Pick Your Pop Culture

So, I've like written about music for 25 years, and like I've got a lot to say and not enough people to pay me for it, and like I like to write about TV, and books, and movies, and stuff like that.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Stand-in - The Unemployment Line

You never know when watching a movie will resonate with real life. Sunday afternoon, I set up the DVR to record “Stand-In,” a 1937 flick starring Humphrey Bogart, Leslie Howard, and Joan Blondell, who bears a sweet resemblance to my wife. Sunday evening, I lost my job. Monday evening, I watched “Stand-In,” a comedy of sorts, and suddenly came to the part wherein Howard’s character loses his job. So much for escapism.

In September of 1984, I was hired by Vintage Vinyl, and I couldn’t have been happier. I was leaving a record store that was only a few months away from going under, and heading to the coolest place in St. Louis. I spent half my spare time in that little shop anyway, so it seemed the perfect place for me to earn some cash.

At the time, it was hard to earn a living. I was 25, in my first apartment, and broke all the time. But, I was soaking up so much knowledge from the people who worked at the store with me. And, I was often working alone, so I could play any open record in the store, and learn even more. If it weren’t for that time in Vintage Vinyl, I don’t think I would know a tenth of what I know about music.

Over the years, business kept getting better, and I worked my way up through just about every job that could be had there. I worked with hundreds of different fellow employees – heck, I hired dozens of ‘em myself. I kept on learning, not just about music, but about inventory levels and balance sheets and financial projections and managing people and computers and spreadsheets. I figured, for the longest time, that I would work there until I died, or at least retired.

The strength of Vintage Vinyl was always in its people, but the strength worked best when times were good. The record industry has taken some hits in recent years. I’ve never believed for one second that these hits were caused by file-sharing. To me, the problems are more cultural than that. Music doesn’t mean to kids now what it did to people of my generation. Oh, they like it alright, but it’s just one of many entertainment distractions. I can’t for the life of me figure out why anybody would want to waste ten seconds with a video game – well, maybe the baseball or hockey ones, if I actually had any hand-eye coordination. But, that’s where the big money is now.

Something had to give to keep Vintage Vinyl going, and I was the sacrificial offering to the retail gods. Now, I’m sitting here terrified and thrilled about the future. I can envision equally living in the gutter and living an even more comfortable life from here on out. Legally, I get to stay on the company bought medical insurance, though I have to pay for it now. That won’t last forever, but it’s a big deal. If I have to buy my own insurance, I think I have to deal with pre-existing conditions clauses, and that’s not a good thing.

I’ve got skills I haven’t even thought about, and my next step is to figure them out. That’ll come in a day or two. You’ve got to take some time to mourn, and some time to distract. Big life decisions shouldn’t be made while you’re in shock. But, they will be made, and I hope I’ll be alright.

Hey, did I mention my wife is losing her job this year, too, because of a corporate merger? Oh, yeah, scary and thrilling, you betcha.

Now, about that movie. “Stand-In” was one of those 1930s b-pictures that didn’t quite know what it wanted to be. The character actors ham things up about as much as any I’ve ever seen, especially Jack Carson with his motor-mouth fast-talking and his loud, high-pitched laugh. Bogart has a blast playing comedy, though he doesn’t get nearly enough funny lines. Howard carries the picture, playing a prim, prissy stuffed shirt who only understands numbers and doesn’t even know who Shirley Temple is. Naturally, he saves the movie studio and gets to marry Blondell.

This movie reveals a whole lot about the back-stage maneuverings of motion picture studios. There is dirt on the content of star contracts, on their vanity, on the incompetence of some directors, even on the sexual shenanigans of some serial polygamists. There is also a lot of technical information shown of how movies could create believable scenes right on the studio lots.

I thought that was unusual for the time, but then, near the end, the movie transforms into a battle between labor and capitol, allowing for the nuanced view that even the man in charge can be an employee at the same time. When Howard is fired, he rallies all the studio workers to keep working for two days so they can finish the re-edited picture that can keep the company out of the hands of a speculator who buys movie studios so they can be shut down. Just try to imagine a movie being made nowadays which shows that the workers actually have and deserve some power.

I didn’t have that option, but it was kind of fun watching somebody do it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

How the fuck can they do that to you?

3:34 PM  
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