Monday, January 15, 2018

Dark times in the farmyard

I almost want to apologize for this. Almost. But not quite. I have a love for old recordings that borders on the obsessive, so much so that I wrote a whole novel around it (Bus People! You can read the whole thing here. Just click on the pink link.)

But never mind that. Now that I have YouTube, I don't have to wait for these bizarre old things to come on the radio or appear on a recording. NO! Here they are, millions of them, thick with dust and outmoded thinking, things you never wanted to hear but are going to hear anyway. 

The first two are - strange - novelty recordings, I guess, with a lot of barnyard stuff on them. But partway through the Farmyard Medley is a shock so unexpected that it literally registered in my gut. You'll know when you get to it.

That leads to the third recording. It's the same song I heard on an old record - so old it had grooves on only one side, and was about 1/2" thick - which I listened to with my friend Nancy, one day in the musty attic when it was raining too hard to do anything else. We found a trove of ancient records that probably hadn't been played since the 1920s, and some of them were far older than that. Cornfield Medley is shocking because of the language, and in particular the casual use of one of the worst words that exists, but the version we heard was even uglier because it involved a "Massa" ordering his slaves around.

Old and horrible, but how far have we come? Things are dark, these days, and the only way around it is to keep going. We're still fighting battles around ugly words, even uglier racism, the ruthlessness of it, the way it diminishes humanity. Back then, it was simply called entertainment.

(Never mind what's on this one. I don't know myself. But there IS a connection to Bus People, in that nobody is quite sure who this is.)

Why Shatner is sheer poetry


Though I have always loved Le Chat (originally known as William Schattner), I find I'm becoming more of a fan all the time. I can't watch that awful Old Man's Adventure Hour thing that he's in, because it's too raucous (I'd have preferred a saner, more Michael Palin-esque travel and adventure show, which would still be fun no matter what), but I have seen bits of it, and though he's at least 15 years older than the other 3 guys (whoever they are - who cares??), he looks a good 15 years younger.

He's going to be 87 in a few months. Eighty-seven. Let that sink in. One critic described him as "eerily ageless", and this seems to support my long-held theory that he made a deal with the devil long ago. He's like that Star Trek character who was a whole lot of famous guys like Brahms and Galileo while on earth, and who faced the bizarre dilemma of not being able to die.

When you see him in his early stuff, you seldom see the histrionics that made Captain Kirk such a hit (and which saved the show from the dullness of the first Kirk, Jeffrey Hunter, who nearly sank the whole series before it even launched).  One of the two Twilight Zones he was in had him making a deal with a devilish machine which would answer all his questions about the future - about HIS future - if he put a penny in the slot. He quickly became obsessed with it,  craving knowledge of his fate and equally dreading it. THAT Shatner was incredibly good-looking, what they used to call a matinee idol, brooding, sizzling with barely-disguised panic (not to mention knock-the-camera-dead beauty). In other words, a lot of stuff was going on at the same time. Watch this man - he is far more subtle than you think.

And the biceps. Don't get me started.

I've seen him do Shakespeare convincingly, because that's what he started off doing. He can make those antiquated phrases sound like something he just thought up. It's called acting. The man is everywhere still, doing this and that, making appearances and doing one-man shows. Since he can't stand for 2 straight hours (and who can?), he uses a rolling office-chair as a prop that he can do all sorts of business with. It seems so natural that no one notices it's a "device", something to allow him short pit-stops. His energy is so hyper that I doubt if I could keep up with him, but I know there is a thoughtful, even tender side to him. 

And there are the horses. The horses! But that is for another post.