Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"No fears alone at night, she's sailing through the crowd.
In her ears the 'phones are tight, and the music's playing loud.

She gets rock 'n' roll--a rock 'n' roll station
and a rock 'n' roll dream.
She's making movies on location.
She don't know what it means.
But the music make her wanna be the story,
and the story was whatever was the song--what it was."

From "Skateaway" by Dire Straits

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rachel Ray: Sometimes a scarf is just a scarf

So, Rachel Ray, the doyenne of fine dining a la Ritz crackers, is causing controversy because of her fashion choices. Apparently, in a Dunkin' Donuts ad she is sporting a scarf that looks like a keffiyeh, which has led to blogger outcries that she is a Palestinian terrorist sympathizer and is sending solidarity messages abroad. Dunkin' doesn't like the association and so has pulled the ad.

C'mon. While the whole thing is a little silly, one has to wonder where it will lead. No, I'm not talking about raising the alert because of the terrorist girl next door or even the power of the blogosphere to alter marketing decisions, but about co-opting religious attire as fashion accessories. What's next? Red hats on the fall runways?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

"One man's vulgarity is another's lyric."
~Justice John Harlan, Cohen v. California

Monday, May 26, 2008

A walk in the park

Yesterday, I took advantage of a sunny day with no calendar obligations (rare when the two coincide) to take a walk down by the river. In addition to getting a much-needed dose of sunshine, there was plenty of other environmental stimuli as well:

Did you ever walk in front of someone having a conversation where you just have to turn around to get a glimpse at the people talking? Usually they are talking loud enough as if their intent is to entertain the world, but it's almost a little sad when you realize their conversation is serious.

For quite a ways, two young women were having a conversation sparked by a puppy playing in the grass. It went like this:
"Oh, how cute."
"I want a puppy."
"You always say that."
"You know what I really want, is a baby."
"You always say that when you see a puppy."
"I know. I see a puppy and I want one to play with it, then I think, why just a puppy? If I had a baby I could be playing with that."
"But if you get tired of the puppy, you can give it away. You can't do that with a baby."
And on it went. (Believe it or not, there was more.)

As if that isn't enough, off to the side, along with all the people sitting and laying along the Charles, there strode a man who was looking for just the right spot to get a little sun. (The first nice weekend day, there was a lot of people there.) What set him apart from everyone else doing the same thing? He had stripped down to absolutely nothing but a thong. And there he was, weaving through the crowd flashing his bare butt like it was the most normal thing in the world.

The only thing I could think of was that it was a good thing these two didn't meet....

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A week of film nights at Symphony Hall

So, tonight ended the week run of John Williams conducting the Boston POPs. As with all the POPs shows, they’re trying to appeal to the multimedia generation. Apparently, music is not enough: Now there’s film clips, sound effects, narration.

It’s interesting being there every night. When the nights are good, it’s too busy to really notice the music, except at the end of the night. For the John William’s concerts that was OK with me as the bulk of the program was music from the Harry Potter movies (with narration by Lynn Redgrave and, of course, plenty of film clips). I’m not a big Harry Potter fan. I never read the books or saw the movies, so the magic was lost on me.

But the encores were good. Even though I saw them about four times, it’s always fun to stand at the side and watch the audience, in this case seeing their faces light up when they recognized after the first few notes the themes from the original Indiana Jones and E.T. movies.

From where I stand, I can look around and see the whole hall, the ornate grilling on the balconies, and the backlit statues of Bacchus, Euripedes, Sophocles, and crew watching over the orchestra and the audience. At these times, when I’m all cashed out and don’t have to worry about if someone wants something or what the cash flow is going to be like, I think about all the years that I’ve worked there and the changes I’ve seen and also I think about the history of the hall itself. In over a hundred years, there are a lot of stories and ghosts in that hall.

And, of course, there’s the people watching. That never gets old.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

You can leave it all behind and sail to Lahaina,
just like the missionaries did, so many years ago.
They even brought a neon sign: "Jesus is coming."
Brought the white man's burden down,
brought the white man's reign.

Who will provide the grand design?
What is yours and what is mine?
'Cause there is no more new frontier,
we have got to make it here.

We satisfy our endless needs and justify our bloody deeds,
in the name of destiny and the name of God.
And you can see them there,
On Sunday morning.
They stand up and sing about what it's like up there.

They call it paradise I don't know why
You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.

From "The Last Resort" by the Eagles

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Tuesday Quote of the Week

(I now it's really Wednesday...)

"For the mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for."
~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Field of Butterflies

I recently came across a 1985 essay by Salman Rushdie about an unlikely pairing of a New York artist and an Indian English teacher who briefly influenced each other.

Harold Shapinsky, an Abstract Expressionist painter from New York, lived, painted, and died in relative obscurity. Compared to Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning in terms of style not popularity, he lived for his art, but never tried to garner attention (and therefore sales) by the New York art scene. He had a brief revival in the mid-80s and had a one-man show at the Mayor Gallery in London, thanks to Akumal Ramachander, an elementary English teacher in Bangalore, India who stumbled on his work and took it upon himself to share it with the world.

Ramachander explained what drew him to Shapinsky’s work in Rushdie's 1985 essay: “The answer, it seems, is…butterflies: ‘My art school was a small field near my house. I would spend quite a long time there, chasing butterflies. Hundreds of thousands of them, you know, in all their brilliant hues. I would never destroy a butterfly, just chase them and wonder at that great profusion of colors. And I think all that colour sank into me…all those permutations and combinations, they were already there in me. All that had to happen was to get someone’s work, and see if I could get back all the colours I saw in my childhood. And Shapinsky seemed to come very close to that.’”

The Shapinsky revival was short-lived. He sank back into obscurity and died of Alzheimer’s 20 years later.

[For more on Shapinsky, here's his 2004 obit in the New York Sun.]

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Lyric of the Week

"I got them steadily depressing,
low-down mind-messing,
working at the car wash blues."
~~Jim Croce

Monday, May 12, 2008

All in a name

I’ve been thinking lately about terminology. There are two cases in particular: One where a word’s meaning has adapted with the times and technology, and another where the same concept now has new terminology associated with it and that new terminology has resulted in redefining the concept itself.

“Transmit” as a word has been around for over 500 years, before the Internet, before computers or even typewriters. It simply means to send, to communicate or pass along. The specifics don’t really matter so much.

A couple of years ago, I spent a good part of the summer locked in (literally, they really lock you in) the special archives room of the Boston Athenaeum with the papers of Commander Hull. (The man saved a lot of paper, every scrap of paper he ever received.) The archives covered his glory days during the War of 1812 and throughout his naval career. Communications between Hull, when he was out at sea, and the Department of the Navy, in Washington, were all handwritten and sent by boat back and forth. New policies, reprimands, questions/answers, whatever—communications that today would take seconds took about three months. These communications were referred to as being transmitted.

Whether by boat, telex, or e-mail, sending messages is a natural thing; I think that’s why the word just flowed along with the times. How the message is sent has changed radically, to be sure. The technology and timing is now different, but the basic need remains the same—to communicate, to convey information from sender to receiver and sometimes back again. To make a connection. And so we transmitted then as we transmit now.

In contrast, look at what’s happened to the stuff of what we read—specifically the news. There is a sense of chaos lately with journalism; the cry has been made that print is dead. (These cries are often premature—God isn’t dead either, although some may argue that he has left the building.) Newspapers are becoming passé and magazines are folding by the minute. Online is where it’s at, baby. There is a wealth of information to be found there and we are seduced with the immediacy and instant gratification—validity and substance don’t matter too much. Even once well-respected writers who wouldn’t dream of putting their byline on something inaccurate are falling under the spell. It’s become the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am of journalism. Post it quickly and move on to the next liaison, the next idea.

There seems to be a schism between “print” and “online,” and we can’t seem to make a meaningful relationship between the two. There is a lot of junk online, that seems to be the excuse to ignore what’s good. But there’s a lot of junk out there in the print world as well, and we seem to be able to tell the difference. Maybe it’s just a matter of waiting for the dust to settle. Maybe it’s all in a name.

Print journalism has become so closely aligned as a term that doesn’t fit with the Internet—along with the press and newspapers—that the basic concept has come to mean something else when it’s online. Anything online is now called “content.” Granted, the word “content” itself has been around for awhile, but using it to describe what’s online changes how we look at what we read. And that changes our expectation and demands on it. Websites, whether the New York Times or X17 are all “content providers.”

We say print is dead, but we don’t really mean it. We’re just confused. I hope. The options are overwhelming and so we’ve simplified it by limiting the terminology. Why hasn’t “print” survived as “transmit” has? Unfortunately, unlike transmit an action, “print” or the “press,” even the word “newspaper” are intrinsically tied to a very concrete thing—the printing press, paper and ink. There is a very tactile association. “Press” has made somewhat of a transition to computers, newspapers and books are now printed using digital presses, but even though this makes sense, the terminology hasn’t migrated over to the Internet. That is unfortunate, because the new terminology to describe what’s online, whether journalism or junk or anything in between, adds to the confusion and denigrates the whole field, because now, if it’s online, it’s content.

The terminology is keeping the schism intact and distracting from a more comprehensive discussion, and ultimately appreciation for, the vast field of media. Rather than bemoaning the state of print journalism in light of the new online media, the distinction between the two should be irrelevant. The skills are different, sure, but the basics are the same. The two would have a meaningful relationship and we could focus on shaking out the good from the bad in an all-encompassing marketplace of ideas if we could just figure out the terminology.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Stupid Things People Say

One of my jobs is waitressing at Symphony Hall. As far as work goes, it is fun, but it's still work. Of course, part of the job is to make sure that the patrons have a good time, so, in a sense, this person's comment means that that happened. But still...

What he said, on his way out at the end of the night, was "Did you have as much fun as we did?"


Friday, May 9, 2008

My all-time favorite train story

I ride the Acela back and forth to New York every week. It’s always pretty much the same: The morning train is pretty relaxed, mostly business travelers, the evening train, the last one of the day, is always crowded.

Now, before I tell this story, let me just say that it doesn’t mean that I advocate what this guy did, but I appreciate the humor of the situation (especially since I was just a casual observer).

I was sitting in an aisle seat one night and just happened to notice this guy sitting a row or two up. He borrowed the cellphone of the man next to him and called home. It was the same refrain of most of these types of conversations, “Darling, I’ll be home soon.” No big deal.

About ten minutes later, he had a seizure. Everyone, of course, reacted. Someone got the conductor, who called over the loudspeaker for any doctor on board to come immediately. They called ahead to get an ambulance at the next available stop. Two doctors came, but since they didn’t really know anything about him they couldn’t be sure if it was a seizure or not. The man was either sleeping (as one does after a seizure) or was unconscious. His seatmate remembered the phone conversation, so one of the doctors redialed the number.

He talked to the man’s wife and explained the situation and told her not to worry, etc. She filled him in on his medical history, and they told her what station they were going to get to and that they would get her the hospital information.

Finally, the man woke up. He was still groggy, and they explained everything to him, including the phone call. They said he’d be fine. He said no, he most certainly would not be fine. As it turned out, his wife didn’t know he was on the train.

By then we were in the next station. He wanted nothing to do with the ambulance. They, of course, insisted that he at least let the EMT’s check him out. After awhile, he came back and the train left.

He explained to his seatmate that he and his wife had been having problems and that he was seeing someone in New York. He had told his wife that he was going somewhere else locally for the day. He then borrowed the phone again.

This conversation was a lot different and far from routine. He told his wife that he wasn’t on the train, that he had been driving by a train station when he felt the seizure come on and pulled into the station just as a train was arriving. What a lucky coincidence. That the doctor who called her was confused and thought he was a passenger on the train. (I hope for the sake of women everywhere that this woman did not believe this story.) She, of course, insisted on coming to pick him up because surely he couldn’t drive the rest of the way home. Of course, he had to refuse, because while his car was at the station, he wasn’t there yet. At some point she did hang up on him. Several times, in fact.

I don’t know what the lessons here are. Of course, there are the obvious ones. In addition to that, I guess, make sure you have a clean bill of health before you embark on a mission of folly, and if you are going to do something questionable or even stupid (who am I to judge), at least get a story out of it. Granted, this guy wasn’t laughing that night, but hopefully after he picked up the pieces and sorted out what was important, he appreciated the humor of the situation. Because sometimes, that’s all we got.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lyric of the Day

She said "no, no, no
Romance ain't keepin' me alive"
I said "you're what I been dreamin' of"
She said "I don't want to know"

From "Clap for the Wolfman," The Guess Who

Eddie Money

Well, this is just funny.
Geoff Edgers of the Boston Globe interviewing Eddie Money last fall before a concert in Boston and getting him to sing a few bars...
The Interview

Monday, May 5, 2008

Brazil, the movie

So, I finally sat down this weekend and watched Brazil. I had been thinking about this movie for several days, starting with the coincidence that brought it to the surface of my thoughts in the first place and then moving on to the different things I read and discovered about it.

One of the things I realized was that I was intellectualizing the movie, which misses the point. Well, maybe not totally misses it, but I can read what it's about, what the filmmaker thought it was about, and what others said about it, but like any kind of art, it's really all about my (the viewer's) reaction and response to it.

I had both versions, the original English version and the American version with the happy ending (the "love conquers all" version). It took me a few minutes to decide which one to watch first. I decided on the American one, not because I'm a sucker for happy endings--please--but because I figured that that was the one more people in the United States saw. I did read in an interview Rushdie did with Gilliam and elsewhere that Gilliam really didn't like what Universal did with the film and resisted their tinkering with it. Also, the original English version wasn't really the original, but rather the "director's cut," which I always distrust.

But after watching the two, I have to say that the director's cut was definitely the best. The American version seemed sanitized in a way, it was cut as if for TV and most of the more graphic footage, and all the fantasy scenes, were taken out. They did keep the "happy" dream sequences of Sam flying in the clouds, but that wasn't as meaningful without the corresponding bad dreams and the rest of the fantasy scenes. And then there was the happy ending. Comparing the two endings, the happy ending seemed trite and trivialized the film.

The ending in the original version was far more powerful, even if the only place Sam lives happily ever after is in his fantasies. The original version also withstands the test of time. It is as relevant today as it ever was. The government (which is supposed to be the U.S. of the future) is coldly efficient but amazingly incompetent. There is an emphasis on an underground that is reacting against the government that uses fear of terrorists to exert control resulting in more individuals being the victim of the government. A film definitely worth watching.