Funny. I was just thinking something similar the other day, namely that the song “Jessie’s Girl” is now older in the year 2015 than the entire rock-and-roll genre was when that song came out in 1981. Sigh.
Funny. I was just thinking something similar the other day, namely that the song “Jessie’s Girl” is now older in the year 2015 than the entire rock-and-roll genre was when that song came out in 1981. Sigh.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling pretty low. The headlines about Ferguson and Eric Garner and the torture report, all coming so close to each other, followed by the inevitable scrimmage in social media and blog comments — which served as yet another solemn reminder that there are at least two Americas and they don’t quite exist on the same planet — left me utterly heartsick. Beaten down, demoralized, and wondering if a lot of my fundamental beliefs about this country and people in general were completely off-base.
And so it was I found myself standing one afternoon in front of the creaking, overloaded, not-dusted-often-enough shelves that comprise the Bennion Library, trying to decide what to read next. It wasn’t just a question of what I was in the mood for, or what I haven’t read yet. This was one of those cases where I needed to read… something… something that might restore some of my faith in humanity, or at least quell my growing conviction that the whole damn bunch of us deserve whatever’s coming so the cockroaches can have their turn on top of the evolutionary ladder. A mystery or an action-adventure novel wasn’t going to cut it; all too often, those genres are predicated on exactly the sort of inhumanity-to-man I’d had enough of. Similarly, I wasn’t very enthused about any of my sci-fi or Stephen King or Anne Rice books. While they don’t exactly ignore the human condition, they weren’t likely to say the sort of things I was craving to hear. Finally, my gaze fell upon a tattered paperback copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
I’m not even sure how that one ended up in my collection, to be honest. I read it back in high school, like most people of a certain age, I imagine. (Is this one still assigned to kids, or has it been banished from the curriculum for some ridiculous PC reason?) I remember experiencing it back then as something I had to endure rather than enjoyed. Like getting a vaccination or eating something that’s good for you. Beyond that, though, the book was just a blur. I couldn’t recall anything about the story or the characters, except a couple names and a scene in a courtroom… details I could have gotten from a blurb in a magazine about the movie version. And yet… at some point, for some reason, I picked up a copy of it… probably for a quarter at a thrift store or a library sale, and likely with intentions of revisiting it someday from an adult’s perspective. But I never got around to actually doing that. The book just ended up on a stack of other literary fiction works that I bought with good intentions but have largely ignored. But now, as my eyes followed the white stress-lines running the length of the book’s spine and took in the lettering of the title, smudged and faded by the sweat of someone else’s hand, some trace memory stirred deep in my mind. Like a vague sensory impression of the perfume your mother wore when you were a child, an elusive feeling more than anything you can really name. And I knew this was the book I needed to read just then.
I like to think I haven’t changed all that much since I was a teenager, that I’m still in touch with the sixteen-year-old boy I used to be, but the truth is… my teenaged self was a dumbass for failing to appreciate this book, because To Kill a Mockingbird is magnificent. First of all, it’s a wonderful evocation of a very specific time and place, namely small-town Alabama in the 1930s. (It occurs to me that part of the problem I had with it back in high school might have been the setting, of which I would have been relatively ignorant then. I know a lot more about the Depression now, and can much better imagine Model As rolling up and down dusty streets, and careworn farmers in overalls and the more well-to-do men in their white shirts and hats.) It’s a charming coming-of-age story — and I’m on record as being a real sucker for those — that realistically captures the essence of the pre-teen protagonist while also conveying a lot of adult truths. It’s unexpectedly funny in places, and the overall tone is warm and humane and just plain decent, which is what I needed. And all this is achieved with plain, unflowery language that simply tells the story. It really is a masterful achievement, and I understand now why so many people name it as their favorite novel.
But it’s the book’s core of decent humanity that really charmed, that soothed my battered soul just when I needed it most. That’s what I was remembering the afternoon I noticed it sitting in my stacks, and that’s what will stay with me after the details fade again (which I know they will; I fear my retention isn’t as good as it used to be, damned middle age!)
I think many people will remember the exchange between Scout, our protagonist, and her father Atticus that comes on the very last page:
“… Atticus, he was real nice… ”
His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.
“Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”
But I was more deeply moved by a passage from a few pages earlier, when Scout has just met the mysterious Boo Radley whose presence has hovered like a shadow over the entire story:
Boo and I walked up the steps to the porch. His fingers found the front doorknob. He gently released my hand, opened the door, went inside, and shut the door behind him. I never saw him again.
Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.
“I never saw him again… we had given him nothing, and it made me sad.” Something about that delineates so much of the human experience for me. It’s only after the fact, it seems, that we realize how we failed to be as good as we ought to have been. As good as we wish we were.
I think someday that’s the sentiment that’s going to be applied to this moment of history by the people who are living through it right now. Reading To Kill a Mockingbird did cheer me up… but it also highlighted for me how we’re failing, we Americans, we humans, to be as good to each other, to our neighbors, to the whole damn planet, as we ought to be. And it does make me sad.
Any permutation of the construction “ever-hyphen-whatever”: ever-growing, ever-changing, ever-challenging, ever-tightening, ever-expanding… you get the idea. Yes, it’s a useful construction that handily conveys the idea of unremitting, implacable forces that are constantly on the brink of spiraling out of your control (unless, of course, you buy Product X or Service Y right now to help you get a handle on it all!). But I’m seeing it everywhere, in just about every document I proof lately, and it’s really getting old…
That is all. Now back to your regularly scheduled Internet.
I spent my first three days back in the office from the holidays last week twiddling my thumbs. Then my project managers (or possibly their clients… somebody) seemed to wake up in the same fashion as someone who realizes they’ve missed their alarm and overslept by a couple of hours: with a snort, a surge of adrenaline, and a sudden mad scramble of activity. The resulting avalanche of work hit me on Friday, I ended up bringing a big project home with me over the weekend, and I just now looked up and saw that it’s nearly three o’clock. I’ve been proofreading nonstop since I got here at ten and had completely lost track of time.
Which means it’s time to bring this out again:
Naturally, all this hell breaking loose coincides with a surge in mental fertility; I find I’ve suddenly got lots of ideas for blogging topics, in addition to other things, but no time or energy to spare for them, naturally. And that makes me feel like this:
I’ve been in this job for nearly a decade now, and I still don’t understand why it’s always like this… feast-or-famine, either nothing going on or no time to breathe. Seriously, what’s wrong with spreading the load out a little more evenly, guys? Surely it can’t be that hard to plan?
Sigh. Back to proofreading…
I ran across this fun piece of fan art the other day that I thought was worth sharing:
The artist is a cat named Jonathan Harris, and here’s what he has to say about this piece:
Indiana Jones and the Rise of the Valkyrie featuring the Rocketeer.
18×24 Acrylic and color pencil on Watercolor paper.
Well, the comp is pretty much done. Maybe I can make this poster size this year We’ll see.
This little art idea came about out of love and frustration.
Love for the Indiana Jones franchise and all things Indy, for the Rocketeer and the late Dave Stevens, and lastly for the incomparable talent of Drew Struzan whose posters inspired the imagination of a 9 year old boy and the continuing artistic endeavors of a 39 year old man.
Frustration over the fact that the Indy (Harrison Ford) movie franchise may be never continue, that Dave Stevens is no longer with us to give us further adventures of the Rocketeer, and that Drew Struzan is semi-retired and Hollywood doesn’t seem interested in classic movie poster production.
But in my corner of the world, imagination and heart, they will always continue. Appreciation for what has come and imagination for what might always be.
Of course, Jonathan isn’t the first to imagine a meeting between two of pop culture’s most beloved 1930s adventurers. Just sayin’.
My friend Karen posted this the other day:
Trust the Germans to put a (lengthy) name to a nearly ineffable emotional concept. I need to remember this the next time somebody gives me static about how many times I’ve seen the old shows I like instead of constantly seeking out the new…
Elvis Presley would have been 80 years old today.
While the automatic sentiment on posthumous birthdays seems to be “it’s hard to imagine him at age X,” I actually find it harder to keep in mind he was only 42 — three years younger than I am now — when he died. Considering that Willie Nelson is still going strong at 80, B.B. King is doing the same at 89, and Tony Bennett is up for a Grammy this year at 88, I find it quite easy to imagine The King at 80, still actively recording, performing, collaborating with younger artists, and exploring the music that energized him. The great tragedy of his death isn’t that it came too soon — although of course it did — but that it came while he was at his lowest point. If he’d died truly young, like so many other rock-n-roll legends, from Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran to Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, or if he’d lived long enough to clean himself up and become an elder statesman like his contemporaries Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, then I think he’d be far more respected than he is today. Unfortunately, far too many people remember him only for his later excesses, the pathetic “Fat Elvis,” than for his talent or his absolutely seminal contribution to early rock and the development of modern youth culture… which of course has become popular culture in general, even for those of us who are, ahem, not so young anymore.
I have a running debate with a couple of friends over which Elvis — Presley or Costello — is the more significant, which one made the greatest contribution, was the better musician, was the greater icon of cool. Now, to a large degree, this is subjective, just another one of those pointless pissing matches that hinge on individual taste, about as irrational a thing as there is. But in my mind, it isn’t even a question, and it doesn’t matter what arguments these college-radio “alternative” loving music snobs — and that really is what they’re being when they start in on this subject — deploy in support of Costello. The simple fact is that his career, and those of practically every other musical idol of the past 60 years, wouldn’t have happened without Elvis Presley blazing the trail in the first place. At least, Costello and the others wouldn’t have happened in the idiom we all call “rock and roll.” Because Elvis Presley was the first. No, he didn’t invent the form, but he defined it and brought it to the mass consciousness. He was the first true rock star, in every sense of that word: as a top-selling performer, as a totem of youthful sexuality and vitality, as a catalyst for fusing existing genres into something new and exciting. And everyone else that’s now held up by somebody as being better than him — The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis Freaking Costello, Bruce Springsteen, even the almighty Bono — has only built on the foundations that were laid by the boy from Tupelo in the brief span of time before he was drafted. (He made a lot of good music later in his career, after his stint in the Army, but I concede his most important work, his moment of greatest influence, was in the years 1954-58.)
But hey, as Levar Burton used to say, you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s an article that lists five reasons why Elvis still matters. Even better, check out this chart created by the gurus at Spotify showing all the artists who were influenced by The King, and how that influence has propagated, and continues to propagate even today. Keep your eyes open for Elvis Costello; he’s on there.
And now, assuming I can figure out how to make it work, here’s a playlist of some of my favorite Elvis tracks… the ones my mother played over and over when I was a little boy, the ones that showcase the energy and charisma that have sadly been displaced over time by the image of the bloated, unhappy, unhealthy man he became…
Happy birthday, old son.
The sunshine streaming in through my Mustang’s windshield is almost spring-like, a welcome relief from the oppressive cold of last week. I want to stretch like a cat as my face and arms absorb the warmth. The snow banks alongside the road are melting, casting thin silver streams out onto the asphalt where they shine and flash and shush beneath the car. I happily sing along with the song on the radio, remembering all the times I sang this one as a young man with a cool car and no particular place to be: “Some people call me the Space Cowboy… some call me the Gangster of Love… ”
And then suddenly I remember Homer Simpson singing the same song, under the same circumstances, and the words catch in my throat, and I look around self-consciously, because… Homer Simpson, man.
If I have any recurring themes at all in my blog writing — aside from babbling about Star Wars, of course — they must surely be the intertwined issues of aging and memory. I make no secret of the fact that I loathe the first and wallow in the second, and would dearly love to find solutions to both, i.e., to stop, slow, or otherwise improve my physical aging while also making certain my memories endure somehow. No doubt this is why some recent ruminations by the Scottish sci-fi writer Charles Stross caught my eye, and have continued to rumble around in my head since I first ran across them a couple weeks ago.
I apologize in advance for quoting so much of Charlie’s post — I might be pushing the limits of “fair use” here — but I’m frankly not sure of where I could insert ellipses and still retain the impact of his ideas. And for what it’s worth, his original entry — which you absolutely must read in its entirety if this subject interests you at all — is long enough that I’m still only quoting a comparatively small part of it. At least that’s how I’m rationalizing it.
Anyhow, here’s Charlie’s speculation on what might happen to the problem of physical deterioration in the near future:
Let us suppose that in the next couple of decades we develop a cure for the worst problems associated with senescence. We figure out how to reverse the cumulative damage to mitochondrial DNA, to reset the telomere end caps of stem cells without issuing carte blanche to every hopeful cancer in our bodies, to unravel the cumulative damage of prion proteins, to tame the cumulative inflammation that causes atherosclerosis, to fix the underlying mechanism behind metabolic syndrome (the cause of hypertension and type II diabetes).
We now have a generation of 70 year olds who in 20 years time will be physiologically in their 40s, not their 90s. At worst, they’re no longer in the steep decline of late old age: at best, they’re ageing backwards to their first flush of adult fitness.
You’re one of them. You’re 25-60 years old now. You’re going to be 55-90 years old by then. Unlike today’s senior citizens, you don’t ache whenever you get out of bed, you’re physically fit, you don’t have cancer or heart disease or diabetes or Alzheimer’s, you aren’t deaf or blind or suffering from anosmia or peripheral neuropathy or other sensory impairments, and you’re physically able to enjoy your sex life. Big win all round.
Dear lord, I like the sound of that… especially the bits about curing diabetes and still being, ahem, up for a lusty romp at 90. But wait! There’s apparently a catch (isn’t there always?):
But your cognitive functioning is burdened by decades of memories to integrate, canalized by prior experiences, dominated by the complexity of long-term planning at the expense of real-time responsiveness. Every time you look around you are struck by intricate, esoteric cross-references to that which has gone before. Every politician, celebrity, actor, blogger, pop star, author … you’ve seen someone like them previously, you know what they’re going to say before they open their mouth. Every new policy or strategy has failure modes you recognize: “that won’t work” is your usual response to change, not because you’re a curmudgeonly pessimist but because you’ve been there before.
Maybe you’re going to make extensive use of lifeloggers or external prosthetic memory assistance devices—think of your own personal google, refreshing your memory whenever you ask the right question—or maybe you’re going to float forward in time through a haze of forgetting, deliberately shedding old context to make room for fresh. Some folks try for rolling amnesia with a 40-70 year horizon behind them. You gradually lose contact with such people because they just don’t want to know you any more. Others try to hang on to every experience, wallowing in the lush, intricate texture of an extended lifespan until their ability to respond is so impaired that they appear catatonic.
Which are you going to be? And how will you cope with a century of memories contained in the undecaying flesh of indefinitely protracted adulthood?
Now there’s a wrinkle I confess has never occurred to me in all my fantasizing about immortality: being weighed down by memories and associations to the point of becoming non-functional… a pretty horrifying concept, really. In fact, I’ve always assumed the opposite would be the problem for someone with an extremely long lifespan, i.e., not being able to remember things. During the ’90s, I became a tremendous fan of the Highlander movie-and-TV-series franchise, especially the television series starring Adrian Paul, and while I learned to overlook such improbabilities as people being able to hide broadswords under short jackets, the one thing that always bothered me was the way our heroes always remembered fellow immortals they’d encountered for five minutes several centuries earlier. Personally, I can’t remember some of the people I worked with every day only a few years ago, let alone someone from the 1700s. Just once, I would’ve loved it if some black-clad hulking bad-ass had said, “At last… vengeance is mine!,” only to have Duncan MacLeod respond, “Have we met? Who are you again?” (I suppose you could rationalize that The Quickening, the mystical force that makes Highlander‘s immortals, well, immortal could also somehow augment their memories — there is some suggestion that The Quickening is, in part, an accumulation of the knowledge and experience of the immortals who’ve been killed in battle — but of course it’s never explicitly stated that way.) If Stross is right, though, then Duncan and the others ought to be drooling idiots incapable of doing much of anything, let alone fighting and loving and selling antiques and such.
Which reminds me of another franchise entirely, the Vampire Chronicles of Anne Rice. Specifically the characters known as “Those Who Must Be Kept,” Akasha and Enkil, the very first vampires, who never move, never speak, never show any signs of awareness, and who are watched over and protected from harm by younger immortals. It’s always something of a mystery to the other vampires as to why, exactly, they have withdrawn and become essentially statues… perhaps the cause is something like what Stross is proposing… the weight of memory has finally overwhelmed them.
Or perhaps it’s another problem entirely that’s suffered by Rice’s immortals: the fact that the world moves on and evolves, while they themselves, and specifically their paradigm for viewing the world, does not, at least not without them making a real effort to keep up. One of the recurring ideas in the Vampire Chronicles is that the older vampires create younger proteges, in part, to help them get along in the modern world that they do not understand. In the recently published Prince Lestat, the title character, our brash, irrepressible, unstoppable hero of the whole series, admits he has a weakness when it comes to modern technology. He is, in fact, quite hopeless with computers and cellphones… he’s learned to use them several times, but if he neglects them for any stretch of time without using them, he loses his skills with them and has to begin all over. This is highly plausible to me… and in fact, I feel that way quite often myself and I’m only four and a half decades on this earth. Could anyone raised in a particular time and place realistically expect to function after a century or two of change, even if you make an effort to remain up to date? Wouldn’t the world eventually become so strange, so alien to your original starting point, that you may as well be another world altogether?
Maybe that’s where Stross’ idea of abandoning earlier memories becomes necessary. But I have to admit, that notion is just as horrifying to me as becoming completely dysfunctional. The line “you gradually lose contact with such people because they just don’t want to know you any more…” is terrifying to me in that it seems almost inhuman in its emotional coldness.
Interesting food for thought, isn’t it? And yet… even with the memory-related downsides, the idea of conquering the ‘betes and being physically much the same as I am now in another 50 years… that’s pretty irresistible even with the costs involved…
Time for our annual tradition here on Simple Tricks of recounting all the films, recorded TV content, books, and live performances I’ve experienced in the last year. As I’ve noted before, I have no idea if anybody else cares in the least about this, or if it’s just an exercise in tedious self-indulgence, but I like to remind myself where I’ve been over the past twelve months. I missed doing it last year due to this blog being out of commission, and the 2012 version was unfortunately one of the entries that evaporated when the blog failed, so I can’t really do much comparison with the previous couple years as I’ve done in the past, but I can at least list the titles and get the numbers.
FYI before we begin: An asterisk [*] before the title indicates something I’ve seen or read before. Bolded items in the home video sections are titles I own on either DVD or BluRay, or in a few cases, VHS tape.
Movies Seen in a Theater
Note: Much of my cinema-going this year was to special engagements of classics. What can I say, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see these films on the big screen, either again or, in many cases, for the first time. And besides, there just weren’t that many new releases that grabbed my attention. I’ll indicate where these screenings took place in brackets [ ] following the titles.
Movies Seen on Home Video
Note: I used to grit my teeth and suffer through any movie I started, especially if I’d heard a lot of positive word of mouth or critical praise, on the logic that if everyone else thought it was good, then I needed to see it. But I’m getting much less shy in my grumpy middle age about shutting off the things that don’t engage me — life is too damn short, you know? I still don’t do it often, but there were a couple of titles this year I just couldn’t hack; I’ve indicated those with [ABANDONED].
TV Content Seen on Home Video
Books Completed (Fiction)
Note: You’ll notice that I read a whole mess of novels by Clive Cussler this year. I realized at some point that, despite my frequent mentions of his Dirk Pitt adventures, and strong opinions about that character, it had been years, decades even, since I’d read them, and I wondered how well they actually matched my memories of them. So I developed ambitions of doing a novel-by-novel survey of the series, much as Michael May has been doing with Ian Fleming’s Bond series over on his Adventureblog. Well, I read the books (half of them anyway), but didn’t get around to writing the entries. Typical of how the year went with regard to blogging…
Books Completed (Non-Fiction)
Concerts and Live Theater Events
And there we are for another misspent year…