it rings!


“What is this music?” Gnat asked. We were playing UNO, and I had the iPod streaming the 1938 playlist. It’s the top 300 songs of the year before everything really went to hell. The tune in question was a Bing Crosby number that began with a pipe organ.

“Music from your Grandpa’s time,” I said. “Well, no, he was a kid. And they probably didn’t have a radio. They were so poor they had to wait for birds to learn all the popular songs and sing them from a tree outside the window.”

“You’re fooling.”

Yes, but no reason to let her know. I’ll have to ask my dad when he first noticed popular music; I can’t imagine a poor pre-teen growing up in the steppes spent a lot of time thinking about the top ten. Then again, record collection, as I recall, began with “Boogie Woogie.” Which came out in 1938. But his version was an RCA Silver Label reissue, I believe. Maybe he heard it in town one day, and the song stayed with him. Maybe he bought it when he came back from the war, when a fella could think about buying records again. From what I know about his childhood, it doesn’t sound like they had a nail and a tin can, let alone a needle and a speaker.

“I don’t like this song,” she said. Neither did I. For that matter, I don’t care much for Bing Crosby’s singing. He was the proto-Elvis; didn’t matter what he sang, he could just turn it on when required. The amount of sincerity and bemusement is absolutely equal in every example, and it all strikes me as artifice. I like his persona; some songs are fine. You can’t write the history of pop music in the 20th century without spending a day on “White Christmas.” But overall: meh. Then again, given the quality of the other male voices in this 1938 playlist, I understand the appeal – to contemporary ears he was much more genuine than the other guys, most of whom seemed like happy manikins with oily hair parted severely in the middle, crooning drivel over a clockwork orchestra.

Except for Count Basie. The exception to every rule, that man.

I turned off the music. We went upstairs; she read a scary story to her My Little Ponys and I took a 15 minute nap. It had not been a trying day, but when you feel that slight drowsy dip and you can nap, well, you’d be a fool not to. As I noted, this was a four-column day – two for the Strib, one for the American Enterprise Institute magazine (where I am – hah! – the TV critic) and one for Mpls/St.Paul magazine, where I write a small monthly historical feature based on my postcard collection. (Always make your hobbies pay, that’s my motto.) Everything was filed by two o’clock. It would have been a great relief, except that I had three more pieces to write before the day was over. But that was the nighttime’s job.

Drove to pick Gnat up from school. Was early, as usual; sat in the car listening to an old Gildersleeve. For some reason this is the new habit: listening to a radio show from 1944 over the course of five days as I wait for her class to be finished, just as I listened to Marlowe dramas last August when I drove back from the Far-Flung Burbs after depositing her at summer school. Why not? If you’re going to live in the past, you might as well furnish it well. Then we played UNO, which brings me back to the thrilling scene described above.

Watched two movies this weekend. “Woman of the Year,” the first Tracy-Hepburn pairing. Starts out fine, gets lost. But it’s instructive for those who never paid sufficient attention to that legendary pairing. (A nice way of saying I never watched their movies, eh?) Hepburn nevah did anything foa me, but she’s lovely in this one. Smaht and brittle and evah so clevah, rally. The tacked-on humiliation-by-breakfast that concludes the movie is ridiculous, but by then I’d lost interest in the tale – mainly because it seemed to squander its premise for rote soaper plot points. If they remade it today they’d cast Adam Sandler or some other boy-guy in Spencer Tracy’s sportswriter part. Contemporary Hollywood seems incapable of presenting a by-god fella like Tracy without making him ridiculous, infantile, sloppy or otherwise unserious. In the contemporary version she’d be a network news anchor, and she’d come to love him when he attended a Presidential news conference with her and lit his farts on fire when a rival asked a particularly boring question.

Also watched - well, let’s go back a few years. Long time readers of the Bleat know how much I loved Rolie Polie Olie when Gnat was younger. We still watch it, but the unspoken pretext is a reconnection with the old days; she does it for me. Well. I saw “Olie Grows Up and Goes to the Emerald City,” a movie I had avoided because it wasn’t by Pixar. Stupid me. Did I not see the previews? Did I not know what this meant?

Only one man can come up with something like that. Oh, I’d heard he was involved in the project, but I forgot. Silly me. These words, and this picture, said it all:

William Joyce is the creator of Olie, among other delights, and he was the production designer for “Robots.” What he does for the 30s in “Olie” he does for the 50s in “Robots” – it’s just retro geekery without end, and I didn’t finish the movie because I kept rewinding to study things close-up. And if that wasn’t enough - Robin Williams as a fast-talking free-associating character! Who’d have predicted that! Actually, he wasn’t annoying, and since his character was made of metal there was no chance of realistic body hair.

Finally: my wife gets “Shape,” and the covers always feature alarmingly healthy women with the body fat of a dead salamander. If I don’t know the model, they look fine; if I do know the model, they look like they’ve spent the last year throwing up in a Mystic Tan booth. This month it’s Josie Maran, unrecognizable. Last month it was this woman:

Confused? Hint? All she wants to do is have some fun. Preferably before the sun goes down on Santa Monica Boulevard. Really. That's Sheryl Crow.

New Motels; see you tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by.

Oh, okay, one more picture. From Chuck E. Fargin’s last week, our monthly portrait. I should note that I gave her my old USB microphone and showed her how to use Garageband to make shows. She’ll be podcasting by March.

on Monday
on Tuesday


c. 2005 j. lileks