Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Please come back and leave me alone."

A couple things.
One is, in recent years, I've noticed I skim a lot when I'm reading, and I've wondered, am I getting lazy? It this a bad habit from web browsing? Or is it that I've already read a couple hundred times what 90 percent of these writers are saying?

The other thing is, I have this problem: sometimes I hate meeting new people.
At some point, if enough time goes by, or sometimes even right away, like happened at a party recently, the subject of parents comes up. What do/did they do? Where do/did they live?
Which often leads to, "Oh, and what did your mother die of?"
Depending on how I'm feeling, I lie ("heart attack") or I tell the truth, gently ("she took her own life"). I dread telling the truth because people almost always say, after they've been nice and everything,
"Was she depressed?"

Was she depressed?

Why, no, I want to say, she felt fine. Never better.
Or, "Imbecile! What do you think?"
Or I want to vomit.

Or I'm tempted to tell some part of the not so easy truth:
No, I want to say.
She was lonely.

I don't do any of those things, because I know why they ask. I know, because I do it too. They're using the word "depression" the way you put a pad between you and hot metal that would sear your flesh if you grasped it, like a cold steak slapped on a charcoal grill.

They're not asking, generally, because they want me to tell them the truth. They're asking because they want to be comforted. When I simply agree, "Yes, she was depressed," I can see their relief. Ah, their faces say, bad luck, like getting cancer. Not a sign pointing to some danger inherent in the human psyche. Not that.

Now, people who live with what this modern world calls depression know it's not the hot pad, it's the coals. I don't mean those people. But for the rest of us, the word puts distance between us and shapeless horror. It gives the illusion of form and meaning, the way diagnoses and labels do.

It's something about humans--we give things names. We even say that God told us to. The names make us feel less exposed, huddled in our little groups on the savannah at night. This is a good thing. It leads to language, and stories, and discussing ways to avoid getting eaten by lions, and then to agriculture ("Hey, didja notice? the darndest thing happened..."), and before you know it, umbrellas and penicillin and the atom bomb... and... well, maybe it's not all good, but what is? I mean, we are a storytelling species, and one way we deal with the horror of the unknown is we put handles on it and when the handles get too hot, we use hot-pads.

I know this, and I don't want to throw strangers at parties out into the lion-prowling night or brand them with hot iron, so I say, yes, depressed, and they are nothing but kind and caring in return. And I know, too, that they have their unspeakable pain, and truth be told, I don't really want them to vomit on my shoes either. Not right away when I just met them anyway, and maybe not ever.

Back to problem number 1--skimming--I choose door number three: I skim because its mostly the same old song. I just came across rock critic Lester Bangs's essay on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. Online. Not the same tune. I did not skim it.

Lester Bangs writes about Van Morrison managing for this one album, and never again, to take hold of the suffering, bare skinned, and to hold on. And to open his hands and show us, and in showing us, somehow something --I'm always marvelling at this alchemy--something helpful comes. Even beautiful, in a barely bearable way.

(By the time I saw Van Morrison in concert, in 1995, he was a zombie. After this essay, I forgive him.)

But still, this leaves me with this problem of feeling skittish about meeting people. I read this article and I thought, maybe I'll Xerox it and carry it around and the next time someone asks, was she depressed? I'll hand them a copy.

No, no. Answering yes is the right thing to do, it's not really that I need a different external response. It's my internal reaction that needs more love and oxygen. Lester Bangs provides great gulps of those elements, in sentences like this:
"The proximity of other humans often fills me with overwhelming anxiety, but I also feel that this precarious sentience is all we've got and... it's a person's duty to the potentials of his own soul to make the best of it."

I found that quote standing on its own, and it could sound rather sophomoric, I suppose. Best to read such statements in context. I was going to post the link--somebody typed the whole thing out, unofficially--but I didn't want to let it out of my sight, so I cut and pasted it here (complete with what I figure must be a few typos, but I can't be sure so I let them stand).
So here's the review that made me realize I don't always skim when I read and that sometimes it's possible to hear the whole truth.

Van Morrison: Astral Weeks
by Lester Bangs

[Bangs wrote this for Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island (1979), ed. by Greil Marcus, which asked leading rock critics what albums they would take to a desert island, and why.]

Van Morrison's Astral Weeks was released ten years, almost to the day, before this was written. It was particularly important to me because the fall of 1968 was such a terrible time: I was a physical and mental wreck, nerves shredded and ghosts and spiders looming and squatting across the mind. My social contacts had dwindled to almost none; the presence of other people made me nervous and paranoid. I spent endless days and nights sunk in an armchair in my bedroom, reading magazines, watching TV, listening to records, staring into space. I had no idea how to improve the situation and probably wouldn't have done anything about it if I had.

Astral Weeks would be the subject of this piece - i.e., the rock record with the most significance in my life so far - no matter how I'd been feeling when it came out. But in the condition I was in, it assumed at the time the quality of a beacon, a light on the far shores of the murk; what's more, it was proof that there was something left to express artistically besides nihilism and destruction. (My other big record of the day was White Light/White Heat.) It sounded like the man who made Astral Weeks was in terrible pain, pain most of Van Morrison's previous works had only suggested; but like the later albums by the Velvet Underground, there was a redemptive element in the blackness, ultimate compassion for the suffering of others, and a swath of pure beauty and mystical awe that cut right through the heart of the work.

I don't really know how significant it might be that many others have reported variants on my initial encounter with Astral Weeks. I don't think there's anything guiding it to people enduring dark periods. It did come out at a time when a lot of things that a lot of people cared about passionately were beginning to disintegrate, and when the self-destructive undertow that always accompanied the great sixties party had an awful lot of ankles firmly in it's maw and was pulling straight down. So, as timeless as it finally is, perhaps Astral Weeks was also the product of an era. Better think that than ask just what sort of Irish churchwebbed haints Van Morrison might be product of.

Three television shows: A 1970 NET broadcast of a big all-star multiple bill at the Fillmore East. The Byrds, Sha Na Na, and Elvin Bishop have all done their respective things. Now we get to see three of four songs from a set by Van Morrison. He climaxes, as he always did in those days, with "Cyprus Avenue" from Astral Weeks. After going through all the verses, he drives the song, the band, and himself to a finish which has since become one of his trademarks and one of the all-time classic rock 'n' roll set-closers. With consumate dynamics that allow him to snap from indescribably eccentric throwaway phrasing to sheer passion in the very next breath he brings the music surging up through crescendo after crescendo, stopping and starting and stopping and starting the song again and again, imposing long maniacal silences like giant question marks between the stops and starts and ruling the room through sheer tension, building to a shout of "It's too late to stop now!" and just when you think it's all going to surge over the top, he cuts it off stone cold dead, the hollow of a murdered explosion, throws the microphone down and stalks off the stage. It is truly one of the most perverse things I have ever seen a performer do in my life. And, of course, it's sensational: our guts are knotted up, we're crazed and clawing for more, but we damn well know we've seen and felt something.

1974, a late night network TV rock concert: Van and his band come out, strike a few shimmering chords, and for about ten minutes he lingers over the words "Way over yonder in the clear blue sky / Where flamingos fly." No other lyrics. I don't think any instrumental solos. Just those words, repeated slowly again and again, distended, permutated, turned into scat, suspended in space and then scattered to the winds, muttered like a mantra till they turn into nonsense syllables, then back into the same soaring image as time seems to stop entirely. He stands there with eyes closed, singing, transported, while the band poises quivering over great open-tuned deep blue gulfs of their own.

1977, spring-summer, same kind of show: he sings "Cold Wind in August", a song off his recently released album A Period of Transition, which also contains a considerably altered version of the flamingos song. "Cold Wind in August" is a ballad and Van gives it a fine, standard reading. The only trouble is that the whole time he's singing it he paces back and forth in a line on the stage, his eyes tightly shut, his little fireplug body kicking its way upstream against what must be a purgatorial nervousness that perhaps is being transferred to the cameraman.

What this is about is a whole set of verbal tics - although many are bodily as well - which are there for reason enough to go a long way toward defining his style. They're all over Astral Weeks: four rushed repeats of the phrases "you breathe in, you breath out" and "you turn around" in "Beside You"; in "Cyprus Avenue," twelve "way up on"s, "baby" sung out thirteen times in a row sounding like someone running ecstatically downhill toward one's love, and the heartbreaking way he stretches "one by one" in the third verse; most of all in "Madame George" where he sings the word "dry" and then "your eye" twenty times in a twirling melodic arc so beautiful it steals your own breath, and then this occurs: "And the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves the love that loves to love the love that loves to love the love that loves."

Van Morrison is interested, obsessed with how much musical or verbal information he can compress into a small space, and, almost, conversely, how far he can spread one note, word, sound, or picture. To capture one moment, be it a caress or a twitch. He repeats certain phrases to extremes that from anybody else would seem ridiculous, because he's waiting for a vision to unfold, trying as unobtrusively as possible to nudge it along. Sometimes he gives it to you through silence, by choking off the song in midflight: "It's too late to stop now!"

It's the great search, fueled by the belief that through these musical and mental processes illumination is attainable. Or may at least be glimpsed.

When he tries for this he usually gets it more in the feeling than in the Revealed Word - perhaps much of the feeling comes from the reaching - but there is also, always, the sense of WHAT if he DID apprehend that Word; there are times when the Word seems to hover very near. And then there are times when we realize the Word was right next to us, when the most mundane overused phrases are transformed: I give you "love," from "Madame George." Out of relative silence, the Word: "Snow in San Anselmo." "That's where it's at," Van will say, and he means it (aren't his interviews fascinating?). What he doesn't say is that he is inside the snowflake, isolated by the song: "And it's almost Independence Day."

You're probably wondering when I'm going to get around to telling you about Astral Weeks. As a matter of fact, there's a whole lot of Astral Weeks I don't even want to tell you about. Both because whether you've heard it or not it wouldn't be fair for me to impose my interpretation of such lapidarily subjective imagery on you, and because in many cases I don't really know what he's talking about. He doesn't either: "I'm not surprised that people get different meanings out of my songs," he told a Rolling Stone interviewer. "But I don't wanna give the impression that I know what everything means 'cause I don't. . . . There are times when I'm mystified. I look at some of the stuff that comes out, y'know. And like, there it is and it feels right, but I can't say for sure what it means."

There you go
Starin' with a look of avarice
Talking to Huddie Leadbetter
Showin' pictures on the walls
And whisperin' in the halls
And pointin' a finger at me

I haven't got the slightest idea what that "means," though on one level I'd like to approach it in a manner as indirect and evocative as the lyrics themselves. Because you're in trouble anyway when you sit yourself down to explicate just exactly what a mystical document, which is exactly what Astral Weeks is, means. For one thing, what it means is Richard Davis's bass playing, which complements the songs and singing all the way with a lyricism that's something more than just great musicianship: there is something about it that more than inspired, something that has been touched, that's in the realm of the miraculous. The whole ensemble - Larry Fallon's string section, Jay Berliner's guitar (he played on Mingus's Black Saint and the Sinner Lady), Connie Kay's drumming - is like that: they and Van sound like they're not just reading but dwelling inside of each other's minds. The facts may be far different. John Cale was making an album of his own in the adjacent studio at the time, and he has said that "Morrison couldn't work with anybody, so finally they just shut him in the studio by himself. He did all the songs with just an acoustic guitar, and later they overdubbed the rest of it around his tapes."

Cale's story might or might not be true - but facts are not going to be of much use here in any case. Fact: Van Morrison was twenty-two - or twenty-three - years old when he made this record; there are lifetimes behind it. What Astral Weeks deals in are not facts but truths. Astral Weeks, insofar as it can be pinned down, is a record about people stunned by life, completely overwhelmed, stalled in their skins, their ages and selves, paralyzed by the enormity of what in one moment of vision they can comprehend. It is a precious and terrible gift, born of a terrible truth, because what they see is both infinitely beautiful and terminally horrifying: the unlimited human ability to create or destroy, according to whim. It's no Eastern mystic or psychedelic vision of the emerald beyond, nor is it some Baudelairean perception of the beauty of sleaze and grotesquerie. Maybe what it boiled down to is one moment's knowledge of the miracle of life, with its inevitable concomitant, a vertiginous glimpse of the capacity to be hurt, and the capacity to inflict that hurt.

Transfixed between pure rapture and anguish. Wondering if they may not be the same thing, or at least possessed of an intimate relationship. In "T.B. Sheets", his last extended narrative before making this record, Van Morrison watched a girl he loved die of tuberculosis. The song was claustrophobic, suffocating, mostrously powerful: "innuendos, inadequacies, foreign bodies." A lot of people couldn't take it; the editor of this book has said that it's garbage, but I think it made him squeamish. Anyway, the point is that certain parts of Astral Weeks - "Madame George," "Cyprus Avenue" - take the pain in "T.B. Sheets" and root the world in it. Because the pain of watching a loved one die of however dread a disease may be awful, but it is at least something known, in a way understood, in a way measureable and even leading somewhere, because there is a process: sickness, decay, death, mourning, some emotional recovery. But the beautiful horror of "Madame George" and "Cyprus Avenue" is precisely that the people in these songs are not dying: we are looking at life, in its fullest, and what these people are suffering from is not disease but nature, unless nature is a disease.

A man sits in a car on a tree-lined street, watching a fourteen-year-old girl walking home from school, hopelessly in love with her. I've almost come to blows with friends because of my insistence that much of Van Morrison's early work had an obsessively reiterated theme of pedophilia, but here is something that at once may be taken as that and something far beyond it. He loves her. Because of that, he is helpless. Shaking. Paralyzed. Maddened. Hopeless. Nature mocks him. As only nature can mock nature. Or is love natural in the first place? No Matter. By the end of the song he has entered a kind of hallucinatory ecstasy; the music aches and yearns as it rolls on out. This is one supreme pain, that of being imprisoned a spectator. And perhaps no so very far from "T.B. Sheets," except that it must be far more romantically easy to sit and watch someone you love die than to watch them in the bloom of youth and health and know that you can never, ever have them, can never speak to them.

"Madame George" is the album's whirlpool. Possibly one of the most compassionate pieces of music ever made, it asks us, no, arranges that we see the plight of what I'll be brutal and call a lovelorn drag queen with such intense empathy that when the singer hurts him, we do too. (Morrison has said in at least one interview that the song has nothing to do with any kind of transvestite - at least as far as he knows, he is quick to add - but that's bullshit.) The beauty, sensitivity, holiness of the song is that there's nothing at all sensationalistic, exploitative, or tawdry about it; in a way Van is right when he insists it's not about a drag queen, as my friends were right and I was wrong about the "pedophelia" - it's about a person, like all the best songs, all the greatest literature.

The setting is that same as that of the previous song - "Cyprus Avenue", apparently a place where people drift, impelled by desire, into moments of flesh-wracking, sight-curdling confrontation with their destinies. It's an elemental place of pitiless judgement - wind and rain figure in both songs - and, interestingly enough, it's a place of the even crueler judgement of adults by children, in both cases love objects absolutely indifferent to their would-be adult lovers. Madame George's little boys are downright contemptuous - like the street urchins who end up cannibalizing the homosexual cousin in Tennessee Williams's Suddenly Last Summer, they're only too happy to come around as long as there's music, party times, free drinks and smokes, and only too gleefully spit on George's affections when all the other stuff runs out, the entombing winter settling in with not only wind and rain but hail, sleet, and snow.

What might seem strangest of all but really isn't is that it's exactly those characteristics which supposedly should make George most pathetic - age, drunkenness, the way the boys take his money and trash his love - that awakens something for George in the heart of the kid whose song this is. Obviously the kid hasn't simply "fallen in love with love," or something like that, but rather - what? Why just exactly that only sunk in the foulest perversions could one human being love another for anything other than their humanness: love him for his weakness, his flaws, finally perhaps his decay. Decay is human - that's one of the ultimate messages here, and I don't by any stretch of the lexicon mean decadence. I mean that in this song or whatever inspired it Van Morrison saw the absolute possibility of loving human beings at the farthest extreme of wretchedness, and that the implications of that are terrible indeed, far more terrible than the mere sight of bodies made ugly by age or the seeming absurdity of a man devoting his life to the wobbly artifice of trying to look like a woman.

You can say to love the questions you have to love the answers which quicken the end of love that's loved to love the awful inequality of human experience that loves to say we tower over these the lost that love to love the love that freedom could have been, the train to freedom, but we never get on, we'd rather wave generously walking away from those who are victims of themselves. But who is to say that someone who victimizes himself or herself is not as worthy of total compassion as the most down and out Third World orphan in a New Yorker magazine ad? Nah, better to step over the bodies, at least that gives them the respect they might have once deserved. Where I live, in New York (not to make it more than it is, which is hard), everyone I know often steps over bodies which might well be dead or dying as a matter of course, without pain. and I wonder in what scheme it was originally conceived that such an action is showing human refuse the ultimate respect it deserves.

There is of course a rationale - what else are you going to do - but it holds no more than our fear of our own helplessness in the face of the pain of life as it truly is: a plain which extends into an infinity beyond the horizons we have only invented. Come on, die it. As I write this, I can read in the Village Voice the blurbs of people opening heterosexual S&M clubs in Manhattan, saying things like, "S&M is just another equally valid form of love. Why people can't accept that we'll never know." Makes you want to jump out a fifth floor window rather than even read about it, but it's hardly the end of the world; it's not nearly as bad as the hurts that go on everywhere everyday that are taken to casually by all of us as facts of life. Maybe it boiled down to how much you actually want to subject yourself to. If you accept for even a moment the idea that each human life is as precious and delicate as a snowflake and then you look at a wino in a doorway, you've got to hurt until you feel like a sponge for all those other assholes' problems, until you feel like an asshole yourself, so you draw all the appropriate lines. You stop feeling. But you know that then you begin to die. So you tussle with yourself. How much of this horror can I actually allow myself to think about? Perhaps the numbest mannekin is wiser than somebody who only allows their sensitivity to drive them to destroy everything they touch - but then again, to tilt Madame George's hat a hair, just to recognize that that person exists, just to touch his cheek and then probably expire because the realization that you must share the world with him is ultimately unbearable is to only go the first mile. The realization of living is just about that low and that exalted and that unbearable and that sought-after. Please come back and leave me alone. But when we're along together we can talk all we want about the universality of this abyss: it doesn't make any difference, the highest only meets the lowest for some lying succor, UNICEF to relatives, so you scratch and spit and curse in violent resignation at the strict fact that there is absolutely nothing you can do but finally reject anyone in greater pain than you. At such a moment, another breath is treason. That's why you leave your liberal causes, leave suffering humanity to die in worse squalor than they knew before you happened along. You got their hopes up. Which makes you viler than the most scrofulous carrion. Viler than the ignorant boys who would take Madame George for a couple of cigarettes. Because you have committed the crime of knowledge, and thereby not only walked past or over someone you knew to be suffering, but also violated their privacy, the last possession of the dispossessed.

Such knowledge is possibly the worst thing that can happen to a person (a lucky person), so it's no wonder that Morrison's protagonist turned away from Madame George, fled to the train station, trying to run as far away from what he'd seen as a lifetime could get him. And no wonder, too, that Van Morrison never came this close to looking life square in the face again, no wonder he turned to Tupelo Honey and even Hard Nose the Highway with its entire side of songs about falling leaves. In Astral Weeks and "T.B. Sheets" he confronted enough for any man's lifetime. Of course, having been offered this immeasurably stirring and equally frightening gift from Morrison, one can hardly be blamed for not caring terribly much about "Old, Old Woodstock" and little homilies like "You've Got to Make It Through This World On Your Own" and "Take It Where You Find It."

On the other hand, it might also be pointed out that desolation, hurt, and anguish are hardly the only things in life, or in Astral Weeks. They're just the things, perhaps, that we can most easily grasp and explicate, which I suppose shows about what level our souls have evolved to. I said I wouldn't reduce the other songs on this album by trying to explain them, and I won't. But that doesn't mean that, all thing considered, a juxtaposition of poets might not be in order.

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dreams
Where the mobile steel rims crack
And the ditch and the backroads stop
Could you find me
Would you kiss my eyes
And lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again

--Van Morrison

My heart of silk
is filled with lights,
with lost bells,
with lilies and bees.
I will go very far,
farther than those hills,
farther than the seas,
close to the stars,
to beg Christ the Lord
to give back the soul I had
of old, when I was a child,
ripened with legends,
with a feathered cap
and a wooden sword.

--Federico Garcia Lorca

[end Lester Bang's article]
Image inspired by Lorca at top of this post, unattributed, from here. I found the essay here:
Bangs doesn't always write like this. For contrast, read his well-modulated review of Born to Run.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Micro Is the New Black

Turns out Bink's Tiny Dalek, which confused her little dog [post below], is part of a larger trend of Tiny Monsters! And other micro things.

This retitled Star Trek novel is just one of a whole crop from Mighty God King. (I found the link from that source of all-things-Bill: Look At His Butt.)

Deanna has alerted me to "microwriting"--a piece of her "flash fiction" appears online at Camrock Press Review. Their guidelines limit submissions to 550 words.

I guess Kirk/Spock micro-fanfic would be flash slash.

"Daleks Confuse-a-Joop"

Bink's 25-second tribute to her little dog Joop and his bafflement at the Dalek Invasion, created on Keynote animation and iMovie '09.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Follow You, Follow Me

I added the "Followers" widget to my sidebar. (Blogs I follow are on my profile page.) It seems a sparkly way for bloggers to see each other. Sign on if you want, or whatever. I don't use Site Meter or any other tracking option, so I don't know you're here, if you don't tell me, which is fine. I don't like feeling tracked myself. (And based on a creepy experience on my old blog, I'm not sure I want to know who's lurking).

Copyright Comic!

Krista recommended Bound By Law: Tales from the Public Domain as a good intro to the copyright conundrum--in comic book form.
Published by Duke School, it is available in free digital versions here, or you can buy a hard copy for $5.95. Mine just arrived.

From the back cover:
"A documentary is being filmed. A cell phone rings, playing the "Rocky" theme song. The filmmaker is told she must pay $10,000 to clear the rights to the song. Can this be true? Eyes on the Prize, the great civil rights documentary, was pulled from circulation because the filmmaker's rights to music and footage had expired.
What's going on here?
Why do we have copyrights? What's "fair use"? Bound By Law ...provides[s] a commentary on the most pressing issues facing law, art, property and an increasingly digital world of remixed cultures."

From the Introduction
--by Cory Doctorow, award-winning science fiction author
and co-editor of the blog Boing Boing

"Copyright, a system that is meant to promote creativity, has been hijacked by a few industrial players and perverted. Today, copyright is as likely to suppress new creativity as it is to protect it."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Scent of Lent

[Image of John the Baptist by Lucinda.
She created this liturgical art for Advent, not Lent, but both are seasons of reflection and expectation.]

While I am no longer a practicing Catholic, the stories remain the base note of my life.
They smell like ozone during thunderstorms; the scent of burying your nose in your favorite pet; lilacs in the backyard; the iron drip of blood; flying fish off starboard; leaf mulch under spring ice; a splash of melting beeswax on your hand; dusty feet and sweaty leather...

If Lent were a perfume, it would be dark and bright:
burned bone and honey,
black pepper and pear,
musk and lemon,
crushed cilantro and mint.

Sometimes Lent is misrepresented as a gloomy time. While it is a time of inwardness, it is not at all about getting stuck in the muck.
Look, here's part of the reading from Isaiah 58 for today, Ash Wednesday:

"When thou shalt pour out thy soul to the hungry, and shalt satisfy the afflicted soul then shall thy light rise up in darkness, and thy darkness shall be as the noonday.

"And the Lord will give thee rest continually, and will fill thy soul with brightness, and deliver thy bones, and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a fountain of water whose waters shall not fail.

"And the places that have been desolate for ages shall be built in thee: thou shalt raise up the foundations of generation and generation: and thou shalt be called the repairer of the fences, turning the paths into rest.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Movie Moment, 13: Notorious: Cary Grant Climbs the Stairs

Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious (1946) is one of the movies of my life. I watched it so often between my teen years and my thirties that I got tired of it, and I hadn't seen it for probably ten years. Then I came across the cleaned up Criterion Collection DVD at the library.
When I watched it last night, it was like I was watching a different film than the one I remembered.
This is one of the qualities of a classic piece of art: it is multiplicitous, so as you change, you see different things in it--or, you see different parts of yourself.

The main difference was, and I don't know how I missed this, I realized what a jerk Cary Grant's character, Devlin, is, and that it is *his* transformation that creates the arc of the story.

Devlin is an agent for a U.S. intelligence agency (unnamed, but the OSS/CIA). His job is to recruit and run Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), the American daughter of a Nazi, as a spy. Since she learned of her father's treasonous behavior years earlier, Alicia has led a life of notoriety, drinking and carousing. But, in fact, as her name implies, she is the superior character, the "über woman."

Devlin thinks he's superior to this tramp, but we gradually come to see that it is he who has made a deal with the devil--his CIA boss, Prescott, a nasty piece of work of the sort we've seen too much of this century, who thinks the end justifies the means. Devlin performs dirty jobs that disgust him but serve the greater good.

That's part of the strength of this movie, and something that keeps it topical: there is no moral black and white. The onerous duty truly is for the greater good:
Devlin's job is to recruit Alicia to use her sexual wiles on Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), in order to penetrate a group of her dead father's Nazi friends, who are indeed a threat, as they continue plotting after World War II, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Essentially they're a terrorist cell, working to develop WMDs.

We first see Devlin filmed from the back, a stiff neck at one of Alicia's drunken parties. He is and remains literally rigid with righteousness, and, we come to see, with the effort to control his own pain, fear, and longing.
Alicia invites him for a "picnic" and they end up struggling for control of the car. And this is something I'd never registered until this viewing:
Devlin finally gets the upper hand over Alicia by punching her. It's a small move, seen from the back as they fight in the car, but it's quite clear. After, she lies knocked out and he climbs into the driver's seat with a little smile on his face. I had remembered their struggle as funny, sexual play, and there is some of that, but it's also frighteningly violent.

I wrote that I don't know how I missed what a jerk Devlin is, but I do know: when I was a kid watching movies from the 1940s, much as I loved them, I saw them as less sophisticated, less serious than the graphically violent, sexual movies of my era. But that's because I was a kid and I had not really experienced those things personally. So I misread these movies. Cary Grant was just a handsome, harmless devil to me. But that's not who he is here. He falls in love with Alicia, and she with him; but he invests her with his own self-disgust and won't let himself love her. Along with his fear of women (which he admits to her), this leads to a lot of harm, as his cruel display of indifference pushes her to marry Sebastian.

Alicia gradually dwindles as a person--something I didn't see either, as a kid. She has no one and nothing. Her father has committed suicide; the man she loves has pimped her out; the man she marries discovers she's a spy and, with his mother's help, begins to poison her. Alicia can't escape, and where would she escape to anyway?

As she slowly succumbs to a poisoned sleep, like Snow White, finally Devlin wakes up. He realizes that she's in danger--and he's put her there--and he goes to the rescue, despite his boss's order not to take risks. (Prescott views Alicia as nothing more than a pawn who has served its purpose.)

Devlin goes to Sebastian's house and waits in the empty hall. Visibly more and more agitated, he finally gets up and heads toward the staircase (a central symbol in the film, linking the private, feminine upstairs and public, masculine downstairs).

Here's the movie moment:
He starts to walk up the stairs. After a few steps, he starts to stride up them two at a time. By the end, he's running.
Finally, this rigid man we never see except sitting or standing almost motionless, is moving.

He goes into her bedroom, where she lies near death, tells her--finally--that he loves her and that he couldn't admit it before because he was "a fat-headed guy, full of pain" (a ridiculous line that doesn't sound it, in his mouth). He takes her back down the stairs, facing down a very ominous group of Nazis, the scariest of which is Sebastian's mother, a foreshadowing of Norman Bates's.

Devlin's trip up the staircase into the realm of feeling is Alicia's--and his own--salvation.

I'm sure PhDs have been written about Hitchock's stairways, but I couldn't find stills of Grant going up the Notorious one. These are the photos of him as he finally gets off his duff and heads toward the stairs.

Pix from Notorious screencaps.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"as many sensual perfumes as you can"

I went shopping for essential oils to blend my own "signature" perfume yesterday. I was thinking about what Star Trek might smell like, you know, but as I chose fragrances that appealed to me, one by one, I ended up not describing a starship or her crew but an afternoon on the coast of Sicily, in the spring when the orange trees bloom.

Here's my blend:

*base note: cedar: a carved wooden box to store your tender secrets in; the heavy, resinous sweetish aroma of a grove along the Mediterranean Sea

*middle, or heart, note: neroli: perfume to make bees' heads swim, diffused from bitter-orange blossoms, which blanket the hillsides like springtime snow

*top note: sweet orange: bright and fresh, the way your fingers smell after you peel an orange

Cut with a drop of two of rosemary, wafting, grey-green, from the rocky cliffs overlooking the sea

(Vodka substitutes for perfumer's alcohol.)

The scents got me thinking of the trip my uncle sent Bink and me on, two springs ago. He'd called out of the blue one day, saying he'd always wanted to go to the Old Country, but now he could afford to (at 79 years old), his emphysema prevented him, so would I go and bring back stories for him?

I guess these aren't actually cedars [Cat writes she thinks they are umbrella pines]; but here I am, climbing a huge hill above Monreale, the town where my grandmother was born in 1900.

Last night, after I blended my first experimental batch of fragrance, I called my auntie. She told me my uncle, her brother, is in the hospital and may move to hospice soon. My uncle was a sailor in the navy, after World War II. (I've posted my uncle's tale of meeting Hal, his partner of 47 years, here.) Seems his odyssey is nearing its end.

In honor of his marvellous journey, so far, here's "Ithaka," the poem by C. P. Cavafy, (1863- 1933, Greek poet, from Alexandria, Egypt), a hymn to full engagement of the senses, which suggests, "buy... as many sensual perfumes as you can."
If you're stopping on your wandering way to Ithaka to buy perfume, Sicily's on the route.

by C. P. Cavafy

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery,
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with your pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn an go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

(translated from the Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Pisces No. 1: Alan Rickman


I thought I'd put together a list of quotes from Pisceans (my sign) to illustrate the sign, as I've done for Gemini and Scorpio (I have family members in both signs). Assembling these takes a while, you can imagine; but I see that today is Alan Rickman's birthday (2-21-46), so I'll let him kick it off right away.

He first caught my eye in Truly, Madly, Deeply (1990), but one of his best roles may be Mr Obadiah Slope in the BBC version of Barchester Towers (1982), here, with Geraldine McEwan as Mrs Proudie, the power behind the bishop. In their scenes together, two schemers of the highest caliber, they vibrate like high-tension wires. And of course Rickman's Snape is the only reason some of us bother with the Harry Potter movies.

Pisces' sign is two fish swimming in opposite directions, but joined by a ribbon, so they move multidimensionally but not unidirectionally.
Almost every Rickman quote I've read strikes me as classically Piscean, so I chose a few representative ones:

"I want to swim in both directions at once. Desire success, court failure."

"I've never been able to plan my life. I just lurch from indecision to indecision."

"I'm a quite serious actor who doesn't mind being ridiculously comic."

"If only life could be a little more tender and art a little more robust."

And with that, I'm off to the YWCA for the Saturday "Cycling to the Movies" workout. Today's movie, amazingly: Galaxy Quest, a movie so excellent, I would love it even if Alan Rickman weren't in it. But he is, wearing a rubber head throughout the entire film.
Could those be gills?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Make Your Own Perfume

"Coriander", a Bengal cat. (This cat looks a bit like a civet cat, which produces musk--but isn't actually a cat. I didn't want to put a picture of a civet cat, as they are rather sad, what with getting their glandular secretions harvested for perfumes.)

Inspired by T'Keid's blends of aromas for Kirk and Spock, in the comments on the post below (and what a great pile of comments!), I decided I want to make perfume. I found this friendly blogspot blog, How to Make Your Own Fragrance, which, among other tips, gives the basic, simple steps here: "How to Make Perfume."

The blogger also posts some favorite perfume recipes, such as this one, which seems sorta Pon-Farrish. T'Keid suggests cardamom for the top note, which would be perfect--this recipe calls for the somewhat similar coriander--the spice, not the cat.

Arabian Dusk

3 drops of coriander oil
1 drop of Frankincense oil
3 drops of Juniper oil
4 drops of Orange oil

Use 1 cup of distilled water and 5 teaspoons of vodka or other spirit.
(I looked at some other perfume-making sites, and they too use vodka as a substitute for perfumer's alcohol. Hmmm, but 1 cup of water is a lot--I guess this is more of an eau de cologne of a light spray.)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

That's just wrong.

"Engage, a fragrance by Jean-Luc Picard," from Bob Mitchell.
No, that's not wrong--it's not even such a bad idea, if it were real.
Read on. lists upcoming Star Trek merchandise, to accompany the release of the new movie (May 8).
Star Trek Monopoly sounds like fun. Star Trek pajamas for adults? Sign me up.
But Star Trek fragrances?
We-e-e-e-ll [looks dubious]... maybe . . .
But with these names? "Tiberius," "Pon Farr," and "Red Shirt."

Did they ever watch the show?

If you've read this far, you probably already know Tiberius is James T. Kirk's middle name--never a good name in the first place, as Tiberius was a great Roman general but "the gloomiest of men," according to Pliny the Elder-- fans like to change it to "Tomcat." (And you know what they smell like.)
Pon Farr, of course, is the Vulcan rut, when the Vulcan male has to mate or die. I guess this is the best of the lot, even if Pon Farr only occurs once every 7 years...
And Red Shirt translates to "Kick Me"--he's the poor schmuck who's not coming back from the planet with the team he beamed down with.

So, let me think. What would be good Trekkie names for men's cologne? (I assume these are for men!) I don't know... How 'bout, off the top of my head, Command? Bold. Cool Blue. Sensor. Guardian. "I Canna Do It, Captain!" (Maybe not.)
Bones? [snort]
Plomeek Soup?
Oh, dear...
Think of some more?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When they won't share their toys...

...make your own!

Here's a dalek made by Josh, from a yogurt pot, egg cartons, and glitter. It won him a Magic Moment at school.
(I guess they do not enforce the BBC's copyrights at this school, even though it is in England. Brits are anarchists at heart, one gathers. Even at seven years old.)

My birthday is in a couple weeks.
I would like a fleet of handmade daleks or a slew of sparkly Star Trek badges... (Just saying.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Copyright Kerfuffle; Or, It's Only Rock 'n' Roll

A Czech rocker said that some of the motivation behind the anti-Soviet movement came from people like him, who just wanted to rock 'n' roll and objected because the Communist regime wouldn't let them.

I trust such motivation more than I trust the ideologues and utopianists, like Che, who end up being just as harsh and intolerant as the rulers they replace.
My mother used to say, "Don't fall in love with white," meaning watch out for a desire for purity--it'll put you up against a wall--or you'll put others up against one in the deluded quest for it.
The desire for freedom agitates for more mess, not tidy-mindedness.

In our times, the Internet has tossed the issue of control and freedom--and what does "ownership" mean anyway?--to the winds, and it's creating a healthy storm.
Recently, WMG (Warner Music Group) has been yanking their songs from vids on youTube.
Vidders see WMG's actions not as efforts to protect artists' and musicians' rights--ha!--but as the greedy gobbling of a giant corporation, which serves control, not creativity.
Here, Mortmere uses my favorite tools--humor and... um, one might say, guerrilla naughtiness--to protest WMG's infringement of fair use.

"Kirk/Spock: The Copyright Infringement"

One response to such policing is that vidders move their work to more private venues, which is a loss. I understand why people prefer the controlled access of Facebook and suchlike for reasons of privacy or safety (or the illusion of it, anyway), but personally I love that you don't have to sign in to read/watch Blogger and youTube. People who post/upload to these sites can choose to limit who sees their work, but the default is that they're open to everyone.
(Yes, they're giant corporations too--you sow, they reap.)

I once studied with a Polish professor (Wlad Godzich, some of you might remember) who compared democracy to a bubbling pot--if you want the stew, he said, you have to put up with the scum that rises up too.

The only purity is death.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Couple Blog Links

I took my blogroll down for revision and never got around to putting it up again, but I want to. No time right now; but in the meantime:
Sister and our father are in Paris, and she just posted her first little report--about being in Europe post-Bush (hooray!)-- on her blog, On My Plate.

Speaking of in-depth blogs (below, in contrast to Facebook), I recently found Darwi's blog "Bosnian Girl". It is an excellent in-process memoir about her experiences as a young woman in Bosnia during the war.

[Photo of boys in Sarajevo, 1993, by photojournalist Teun Voeten.]

Her blog's content matches its black background, so you might prefer her everyday blog, here: Nerd-land.

I discovered Darwi because she listed Galaxy Quest (right)--one of my Top Ten--as a favorite movie on her profile. She's a scientist who recently moved to California for work.

Now I am writing an index of Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan (or dictator, if you prefer). That and Slovakia are taking me back into the pits of human experience.
That's one reason I like Darwi's writing--people who have lived through hell, well... they don't remind me of being at a frivolous party, even when they're writing about whether or not you can get good coffee and chocolate in America.

Facebook Dropout

Thank you, Momo, for linking to the NYT article "Quitting Facebook Gets Easier" and for saying you too wanted to permanently delete your Facebook account, and did.
So did I, just now.
The link to do so is under "Help" on your Facebook page--it's easy.

On Facebook, I felt as if I were in the middle of a high school cafeteria.
I can see why some people love it--it's quite bubbly!--but I prefer one-to-one conversations at a coffeeshop, which is more like what e-mail allows.
Also FB is a closed system--I like that this blog is open and anyone at all might (and sometimes does) wander through here.

Blogging is where I, well..., I suppose I get to talk uninterrupted! Though at its best, it leads to in-depth conversations, both online and in person. And I want to read other people's thoughtful writings, too, on their blogs or wherever, and that isn't really what Facebook is for.

Anyway, geez: How many accounts do I need? I'm on Yahoo e-mail, Blogger, and youTube. Enough already!

[LOLcat from icanhascheezburger]

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pinball Queen

Liberty Custard, Valentine's Day 2009
(click photo to embiggen)

Once in a while, art just plunks itself in front of you and all you have to do is push the button.

Lucky Boy

Isn't it fun when themes, hitherto thought unrelated, collide? I was looking at rock star photos, not for more pinball, but here's Bruce at the game. Photo by Lynn Goldsmith, 1978.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Kiss of the Gorn

I knew it!
I knew it!

Titled "Gornin'," this is by Douglas Fraser, from The Shatner Show, a book of the 2007 exhibit of 76 Shatner-inspired pieces of art at Uppercase Gallery, in Calgary, Canada.
You can order the book for $36 CAD ($29 US), which includes shipping. I just did. A little early birthday present to myself.

Uppercast also hosts The Captain's Blog, with all sorts of goodies, from a youTube of Bill eating pudding to an interview with the artist who "sculpted" Shatner's head in Legos.

With his inimitable swagger, Shatner declares:
"We were basically one and the same, although Jim [Kirk] was just about perfect, and, of course, I am perfect."
And don't you just know he tastes good too.
I'm sure the Gorn would agree.

Oh, yeah, Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 13, 2009

You have a good heart.

For the past 48 hours, my old iBook G4 laptop (from 2004) was in the Apple shop becoming one with the slightly newer and far, far less beat up, powerBook G4 (it's silver!), passed along to me by Cat. Which I have just reclaimed and am typing on for the first time, here at Common Roots, over a very hoppy beer (Surly Furious).

Silver is a marvel--she has no toast crumbs gumming up her works nor laugh-spewed coffee splatters on her screen. The battery charges, the letters are not worn off the keys, and the screen doesn't dim if it's not at just the right tilt.
I am blissed out.

However, it was good to be offline for 48 hours. I was forced to turn to my first love, once again: I used to delight to make books and collages, to play with glue and pigments.
One winter in Chicago, for instance, I stood on the elevated train platform every Wednesday evening, damp from papermaking slop.
I have missed mucking about in lumpy matter, wet and sticky, much as I adore this airy medium, with its snappy electric odor.

So, unplugged, I lugged out my art supplies and cut and pasted, in the original sense, a few Valentine Day cards, such as this one.

Have a happy one, you and your good heart.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lucky Girl: Life, Ball 3

I. Slippery
I've been thinking about life lately. (Oh, how unusual.)
More specifically, about aging.
As I approach my 48th birthday in three-plus weeks, I've had a bunch of reminders that I live in a "ten-fingered space suit," as Ram Dass calls the human body, which is starting to wind down.
Looking back at musicians of my era, these past few days, sure reminds me I am not young. Neither are they. Even the very energetic Bruce Springsteen doesn't leap onto his piano anymore.
Not to be ghoulish!
It's a long, slow decline (I hope), but I'm definitely on the down slope, and aware, as William Shatner said to Jonathan Ross: "You're gonna die!"

For a kicker, Bink sent me this as her choice for her Anthem of Youth:
from the punkish girl band Tetes Noires, "Lucky Girl" (1985)

Does this ever bring back memories...
Bink and I used to go see this local band play--I guess we were even kinda groupies, if trekking across town on the bus to a crummy dive by the railroad tracks counts. (I vote yes, as I am not normally one for bars full of drunk guys.) I still own a recording of theirs--on audio-cassette tape.

As a general reminder of physical vunerability, this past Saturday, Karla, the wonderful haircutter who suggested I construct starship 379--after decades of running outside year-round (which is really saying something in Minnesota) and completing dozens of marathons without injury--slipped on a patch of ice and smashed her arm and hip.
Physics really works--falling while running on concrete breaks you. Of course, Karla has no padding to cushion a fall. I would have bounced a bit.

I went to see her in the hospital yesterday, and she looked like she'd been hit by a car. She has a pin in her arm, and they had to operate to repair her broken-apart femur head.
(If you're a praying sort, please add her to your list. She needs her arm and leg to do her work, much less to run, so she's in for a hard row here, for a while.)

II. Hey! Wait a Minute!

Then, last night, I had dinner with a friend and we talked about the role hormonal changes are playing on our mid-life moods: mostly in flare-ups of anxiety.
Not too bad if you think of this as a normal glitch in the machinery. But still, it feels unfair that when the cycles of menstruation have become so ho-hum you barely notice anymore, bam! here comes menopause.

This having-a-human-body trip is really weird, and the female body is an especially wild ride. I know guys who say they feel more or less the same every day, day after day. If any woman feels that way, I have not met her.

III. Ball Three

Further, in the past couple months, three people I know have lost a parent (to death, that is, not, alas, to a gigolo or cocktail waitress in the Caribbean).

I've never been freaked about death. In fact, it always intrigued me--maybe partly because my mother was always half in love with it. I wrote my senior paper on Saint Ambrose and the Theology of Death. Later, I studied to be a funeral director, but dropped out, appalled at the prospect of having to understand insurance forms.

As my own body gets noticeably closer to it, however, though I've always been disgustingly healthy, I admit that it's a little freaky to think this game will come to an end.

In industrialized Western countries, life expectancy hovers around 75 years, for those lucky enough to be "average." I figure each span of 25 years is like one of three balls in a pinball game. I'm just about to start my third round of play. Which does give one a little pause...

(Sports, what do I know from sports? I think I may be mixing up baseball's 3 balls with pinball, in which it looks like maybe you get 4 balls? But they don't make Star Trek baseball games, so I'm sticking with pinball--anyway, that's the simile that struck me this past summer, long before I knew there was a Star Trek pinball machine.)

IV. Vaclav Havel, The Universe, and Everything

At the same time, wow, what's happening to my brain: I love it!
Maybe it's not my biological brain per se, which science assures me is losing gray faster than my hair is gaining it. Maybe it's my soul or spirit or whatever non-locatable thing it is that governs the getting of wisdom.

I don't want to make any outrageous claims here--when it comes to equanimity and enlightenment, I'm gotten maybe up to Toddler. Maybe.

But it's all relative to one's own self, and I compare me now to myself in my early twenties, around the same time I was enamored of the Tetes Noires, when I despaired of ever knowing anything about god or love or the names of African nations. When older people spoke of these things with some surety, I didn't think, "Oh, one day I'll be like them."
No, I thought, "They belong to another species."

But, no!
Here's what happened the other day that delighted me along these lines:
In my first efforts to understand Slovakia, I decided the time had come to try again to read Vaclav Havel, the playwright who became the first president of Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism in 1989.

[Havel, far right, with Lou Reed, 2005, from a review of Tom Stoppard's play Rock'n'Roll]

(Havel's Czech, but Slovakia is all tangled up with the history of Central Europe, so you have to look beyond its particular borders of language and cultural identity.)
I'd tried to read something of Havel's at that time, and found it heavy going. So I picked up a book of his essays with some trepidation.
Et voila!
Twenty years later [gulp], it's easy reading, more or less.

I practically leapt with joy. (My bad knee.)
I've evolved into a member of the species that has some clue about geopolitics! I know where Bratislava is! And I have a enough of a sense of Spirit, for myself anyway, that I though some of what Vaclav said about The Omniscient bordered on twaddle.

I also find the energy fluxes of life don't blow the fuse of my equanimity as often as they used. And I've become a halfway decent judge of human nature--for instance, I've gotten pretty good at gauging the danger level posed by unusual folks on the bus. (Almost always far lower than I used to think.)

This "love" thing though, I don't think I've gotten any better at that. Dealing with people you have to share a bathroom with--well, in fact, I've backed off from even wanting to deal with that.

V. Game Over

I don't know. Maybe that love stuff is for another lifetime. Grappling with the Trinity and the map of Africa and may be enough for this one. We don't get endless pinballs, after all.
But it's some game, eh?

I'm really looking forward to this birthday: I'm pretty sure I'm getting The Economist Book of Obituaries. (The ex-parrot!)

On we go!
[Star Trek Pinball Machine pix from My Star Trek Scrapbook.]

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cat's Choice: "Happy"

In response to my question in the post below, What song would you choose as one of your favorites from your early days? Cat writes:

"My first thought is 'Happy,' by Keith Richards.
He and Anita Pallenberg were together (she'd left Brian Jones for Keith) and she was pregnant.

I like this whole album (Exile on Main Street, released 1972), but this song is so innocent.
I'm aware they were all heavily into heroin then, but there you go.

Fresca, I'm sending one of my favorite photos of Keith from this time [left].
It's by Dominique Tarlé."

Keith Richards, "Happy" (1972)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

"Music, earthly mirror of the heavenly kingdom..."

Coincidentally, yesterday both Deanna and Manfred posted a video of one of their favorite songs from the old days: Paul Davis, "I Go Crazy" (1978), and The Cramps, "Can Your Pussy Do the Dog?" (1985), respectively.

Both pinged me with nostalgia. Well, not the hair.

So, let me add mine. Bruce Springsteen. Here he is, live, in 1978, the year I first saw him in concert. I was seventeen... Guess if I'd died right after, in the parking lot or something, that would have been OK by me.

"The Promised Land"
("Blow away the lies
that leave you nothing
but lost and broken hearted.")

"Darkness on the Edge of Town"

For Momo, because we discussed this, here's "Because the Night", the one Patti Smith covered. And "Fire", which some may know better from the Pointer Sisters' cover.
So, what song(s) would you choose?

Oh, and I just now saw that Momo posted Fritz Wunderlich singing Schubert Lieder today.
All this music! Must be Aquarius or something.
My mother, who was a pianist (I inherited none of her musicality), used to listen to Elisabeth Schwazkopf singing Schubert's Lieder--I get slicing pains when I listen to them now. So I don't.

Well, why not?
OK--here's Schwarzkopf, 1961, singing Schubert's "An die Musik" (To Music), which I remember well. Yep. Instant streaming tears. Her voice is like... what? dark cherries in syrup?

The rest of this Springsteen b&w concert footage--better than any official videos--is on Bruchee's channel. It's a classic concert, in Bruce's home state, New Jersey (Passaic).

Can't leave without adding Thunder Road.

The Virgil Refit: Vinceró!

My iTunes informs me that I listened to "Nessun Dorma" so many times in the last three days that it has made it onto my "Top 25 Most Played" list. I hit "repeat" and listened to it as I refitted my vid from this past Thanksgiving, "Kirk/Spock: Virgil Says Relax".

This is the result:
"Kirk/Spock: Virgil Says Don't Sleep; A Refit"

I'd always been pleased with my literary rendition of Dido and Aeneas into a parody of fan-fiction Kirk/Spock romance-- but I was never satisfied with my video version. One thing that never felt quite right was the song, Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax," which was good but not really Trekkie-like...

So, after I finished my e.e. cummings vid [post below], I decided to take a few minutes to swap the audio on that old vid.
Of course it took a lot longer than a few minutes to get the timing right, but I replaced it with Hawaiian singer IZ's beautiful ukelele medley of "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" which is both hopelessly romantic and just a bit campy. (That's a good thing!)

And then--wow--for the first time, I ran into copyright problems. You may know, recently WMG (Warner Music Group) has been burning a wide swath through youTube, removing vids that use songs they hold copyrights to. So, YouTube informed me it would not load my vid because WMG owns IZ's song. (Sadly, he himself died at 38.)

Well, this is a hot issue, and a complex one, which I shall pass over in silence.
Luckily, Paramount doesn't do this to Star Trek. And wisely for them, as fans have created free ads for their "product" for 40-some years now.

Anyway, what could I do?
I chose a different romantic, slightly cheesy song: Puccini's aria "Nessun Dorma," from the opera Turandot.
The theme fits pretty well, too--during pon farr, no one sleeps! It's a violent, passionate business, just like opera.

Then I decided to add a few images and especially to tighten the vid's timing, which dragged (I'd put too much text onto each frame, and then had to allow time to read the Virgilian language). has more than 54,000 screencaps, and when you're looking for just the right tilt of the head, it can take a long time. Of course, it's fun to look.
Next thing I knew, I'd spent almost as much time on the refit as on the original. Well, no, but a lot.

The lesson I learned is not to work with something so wordy again, in this format. Film--even these little slide-shows I make--is a visual medium. Yeah, I knew that, theoretically, but as a friend once said of me, I am an experiential learner. Which is a nice way of putting it.

I think this is a much improved version, but I left the old vid up for now too. Partly because Bink says she likes "Relax" better... If you have an opinion, I'd love to hear it.

(Vinceró! = "I shall win!")

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Kirk/Spock: "now is a ship steering for dream" (e.e. cummings)

My latest vid-- a 1:04 minute love note, a bit of frippery, inspired by e.e. cummings's little gem:
now is a ship
which captain am
sails out of sleep
steering for dream

The choice of music--Hungarian Dances No. 5 in G Minor--was inspired by my current work on Slovakia. (I had thought this song was one of Antonín Dvořák's, in fact, but it is by Johannes Brahms.)

Notes from my youTube description box:

A wink and a nod to Kirk & Spock's early days. The captain wants his fascinating first officer to understand him better, so he shares this poem, which he interprets as being about his love for his ship.
. . . But when Spock checks with the ship, the answer isn't quite what was expected. (Can she read her future? Or is a certain Vulcan putting words in her mouth?).

The screencaps--mostly from the pilot episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before"--are from the big-hearted folks at The scenes of ship lighting appear in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

(You know if you want to watch a video on its youTube site, you can click on the "youTube" icon on the bottom right of the screen.)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Small Blog Fret

My librarian self is fretting: she wants to group all Astronave's like-minded posts together. Take today's addition to the "Star Trek and Art History" category, for instance--would not it be better if it sat next to the other posts on the same subject?
If so, when is the correct time to rupture the blog's chronological order?
Or does the tag/index suffice, and my inner librarian should let go of her old-skool Paper Brain?
*gnaws at nails*

"such small hands"

"Hand, in Red Ochre"
Chauvet Cave, France
30,000 years B.P. (Before Present)

. . . Right: "Hand Petroglyph"
Jeffers Petroglyphs, Minnesota
. . . 5,000 years B.P.
"Hand of Fatima"
Wall Decoration
Marrakech, Morocco
. . . Right: "Vulcan Hand"
. . . Digital Media, Present Day