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.

Monday, August 22, 2005

New Memories of Stardust Memories

Do you ever think it might be interesting to go back 25 years and re-live your adult life again? I mean, take the blueprint that was you as a child and teen, and avoid any mistakes you made after that? Or maybe, just appreciate the possibilities you had which have since passed by?

Nah, I don’t get that way very often, and for the most part, I’m one heck of a happy guy. But, I just watched “Stardust Memories,” the 1980 Woody Allen movie, and I wondered what my 21-year-old self would have done with it back when it was new. At the time, I had no real understanding that women were as human as I was, or to be more precise, I didn’t understand why they acted the way they did even though they were clearly as human as I was. So, I think I would have accepted all of Woody Allen’s views of women as being a lot more profound than they might actually have been.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Allen is a profound observer of the human condition, but all his profundity is in relationship to himself. He knows what it feels like to be a filmmaker looking for deeper meaning than a simple laugh, while his public wants him to stay the clown he once was. He understands the demands of stardom, and the ways the public can intrude on real life. He certainly knows his desires for women, and the mysterious pulls they can have on him, especially when they are being inscrutable, which they mostly are because he looks at them as something he can obtain, rather than as a person as fallible as he is.

I felt a strange twinge of nostalgia watching this movie. I hadn’t seen it before, so the feeling that came over me had to do with who I was when movies like this were common enough to make money in theatres. Obviously, Allen was paying tribute here and there to Bergman and Fellini, moving in and out of storytelling mode and playing around with symbolism, making fun of it by overstating it. And, back when meta-fiction was far more rare than it is today, when it seems as if everybody on any screen knows he or she is being filmed, the fact that the actors and audience are shown commenting on the film itself was charmingly fresh. I would have loved this movie when I was 21, looking to break with convention, dreaming about the nature of women, wanting to be thinking deep thoughts every day of my life.

Remember Me?

Cat and I drove down to rural Missouri yesterday. I think it was Herculaneum, but I always get confused down there. She knows where she’s going, so I never bothered to learn.

Anyway, what’s happening down there? We went to Buckheit, which used to be a cool department store with some fun things to see. Like, they used to have the coolest toy collection in America, all these little die-cast farm machines and animals, and farm houses. Now, I think they had like two half-shelves full of little toy trucks. They used to have tons of cheap and interesting food products, jars of jellies and jams, and bags and bags of candy guaranteed to rot your teeth into a gapped-up smile. Now, there was only one small display of this sort of thing. Buckheit still sells horse gear, but there wasn’t much else to distinguish it from a pricier and less well-stocked Walmart.

That’s okay, I figured. We could salvage the trip by stopping at the giant Pevely flea market. (Oh, I guess that means we were in Pevely, doesn’t it?) Not only did we have the sticker shock of paying $1.00 admission when it used to be free, but I swear, there were half as many booths and twice as much garbage as I’ve ever seen there. This place used to give me hours of digging through old books and magazines and comic books. Now, we spent fifteen minutes desperately looking for anything that interested us.

The people watching wasn’t all that interesting, either. There was one guy wearing a t-shirt that said, “Hunt Like You Got A Pair,” which I admired in a completely ironic hipster fashion. But, otherwise, the whole trip was a disappointment. I mean, we had fun, but that was the pleasure of each other’s company, rather than anything we happened upon when we got there.

I’m afraid rural America is slowly but surely losing its distinctiveness.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

An Update on Many Things

Returning to the blog world after an absence of nine days is a little scary. I’ve got lots of ideas, of course, so many that I’m terrified of the blank Microsoft Word document. (Unlike in my youth, when typewriter pages truly were white and empty, the Word document always has those little icons at the top, which somehow makes me feel less alone. Doesn’t make it any easier to get started, though.)

Let me tell you what I’ve been up to. I thought I was gonna get a full-time job, but I didn’t. I was working for six weeks at Prison Performing Arts, a wonderful non-profit organization that brings the arts into jail. I didn’t actually go to jail myself. I was sitting in an office, learning new software, developing grant-writing and editing skills, and doing all kinds of interesting (and sometimes mundane) things. But, they chose to hire somebody else full time, and that’s the way that cookie crumbled.

I was going to write a post called “People Who Died” because that’s what seemed to be happening last week. One friend lost his mother, another lost her brother, and a whole lot of us lost a guy named Toast, who was one of those scene-making dudes who seemed likely to be a permanent fixture on the widest periphery of my life. I didn’t really have a clear idea how I was going to do that, though it was going to be based around the old Jim Carroll song and the fact that his birthday was last week.

I didn’t write about going to see Elvis Costello last Tuesday night, or about catching Bruce Springsteen on Saturday. (Or for that matter, about seeing the Bottle Rockets on Friday, or the very end of Sonny Landreth’s set after the Springsteen show.) Sometimes, my mind starts racing after I hear music, and I want to try to explain what I experienced. Other times, I simply enjoy it, as I did all this stuff, and words don’t come to paper.

I’ve seen some movies lately. Buster Keaton in “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” and Marion Davies in “The Patsy,” both from the late 1920s, and both full of laughs with lots of magnificent physical comedy and facial mannerisms. The Keaton is his masterpiece, and it contains that scene we’ve all seen a million times in documentaries, when the building falls on him but he stands unscathed, having placed himself directly in the center of the empty upstairs window. I also caught a Frank Sinatra/Groucho Marx/Jane Russell piece of fluff called “Double Dynamite” that showed how the mighty had yet to achieve, or the mighty had fallen, or the mighty was posed as provocatively as the mores of 1951 would allow, depending on which mighty star you’re talking about.

I picked up some new CDs today. (For those of you worrying about my frugality in the face of unemployment, I’ve been trading out some old, unloved music for brand new stuff, figuring out that if I started playing all my albums, CDs, and cassettes tomorrow, at an average rate of say ten per day, it would probably take me a couple years to hear them all.) These I can recommend after one quick listen: The Flamin’ Groovies “Shake Some Action” reissue sounds even more amazing than I remember it, sticking true to the original production while somehow eliminating the murk of the record. Bobby Purify, “Better to Have It,” is a brand new old-school soul gem. Bill Frisell has a two-disc live masterpiece of trio stuff called “East/West” that absolutely blew me away. And Daniel Lanois has a new instrumental album of luscious, barely graspable beauty called “Belladonna.”

I read a great book called “Lost Delta Found” by John W. Work, Lewis Wade Jones, and Samuel C. Adams, Jr. Ever wonder what the contemporary researchers from Fisk University thought about the blues and sacred music and performers they studied back in 1941 when the whiter and thus more famous Alan Lomax was taking all the credit? This is what they wrote back then, left unpublished for 65 years, and it’s fascinating. I wish I had written something more in depth about it, because this is important new information helping to put that music back into its original context, before any of the people, including Muddy Water (before he was pluralized), became famous.

I’m working on some writing stuff for pay, too. And, I’ve got an opening into a part-time research job. So, while I still look for real work, I’m at least bringing in some money, and learning a lot, and figuring out what can happen next. And, I’ll be blogging more often. Seems like every time I pick up a few new readers, I go through a dry spell.

Monday, August 01, 2005

A Few Paragraphs, Unrelated

To keep my blogging feet in the door, I’m gonna post a few random thoughts and episodes regarding my weekend. Really, there are book reviews and music reviews and movie reviews coming up, but not today. Nope, today, it’s just detritus, some of it pretty, some of it about as useless as I can imagine.

1) Did y’all see “Six Feet Under” last night? Okay, I don’t usually worry about spoilers, but as this was one of the most unexpected plot developments I’ve ever seen on a major television series, I’m not gonna reveal anything to you. I will tell you that the last three weeks have seen a major return to form for this show, which had been mired in some seemingly hopeless levels of misery for the first part of this season (and, frankly, much of the last one). If you’ve ever enjoyed the show, even if you abandoned it a year or three ago, I think you’ll find this episode to be devastating.

2) I have now officially joined the modern world. This morning, I burned my first CD. Yesterday, I signed up for a downloading service – check it out at www.emusic.com – and I’ve been sampling all kinds of cool indie records at a ridiculously cheap price. Considering they’ve got the entire OJC catalogue, the jazz alone makes the $9.95 monthly fee for 40 downloads pretty reasonable. (And remember, a 15 minute live Sonny Rollins masterpiece costs the same as a 2-minute punk song.) So, this morning, I created an itunes playlist, and am now enjoying a CD containing the Animals with Sonny Boy Williamson, Skip James, the Posies, the Kinks, the dB’s (actually, I downloaded that one from the web site I told you about last week), Bob Mould, the Decemberists, and Sonny Rollins.

3) Saturday, Cat and I got sunburned. Apparently, if you skip two weeks of hanging out at the pool, you lose the immunity you’d gained to the sun. Man, I’ve got new respect for George Hamilton and Zonker Harris.

4) I watched most of the Cardinals game yesterday, and I’m appalled at the strange decisions of Tony LaRussa. I mean, yeah, they won, but why all the bunts? Why take the bat out of the hands of John Rodriguez? Why insist on taking out Julian Tavarez when he was throwing the ball great? Why, Tony, why?

5) We’ve been watching episodes of “Homicide: Life on the Street,” from the season 4 DVD box (loaned to us by our most excellent friend John Wendland). On this show, even when they pushed the death toll to absurd limits – there was a serial killer who was driving from Florida to Baltimore and killing every few hours when he needed gas – the human foibles and qualities of the detectives were never forgotten. One of these days, I’ll have more to say on this subject, but I just want to acknowledge right now that this show was one of the all-time high points of television history.

6) I’ve got to go make lunch now and head in to work. Tomorrow is my second interview at the place I’ve been working for five weeks now. Will they hire me for real, or will the job go to a guy who hasn’t worked there yet? Stay tuned, folks. The soap opera never ends.