I set this picture aside months ago, noting it would be a good banner for the fall. Why? the colors, of course. But also the setting: they’re watching a football game, you suspect.
A few years before this wouldn’t have made sense.
Why are they looking up in the corner? Who is that guy yelling at? But along comes TV, and people get used to the sight of a TV up in the corner, and before you know it the image of people yelling and shouting and laughing t some unseen object makes perfect sense.
There’s more: the soda jerk. If these are college kids, he can’t be that much older. He might even be their age - and it so, that smile isn’t indulgent, but somewhat creepy, at least as it pertains to the dark-haired girl. She’s probably not going with anyone - certainly not bow-tie boy, but they’re part of the same group. The kid in the back probably wishes he could be closer to the action, but his collar is askew, unlike the kids who are better groomed and put together.
Meanwhile, off to the side: a couple that’s moved past these group enthusiasms, into the world of suits and jobs and after-work assignations.
It looks clean-cut and wholesome, doesn’t it? Probably wasn’t, entirely, but the bar was much higher back then. I’m sure the kids thought they were worldly and tuned to the exacting frequencies of the universe like no generation before them, dad, and they adapted to TV as naturally as kids today adapt to touchscreens and portable computational devices.
But I get the feeling that these kids expected to belong. To fit in. The world was not a cheap lie in need of unmasking, a cowardly hubbub of phonies. I hear from my daughters how her classmates talk about America: scorn and derision and all-knowing mockery. She says her classmates always talk about how great it would be to live somewhere else where people are better and everything is cool. It’s usually England. trans
“Tell them to imagine some yob with an ASBO barfing on their shoes,” I said, just to be contrary.
She didn’t know whether to ask about YOB or ASBO. But the barfing part she got.
Of course, I’ve never been to England, and want to explore every single thing I’ve ever filed away in the shoebox labeled BLIGHTY. I want to go to Norfolk just because of Alan Partridge and Grimsby just because of Elton. I want to take a train to the moors and stomp around with a gnarled walking stick and have tea with some eccentric birder in a pub. All the cliches. Brighton, for the Graham Greene and the mods v. rockers 60s wars. As much London as I can afford. A chance to feel cringing social embarrassment and a chance to cut someone dead with a cool remark that contained a tincture of endorsement but obviously meant the opposite in greater quantities.
To be damp and resigned and take comfort in clotted cream, or beans.
As I’ve noted before - this week, I think - the middle portion of Holst’s “Jupiter” has always hit me as the most English Thing Ever - uncomplicated at its heart, outwardly stern, stoic in its cultural patriotism, sweeping up everyone in a broad assertion of national identity that prides itself for the treble virtues of tradition, decency, and resolution. Doesn’t mean that’s the case, of course; music seduces. There’s a reason the Sirens sang instead of sending sailors well-written notes. One of the most moving national anthems I’ve ever heard is for Oceania, from “1984.”
Holst captured something at its peak and its prime, a moment of leonine gravity as true as it was idealized. I’ve waited decades to go there and stand at the place where I start to hum it to myself. Wonder where that’ll be.
Anyway. My daughter has been to a dozen countries because I want her to get the flavor for the Marvelous Elsewhere early on, and also experience the joys of seeing home through new eyes when you return. We have the occasional dinnertime conversation about why America is different, and why America is good, arguments to counter the schoolmates who say the world would be better off if there wasn’t an America. (You can imagine the usual reasons.)
I hope the lessons take.
That said: all those kids in the picture above are cheering on the box that will unravel so much of what they inherited. Eventually they will cheer the box itself, and that’s when the certainties they were given begin to unravel; that’s when the world starts to be seen as a collection of phonies.
The actors in the pictures said so, after all.
Day Two of the Japanese Exchange Student Experience, or JESE: there really isn’t such a thing as an uncomfortable silence if you begin with the assumption that neither of you understands the other. I picked her up from the school, and we drove along listening to the “New World Symphony.” I think she liked classical music. I managed a small amount of conversation about Pokemon, straining to remember all the names of the beasties, thinking they’re probably named something else over there.
Dinner? Well, that’s a big question, isn’t it. I figured sushi would be safe; we’d driven past a sushi restaurant, and I pointed and said “sushi,” and she lit up. So off to the grocery store for fresh sushi. Told the lady behind the counter we had a Japanese student. (She’s Japanese.) She said “ah,” with something of a worried note, then explained that the stuff I had selected was more Westernized. This - and here she pointed to a box of fresh raw fish - was authentic. So I got a little of everything, including a greenish salad so unpalatable in appearance it had to be authentic.
Well, I arranged it all on a plate as artistically as possible. It is difficult to read her expression, but at first it seemed as if I had put out a plate of Lego. She liked the raw fish, but the sushi was obviously inedible.
Talked to another family on the phone tonight, and they had the same thing: hamburger the first night, consumed with wariness, and sushi-fail the second.
Saturday we’re going to United Noodles, the big Asian food store, and she can help us find some stuff she likes. I know they’re supposed to have an American experience, but I don’t want her to starve.
Talked to the guy who runs the program for a newspaper interview, and learned some amazing things about the exchange. It’s all volunteer on both sides, thanks to the Benedictine order, and in a way it all began when a former Japanese Imperial Army concentration camp guard showed up on the nun’s door after the war to apologize for their internment. He was on his knees with a knife in his hand pressed to his belly, ready to go.
They talked him out of it. Six decades later, there’s a 16-year-old girl from Japan in my house.
Now, the Cues! Do I have to explain? Fine. As I say every week: if you're just joining the Listen project, it includes a selection of music cues gleaned from old radio shows In this case, "The Couple Next Door," the wonderful 1958-1960 radio show written by, and starring, Peg Lynch. It's library music the producers dropped in to get them in and out of scenes. It's the background soundtrack for mid-century life.
First, a preview of the Ethel & Albert videos, soon to be available for a modest price. This isn't the show, but the introduction.
I think Kate's winging it.
By the way, the episodes I was sent today by Peg's tireless daughter were new to me, not ones I saw on the trip out East. They're so good. One take, live TV, clockwork plotting, utterly conversational - but without an extraneous word. (We call that "good writing.") One of them is like the "Who's On First" routine, except with mathematics. You'll love them when you see them.
More of the inexhaustible cues, a few dupes, and a batch from a different show. Let's begin:
CND Cue #218. Every day should start like this.
CND Cue #219. And then continue like this as you head off to the office, or the store.
CND Cue #220. Old Nobbin trudges to the barn until he gets a swat to make him move along faster, because there’s a commercial coming on.
CND Cue #221. Another segment of the syncopated segues, this time in stinger form!
CND Cue #222. Another of those stingers that decides, no, let’s end in this key.
CND Cue #224. From the cue that had to make the composer think “Leroy Anderson would be so proud."
CND Cue #225. A familiar cut (it has that "nothing can beat the US Air Force motif) suddenly reminds us: be it ever so humble, and so forth.
Now, this week's curious cue from “The FBI in Peace and War,” which used tiny snippets of classical music.
FBI #7 Okay, 20th century orchestral music enthusiasts: where'd they nick this one from? Bonus question: wasn't I just writing about this composer the other day?
Another 1959 Lysol ad - this time playing off the nationwide panic and distaste for good-for-nothing juvenile delinquents.
Lysol kills Gehms!
That's it for this week! Column up here; scroll down to the COLUMNS pane.