Sunday, July 23, 2017

These Aren't the Owls You're Looking For

I was watching that recent movie about Emily Dickinson and I could have sworn somebody said, "Bees in the lavender, and the lazy owl." Well, it didn't make much sense to me! First of all, bees and owls don't hang out at the same time of day. Also, that is a serious mischaracterization of the temperament of owls! Plus the scene had no obvious context for a line like "Bees in the lavender, and the lazy owl." But I was intrigued. "What a cryptic snatch of poetry!" I thought. Because sometimes Emily Dickinson just says her poems in voiceover in that movie, and in the scene in question the characters were so far away (pictured) I couldn't tell whether their lips were moving, my old eyes being what they are. And my ears aren't in such great shape either, I guess, because when I scoured my COMPLETE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON, I could find no such line anywhere. I did find an owl, though not the one I was looking for, as you might have guessed, because I famously don't "blog" anymore unless I find a book with an owl in it. So in case you were concerned, I am pretty sure no one in the movie said, "Bees in the lavender and the lazy owl." [POSTSCRIPT. According to a single online source, a line of dialogue in the film indeed goes, "Bees in the lavender, then the lazy owl." While "then" makes more sense than "and," the "blog" stands by its belief in the superb work ethic of owls. - ed.]

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Important Musical Cigarette Lighter

Remember when I wrote a book about cigarette lighters? Neither do I! But last night I was watching a very good movie called FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY (pictured), in which a musical cigarette lighter plays a pivotal role. And I know just where I would have put it in the book. As it stands, musical cigarette lighters got but a passing mention from your slipshod author. I should have been more thorough about musical cigarette lighters. Oh well, I'll try to remember that the next time somebody asks me to write a book about cigarette lighters.

Monday, July 03, 2017

You Eschew Froufrou Poo Poo

I was thinking about Richard Strauss's tone poem "Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche" and realized I don't really know much about Till Eulenspiegel himself. So I started poking around and was delighted to learn that Eulenspiegel means "owl mirror." So any collection of the Till Eulenspiegel tales might be said to have an owl in it, mightn't it? Sure it might. Why, look. Here's Till Eulenspiegel's supposed gravestone and he's holding an owl and a mirror over his head in case you don't get the point. During my idle research I stumbled on the website for that certain corporate behemoth, the name of which I never utter here. And someone had reviewed a collection of Till Eulenspiegel stories like so: "It seems like the punchline of every single story has to do with Euelenspiegel defecating on or in something or someone. That's it. That's the book's running joke. I suppose if you were an illiterate German peasant sitting around a hearth fire in the 1500s, you'd find these tales of feces and bad puns hilarious, but I didn't." I was naturally fascinated to discover this living person who is so worked up about Till Eulenspiegel. And as you can imagine, he had inadvertently composed one of those "bad reviews" that made me want to read the book more than ever. For good measure, the reviewer rubs this salt in the wounds, though I hate to repeat it so close to our nation's birthday: "Of course, since a good majority of modern Americans are probably less sophisticated than an illiterate German peasant from 400 years ago, perhaps Till Eulenspiegel is due for a comeback. Hollywood could cast Johnny Knoxville... and he could crap all over American audiences, who will double over with laughter at every fart noise." Sold! I was naturally drawn to this reviewer's other reviews, which form a kind of epistolary novel or Robert Browning poem, in which you get to know the narrator by filling in the gaps. It's like that famous intellectual essayist said in his manifesto that time, we don't need novels anymore. Did he say that? It sounds like something somebody with a manifesto would say! Before getting into his one-star judgment of Folgers Classic Medium Roast Coffee Singles Serve Bags, our reviewer indulges in this bit of throat clearing: "I am no coffee elitist. I eschew status-conscious coffee drinkers and the frou frou coffee houses they frequent in order to be seen carrying green fringed cups emblazoned with quotes from left-wing icons." I've spent some part of my life trying to make up narrators who talk just this way, but I see once again that I am unnecessary. Also recommended: the same reviewer on the moral depravity of the Frankie Avalon movie BEACH PARTY.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Point We Have Reached

It's no secret that every book I read ends up having an owl in it, for which cause I am then obliged to add it to my big long list of books with owls in them. Now I would like to relate how I came upon the book I am reading now, and whether or not it has an owl in it (it does). So! A few days ago a book popped into my head for reasons I cannot fully explain. I couldn't remember the title. All I knew was that it was a ghost novel by Anne Rivers Siddons, and that Stephen King had said really nice things about it in an essay or article, maybe some years ago. I was at Square Books and poked around among the shelves but I didn't see anything that rang a bell. So! A day or two ago Pen and I walked up to that used book stall I like and there it was! No one had penciled in a price, so the man at the cash register insisted upon giving it to me for free. The whole transaction struck me as magical and mysterious! I know what you're thinking: this book is obviously cursed. I haven't read much of it. In fact, I can't even tell yet whether it's a ghost story (as I recalled) or an evil house story. I guess most evil houses have ghosts in them. That's not a scientific fact! But! Our narrator is lying in bed when she hears the "dreadful sound" of an owl. She starts tying "a knot in the corner of the top sheet." Her husband asks what's up and she says, "It's just something my grandmother always did. You tie a knot in the bedsheet when you hear an owl. If you don't, it means somebody is going to die." Now! As you may or may not know, I am a veritable dumping ground for superstitions. I collect and practice them all, compulsively! But here I have found the one superstitious ritual that I am far too lazy and uncoordinated to assay. There is just no way I am going to tie a knot in a sheet at any time for any reason. Is this a triumph at last of the rational mind? No, we have just reached the point at which my sloth exceeds my crippling credulity.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

An Old Carnival Term

It is a universally acknowledged fact that I don't "blog" anymore. But I was watching some of FULL METAL JACKET, a side effect of reading a biography of Stanley Kubrick with Megan Abbott, when what dialogue should chime in my ear but "Where's the wienie?" It's the question of an editor who has just glanced through an article submitted by reporter Matthew Modine. I was reminded at once of another celebrity biography recently read by Megan and myself in an offshoot of our aptly named Doomed Book Club: one about Walt Disney, in which Disney on more than one occasion refers to the "wienie" in much the same way. He is, according to his biographer Neal Gabler, "borrowing an old carnival term" for something that will entice your intended customer "presumably the way a wienie entices a dog." At one point, Walt Disney shouts "It doesn't have a wienie!" at some flustered GE executives, who have "no idea what Walt meant." Of course, we are all familiar with a more common phrase meaning much the same thing: "the hook." Now, why am I telling you this? I'll be honest: I DON'T KNOW! But just look. Lurking behind Matthew Modine - at the very moment when his editor is asking him "Where's the wienie?" - are two Mickey Mouse figurines and one Mickey Mouse head. Coincidence? Yes. It seems unlikely that Stanley Kubrick knew or cared that Walt Disney used to like to go around saying "wienie."

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Guitar Emotions

Stopped by The End of All Music yesterday and walked away with this treasure (see above). It wasn't until I got home and took the record out of the sleeve to play it and saw Jimmy Bryant's name on the label, frank, plain, and unclouded by unsettling clowns, that I thought, "Oh! Jimmy Bryant." I know his work with the equally nimble Speedy West. But somehow the name "Jimmy Bryant" was not what leapt off the cover. It is indisputably true that I do not "blog" anymore, but as this recording has such an obvious thematic connection to "Jimmy's Happy/Jimmy's Blue," a double LP I also found at The End of All Music and put forth for your examination in these pages (though that was a different Jimmy altogether), I thought it only proper to break my rule just this once. (Photo by Bill Boyle.)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Great Forgotten Baby Actors of Yesteryear

Pen came over and we watched BARRY LYNDON. I know I don't "blog" anymore but after going on and on about the great baby performance in SUSAN SLADE how could I not correct my long and shameful silence on the subject of the great baby performance in BARRY LYNDON? This baby is very interested in the conversation that Barry Lyndon is having with his mom! And furthermore this baby is clear on his or her motivation in the scene. This baby wants some porridge! What are these people talking about that is so important that it is preventing this baby from getting some porridge? Such is the query brought forth by this baby's thoughtful and layered performance. And now I find I am compelled to mention for the present record the equally fine performance by the baby actor in ROCKY II. As the thought occurred to me at the height of my noble quest to stop "blogging," I merely "tweeted" ("click" here) that the baby in ROCKY II was the Spencer Tracy of baby actors, a remark that has stood the test of time.