XperDunn plays Piano
January 31st, 2013
“As Time Goes By” [from CASABLANCA]
Words and Music by Herman Hupfeld
(c) 1931 Warner Bros. Inc. (Renewed)
XperDunn plays Piano
January 31st, 2013
“As Time Goes By” [from CASABLANCA]
Words and Music by Herman Hupfeld
(c) 1931 Warner Bros. Inc. (Renewed)
XperDunn plays Piano
January 31st, 2013
Improv – The Future Begins At The End Of The Past
(c) MMXIII by Christopher Dunn
I have to connect to people—but I’m so wrapped up in myself that I’m never actually communicating—I’m expressing myself instead. My generation was very big on expressing ourselves: protest signs, silkscreen T-shirts, buttons, fashion statements, arguing over ethics with our school-teachers, targeted boycotts, song lyrics (with no small amount of encouragement from Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen) and daily, personal journals.
When I think of what I want to say, I’m always thinking about my disagreements with the status quo—thus casting my readers in the role of ‘those who need educating’ rather than simply as ‘people who see things differently’. In this way, I avoid the nasty question of whether I’m always right or I’m just very opinionated. But is there a difference? All the changes made to our society have been propelled by people whose sense of ‘wrongness’ about one thing or another is so strong that they sway our minds to a new point of view.
Yet there is another side to the question—if powerful people couch their rhetoric in the style of the public reformer, and then broadcast their message with the full power of our mass media, they create a skewed playing field wherein the true idealist must do more than present a case—he or she must include a defense against the message of the rich and powerful. As an example, we can recall that brief moment of news-reporting during our last presidential campaign when it was found that the majority of Republicans favored a tax policy that would cost themselves more money—simply because their allegiance to the GOP (or bitterness towards the ‘leftist elite’) came from an emotional place—not from reasoned examination of the facts.
And this can be said of most voters, me included. We get far more excited about the tones and the personalities of our political champions than we ever get about reading the bill(s) in question—indeed, the congresspersons themselves have neither the time nor the propensity to read a 1000+ page legislative bill. It has always made me wonder, ‘Who writes them?” And, do they stick in little jokes just because no one ever reads that last 100 pages? (I would.)
So, I asked myself why our world is so crazy. Silly me—there was a popular tune after the War of Independence—“The World Turned Upside-Down”—which shows that not only are we the ones to blame (the New World colonists) but also that people have asked my simple-minded question for well over two centuries now. Not to mention the distinct possibility that people often felt the same way back in the Old World but chose to avoid being burned at the stake for questioning either ‘God’s creation’ or the monarchial system they once governed themselves by.
Then I saw a powerful analogy. In the last several decades, our laws have evolved to seek out domestic and private abuses of power such as corporal punishment in public schools, police brutality, domestic violence, and predatory, pederast priests. We’ve taken away people’s sense of entitlement about drunk driving, sexual harassment in the workplace, and smoking in shared spaces. We are ever refining our idea of a peaceful but free and equal society.
We do not, however, make much headway on the macroscopic scale. If Syria’s Assad was my next door neighbor, I’d have him arrested for firing his guns in public and endangering the whole neighborhood. If Kim Jong Un lived in Lincolndale, I’d have him arrested for using fireworks without the supervision of the Fire Department. If BP was burning leaves on the front lawn, they’d get shut down with a fine and a warning—and if the pollution persisted he’d eventually do real time for being a scoff-law. If the Amazon Rain Forest was part of our community and a developer tried to level it and pave it over, we’d at least have the opportunity of standing up in Somers Town Hall and railing against this obvious threat to our community’s aesthetic—not to mention its real estate values.
We confine ourselves (at least here in the USA) with far greater severity than the UN is capable of, on a sovereignty level, and we see the occasional crazed gun-nut as a major threat to our way of life—where, in many other countries, the crazed gun-nut is the guy in power. We do our best to be good little citizens of a country that idealizes equality and fairness—in spite of the reality that not all of us are on the same page (or even the same book). I feel a personal affront whenever a third-world power-person criticizes our culture as decadent and stupid. We may not be angels on Earth, but we don’t impose our religion on anyone, we don’t impose second-class status on women, and we protect our children from authority figures who would abuse their power—up to and including the parents themselves.
We have had some trouble lately with religious zealots, particularly in what’s known as the ‘Bible Belt’. With the complete secularization of our social mores, we have deprived the USA’s most active and populous churches of the ability to pollute our society with hate-speech about women, LGBTs, Muslims, Jews or any other ‘minority’ that, taken all together, actually encompass 99% of our citizenry. They have lost the ability to impose their narrow morality on our legislation—they have gone from long-time insiders to fringe-ward outsiders in our present public policy debates. Gays can marry, Women can enter combat, children can refuse to include the phrase ‘under God’ when they pledge allegiance in class each morning.
And we know who the ‘Evangelists’ of the Global Community are—the bankers and arms manufacturers and multi-national corporations. They won’t be going down any time soon and, if they ever do, it won’t be through some namby-pamby election process! No, these powerful groups worship Currency—a god far stronger than the God of Abraham—and they don’t recognize anyone else’s freedom of speech, only their own—plus, they have all the weapons.
But a cardinal problem with these enemies of our freedom is that many of them are an inextricable part of our great nation. The energy combines, particularly the petroleum industries, have a knife of disaster at our throats. The banks and investment companies make up their own rules as they stumble along—but without the bank that unfairly forecloses on our neighbor’s house, we won’t have the bank we need to lend us mortgages for our future houses. The arms-makers are part of an industry that helps America stay strong—even if they also do business with all of our enemies.
No, money is the glue of our civilization, at least for the moment. But we can take solace in the fact that money was not always the sine qua non of our civilization—and there’s hope that someday, it will be no longer. I figure in a world that can get all of New York City to stop smoking in bars and pick up the poop from their dogs’ walks, anything is possible.
in which I try to evoke the rollicking, epic flavor of Dylan’s “When the Ship Comes In”.
I start this one using the ‘choral’ setting–it really sounds like human voices!
I just watched a documentary, “Paul Williams – Still Alive” (directed by Steven Kessler) on Paul Williams, a great songwriter who was catapulted into fame in the seventies, who has been 20 years sober at the time of the documentary’s filming, and who now lives a more thoughtful life but still does some touring and concertizing.
I remember Paul Williams from my younger days—mostly as a celebrity who turned up on just about any talk show or variety special you can name from that era—but I was also aware of some of his songwriting credits—his songs that were made hits by The Carpenters made me respect him as an artist, but his media-presence showed less of his musical genius and more of his desperation for attention and acceptance—and that was a big turn-off for me. (That is probably because he was doing the same sort of showboating that my own insecurity and introversion would bring out, had it been me who was famous.)
But there was (there always is) a lot of the ‘big picture’ I was unaware of. For instance, he wrote hits for Streisand (“Evergreen”), Kermit the Frog (“The Rainbow Connection”), Three Dog Night (“An Old Fashioned Love Song”), The Monkees (“Someday Man”)—well, just look him up on IMDb—he is a major thread interwoven into the Movie, TV, and Music industries of his ‘heyday’—and he won multiple Oscars, Grammys, Golden Globes, and other awards including the Music Hall Of Fame. Look him up on their site—the list of song credits is four pages long! He is presently the President of ASCAP which, along with his touring and his family, keep him busy and happy.
But all that stuff is what I learned from Steven Kessler’s quirky documentary—what I want to talk about is what was running through my own mind while I watched it. Anything related to the Carpenters always brings to mind the tragic helplessness of Karen Carpenter trying to please the whole world and dying from it. It also reminds me of those so-relatable, heartbreaking Carpenters hits that spoke to me with, it seemed, my own voice—the voice of a lonely, yearning teenager who would have (had I been in a position to) willingly sacrificed myself in the same way, just for some intimacy or attention.
Paul Williams’ songs always had a bitter flavoring, sprinkled on top of the simplest melodies—a plurality that I always associate with that time in my life, and in entertainment history. He was too soft to be akin to the Stones or Dylan or the Who—but he was exploring the emotions the rest of us (the uncool, the unpopular) were feeling when we compared ourselves to Mick Jagger—or even to the most popular jock or cheerleader in our own schools.
There was other stuff too—iterations of the same pattern—such as being condescended to by peers who ‘knew’ what ‘real’ music was. The truth, that I was much more familiar with music in general, including Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Nationalist, Ragtime, and with the popular music of that entire first half of the twentieth century, pre-Elvis, pre-Beatles, was practically meaningless, since the ‘serious’ music officiandos and taste-arbiters of my school days discounted all of that as merely the dross that lead to the ‘real’ music of our day.
But I don’t have to dissect the teenage psyche—it was bad enough without going over it again, don’t you think? The truth is that taking a serious attitude towards anything is a mistake while in the adolescent milieu. And that was me—too serious, too oblivious, too insecure, and a teacher’s pet (the fate of all who do too well in class).
And now, forty-some years later, I finally realize that my musical influences were not The Beatles, The Monkees, Three Dog Night, etc. Those were performers—no, my real influences were the songwriters—Bob Dylan, Carol King, Neil Sedaka, Paul Williams, Randy Newman, Lennon & McCartney, etc. Each music group had its own special timbre, but the music they played was very often written by someone else.
We once looked at these legendary rock bands as idealists, champions of truth and justice—or, conversely, as turncoats who had ‘sold out’ or ‘knuckled under’ to The Man. We were too young to see them simply as professional musicians and performers—we completely overlooked the fact that all these groups had contracts with major labels, managers and agents that molded their repertoire, and far more personal demons and foibles than personal crusades.
We were fundamentalists of rock n’roll, really—we ignored all the factual details and bestowed upon our rock gods a great power and knowledge that only existed in our dreams. And every advance that ‘Music’ made back then rendered the previous gods and goddesses suddenly immaterial—there were times when Dylan was too ‘old’, the Beatles were too ‘banal’. And many were the stars who shone only briefly, until the cool kids came to a consensus about their authenticity as ‘hard’ rockers, or their lack of same. Some of the artists who failed this test were among my favorites—Beach Boys, Abba, Cat Stevens, the Association, Herman’s Hermits, Peter Paul and Mary, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Donovan—the list is endless.
And I’ve had the cold comfort, over the years, to see many of my favorites enjoy a comeback, or a re-assessment, that in some way validated my early, uncool opinions. Some of the old groups and artists have even surfaced here and there as cult figures—Abba, Barry Manilow, the Monkees, Neil Diamond—and I, for one, am gratified that the quick dismissal of we teenagers of the 1960s-1970s was not the final word on the quality of their music—and that many, many other people still feel as strongly as I do about that early music.
Musical seriousness is something I’ve always avoided. Judgmental attitudes about the aural arts have their place, when speaking of professional musicians. They work hard enough at their field and their lives are made or unmade by their artistic choices—they have every right. But as audience members, people who take their music seriously enough to question someone else’s tastes are just being disagreeable on purpose—or so I see it, anyway. Think of the YouTube videos that show toddlers in car seats, bopping their entire bodies along with heavy metal or rap songs—how they cry when it’s turned down, and how they’re right back to bopping when the volume is restored.
To me, that is the essence of music appreciation—love whatever you love and don’t waste time disrespecting someone else’s choices. Today’s ear-buds free us from even having to share our musical tastes to hang out together. And music, good or bad, is not improved by arguing over it. In the end, I’ve come to only one problem—I love so much music, and it can only be listened to one track at a time—I’m spoiled for choice, as they say.
What a beautiful and galvanizing celebration of the most idealistic aspect of our nation’s character, the peaceful appointment to power, either for the first time, or, as today, for another four years. For all the acrimony and rabble-rousing of politicos and their viewers, we all nevertheless accept, on both sides, that we are one nation and that we all accept our chosen leader (whether—as individuals—we chose him or not).
The musicians, James Taylor, Kelly Clarkson, and Beyoncé, all made our hearts swell and our eyes tear up. The poet laureate’s Inaugural Poem was layered with iconic imagery of small points and grand visions, candid moments and desperate struggles—a beautifully, evocative work that could not have been more apt to the occasion. Even the meteorology cooperated, with a brisk breeze that furled our Stars and Bars to picture-perfection!
The first daughters, fortunate in being so close, obviously comfortable with their side-roles—where single children, or crowds of sibs in large families, have no such intimate and mutually supportive partners for this, the most public of childhoods. The absence of many Republicans was politely overlooked by the celebratory crowd—and I, too, was very forgiving and sympathetic towards the GOP—their recent repudiation by the majority of Americans has left them stunned and confused.
But most of all I enjoyed the shots of the Clintons, arm in arm, especially Hillary. Her grin was ear-to-ear and one could easily imagine her lightness of spirit as she attended what for her was, in some degree, the last day of school. She had gone from NY Senator to Democratic Candidate for President to Secretary of State. And as Secretary of State, she had spent the last four years circling the globe, arbitrating world crises both major and minor, and bringing herself to exhausted collapse right up to the last days of her appointment. Nor has her work gone unnoticed—her efforts have been roundly applauded by all but the most dyed-in-the-wool Neo-Cons. Most important of all, she helped President Obama to ‘grow down’ our existing wars, without getting us into another one out of sheer jingoist bombast.
She almost died doing the work of ten men (and I use the term ‘men’ advisedly) and spent a week in hospital in her last appointed month of service. That joyous glow showing in her face as the 2nd Inaugural Public Ceremony rolled along was, I assume, the face of someone who was about to have a real ‘day off’ for the first time in a decade. For someone of Hillary Clinton’s character, we should not be surprised if she becomes restless after just a few days or weeks of this pause in the juggernaut of her career. But, as I heard Rachel Maddow say so well while commentating on today’s ceremony, even if the stress of her ceaseless toil makes it impossible for her to do anything else in future public service (much less run in 2016) she has already left her indelible mark on American history, as first lady, senator, and secretary of state.
I have had some personal experience with what we usually call ‘burn-out’, whether from business, government service, politics, or life itself, and I would not lay any criticism upon Ms. Clinton if she did allow herself to say ‘enough’. In our present society, there isn’t nearly enough attention paid to the idea of diminishing returns in life. We live our lives ferociously, obsessively, often too narrowly—the benediction to ‘stop and smell the roses’ has become as much of a joke as ‘trust me’ or ‘why can’t we all get along’. But as we ceaselessly compete against our relations, our neighbors, our co-workers, and the rest of the world—as we dig deeper and deeper for those goals that any self-respecting person could set themselves—we give up the most important part of our founding Declaration, the ‘pursuit of happiness’.
If our goals in life require unending struggle and toil, absence from our loved ones, and even acceptance of the ‘every one for themselves’ ethics (or, I should say, lack of ethics) of our business world—what, then, is the purpose of our lives? Shouldn’t our lives be balanced between hard work and rest, sadness and joy? The United States of America has led the world from far ahead of most other countries for a very long time and there is one reason—we sincerely believe in the dignity of every person. That freedom and equality have shaped our country and given the world a good example. And I think it is time we embraced the cardinal issue of our times—quality of life.
In recent times we have seen the richest people in the world get richer off the defrauding of everyone else—and then get ‘bailed out’ corporately while the selfish business leaders hand out golden parachutes to each other. Having destroyed our economy with their eyes wide open, they then take advantage of the high unemployment to enforce a renewed despotism over those ‘lucky’ enough to have a job.
The working man, once the bedrock of our middle class, has been reduced to a new birth of slavery wherein the corporation takes all one can give, and tries mightily to reduce compensation to its lowest possible limit. That’s not even taking into account the millions of ‘part-timers’, who are part-timers only in the sense that they are denied the legal rights of an ‘employee’!
Our children are never seen playing in their yards—their homework and extra-curricular activities have taken up every moment of what used to be called ‘after school’—a period of life that I remember fondly, full of chatter and games and just hanging out.
Corporate culture has seeped into every aspect of our lives—and corporations are given more rights by denying what we formerly thought of as our rights, back in the legendary times of consumer protection, OSHA, and financial regulation. The twenty-four-hour news and media place our minds firmly in the morass of global crises we can do little to change, and distracts us from the less sensational, but more meaningful, issue of what’s going on in our own state, county, or neighborhood.
We end up imagining ourselves in direct competition with hordes of cheap labor in newly developing countries like China or India—but it is our corporations that have created these sweatshops, then used their existence in a bald-faced attempt to force our own workers to bow to this neo-slavery. It isn’t as obvious a controversy as Civil Rights or Education, but it is nevertheless one we are required to address if we want our lives to have meaning to ourselves and not just to the accountants in corporate headquarters.
So I have spent these past years on disability, a disability due as much to the stress of the business environment and the ossification of a super-wealthy-upper-class into an irresistible power, as it was to nerve damage and brain entropy. How can it be that many of today’s businesspersons suffer from symptoms similar to some returning war veterans, a PTSD born not of battle, but of greed and carelessness? Why do we feel tempted to use the phone while we drive, if not from a deep insecurity with the seconds that fly by without being used to compete, to earn a living, to get an education? We are voluntarily torturing ourselves!
I wish people would just start acting like they did in the seventies—back then, ‘all work and no play’ was considered a recipe for ill health, both physical and mental. I wish people would start taking 35 minutes for lunch, instead of the obligatory 30. I wish people would drive more slowly each morning—honestly, why are we in such a rush to get to our slave-cubicles? So what if there are millions out of work? There is still an inconvenience, and added cost, when firing employees—and any manager knows darn well that a good person for a specific job isn’t easy to find. Workers of the World, throw off your self-imposed chains…
Thus I say if Hilary Clinton has done her all (and I think that’s beyond argument) we should respect the toll such sacrifice takes—not badger her about running for President. Even if she does stand for the office in four years, the job will be plenty stressful as is, without Ms. Clinton being hounded about it starting today.
Getting back to the inauguration, I love the magic of a second term—Obama’s speech was an affirmation of all the issues that we’ve tip-toed around during the overextended campaigning—he will fight for LGBT rights, he will fight for equal pay for women, and he will continue to lead America without feeling obligated to deploy troops at the drop of a cowboy hat—and, more importantly, to fight for the benefits and gratitude our nation owes to all its defenders-at-arms.
Well, a TV show like that is bound to make the rest of the day anti-climactic—but I’m still feeling the heat of so much togetherness and patriotism in my chest.
Hooray for us!
Okay, so maybe rationalizing all my insanity is kinda a waste of time—but maybe you don’t know what it’s like—hi-IQ kids get a Cassandra complex from constantly warning others of what’s next, being ignored, and watching it come to pass. Day after day I spent trying to point out to people who wanted to ignore me that they’re sawing at the branch from the wrong side. It’s amazing what just a small difference in the ability to extrapolate can make during childhood. Everyone’s supposed to run and trip and fall, make mistakes and learn from them. Getting bored in class waiting for the slow kids to ‘get it’ is nothing compared to being part of a group activity when everyone is ‘trying to do it wrong’.
One Thanksgiving, I tried to hitchhike to Grasslands to visit my old friend, Kevin. I was standing on the shoulder of I-684 south-bound when it began to snow heavily—I gave up on the visiting trip and crossed over to the north-bound lanes—I was soon picked up by a car full of day-trippers. We were zooming along when the driver began to wipe at his windshield (the wipers were worn to nuthin’). And, as people will do, he took his eyes off the road for a little too long. We found ourselves sliding along the shoulder, where the snow had been accumulating much more than the Interstate, and heading for a lightly wooded area off to the side of the highway, ‘skiing’ along on fresh powder.
We smashed past shrubberies and saplings, bumping and thumping, five of us in an old boat of a circa-70s sedan, heading for one of the few older trees’ trunks. We stopped just short of it—but only because we had sheared off one of the more substantial saplings. We all piled out of the car; glad we had avoided a collision. They went to the car’s trunk to find a crowbar, or a shovel, or something—the trunk was full of their shoe-shining equipment, but nothing of use.
We began to push the car back, away from the tree-trunk we had so narrowly stopped in front of, but we didn’t have much traction in the snow and my benefactors weren’t even wearing boots, just dress-shoes—perfect for dancing, but useless in snowy woods. The five of us couldn’t move the car backward so much as an inch! I looked under the car and I could see that the trunk of the sapling we’d sheared off was bent forward and caught on the undercarriage. I tried to point out that this was an impossible situation—that only by lifting this car up (which we couldn’t possibly do) would we ever get it to move backwards.
The big tree made it impossible to go forward. The stump the car was stuck on was strong enough to hold the car back, even had there been ten of us. I saw this as an end to our efforts. But these guys didn’t see it. I joined in the futile attempts to overcome this situation by pushing really hard, but I could feel the car was not moving at all. They were going to keep trying until they succeeded—I knew they would eventually have to get towed. I felt bad, walking away. I always felt obligated, you know? —if someone gives you a ride and then has car trouble, you pitch in—you don’t just walk away to hitch another ride.
But these guys were looking at the facts and couldn’t see it. Perhaps they were worried about not having a valid registration or inspection; maybe it was about bench-warrants—I don’t know, but they were acting like they were on their own, period. And I knew that the five of us simply didn’t have the manpower to extricate their car. It was snowing hard. I walked the shoulder most of the way back to Katonah before another person finally picked me up.
I’ve often wondered how that scenario played out. Maybe I was wrong—maybe they found a way. But I couldn’t see it. And I had to walk away.
An article in search of a common-sense solution to gun violence in America..
Poem for the day..
‘The Daily Improv’ for January 12th, 2013–
Trying some new things on my new piano…
Several songs from Carpenter’s hit singles
(look up the lyrics and sing along, if you like..)
Published on YouTube Jan 10, 2013
XperDunn plays Piano on January 10th, 2013
Some 17th-century keyboard music by English composer Henry Purcell
XperDunn plays Both Pianos on Jan 10th, 2013 – using his new Yamaha P-95b and his old Mason & Hamlin baby grand
I’m gonna write a book about all the historical details of all the movies, just like those annotated Shakespeare books that explain what ‘wherefore’ actually means—and why pouring poison into someone’s ear was a normal method of assassination in the context of “Hamlet”, etc.—I’m gonna include all the details I notice when I watch old movies, such as a modern closed-captioning transcriber’s mistranslation of a certain slang phrase from the thirties because it can be mistaken for something similar, if only phonetically, in the present day.
Future generations may need it spelled out for them. They may not appreciate the difference between Bill “Bojangles” Robinson dancing down the stairs with Shirley Temple in “The Little Colonel” (1935), say, and the heartbreaking montage of ‘blackface’ film-clips in Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled” (2000). They may miss the tragedy of Bill Robinson appearing, near the end of his life and far past his prime, in one of his very few film appearances—a world-famous dancer whose perception, by white Americans, as ‘inferior’ kept him excluded during what is sometimes called ‘Hollywood’s Golden Era”—the ‘studio system’ movie industry that monopolized filmmaking until the 1950s.
They may not understand the mournful soundtrack behind Lee’s montage of examples from popular culture of the Jim Crow era’s easygoing dismissiveness of African-Americans’ humanity—the TV executive character may live in more modern times, but his self-regard and his own experience of life have been just as marginalizing, if less overt.
So much of history is subtle. The Looney Tunes of the thirties had blatantly bigoted caricatures of non-whites—absorbed, unnoticed, by most audience-members of that time—that are since aired (and that rarely) with a warning message of introduction that specifies the thoughtless racial profiling as an evil that was part and parcel of the creative culture of its day. As late as 1946, the syndicated comic strip “Walt Disney presents Uncle Remus and Tales of the South” was the basis for the Disney film, “Song of the South” (1946)—the NAACP disapproved of the African-American portrayals in the film even before “Song of the South” was released. This was the first time a Walt Disney movie was criticized for its ethical content (with the exception of Fantasia, for animated ‘nudity’, five years earlier).
It’s amazing, really, the glacial change in racial attitudes, from slavery, to Jim Crow, to the Civil Rights Movement. The NAACP and the Civil Rights Movement began just after WWII, but racism was still a source of rioting and conflict in the Sixties, and isolated media spikes like the Rodney King beating—caught live on tape yet still exonerating the brutality of the LAPD—to the present day (that vigilante shooting of an unarmed teenager in Florida was less than a year ago).
Our first ‘black’ President was so ahead of schedule that no one my age or older could watch his 2008 acceptance speech without tears in their eyes. We may be forgiven if we mistake that for an end of prejudice in America—it is so certainly the end of any public ambivalence about racial equality that it’s almost as good. Racism has been reduced to marginal personalities and inbred cultural pockets—which, like domestic abuse, religious extremism, and misogyny—can only be changed by the law and time.
But that is only one of the many threads of history that are woven into our films—not the vicarious world of the movie itself but the techniques, language, artistry, science, and craft of all moviemakers, from starlet to soundstage doorman. The events of their day created mind-sets that varied as the world went on, from Edison’s early forays into cinema theaters to the CGI FX of the now.
Even deeper down, we can see the differences in attitudes towards the shared past—from Sergei Eisenstein’s “Alexander Nevsky” (1938), to Richard Thorpe’s “Ivanhoe” (1952), to Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” (2005)—we see the era of the Crusades, but through three different cultures’ interpretation! It gives a parallax effect to the movies, particularly those with historical settings.
Similar to Shakespeare, who requires translation due to the archaic language which old William was both using and inventing as he went along; similar to Dickens, whose early-Industrial-Era British-isms are as often a search into history as they are dialogue or narration; the movies of the twentieth century include a panoply of annotation-worthy dialogue, motivation, slang, and perceptions, both of their time and their view of past times.
To begin with, there are, of course, the Stars—and they offer so much of interest that, while writing my book, I shall have to be careful not to lose sight of my subject and get lost among the fanatical discourse (so-called ‘news’ of celebrities who are the objects of the ‘Fan’-public’s obsession). Then, there are the producers, the directors, the hundreds of others listed on today’s film credits (which is odd, if you consider that more people probably worked on the old films, when the studio only allowed about twenty or thirty names to be on the credits).
All those people had family (and/or love-lives) so there are ‘dynastic’ threads, as well, that could be linked chronologically to the shooting schedules of certain films. The same goes for their health—accidents, illnesses, dissolution, stress, mania—all these things are part of the scheduling, the tone, and the final team of filmmakers for any film.
Then there is music—and the films are not shy about the importance of music—biopics of musicians are a significant percentage of all movies made:
There’s “Amadeus” about Mozart, “Shine” about David Helfgott, “La Vie En Rose” about Édith Piaf, “I’m Not There” about Bob Dylan, “Nowhere Boy” about John Lennon, “La Bamba” about Ritchie Valens, “Ray” about Ray Charles, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” about Loretta Lynn, “Walk the Line” about Johnny Cash, “The Benny Goodman Story” (1956), “Rhapsody in Blue” (1945) about George and Ira Gershwin, “Till the Clouds Roll By” (1946) about Jerome Kern, “Immortal Beloved” (1994) about Ludwig von Beethoven, “Impromptu” (1991) about Frederic Chopin….
— And movies don’t stop at the life-stories—see this link for IMDB’s list of every Chopin piece included in every movie (hundreds !): http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0006004/#Soundtrack .
This is the reason I think movies must have hyperlinks—my “Big Book” of cinematic ‘anatomy’ may be a thing too large to exist as a single book. And movies (and thus their ‘annotation-logs’) are still being made, faster and faster so as to keep pace with the public maw—upturned and opened, like a baby bird’s beak, through the theatres, IMAXs, DVDs, VODs, Premium Cable, Basic Cable, and Network TV media.
And we approach a singularity, as well—the line that distinguishes a film from a television program erodes further with every ‘Sopranos’-style premium cable, cinema-quality series and every independent film that is released the same day both in select theatres and on VOD.
Making an ‘Encyclopedia Galactica’ reference-site, online, would be best served by starting now, while the living memories of its constituents can still provide the perspective for what is already becoming an endless pantheon of images, ideas, theatre, and history. And I find it strange that no one has yet popularized a phrase that means ‘all audio-visual media, including the oldest nickelodeon flip-cards, animations, silent films, early TV broadcasts, et, al., all the way up to today’s (tonight’s, really) new prime-time episode or cinema release, or TV commercial or news report. It is an undeniable stream of impactful media that has no single name.
‘Media’ is a word that gets thrown around a lot by people who don’t care about etymology. The Latin word media connotes ambiguity, neutrality, moderate, or middling. Prior to the digital era, it was mostly used as a term for the materials used in a work of art, for example: marble carving, tempura on wood, oil and canvas. The implication (I suppose) was that an artist’s tools were in a neutral state until used in a work of art—that red is merely red, ink is merely ink—and this was, for the most part, accurate. But technology changed that. Marshall McLuhan famously opined, “The medium is the message”—he was referring to Television—but the message applies to movies, Youtube, and video-blogs, as well.
At present the medium we use most is electricity—but it is a refined, controlled, and programmed type of electricity which allows its use to create music, literature, images, animations, and videos. We can call it ‘electronic media’, but that doesn’t signify much—like the word ‘art’, it has several meanings, and no specific meaning. Post-modern creativity has a real problem with nomenclature—it is so much more intricate a process than early arts that the terminology can end up sounding like the title to a doctoral thesis in physics. But when we attempt a sort of shorthand, we end up calling them images or audios or videos—and, again, it means too much, and nothing in particular.
The one aspect that is diligently worked upon is the ‘genre’. In many ways, McLuhan’s quote could be re-phrased, “the genre is the message”. But that’s only part of it—‘message’ is an old-fashioned concept as well. Most entertainment industry ‘art’-work is used to sell ad-time, or charge a ticket for. So, a fully post-modern McLuhan might say, “The genre is the market-demographic”. Genre is also fascinating in that it implies a sensibility, a preference of content—that’s a pretty gossamer concept for a ‘pipe’ which entertainment-producers intend to siphon revenue through.
In some ways, we regular folks ought to consider being annoyed about market-demographics—but Hollywood would just blame sociologists, and rightly so. Ever since Sociology (the science of people in large numbers) proved that, while no individual’s behavior can be predicted, the behavior of people in groups can be predicted accurately —and the larger the sample-size (number of people) the more accurate the predictions are—ever since the 1950s, really—advertisers, marketers, promoters, campaign managers, even insurance salespeople have been finding more ways to use this information to prime their revenue pumps, and keep them flowing.
It’s insulting—the fact that we can be predictable, as part of a group, is almost as dispiriting as if we were predictable as individuals—as if we only thought of ourselves as individuals. Here’s another insulting concept—I heard someone the other day saying something about ‘there are sixty million people in LA—so even if you’re one in a million, there’s sixty others just as good as you.’
Now that Earth’s population has reached seven billion, we ought to accept the fact that our ‘media-surroundings’ will be controlling our perspectives, our aspirations, and our plans—and that China has a point when it comes to locking down the sources of internet communication. ‘Crowd-sourcing’ is a new, but still primitive, form of getting a group of people to act as a single unit—the evolution of crowd-sourcing and propaganda and news-manipulation in the age of the internet has a massive potential, not just for putting unheard-of power in the hands of an individual, but of taking power away from more plodding, ancient centers of command, like governments and corporate executives.
We don’t study ourselves as much as we study what is in front of us—we always run towards the glamour in the wood—we never stop to question ourselves, our motivations, our priorities. Arthur C. Clarke was fond of pointing out, in the 1960s and 1970s, that humanity was racing to explore space when we had yet to explore two-thirds of our own planet. He was referring to the oceans, of course, and, as always, Clarke was right. We are still a long way from total exploration of our own planet—we are doing a much faster job of destroying it so, if we wait long enough, there won’t be any undersea life to explore.
By the same token, we don’t study our desires and urges, either. The study of entertainment is as important, and undeveloped, today as psychology was in Freud’s time. Few people took psychology seriously at first, and we still don’t see a whole lot of progress in that area—it is unpleasant to study humanity, ourselves, when it comes to the ‘dirty’ parts, the childish or selfish or cruel parts of our personae. So, too, would we prefer to enjoy our movies and TV shows and YouTube videos without anyone being a killjoy by pointing out what our entertainment choices say about us.
Layers of info are growing thicker and thicker over the sphere of civilization—safety tips, how to do well in school, how to get a job, how to keep a job, how to date, how to marry, how to raise children. Old living rooms never had remote controls—and old folks never had to learn to use them. Old car dashboards never had a buzillion buttons and slides, and old drivers only had to learn how to shift gears and step on the brake. Our lives are hemmed ‘round with protocols, user-manuals, assumptions (such as assuming you know what the ‘don’t walk’ light means when you’re standing on a street corner). We have to key in multiple digits from a number pad to enter our homes, pay with our credit cards, withdraw from an ATM, or log on to a computer. Even total idiots who do nothing but wander the streets are, nowadays, required to know a great deal about our public works and utilities to avoid the ‘death-traps’ that otherwise surround them in a modern city.
What used to be called propaganda is now an immersive experience, from cradle to grave, and if we don’t analyze our input, we will never know how used, manipulated, or conned we are in our daily lives. When our children began watching TV, we were very careful to explain about how it’s all fake, how it’s all trying to sell something, and how it’s ultimate goal is to make money by piquing our interest for an hour or a half hour.
Fellow netbots–please help me match some or all of this music to the lyrics below.
No prizes will be given. But you would have braggin rights as co-song-writer–if, indeed, ANY song lies between these notes and these words….
Rode me down Statz-Platz.
Search hotels I could dwell in.
Linking the hyper– up to all th’-nets
Search-engine’s set to find digital gets.
My i-Pad‘s gone hay-wire;
M’laptop‘s on hold;
My back-up’s still Fire-wire;
I’m grabbin’ coins gold;
My brain’s in some Cloud;
My hotspot’s too cold;
And your ring-tone‘s too loud
If your version’s too old.
Rode me down Statz-Platz.
Look’d in Windows—real-time—
Left my ride, going Hands-Free to
Truck’d down the Ave.s— Pod’s ear-buds thrummin’
Both m’lungs breathing
In all of that Analog air.
My i-Pad‘s gone hay-wire;
M’laptop‘s on hold;
My back-up’s still Fire-wire;
I’m grabbin’ coins gold;
My brain’s in some Cloud;
My hotspot’s too cold;
And your ring-tone‘s too loud
If your version’s too old.
-Xper Dunn Jan. 6th, 2013
Wednesday, January 02, 2013 1:56 PM
Okay, the world is becoming something else—something it had no conception of, even as little as thirty years ago. Yes, we had PC’s—we even had LANs (Local Area Networks)—but we didn’t have the Internet, wireless tech, or hot-spots. We didn’t imagine that geographic location would become moot. We still thought of machines, and even robots, as dumb compared to us. But the one-ton, nuclear-powered robot on Mars right now puts that attitude out of date.
Now we face the same upheaval of the norm that pervaded the early industrial revolution. They called autos ‘horseless carriages’, they called movies ‘moving pictures’, and they saw morphine and cocaine as ‘tonics’. The idea of young people driving to a secluded spot to pitch woo was a scandalous notion—people used to require a destination for love-making—automobile seats offered a magic carpet of ‘anywhere’ privacy. Crossing the oceans went from a months-long voyage to a matter of days. The concept of laying telegraph cable from one continent to another was as new-fangled as a trip to the Moon.
These changes thrilled the young, intimidated the aged, made some peoples’ fortunes and made others’ fortunes disappear. Factories, which began as urban phenomena, created hundreds of jobs overnight—the children of farmers flocked to the cities to make money, and to enjoy the excitement of cities. Populations shifted. And, for the first time, the exponential changes of technology were visible to one and all—new things, new ideas, new jobs—all were coming faster than was comfortable for the aging scions of the nineteenth century.
I have gone to the trouble of reading some EULA’s lately—and I was glad I did. Sites that offer a free forum or service these days usually tuck in a quiet little set of terms that basically cedes all ownership and usage to the supposedly ‘free’ website. Dover Publishing’s new ‘Pictura’ website, for example, offers free access to their database of Public Domain graphics—but their EULA specifies that everyone’s artworks, using such graphics, are under the copyright of the Dover’s website—not the artist/end-user’s.
So, is that free? If I create great works of art (I should be so lucky) and use Dover’s free service to add something from the Public Domain of old images—well, that’s not really free if I’ve ceded ownership of the final product to the ‘free’ service, is it? It’s more like becoming an unpaid employee.
Also, sites for online storage of images and videos can get at you if they decide that all the images on their servers are theirs to do with as they please. I don’t have any embarrassment over pictures of me and my family and friends. To be sure, if I wasn’t comfortable with an image, I’d never post it on the Internet, regardless of the site I use. I assume all uploads, posts, comments, etc. –are all accessible to any halfway-decent hacker who cares to seek them out.
Thus, I never upload any personal info, my own or another’s, in the first place. But that doesn’t mean I’d be OK with some third party using my home videos or family snapshots in a commercial, or a billboard, or any other public use of images.
I’m starting to rethink the whole ‘uploading’ business. I’ve posted a book of illustrated poetry on WordPress; I’ve posted one-thousand music videos on YouTube, and I’ve posted countless articles and essays on StreetArticles, plus my personal blogs at XperDunn and OneAspiration.blogspot . Originally, I imagined hundreds of people being curious enough to read, listen to, or look at my posts. But, to my knowledge, very few of the billion people online have washed up on my digital shores over the last four years.
Why? Because a billion people are all posting their own stuff, checking out their friends’ stuff and their families’ stuff, and being led to certain websites by search-engine prioritization and television promos. YouTube asks me every day if I want to ‘Monetize’ my channel—if I wanted to be a commercial artist, I wouldn’t be posting my stuff as ‘Public’, would I?
Poetry has become a loosely-organized ‘social app’ of its own—with contests, and themes, and discussions—so my static little post (even with the lovely pictures) of a book of poetry is just an anachronism. As far as music goes, I usually listen to other music than my own—hey, YouTube has pretty much any piece of music ever recorded. So my piano ditties get short shrift, even when someone is kind enough to listen to it once. And essays like the one you’re reading this moment? Well, people go online to read memes, quotes, and ad copy—they don’t want a five page essay by some modern-day Ambrose Bierce with a chip on both shoulders.
The enormous audience has another drawback—I can’t police it. If someone plagiarizes from me, I may never know it. There is just too much stuff on the internet—only a big corporation, like YouTube, can have a filter to catch duplicates and ‘covers’—and even they have trouble keeping pace with the endless flood of uploaded videos.
The Internet is now the sole focus of many entrepreneurs—anyone, like myself, who still clings to the early idealism of freeware, shareware, and the like—will eventually be taken advantage of by those who are busy converting the Internet into a marketplace.
So, read those EULAs, folks—you’d be surprised at the nerve of some of the terms. And remember, promotion is still necessary for anyone trying to build an audience—no amount of ‘tags’, ‘categories’, or ‘shares’ will bring flocks of like-minded people to your sites. And beware of these self-promotion tutorials—most of them are just a roundabout way of getting ambitious people to compile spam-lists of their friends’ email addresses for the web-site’s parent company.
For the foreseeable future I intend to curtail my various uploadings. It is a double-edged sword—I’m disappointed that people don’t see my works, but I still must be creating something intended for public exhibition. I think I’ll spend some time just amusing myself, without the pressure of wondering if something of mine is ‘good enough’ to broadcast to the whole world—that’s a lot of unnecessary pressure. Plus, if anyone should decide that my digital-footprint’s (‘xperdunn’s) search-results are the least bit interesting, there is four-year’s worth of my best efforts already online.
I should have hit on this idea a while ago—but it was camouflaged by the fact that all my social interactions have been online these past years. I can still hang out on Facebook or YouTube without feeling obliged to contribute to the upload-stream. So, this year, retreat and re-group, get organized, get caught up on all those things I never get to… yes, this will be much less stressful than putting myself ‘out there’ and then worrying if anyone will see it or not. Excellent—OK, so that’s the plan.
Now, back to the topic. What has changed so drastically? Well, top of the list—job security. And that is bound up with business security. When I was younger, the top businesses in the world weren’t going anywhere—and if you got hired to work there, you weren’t going anywhere either. Now we see businesses like book publishing, encyclopedias, magazines, and newspapers all dropping like flies. And we’ve already lost businesses such as typewriter and adding machine manufacture, book stores, broadcast radio, and many others. All these segments of industry were assumed to be permanent—and the people that were employed in these industries had no incentive to move from one job to another.
Secondly, our sense of time has contracted—lunch hours are often half-hours; gathering research is expected to take mere moments, rather than the endless man-hours of looking up data in reference books, copying out notes by hand, re-typing it all; buying retail merchandise no longer takes several minutes at a check-out counter—it should take only seconds for the bar-coded items to be laser-scanned into the register and for the customer to swipe his or her credit card through the reader. We aren’t even satisfied to get our news read to us any more—now we have additional news crawling across the bottom of the screen, just in case you want more news than one voice can speak.
Minutes and seconds are bought and sold by phone-service providers billions of times every day—video games require a level of hand-eye coordination and focus that only a youngster’s nervous system can endure—even our slow-motion sequences in ‘action’ movies are only there to show the incredible speed at which things are happening—faster than we can follow by simply watching in real-time at normal speed.
A third big change is the modern adjustment to finding oneself communicating with a machine when calling a business. This includes fringe events like self-check-out at the supermarket, ATM withdrawals, and touch-screen maps in the lobbies of theme parks and malls that direct us to the store we’re looking for. As this computer interaction is used extensively in children’s museums and such, we can expect even more examples as our kids become the adults of tomorrow.
And then there is the ultimate interaction with a machine—Google, and its competitors. Ask Google anything, and it will give the answer—word definitions, wikipedia articles, movie credits, travel routes—from the most trivial to the most obscure, any question is only seconds from an answer. We’ve effectively removed ‘I don’t know’ as a response to any question, and replaced it with either ‘I don’t care enough to Google it.’ Or ‘Nobody knows, not even Google.’
You’d think there would be more interest in this Google phenomenon—and the same effect from Facebook. We once lived in a world where questions went unanswered, where old friends faded from memory and were never seen again. Now we live in a world where all questions can be answered, where we can contact anyone we ever met, from pre-school playmates to grad school alums. And GPS—GPS has made it impossible to get lost—and made it possible to get directions to anywhere—even a given latitude-longitude coordinate.
At the start of my life, I (and everyone else) could expect to wonder about a lot of stuff, possibly for one’s entire lifetime, without ever knowing the answer. And if one had a question important enough that it needed an answer, the best thing to do was go to the public library and ask a librarian’s help in researching the question. And even then, the odds were even that an answer could be found.
And I haven’t even mentioned modern social changes—this stuff I’m listing is just some of the practical aspects of modern change. Here’s a real new-ish one: cell-phones can now hear you speak English and repeat it in another language—then when the foreigner speaks, it can do the same thing in reverse. It’s new enough that it has a few drawbacks—it isn’t perfect yet. But that will come.
One of the reasons the digital age has become such a tidal wave of new opportunities is the infrastructure. When PCs were new, there was little programming other than the operating systems. And there weren’t archives of books and artworks and government statistics and television videos—the great worldwide data entry continues even now—but a lot of the heavy lifting
GuttenbergProject.org, [everything ever written, except for current]
Wikipedia, [an encyclopedia that allows any article from any user]
Google Earth, [a virtual globe that lets you pick a spot & zoom in to street level-magnification—I can look at Pago Pago—or my own house]
the Library Of Congress, [which includes audio recordings and videos]
and the tremendous database represented by YouTube [this is a video library of nearly 1/3 of the world’s population]
has been done. The millions of things we can now do online generate their own info, their own updates, and their own interconnections with other databases.
There are Ancestry sites that will soon rival the Mormon Church’s research, if they haven’t already. There are Cooking sites that contain instructions for any dish known to humanity. Please note that all such sites started as empty databases—which have since been filled with input from enthusiastic web-surfers over the last 20 years or so.
So let’s try an extrapolation. Assume another 40 years pass. Assume that the search engines, apps, filters, and interconnections between related databases are 40 years more sophisticated than they are right now. Here’s the hard part—what will change? How will the future manifest itself?
We already have the first evolutions in education. One is the posting of videos that recorded a series of professorial lectures in Ivy League schools—to watch these videos (plus doing the reading and course-work, that is) is to get the same course or courses as a Master’s Degree student in a certain field. This means that educational material is available for free now—anyone can access it, thereby receiving an Ivy League post-graduate education that includes everything but the sheepskin and the dorm experience.
A second, more recent change is the MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). These, too, are free (that’s the ‘Open’ part) but have the potential of crowd-sourcing the education of the future.
Crowd-sourcing, itself, will expand beyond Flash-mobs and Multi-player internet gaming. It’s potential is as huge as is its malleability—which makes crowd-sourcing a two-edged blade—able to do great good and/or great evil.
But what of the life experiences of the college campus? Surely being a part of something, and prepping for exams, and being responsible for your own laundry—surely all these things are as much a part of education as the courses? And, in many ways, more so—leaving the nest may be the largest part of higher education.
So the college campus would still play a part in a thorough education. However, the recorded lectures would be the same, or at least of the same quality. The educational input would not come from a staff of professors, it would come from the internet website that hosts college-lecture videos. And this would make the Bachelor’s Degree earned at Yale indistinguishable from that of your local Community College.
The administrators of tomorrow’s colleges will be souped-up RAs—guiding newly-adult students through the new environment, refereeing the social life on campus, answering technical questions and helping those unfamiliar with the school’s i-pads (or whatever they’ll be using).
Alright, enough already. But, as you can see, the next few decades have an infinite potential for the new, and an ever-accelerating tempo of change, whether economic, social, technological, or systemic, will make for one wild ride! The example above is just one possible change in one specific aspect of our culture.