O the creative temperament: child is supposed to have her own composition for an upcoming competition, but she suddenly HATES IT because it sounds like Baby Stuff, and the chord she stumbled across that really made it sound cool to me now strikes her as too dreamy. The song is cheerful but IT’S STUPID. Sounds like BOOK ONE. Tears. So we started something else, and once again – the virtues of mistakes and serendipity – she hit a note that gave it an extra dark zing, so we’re off on another tangent. I keep telling her it doesn’t have to be Beethoven.
I wonder what Beethoven’s friends told him.
Ordinary day, and absolutely nothing about the outside world to report. Right now I’m kicking myself for watching both hours of “24” last night, because that would have provided some late night entertainment. But no. I had to watch the Crack Elite Sangala Mole Men drill up into the White House and prove for the entire world that there aren’t any security cameras anywhere except in the chandelier over Plot Point Hall. I’m just wondering how that plan came about.
Men of Sangala. Draw near.
Ominous glowering maximum leader! How shall we strike?
We will take the President Hostage. In the White House.
Fortune favors the bold, sir. But how?
This I do not know. Get your men on it. Find some shadowy businessmen. They will help.
(The next day)
Good news, sir. We have located a tunnel that goes underneath the White House, but I don’t -
No contractions! We are Africans!
I am sorry. We do not know if it leads anywhere, but the person who gave us the plans -
It is pronounced Plons! We are Africans! How will they know we are Africans if we use contractions and say plans?
Sorry sir. The plons included a very large picture of the White House, so it must lead straight to the Executive wing.
Very good! I will relish this. Begin the complex series of terrorist events!
Tuesday was one long cold nut-studded cheese log, and the less said the better. Did what I had to do, and wandered through the day with the enthusiasm usually found in those frozen skeletons they unearth in Alpine glaciers. The week suddenly felt long and arid; the full weight and scope of MARCH stretched ahead unleavened by warmth or greenery. And then of course there’s the news. I think we enjoy the weekends so much these days because it’s a respite from the grand parade of craptacular stories that run M-F. Really: on Sunday night I get that sinking feeling when I realize that Monday will bring more horror stories. It’s our leading export!
I’m content for the moment to let other bloggers be furious on my general behalf, but I am damned tired of losing money, knowing I will have less money in the future, and what I do have will be worth less because of inflation. All of which means I save less, invest less, spend less, and give less. But that’s fine, since we all went mad Mad MAD in the last ten years, and now we have to atone. It’s the Guilted Age.
There’s the temptation to curl up in the cozy cave of the long-dead past, where nothing can hurt you, but that’s a coward’s dodge. Really, I don’t mean for this site to become one long saunter down Memory Lane. Too much nostalgia makes you feel out of sorts with your own time. When you return to the real world it’s like putting on work pants after a weekend in sweats.
And: Too much attention paid to the artifacts of pop culture gives them more weight than they had. At most I try to infer values and preconceptions from the movies and shows, not take their messages as The Way Things Really Were in the Perfect Age Before Hippies.
We can’t recreate context. A happy go-go camera ad may look groovy and all, and make people think gee, the sixties were fun! But you have to imagine it blaring out into a small shabby room with yellow carpet, where a guy in a stained T-shirt over a potbelly is eating Swanson’s off a folding tray. Outside, New Jersey. (The bad part.) All of this stuff was background noise. Life was then as life is now: work, food, family, leisure, heartbreak, sleep, backaches, cake, trouble abroad in some damn spot, worries at home over some damned thing.
Most of your life is spent trying to recreate the emotions of an imperfectly reconstructed memory of childhood happiness. The other part is spent trying to escape, or at least process and purge, an equally imperfect recollection of childhood unhappiness. Better to be driven by the former rather than the latter, obviously. And the more shapeless the emotion, the less specific the event, the easier it’ll be to recreate it, and the happier you’ll be. I find these artifacts of my very early youth so interesting because I had a happy childhood, and all these musical cues, hues, fabrics, patterns, et cetera, are the furnishings of a place I enjoyed. But they’re not important because they happened to me or any other late Boomer; they’re important because you can get some sense of the era by the objects it left behind.
If you want to, that is. Some people have no taste for studying the past, and that’s fine; others view it as a source of amusement, because they were stupid and we’re not and people had funny hair and it was sad that they didn’t have color or sound until 1952. These are the hopeless morons who type YouTube comments on keyboards filthy with nacho dust – except for the apostrophe and Shift key. They’re pristine.
Anyway. Yesterday I put up a picture, and wondered if anyone knew where it was from; of course, a few readers got it right away: it’s from the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence in “Fantasia,” from 1939. For some reason the other night I watched part of the movie again. Googled around for some commentary, came across a piece that noted how odd it was to have a sequence about evolution then end with a note of religious belief. (Sigh. Yes, how do you square that.) The “Rite of Spring” section, carved up as it was and used for dinosaur images, was something I saw in grade school, and I remember how disturbing it was – not the images, which were great because you had dinosaurs fighting and then one of them died and then they all marched off in the desert and died and then mountains came up!
No, it was the music that unnerved. It’s the most frightening piece of music ever composed. Not zweet! zweet! Psycho scary, but ecstatically mad, communally cruel, godless, ignorant, passionate, full of horrible conviction. It’s everything inside us we need to keep hidden. I know it’s bad and unnatural and Herbert to repress our inner selves, but if there’s any species that needs to do a good & thorough job of repressing, it’s us. Otherwise it’s virgins down the volcano twice a year and three times if there’s an eclipse.
Here’s a YouTube clip with a better version of “Rite.” Listen for the timpani at 1:16: absolute bloodlust.
The Night on Bald Mountain sequence was always the show-stopper when I saw the movie on the screen, and “Ave Maria” was the itchy-church-pants part that undid all the cool darkness of the earlier part. Man, pass the collection plate already. Now I think it looks amazing; it’s one of the most beautiful sequences of animation ever created.
But that’s not the point here. I’m not sure what my point is, but I’m confident that if I write long enough, I’ll find one. Oh: right. Today at the Corner Derbyshire linked to an old Teachout piece on middlebrow culture, something we’ve knocked around here a bit. By the time I knew the word it was a term of derision, made suspect by the usual suspects: the effete pointy-headed nattering kabobs of elitism! Er, no. Well, sort of: it seems as if there was an odd decision in the sixties by the cultural elites to eliminate the middle and accentuate the lower, because the lower was more earthy and authentic and real. Intellectual slumming at its finest. I think the middlebrow spirit had run its course, too. It’s hard to tell people to better themselves when the rest of the culture is telling them they’re already great – or suffering some sort of oppression that can’t be cured by listening to Beethoven. So high culture drifted off into the ether, became formless and irrelevant, and low / pop culture became culture, period.
Ah, but once upon a time. The ultimate middlebrow moment:
Mickey and Stokowski. Hiya! Put ‘er there!
That’s how it worked: Mickey had to climb up; Leopold had to bend down.
Ach, now I remember what my point was. The Toccata & Fugue sequence, once my favorite, is now my least. But it ends with the images that made me want to be a conductor:
And, not incidentally, probably sent me off on the Path of Retro. Not just that, but this:
The streamlined mountaintop! The Cliff of Modernity! So much of “Fantasia” was my first exposure to the look of the 30s, and it seemed impossibly modern and ancient at the same time – the sets in the “Dance of the Hours” sequence were straight out of fascist neo-classicism, if you want to be honest. There was the idealized classicism of the kitschy “Pastoral” sequence, which managed to ignite my interest in classical architecture, which led to an interest in the 20s, where the forms and vocabularies were applied to Noble Civic Buildings and impossibly tall skyscrapers. Somewhere around this time I discovered the bound copies of LIFE magazine in the Fargo library, and that’s when the interest in the past began.
I just have to be careful not to spend too much time there. Even the greatest museum is still a graveyard.
Today: Minneapolis update around 1 PM; Out of Context Ad Contest around 11. Miscreant Roundup at buzz around noon-thirty, if work duties permit. See you soon!
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