Saturday, November 30, 2013
...Well, at least I had hoped to be back on Thursday with a Thanksgiving tradition. I got kind of sidetracked. So, here is what was supposed to be posted on Thursday, just a little late, but still fun:
This is the original recording, from 1967.
Planning on being back tomorrow for Music Sunday, which will not, I repeat, NOT, have anything to do with Christmas Music.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Busy, busy, busy day.
Out with roommate, waiting for her at her doctor's appointment, Laundromat, library - definitely, library, since it will be closed for two days in a row and I get twitchy when there aren't enough books around to read - and various and sundry other pre-holiday things to do.
Back tomorrow with a Thanksgiving tradition.
And, if you aren't in the United States, tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, the day we get together and eat too much, watch sports (well, some of us - me, not so much), eat more and, incidentally, try to have one day when we give thanks for what we have before we go out and kicks and scratch and brawl to acquire more of what we probably don't need. Again, well, some of us. Others of us spend an extra day in out of the Black Friday idiocy.
Oh, and I have to share this and say that I am thankful for people who care enough to get involved in their communities and do things like the 7-Eleven franchise owners in my neighborhood are doing. The thing the article is about isn't a corporate initiative, but simply individuals who care about getting kids excited about reading. So, when the corporation adopts this (and they might, some of the company executives have already been to visit) literacy initiative, remember that it started in my neighborhood.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
I wonder how it's going to play in the developed world.
Pope Francis has released what is known as an apostolic exhortation in which he criticizes the global economic system and characterizes "unfettered" capitalism as "tyranny". He goes even further, asking the rich, essentially, to share the wealth. Even more controversially - if that is possible - he tells political leaders that they need to "attack the structural causes of inequality." In fact, he reportedly calls specifically for a restructuring of the world financial system. Here is an analysis of the document posted on CNN.com.
That's a wide-ranging agenda, and I'm pretty sure that there are going to be people - the very people he is addressing - who are going to take issue with his exhortations.
Not that anyone should really be surprised that the Pope would produce such a document. After all, he has rejected living in the Apostolic Palace and is driven around in a Ford rather than a big, black limo. He also recently took steps against a spendthrift bishop.
Now, I'm not a Catholic, and I don't know how much force a document like this will have within the Catholic Church, much less on the secular leaders of the world. But I think some of the things he says here are important and must be said by someone who is in a position of power and influence, rather than just coming from people who don't have anything and keep getting accused by the 1 percent of just being a) greedy, b) lazy, c) Socialist, or d) all of the above.
Sort of like how the Tea Partiers here in the US talk about anyone who has the audacity to ask for just a little fairness and real equality.
It really is going to be interesting to see how the reaction to this shakes out, especially from some US politicians who are libertarian/Tea Party in their ideological bent but who portray themselves as devout Roman Catholics.
When I've found a translation of the document and read it, I might have more to say about what Pope Francis has written. Until then, I guess it will just be a waiting game to see what sort of commentary comes out in the media. I'm predicting either crickets, with political and economic leaders trying to ignore the Pope's ideas in hopes that his call for greater equality will go away, or else an outcry about how Pope Frances "just doesn't understand how the real world works."
I could be wrong, and I hope I am and that his ideas get not only a fair airing but spur people to action. But I'm not holding my breath on that.
Monday, November 25, 2013
If you follow along here at all, you've probably tripped to the fact that I'm a huge "Doctor Who" fan. This means that this past weekend was a big one for me, with the 50th anniversary of the first showing of the first episode of the series in the UK. Along with this came not only a new episode, "The Day of the Doctor", but a made-for-TV movie, "An Adventure in Space and Time", which told the story of the making of that first episode and what came after with the first Doctor. And it is an interesting story, which included having to reshoot the entire episode and having it air for the first time on November 23, 1963, the day after the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy.
It's kind of amazing that the show survived, with all it came up against - immediately, with the world focused on the death of a president and in the longer term with the worsening health of William Hartnell, who portrayed the First Doctor. But, the producer, a woman when very few women were allowed such a powerful position in the entertainment industry, demanded a re-airing the next week, when the show garnered a huge audience. "An Adventure in Space and Time" is a very good movie, and can be viewed enjoyably even if you don't know anything about "Doctor Who", I recommend it. I also recommend "The Day of the Doctor", but you'll enjoy that more if you are a fan.
The thing is, this whole situation with "Doctor Who" debuting the day after such a huge and devastating historical event got me to thinking about what was showing in US theaters in November of 1963, especially those films opening just before or after the assassination of JFK. I did a little digging, and found some interesting information. At least two films that debuted shortly before the assassination, "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (which opened on November 7) and "McLintock!" (which opened on November 13, just nine days before the assassination), went on to become the third and eleventh top grossing films, respectively, in the US that year. On the other hand, "Soldier in the Rain", which some critics have said deserves to be a much better-known film, had its box office hurt by its being released on November 27, just a few days after the assassination, when many people were still in shock over the death of JFK.
"It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" was a huge film at the time, with an all-star cast headed by Spencer Tracy and including an ensemble of top comic actors and cameo appearances by a huge list of familiar faces. The story revolved around $350,000 in stolen cash (a lot of money in those days) and the efforts by the group of people who stop to aid a dying victim of a car crash, who also happened to be one of the suspects in the taking of the money. The dying man reveals the location of the money just before kicking the bucket (literally), and they are off to see who can get to "the big W" the quickest and claim the money for themselves. It really is a movie that has to be seen to be appreciated, and it is very, very funny. Here is the original theatrical trailer for the film:
"McLintock!" is one of my favorite John Wayne movies. It starred Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in a loose adaptation of "The Taming of the Shrew". O'Hara is Wayne's estranged wife, who has left him two years earlier over his alleged philandering, but has returned to gain custody of their daughter, who is returning from college in the East, and to get Wayne's character to agree to a divorce. You have to see the rest of this Western comedy, which was directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, who went on to direct several of Wayne's films. Here's a scene from near the beginning of the movie:
And here is the original trailer for the film. It isn't particularly a politically correct film (well, it was 1963 after all), but it's proof of something that I've been trying to convince people of for a long time...that John Wayne was a pretty good comic actor:
"Soldier in the Rain", which starred Steve McQueen and Jackie Gleason as unlikely friends in the Army, was released on November 27 and, as I said, didn't do particularly well at the box office. The screenplay was written by William Goldman, from his own novel of the same name. Goldman went on to write films like "The Princess Bride" (again, from his own novel) as well as to win two Academy Awards, for Best Original Screenplay for "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and Best Adapted Screenplay for "All the President's Men". The director was Ralph Nelson, who also directed several award-winning films, so the film had a good pedigree - just not a release at a good time. This is the closest I could find to a clip that gave a good flavor of the film:
My recommendation. See all of these movies if you can. Oh, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Today, I'm thinking about rock documentaries. This probably is because about a week or so ago I watched a great documentary about Jimi Hendrix, called "Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train A'Comin'", that was part of the American Masters Series on PBS here in the States. It was two hours long, and followed Hendrix's entire life, from his birth in Seattle, Washington, in 1942, to his untimely death in London in 1970 at the age of 27. It is a good look at his career, from playing with the Isley Brothers and Little Richard to his biggest successes, first in England and then in the United States and around the world. Here is a trailer for the film, which includes commentary from not only Hendrix's friends, but from musicians such as Paul McCartney and Steve Winwood:
You probably know, if you've been following along here for very long, that I love documentary films in general. One of my favorite sub-genres with documentary film-making is rock docs, as they get called sometimes. One of the first, and one of the best, is "Monterey Pop", directed by D. A. Pennebaker, that chronicles the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, held in Monterey, California. The festival was organized by music promoter Lou Adler, singer John Phillips (of The Mamas and The Papas), producer Alan Pariser, and publicist Derek Taylor. Because of Taylor's work with The Beatles, it was widely believed that The Beatles would perform at the festival, but that did not happen, although Paul McCartney recommended both Jimi Hendrix and The Who for the festival, and their appearances at the festival their first major performances in the United States. It was also Janis Joplin's first large-scale performance, although her performance (and Hendrix's) did make it into the original cut of the film. You can find footage of their performances, though, on YouTube. One performance that did make it into the film was that of Otis Redding, in his first major appearance in front of a largely white audience.
I don't think this clip made it into the first cut of the film, but it is a good clip, so I'm including it anyway. It is The Buffalo Springfield, with David Crosby guesting (in a sign of things to come), singing "For What It's Worth" (yes, I think I did share this song last week, too), introduced by Peter Tork, of The Monkees. This was a key feature of Monterey Pop, acts being introduced by other musicians, who didn't necessarily perform at the festival:
The year 1970 saw the release of three rock documentaries, all of which are good (although at least one of them got lukewarm reviews when it was released) and all of which are still worth viewing today. In order of their release, these are "Woodstock", "Let It Be", and "Gimme Shelter".
I've written about the Woodstock festival here before, and probably about the film, directed by Michael Wadleigh (one of the editors was Martin Scorsese), as well. It documents, of course, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which has become legendary in the history of music festivals and of the history of rock and roll. Coming in at about three hours long, the film does not feature performances by everyone who played at the festival, but it comes pretty close. Those whose performances appear in the film include, among others, Crosby, Stills, Nash, (and Young, in one song), The Who, The Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Arlo Guthrie, and famously (or perhaps infamously), Country Joe & the Fish. Among those who didn't make it into the original cut of the film include The Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Grateful Dead. There are a couple of later versions of the film that are also floating around. One is the director's cut, which was released in 1994, and a 40th Anniversary edition, from 2009.
This did make it into the film. It is Country Joe & the Fish's performance of "Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag". It figures that there would be some anti-war music at the festival. After all, it was 1969, during the height of the protests against the war in Vietnam. And so this band obliged, with a fairly clever protest song. Alas, the Fish cheer, which came right before they sang this song (and is what really makes the band's Woodstock performance infamous in some circles), is not included in this clip:
"Let It Be" was a whole different kettle of fish from "Woodstock". This film documents the recording of The Beatles' album of the same name, right about the time the band began to fall apart. In fact the film, which is a bit difficult to find these days, includes the last public performance of all four Beatles together. This was the much talked-about and written-about rooftop concert in the middle of London that ended up being shut down by the police because it was disrupting business in the area. The film didn't really get wonderful reviews when it was released in May 1970, but it was and remains an interesting look at a rock band in the final stages of its career. Here is the original theatrical trailer from the film:
And then, in December 1970, "Gimme Shelter" was released. It chronicled the Altamont Free Concert that turned into such a disaster for The Rolling Stones. As the film shows, the concert started out as a nice gesture by the Stones but due to lack of planning, poor choices, and just general bad luck, the event turned into a disaster. In the event, one concert-goer was stabbed to death by security - which was being provided by the Hell's Angels, a choice that no one seemed to be willing to own up to later. The fact that the man who was killed, Meredith Hunter, was carrying a gun, was just one in the whole constellation of things that went wrong. He shouldn't have been carrying a gun, but professional security might have been able to handle the problem by other means. The film shows not only the planning for the show and some of the show itself, but the aftermath, which seemed to shock the members of the band as much as it did everyone else. Here is the original trailer for the film:
And here is the part of the film when Mick Jagger is looking at the footage from the concert where the killing of Hunter is shown, and the aftermath of that:
Certainly, this isn't what the Stones set out to do when they proposed the concert, and it isn't what the filmmakers had in mind in documenting it. But, sometimes, it feels when watching the film like it is a precursor of things to come as American society has gotten more violent and developed more of a gun culture. It's a frightening thing to watch, but I think this is an important film because it documents this and also shows what can go wrong even when most of the parties have the best of intentions.
Because I don't want to end on such a depressing note, I'm going to close with mention of one of my favorite rock docs of all, the 1978 film "The Last Waltz", which documents the farewell concert of The Band, held at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco California, on November 25, 1976, Thanksgiving Day. I've written about The Band and "The Last Waltz" here before, so I'm not going to go into a lot of detail, other than to say that the film was directed by Martin Scorsese, and to post a clip that I haven't posted before here, as far as I can recall. It is from some songs recorded in the studio a few days after the concert but included in the film. This is "Evangeline", with The Band and Emmylou Harris. You might notice that a couple of band members have switched instruments, with Richard Manuel on drums and Levon Helm playing mandolin:
These are, of course, only a few of the many rock documentaries out there. Go find one and watch it. And, if you will, leave me the titles of a few of your own favorites in the comments.
Friday, November 22, 2013
I really hadn't planned on writing about the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy today.
I understand the point of commemorating the day. It has, after all, been 50 years, and we seem to pay special attention of anniversaries with a 0 behind them. And, the truth is that there are a whole lot of people who weren't alive yet then and it's a good thing that they get connected with this horrible part of history, especially considering that a lot changed on that Friday in Dallas. But the further truth is that all of the extensive coverage today and in the past couple of weeks has been disturbing to me.
This is because I remember that day very well, although I was just seven years old and in the second grade. It was the day I learned that bad things can happen and that the world isn't always a nice place.
I guess being that old when I discovered this means that I lived a blessed, or at least a lucky, life that I hadn't learned that before. Then again, it was a different world then, a different culture, and kids got to get to be kids for a lot longer than many kids get to do today.
The thing is, if you were alive and aware of the world around you, you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when you learned that JFK had been killed. It's one of those historical touchstones, like remembering where you were on 9/11. I was in school on November 22, 1963. Mrs. Wiseman, my teacher, told the class that the president had been shot and was dead. And then she said that she didn't care what the Supreme Court had said, we were going to have a prayer for the president's family. And we did. It had only been recently that the Supreme Court had ruled that teacher-led prayer in public schools was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. As far as I know, she didn't get in any trouble for leading that prayer.
But it isn't just that day that we are commemorating today. We are, in a very real sense, I think, also recognizing that the death of John F. Kennedy also meant the death of trust - of the government and of each other. The whole distrust of the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone nut and not involved in any sort of conspiracy to kill the president set up a situation that gave birth to and nurtured the life of countless conspiracy theories about who really shot Kennedy. That environment, in turn, made it much easier for other sorts of conspiracy theories to gain publicity and adherents.
I have to admit that I'm fascinated with the conspiracy theories that surround JFK's assassination. This is not to say that I buy any of them. Some of them are clearly just stupid. Others provide more to think about, and I cannot say that I am completely convinced that there wasn't a conspiracy. Even if there was, though, I'm mostly convinced that we will never know the truth for sure. Some of the conspiracy theorists are slightly frightening in their intensity, and many of them appear to be just plain obsessed. On the other hand, it doesn't help the lone assassin theorists that many of them tend to be just as obsessed and intense, to the point that sometimes it is hard to believe that they aren't engaged in some sort of effort to hide...something.
But, then, that is part of what the JFK assassination and its aftermath bought our culture: suspicion of everything and everyone. "Don't trust anyone over thirty," the mantra of the Sixties hippies turned, in the Seventies, into "Don't trust anybody," full stop. This might be the thing I most dislike about contemporary American culture.
To be honest, I believe that the Sixties as a cultural period didn't properly start until 11/22/63. The time before that was really an extension of the Fifties. I saw a headline this morning that implied that if Kennedy hadn't been assassinated, The Beatles would not have had the impact that they did when the came to the United States the following February. I didn't read the article attached to the headline, so I don't know what the writer's take was, but I can see that such an argument is there to be made, not so much that the band's music wouldn't have become popular, but certainly that the climate wouldn't have been right for the huge impact that The Beatles had culturally.
But, in truth, we can't know that, just like we can't know how things would have been different politically or historically had Kennedy not been killed. There is certainly speculation, not only from scholars but from writers who specialize in novels and short stories about alternate history. I suspect that "had Kennedy lived" alternate histories run a close second to alternative histories about what would have happened if the Axis rather than the Allies had won World War II. We can speculate all day long, but we can never know that for sure, either.
I'm sure we'll here plenty more about JFK's death in the next day or so. Kids in school today, and even some adults who were not yet born in 1963, will be mystified about why everyone is making such a big deal about something that happened 50 years ago. But for those of us who were already around and thinking about the world at all at the time, it is probably inevitable that we will all go through another round of "Where were you when...?"
Inevitable, yes, but uncomfortable for some of us, who were very young but who do remember.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
This story is only funny because no one got hurt, I suppose.
Last night, a Boeing 747 specially fitted to carry cargo landed at a small airport in Kansas, miles away from the airport where it was meant to land, on a runway significantly shorter than it was meant to land on. At first it was feared that the Dreamlifter, reported to be one of only four planes like it in the world, would be grounded for awhile because the runway was thought to be too short for it to take off at it's fully-loaded weight. However, as reported on nbcnews.com, the plane was able to turn around (after what was described as "more than a three-point turn") and take off this morning, despite less than ideal weather that included wind gusts of up to 30 miles an hour.
Here's a link to a story on the take-off. And here is a clip showing the successful take-off of the plane for it's fifteen-minute flight to its intended destination:
The question this raises is, how in the world did this happen? Were the pilots not paying attention? Was the plane's navigational equipment malfunctioning? And how in the world does a pilot mistake a small commercial airport for the landing field at an Air Force Base?
Now, I'm not a pilot, so I don't know the answers to these questions. Maybe this sort of mistake is really easy to make. It was a night landing, after all, and the pilots only missed their intended destination by eight miles. Still, don't most large jets these days have fairly sophisticated navigation systems?
I'm sure we'll here more details about this monumental foul-up later on. For now, I'm just thinking that this story gives me another good reason not to fly.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
So, I was reading the news over on Ravelry today...
No, seriously, the knitters and other fiber artists on that site often scoop even the biggest news organizations in getting the news out. That's what you get when you aggregate over a million knitters and others handy with needles and yarn (and spinning wheels and dye pots and looms) and give them an open forum on the internet. I often read news first over there, and only later on places like CNN.com and the other news network websites.
Anyway, as I was saying, I was reading over at Ravelry a little while ago, and discovered that it's that time of year again. No, not Thanksgiving, or Christmas or any of the other holidays that fall at this time of the year. What I'm talking about is People magazine's annual announcement of the Sexiest Man Alive.
Apparently this year they've chosen Adam Levine. He's a singer, I guess. All I know him from is The Voice, on TV. He's one of the people who mentor the contestants on that singing show. I don't watch the show, but I'm aware of it, and that he's on it.
Also apparently, from what I'm reading over on Ravelry, People has gotten it wrong again. Like they do pretty much every year, ever since 1985, when the magazine chose the then-29-year-old Mel Gibson as the Sexiest Man Alive. And yeah, he was pretty good-looking at the time. Of course, that was before he outed himself as out of his freaking mind. Can't fault People for that, I guess; I'm pretty sure they don't have a crystal ball parked in a back room at their editorial offices.
The problem is, People has a history of getting this wrong.
Well, as wrong as you can get something that is really totally, completely subjective. And Gibson is not the only winner to have since turned out to be a bit of a loon. I mean, in 1990 they selected Tom Cruise. Again, I'm sure they didn't realize he'd be bouncing on Oprah's couch a few years later.
Which is the other thing, and which is getting a lot of discussion over at Ravelry...despite what People seems to be assuming, sexy is not all about looks and a physique and "star power", whatever that is. A man can be the most physically attractive man to ever have walked the face of the earth, but if he's stupid as a box of rocks, or a jerk, at least in my opinion, there's no way I'll consider him sexy. Now, I'm not saying that a genius IQ is a requirement (although it couldn't hurt), but being able to have an intelligent conversation with a man is awfully sexy, in my humble opinion.
But, aside from the questionable antics of Gibson and Cruise in the wake of their naming as World's Sexiest Men, as well as of Nick Nolte, in 1992, who has had his own meltdowns since, I just can't agree with most of the choices for this honor (is it really an honor? that's a good question, I think). Especially recently, in both 2010, when they named Ryan Reynolds, and last year, when Channing Tatum was the choice, my reaction was "Who?" I'd probably heard their names before, but I wouldn't have been able to put a face to either name. Still can't, really. In 2005, when they named Matthew McConaughey, my question wasn't "Who?", because I knew who he was. But, as with Adam Levine this year, the first question that came to mind was, "Why?"
Now, I won't say that people hasn't come close some years. In 1986, the second year they named anyone as Sexiest Man Alive, their choice was Mark Harmon. I was good with that. I'm still good with that; I think he's much more interesting now than he was back then. And, in 1998, they named Harrison Ford, who was already 56 when he was named. I couldn't (and can't) find too much to argue with about that choice, either. In 2008, Hugh Jackman was the choice, and another good one as far as I can see. On the other hand, both George Clooney and Johnny Depp (who both have been chosen twice, Clooney in 1997 and 2006 and Depp in 2003 and 2009) are pretty. No argument there. But in my book, pretty doesn't necessarily equal sexy. The same goes for the other two-time winners, Brad Pitt and Richard Gere. Well, Gere is sort of a two-time winner - his first win actually came as Sexiest Couple, along with Cindy Crawford, in 1993, when People decided, for that year, to take a slightly different tack on the whole subject of sexiness.
I suspect the magazine was feeling a little weird for objectifying men they way many people said that they were.
And the truth is, I thought for awhile before writing this post because in a way, choosing a Sexiest Man Alive is an objectification, and it upsets me when men objectify women as just being their sex appeal. But then I thought, well, turnabout is fair play. This is probably not a good rationalization, but the truth is that our culture does put a high value on the thing we call "sexiness", and I don't have a huge argument with that.
What I do have an argument with is how the culture defines how sexiness is determined...facial looks and physique. As I said up-post, as far as I'm concerned that is only a part (and often a small part) of what determines whether someone is sexy or not. So, really, even though I approve of choices like Harmon, Ford, and Jackman as World's Sexiest Men, I can't really determine whether or not any of them truly meet my criteria for sexiness. But I've seen hints in interviews I've seen and read with all of them that they might meet my other criteria, and I'll have to go by that until I get to interview all of them.
Hey, I'm a journalist. I could totally interview any of them.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
The other day, this article came across my Facebook feed. It's called "12 Skills Your Grandparents Had That You Don't", by Justin Abarca, and I found it interesting.
It probably really isn't aimed at people my age, but at the so-called Millennials, people born between the 1980s and 2000s (sort of, sources aren't that clear on exactly which years this generation covers). Still, I had a pretty strong reaction to some of the items on the list, and it is an interesting list. And so, my commentary:
Item one was "The ability to write legibly."
Well, my grandmother (my father's mother), whose handwriting I know best, didn't really have handwriting that was all that legible. That's first. And, number two, I have extremely legible handwriting - and by that I mean cursive writing - and I am proud of it. Of course, this brings up the whole controversy that I've been seeing the past couple of years over whether or not schools should continue to teach cursive writing, since no one writes anymore, but only keyboards. Yeah, no. I could do a whole post on this topic, and probably will at some point, but the short answer is, Yes, the schools should absolutely continue to teach cursive writing. For more than one reason. But, like I said, I'll leave it at that.
Item two: "Memorizing more than two phone numbers."
I've got to plead guilty here. I mean, I probably could memorize more than two numbers. Goodness knows that I've got who knows how many passwords I've got committed to memory, not to mention web addresses that I can spit out at will. And, while I can't remember my current phone number (I've only had it for a year and a half, and I don't really ever call myself), but I still know my phone number from when I was age 0 to 6. Of course, that was back when phone numbers had letters in them - our exchange was FI, standing for "Fireside". Yeah, I'm old. Also, I might not know my current phone number, but I have my library card number committed to memory. Probably says something about my priorities.
Item three: "Knowing how to use a phone book."
Of course, I know how to use a phone book. The problem is that the phone books that get published these days are wildly counterintuitive. I'm not sure why that is, but their classification systems are gone all wonky. The less said about this, the better. Anyway, it's easier these days to look up phone numbers on the Internet. Which is probably why so few people today know how to use phone books.
Item four: "The most basic of auto maintenance."
Well, I can change a tire if I really have to, and I can replace head and tail light bulbs. I've even replaced a complete headlight on occasion. I know where to add oil if necessary, but I can't change the oil - although I probably could do so if I had a place to do it. I could probably also replace a battery if I could lift the thing.
The thing is, this is sort of a false equivalence, especially if you have a newer car. The new cars are so heavily computerized that it takes an expert to do almost any maintenance that goes beyond what I've listed above. I kind of think it's stupid - I'm not sure why anyone wants cars that will be unusable in case of an electromagnetic pulse, but that's just me, probably.
Item five: "The most basic of home maintenance."
This is a little more relevant. I can do the stuff that is practical to do: change light bulbs, unplug a drain, replace a door knob, and like that. There is stuff I'd rather not do, though, if I can find someone else to do it. And that earthquake in Southern California as I type this is probably my father turning over in his grave for me admitting to that, since he taught me to do all that stuff. Oh, well.
Item six: "The ability to use a real, handheld, paper map."
My father would roll over in his grave if I couldn't do this. Of course I can read a paper road map. I can also read a topographical map, thanks to my geology lab in community college. In fact, I was astonished at the number of people in that lab who just couldn't get their minds around map-reading. That was a basic survival skill in my family when I was growing up. As an extra added bonus, I can not only read a paper road map, I can re-fold it correctly when I'm finished with it. That, I've found, is an even rarer skill than reading the things.
Item seven: "Knowing how to tie multiple types of knots."
Yeah, not so much. Was never a sailor. Was never a Boy Scout (girls weren't allowed when I was young; I was a Girl Scout, but as far as I can recall, we didn't do knots). However, I have to say in my defense that when my friend Brent was moving from Fresno to Berkeley years ago, I tied his mattress and box spring down in the bed of his small pickup (it was so small that it they would not lay flat in the bed of the vehicle). Then I followed him to Berkeley in my car, carrying some of the stuff that would not fit in his truck. It was a long drive, and there was a considerable wind that day, but that mattress and box spring did not move at all, even in the wind at highway speeds. So, apparently, I'm not completely hopeless at knots.
Item eight: "Writing a check properly."
This is the one that really confuses me. What's difficult about writing a check? No, really. I know checks aren't used as often as they used to be, but still...it's not hard. The thing that astonished me when I worked in retail was that there are people who don't know how to write checks. There were several times when customers would hold their checkbooks out to me and want me to write their check for them. The first time that happened, one of the assistant managers nearly had to pick me up of the floor, I was so surprised.
Item nine: "Knowing how to sew more than a button."
I can sew...with a lot of adult supervision. I have sewn, successfully. It is not something I enjoy doing. I knit. I do embroidery and cross stitch. I do kumihimo (medieval Japanese cord-making). But, yeah, I can sew if I have to. I prefer not to.
Item ten: "Knowing how to raise crops and livestock."
This is another thing sort of like car maintenance - where is the need to know this today; we have specialists. Of course, it's nice to have a garden. Not that I've ever had very much success raising food. I killed a cactus once, and they are much hardier than garden vegetables. But most people, as we migrate more and more into the cities, are not going to have the opportunity to have more than a small garden, and they certainly aren't going to have the room to raise livestock, aside from a chicken or two. Now, I can understand the value of having a theoretical knowledge of these things, because, who knows what might happen in the future. But, still, not the most relevant skills for most people in the modern world, at least not in the developed countries.
Item eleven: "Socializing like a human."
Of course I can socialize like a human. There were no home computers to speak of, and no public Internet, until after I graduated from high school, and we certainly didn't even have pagers, much less cell phones can do everything but wash dishes. So, we didn't have the distractions that we do today. If we were going to socialize, we generally had to do it face to face.
Now, this is not to say that I'm much of a party animal. I'm not good at the sort of small talk you usually find at parties, and I don't really like them. But, interesting conversation over a good dinner with a few friends? Yes, please.
Item twelve: "Being creative."
Honestly, I think that being creative has taken on new dimensions since the advent of the electronic age and since everyone has gotten online. There are more and different ways to be creative now than there were in the past. Now, I do think that more people could be encouraged to be creative, and that creativity could be more valued than it is. But, I don't think it was any more valued in the past than it is now. Not really. The true creative have always been the oddballs, and our culture hasn't ever been really friendly toward the oddballs among us.
Again, maybe that's just me, but it's something I believe.
And, finally, item thirteen: "Partner dancing without being gross."
It's been a long time, but I can partner dance the traditional way. I'm not good at it, but I can do it. I think, really, that this is one of those things that every generation gets complaints about as it is coming up. I can remember being a kid and hearing how utterly nasty dances like the Twist, and the Frug, and all of those were. Heck, the waltz was criticized by some as indecent when it was first introduced. So, you know, it just depends. Of course, having said that, some of what passes as dance these days really is gross.
Well, that turned out longer than I had anticipated. But, you know, that's the use of pieces like Justin Abarca's that appeared on BuzzFeed. They might seem silly, but they can also get you to thinking.
And, as you know if you follow along here, the management thinks that thinking is a good thing.
Monday, November 18, 2013
It came to my attention that today is the anniversary of the release of the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, "Steamboat Willie", in 1928. It's a silly little trifle, just over 7 minutes long, and probably nobody who saw it on November 18, 1928, thought that it would be the first step to an entertainment empire. But, it has been said that "It all started with a mouse," and today we are still watching films, animated and live action, from Walt Disney Studios.
Of course, "Steamboat Willie" has come under some criticism over the years for scenes like the one in which Mickey slings a cat around by its tail. And, in reality, criticizing Disney films for one reason or another has become another long tradition. Still, it is an historic bit of film, and not just because it introduced The Mouse that no one dares mess with in a serious way. "Steamboat Willie" was the first animation with synchronized sound. It is also on the Library of Congress's National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."
And so here, on the 85th anniversary of its release, in its entirety, is "Steamboat Willie":
The anniversary kind of got me thinking, since it is Movie Monday, about Disney films in general, and how they kind of get short shrift from some people for various reasons. Various of the films have come under criticism for being insensitive to various groups, for being simplistic, for being "kids' stuff", which is not the same as being simplistic, and so on and so forth. I think I might have written here before how some people have taken to watching some of the more recent animated films frame by frame to find images that they find offensive for whatever reason.
But, you know, Disney Studios have made some fine films over the years. Or, at least, they've made some films I really liked on first viewing and continue to like as I've seen them over and over again, over the years. Yeah, there have been bad Disney films, and Disney films I haven't liked. But there are those that have held up, at least for me, over repeated viewings. And so, in chronological order, here are some of the Disney live action films that I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy. This is not an exhaustive list, but just a few that come to mind immediately when I think of this collection of movies.
I haven't seen "The Living Desert" (1953) in years. Decades, probably. In fact, the last time I specifically remember seeing it was when I was in the third grade and saw it at school, appropriately enough when I lived in Arizona for a couple of months. But, given the chance, I'd sit down and watch it again. It is a documentary about desert life forms that won the Best Documentary Feature award at the 26th Academy Awards and also won the International Prize at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival. It is also on the National Film Registry. Here is just a taste from the introduction of the film:
"The Parent Trap" (1961) is one of my favorite films in the world. That only goes for the original; I didn't really like the remake (from 1998) all that much, although it had its moments. But, the original film is one of those films that I will sit down and watch whenever I find it showing on television. You probably know the story: twins separated as babies when their parents divorce, who discover as young teenagers at summer camp that they actually have a twin. They hatch a plot to return to the parent who they haven't grown up with and then a further plan to get their parents back together. This could have been anything from a pedestrian film to one that was painful to watch. But the way the story is handled, and the performances from all involved - the film stars Hayley Mills, Maureen O'Hara, and Brian Keith - make into something else entirely, a really good film. In this clip, the girls discover that they are, indeed, sisters:
And then there is "Mary Poppins" (1964), which starred Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The film was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, the most of any Disney film, and won four, including the Best Actress award for Julie Andrews. The also won best actress awards at the Golden Globes and from the New York Film Critics Circle. It was the top box office film of 1965. This, of course, is the story of Mary Poppins, the magical nanny with the carpetbag that had to have been a TARDIS (some of us argue that she had to have been a Time Lord) because it was clearly bigger on the inside that it was on the outside. After all, she pulled an entire floor lamp out of it, among other things. Here is the original trailer for the film, including a glimpse of the tea party that ends up floating up around the ceiling, which is my favorite part of the movie:
Jumping ahead a decade, Disney released "Island at the Top of the World" in 1974. Not a lot of people, I've found, remember this film, and it didn't get very good reviews when it first came out, although I understand that it has become more appreciated over time. This film is an action-adventure that revolves around an Arctic expedition. There are erupting volcanoes, there are whales...and there is an airship. I like airships, so I was probably predisposed to like this movie, and I did. Here is a clip from the film:
I have not, on the whole, liked the more recent Disney movies as well as I have liked the older ones. I'm not sure why, and there are exceptions: I've liked the Pirates of the Caribbean films, and the National Treasure movies are good despite the presence of Nicholas Cage who, as I've said before here, bugs the crap out of me. One of the 21st century Disney movies, however, that I like immensely, is "The Princess Diaries" (2001), starring Julie Andrews, Anne Hathaway, and Hector Elizondo. I'm not sure what it is that I like so much about this film, which is clearly targeted at teenage girls. I haven't been a teenager in a very, very long time. But I do like it. Here's the trailer:
And then there is "Oz the Great and Powerful" (2013), which got what can be kindly called mixed reviews, but which I liked a lot once I got over the hesitation to see it based on those reviews. It is the story of how the Wizard got to Oz, and it is a beautiful film to look at. It stars James Franco (who also kind of bugs the crap out of me, but not nearly as much as Nicholas Cage does), Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, and Michelle Williams. But be warned, the Flying Monkeys are even more horrific than they were in "The Wizard of Oz". The trailer doesn't show a good view of the Flying Monkeys, but the small glimpse is enough for you to get the idea:
And, to end on, there is a new Disney film that I just became aware of recently that has premiered in the UK but hasn't been released in the US yet - it will be out next month - "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013), which stars Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. It tells the story of P. L. Travers (played by Emma Thompson), who wrote the "Mary Poppins" books, with an emphasis on the efforts of Walt Disney (portrayed by Tom Hanks) to secure the rights to the books so that he can make a film based on them. I'm really excited to see this film, which has been getting good reviews after it's London premiere. After seeing this trailer (I've previously only seen the short TV ads for the film), I'm even more enthusiastic to see "Saving Mr. Banks":
I know some of you out there are saying, "But what about the animated films?" Just be patient and stay tuned; I'll write about those in a future edition of Movie Monday.
Sunday, November 17, 2013
People tend to laugh at "one hit wonders". They even made a movie about these songs by singers or bands who are never heard from again, "That Thing You Do". Great movie.
But the truth is, some artists with these single hits are actually heard from again, in other guises, or in other bands, or all on their own. Some of them are even known before having that one hit for other things they do. And sometimes, they do only have one hit, but that one song makes an impression that lasts through the decades.
A surprising case in point: The Jimi Hendrix Experience was a one-hit wonder by the criteria generally used to determine hits. Only one single by Jimi Hendrix, no matter who he was working with, broke into the Top 40 in the United States. That was "All Along the Watchtower", which was written and performed by Bob Dylan, but is probably most identified with the cover on the Jimi Hendrix Experience album "Electric Ladyland", from 1968. It only hit number 20 on the US charts, but it was his highest charting single. The highest one of his singles charted otherwise in the US was when "Crosstown Traffic" rose to number 52, also in 1968.
Overall, Janis Joplin was not a one-hit wonder. On the other hand, she only had a part in two singles that hit the Top 40 in her short but illustrious career. In 1971, her cover of "Me and Bobby McGee" hit number one - and that was her only Top 40 hit as a solo artist. But before that, in 1968, she was part of the one hit Big Brother and the Holding Company had, "Piece of My Heart", which went to number 12. Here is a live performance of "Piece of My Heart":
The Buffalo Springfield is considered to have been a hugely influential band in the 60s and beyond, despite the fact that they were only together initially from 1966 to 1968, and only had one Top 40 hit. "For What It's Worth", written by Stephen Stills and released in late 1966, hit number 7 in the US in 1967. The closest the band ever came again to the Top 40 was when, later in 1967, "Rock'n'Roll Woman" went as high as number 44. But both Stills and Neil Young were part of the band, and both went on to have both solo hits and hits with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Still, "For What It's Worth" has remained in the public consciousness despite being the only hit The Buffalo Springfield ever had. This performance is from the old Smother Brothers Comedy Hour, and features bonus silliness from Tommy Smothers:
Another one-hit wonder that reflected the upheaval of the Sixties was "Eve of Destruction", performed by Barry McGuire, which reached number 1 in 1965. I believe I've shared this particular performance of the song here before. It's still odd, and I still haven't quite figured out what the choreographer and set designer were thinking. It probably has something to do with the fact that this was on the television show "Hullabaloo" in 1965:
But, one-hit wonder or not, some songs take on a life of their own and, as shown in this live clip from 2001, Barry McGuire is still performing "Eve of Destruction" and still keeping it relevant:
On the other hand, some one-hit wonders weren't really relevant even when they were a hit. A case in point is Richard Harris's recording of "MacArthur Park" (1968) which reached number 2 on the US Top 40 charts. Yes, the actor, who concluded a long, successful career playing Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films. Well, back in the Sixties he, like a lot of actors, harbored ambitions to be a pop singer. His only hit was "MacArthur Park", written by Jimmy Webb:
This version of "MacArthur Park" has been called the worst song ever recorded and, honestly, it isn't really very good. However, I can't in all good conscience call it the worst. I have, after all, heard Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe Through the Tulips", which, for my money, is much, much worse. Here is a performance of the song on "The Tonight Show" in 1968, the year it hit number 17 on the Top 40 in the United States:
Yikes. And apologies to my friend Terrance, who is a Tiny Tim fan. But, just...Yikes!
Saturday, November 16, 2013
There's this thing going around over on Facebook. Someone posts a number of random things about him or herself, and then when anyone comments on their post, the original poster gives them a number.
As Facebook memes go, this one is kind of fun. I've learned a few things about people that I didn't know, no one is asking me to share or repost something, or post my bra color, or to send something to my 100 best friends in hopes of having my dreams come true or any of that, that I just don't ever participate in. My one exception is any message that is anti-bullying. I was bullied all through school (and some as an adult), and I'm fully willing to get the anti-bullying message out as many times as it takes to get the message across. Other than that, I'll occasionally share something that tickles my fancy, but never when someone tells me I should. I think I've probably written about how I feel about that kind of coercion before, and how much I dislike it.
However, this random thing about you meme is clever, fairly harmless, and in some cases educational. I've only got one problem with it:
After posting thirteen random things and then six more random things, I'm starting to run out of interesting stuff to post about me. I really haven't lived that interesting a life. I might have one more set in me, before I start to have to post stuff that only my mother would have thought was interesting, like the fact that as a baby, I started sleeping through the night on about my fourth night home from the hospital.
See? Not that interesting.
I suppose that I could go to the things that are only tangentially about me. Like the fact that the in-house chaplain at the hospital where my father died was Ferdinand Waldo Demara, who the film "The Great Impostor" (1961) was based on. I didn't know that until about six months after my father died, when I was thumbing through an issue of People magazine (yeah, I know), and I saw a photo of a hospital room that had the same kind of TV sets in the rooms that the hospital my dad was in did - instead of having a big TV on the wall, each bed had a small TV on a sort of scissors arm that could be folded back or folded out over the bed when the patient wanted to watch it. Turned out that the article was about Demara who, after his adventures pretending to be, well, several things that he wasn't, sorted out his life, got religion, and became a hospital chaplain. I showed the article to my mother and said, "I knew that guy had a story when I saw him walking around the hospital."
Interesting? Maybe. About me? No, not really.
But the things I posted on FB probably aren't that interesting to anyone but me, either. For example, here's the first list I posted, when I was given the number 13:
13. I blog most days.
12. I'm a native of California.
11. I have ridden an elephant.
10. I lived in a haunted house for 4.5 years.
9. In my most recent keyboarding 5-minute timed writing, I keyboarded 75 words per minute with no errors.
8. I once shared a stage, albeit briefly, with three of the original cast members of "The Brady Bunch".
7. And, speaking of TV, I've been on national television.
6. I've watched tennis live and in person on Centre Court at Wimbeldon.
5. I once attended a double feature of "Gone With the Wind" and "How the West Was Won"; including intermissions, I was in the theater for just over 8 hours.
4. I have an AS (in Social Science), an AA (in Paralegal Studies), and a BA (in Intercultural Studies).
3. Until I was 6 and a half years old, I lived across the road from the man who played John Wilkes Booth in D. W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation".
2. I remember parts of my first visit to Disneyland even though I was under 2 years old at the time.
1. Air Force One once flew over my house so low that I could not only see the lights in the windows (it was at night), but I could see the people sitting at the windows. It was very, very low.
I have no idea how interesting any of this stuff is. But, it is random, which is the actual criteria for the meme.
And here's the second list, the 6, from earlier tonight:
6) I first got my driver's license on the day after my 16th birthday (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth). So far, in the lots of years since then, I have never had a moving violation. I'm hoping to keep it that way for as many more years.
5) I was reading by the age of 3 and started checking books out of the adult section of the library when I was age 7.
4) I came within inches of having my photo in People magazine. I only know this because I recognized the people in a photo accompanying an article I was reading as the party sitting next to me at a Las Vegas show I saw once. By the way, the headliner was Kris Kristofferson, and it was a great show.
3) Speaking of going to shows, I found out - long after the fact - that I was once at the same concert attended by John Lennon. It was an Elton John concert in Los Angeles, and it was an even greater show.
2) I grew up in line-of-sight (and just about 2 or 3 miles as the crow flies) of a facility that tested rocket engines, including engines for the Apollo program that took men to the Moon. When they ran the tests it often sounded as if the mountain was going to take off, and when they did night tests the whole mountain lit up. Another part of the same facility housed an experimental nuclear reactor that was the first commercial nuclear power plant in the world to experience a core meltdown. I was just about to turn age 3 at the time.
1) Playing the 6-degrees game, I can make connections to at least 5 mass or serial killers with only one intervening link (in other words, I know someone who met each of them). Two of them are Charlie Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer. Also, in the case of Charlie, I can do this two different ways. Makes me wonder sometimes about the company I keep.
Again, quite random, but other than that, probably only of interest to me. But, they asked, I answered.
But, still, I'm not sure what I'm going to do if I get another number from somebody. I mean, since making shit up is probably not the best option.
Friday, November 15, 2013
I'm having one of those days where I feel like I was sent to the wrong planet.
No, really. That is a thought I've had from time to time since I was pretty young. I hear or see things, or things happen, that I just don't understand. Like this article on Huffington Post. It tells the story of a 17-year-old young woman who was born with a medical condition, MRKH, that resulted in her being born without a vagina.
The thing that stood out to me as I read the story is that she has been made to feel ashamed of her condition, even by physicians. It is a genetic condition, something she has no control over, yet she reports that two doctors have asked her why she had not "fixed herself" yet. She, of course, objects to having been shamed over the condition. And this brings up the bigger issue:
We have become a culture of shame.
I've written about this before here, and I've been noticing new iterations of the problem recently in the form of advertisements that perpetuate the idea that we should all be ashamed of ourselves for how we look and even for medical conditions we have. The latest involves ads for a medication for psoriasis in which the purported sufferer talks about being ashamed of having the condition.
What the hell? Really?
I know what's going on in such cases. Big pharma is trying to sell more product by encouraging people to ask their doctors to prescribe the drugs they make, and feelings of shame are a huge motivator. When you keep hearing that you should be ashamed of how you look, or how you feel, you're going to try to do something to alleviate the problem.
And I know what's going on with the British girl in the Huffington Post article. Sexuality is one of the biggest things people are made to feel shame over if you even suspect that something about your sexuality is not "normal" - whatever that is. Depending on the source, the message is that you should be ashamed if you have "too much" sex, or if you don't have enough sex, or if you don't feel like having sex, or if you have the "wrong" kind of sex (this is usually aimed at the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community)...and on and on and on.
And, you know? We really need to cut it out.
Yes, there are things that are abnormal and wrong. Rape. Pedophilia. If you do those things, you should be ashamed of yourself. But those are special cases.
If you weren't born with the "right" parts, if you have a slightly higher or lower sex drive than is considered "normal" (although, if you pay attention to the media and entertainment, there isn't much that is considered "too" high a sex drive), or if you are asexual or homosexual or intersexed or don't identify emotionally with the gender your genetics imply, you should not be ashamed of yourself and nobody should try to make you feel ashamed of that.
Let me repeat that. You should not let people try to shame you for any of that.
Same thing with medical, physical, or psychological conditions. I'm talking about things as varied as acne, psoriasis, baldness, weight issues (at any point on the spectrum, since thin people are often shamed as much as fat people are), height, any sort of emotional or mental issues. If there is something that can be done to fix them, it's often a good idea to pursue that, but not because you are not "normal" and certainly not because someone is trying to make you feel bad about them.
Maybe I'm oversensitive to these issues. I'm not the thinnest person in the world, and I've been shamed for that all my life. I'm also on the spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorders (this is minor for me) and suffer from anxiety issues (these are much better than they were in the past). I've been shamed over those, as well. I haven't found any of that shaming to be constructive in the least.
I'm not sure what to do about any of this. Have you tried to change a whole culture lately? It doesn't usually work very well. But the sort of shaming I'm talking about here is not a good thing. It's the sort of thing actress Jennifer Lawrence has been talking about recently in criticizing those reality shows such as "Fashion Police" that shame celebrities for how they look and what they wear. The non-celebrity form of this is websites like "People of Wal-Mart". One of the stars of "Fashion Police", Joan Rivers, has shot right back at Lawrence, calling her "arrogant" for criticizing what Rivers has essentially turned into her livelihood - criticizing other people for their looks.
Yes, some people seem to think they have a right and a responsibility to go around making fun of others who don't measure up to their very superficial standards, and the further right to do this in as hurtful a manner as possible.
I have no snappy close to this post. I think this is much too serious an issue for that. Think about that girl in the UK that I wrote about at the beginning of the post. How is it going to improve her condition by making her feel ashamed of it? The short answer is that it isn't. But even in less serious cases, like the shaming that goes on as a matter of course on shows like "Fashion Police", that short of shaming shouldn't be something that we tolerate, much less celebrate.
As Wheaton's Law states, "Don't be a dick." Or, to state it more positively, "Be excellent to one another." When we shame people, we aren't being excellent.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Today on the dreaded Facebook, I was given the opportunity to post 13 random things about myself. I'm not going to rehash the whole list here - I really lead a pretty boring life, aside from random nuclear meltdowns (not me, an actual nuclear reactor), Air Force One low flyovers of my house, and having lived in (another) house that was haunted. But, one of the things I posted is that I have actually been on national television.
Because some of the folks that read that list might not believe that I actually was on national TV, though, I thought I'd drop this clip in here as proof of that item on the list. I'm not saying which person of the many in this clip, which ran on the Craig Ferguson Show on February 28, 2011, I am. The people who know me will recognize me if they pay attention (hint: I'm not in the center of the frame for the period of time I'm visible), and the rest of you don't need to know and probably don't care what I look like.
The whole gag of this clip is that Craig Ferguson is a huge Doctor Who fan, and so he sent Chris Hardwick, aka The Nerdist, to Gallifrey One, probably the longest running and most famous of the Doctor Who conventions in the United States, held every year in Los Angeles, to put together a video package to present on his show. I happened to be present where one of the bits was recorded and so, quite by accident, made it onto national television. I wouldn't even have known I had made it into the final product if my friend Tara, who lives in New Mexico and so saw the show before it aired here in the Pacific Time Zone where I live, hadn't messaged me on FB to let me know about it.
So, yes, I didn't set out to be on TV. I had been on TV before, and it isn't that big a deal. But, there I was, and it had to do with Doctor Who, and so I was happy to have been in the right place (or the wrong place) at the right time and got my silly face on the box. The thing is, I had been talking to the cameraman while Hardwick was setting the shot up, blocking it and rehearsing it. The cameraman knew where I was sitting, and I figured that if I was in the shot, he'd tell me so that I could move. In fact, I asked him to do that if it was necessary. He never said a thing, so I thought I was safe. But, apparently, not so much.
The best thing about the existence of this clip, and about it living on over on YouTube, is that I can go back and watch it once in awhile and see some of the friends I made at Gallifrey from around the country.
Oh, and that I can produce proof that I actually was on national television when people don't believe me.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Last Friday, I wrote about how Black Friday seems to be getting more attention this year than Thanksgiving Day in the media. And I stand by that statement.
Which is why I decided to devote Movie Monday this week to films in which Thanksgiving Day plays a significant role. I've probably highlighted all of these films around here before, but this is a good time to do so again.
There certainly aren't as many Thanksgiving movies as there are Christmas movies, but in looking around and doing some research, I found more than I had imagined I would. I haven't seen most of those movies, so I thought I'd focus on a few that I have seen. Not all of them are movies that you probably really associate with Thanksgiving.
The first of those is "Miracle on 34th Street" (1947, and the several remakes). That's a Christmas movie, right? All about Kris Kringle and whether the Jolly Old Elf is real or not. Well, yeah. On the other hand, the action revolves around the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, a drunk Santa, another Santa who isn't thrilled with his instructions to entice customers to do all their Christmas shopping at Macy's, the second Santa's claims to be the real Santa Claus, and the near-universal parental dilemma over what to tell their children about Santa's reality or lack thereof.
This movie, which has become a classic, stars Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, and a young Natalie Wood. It is one of the few holiday classics that I can stand to watch. Some of the reasons include that the scenes in the film of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade were actually filmed during the 1946 parade and that the scenes in Macy's were actually shot on location in the Macy's flagship store on 34th Street in New York City. These facts tickle the history geek in me. Other trivia about the film includes the fact that this was Thelma Ritter's screen debut.
It is also fascinating to me that although this is a holiday film, it was released in May because 20th Century Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck was convinced that more people go to the movies in the summer than during the holidays. Because of the time of year the film was released, there was a great deal of effort expended to hide the fact that it was a holiday movie ahead of its release. This trailer, from 1947, shows the lengths that the studio went to, to keep the theme of the film a secret:
And here is a short scene from the film:
Another film that doesn't really scan at first glance as a Thanksgiving film is the 1978 documentary "The Last Waltz", which was The Band's final concert before their breakup in 1976. What makes it a Thanksgiving film? Well, it was filmed on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1976. Other than that, it probably really isn't a Thanksgiving film in the strictest sense of the term. However, it's a really good film, one of Martin Scorsese's music documentaries, and I like it a lot. I'll take any opportunity I can to share a bit of it. This is the clip I always think of when I think of this film:
But, there are Thanksgiving movies that really are about Thanksgiving and all the angst that Thanksgiving dinner means in some families. The one that captures this the best, I think, is "Home for the Holidays" (1995), starring Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Robert Downey, Jr., Dylan McDermott, Claire Danes and Charles Durning, and directed by Jodie Foster. Holly Hunter plays a woman going back home for Thanksgiving at a bad time in her life. She's just been fired, her teenage daughter has decided that she would rather spend the holiday with her boyfriend's family - and not only that, she's planning on having sex with him. "Safely" - and her family is about as dysfunctional as families get. Add to that, her brother brings home a friend for dinner than none of the family has ever met before. Here's the trailer:
Seriously. See "Home for the Holidays". It's a good movie - and it will make your own dysfunctional family seem absolutely normal and sane by comparison.
And then there's "Alice's Restaurant" (1969), the film version of Arlo Guthrie's famous (and famously long) song of the same name, which tells the story of the Thanksgiving he got arrested for littering. The story told by the song is there, and fairly reliably translated (and mostly true), and Arlo plays himself. More drama, more fictional, is added into the mix, but it remains a good movie. If you know the song, you probably want to know that Officer Obie is played by William Obanhein, the real Officer Obie. If you're a fan of folk music, you might also want to know that Lee Hays, bass singer with The Weavers, and Pete Seeger play themselves.
As this clip shows, "Alice's Restaurant" the movie preserves as its centerpiece "Alice's Restaurant" the song. There's much more here, and this is only part of the song. Really. The movie is very Sixties, but it's also very good at being what it is:
So, in the next couple of weeks, in the run-up to Thanksgiving Day, take a couple of hours out of your busy schedule and see a Thanksgiving movie. You know, before the onslaught of Christmas movies takes over the airwaves and the cable channels.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
I've been thinking about work a lot lately. This probably has to do with the fact that I don't have a job, want one badly, and can't find one to save my life. It's really frustrating. It's stressful. And, lately, many people seem to be under the impression that the only reason people don't have work is because they don't want to work. Apparently, these folks don't know much about the economy and the unemployment rate, which is still a lot higher than it should be.
I could rant about the lack of work and the attitudes of people who have work and who don't have work from here until next Sunday. But I won't.
However, since I've been thinking about work so much, I thought I'd look around to see what kind of songs about work and workers are available. Turns out there are a lot of them. It also turns out that there aren't all that many songs that have a positive attitude about work, or at least about working conditions. I suppose that some people would read these songs as being by spoiled musicians who would rather fart around all day than actually work. But I don't read them all that way. I see them more as documenting all the crap that most working men and women have to put up with on a daily basis in order to keep their jobs so that they'll have a paycheck to take home every week or every month.
This is pretty plain in this song by Huey Lewis and the News, "Workin' for a Livin'" (1982):
The song doesn't say that the protagonist doesn't want to work, just that being an actual working person (as opposed to the bosses, who get paid more and get to decide how the workers are treated) can be a struggle on a day-to-day basis.
"Manic Monday" (1986), performed by The Bangles but written by Prince, is a song in the same vein. Yeah, there are other things the protagonist would rather be doing, but work is necessary. It's just that the realities of the workaday world are frustrating sometimes. Getting up early, maybe missing the bus or the train before even getting to work, knowing that if you're late you might get yelled at or get your pay docked...this is all stressful before you even get to the stress of the actual work day:
"Wichita Lineman" was written by Jimmy Webb and first recorded by Glen Campbell in 1968. It is a song that celebrates the worker who is out there when needed, sometimes lonely and working for long hours in all kinds of conditions. Personally, I like this cover, from R.E.M. best:
Other songs about work are more directly snarky. One of the best of these is Dolly Parton's Grammy Award winning and Academy Award nominated "9 to 5" (1980) from the film of the same name. She wrote the song as well as singing it in the film:
Another song in the same vein and even more direct, although it is only partly about work (it skewers family life pretty strongly, as well, and has some deeper philosophical ambitions as well) is The Police's "Synchronicity II", which was released in 1983, talks about the humiliations that sometimes come along with working for a living:
I'm tempted to end this edition of Music Sunday with Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It", but I don't want to do that. I know that it is a common sentiment. I've had that sentiment about a couple of the jobs I've had. But work isn't a bad thing. Work is a good thing. I am in absolute earnest about wanting a job, and it irritates me when people bitch and moan about their jobs when they should be glad, in this economy especially, that they have one. Yes, there are irritations. Yes, there are frustrations. And, yes, in some jobs the expectations are ridiculous and occasionally humiliating. But those are not the fault of the job. They are the fault of the culture, both in the workplace and in the culture, and of those who have the inclination to make things difficult for those they work with.
That is what these songs do, I think. They complain about working conditions, not about working itself.
And, with that, I'll get off my soapbox and let you enjoy the rest of your Music Sunday.
Friday, November 08, 2013
It's November. Here in the US, we're less than three weeks out from Thanksgiving, and all I'm hearing is about the holiday.
Oh, we're hearing about a holiday here, all right. But it isn't that day that we get together and eat and watch football games (well, some of us - I don't do football), and maybe even think about the "first Thanksgiving" in 1621 at Plymouth Colony, which was probably not historically the first time a feast for giving thanks was held in the American colonies, which some people believe was manufactured for patriotic or religious reasons anyway, and which, in any case, was not proclaimed a national holiday until 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln, right in the middle of the Civil War. And it wasn't even Lincoln's idea; he was moved, it is said, to proclaim the holiday after a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale (who also wrote or co-wrote - depending on which story you buy - "Mary Had A Little Lamb").
But, no matter its origin, Thanksgiving has held on from it's proclamation in 1621 until today. Which is kind of a minor miracle, considering the angst that surrounds it due to the fact that some people think it is right up there with Columbus Day as a holiday celebrating the colonial impulse and the subjugation and genocide of the Native American peoples Columbus, and then the colonists, wrought here. Well, Americans let very little get between themselves and their eating holidays, so that's probably part of the reason we still spend all that money and time preparing a feast that then promptly gets demolished in less than an hour, even if we do feel bad about how the Native Americans were treated by some of our forefathers and foremothers.
Not my foremothers and forefathers, by the way. As far as I know I'm generations away from being able to trace any ancestors back to the colonies; all of my mother's relatives that we know anything about did not come to the United States until sometime after the Civil War and my dad's family didn't get here until after World War I. My father's immediate family - him, his mother and his father - did not get here until early 1925, when my dad was two and a half years old.
There are those who have proposed that Thanksgiving be turned from a day of feasting and thanks into a Day of National Atonement and fasting. I suspect that however well-meant that idea is, not many people are going to buy into it. Maybe as a separate day, but not as a replacement for turkey, pumpkin pie, and sports.
However, Thanksgiving has apparently been at least partly supplanted by the holiday I've heard much more about this year than Turkey Day itself. That Holiday is Black Friday, the ultimate American holiday, celebrating naked capitalism at its most mercenary.
Black Friday, as far as I have been able to tell, has been getting far more attention this year than Thanksgiving has. This is partly because it is starting to creep forward into Thanksgiving Day itself. There has been a great deal of publicity, and more than a little disapproval, about the fact that this year K-Mart is planning on keeping its stores open on Thanksgiving Day itself, opening at 8 p.m. on Thursday.
I'm not sure why this is such a big deal this year. Wal-Mart did that last year, and other chain stores, such as Sears and Target plan to open at either 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. on Thursday. This comes after years of competing stores opening earlier and earlier, first at 5 or 6 a.m. on Friday before pushing opening hours to 4 a.m. or earlier, with some stores last year opening at midnight.
The retail community supports this madness by citing numbers showing that retail stores make most of their money during the Christmas shopping season. Every year, the companies and others issue predictions about how much they expect sales to rise from the year before, and shoppers are urged to get out and do their part to push those numbers up. And, as statistics and news reports show, shoppers are happy to comply, sometimes camping out for hours before the stores are scheduled to open. And they take their shopping very seriously - in the past few years there have been arrests, assaults, shootings and even deaths by trampling during Black Friday shopping.
I think this is all nuts. Even when I could afford it, I never shopped on Black Friday. In fact, I've always made it a point not to spend any money at all if I can help it on the day after Thanksgiving. I'll be honest...I like my sleep too much to get up at the butt-crack of dawn or earlier to go stand in like in the dark and cold just to make sure that retailers can report a good bottom line in their fiscal fourth quarter. I also don't like being told that if I don't participate in this holiday - in Black Friday - then I'm not doing my patriotic duty to keep retailers rolling in the dough. It's their job to generate sales, not mine.
I'm certainly not going to tell anybody who wants to get up in the cold and dark and go shopping not to do so. I am going to say that you should only do that if you really want to, and that you shouldn't let the retailers guilt you into participating. You also shouldn't fall for the "great bargains" that some retailers offer without saying that they are only offering a limited (and very small) number of particular items at the advertised price and that most shoppers are not likely to be able to get those items at that very good price. That's called "bait and switch" where I come from.
My plan is to enjoy Thanksgiving quietly and then sleep late on Black Friday and spend the rest of the day reading and writing and working on the handmade gifts that I intend to give. Oh, and on Thursday having my annual listen to "Alice's Restaurant", the only Thanksgiving song I know. That seems a much more sane way to spend my time on those days.
Thursday, November 07, 2013
Those of you who follow along here might have noticed that I didn't post anything yesterday.
Well, it was a busy day for me, and so I might not have posted anyway. But the more immediate reason that I didn't write anything yesterday was that I felt like crap.
There's been something in the air this fall that has been driving my allergies crazy, and yesterday my sinuses finally stood up and said, "Screw it," and proceeded to make the front of my face feel like someone had hauled off and hit me in the middle of the face with a baseball bat. Feeling like that is not conducive to stringing two thoughts together, which is something that's sort of necessary to writing a blog post that is at least minimally coherent.
So, instead of doing the things I should have been doing last night (reading, doing some writing, posting here), I went to bed directly after dinner. Which meant that I was in bed by 5 p.m.
That is something I never do. Never.
I'm a night person. I'm generally happiest and do my best thinking and writing between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. I never, ever go to bed before 11 p.m. or midnight. On a normal night, if I were to go to sleep before 10 or 11 p.m., I'd be awake at about 3:30 a.m. and not be able to go back to sleep. I often stay up until 1 or 2 a.m. even if I know I have to be up at 6 or 7 the next morning.
Not last night. Last night I was in bed by 5, slept for a couple of hours, woke up to try to read a little, gave up on that and tried to watch some TV, gave up on that and was back asleep by between 8:30 and 9 p.m. And pretty much slept through until just before my alarm went off at 5:45 a.m. Something woke me up around 2:30 a.m., but I was back asleep almost immediately.
Not that I think any of you are really interested in any of this. But all of this is to say that I'm really kind of disappointed that I didn't get to post yesterday.
I really wanted to write about the girl in Kentucky who refused to run in a regional track meet she had been training for and which, if she had run, could have qualified her for the state championships, because the organizers gave her a number to wear that she didn't approve of.
If you guessed that they tried to get her to wear "666", you win.
This is not a new phenomenon by any means. When I used to work in retail, every once in awhile a customer would freak out if their total purchase had those numbers in it. I've seen people who had $6.66 or $16.66 or $46.66, or whatever come up on the register either put something back or buy an extra item, just so they wouldn't be paying that total.
This has to do, of course, that some Christians consider the number 666 to be "The Number of the Beast", from a passage in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, symbolizing the Antichrist or Satan. This is resulted in some people having a phobia regarding that number. This phobia even has a name: Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.
No, I don't know how to pronounce it, either.
Personally, I don't know why the meet officials didn't just issue her another number. Some reports have said that the officials later claimed that if they had known her objection to the number was religious in nature, they would have given her another number to wear.
On the other hand, I'm not a Biblical literalist, and I don't have any objection to the number 666. So, I also don't really understand the psychology of that. Did the girl really think that if she wore the number, that her god would think she was worshiping the Devil? My conceptions of god have always given him/her credit for a little more intelligence and a little less rigidity than that.
That could just be me, though.
Tuesday, November 05, 2013
I don't read too much in the "true crime" genre any more.
I've always been interested in the procedural aspect of the solving of crimes, but at some point it just got too depressing to read much of that sort of thing. Yeah, the crimes that get written about are the ones that end up getting solved sooner or later, mostly. I think that's why a lot of people read true crime; the bad guys get theirs eventually, and that's a comforting thought. But, after awhile, it just got to the point that all that tragedy and blood got too depressing for me to continue to make it a regular part of my reading.
However, I just finished an interesting true crime book, Hands Through Stone (2012, Craven Street Books; 350 pages), by James A. Ardaiz.
I wouldn't have picked it up at the library, except that it is about a local case, or actually two cases a few years apart that turned out to be connected. Not only did I remember the latter of the two cases (the first one was before I moved to the area), but in the years after there were rumors that a woman who lived in my neighborhood was related to one of the people involved. I didn't pay much attention to the talk then, but when I saw the book I made that connection and decided to read it.
I'm glad I read it, because it cleared up some stuff about the case that I had not connected up before, including exactly why the second crime - a triple homicide during what initially appeared to be the robbery of a mom-and-pop grocery store - was committed. I'd always heard that it was a crime of revenge, but I never really understood why the revenge was being sought until I read this book.
Yes, I'm deliberately being vague about the details of the case, which got fairly wide publicity especially after the second crime was committed, because I want you to read the book, and I don't want to give a lot away. Because the book was written by the prosecutor in the first case, who later went on to become an appellate judge, there are enough inside details to make the whole thing interesting.
I'm not going to claim that it is a particularly well-written book, because it isn't. There is no real evidence that it had the benefit of much editing. I'm not sure whether that is the fault of the author or of the publisher (a small local press). It could also have used a good proofread. All of that would have ordinarily made me put the book down unfinished, but the story being told was interesting enough to keep me turning the pages.
The other flaw of the book is that at some points, the narrative becomes more about the writer than the subject of the book. However, I even found those passages interesting because of the insight they gave into the mind of the prosecutor, who followed the case even after he was out of it, seeing it out to its bitter end over twenty-five years after the first crime was committed when the former prosecutor attended the execution of the man who had masterminded the crimes.
And that's another thing about the book. No matter which side of the capital punishment debate you are on, the book will give you things to think about. I happen to be on the anti-death-penalty side of the discussion, for various reasons, but I'll wait to write about that another time.
Right now, I'll just say that, yes, Hands Through Stone is a flawed book. But if you can find it, and if you are interested in the subject of crime and punishment and the people who both commit crimes and those who attempt to bring the perpetrators to justice, you should probably read this book.
Monday, November 04, 2013
Yesterday, for Music Sunday, I wrote about a few singers who have also acted in films. There are many more singers and musicians who have tried their hand at acting, with greater or lesser frequency and success.
One singer who has also acted, and with a great deal of success, is Cher. While she first entered the consciousness of most people as half of Sonny and Cher in the 1960s and then showed she could act while she and Sonny starred in "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" from 1971 through 1974, by the early 1980s she was regularly appearing to good reviews in well-received films. She has also acted on Broadway, also to good notices.
Cher made her Broadway debut in the play "Come Back to the 5 and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean" in 1982, to good notices, and then also appeared as the same character, Sissy, in the film version the same year; both were directed by Robert Altman. The story revolves around the 1975 reunion of the local James Dean fan club in a small Texas town near where Dean's last film, "Giant" was filmed in 1955. This clip shows the first ten minutes of the film, including the first of several flashbacks:
In 1982, Cher appeared with Meryl Streep and Kurt Russell in "Silkwood", the story of plutonium plant worker and union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1974. For her performance as a friend of Silkwood's, Cher was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress and won a Golden Globe in the same category. Then, in 1985, she starred in "Mask" as the mother of a teenager (Eric Stoltz) suffering from a rare disfiguring disorder called craniodiaphyseal dysplasia. Again, Cher was nominated for a Golden Globe for the performance and she won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for the role. Here's a clip from near the beginning of the film, as she shows up to enroll her son in school:
Cher appeared in three films in 1987, "Suspect", "The Witches of Eastwick", and "Moonstruck". "Suspect" didn't get very good reviews, but I've always liked it despite some plot holes you could drive truck through. In the film, Cher plays a public defender who is representing a deaf/mute homeless man (Liam Neeson) who has been charged with murder. One of the jurors (Dennis Quaid) on the case decides to investigate the murder on his own (a definite no-no that jurors are always instructed not to do), and Cher's character gets involved in the illicit investigation. In "The Witches of Eastwick", she stars with Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jack Nicholson (as the Devil). In "Moonstruck", she plays a widow who is engaged to one man but falls in love with his younger brother after her fiancé goes to Sicily to care for his dying mother. "Moonstruck" is my least favorite of Cher's films that I've seen, but that's probably largely to do with the fact that her co-star is Nicholas Cage, who irritates the hell out of me. The film was a huge critical success, was the fifth highest-grossing film of the year, and won three Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay for John Patrick Shanley, Best Supporting Actress for Olympia Dukakis, and Best Actress for Cher. So, clearly, mine is a minority opinion regarding "Moonstruck". Here is the theatrical trailer for the film:
Some of Cher's other films include "Mermaids" (1990), "Tea With Mussolini" (1999), and "Burlessque" (2010). Here is a clip from "Tea With Mussolini", which also stars Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Lily Tomlin, and Joan Plowright, and was directed by Franco Zefferelli:
Sunday, November 03, 2013
Still recovering from a very long Saturday (I had another SCA event to attend), so Music Sunday is going to be short and sweet today, and with a little help from Wikipedia in the for of birthdays for the day.
As it turns out, the singer of one of my favorite movie songs was born on this day in 1948. Lulu sang the title song from "To Sir, With Love" (1967), as well as playing a featured role in the film as Barbara Pegg, a student in a class of working-class kids in one of the poorer parts of London. The film starred Sidney Poitier and was one of the top money-makers 0f 1967. Here is how the song appears in the film:
It is also the birthday today of Adam Ant, another British singer who has dabbled in acting as well as music. Hew as born on November 3, 1954, and was at his most popular in the early 1980s, first with Adam and the Ants and then as a solo act. "Goody Two Shoes" (1982) was his first solo single, and a hit. It is an interesting song, upbeat and trendy for the time while it contained some pointed social commentary about the press and its intrusion on and speculation about the lives of celebrities:
Don Henley covered pretty much the same territory the same year in a song that was more serious and maybe more cynical, but which I like a lot better, "Dirty Laundry". This song tackles the whole issue of how the news media seem to have turned into one big tabloid and, by extension, it's intrusion into the lives of the rich and famous. The song was a solo hit for Henley, but in this clip he performs it with the Eagles in a live show earlier this year:
And, pulling back from that tangent...
Other British singers have dabbled in acting. One of the most notable is Sting. Besides being quite successful both as a member of The Police and as a solo act, he has appeared in several films. But, since this is Music Sunday and not Movie Monday, here is a clip of the video for "We'll Be Together" (1987), from his album "...Nothing Like the Sun". In the video, he calls on his acting as well as his musical abilities, playing two characters:
There are many more musicians who have appeared in films, sometimes as themselves, sometimes in smaller or larger roles and portraying others. Which, of course, means that there could be a second installment of "Acting Singers" in Music Sunday's future.