Happy Valentine’s Day. It’s an odd thing to say to people with whom you’re not having a romantic relationship, no? But it’s come to stand for General Love and Pinky Red Happiness Things. After I picked up Daughter from work we were talking about the perilous days of youth when everyone got a Valentine from everyone, and how you’d pore over the image to tease out some secret profession of admiration.
“Choo-choo Choose You,” I said, and she wanted to know what that meant; while the light was red I called up the relevant Simpsons sketch on the phone because modern life enables the explication of everything on demand. This led to a reasonable question from someone of her generation:
“Why is the clown having an anniversary show if he runs a fast-food restaurant?”
So I had to explain Krusty, and ended up saying “I heartily endorse this product and / or event” in my best Krusty voice as we stood in the Walgreens aisle looking for candy she could give to her friends.
This . . . Oh, for heaven's sake.
Helmet-shaped Candy Pieces that symbolize the Exchange of Friendship and use brainwashed soldiers and the galaxy's most fearsome embodiment of evil and suffering GOT IT
Then I showed her the Love Day sequence from the Simpsons. I swear, for her generation the Simpsons is . . . something too big to be known in detail, just understood in general as a thing. This I can understand; it would be daunting to try to take it all in, But I find I can’t make Simpsons references with my peers or co-workers, because they’ve forgotten: if you say “ah, this is always death” in a Krusty voice, you get bupkis for your response. Likewise almost any Abe Simpson quote that doesn’t involve wearing onions on your belt.
Anyway. Later Wife made chocolate-covered strawberries while Daughter was at the gym; when I picked the latter I was playing the New Order “Republic” album track “Regret,’ and caught sight of the moon in the trees, swollen and bright. Daughter saw it coming out of the club and said it was incredible, and yes, it was. Turned up the volume and took a different route home over the freeway - no trees, nothing to obscure the view of the moon. Chasing the moon in the city, feeling alive: My neck doesn’t hurt anymore and it was 46 degrees.
It’s the little things that elevate a day. Always the little things. The little things are huge.
Some TV Notes:
1. I had such high hopes for Ricky Gervais’ new movie that resuscitates David Brent, the Office character, but man what a disappointment. I gave up after 40 minutes or so. I realized early on that quite a few people these days probably like David Brent more than Ricky Gervais - nostalgia for the long-ago show, warm recollections of the way the final Christmas show portrayed his post Wernam-Hogg life and gave him redemption. But it was just a stiff from the start.
A) He has added a nervous high whiny laugh that wasn’t there before; it's pathetic
B) The scenes at the new office were obviously intended to make you think of the old office, but they were rushed and tiresome, as if they wanted you to think of the old show and think “oh, he’s in a new Office now” without providing anything new or particularly funny. When he leaves to go on the road to play music - something absolutely no one was hankering to see - the soundtrack recollects the original Office theme. Let’s listen!
Gervais without Stephen Merchant is like . . . well, it’s like this movie.
2. If you like that superhero stuff you may have watched Legion. I watched the first one, and it was incredibly good, with a real Kubrick vibe. The framing of the shots, the 70s interiors. The protagonist has been told he’s crazy, although he’s really a Mutant and hence under scrutiny of The Government. (A shadowy branch of The Government, of course.) What made me grin was a brief phone call where he’s trying to find a woman he may or may not have hallucinated; he says her name is Sydney Barrett. Barrett. Syd Barrett.
How many people got that? I knew who Syd was, of course, because I’m special. No, not really. In the 70s because the reviewers of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond” on the “Wish You Were Here” album talked about the great lost talent of mad Syd. Part of the mystique or backstory of the band, which terribly important because the band was terribly important. I suppose they were. I admire David Gilmour’s guitar as much now as ever; Roger Water’s three-chord misanthropist miseries, less so. I’ll take about three songs from “The Wall” and listen to them now and then; one of them is “Run Like Hell” - simple dumb drum that has a great moment when it’s a different simple dumb drum.
Here’s the point: the whole point of “The Wall” was incipient fascism, which everyone thought was en route. Elvis Costello: Night Rally was a perfect example. The Wall in “The Wall” was something else - a confused metaphor for barriers within and without, and since we were expected to feel sorry for a rock star who couldn’t get his wife on the phone and had exaggerated mother issues, it all fell apart. But it resonated with some, because of the movie. It had a fascistic logo! The times were just itching for marching hammers and Nazi color schemes.
Except what the times really wanted was Miami Vice pastels and palm fronds and style and cool and confidence with occasional angst.
3. What do we want now out of “24”? I’m keen for it to be good, and while it’s been standard-issue straight-ahead “24” so far, a few thoughts:
A) If there are Arab terrorists in the first few episodes, you know the real enemy is Jon Voight trying to manipulate drug prices
B) I love how there’s a category in movies called “Ethnic, but Jimmy Smits Ethnic”
C) I was frankly appalled when an earnest, older female CTU operative insulted the skills of a younger man, and he snapped back that he was not only good, he was the son of a character who was killed in the third season: privileged much? Kidding - it was a pale guy who was being snippy to a younger woman who was of course Mad with Skillz, because Edgar was her father. No one remembered Edgar, and if they did, they didn’t want to think that he was having Relations. On the other hand, the guy she shut down - the guy she REKT - is probably gay, so it’s the start of a contentious but eventually respectful relationship, built on typing and staring at screens and saying things to your boss who is standing over your shoulder asking you to bring up the satellite feed. Which is a PROBLEM because right now someone is blocking your packet sniffer
In episode 2 we learn that Senator Smits’ assistant, Who is Certainly Not Huma Abedin, may have accessed confidential DoD info on the identity of the men who killed Sheik Ali-bin Kli-shie, and that can only mean one of two things: she totally didn’t do it at all, even though we just learned she had visited a radical mosque (that’s the sort of thing in the early episodes that guarantees the person is actually the most liberal, secular Muslim in the world), OR she was blackmailled by Jon Voight. We’ll see.
4. Also started the second season of Colony, which is just plain GOOD. It’s not mind-blowing fantastic television, but it’s GOOD.
5. Someone suggested Nobel, a Norsky series on Netflix about a spec-ops soldier; two eps in, and it's impressive. I love Scandanavian TV. More on that next week.
This week's feature is "The Friendliest Corner," where people ask for pen pals. "Miss Morris," who did not exist, was the go-between. You wrote to the others through the magazine. Let's see what people wanted in 1937.
Beggars can't be choosers, but as long as you're giving this a shot, might as well be specific.
I'm a young married woman
I am lonesome
Oodles? Did she say oodles? She wasn't alone.
You note how "Pals" encompasses the entire readership of the column, as though there was some pre-existenting solidarity. All the Pals were already writing to other Pals; why not include Smiling Betsy in the jolly arrangement?
Sixties ads began the decade appealing to grown-ups, and ended the decade trying to pry a few dollars from sullen, self-entitled children - as you know if you went through the ad site at Up, Up, and Awry.
These are from the middle-late 60s. You can tell the move to Youth Culture has opened up the throttle:
God, that thing looks awful. And you can still buy it today - here's a review on an actual food blog that says nice things about it. Many people love it because it reminds them of their childhood, when Mom made it on special occasions and put hot dog slices on top for meat.
If Mom dipped toast in vegetable oil and added ketchup and gave it to you while you were watching a monster movie on Friday night, you'd have warm memories of that, too. It's the feeling of being secure and loved, and having no needs unmet at the moment.
Quite a few non-traditional sorts endorsed this brand.
Woody Allen did a few. You might think that was an odd choice; no one wanted to be like Woody Allen, they wanted to be the person who laughed at Woody Allen. But it must have worked; they were trying to be the UnScotch, the drink of interesting people. They didn't play up the heritage - that would make it seem old and behind-the-times.
But what a heritage it had. Smirnov himself practically invented national advertising campaigns in Russia.
Pyotr Smirnov founded his vodka distillery in Moscow in 1864 under the trading name of PA Smirnoff, pioneering charcoal filtration in the 1870s, and becoming the first to utilize newspaper ads along with charitable contributions to the clergy to stifle anti-vodka sermons, capturing two-thirds of the Moscow market by 1886. His brand was reportedly a Tsar favorite.
He used to send people into bars to ask for Smirnov, and when the barkeep said "what? No, we don't have any," the "customer" would leave. People would be astonished: a Russian just turned down vodka because it wasn't the right brand?
From the graveyard of discontinued crackers:
Beef and Pork tasting crackers. Zesty!
This ad is a perfect example of mid- / late 60s style. High-concept, reliant on copy to explain the gag or idea, lot sof white space. And, of course, a picture in the background of people having sex.
Well, that's why Wilsonbria Key saw.
Say Yes, while you frown, to York! It has TOBACCO THAT MEANS BUSINESS.
Was this fellow the York Man? It seems so, if you think the fellow on this billboard is the same one.
York was an imperial-size cigarette, by the way. Later called 100s, right? I mean, there was King-Sized, which was the regular size, and 100s, or longs. Never heard them called "imperial" length.
Tobaccy paid the bills at the big magazines in the 60s. Cigarettes kept te lights on.
"Lucky's Flavor Tip actually enhances the taste." How? Did they put some delicious cadmium in the fibers, and it melted when you drew the smoke?
Lucky Strike also marketed some lights in the late 70s. One of the worst-tasting cigarettes ever made. These can't have been better.
We're happy we're an electrical family! Aside from the static-electricity shocks that damn near reset your heartbeat, it's great!
These ads always showed you a fine family that enjoyed flameless electrical home heating, as if they had petitioned the company to put them in an ad without compensation. Just so the word gets out!
They were real, you were assured: Ed Stansfield of Mechanicsburg, NJ.
From his obit:
He was preceded in death by his daughter Lynne Stansfield and a sister Mary E. Robinson. He is survived by his wife of sixty years, Marianne Lowry Stansfield, his daughter Laurie Greenawalt and her husband, Michael, four grandchildren, Matthew and Ryan Beck and Mark and Anne Greenawalt and a sister Genevieve Shenk.
The ad doesn't name the kids, so I don't know who's who.
Again, from the obit:
After graduating from Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School in 1940, he attended Lebanon Valley College class of 1944 where he majored in Business Administration, played in the marching and concert bands, sang in the glee club, and helped form the college’s first dance band. From there, he received an appointment to West Point Military Academy and later joined the US Army Air Force where he was in the Air Transport Command serving in North Africa, Italy and India carrying troops and cargo.
Makes it sound as if he got a West Point appoinment because of his work on the college's dance band. Quite a shift - marking bands, glee clubs, then Army Air Force getting materiel to India.
Wonder if any old pals from either world opened up the magazine, and thought: dang, Ed. What a charmed life you've led.
Seems like it from here.
That'll do for today! Don't miss my MONDAY newspaper column! Just click on the Star. You know: The big green Startribune Star.