Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Favorite Painting 31

Honore Daumier, A Man Reading in a Garden c1866-68

I love the play of light and shadow in this picture-- with the interplay between the two creating an atmosphere of relaxation and serenity, suggesting a kind of harmony seemingly at odds with the normal conflict of light and dark. There's also a crispness to the image despite the rather indistinct details of the foliage and the man's clothes. On a more personal level, this is how I intend to pass much of my time this summer, so it's gratifying to think such activity can inspire great art, and not just be a way to while away my idle hours.

Satur... Whoops! Sunday Morning Cartoon

I forgot to post a Saturday morning cartoon yesterday, so here's one I used to watch on Sunday mornings back in the days of my TV-saturated youth. Actually, "Dudley Doright" was part of the package that appeared on The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, along with "Fractured Fairy Tales" and "Mr. Peabody," courtesy of the endlessly creative Jay Ward Studio. Enjoy:

Sunday Morning Philosophy

One of the great ironies of literary history is that one of the greatest English language authors was actually a transplanted Pole. But Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) employed his adopted language to create some of the greatest novels and short stories of all time. Here's his comment on the purpose of art:

" itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt
to render the highest kind of justice to the visible
universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold
and one, underlying its every aspect."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Emma Isn't Walking Yet

I thought that I better post an update on this, since I bring it up every couple of weeks myself (and didn't want to wait until the next round of Friday Family Blogging). She is cute as a button, though, as you can see for yourself in this picture:

Oh what the heck, here's another-- in case you were wondering exactly what color her eyes were:

And just so you don't get the impression that she never smiles, one more:

Trip Pictures

My drive east was very uneventful, and since I came straight through, mostly limited to the mundane view one gets from the interstate. However, I did take a small side track down through southeast Iowa, passing through places like Oskaloosa, Ottumwa and Mount Pleasant. I ended up crossing the Mississippi at Burlington, and stopped to take a few shots there, including the one above (looking north-- that's the bridge I would eventually cross) and the one below (looking south past a replica of the Statue of Liberty which resides at the Port of Burlington), which I thought I would share.

Crossing the Mississippi always signals a passage from west to east (or vice-versa when I return), so it seemed the one moment of the trip worth commiting to megapixels.

Forgotten Classic

Back around 1984 or 1985 David Letterman aired a film festival on his Late Night show, in which he had various celebrities present short films they had done. Here's one of the funnier ones, by Michael Keaton (with help from Ron Howard, who'd given Keaton his breakthrough role in Night Shift a couple years earlier). This kind of makes me wish we'd see more of Keaton in films today:

What I Did Last Night

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery is one of the pre-eminent modern art facilities anywhere in the world. They made their reputation by investing heavily in post World War II American art at a time when it wasn't entirely clear that the likes of Pollack, de Kooning, Motherwell, etc. were anything more than the flavor of the day. But the Abstract Expressionists have been a cornerstone of the Albright-Knox collection for almost 60 years, and the museum recently helped to curate a traveling exhibit called Action/Abstraction which has now made its way to Buffalo after being presented earlier in St. Louis and New York City. The primary focus is not just on the paintings and sculptures themselves, but also the critical support these artists received from such key figures as Harlod Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg (there's also a fair amount of material in the exhibit representing less supportive, and even satirical, takes on the movement many associated with merely flinging paint at a big canvas).

The artwork was great, and because it was a special evening in the exhibition, free. The "special" aspect of the night was a panel of presentations by some pretty significant art scholars on the Abstract Expressionist movement, with particular focus again on the relationship between the artists and the critics. I found a couple of the presentations a bit dry, but the other two were really interesting and funny and contributed to my appreciation of the work that much more. I was particularly taken with the connection made by Katy Siegel of Hunter College between the Abstract-Expressionists and punk. She made a strong case that the rejection of respectable society that we see breakling out in the 1970s really had its roots in the immediate post-war period (referencing things like motorcycle gangs and juvenile delinquency). The artists under discussion may not have been exactly punk, but were likely moved by a similar impulse towards unconventionality and provocation.

Richard Pousette-Dart, Fugue No. 2 1943

From the dicussion, I learned of a couple of painters I did not know about before who I'm looking forward to exploring in the future, namely Barnett Newman and Richard Pousette-Dart (one of whose works is seen above). All-in-all, it was an excellent evening back in Buffalo-- I'm looking forward to many more like it through the summer.

Saturday's Quote of the Day

William Penn (1644-1718) was the founder of Pennsylvania (where my Mom was born, so there's a little familiam connection there), a devout Quaker, and a pretty astute guy all-around, as is clear in this gem from his work Some Fruits of Solitude from 1693:

"Inquiry is human; blind obedience brutal.
Truth never loses by the one, but often
suffers by the other"

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

Okay, this one is in honor of the birthday girl:

Why exactly is Catie making that face? Best answer (this is one that will be judged on creativity) takes the cake (so to speak). Leave your answers in the comments section.

Last week I asked you to tell me what Ben was looking at, and once again the first guess ended up being correct (in fact, all three guessers had the same answer, so it must've been pretty obvious). Lil Sis was first, correctly saying he was watching a ball he had just kicked during one of our many kickball games last summer. Maybe this week will be a bit more challenging.

More Friday Family Blogging

Poking around through Mom's photos, I found some more of Catie that I thought were kind of nice. First, here's one with brother Nick in Gramma's basement.

Here's another one with Nick from when Catie and I went to visit him in Spain (I think-- I can't really tell where this was taken, though it looks like Spain to me).

In this next one, I like the look on Thomas' face, which seems to have something to do with Catie's hidden right hand. I think that's Sara crying (right?) and I know it's Scott beaming...

I don't know what the story is on this one, but it's a nice picture-- must be at a wedding or something.

And one last one of all the Banning kids, from one of their visits to Virginia City. Do they remember those trips?

I'm looking forward to seeing all you guys later in the summer!

Happy Birthday Catie! (Friday Family Blogging)

Today is my sister Mary Catherine's birthday-- I won't say which one, though I have to say it sure doesn't seem possible (and I mean that in the most complimenatary way). Here are a few pics of Catie through the years to commemorate the occasion:

Ah yes, I recognize the distinctive uniform of St. Edmund's in this picture-- every girl in the school wore the same thing for eight years. Luckily Catherine makes it work.

This was taken at Gramma's house during one of our frequent family get-togethers. I'm guessing the smile is the result of downing a few of Gramma's Swedish meatballs (?).

Here's Catie with Theresa and friend Carolyn. I think Dad let them pose on the bike, but I don't think he ever let them actually drive it.

Catie and Mom playing gin at the kitchen table-- a regular sight around the house for quite awhile before Catie moved out to the Great Northwest.

This photreveals how little Sara came by her love of swinging naturally, as Mom (Catie) had her in the saddle at an early age.
Happy Birthday Catherine-- and many many more to come!

Quote for Friday

Sean O'Casey was an Irish dramatist and supporter of Irish independence. Here's a thought he shared that makes a lot of sense to me:

"You cannot put a rope around the neck of an
idea: you cannot put an idea up against a
barrack-square wall and riddle it with bullets:
you cannot confine it in the strongest prison
cell that your slaves could ever build."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

An Observation

While driving across country the past couple of days, I spent a fair amount of time checking out the AM radio dial. As I'm sure most of you are aware, it is dominated by right-wing talk shows , mostly syndicated stuff like Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Medved, etc. As I traveled over many miles, I got a chance to sample all of these. Not once did I come across a more liberal-oriented program-- though I know they exist, they are in a clear and distinct minority. I also noticed, hearing one after the other (not whole programs I admit) I was struck that all were commenting on President Obama's selection for the Supreme Court and all were criticizing the pick in exactly the same terms and using exactly the same examples to support their points. Here's the point I'd like to make-- these guys all deny they are working from a common set of talking points, but I've noticed this phenomenon over and over again (I take a lot of long car trips), that they are in lock-step with regard to the topic for the day, the point to be made about that topic, and the terms they use to make that point. How can this be coincidence? There was one exception, that I heard, and I find his program to be the most listenable of the bunch, namely Dennis Miller. I don't agree with his political views any more than I do with the others mentioned, but at least he mixes things up and talks about other things (like sports and movies) in a manner that is generally engaging, while the other one-note clones become boring very quickly (to me anyway). The other thing that is sort of striking about this, is that all of these guys are dead set against the re-institution of the FCC rule known as the Farness Doctrine (which Reagan revoked twenty-five years or so ago, which was a boon to the rise of right-wing talk radio), suggesting that it will destroy open debate. If the current state of talk radio, where you basically hear the same position parroted over and over through much of the country, across the dial and around the clock, is considered open debate, then we've kind of lost sight of what true democratic dialogue is supposed to sound like. But of course what's really at risk is not open debate, but rather-- as far as AM radio is concerned-- a monopoly of one ideological perspective masquerading as a consensus.

Thursday's Quote

This is from the estimable 19th century historian Henry Adams (great grandson of the second president, grandson of the sixth). He wrote a classic history of the early republic, and later one fo the exceptinal memoirs of his age (The Education of Henry Adams). One imagines that it was from experience that he deerived the following:

"One friend in a lifetime is much, two are many,
three are hardly possible. Friendship needs a
certain parallelism in life, a community of
thought, a rivalry of aim."

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Brief Hiatus

As I think I alluded to in an earlier post, I'm going to be on the road for the next couple days, so there will likely be no new posts before Thursday. But that does mean I should have lots of fresh material by the end of the week for Friday Family Blogging! So until then...feel free to comment on recent posts (I'm especially anxious to see more entries in the last quiz).

Some Quintessential Garage Rock

? and the Mysterians didn't make my Battle of the Bands list this time around (the name gave me an excuse, in that it makes it appear that the focus is on a front man, however incognito he may be). So as compensation, I'll post this video here, with them performing the classic "96 Tears." You gotta love that organ sound...

A Civics Lesson

Here's a wonderful scene from a wonderful movie: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Jean Arthur (as Miss Saunders) explains to freshman Senator Jeff Smith how things are done in Congress. This is as neat a summary as you'll hear (even including the note of cynicism) of how a bill becomes a law (or doesn't):

The Last Battle of the Band Bracket

The Electric Prunes

Here's the last set of seedings/pairings for the upcoming Battle of the Bands competition that will air this fall on Dr. John's Record Shelf. This might be the strongest bracket in terms of balance, with the smallest gap in quality between the bands seeded at the top and those closer to the bottom. Again, if there are any volunteers who'd like to serve as guest judges for the competition, let me know and we'll figure out how to make that work. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll let you know the songs that will be used in the first round face-offs.

Northwest Bracket:

1. Creedence Clearwater Revival
16. The Sonics

2. Paul Revere & the Raiders
15. The Standells

3. Jefferson Airplane
14. Quicksilver Messenger Service

4. Santana
13. Country Joe & the Fish

5. Grateful Dead
12. The Electric Prunes (who are rarin' to go, judging by the picture above)

6. Steppenwolf
11. Moby Grape

7. The Kingsmen
10. Canned Heat

8. Beau Brummels
9. Big Brother & the Holding Company

The Sonics

Followup to Last Night's Comment Re: Baseball

Last night I commented on how silly the notion is that baseball does things only to please the fans (obviously that's a consideration, but during last night's Milwaukee/Minnesota game, they gave the impression that it should be the only factor). Now, on the ESPN website, columnist Rick Reilly (who I consider little more than a sanctimonious blowhard) reveals just how devastating that notion could be, by explaining the changes he would make if he were commissioner. Just for one example, he argues that the game should add a clock, thereby undermining what is one of the greatest characteristics of the game, it's leisurely pace and the prospect that you're always in the game until the final out. There's some other nonsense too, and I'm not even going to link to it because I think it's so stupid. If Reilly is the kind of sports fan who ever gets a chance to have a say in how the game should be run, I've little doubt he'd end up destroying everything that's special about it, just the way it is.

Today's Quote(s)

It's a twofer (since I'll be on the road the next couple of days and this'll have to tide you over). Courtesy of two of the great wits in American culture,whose pictures I'm sure you recognize:

"Outside of a dog,
a book is man's best friend."
Mark Twain

"Inside of a dog
it's too dark to read."
Groucho Marx

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Couple of Great Record Stores

I've occasionally lamented the closing of some fine retail outlets where one can purchase music, so I thought I'd mention a couple that I visited in California that seem to suggest there's still some life in the business after all.

The first is Amoeba Records on Sunset in Hollywood. It's a huge store, and kind of reminds me of Record Theater in Buffalo back in its 1980s heyday. That's maybe not by chance, since one of the co-owners of Amoeba is Marc Weinstein, who I think I worked with briefly at Record Theater way back when (he's also the son of Irv Weinstein, which is a name WNY readers will recognize). I was glad I had a list of things to look for when I visited, because the place is huge and I otherwise might not of got out of the first aisle. They also have the best organized and most comprehensive used section I've ever seen (it's usually kind of a hassle to find anything, since most places do little more than a rough alphabetization of their used stock-- these guys had them divided out by artist); once I'd found some new items, I was able to quickly check to see if there were used copies, and ended up saving a few bucks because there were. A great store, but maybe the realities of the business are such that someplace like this can't exist outside of a large metropolitan area.

The other record store I visited out west was the Canterbury Record Shop on Colorado Blvd. in Pasadena. This is a different animal from Amoeba, but just as impressive. It looks to have started as a kind of mom and pop operation that has continued to serve its local community with a good wide selection. It appeared that they especially catered to classical music customers, though there was a healthy stock of every other genre you could think of. I picked up a couple of the Cruisin' series of discs, which replicate classic Top 40 radio with famous dj's, liners, jingles, and of course classic hits. When I checked out, this led to a nice conversation with the woman who I gathered was the owner about the good old days of radio. It was also gratifying that there were several other customers in the store when I was there (about 11:00 am on a Friday morning), which suggests they do steady business. I'm guessing they remain viable because of great customer service (the hallmark of my favorite store here in Dillon-- Bert's Cds), and it was a pleasure to find a place like this in this day and age. Here's hoping it will still be there the next time I find myself in Southern California.

A Curious Statement and a Bit of a Rant

So I'm watching Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN, and one of the commentators (might've been Steve Phillips) said that interleague play ought to continue because that's what the fans want and that's all that counts. Now, I'm no fan of interleague play-- I think it's inherently unfair because of the arbitrary way they set it up, in that some teams are forced to play superior teams from the other league, while other teams get relatively easy pickings. I also think it detracts from the excitement of the World Series, when you have the prospect of two teams facing off who've already played each other during the regular season. But I know I'm in the minority and, as long as the Braves sweep their AL competition as they did this weekend with Toronto, I'll grin and bear it.

But here's the point I wanted to make: Phillips (or whoever) is arguing that decisions should be made based on what the fans want, and I find that hugely hypocritical. I would venture to guess that most fans would vote to make steroids ok if they thought it would produce more offense in the game; I think that's why players were tempted to dabble in steroids in the first place (well, that and the higher salaries they would command-- which in turn was partly a function of their greater appeal to the fans). Is the commentator suggesting that if the fans say that's fine with them that the leagues should go along with that? Of course he isn't, but that's the premise he's promoting with his statement. I imagine that when you're on the air live and compelled to keep talking, there's a tendency to allow a lot of things to flow through your mouth without passing through your brain. But these guys are supposedly professionals who spend a lot of time thinking about these issues before they even go on the air, so that's not much of an excuse. I hate to say it, but it's kind of reached the point where most sports announcers irritate me with this kind of prattle much more than they add anything to the experience of watching a game. Isn't there anyone left in the profession to uphold the ideals of legends like Ernie Harwell? I'm sure there are; the problem is not too many of them work for ESPN.

The Third Bracket

Here's the line-up for the Southwest Bracket in my upcoming Battle of teh Bands feature on Dr. John's Record Shelf. I might mention that there was more spillover out of this region than any other-- you'll probably spot groups from Southern California and Texas in most of the other brackets. That gives you some idea of the number of fine groups emerging from those areas in teh 1960s especially (not too surprising in the case of SoCal, what with the ready access to the entertainment industry-- especially TV and record labels). Anyway, I'm still willing to hear any comments if I've left anyone out (keeping in mind the operative dates of 1954-1974):

Southwest Bracket:
1. The Byrds
16. Thee Midniters

2. The Beach Boys
15. The Mothers of Invention

3. The Doors
14. The Seeds

4. The Eagles
13. Love

5. The Allman Brothers (I probably should flip these guys with the Turtles)
12. The Bobby Fuller Four

6. The Monkees
11. Spirit

7. The Association
10. The Sir Douglas Quintet

8. The Grass Roots
9. The Doobie Brothers

Remember that the seedings are based on an admittedly subjective balancing of popular success and some notion of the band's influence on others.

Another Bracket in My Battle of the Bands

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, I'm constructing a Battle of the Bands (American, 1954-1974) to be played out on my radio show starting next fall. I'm posting the brackets here to solicit any feedback, mainly to make sure I don't have any truly egregious omissions in the field (I figure there will always be disputes about the seedings), or any other comments you might like to share. I'm also looking for volunteers to serve as judges for the individual contests. I wanted to mention that one of the "rules" I've adopted for this competition is that a group cannot coast on one great song-- each round will involve a new tune. This way, I hope that some of the more modest bands will have a chance at an upset in the early rounds, based on one classic single (like the Knickerbockers with "Lies"), but will inevitibly struggle when they get down to their less familiar material (if they should advance). By the same token, bands with a richer catalog may decide (that is, I may decide) to keep the really big guns in reserve for later rounds whernh they're up against stiffer competition (but this too makes them somewhat vulnerable to the upset in the first round). The idea is to create a high level of competitiveness throughout, and I think it's coming together nicely.

Here's the Midwest Bracket:
1. Chicago
16. The Cryan Shames

2. Grand Funk Railroad
15. The Gants

3. Lynyrd Skynyrd
14. The Knickerbockers

4. The Buckinghams
13. The Shadows of Kight

5. The Crickets
12. Big Star

6. The Stooges
11. The Rock and Roll Trio

7. The Box Tops
10. Rare Earth

8. New Colony Six
9. The Outsiders

I should have the the Southwest and Northwest Brackets up sometime later today or tomorrow.
Please let me know what you think.

A Thought for Sunday Morning

The following quote from the great poet and Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982) is short, but makes a great point:

"The dissenter is every human being
at those moments of his life when he
resigns momentarily from the her
and thinks for himself."

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Is It Time for an Eighties Revival?

It would be worth it to hear stuff like this again. Then again, maybe the revival's already occurred and passed, and I missed it. Anyway, here's a great song from early in that decade by the estimable Pete Shelley (I'll have to post some of his Buzzcocks songs too, which are even better than this):

A Battle of the Bands

A few weeks back, in the midst of the NCAA basketball tournament, I got into a conversation with one of my colleagues, known as the Rock Doctor, about the best American rock bands between 1954 and 1974. Those are the end-points for the very fine radio program he does on KDWG (which also airs Dr. John's Record Shelf) called Drive-Time with the Rock Doctor, every episode of which consists of a countdown of records based on some particular theme relevant to that time-frame (Top Twenty Merseybeat Groups; Top Twenty Motown Singles; Top Twenty for 1965; along those lines). Anyway based on our conversation, I decided to add a feature to my show for the new season starting next fall, namely a battle of the bands, formatted the same way as the NCAA tournament, in regions. To keep it manageable, and allow for a few surprises in the lineup, I used the criteria set up by the Rock Doctor-- limiting it to groups in the '54-'74 time-frame and only actual bands, not just backing groups for star front-men. I ended up having to move some groups into brackets that didn't actually match their background, but they do that in the NCAA too, so I don't feel too bad about it. I've seeded the groups based on a general sense of popularity or influence (and the balance between those vary from band to band), and matched them up for first round face-offs. Each week on the show this fall, I'll play two pairs and have a vote among myself, co-host Art Vandelay, and a guest judge as to which bands will advance to the next round. It'll take until Christmas to get through the first round, then we should be able to get through the rest of the tournament in the Spring. Then the next year we can do it again with different criteria (maybe British bands, or a different time frame). If anyone reading this would like to be a guest judge, let me know and we'll figure out how to include you. Meanwhile, here's the Northeast bracket (I'll post the other three over the next couple of days); comments/arguments are welcome:

1. Velvet Underground
16. The Monks

2. Lovin' Spoonful
15. The Fugs

3. Three Dog Night
14. The Nazz

4. Turtles
13. New York Dolls

5. Steely Dan
12. Barry & the Remains

6. The Rascals
11. The Flying Burrito Brothers

7. The Raspberries
10. Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show

8. The Cowsills
9. Blood, Sweat & Tears

Saturday Morning Cartoon

Okay, this really wasn't a cartoon, but it certainly did air on Saturday mornings, so I'm sticking it in here. I wonder if today's cartoons are making fun of the Swine Flu scare? I guess I could watch to find out, but frankly, current cartoons mostly bore me. Not like the good ol' days of talking chimps and spy spoofs, eh?

And Now for a Rebuttal...

Someone always has a different view of things-- clearly Calvin never read Julius Caesar:

Saturday's Quote

I guess it's about time to bring in the bard on this feature. Here's a quote from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, offering a conclusion that is well worth remembering (and used very effectively by Edward R. Murrow in his reporting on Joseph McCarthy:

"Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Black Monk Time

The Monks are one of the truly great "lost" bands of the 1960s (though they've been somewhat rediscovered in recent years, hence the existence of video like that found below). The group was formed by some American service men stationed in Germany, and they made some of the rawest rock and roll of any generation. Probably because they were kind of tied by their service obligations to Europe, virtually no one in this country knew anything about them. One might think of them as the missing link between garage rock and punk, but really they defy any such categorization. Check'em out:

Another Classic Comic Strip

I don't know a lot about the strip Etta Kett, except that it was one of several that started out capitalizing on the flapper craze of the 1920s (others were Tillie the Toiler, Winnie Winkle, and even Blondie) but Mom mentioned it was one of her favorites, so I thought I would post a few examples I found on the web. Here is the sequence from the week of January 3, 1938. If you'd like to see more, you can find them at the Barnacle Press website. If you click on the following strips, they will open in a larger format and be much easier to read.

Friday Family Blogging Quiz

The challenge this week is to tell me what it is that Ben is so intently staring at in this picture. I know the answer, but I may be willing to consider creative fictions too, if it will spark a little additional participation. As always, leave your answers in the comments.

Two weeks ago (since I was on the road last week), I asked you to identify the body attached to the nose nuzzling little Emma. As happens all too often, the first guess was right-- Mom guessed it was Emma's Uncle Tom (and my little effort to throw you a curve ball about it possibly being a female nose only got one bite, sheesh). Let's see if this week is a little less obvious.

More Friday Family Blogging

More summer scenes-- these from just last year at the lake whose name I can't remember in Kent. I'm looking forward to visiting here again soon too, probably in August (if that's ok with Liz & Catie). First up is a pic of Thomas and Sara (I don't know exactly where the red tinge came from):

Next up is a picture, taken with a zoom, of Joseph and Maria seemingly plotting some mischief:

And last, here's another of Sara, which I think turned out particularly nice:

So-- have you guys been out to the lake yet this year?

The Curse (?) of Digital TV

Earlier this week I upgraded my internet connection to broadband (which is incredible in comparison to the old dial-up I was using). The internet upgrade came packaged with an upgrade to my cable TV service as well, and the number of channels I have access to has about tripled. With this plethora of new channels to watch, which are the shows I've become most attached to? All the old stuff, like Maverick (score!) on Encore Western, Lost in Space and Remington Steele on American Life Network, and Match Game on the Game Show Network. What does it say about me that I'm more entertained by all these old programs (many of which I've seen before), with little to no interest in any of the excruciating number of makeover and reality shows on most of the other new networks I now have access to? Maybe its just my historian's sensibility kicking in, but then again, maybe the old shows were actually better? If I should stumble across The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis or (dare I hope) The Smothers Brothers Show, I may never leave the house. If anyone has any suggestions for other shows I should look out for, let me know.

Friday Family Blogging

Here are some memories of the summer of 2006 (it doesn't seem that long ago to me). On a really hot day in early August, Natalie, Ben, Sally and I took a walk out along the pier where Lake Erie empties into the Niagara River.

I'd like to go out there again, maybe this summer to see if I can get some good shots of the Buffalo skyline (that day, as I recall, the view of downtown was pretty hazy).

As I recall, everyone had a good time, but then again, maybe a little sibling rivalry was in the air.

I should be back in Buffalo by this time next week, so I hope everyone back there is thinking up stuff they want to do with me-- maybe another hike out the pier?

Friday Philosophy

Theodor Adorno (1903-1969) was one of the founders of the Frankfurt School of social research and critical theory. He wrote extensively on the culture industry and music, and perhaps most famously offered (along with Max Horkheimer) a controversial explanation for the rise of Nazism in The Dialectic of the Enlightenment. Some of that explanation is evident in the following quote:

“There are no more ideologies in the authentic sense
of false consciousness, only advertisements for the
world through its duplication and the provocative
lie which does not seek belief but commands silence.”

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Historical Comment

As I've mentioned previously, when I was at UCLA last week looking at videotape of old TV shows, I was mostly focusing on the work of Mort Sahl. But I also took the opportunity to watch some old Smothers Brothers footage. This was material that preceded their notorious late sixties variety show, mainly appearances they made on the Jack Paar and Steve Allen Shows (they were semi-regulars on the latter around 1961). What I'd really like to see are some episodes of their mid-sixties sitcom, which I have vague memories of watching as a kid (Tommy played an angel who "haunted" his brother Dickie). Anyway, it was evident even in those early clips that theirs was a truly subversive act, turning not just folk music but also prudish notions of prime-time propriety on their head (and without doing anything more than slyly calling attention to the hypocrisy of the phony standards that applied in both cases). Tommy, especially, was brilliant at poking holes in the stupid cliches of show business (and by extension, the society that celebrated them), though I'm sure many who watched failed to catch on to his act and only saw him playing the slow-witted moron (which was great cover for speaking the truth). Anyway, last year Tommy won a belated Emmy for his writing for the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and Steve Martin (who also wrote for the show) was the presenter. Here's a clip of that event-- and it appears Tommy's still got it:

If you want to see Steve Martin's introduction, which I can't embed, you can find it here.

Another California Post

My last morning in Los Angeles, I went up to Griffith Park and walked around by the observatory and in the hills behind it. Here are a few pictures from that visit:

This is the obelisk that stands out in the plaza in front of the Griffith Observatory. what I like about this picture is that you can see a film crew setting up in the background to shoot something there on the grounds, while directly above them you can just make out the famous "Hollywood" sign in the hills in the distance. There are actually signs al over the park directing crews to spots where location shooting was being done. I remember an old story told by some golden age director who wanted to take his crew out into the Sierras or someplace for some authentic location shots, and the executive who oversaw the budget told him "A tree is a tree-- shoot it in Griffith Park!"

This first one is of the Berlin Woods, a small area of the park set aside to commemorate Los Angeles sister city in Germany. There was a Japanese family having a picnic here when I strolled through, giving it a truly international atmosphere.

Here's one of me, paused to take a breather hiking up the trail that ran up north of the observatory. Again, you can just barely make out the "Hollywood" sign in the deep background beyond my left shoulder.

Here's a shot of the observatory from those aforementioned trails. This is one of my favorite places anywhere. The Observatory is incredibly interesting in its architecture, as well as its location overloooking much of Los Angeles and point west. I've been up there a couple of times now, and its been a little hazy both times, but it wouldn't surprise me if you can see the ocean in Santa Monica on a clear day. The woods are nice and cool, the scenery is pretty, the trails are a fairly easy go-- just a really cool place to spend a little time. One can certainly understand why James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause liked it so much.

Here's a view looking down the hills into Hollywood itself. This gives you a good idea for why the film industry settled out there-- you've got urban, suburban, rural, wilderness, mountains, desert, beaches, oceans, etc. etc. all clustered in about a fifty square mile area. Of course, it's also pretty close to Mexico, which was important to those early filmmakers who were using technology they had no rights to, who occasionally had to hightail it across the border if federal agents started snooping around. But that's another story...