|APRIL 1999 Part 3|
|I fear we are in for another cold wet spring, a drizzly miserable May. No. Please, no. That would make three in a row. I understand that weather is cyclical, and that these springs will be repaid with warm dry springs in the future. But I might get hit by a car. An asteroid might hit; the mantle might burst and the magma bubble up and consume all. I've never liked the postulate "Life is short, eat dessert first" because it implies that someone might shoot you in the head twixt the appetizer and main course, or you might pitch over into your bernaise sauce of a massive infarction. But life is short, and spring is a reprise of youth & promise; given the brevity of the green seasons here in Minnesota, a cold dark spring is a pox on everyone's mood, an insult, a frosty speculum, a slap in the face and a kick in the nuts. SUN! I WANT SUN!
I think I complained about this last year, and I know I complained about this two years ago - I have the radio show tapes to prove it - and I probably complained about it in 97. Wow: Three years of Bleats.
Hmm: gosh. Given the flame-out rate of daily websites, I wonder if this puts me in some august club of perpetual blather-peddlars.
I await my gilded award.
Based on what I've seen of the strip, I'm glad we're running it, just because it's nervy. It has more currency than Family Circus - not that such an accomplishment would be difficult; the Dead Sea Scrolls are more current than the Family Circus. I just wish the paper hadn't canceled The Norm to run it. Norm's best friend Ford is a black man, a professional; they talked about sports and women and Star Wars, and race just didn't seem to be the dominant factor in their friendship. It would have been a nice counterweight to a strip where a black kid's first question upon entering the suburbs is "where are all the liquor stores?" One can argue about which character most accurately describes what it's like to be black in America; one can write book-length theses on the politics of comics pages. One person can read a comic strip where the black kid threatens to beat the white kid to death for expressing interest in his hair, and understand that these sentiments would go unnoticed in a strip without the racial overtones. (It's pure Bloom County, this strip.) Another person can read the same strip and wonder what sort of stereotypes are being reinforced. Gee, I guess all REAL blacks are sullen thugs.
You have to be stupid not to see how the author undercuts & gently ridicules his character's radicalism; likewise, you have to be stupid not to see how the undercutting is a necessary trick that makes the messages more palatable.
As I said, I'm glad we're running the strip. But bring back the Norm! There's room for all. Can't we all just get along?
AM Radio news: the Hit Parade of the Dead. Whenever you hear a song in the newscast at the top of the hour, it means someone kicked the bucket. Driving home today, listening to KSTP, I heard the network feed play a few bars of Al Hirts Java, and I thought: damn, Als dead. And so he was. My dad bought that record; I can still see the 45 label - burnt orange with black letters. The odd thing about the song, now that I think about it, is that it starts with this strange, almost-pentatonic hoedown riff which is usually associated with the violin - and then it turns into a trumpet song. Go figure.
For reasons I cant recall I once looked up Al Hirt in our papers photo archives, and discovered he had two incarnations: plump & successful, and failed & grotesquely obese. At a certain point in his career the poised and polished studio portraits were replaced by grainy wire service pictures: Al, face obscured with greasy lank hair, is hospitalized for Systemic Largeness. Alarmingly Grizzled Al meets the press, mumu-clad, to tout his new diet regimen. Al Hirt, draped in a sheet but smaller than Gibraltar, returns to the stage. Poor fellow. Well, he had a seven-decade run, and his clear jaunty style has been immortalized on a few key records. He may not have had any popular profile in the last quarter century, but few are the artists whose death requires that his hit be played at the top of the hour. What are they going to do when Sean Combs dies? Play Every Breath You Take?
I mention this because I just noticed that the Zoned Squares of my bookshelves are getting sloppy. I have three Crate & Barrel shelves made up of 10 squares each, and half the real estate is devoted to a theme. Each represents a passing mania, filled with residue of a passing fancy. One has old Zippos. Another contains old political convention stuff - tickets from 1892, ribbons from 52. Theres a batch of things with vague 50s connotations - an old A&W Root Beer mug, a perfectly preserved Dairy Queen cup from the mid-50s (Lord knows how that survived) a Holiday Inn ashtray, a painted 7-Up bottle. One square is devoted to Cozumel - shells, bottled sand, drink stirrers, a few pesos, painted fish, a Day of the Dead skeleton, a bottle of cerveza Leon. Another square is devoted to boyhood: Tom Swift novels, some fireworks, an ancient cracked Spider-Man comic book, an inert transistor radio, and a Star Trek communicator I made when I was 12.
As I add to each theme, the tableau gets messier, more crowded. There are Cozumel matches and a Toy Fair commemorative ViewMaster sitting on top of a display case containing Actual Titanic Coal. I will arrange all these items carefully, well aware that whatever order I impose will be tossed out the moment the collections pass from my hands. Then its all up to someone else to reorder the jetsam of my idle fascinations into a shape that fits their world view.
The more you collect, the more you understand why warty gouty plutocrats bequeath their collections to museums, and stipulate that no one shall sunder the assemblage. What man hath joined together, let no man set apart.
You know how I know that I havent even begun to approach the art of collecting seriously? No duplicates. Nothing is for sale. Ive nothing to trade. If I own it, I want it, and Im not letting go.
Well, maybe the transistor radio. Id swap that for an Al Hirt recording of Java. If I collected that sort of thing. Which I dont. Yet.
Theres an Entertainment Weekly on the toilet tank (hmm: that could be a Police lyric: Theres an Entertainment Weekly on the toilet tank / thats my soul up there) with Julia Roberts on the cover. Another summer, another failed Julia Roberts movie. Have I seen any of them. ANY of them? No. Yes: Pelican Brief. Saw it in Washington, sitting upstairs in the faded yet still somewhat glamorous Uptown theater. I remember it was beautifully shot and somewhat ridiculous, and I recall that Ms. Roberts was one of those movie stars who are stars because were told shes a star; otherwise, why would she be in these expensive, ultra-hyped movies? Personally, I think she looks peculiar, like a wax mask thats just begun to feel the effects of high heat. On the cover of Entertainment Weekly (hmm: a Dr. Hook lyric) she wears the standard-issue high-watt smile as an utterly disinterested Hugh Grant plants a dry kiss on her cheek. This is the image thats supposed to make me buy the magazine, visit the website, see the movie. Why? Because they are Stars, and because theyre prettier than me.
Well, sorry, but it takes a bit more than that. Hugh Grant I can never forgive; anyone who cheats on Elizabeth Hurley is an utter poltroon, and Ive no wish to toss coins in his coffer. I cant think of any actor or actress whose presence in a film is sufficient to make me cough up seven bucks. Okay, Selma Hayek. But even then Id only rent the movie. On 99 cent Tuesdays. I wish the studios would return to the star system, and force their slaves to appear in formulaic vehicles at the rate of six a year; however hackneyed the stories may have been, by God they were stories, and the more the actor is forced to submit to the dictates of a detailed plot the less likely the audience is forced to sit through a movie designed solely to showcase the actresss cheekbones.
There I go again: the modern world SUCKS! It was better when everything was BETTER! No, no. I prefer the modern world.
Although Id request some deletions, if I had the power. The paper today had a review of the Marilyn Manson concert. Perhaps the reviewer - a fellow in his mid-40s - fears that castigating this crap will earn him a ticket to Fogeyville, so he tried to assure the readership that he wasnt one of those scary fascists whod pave over the brilliant indispensable fountain of Social Protest that is rock and roll. Sure, Manson leads his crowd in a Hitler-rally salute; sure, he lights a cross on fire; sure, he stages a cop-killing. Okay, so its not . . . subtle, but at least hes telling kids to challenge institutions.
Twaddle. Fatuous nonsense. Challenging then institutions has become an institution - perhaps the only unassailable institution left. The nations media are infested with baby-boomer-era waddle-assed rock critics who dare not criticize his crap, lest Nixon rise from the grave and confiscate their Woodstock soundtrack.
There is nothing more pathetic than someone justifying a hate rally because it makes a vague distant sympathetic twinge to their college-era hatred of The Man. And its soooo PC. By all means, piss on the flag, on preachers, on cops: thats brave. Thats daring. (Ill bet that if someone broke into Mr. Mansons house, he wouldnt dial 911 - hed call a critic to defend him. Right? ) Id love to see a critic attend a concert where the singer pantomimes the assassination of an abortion doctor, or leads the crowd in a Free McVeigh chant. Then wed be treated to an interminable thumb-sucker about the deep strains of hate in America.
I am giving this more anger than it deserves; only 8K people showed up, and Manson is losing popularity, and no, I dont blame him for Littleton. Im just tired of the twin imperatives of pop culture:
1. If Julia Roberts is in a movie, I should see it, and
2. Rock is a vital, if unfocused, agent of political change.
Julia Roberts has too many teeth. Rock hasnt been politically valid since the Clash, and they were wrong, anyway. Shut up and dance, as we used to say in the days of Stiff Records.
Millennial indicator: a reader wrote to our papers Mr. Fixit column asking about some frightening predictions by Nostradamus. Thirty years ago they asked Fixit how to fix downspouts; now they want to know if the seventh seal will be cracking open anytime soon. The Weekly World News has been practically guaranteeing the end of the world for the last few year; this weeks cover foretells the Hottest Summer Ever. (Last winter, of course, was trumpeted as the Coldest Winter Ever, and it was not, anywhere; penguins were sniffing crocuses in February.) But if you have a few vestigial antennae given to quivering at changes in the metaphysical ether, you have to be intrigued by the latest interpretation of Nosties final quatrains: war in the Balkans will culminate in massive big-time war in July, leading to the defeat of a tyrant whose name starts with M. Oh, and this period shall have been preceded by three years / 7 months of peace, which goes back directly to the Dayton accords. Uh oh.
How long must I put up with this?
Of course, my special blend consists of one two-second pour from the Columbian beans, a two-second pour of the French Roast, and a couple half-hearted spurts from other bins. I try to shake up the bag, but the beans are layered like a parfait, so one bag of beans yields coffees that change taste as the week goes on. But at least I buy my beans at the grocery store - if nothing else, it means I am successfully reversing my mid-90s affections of coffee snobbery. Sure, the beans at the boutique stores are good. But one day I was reduced by exigency to buy at the grocery store, and lo: I discovered that Millstone was perfectly good coffee. I didnt grind it at the store, of course - God forbid. I ground it at home, every day. Then one morning, fingering the grounds out of the Krups mill, I thought: aw, to hell with this. I ground it at the store, risking Cinnamon-Mint flavors from the common mill.
The other day I bought some of my old standby, Chock Full ONuts. (The Heavenly Coffee!) It was perfectly fine. In fact it was good. Very good.
At this rate Ill be buying Folgers red barrels by years end.
Its good practice. For what, I dont know; probably nothing.
The orchestras were good as usual - the last group tackled the Wagner symphonic suite from the operas. Id winnow the entire Ring cycle down to the forging-of-the-ring sound effect (CLANK! Kbwhmmmmmm) and the Death of Siefried. Thats the best of the batch - miserable, magesterial, exultant, somber, epic.
But its Nazi music. I cant shake the image of Hitler nodding approvingly to all this pagan roaring glory, all this death-soaked Teutonic soap opera shoutings. Now, its unfair to taint Wagner with the idiots who appreciated his work for the wrong reasons, even though old Dick himself would have written the Zyklon-B March if theyd caught him in the right mood. But its NAZI MUSIC. Theres not another German composer who makes me think this. Even when I hear some of the old Nazi-symp conductors sawing away at a German composition, I dont think Adolf. But Wagner gives me feelings that give me the creeps.
Also on the menu: Victory at Sea, by Richard Rogers, the soundtrack to the TV show about the PTO in World War Two. The soundtrack of my dads teen years in the Navy, in other words. There was a sequence in the middle I found myself singing along with, even though the piece wasnt familiar to me. da-da-da-da-dahhhh . . . .da-da-da-da-dahhhh . . . .da-da-da-da-dahhhh . . . .Beauty and the Beast.
I mean, it was a complete swipe. I could hear Angela Lansbury warbling this tune, and it was originally meant to accompany shots of warships at repose. Go figure.