Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Is Don Draper really a vampire? and other depressing questions

It's not every day, well, it's almost every day but never mind, that we find, that I find I mean, uh. Let me start over again.

I don't even know how I YouTubed my way into this one. Every once in a while I profess my rabid, tree-scratching, hide-tearing, rubbing-salt-into-my-private-areas LUST for AMC's Mad Men. It's the smartest show I've ever seen, even though, at the base of it all, it's nothing more than a sexy and well-acted soap opera.

Angst rules supreme. Nobody is ever really happy. This makes us all feel better about ourselves, because, you see, WE'RE never really happy either. Or at least, I'm not.

Privately, I believe that happiness is for idiots, or at least for people who don't think or don't notice the intractible mess all around them. I have moments of it, of course. Even serious upgusts. But angst remains my prevailing mood, and that's when I am not downright depressed.

So Mad Men cheers me up. The way the characters hurl themselves at their fate, impaling themselves on ill fortune, screwing around madly just to forget. They beat their fists on reality. They don (!) mask after mask, phony disguise after phony disguise, hoping THIS one will be the charm, and it never is.

And saaaaaaaay, isn't that some coincidence that we have a character named Don (as in Don Quixote; as in Don Juan; as in The Godfather; as in "don we now our gay apparel") Draper, as in let's throw a tarp over all this mess before anyone sees it (too late!). And that's not even his real name: he has "donned" it like a "drape" over his somewhat vampirish personality. His real name, Dick (!) Whitman, does not need to be examined (though Walt Whitman may sneak in there somewhere: but hey, wasn't he queer or something?).

We could sit here and analyze every character's name - Jesus, Roger Sterling?? - Lane Pryce?? - but I'm getting very tired. I am so addicted now that even when whatsisname, that Weinerhead guy, spews out a substandard episode, I still watch it at least three times. Then I go on the message boards and see what arcane, cabalistic meanings the fans have squeaked out, adding a few of my own ("hey, Cool Whip isn't real whipped cream!"). When I found this video I thought, great, I get to see Don's new sexpot wife Megan make a total fool of herself (again) and be the only person in the room who doesn't know. But then. . .

Then I realized that my two greatest loves, Mad Men and Mr. Trololo, had somehow met and blended, had fused together and become one, and it was magical!

There is a certain affinity between the two songs, after all, a certain bouncy optimism. Surely Don needs this sort of frisson of joy, this gasping souffle, this seething birthday pie that he can stick his thumb in any time he wants to. Megan may have big scared eyes and teeth that are completely over the top, but she's HAPPY damn it, and is going to make DON happy ("yes, master!") too, even if she won't eat the orange sherbet at Howard Johnson's.

Ye-ye-ye-ye-ye, ye-ye-ye, ye-ye-ye, o-ho-ho-ho-ho!


Teetering on the brink

After writing my yearbook-nostalgia piece about 1966, I had to do a little digging about the songs that were popular back then.

Ye gods and little fishes! What happened? How could there be such an explosion of passion and talent and innovation, cheek-by-jowl with the most inane slop?

I can't name them all here, but I went on the Billboard Top 100 for '66 and just pulled out a few, not randomly but because they caught my eye and/or I liked/remembered/hated them.

There was an idiotic thing called 96 Tears by ? and the Mysterians. The DJs on CKLW Detroit ("Windsor and Detroit know/It's Radio Eight-oh!"), which we all slavishly listened to every day, must've had a bit of trouble with that one. Then there was Red Rubber Ball by a band called The Cyrkle, who might as well have named themselves The Oblivions.

The Lovin' Spoonful, who were many-hit wonders and (at their best) superb, scored a couple of big ones: Summer in the City (which still evokes for me those sweaty, cicada-chanting days in Chatham when I slept over at Shawne Aitken's house and played Archie and Veronica. Never mind) and a real gem called Did You Ever Have to Make Up your Mind.

Rumor has it that this was based on the bees-buzzing-around-honey effect Joan and Mimi Baez seemed to have on men during the height of the folk craze, and Richard Farina's big dilemma: which one to suck up to? (He finally chose Mimi before dying in a motorcycle accident a couple of years later.) Even Bob Dylan went through the "make up your mind" bit before shunning both of them. Their father Albert Baez must have been relieved.

Oh, and the Mamas and the Papas, laid-back but somehow completely focused, with their voices so perfectly meshed that they sometimes created alarming, spinning overtones in the studio that whirled like little tornados above everyone's head. This seldom happens except with those rare operatic sopranos whose high notes can shatter glass.

They put out Monday Monday that year, the song that makes absolutely no sense when the lyrics are analyzed ("so good to me"? The rest of the song vilifies it.) The rest of the group didn't even want to do it, it sounded so lame: a day of the week? Later they came out with one of their most brilliant '60s anthems, California Dreamin'. (My personal fave is Twelve Thirty, a haunting memoir of the life of a young prostitute. Their heyday was so short that this must have followed soon after.)

Oh, and. Donovan was getting big then, with Sunshine Superman. This one reminds me of the smell of oil paints. Yes. Shawne and I used to do paint-by-numbers, as well as stroll over to the park where perverts were known to hang out. Associations are weird. Last Train to Clarksville reminds me of peanuts. Paperback Writer is hoppity as a hot hen. 

Then there's Nowhere Man. What had happened to the Beatles, anyway? All their songs were getting so melancholy. We didn't know it, but it was the beginning of a gathering storm.

Oh, there are tons of others, Wild Thing, Good Vibrations, Rainy Day Women #12 and 35: but as good as these sounded then, I can't get into them now. I loved Walk Away Renee and found this strangely beautiful video, I found Summer in the City badly lipsynched on one of those teen shows (where no one ever performed life). I am a little afraid to look up Twelve Thirty or Ruby Tuesday (which came later, and which for some reason tear my guts out).

Noel Coward or some snoot like that once said, "Amazing how potent cheap music can be." I'd reverse that. Those 45 rpms only cost a couple of bucks back then. Amazing how cheap potent music can be.


Fifty Shades of Grey: yearbook photos

I was going to title this post Daydream Believer, because this-here lovely young lady is a Homecoming Queen from that succulent year, 1966.

It's a strange coincidence that my fall-down-and-worship slavish addiction, Mad Men, is right now in the midst of that august (actually it's October) year. A year when the whole world seemed to be balanced on the point of a pin.

And here are the runners-up, complete with poofy hairdos and hopeful expressions. The Marlo Thomas look vies with the '60s beehive and side-flip that will all-too-soon give way to two curtains hanging sullenly on either side of the face.

OK, here's the backstory: it all had to do with painting. When you paint, every century or so, you generally repaint the closets, which means a major purge. Which yielded what seemed like dozens of yearbooks from junior/high school. Most of these belonged to my kids, and we spent a hilarious evening reading the scrawled comments out loud to each other. My son's wife Crystal kept bursting into whoops of laughter so loud it raised the roof (that is, until she saw a spider, jumped straight up in the air and disappeared upstairs for the rest of the evening).

But the choicest cut was this one. Turns out my husband Bill, now 65, kept one yearbook from all his university-hopping days: the Brown and Gold from the University of Manitoba, circa 1966. That year when things were still just barely teetering on the side of innocence.

That skateboarding fiend above is mysteriously captioned ATHLETIC PROGRAM. The skateboard looks to be a handmade job cobbled together using rollerskates and  a piece of plywood.

Here we have an even more enigmatic mystery: the Rifle Club, consisting of two pistol-packin' mamas. No boys in sight (so to speak), but is it any wonder?

Some clubs, we noticed, had only one member, but we could find no pictures. Too excruciating, I guess. But the elections would be fast.

Ah, 1966, when accountancy was still Not Boring!

Hey look, everybody. . . it's Robert Vaughn!

The Rhodes Scholar. No one smiles in these things. Where is he now, I wonder? He might be dead. Dear God! Most of my high school teachers must be dead by now, and all of my grade school teachers. How did that happen?

One of the racier, lovelier photos in the collection, found in "candid shots" which look anything but candid. "C'mon, Peggy Sue. . . lie on your stomach." Come to think of it, that IS pretty racy.

And here he is, MY Rhodes scholar, looking deadly earnest, complete with Big Bang Theory glasses. (When I met him in 1972, they were held together with tape.) I had a thing about science nerds even then, though I have to admit that in 1966 I was only 12 years old.

In 1967, I heard the word "hippie" for the first time, but wasn't sure what it meant. In 1968, I first heard the sound track to the musical Hair and began to get stoned to Donovan records ("First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is. . . ").

By 1969, Woodstock exploded, the unwitting pinnacle of that magical, idealistic time which all too quickly plummeted into the dirty rotten shame of Altamont.

But the kid from Manitoba grew up, and lived through all the rich and rough and bumpy times since then. As did we all.