucifixion movie was hugely successful, there ought to be more of the same. Read "Hollywood Rethinking Faith Films After 'Passion'" in today's NYT. Gibson's film is a "faith film" in the most literal sense, because it was not concocted as a money-making venture. Hollywood would be continuing on its usual path of trying to make money by making more of whatever has worked in the past. One could say making money is the "faith" behind every Hollywood film, in which case there is nothing to "rethink"--all Hollywood films are "faith films."
The movie's box-office success has been chewed over in studio staff meetings and at pricey watering holes all over Hollywood, echoed in interviews with numerous executives in the last week. In marketing departments the film is regarded as pure genius; its director, Mel Gibson, is credited with stoking a controversy that yanked the film from the margins of the culture to center stage, presenting it as a must-see.

If only someone had filmed that. I would pay to see the edited footage of those meetings! "Chewing over" the popularity of the crucifixion! "Pure genius" to "stoke a controversy" about anti-semitism as a publicity stunt! What else could we do that would be like that??

Is Disney at least going to put the Christianity back into "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe," after they tried to take it out to make the movie more widely marketable? Disney is still saying "We are intent on not making this into a Christian movie ... But it will be seen by many loyal readers as a very Christian movie." What does that mean? If you know the book you'll get the Christian part, but if not, it's just a lion story?

What else do these Passion-inflamed producers have in store for us? Please no old-style Bible epics with Gladiator-style special effects. I'd like to see a literal depiction of the book of Revelation, an animation in the style of Spirited Away. (Spirited Away is a great example of a religious movie. I'd also like to see a Spirited Away-like animation of The Life of Pi, which has religious themes.)

According to the article, there's a TV series based on Revelation, done in an X-files way, that NBC has picked up. A nun and a scientist discover evidence of end times. Presumably, a very pretty nun and a hip scientist. TV can do some things much better than film. I'd watch a TV series about a teenaged Jesus, set in present-day America, and his relationship with his parents, played by Joe Mantegna and Mary Steenburgen.
"The imaginative flowering of the primitive urge." Here's an interview with Robbins about his play, and it does confirm--see previous post--that Pearly White is Richard Perle. It's a radio interview with Brooke Gladstone that begins with a dialogue from MacBird, the old Vietnam era play, which melded MacBeth with Lyndon Johnson. MacBird is amazingly crass. Robbins doesn't seem to be terribly bright. Gladstone feeds him a Philip Roth definition of satire and invites him to adopt it:
"Satire is moral rage transformed into cosmic art." What begins as a desire to murder your enemy with blows is, quote, "converted in the attempt to murder him with invective and insult. It's the imaginative flowering of the primitive urge to knock somebody's block off. ...So Tim, what makes you angry enough - if you follow Philip Roth's rubric - to write Embedded?"

Somehow, Robbins doesn't have the sense to reframe the definition to exclude himself from the murderous rage aspect. Perhaps he was distracted by the "imaginative flowering" part. This is also uninspiring:
[Gladstone:] In your play, [the embedded reporters'] stories had to be approved by the military chief there, a character that you call Hardchannel, but when the embedded process started, we read the rules of embedment issued by the Pentagon, and that wasn't in it. Reporters never had to submit their stories. They said they never would have agreed to it.

TIM ROBBINS: Mmmmm-- I don't know if that's true or not ...

When murderous anger gets the imagination flowering, you get satire, which represents the truth in some deeper way than actual, literal truth, which is why you're an artist and not a reporter. Except the play is really bad (I hear), which is the unforgivable part for the artist, and the truth does still matter, even the parts too superficial for an artist to bother to learn.
Political art, that old oxymoron, rears its ugly head again. This time the victim is Tim Robbins, whose new play about the Iraq War, called "Embedded," is trashed by NYT reviewer Ben Brantley. And Brantley loved "Bob Roberts":
There is little compelling sense of the sustained, dizzyingly absurd reality that Mr. Robbins achieved in his spoof movie about a presidential candidate, "Bob Roberts."

Well, I went to see "Bob Roberts" when it came out because I read the raving reviews, and I walked out on that film, something I rarely do, because it wasn't trenchant or funny or anything it was cracked up to be. But then I wouldn't be one of the people in the audience for "Embedded," and the kind of people who would be were, per Brantley, struggling to stay awake.

According to Brantley, the play depicts:
[A]n elitist Washington cabal ... [whose] members have resonant names like Dick, Rum Rum, Gondola, Woof and Pearly White. They wear sinister half-masks and offer Black Sabbath-style hymns of praise to Leo Strauss, the neo-conservative philosopher. And though they plot their military strategy with icy detachment, they become sexually aroused at the mere prospect of more power.

Is Pearly White supposed to be Colin Powell? Well, okay, maybe if that was written broadly and brilliantly enough it could work a la Dr. Strangelove (which Brantley cites), but apparently it fails miserably. But what I'd like to comment on here is the whole "sexually aroused at the mere prospect of more power" idea. It seems to me that years ago, linking political power with sexuality was far more common. With the decline of Freudianism, there's been a decline in observations about sex and power. Too bad! It was interesting. What remains of that sort of commentary seems to lie only on the left. I was thinking about that just the other day, reading this passage in a great article about fundamentalist terrorists, which I linked to here. (Hmm... the Times won't let you get back to the article anymore--some of the old Times links work and some don't. How irritating.) The part I'm interested in is already quoted at my old post and put in some context:
''You can't have a girlfriend in this society. ... It's too expensive to marry, and as a young man, all you're thinking about is sex. So the 'teachers' would tell us, Don't worry, no need now, when you kill yourself you'll have plenty of girls in heaven.'' ... ''If there were girls in our high school,'' he said. ''I never would have joined those groups.''

We tend to be so respectful of religion that we don't even want to begin to explore the whole sex-religion-politics-violence tangle of human psychology that statement reveals. Of course there can still be a play about sex and violence when we are critiquing ourselves. But we don't dare to apply the same sort of satirical attack to our enemies. Go at both sides with your satirical weapons, Mr. Robbins, and I'll go see your play!

UPDATE: On reflection, I think "Pearly White" refers to Richard Perle. It really would be pretty crude to refer to Colin Powell that way, but calling attention to Perle being white is just dumb and dull, though the attempt to connect him to teeth and hence viciousness is noted. Don't know why Perle's name didn't occur to me when I wrote this post several hours ago. If you've read this blog back to day 1--January 14th--you'll see I was cleaning my office and listening to streaming audio of a Fresh Air interview with him (about his book "An End to Evil") when I decided to start a blog.

March 14, 2004

"Big Girls Don't Cry." Am I the only one who noticed that, in the first episode of The Sopranos this season, AJ was attempting to play "Big Girls Don't Cry" on his new drums? (That song title was once used as an episode title, back in Season 2.) The drum intro to that song is so familiar to me, because I adored The Four Seasons from the moment I first heard "Sherry" on my little transistor radio, when I was in, I think, 6th grade. The radio was a cute white rectangle, an iPod forerunner of sorts, and I used to take it to school and hide it in my desk and attempt to listen to it through an earplug. No one I knew had headphones, or even stereo sound then, certainly not on the radio, so you used an earplug, which was pretty much like having one earbud. "Earbud" is a silly word, but "earplug" is a strange word for something used to send sound into your ear.

Anyway, I would listen and listen to that thing in the hope that they would play a song I loved--and there was a point in 1962 when I loved every song in the top 20. The release of The Four Seasons' second single, "Big Girls Don't Cry" was a huge deal to me, and the sound of the drum intro on the radio would have filled me with joy in those days. You can listen to the beginning of the song here.

If you'd like to see more pictures of old transistor radios, you could start here. There seems to be some passion for the old things out there. The image I'm displaying is the closest I could come to my treasured old radio. Mine was white where this one is red, but that silver, angled, TV-shaped speaker lingers in the mind: I'm sure I had a Realtone.
This blog is two months old today. Feel free to click on the archives and find out what kind of a newborn it was.