I am a history professor who grew up in Western New York, but now find myself teaching in Western Montana. My primary areas of interest and research are in American cultural history, especially in relation to the intersection of popular culture and politics. This blog is primarily to help me keep in touch with my far-flung family and friends, and give me the chance to spout off a bit on whatever happens to be on my mind.
Dr. John's Record Shelf is my weekly radio program on KDWG, 90.9 FM broadcast from the University of Montana Western. My goal is to offer an eclectic mix of various styles, genres and eras, focusing primarily (but not exclusively) on music that you won't hear anywhere else on the dial (at least not in SW Montana). My co-host, Art Vandelay and I (with the assistance of station flunky Rico Muckman) also provide some additional bits to liven up the show, including Three People I Know (where I mention three people I know), The Cultural Corner (where we engage in lively banter on art, literature and poetry), Dr. John's Top Five (where we take a shot at ranking almost anything), and Record Shelf Theater (where we re-create a scene from some famous movie, play or TV show). If you find yourself in Dillon, tune us in; otherwise, below are some lists of songs that have been aired on recent shows:
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121104
Bill Fay, "This World"
Steve Goodman, "Turnpike Tom"
Ani DiFranco, "Which Side Are You On?"
Bruce Springsteen, "We Are Alive"
Decemberists, "Don't Carry It All"
Carole King, "Pleasant Valley Sunday"
Bruce Cockburn, "Wondering Where the Lions Are"
Neil Young & Crazy Horse, "Oh Susannah"
Bob Dylan, "Soon After Midnight"
Charms, "American Way"
Belle & Sebastian, "I Want the World to Stop"
Krayolas, "Find a Girl"
Beatles, "Tomorrow Never Knows"
Neko Case, "Things That Scare Me"
Avett Brothers, "Will You Return"
Craig Finn, "New Friend Jesus"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121028
Fleet Foxes, "Helplessness Blues"
Golden Shoulders, "I Will Light You on Fire"
Spoon, "Finer Feelings"
Girls, "Just a Song"
Devandra Banhart, "Shabop Shalom"
Gaslight Anthem, "The '59 Sound"
Those Darlins, "Mystic Mind"
Son Seals, "I Can't Hold Out"
Johnny Ace, "Pledging My Love"
Charlotte Gainsbourg, "Dandelion"
Aimee Mann, "Borrowing Time"
Elliott Smith, "Between the Bars"
Carpenters, "It's Going to Take Some Time"
Hayes Carll, "Girl Downtown"
Fiery Furnaces, "Even in the Rain"
Billy Ward & the Dominoes, "Chicken Blues"
Anna Kramer & the Lost Cause, "You Think You Know Me"
Sophie Zelmani, "Most of the Time"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121021
Cabaret Voltaire, "No Escape"
Us3, "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)"
Hank Mobley, "The Break Through"
Rodriguez, "Sugar Man"
Mary Weiss, "My Heart is Beating"
Pete Shelley, "Think For Yourself"
Buddy Holly, "Take Your Time"
Raincoats, "No One's Little Girl"
Detroit Cobras, "Ya Ya Ya"
Public Image, LTD, "Public Image"
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, "Bad Reputation"
Love Is All, "Wishing Well"
Louie & the Lovers, "I KNow You Know"
Forty-Fives, "The Devil Beats His Wife"
John P. Strohm, "Better Than Nothing"
The Naysayer, "Currency"
Sir Douglas Quintet, "Who'll Be Next in Line"
The Seeds, "Mr. Farmer"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121014
TV on the Radio, "Second Song"
Can, "Oh Yeah"
White Stripes, "300 MPH Torrential Downpour Blues"
Mary Lou Lord, "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"
T-Bone Burnett, "The Murder Weapon"
New Bomb Turks, "Statue of Liberty"
Ramones, "Surfin' Bird"
Paris Sisters, "Dream Lover"
Lee Dorsey, "Ride Your Pony"
Michael Hurley, "Sweet Lucy"
Gary Numan, "Cars"
Neil Diamond, "Delirious Love"
Undertones, "We All Talked About You"
Shadows of Knight, "Shake"
Cub, "Magic 8 Ball"
Rilo Kiley, "The Frug"
Terry Allen, "Lubbock Woman"
Kinks, "Lincoln County"
Dr. John's Record Shelf 121007
Corin Tucker Band, "Summer Jams"
Go-Betweens, "Too Much of One Thing"
Feelies, "Change Your Mind"
Billy Bragg & the Blokes, "Baby Faroukh"
Marcia Griffiths, "Don't Let Me Down"
Velvet Crush, "Hold Me Up"
Chris Mills, "Calling All Comrades"
Insect Trust, "Hoboken Saturday Night"
Broken West, "So It Goes"
REM, "Exhuming McCarthy"
Dire Straits, "Twisting By the Pool"
Tom Rush, "Urge for Going"
Paul Westerberg & Joan Jett, "Let's Do It"
Fred Astaire, "Cheek to Cheek"
The Who, "I Can See For Miles"
Liz Phair, "Uncle Alvarez"
Steve martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers, "King Tut"
I finally caved to all the friends who said I needed to get Netflix, and signed up for the streaming version over the weekend. The first thing I watched was Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou, because I wanted to see how the process worked, and that was only fifteen minutes long. Following that I spent a couple of hours going through their various menus and compiling a queue of about 200 or so titles, ranging from several documentaries on African-American history (which I'm teaching as of next week) to a bunch of obscure films noir to some classic foreign stuff from the fifties and sixties to... well, you get the idea. I was slightly disappointed that some movies I've long dreamed of seeing were not available (Wim Wenders' early works, for example), but there were some in that category, including the first feature I watched: Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Two Girls, which came out almost fifteen years ago, but which I never saw playing in any theater nor in any video format I had access to. But there it was on Netflix, so I jumped at the chance to finally see it.
Forsyth is a Scottish director who made some of my favorite movies of the eighties, including Local Hero which is probably one of my top three or four all-time favorite movies. The only one of his films that I didn't think was very good was Being Human, which had snatches of Forsyth's signature charm, but ultimately was undermined (I think) by an all-too-common cloying Robin Williams performance (I remember thinking at the time that Williams' presence-- an uncommon big star in a Forsyth film-- may have led to greater studio interference than was evident in the director's earlier work). Then, Forsyth seemed to vanish. It's possible that Gregory's Two Girls (a sequel to his breakthrough film Gregory's Girl from 1980) was never even released in this country, and I only knew of it from a reference I stumbled across in the Internet Movie Database some years after it was made. Needless to say, I was excited to finally get a chance to see it.
The movie does not attain the heights of Forsyth's best work, but it is a much better swan song (if it proves to be his last film-- he's done no others since this one) than Being Human. As a sequel, I expected it to be a similar kind of offbeat romantic comedy like it's predecessor, but that's only a jumping off point. All of Forsyth's films, to one degree or another revolve around an almost playful conflict between realism and fantasy. Not the kind of fantasy one associates with unicorns or outer space or comic book super-heroics, but rather the kind that motivates almost all of us to imagine a life more simple, more enriching (however defined), or just better. Gregory represented that in his first appearance, when as a gawky high school student he developed a severe crush on the female star of the school's soccer team, a girl well out of his league which all of his mates recognized long before he did. In the later film, Gregory is now an only somewhat less gawky English teacher in the same high school, and has a crush on one his students (who also plays soccer), while he is pursued by one of his female colleagues. But the real heart of the film (into which his romantic fantasies are integrated) revolves around his being compelled to act on the lessons he tries to instill in his students to question authority and actively resist the blandishments of an exploitive consumer, corporatist society. It's a political dimension that Forsyth never really engaged before, and one can question if he successfully pulls it off here. For example, the "bad" guy in the story is really only bad in an abstract sense-- as a character interacting with others he seems mostly a pretty decent guy. It's hard to know if that is a consequence of Forsyth's basic humanity or a pointed comment on how insidiously the "machine" operates to win us over. But even acknowledging such shortcomings, this is an entertaining flick , especially if you're in tune with Forsyth's sensibility (I admit, not everyone is) and can appreciate the melancholy inevitability that even the most mild-mannered of fantasies can rarely be realized even when they seem to come true.