Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Random Ten - The Real Thing™

Tonight I watched One, Two, Three. This is the Billy Wilder movie where James Cagney plays a Coca Cola executive in West Berlin. It's not Wilder's best, which depending on day and hour I'd say is either The Apartment or Some Like It Hot.  This one starts better than it ends, but it's not bad either, and it's bold in letting Cagney be as obnoxious as any of the Commie characters while the Cold War was in full swing.

Wonder what happened to Pamela Tiffin. She's very young in this movie but has some of the funniest line readings.

1. The Ramones - The KKK Took My Baby Away
2. XTC - Paper and Iron
3. Mose Allison - Do Nothing Till You Here From Me
4. Lower Dens - Suckers Shangri La
5. The New Pornographers - These Are the Fables
6, Les Baxter - Wake the Town and Tell the People
7. Simon & Garfunkel - Fakin' It
8. Yo La Tengo - I Should Have Known Better
9. Fairport Convention - Come All Ye
10. Sarah Vaughan - What Kind of Fool Am I?

Thursday, August 27, 2015


If Burning Man has turned out to be another decadent playground for the One Percent, I can't say I'm all that surprised. I first heard about it at a wedding some years ago. It was the 21st century, because my friend who was also attending had started dating the future mother of (most of) his children, but it was early in the century. This other guest was all gung-ho about the Burning Man experience and really hoped he'd be able to go again next year. My second reaction - internal - was that this setup sounded like it was for the gullible and the unscrupulous, who always find each other sooner or later.

My first reaction was, "Jesus Christ! Somebody's charging just for the privilege of walking around naked in the desert? I hope some fallen Indians rise from the dead and eat his brains."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Dick in time

A year or so ago I read a book called American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett. A big book, and one that won a few awards, it had a fascinating setup. A Western town where a quantum experiment had been done was inhabited by multidimensional beings, most of whom inhabited town elders. In essence it was like Twin Peaks with Lovecraftian Elder Gods, not all of them evil. And for a while, each succeeding chapter seems to introduce a wild new element. Yet I read with a sinking feeling that I'd be disappointed by the end. That the energy generated in creating this anything-can-happen atmosphere would be spent in bringing it to a conventional close that doesn't serve the ideas present. And I think despite Bennett's best efforts, that's what happened. The rules of popular storytelling are so entrenched that no matter where you start from, odds are you'll end up in the same old place. (To some extent this happened with the Lost series finale too.)

Philip K. Dick predated the rulebook, or at least the current edition of it. Oh, God knows his endings could disappoint. That's one of the sources of tension: Can he get to the end without falling apart?

But when he fails he fails in his own way. He keeps an eye on what he is doing, rather than what he should be doing.

The Penultimate Truth, which I've just finished, is a case in point. The story begins with Nicholas St. James in an "ant tank", a cramped subterranean community for laborers supporting World War III. Except the war is over, and nobody told them. St. James is forced to go to the surface and becomes involved in a battle of wills between allegedly radiation charred (but really just Native American) David Lantano and proto-Jabba the Hutt Stanton Brose.

I won't give away much more, but the story takes a few turns and ends small. This is right. It's built as a small story, its tight frame keeping it from bloating. You don't have to look too close to see Dick's Gnostic interests at play. Brose and Lantano are obvious demiurge figures, the former almost pure evil, the latter not really pure good, but livable. But perhaps because these were concerns he lived with in his daily life, he can fit them into a simple - but not predictable - story. He doesn't feel the need to blow everything up to epic proportion.

And as a result, The Penultimate Truth remains only itself. Just as Dick could only ever be himself.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Living up to its name

One of those sites that can keep you occupied for days on end is The Weirdest Band in the World. The webmaster/editors have compiled hundreds of acts, from those just about everyone knows (Devo, Beefheart, P-Funk) to the truly obscure. The lady below is one of the latter, it's pretty safe to say. They also mention her being a Residents fan, which shows.

More or less weird than the metal band with a parrot for a lead singer? The great thing is you get a chance to judge for yourself.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Fahrenheit Friday Random Ten

It's pretty much been a weeklong heatwave. At the very least since Sunday. This means finding yourself in a more liquid state than normal much of the time. (So easy in the other months to forget that you're two thirds water.) Still, this too shall pass. If you have AC everywhere you go you're just forcing yourself not to notice.

1. Fairport Convention - Tam Lin
2. Lambert, Hendricks and Ross - Everybody's Boppin'
3. The Ramones - Daytime Dilemma (Dangers of Love)
4. Les Baxter - Ruby
5. David Bowie - Star
6. The New Pornographers - The Bleeding Heart Show
7. Nick Drake - Hazey Jane I
8. Simon & Garfunkel - Mrs. Robinson
9. Yo La Tengo - Mr. Tough
10. Finn Riggins - Battle

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Novelty record a gogo

This track from 50 years ago is just remarkably bizarre. If Mansfield could sing this isn't the song to prove it, if "song" is the right word. ("If PanaCea™ makes your back crack and your liver quiver, stop taking it and consult your doctor.") The guitar, though, is by young Jimi Hendrix. And while we're a long way away from, say, "Burning of the Midnight Lamp" the music is actually good. at the very least I could see it keeping the cocktail waitresses alert.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The importance of owning Ernie

Salon's Arthur Chu  has some thoughts on the new normal regarding Sesame Street, whereby HBO effectively owns the show and shows first run episodes that will rerun in nine months' time. Is this something, by the way, that Jim Henson would have accepted were he still with us? Maybe if his back were really against the wall, but I can't imagine him being happy about it. Chu provides some background on how this came to be.
The basis of Ganz Cooney’s famous “little dinner party” where a small group of TV executives and developmental psychologists came up with the idea for “Sesame Street” was a simple formula–poor kids watch more TV than rich kids, thanks to poor kids having busy parents and being more likely to be “raised by TV.” Poor kids get less education than rich kids. Make TV that’s educational–good TV that’s educational, TV that was “addictive” in the way successful shows are rather than the crappy low-budget afterthought TV that most children’s programming was back then–and you might level the socioeconomic playing field.

The idea has its obvious flaws, which were criticized at the time. (Doesn’t all of this just train kids to watch more TV? Doesn’t the constant need to entertain necessarily distort your message? Neil Postman, etc.) But the mission is undeniably noble and shockingly radical even for today
Maybe more radical for today. So what happened? A couple of things, I think. One is that public television is part of a government reachout that's been so demonized by the right that even people who agree with its mission have started to see it as doomed. Also the intellectual class - at least the most accepted part of it - has a serious case of shiny object syndrome when it comes to technology. Consider the seriously-made argument that taxi companies represent a monopoly but ride-apps don't even though the latter are represented by only two companies nationwide. Anyway, in 1969 TV was still a relatively recent technological development. The big changeover to color was only three years in the past. Yet people were sufficiently critical of it to recognize that it wasn't going to provide a cultural good all by itself, that this might take some effort.