Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blurple, blurple, blurp, blurp

Herewithin and forsooth, my absolute, all-time favorite TV ad, something worthy of Mad Men's Don Draper on a good day. I've analyzed it frame-by-frame, and I'm still coming up with things I didn't see or hear in it before.

We hear almost before we see - a hesitant, then more self-assured sound, a coconutty sound of something blipping and blurping appealingly in a funny sort of tune. Then we see a trio: a suggestion of breakfast in the upper left corner (on circular plates, the first of many circular motifs), and, dominating the picture, an old-style (then standard) "coffee perc", the kind that produced a burnt, tongue-dissolving brew.

The camera loves this pot, for soon it's zooming in, tight, then tighter. The top of the perc, the blippy part, suddenly fills the screen in a closeup that can only be described as intimate. It appears to be repeatedly ejaculating into the little glass dome. By now the merry coconut theme has accelerated and is clopping away, something only a musician could compose. ("Hey, let's put some sound effects in the background. You know, the sound of the coffee perking.")

Meantime, we have a shot of the pot exuding, nay, gushing steam, in a sensory blast that dares us to inhale. The next shot is so brilliant I swoon when I see it: the wide, round, white cup poured full of black coffee sits in the very back of the frame, surrounded by nothing. Nothing! Just the cup. Then a giant male hand comes out from the right-hand side, picks up the cup and lifts it up and forward so that the black coffee fills the entire screen.


Some giant is drinking this coffee! Then comes another arresting shot: the cup and the coffee can standing next to each other, two circles, with the dominant image on the right. It's said that Mickey Mouse is so appealling because he's made up of circles, maybe because they're non-threatening and remind us of ova and baby's heads.

One more split-second shot of the coffee being poured, a sort of review. (This is like some sort of mini-drama in one minute: it's crammed with images, but somehow seems leisurely.) Then in the next shot (every one is significant in this ad), someone is holding up the round can to face the camera. The rich-looking ground coffee is literally shoved in our faces, and on the left-hand side there is a small avalanche of coffee that might just have happened by accident, and was kept in for sensory value.

I haven't even mentioned the voice-over, which is equally brilliant: see, smell, taste the coffee flavor! As with most early ads, there is a lot of repetition, but in this case it's more hypnotic than annoying. The name Maxwell House is mentioned five times in one minute. "Taste", as in "tastes as good as it smells" or "taste the coffee flavor", is mentioned six times. This ad appeals to every sense (listen, look, smell, taste) except touch, but that's why that big hand comes into the frame, almost erotic.

When you first watch the ad, none of this registers. You have no awareness at all of the fact that you're hearing the brand five times, or that "tastes as good as it smells" (the slogan) is being drilled into your subconscious. Some guy in a rumpled suit with a hangover came into the office, plunked himself down and said, "Well, guys, I've got it."

"How's that gonna work? It's too simple."

"But that's just the point. We want nothing but straight, clean, simple images, with circles, tight closeups and a lot of repetition. We want those idiots at home to listen, look, smell, taste the coffee flavor, whether they want to or not! We want them to hear "tastes as good as it smells" so often, they go numb."

"But what's going to happen at the grocery store?"

"Nothing. But faced with a few varieties of coffee, their hands will gravitate. They won't know why. In their subconscious, they're going to hear that blurple, blurple, blurp, blurp. . ."

"Hey, I've got a better idea. "You get a cup and a half of flavor. . . "

Friday, August 27, 2010

How to kill the bunny in one easy lifetime

The! Writing! Life!: Myths and Tips your Mother Won’t Yell you

MYTH #1: Once you’re published, you’re “in” and will never experience rejection again.

MYTH #2: You will keep the same publisher for the rest of your life.

MYTH WHATEVER: All agents know what they’re doing and who to approach and how to best represent you to the publisher.

YEAH, AND (while we’re at it), you can protest honestly about how badly you have been treated without serious or fatal repercussions.

Writer’s groups help sharpen your skills and boost morale. But they don’t, and I’ll tell you why:

Most people in them don’t know how to critique, so they just put down an opinion which may be very uninformed and of no use to you at all. And the following:

(i) Most of the critiquing isn’t critiquing at all, but consists of “oh, that’s awesome/lovely”, or words to that effect.

(ii) Everyone will strive to find the atom of good in your piece and play it up so as not to hurt your feelings.

(iii) NO ONE takes criticism well. If they are pretending to, they’re phonies. In fact, no one really wants criticism at all. They want to hear, “oh, that’s awesome/lovely”.

Writer’s groups are a great source of mutual support, no? Guess what. Sharing secrets of what makes writing work for you is deadly. If you were a tennis pro, would you sit down with your competition and say, “Now, here’s how I do my killer backhand”?

Publishing, like most things, is a pyramid, with 98 or 99% of writers at the bottom or in the middle somewhere. Only a couple of percent make it to “the top” and make any real money or get movie deals, like everyone expects to. If you “support” other writers, you are in effect saying to them, “Here, let me give you a leg-up on the ladder and take my spot. I don’t want it.”

Some writers are absolutely ruthless (see “only a couple of percent”: that’s how they got there) and, if you’re any good at all, will do anything to obliterate you and your work. Watch your back.

Some writers, usually those in writer’s groups, will sabotage you in all sorts of subtle ways. They wear away at you like a worm until you are completely undermined. It’s not that they want to succeed; they just want to see you fail.

Rejections never stop hurting, you never get used to them, and they always come on the same day the plumbing fails, the dog dies and you have your period.

(Here’s another reason why not to exchange work with other writers.) Be careful no one steals your stuff. It happens, and it’s devastating. It isn’t usually the whole manuscript, just the spiritual core of it, ripped out and shamelessly exploited. If it’s published before yours is (which it probably will be, given the 2-year lag that no one knows about), you will be branded a plagiarist, or at least unoriginal. If you protest or even say anything about it at all, you’ll be considered defensive, insecure and unprofessional. Practice the indispensible skill of enduring abuse silently and with a smile.

Coming up to a published author (especially a famous one) with manuscript trembling in hand is a bad idea. They don’t have time to read your stumbling efforts because they are busy writing their own work. If they did read it, they would likely tell you what they really think. They won’t read it, say “God, this is the best thing I’ve ever seen!”, hand it to their publisher and say, “Here’s the next best-seller. Publish it.”

If the famous author turns down your work, don’t go around telling everyone he/she is a jerk. It’s ungracious and unfair and not true. Well, probably not.

How-to-write books can’t teach you how to write, because writing can’t be taught (though it can be learned). Amassing shelves of them does not mean you are serious and dedicated, it just means you never get to your desk. Why not just pick one and do what it says?

Don’t talk about it endlessly. Most people who say they want to be writers don’t write. It’s easier than facing the blank page/one’s limited talent/terror of being rejected and found out.
Oh, and! I hate to be a pain and go on and on like this, but there are such riches of anguish to impart. If you go to writer’s workshops and conventions, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t, you will hear maddeningly contradictory advice from different instructors. The truth is, there is no right way to do this, and writers detest being told what to do anyway. Real writers don’t even go to these things, for that reason (unless they’re hired as instructors: try to land this gig, it’s great for exposure/covert book-signings and strategic schmoozing/ass-kissing!).
Doing free gigs is supposed to help you get launched. In truth, it's a one-way ticket to Palookaville. Charge money as soon as it is humanly possible, as much as you can get.

I hate to say that the best part is the writing itself, but it is. It’s maybe 90%. It had better be, because your chances of being a real success are slim to none. There – are we feeling better now?

The Beatles - Rock & Roll Music

These blogs have a life of their own. This was going to be a serious treatise on "the writer's life" (or should I say, The! Writer's! Life!), but somehow it didn't happen. It's evolving into some sort of nostalgia column, which is a bit alarming on my part.

But oh, these guys.

I stumbled on A Hard Day's Night the other evening, and was quickly sucked in. It had that heady, exuberant feeling the Beatles exuded during the early years, before they lapsed into their jaded I'm a Loser/Baby's in Black/You've Got to Hide your Love Away period. This clip is one of the best compilations I've seen, complete with fluffy head-shaking (which drove the girls mad) and a kind of mad joy. They'd made it past the skiffle clubs of Merseyside and had gone on to (as John put it) "the toppermost of the poppermost!"

Pay attention to 1:18 in this clip: Paul absolutely cracks up at something John has played on the keyboard. These guys were brothers, and sometimes experienced the rancor and Cain-and-Abel rage of blood kin. Yet, separately, neither could write or perform in that same focused, fruitful way. The shock is that they almost never composed together: they wrote songs "at" each other, put them out there and said, "What do you think?", or even "Try and stop me." This jealousy and tension pulled genius out of them that never would have manifested any other way.

OK then, I've come as far as Mad Men and the Beatles. Do you know what I'm avoiding? I do. I am avoiding the welter of pain and residual anguish of being published for the first couple of times. It was a heady experience, to be sure, but at a certain point I fell through the ice. How on earth am I to comment on "the writer's life" without mentioning this? But if I make too much of it, I will be worse box office poison than I already am. Writers must never let on that their experiences have been anything but totally positive. Only ingrates complain.

The truth is, I have a manuscript that I believe is my very finest work, and I have no idea what to do with it, who to contact. I can't do this alone! I am turned away everywhere, before the thing has even been considered. Sorry, we're full up.

I feel as if I am recreating the cold shoulder I have experienced all my life, from every direction and in every area. Is there a way out? I have to pretend I don't need this, pretend it doesn't hurt and I am fine and I don't mind only writing about the past and writing about the Beatles.

This thing is going to die on the vine. In the words of the Beatles: "Help! I need somebody." After becoming a published author, after having my dream come true twice, it's an awful position to be in.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mail order orgasm

This, from Wikipedia, absolutely made my day. I had never heard of vibrators for sexual purposes until the mid-'70s, and assumed they were a recent innovation. Why was this fascinating bit of medical history censored?

Take it away, boys.

"The history of hysteria can be traced to ancient times; in ancient Greece it was described in the gynecological treatises of the Hippocratic corpus, which date from the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. Plato's dialogue Timaeus tells of the uterus wandering throughout a woman’s body, strangling the victim as it reaches the chest and causing disease. This theory is the source of the name, which stems from the Greek word for uterus, hystera.

"Galen, a prominent physician from the second century, wrote that hysteria was a disease caused by sexual deprivation in particularly passionate women: hysteria was noted quite often in virgins, nuns, widows and, occasionally, married women. The prescription in medieval and renaissance medicine was intercourse if married, marriage if single, or vaginal massage (pelvic massage) by a midwife as a last recourse.

"Rachel P. Maines has observed that such cases were quite profitable for physicians, since the patients were at no risk of death, but needed constant treatment. The only problem was that physicians did not enjoy the tedious task of vaginal massage (generally referred to as 'pelvic massage'): The technique was difficult for a physician to master and could take hours to achieve "hysterical paroxysm." Referral to midwives, which had been common practice, meant a loss of business for the physician.

"A solution was the invention of massage devices, which shortened treatment from hours to minutes, removing the need for midwives and increasing a physician’s treatment capacity. Already at the turn of the century, hydrotherapy devices were available at Bath, and by the mid-19th century, they were popular at many high-profile bathing resorts across Europe and in America.

"By 1870, a clockwork-driven vibrator was available for physicians. In 1873, the first electromechanical vibrator was used at an asylum in France for the treatment of hysteria.

"While physicians of the period acknowledged that the disorder stemmed from sexual dissatisfaction, they seemed unaware of or unwilling to admit the sexual purposes of the devices used to treat it. In fact, the introduction of the speculum was far more controversial than that of the vibrator.

"By the turn of the century, the spread of home electricity brought the vibrator to the consumer market. The appeal of cheaper treatment in the privacy of one’s own home understandably made the vibrator a popular early home appliance. In fact, the electric home vibrator was on the market before many other home appliance ’essentials’: nine years before the electric vacuum cleaner and 10 years before the electric iron.

"A page from a Sears catalog of home electrical appliances from 1918 includes a portable vibrator with attachments, billed as ”Very useful and satisfactory for home service.” Other cures for female hysteria included bed rest, bland food, seclusion, refraining from mentally taxing tasks (for example, reading) and sensory deprivation."
Too bad they couldn't just lie there on their fainting couch and watch reality TV while stuffing their fat faces with Cheetohs. They could have satisfied all their appetites at once, and squeezed the extra pounds away with one of dem-dar corsets they wore.
I wonder if attitudes toward female sexuality have improved that much: women are either pole dancers in thongs and net stockings, or dutiful but frumpy Moms trundling the kids off to soccer games. Oversexy, or not sexy at all. And what is "sexy" anyway? It all looks pretty stereotyped to me.
On a previous post, I wrote about princesses. So what's the deal there? In all the fairy tales, they were universally virginal and untouched until that amazing First Kiss. First sex is always awkward, in fact it can be downright painful, but somehow, in its fumblingly determined way, the human race has managed it (and managed and managed and managed it).
Has the deck been stacked against female plesure from the very beginning? I'm a slavish fan of Mad Men, the best series I have ever watched. The sharks of l960s Madison Avenue circle one another every week, waiting to lunge for the kill.
But there are domestic dramas unfolding behind the piranha-tank of the office.
Don Draper is the alpha male of the series and the biggest prick the ad world has ever seen. But he does have a redeeming fondness for his 10-year-old daughter Sally, traumatized by her parents' recent divorce and her mother's remarriage to a wealthy man she doesn't
In this past episode, Sally hacks her hair off, causing her mother to slap her hard across the face. In my experience, cutting off one's own hair is pretty close to slashing or burning: it's self-mutilation, and to be slapped for that by your mother is pretty harsh stuff. But then Sally really gets into trouble.
While at a sleepover at a friend's house, Sally watches TV raptly while Ilya Kuryakin of The Man from UNCLE, tied up back-to-back with someone, murmurs in his usual seductive way. We see Sally slowly begin to hike up her flannel nightgown.
And then -
Then her friend's mother bursts in, shrieks at Sally, strongarms her out of there away from her daughter (who slept through the whole thing), and drags her home, telling her mother she was masturbating in public.
I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the adults' reactions to this news. It was blank disbelief mixed with a kind of repulsion A sort of "whaaaaaat?" thing. Betty Draper even tells her ex-husband, "Girls who do that are, you know. Fast." Sally is promptly packed off to a child psychiatrist to be straightened out.
Oh, you can say this was a long time ago, but I really don't think the reaction now would be that much different. The impression was that, perhaps being a bit young for full-blown sexual feelings, Sally was experimenting a little, curious about her own body and what it was capable of.
This is supposed to be "normal" and "healthy", but do we really see it that way? If you went to a psychologist and said, "My daughter masturbates in public," what do you think they'd say?
I once tried to post something on the Oprah web site that contained the word "masturbation". It appeared for a second, then was deleted. I tried once more, and it was deleted again. Too dirty and offensive to mention,
I guess.
Time to break out the mail order vibrators again?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A bucket of hormones

I found out last night that it all comes down to hormones. Or chemicals, or whatever it is that lights up the brain.
According to this show, Secrets of the Mind or something like that, "love" just comes down to changes in the brain: violent changes, flooding the cortex and other structures with feel-good chemicals, along with the bizarre notion that it will always always always be this way, that we'll always feel this euphoric and live the rest of our lives on a fleecy pink cloud.
To me, it's a biohazard.
I'm not against love, not against romance, no nor any of it, or I wouldn't be posting pictures from A Room with a View, in which George clasps Lucy around her virginal, corseted waist and kisses the hell out of her. Oh God! These are my fantasies, and I freely admit it. I'm just a transplanted Victorian, and wish I had the same masses of untameable dark hair and smoldering eyes, and got to wear those great outfits.
The show about the secrets of the mind had an English couple (let's call them George and Martha) who were recently married and decided to "test" the durability of their love by getting brain scans, going on an arduous months-long cycling trip that would include all sorts of awful hardships, then having their brains tested again.
If their brains still lit up with ecstatic electrochemical activity even after the road trip from hell, then it would prove that they were Really In Love. If not, well. . .
Guess what, folks: the woman's brain somehow still held on to the hormonal brush fire, but his didn't. Oh man, that brain scan was pathetic. It had somehow all turned grey. All the fiery reds and yellows had fizzled out.
His wife was absolutely devastated. Imagine, not being able to sustain the role of Prince Charming for the rest of your life! Imagine not constantly experiencing honeymoon bliss for forty or fifty years. It was unthinkable.
Here I want to pause on this story - it's boring the piss out of me anyway, as it's so distorted and patently false - and talk a bit about weddings. I remember a time in the early '70s when all sorts of proclamations were issued about the Changing Role of Women. No longer were we delicate little princesses tripping around in high heels. If we did undertake a "romance", it would be a partnership of equals, quite possibly between two women. Marriage was out, or consisted of a quick civil ceremony: get the nasty business over with as quickly and cheaply as possible.
At that point, all domestic chores were split exactly down the middle. When it came right down to it, each partner would wash half a dish.
Fast forward a few decades, and it has all lapsed back to the '50s, or even before that. Huge puffy white gowns, a million bridesmaids, a $500 cake made by that Buddy guy on that show, a few hundred guests, catered reception, etc. etc. etc.: these are standard now, and women (and, alarmingly, little girls) are all being conditioned to return to fainting passivity.
Fuck equality! Bring on the princesses.
I see it every day: I have three grandgirls, and everything they play with is princess-themed. The princess movies make a feeble attempt to mention traits like self-confidence and self-esteem, but for the most part all they do is sit around waiting to be rescued.
I can't help but think this stampede back to traditional customs (and spending) is some sort of reaction against feminism and its disturbing implications that not all is equal in gender-land. Who wants to hear about that, when the girls can get together to giggle, drink Sangria and watch beefy, oiled-up gay men gyrate and strip?
I often feel - and maybe this is my age - that I'm outside of things, but I'm outside of things deliberately because the "things" alarm me so much. I refuse to use the word "iconic" to describe items like cupcakes. I won't say "agaaaaahhn" for "again", or "fesssshhhh" for "fish". For some reason, my jaw won't drop to my chest like that.
I don't tweet. Hey, listen, I really don't object to the act of tweeting itself. But why the hell call it something so lame, so brainless? If someone had told people twenty years ago that there would be a popular means of communication called tweeting, they would have laughed at you in disbelief or looked at you with an incredulous, even offended expression.
I have a bird that twitters, I have a bird that sings, but that's about all.
I'm not against technology, but why does a recent innovation have to be called Skype? Can you think of an uglier word? Worse than Vonage, worse than Voip, worse than anything.
I care about words, I care about how people use and pronounce them. They are my stock in trade. Now, how did I get onto this? Anyway, four months later, George and Martha got their brains tested again. Everyone held their breath. If George's brain was still grey, well, that would be the end of the marriage.
But he went back inside that frightening sausage-roll thing, in spite of his claustrophobia. This is the sort of story producers of reality shows manipulate all the time. They manufacture happy endings, even for dismal cases of hoarding in which the person lives in a sickening, gagging landfill. They call it a happy ending if the person (or the producer) has cleared a 6-inch wide path. They. . . never mind, they did it again, and George's brain was nice and sparkly and red, all lit up like a Christmas tree. (Obviously, they had kept the first scan on file.)
"Oh, darling!" his wife exclaimed. It was like something out of a Monty Python sketch with Michael Palin and Carol Cleveland.
I'm not sure what my central point is here, but I do wish couples would put half the energy into marriage that they do into the wedding.
Partners fart and burp and go to the bathroom. They get testy and even furious, and critical. Their needs don't match. Their interests don't match. Their sexual urges don't match. They get sick of each other sexually and want variety. They have huge rows about finance, and mortgages, and whose house they'll go to for Christmas dinner. They'll think to themselves: I can't believe what I've gotten myself into!
If they come home late, even a little bit late, they will have to explain why. They'll put something important down, a notebook or laptop or a pair of shoes, and when they look again, it'll be gone. Their partner will have "put it away". The chicken salad they were saving so they wouldn't have to slave over dinner on a hot day will be eaten: the dirty plate won't even be in the dishwasher! It will be sitting there on the counter surrounded by globs of salad and greasy crumbs.
Laundry, well, don't look too close, especially at underwear. Princesses aren't supposed to have secretions, or those little menstrual accidents that happen to absolutely every woman. And men aren't supposed to have. . .well, I do have limits as to how explicit I am willing to be.
This is life, not too savoury or smooth. Often it's just boring, or at least very tame. Vacations cost too much, so you stay at home and snap at each other. You gain weight, inexplicably, then gain some more. Mother-in-laws nag. Father-in-laws drain all your best booze. One day, hubby stumbles upon a web site, simply fascinating. Well, there' s nothing wrong with appreciating feminine pulchritude, is there?

Meanwhile, she is getting into conversations at work with a guy that makes her just scream with laughter. It's incredible: they have exactly the same sense of humor. (George hasn't made her laugh in six years.) One day, he looks at her intently and tells her she has the most beautiful eyes he has ever seen.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.
I've been married 37 years, to the same guy. People are incredulous when they hear that. For one thing, they assume I'm 100 years old, when in truth I'm only 97. They want to know The Secret. They want to know the formula. Is there one?
There are a couple of things I've found that are absolutely indispensible. My husband and I couldn't be more different in temperament and interests and personal assets.
But there are two crucial things we have in common: first of all, our values are practically identical. (What are values, you say? It's not something you attain for $10.99 at Walmart. It's the principles you live by, and the things you hold most dear.)

Recently we went to one of those pioneer places where a town had been replicated, complete with authentic artifacts. This was from 1920, however, and over and over again, Bill and I kept saying, "Hey, look at that wicker chair (or cheese grater or meat grinder or bread box). My grandmother had one of those."
Sometimes it was even "my mother". Soon it was clear we were blood kin, or maybe even twins. At very least, we had the same grandmother. This went beyond mere artifacts and straight into the heart of how we live. Our grandmothers (and our mothers) lived in such an identical manner BECAUSE THEY CARED ABOUT THE SAME THINGS and imparted those same values to their children.
The other thing is: shall I quote Aretha here? R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Respect will hold like powerful glue long after the flimsy post-it paste of romance lets go. Even when I wanted to throttle him, I never stopped respecting him. Why? Because, somehow or other, when I was 18 years old (yes, 18 years old), I made a good choice. Can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
I'm sick of this now, so I'll stop, but I hope I've gotten some things across. If you want the pumping, swollen, slippery, ecstatically moaning highs of "romance" (which I think is just a code-word for lust), use your hand, or your finger. And try to stay off those porn sites.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Ding, dong, ding, dong, ding, dong, ding, dong. . .

I'm really sorry about this, but some evil seed in me made me post it.

This is what kids' TV was like in the '50s. I have dim memories of Miss Frances, but mostly I remember my older brother making horrible, hilarious fun of her.

She speaks in a dragging voice, repeats everything ad nauseam, and generally acts as if she's facing an audience of drooling subhumans. When I showed a bit of this to my 6-year-old granddaughter (no doubt the target audience back then, though it probably went up to age 10 or 11), her jaw went slack and her eyes glazed over. She looked at me doubtfully and asked, "Was this a real show?"

It does resemble satire, does it not? She must repeat the instructions for her fantastically difficult sandwich 5 or 6 times. "Bread, peanut butter, and. . . what was the other one? You can't remember?" I think this was originally a PBS show. Or something. It makes Captain Kangaroo look like he was shot out of a cannon.

I've seen the sort of thing Caitlin watches: Disney productions such as The Suite Life of Zack and Cody (male duos being inexplicably popular, along with females with special powers: hey, let's give the girls some good role models! Except that they're always princesses). They're snappy, every line a joke, incredibly fast-moving and full of silly, pie-in-the-face gags. They also feature washed-up character actors like John Schuck (the butt of every joke in the show I saw yesterday). There is an invisible line between Tree House (a Canadian preschool channel featuring Max and Ruby, Toopy and Binoo, and Dora the Explorer) and Disney Channel fare, but once you've crossed it, you'll never turn back.

Well, in MY day we did things differently. Until the advent of snappy shows such as Roger Ramjet, Bullwinkle, Underdog, Linus the Lionhearted, Alvin and the Chipmunks and Superchicken, we watched Captain Kangaroo, a show almost as primitive as Miss Frances' lunatic asylum fare. At least there were other characters involved: Mr. Moose; Bunny Rabbit; Grandfather (the clock, who only woke from his slumber if you said, "One, two, three. . . Grandfather!"), and the ubiquitous Mr. Green Jeans. There were little skits, usually ending with a thousand ping-pong balls falling on the Captain, and also little -what were they, anyway? Vignettes? If I could find a video, I'd post it, but most of these shows went out live and disappeared forever.

There'd be a pre-recorded song, with a disembodied pair of hands doing actions, or trains made of construction paper being dragged across a backdrop of green felt. One of them was about Four Little Taxis: "a yellow one, a green one, a blue one, a purple one!" One by one, the cardboard taxis drove away, until there were "no little taxis sitting on the curb. . . no yellow one, no green one. . ." It was heart-wrenching. But then the narrator would lift us out of our despair: "But wait! The taxis are coming back!" That's about as traumatic as the show got.

I only remember fragments, with fuzzy acres of oblivion in between. Binnie, the Magic Bunny. A song about Dallas (obviously, before the Kennedy assassination): "Big D, little-a, double-l-a/Big D, little-a, double-l-a". These soul-deadening little productions were enlivened by Tom Terrific and his pal, Mighty Manfred the Wonder Dog: cartoons made of line drawings that moved with all the sophistication of a flip-book.

And the crafts! We loved to make fun of the Captain's nasal, Brookly-esque accent as he talked about "cahhhd-bwwoaaaad" and making pumpkins out of paper that was "aaaaah-raaaahnge". He used paper fasteners on everything, especially things that were supposed to twirl around. We couldn't even find paper fasteners. They're lame metal things that sort of spread out, and they certainly don't allow for twirling. But sometimes we found a big "cahhhd-bwwoaaaad" box in the garage and began to cut windows in it with a steak knife, usually with disastrous results.

OK, so what did all this do to aid the developlent of the average kid-brain in that era? Not much. When the smart-ass cartoons of the mid-to-late '60s came along, they were more than welcome. Beany and Cecil always operated on two levels (like most kids' movies do today), and there were references only the adults would get. Supposedly. When we recently saw a show with a Chinese prince in it, I said, "Hey, maybe that's Prince Chow Mein." Caitlin laughed uproariously, immediately getting a joke that would have sailed over my head in l963. (As a matter of fact, I stole it from Beany and Cecil.)

Kids don't get to choose their entertainment. Some bigwig moguls up at Disney sit around a table, and maybe have focus groups/guinea pigs testing it all out. Is it "better", "worse", or just different? It's fast. Fast-fast-fast, and all sort of run together, so you won't notice there's no story.

Girls are reaching puberty when they're still in the Jolly Jumper these days, and no one knows why. If they weigh 200 pounds, it's genetic and nothing to do with the fact that they live exclusively on sugar and fat (but the Twinkies are fortified with Vitamin C). If they're exposed to Lady Gaga flashing her crotch every 2 seconds, it has no effect. If their parents are so preoccupied with hanging on to their second-rate, fading careers that the kids spend 11 hours a day sexting each other and planning to commit suicide on Skype, hey, that's just life in 2010.

If they're being raised by the TV, well, hey, wasn't I raised by the TV too? I think that explains everything.


POSTSCRIPT. With my usual ferretlike curiosity, I dug up many more Miss Frances clips, incuding a whole episode in which she takes off her watch to fingerpaint. At the end of these sessions, she'd tell the kiddies to drag their mothers in to listen to her lecture on proper parenting (mothering, back then), while they ran outside to play. This one stressed the need for the children to "rest". They played so hard, Miss Frances claimed, that when they came back in the house, they just played some more and wore themselves right out!

We won't get into the fact that, with rare exceptions, kids weren't fat then because they were outside running their little legs off. In fact, the need to REST seems totally foreign today. "Make sure that the children lie down for a little while on the davenport," she said.

DAVENPORT?? What the hell is that? I had to look it up. I used to think "chesterfield" was out of date.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A white doe

A snow white doe in an emerald glade
To me appeared, with antlers soft of gold,
And leapt two streams, under a laurel's shade,
Near sunrise, in the winter's bitter cold.
To me she appeared wild treasure so fair
I was so distraught my eyes fell to stare,
As if, poor miser pursuing his gold,
I might find relief for grievance of old.
I spied on her neck, "No one dares touch me",
Graven in topaz and diamond stones,
"For Caesar wills I should always run free."
The sun had ascended to zenith, and she
was gone in a flash, lost in its pale gleam.
While I still chased her, I fell in that stream!

Petrarch Sonnet 190

Whoso List to Hunt

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind!
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

Thomas Wyatt

Friday, August 20, 2010

I love all-day suckers: Bessie sings the blues

Oh yeah, oh yeah, it's Bessie Smith! Every line of this is heavily suggestive - particularly the aggressively sexual way she sings it - but it somehow passed the censors, probably because they didn't have enough imagination to know what it meant.

Smith recorded particularly well, because of the clarity and power of her voice, so her records hold up better than most, even the ones from the early '20s.

She had the usual tragic life, died too young, was hit by a car I think. Why, why, why? One could say it's part of the artist's life, but look at Ella. I think Bessie went out of style for a while in the '30s, before making a brief comeback. Went out of style. 'Scuse me while I find a brick wall to run into.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Burl Ives: did he fake his own death?

Last time my husband and I were driving around Utah (having come to see Bryce Canyon, the holiest place in the world, full of glowing gilded cathedrals of God-carved stone), we were suddenly stopped dead in our tracks.
There was a sign up ahead saying, "Tourist Stop: THE BIG ROCK CANDY MOUNTAIN!"

I looked at Bill.

"There's never a Big Rock Candy Mountain. It's a Burl Ives song."

"No, it was based on this mountain here! Let's stop."

He got out and enthusiastically took a picture of a small, ordinary-looking mountain, the farthest thing from rock candy imagineable. We were hungry, and there was a restaurant. As we walked past a nominal gift shop with cheap t-shirts and cellophane bags of rock candy, Bill blinked in surprise, then whispered in my ear.

"There he is."'


"You know! Look over there."

At a table in the corner, facing a beer and a corned beef sandwich, was a heavyset older man with a grey goatee.

"Hm, well, it does look like him, but the truth is - "

"I know it's him."

"See, that's the thing. He's been dead for ten years."

"Maybe he faked his own death."

"Then he'd be 116 years old."

"Well, he looks it, doesn't he?"

He did. But he didn't look much like Burl Ives to me.

When I think of Burl Ives now, I think of Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: his surly, snappy, sour performance was one of the best I've seen in a character actor.

But I also thought of other things. I was raised on Burl Ives. One of my first memories was that mild, burly tenor voice of his singing, "Here's a song about a whale, with a most amazing appetite." There was also Holly Jolly Christmas and Little Bitty Tear and a couple other mainstream hits, but they came second to his songs for children, his "Little White Duck" and "The sow took the measles and she died in the spring" (kind of an awful song for the kiddies, probably an old Appalachian thing.) There were some I did myself when I briefly had a kids' TV show in Alberta: "Old witch, old witch, she lives in a ditch, and she combs her hair with a hick'ry switch."

Having never heard it before, the kids loved it.

Anyway, my husband ordered a corned beef sandwich and a beer and kept shooting glances at this Burl Ives stand-in. It occurred to me later (hell, it just occurred to me this second) that they'd hired this local yahoo to stand in and wow the tourists.

Another thing that happened just this second: I looked up the Big Rock Candy Mountain, and found out that it was really just a song, something invented by hoboes. There were approximately seventeen Big Rock Candy Mountains scattered all over the US, each claiming to be THE Big Rock Candy Mountain, bearing big signs and restaurants serving corned beef sandwiches and beer.
Did they all have a Burl Ives lookalike? I really can't say.

Anyway, the video I've posted is haunting. It reminds me structurally of the Child Ballad, I Gave my Love a Cherry, and also evokes Christ's temptation in the wilderness. It's no doubt deeply Appalachian, thus harking back to somewhere in ancient Britain, preserved as only music preserves ancient things.