I choose these banners in advance and I’m always surprised to call up the new week’s pages, laid out for my convenience, and see what I chose. What was it about this one that caught my eye? The studied regard, the distance, the cool evaluation?
Prescient, in a way. Tree’s up but half the lights don’t work. Haven’t decorated it. Nothing in the house has that Christmas feel, even though Friday was supposed to be the day we set everything up.
tl; dr - this guy is, and I emphasize is, my father-in-law.
He’s in the hospital and the prognosis has gone from the worst possible to the other worst possible.
Back up: Friday night, I wrote this.
The closer you are, the less you have to say. A friend loses a grandparent, you say you’re sorry. A friend loses a parent, silence and presence suffices.
At a funeral for a friend last year I was among the citizens of Dinkytown in the 80s, and even though we’d all drifted off to our own worlds a long time ago, something old and common was present among us. A settling of the shoulders, a deep breath, a nod of the head to someone seen again after all these years - more than words could say, as the cliche has it, but also something words can’t say. There’s an experience that’s outside the world of words, and trying to force it into the phonemes of sympathy is like trying to pour smoke into an ice-cube tray.
But you still want to say something. It’s the human thing to do. If only there were new ways to say it. If only the genuine things you felt didn’t sound as predictable as the Happy Birthday To You song.
Phone call the other night: father-in-law. The Doc. Cutter, as his email handle had it; Chief, as I liked to call him for some reason. A tip of the hat, a gesture of respect. He sounded fine but noted with his usual wry sardonic tone that it seems he’d had a heart attack. I was surprised, but when someone calls you from the hospital and sounds reasonably strong and says “I had a heart attack” you figure he’s where he ought to be and it’ll get better from here. The next day they were going to figure out what to do. Stents, possibly. Stents, he hoped.
Well, no. They had to crack him and bypass. That went well enough, but a few hours later we got the call that he had suffered a seizure after the operation.
That could be due to any number of factors, but it’s not good, and so we stand by and wait. Hours pass without a phone call, so the tension transforms into exhaustion and my wife goes to bed. A few hours later she comes downstairs: he had another stroke, and the ICU doc says there’s no good outcome here. Prepare.
Let me tell you about this guy.
Grew up in raw Duluth, son of a crusty bright bird who ran a children’s clothing store and outlived three husbands. Her I knew; an American original, but that’s another story. (Used to go to New York on buying trips for her store. Took the train. Carried a gun.) He went to the U of M on a scholarship, went to Medical School, then enlisted. He was a doctor and a pilot. Shot down during the Yemen Civil War on a recon mission - they hit the silk, landed without injury, were picked up and held in jail, no big deal, grand story back at the base - then went on to a distinguished career at Mayo. A brilliant surgeon whose rep extends years after his retirement.
From what I hear he was at ease and at peace the night before he went in, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. He always struck me as a man who had an unsparing view of the way of all things and a doctor’s experience with the odds. I am sure he prayed before he slept, and it was not a conversation with which he was unfamiliar.
Late night plane reservations. Took wife to the airport on Saturday. And now we wait. Contrary to the predictions of no brain activity, they thought he raised a finger in acknowledgment tonight, and thought he squeezed one of his daughter’s hands when she took it.
Words, in the end, don’t matter. Words are happy to leave the stage, unequal to the role. The best we have are Hope and Sorrow, the common round vowel like a peephole into rooms whose dimensions you can’t possibly measure.
As usual, the below-the-fold was written in advance, so the change in tone will be jarring. But not perhaps unwelcome.
After revisiting Laird Cregar in "The Lodger," I thought I'd see if this was as good as I recalled:
Thing is, I don't recall much at all, except that there was piano playing and Laird being tragic. This was the one he lost weight to play, and even so he was on the hefty side:
You'll note it's shot in Laird-O-Vision, where the camera's always looking up to emphasize his looming presence. You'll also note the fire, and his dazed unconcern. That's because he's mad. But only now and then! Most of the time he's a perfectly fine promising classical composer working on a piano concerto. It's only when he hears something extremely dissonant that he goes into a fugue state and murders someone. If he'd been living next door to Schoenberg the bodies would have been stacked to the rafters.
Well, who else is in it?
Miss Parfait Hairdo of 1903! Faye Marlowe. She wasn't really the girlfriend, but a supportive galpal who wanted Laird - sorry, GEORGE BONE - to finish the brilliant work she knew he had in him. As did his mentor, kindly Alfred:
bodies start to appear, Scotland Yard gets interested. And look who's playing the detective . . . again:
So it's the same cast, plot, director, actors, and so on - almost a sequel of "The Lodger," except that it's one of those Hollywood films where they just do everything over again and try for something just as popular. If it's just as good, that's gravy. This one is better, and much of the credit goes to the B&W cinematography. It was the era of great faces:
In this bar we meet a singer who has other attributes the crowd enjoys:
She's in league with a smart and sexless piano player who accompanies here act:
But she's Linda Darnell, so she's heedless and a little cruel and impetuous and all those LOVE things. She also has a highly-placed musical theater executive tied around her little finger:
None of which would be interesting, except that Bone falls for her, and she leads him on, and . . .
This leads the League of Concerned Secondary Characters to convene around a bioflourescent Victorian Jellyfish Lamp:
Once he's shot of that nasty little music hall dame, he sets to writing his music the way it was meant to be written: by candlelight, in mad impassioned sessions of keyboard-banging and scribbling.
A movie about an imaginary composer has to have music, though. Here's one of Bone's little piano riffs.
Hmmm. The chords at the end give it away.
The soundtrack mirrors his own style:
No one else could write that. And no one else probably recycled all that as much as he did, but who cares.
Unfortunately for Bone, the inspector arrives on the night of his concerto's premier, and finds something damning. He walks it into the light, and shows the importance of knowing where you mark is:
The entire movie's like that. I can't stress this enough: it's a fantastic movie, in both the superative and unreal senses of the word. What would have been a standard 40s period thriller is elevated by Cregar's immensely sympathetic performance, huanted and insecure, and made utterly unique by the final scene when his piano concerto is performed. It's by Bernard Herrrmannn, of course. Here's a snippet that accompanies the credits.
No one wrote music like this in 1903, but no matter. The ending sequence gives me gooseflesh to recall it - not just for what it shows, but how it closed the book on Cregar's life and career. He literally died to make this movie - and there it is, on the screen, a Hollywood elegy. They don't make them like this anymore. They could, but they won't.