Monday, November 28, 2011

How It Happened, How It Didn't

Memory's saboteur
When instant replay was introduced to television sports in the late 1950s and 60s, the technology was crude, wet-film delay or sketchy videotape in slow-motion—we've all seen the jerky, blurry footage in vintage ABC Wide World of Sports clips.  Instant replay didn't demonstrably improve for a decade or more.  Now digital recording of sporting events stored on and retrieved from a complex arrangement of high-speed video servers allows for frame-by-frame replay in crisp, vivid increments; a moment, allowed to unfold in 1s and 0s, lasts for several high-def seconds, or is still-paused into razor-sharp infinity as commentators on television, and foaming hordes at home in their living rooms, argue for the head of the first baseman or the wide receiver—or umpire or referee. What fascinates me about instant replay is this paradox: it offers evidence of an event that didn't happen.


That is, it didn't happen in that way.  The receiver dropped the pass, yeah, and the pass had been tipped by the defender.  But with the technological hindsight of instant replay, the tipped football appears to hover in the air softly, nearly demurely, as it drifts, slightly off its initial trajectory, toward the receiver's gloved hands.  How'd he drop that? we scream.  I coulda caught that!  What's he getting, 3 mil a year to drop passes!?  Watch the play unfold again in real time (an opportunity offered by a responsible broadcast crew) and you see how smash-crash rapidly the play actually occurred.  What appear as moments during which the football stays aloft—so pluckable, like ripe fruit!—are actually seconds.  We know this, of course, but replay is seductive, manipulating us into believing something else.  The reality of the play—a tipped football that had been fired through a complex moving defense aimed at a man running a cross route thirty yards from the quarterback amidst a roar of 75,000 fans—metamorphoses via replay into a reality that we like to believe is a more accurate version of reality, when in fact it's an illusion, a meaningful event that—rendered, re-told, scrutinized—has lost meaning.  The past, yes, but slowed, studied, narratively rendered into new truth, yet false.


We replay a memory in much the same way—it happened, it didn't.  What can instant replay produce but an incident rendered gigantic, surreal, impossible?  (The ball between Buckner's legs, the obvious safe runner called out.). When we replay pivotal memories, across days or decades, we run them through the instant replay machine, elongating time, revisiting in vivid, sometimes crushing, sometimes joyous details a hyper-realistic rendering of story, pausing, rewinding, lurching forward again, replacing reality, screaming in anguish or joy at the high screen of memory. I should've kissed her!  I could've walked away!  We're recalling in re-made realism, a moment made mythic by a hundred replays, where time and space have grown impossibly, where the randomness and chaos of living is given a burdensome etiology: a new cause and effect transposed from a micro-second to a wide, painterly canvas, deliberated upon.  Between those lengthened moments new details may move in, shifting what's there already.  How it happened, how it didn't.

UPDATE:  the folks at the MIT Media Lab have developed a camera that captures a trillion frames per second. Gulp.

Image of first commercial instant replay deck from 1967 via CED Magic.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Hundred Years Ago...or, the Square Pancake

There was little that penetrated my sleepiness most mornings that particularly vaporous summer of 1987; I'd begun working for a local temporary agency which staffed Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. libraries with part-time workers.  These are institutions often desperately short of help, I was soberly informed, and this service provides necessary and rewarding staff-assistance that....

What I wasn't told until later by Mandy, Telesec's pleasant Placement Director, was that the work was, of course, tedious and mind-numbing. My initial job site was the first of many austere and wholly-foreign tax libraries I was to wander into over the next couple of summers: I was the anonymous young temp one might notice after lunch hour, toiling in a sterile, chalky cubicle to alphabetize the Library of Congress book order-forms, or organizing a more efficient system of routing periodicals to the partners and junior-partners, or setting to the task of refiling the multiplying government dockets received each Monday morning from Capital Hill.

The money was good. And, to be fair, Telesec was consistently good to me during meager summers, and on occasion landed me the rare, offbeat-and-interesting job: for instance, heading a team of motley temps at the Museum of Natural History’s staff library hired expressly to merge that mammoth institution’s entire Library of Congress and Dewey catalogs, I was able to peruse the first, original copy of National Geographic with my very hands (although I probably was not allowed to). When I held, shaking and somewhat fearful, that first issue, history—and its history—became a tangible presence, the returning of the past to me. The pages felt thick, abstruse, as if the past had deepened itself into the fabric of the page much as personality can deepen into character, and character into wisdom. I remember feeling a funny blend of excitement, nerdiness, and fear, less that I'd be reprimanded by supervisor (unlikely, as she rarely left her tiny metal desk in the back) than that I'd be teased by my fellow temps, whose highlights of the day involved ascribing different girls names to the endless trucks of books that thundered off of the dumb waiters, and stinging games of Rubber Band Wars, of which I sometimes found myself in the middle, dodging rocketing rubber bands in the stacks. Their teasing would've been good-natured; we were adults, after all (save one colleague whose single burst of inspiration my way came when he mournfully informed me, concerning vexing women, "It's a poor soul who's only got one hole."). But I felt that they would've found my excitement curious, at best.

Many years later, I think about holding a relic. That issue of National Geographic was nearly a century old when I held it in my hands. Try as I might to resist the simultaneous temptations of sentimentalizing the past and frowning at the present, I can't help but feel that a century twenty-five years ago might feel like a millennium now. I'm sure each generation bemoans, or at least takes note of, the speed of its present versus the languor of its past, perhaps without value judgement, but things are radically faster now than at any point in human history, and the past recedes at lightning speed. Of course, the older one gets, the further into the past the past vanishes; though not news, this still rankles. I was young when I held that issue in my hands: my childhood ended the month before; adolescence just a week later; I didn't have a whole lot of perspective yet. But I sensed the gravity of perspective, of distance, before I could adequately essay it.


Record Store Day is an internationally celebrated 24-hour window into the past. "The original idea," says the official website, "was conceived by Chris Brown, and was founded in 2007 by Eric Levin, Michael Kurtz, Carrie Colliton, Amy Dorfman, Don Van Cleave and Brian Poehner as a celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the USA, and hundreds of similar stores internationally. This is the one day that all of the independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music. Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day and hundreds of artists in the United States and in various countries across the globe make special appearances and performances." The organizers add: "A Record Store Day participating store is defined as a retailer whose main primary business focuses on a physical store location, whose product line consists of at least 50% music retail, whose company is not publicly traded and whose ownership is at least 70% located in the state of operation.  (In other words, we’re dealing with real, live, physical, indie record stores—not online retailers or corporate behemoths)."

My personal honoring of Record Store Day was tempered a bit with the loss of Record Revolution, DeKalb's great, locally-owned, long-standing holdout against corporate behemoths, a place where I could still buy records and replace/refill my Discwasher D4+ vinyl cleaner kit. The shop closed up a couple of years ago, but I frequent the record stores in Chicago as often as I can. At the risk of sounding sentimental (too late), I miss holding vinyl. Of course I'm not alone in this, and sales of vinyl are improving, and many of my twenty-something students are purchasing vinyl beyond gestures in hipster irony, and the DJ culture never turned its back on the 12-inch. Hey I bought a 45 single two days ago! But the golden age of vinyl is finished. History: Christmas mornings with album-sized gifts under the tree, or the requisite joke come birthdays: "I got you a square pancake!"As with the slow vanishing of any cultural artifact into obsolescence, there's sadness and melancholy to wrestle with, but there's also a necessary girding for an inevitable future: this too shall pass, man up. It doesn't really matter, and I'll say it again: I miss holding vinyl, I miss the size of albums, humorously huge now, less against CDs than invisible mp3 files. I miss the art, lo and hi, of cover canvases, I miss peeling away the shrink wrap—and I can still smell the insides of my favorite record stores growing up, from Kemp Mill Records and Backstreet Records in Wheaton, Maryland, to Yesterday and Today in Rockville to Record and Tape Exchange in College Park....

What I miss, I think, is heft. Ballast. Thinginess, stuff in my hands, tangibility. Which generation will be the last to grow up with turntables in their house? Not my nephews' and nieces'—their parents have albums and stereos boxed up in the attic or basement; will their children's generation scoff at turntables the way mine scoffed at hand-cranked phones? I don't know that the vinyl album will ever go the way of the first issue of National Geographic—storied, antique, archival, important enough—but someday somewhere a kid might hold the last produced vinyl edition of an album, until albums too disappear, and he'll feel the mourned weight of something that he won't be able to name. But all of this sentimentality and misty-eyed longing: what is the use, where is the news?

Image of first issue of National Geographic (1888) via Cover Browser

Friday, November 25, 2011


"Why is what we feel less true than what is?", Lauren Slater

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Like a Birthmark

From Robert Vivian's new The Least Cricket Of Evening:

"Walking With Marisa"
If all ages are equidistant from God, as Leopold von Ranke once said, then the opposite is also true: every age is also equidistant from evil, to good submerged and surrounded by the ether of chaos and emptiness. When I made this connection in some winding back alley of Krakow, I realized that I myself was implicated in this chaos and felt the reality of my own darkness flow by in a strong current of pettiness, self-interest, fear, and loathing. How troubling these careening realizations, the stark and brutal truth that no one is off the hook, that it is in fact deeply lodged like a birthmark in every person's jawbone from the start, the first and foremost ache that makes everyone capable of good and evil.
"The Fog Sleepers"
I remember coming to this part of the country long ago when I was six, standing eye-level at my uncle's pool table as the adults played cards at another table. The sun was a mellow, golden light, filling each window with a chardonnay hue at summer twilight. I can still sip that light if I am faithful enough, if I cleave to it with a keening heart. The table was an ocean of green, and I felt then that the surfaces of everything in the house—tables, chairs, afghans, crumpled envelopes—were charged with an energy deeper than anything I could name, the tangible eternity deeper than things. Dust motes floated in a sea of light as the adults' laughter gave them shape outside the boundaries of time. They drifted by like keyholes to other places where lives entered and vanished. I was standing in the middle of a human stream shaped by voices, and did not understand.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thoughts on "Drafting the Beast"

I've written a short piece for the Bellingham Review blog about the inspiration for and writing experience of my recent short short:
In “Drafting the Beast” I essay the feral body. That body contains light, and can speak in sounds familiar to the speaker but also foreign. When I’d walk into our air-conditioned house as a kid, I’d step between and among all of these identities that the body owns, and imagines, slipping from wild to suburban, from animal to human, and back again.

Image of suburbia via WeHeartIt

Friday, November 18, 2011

Some Kinda Fun: Norton Records 25th Anniversary

Miriam Linna, detonating

The Bell House in Brooklyn hosted four days and nights of boozy, wiggy, wild rawk and roll, and I was thrilled to be in the middle of it all.  The occasion was the 25th Anniversary of venerable Norton Records, husband-and-wife Billy Miller's and Miriam Linna's Brooklyn-based record label nobly devoted to unearthing, issuing, and extolling decades worth of obscure rock and roll, rockabilly, and R&B in its primal state: simple, fun, funny, and raucous.

I flew into LaGuardia on Friday morning, regrettably missing Black Lips, Phantom Surfers, 5,6,7,8's, Dexter Romweber, and others on opening night. When I arrived at the Bell House in the late afternoon, rendezvousing with Ken of the Fleshtones and his girlfriend Vibeke of the Twistaroos, I was struck by the homey ambiance of the place.  Billy and Miriam chose well, the venue's front room decked out like a vintage rec room, with Christmas tree lights and candles and lots of comfortable couches and chairs, a long bar flanking one wall.  Norton merch—a sizable catalog of LPs, 7-inches, and CDs, and also books and comics and t-shirts and posters (and Nick Tosches' perfume, which I finally snagged)—was hawked in the middle corridor, which opened through two sets of swinging doors to the main room with a large stage, and two more bars.  The Bell House operates from a converted warehouse—the grimy five-block walk to my hotel located many more warehouses and loft spaces ripe for re-dos—and the owners have maximized their use of the space: a lot goes on at the Bell House, but it never feels crowded or cramped.  The weekend was a nightly 7 to 3 am roar of basic rock and roll and celebratory good vibes.  I ran into many old friends—a few of whom I'd only known virtually—and met a handful of great people for the first time (including one of the festival MCs Tom Kenny, aka the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, who, it turns out, is a longtime fan of the Fleshtones and who read and dug Sweat).  There was good local grub served outside from a cart and good local beer served inside.


Greg Cartwright in the front room
I didn't need to move into the main ballroom to witness two great shows: Andy Shernoff and Greg Cartwright each played solo in the front room, Shernoff twice.  Cartwright was his usual intense, moody, bracingly melodic self, a dark porkpie hat atop his head, his eyes-behind-shades turned down at his guitar for every song, as if he was really singing to the instrument and the link that it is among his head, heart, and the tortured world.  He barely spoke between numbers—he barely broke his cross-legged sitting position, for that matter—letting his desperate romantic tunes voice everything that needed to be said.  I'd fly a thousand miles for this man's chord changes.  I'm a fan.

Andy Shernoff (with Tricia Scotti)
I hadn't seen Andy Shernoff's acoustic gigs—for a while now he's been a Wednesday-night regular at Lakeside Lounge in the East Village where he debuts new songs and plays rearranged versions of old Dictators (and a couple Master Plan) tunes.  Surprisingly, Shernoff's tailor-made for the "folk singer" gig, as he waggishly dubs it, his tall frame commanding and his stories fantastic: the man has nearly forty years of New York borough rock and roll history to draw from, and his reminiscences of his old band's bumps along the Punk Rock Road and of friends along the way, most notably, and sadly, Joey Ramone and his spirit and demise, are funny, touching, and delivered as part Jewish standup/part hardened punk traveller.  He was accompanied by the harp-playing frontman of Brooklyn's Daddy Long Legs (who also played at the festival) and Tricia Scotti, whose sweet-voice and subtle percussion warmed the songs.  These gigs allow Shernoff to showcase his songs' melodies that were sometimes hidden beneath his band's bluster.  Musical history lessons, great stuff. And funny, too.


Jackie and the Cedrics
Fenders, Gretchs, Gibsons, Vox organs, three chords, a little go-go dancing....

A few highlights among many: Cartwright's Reigning Sound were fantastic, stomping and passionate and soulful as always.  Jackie and the Cedrics were showmen of the highest order, sharp-besuited Japanese purveyors of surf.  The Randy Fuller Four surprised me: Fuller is Bobby Fuller's brother and bass player in the original Five, and he teamed up with Deke Dickerson of Untamed Youth.  This was a one-off lineup for the festival, I'm pretty sure, and it worked beautifully: Bobby Fuller's songs are so good that they bounced along like candy, Fuller's game but somewhat tuneless voice failing to drain away the sweetness.  Untamed Youth were a riot: Missouri via So Cal garage surf, mania heightened by a dance-off between band members Steve Rager and Chris “Sugarballs” Sprague, bass player Mace's beer infatuation which culminated in a shower of suds, Andy Shernoff joining the band to belt UT's "unofficial anthem," the Dictators' "Cars and Girls," and Dickerson's

The Hentchmen
shit-eating grin and fabulous Fender guitar playing. Detroit's Hentchmen were great, throwing chords together and gang-singing and continuing, amazingly, to sound like no other band around.  The A-Bones played the last night, and by then both Miller and Linna were pretty exhausted, though that didn't stop them from stomping it up with their old pals as best they could.  Things were ratcheted up at the end of the set when the Flamin' Groovies' Cyril Jordan and Roy Loney, who'd been hanging around Bell House all weekend and had earlier hit the stage with Daddy Long Legs, joined the A-Bones for rips through "Shake Some Action," "Tallahassee Lassie," "Slow Death," and "Teenage Head," the title of which Loney was quick to credit to the infamous Kim Fowley, the ghostly MC who looked like he'd been imported from a David Lynch film (Fowley's presence was odd: historic and iconoclastic, but creepy; more on him in a future post.  Maybe.).  These are classic rock & roll songs, and among my very favorites; to hear them muscled through with panache and grins by their legendary, infamous authors backed by longtime friends and supporters (and fans), was something else, and reason enough to be there.

Billy Miller, enthusing
There were a few missteps: there might have been too many bands, frankly; South Bay Surfers were a joke that wore thin quickly, a consciously inept surf band that tried too hard to be funny by playing lousy versions of conventional songs.  And I might've selected either Mark Sultan or Bloodshot Bill.  Both are supremely talented, intense guitarist-one-man bands, aural equivalents to runway trains threatening to derail, but they overlapped a bit in sound and spirit.  And I can't fault the legendary Sonics for writing and adding new songs to their stunning catalogue of garage classics, but their new material is pretty generic relative to "Strychnine," "Boss Hoss," "He's Waiting," etc., and unfortunately dialed back the intensity of their standards, which were driving and pounding and confident, delivered by graying men who looked like Michael Gross in Family Ties. And who claimed to have written "The Witch" when they were sixteen.  Fantastic.

But these are quibbles.  The fabulous, obscure, LOUD rock and roll songs spun by the DJs between bands all weekend made Norton 25 a veritable soundtrack of the past half century of greasy rock and roll.


Me and Miriam L
Watching all of these historic, sometimes ignored, always sincere rock and roll bands, I wished that I'd tried to get into a band when I was younger, and if so that I'd have been good enough, committed, road-tested, tireless, in for the fun not the pay, willing to be forgotten.  But I was more than happy to stand on the outside, with my friends, looking in: the friendly, warm environment that Billy Miller and Miriam Linna created—a vibe originating from their love of rock and roll, their shared sense of humor and style, their reverence of rock and roll history, and their love for each other—encouraged musicians and fans alike to wander around, beers and in hand, mingle, meet, enthuse, smile, laugh, folks in their 50s and folks in their 20s, the walls between players and fans gone for good.  As it should be.

Congrats to Billy, Miriam, and all of the hard-working people, present and past, at Norton Records.  See you at the 50th.


Wild weekend...

Untamed Youth
Cyril Jordan + the A-Bones
Mark Sultan
Some kinda fun!
Randy Fuller

More Facebook pics here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

We Me You, Ctd

We rarely criticize a novel or short story for featuring characters who engage in plausible situations with realistic motives, who interact with characters in dramatic ways, who balance belief and skepticism, and who essay their lives for meaning and value.  We praise the work of fiction that manages, in an artful, entertaining way, to pull this off.  Why do some insist on undervaluing autobiographical writing that manages to do the same thing: feature a persona who engages in plausible situations with realistic motives, who interacts with characters in dramatic ways, who balances belief and skepticism, and who essays his or her life for meaning and value?

We love memorable fictional characters who are rendered in the first-person.  (Name your favorite here.)  One of the magic tricks of this first-person perspective is that the reader gets more bang for his buck: two stories at once! The story being narrated, and the story of the effect of the story on the narrator.  This happens in well-written autobiography, as well.  Why the denigration, the roll-eye, at this first-person narrator?

We rarely criticize a novel or short story for being about life in all of its complexity, its joys and sorrows.  Autobiography or memoir that aspires to art is not simply somebody writing about himself: it's somebody writing about being human.  Criticize that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Write Me

Over at Pubmission, the editors run a weekly writing exercise.  This week in "Parroting Toward Voice" followers are asked to rewrite one of my paragraphs from "Into The Fable" from Brevity using the voice of a writer or writers they admire:
I think we find our voice by copying the voices of others. In the same manner that we take on the speech patterns of our best friends, that we try to listen to the same music as our older siblings, that we wear the clothes of the people we think are cool, as writers we imitate the writers we admire until something golden and new emerges.
I'm grateful for this opportunity to see my voice translated.  And I'm curious. Here's hoping someone takes a shot at channelling Alison BechdelLester Bangs?  Danielle Steele?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Norton Records Celebrates 25

This should be historic.  And lots of fun.  Silver anniversary of the hard (and fun!) work Billy Miller and Miriam Linna have legged at the venerable Norton Records.

In addition to the festivities below, Andre Williams will read from his Kicks Book title, Andy Shernoff and Greg Cartwright will give solo acoustic gigs, and MCs and DJs galore will spin undoubtedly wiggy wild rawk.

Recap and pics to come.

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Drafting the Beast"

I have a short short in the inaugural online edition of Bellingham Review.  Here's the first paragraph:
In a backyard in Wheaton, Maryland, I thrust my hand into some sand. I lift out my hand, fingers splayed. Delicate as powder. A silt of the imagination lingers on skin stretched over bone, a ramshackle draft of the x-ray machine: how bone appears. Late morning splinters all around this discovery.
You can read other short forms from a host of writers here.

ADDENDUM: I've written a short about the inspiration behind "Drafting the Beast" here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Charlie Watts is the Coolest

It's unwise to imagine too deeply about strangers' lives, particularly famous millionaire rock star strangers who offer carefully cultivated personae for consumption. But like so many others, I've had a deep interest in and fascination with the kind of public life that Charlie Watts lives, or the ways in which I interpret that life, anyway. Watts is cool for a lot of reasons, primarily for the weariness he exhibits, in nearly every mumbled interview, with the silliness of fame and rock & roll excesses. I've written before about seeing the Rolling Stones at Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, on the 1981 Tattoo You tour. I had second-row seats and my view of Watts was close and clear. When I wasn't marvelling at his booming snare shots that seemed to drag slightly behind the beat via his snapping wrist-and-forearm, I was getting off on his bored appearance—an utterly absurd visage amidst such a rock & roll spectacle as Mick Jagger in the cherry-picker and Keith Richards' onstage love-affair with his bourbon. At one point, Bill Wyman or Jagger turned back to look at Watts during a song, and Watts responded with a mordant eye-roll. It was hilarious stuff, and I intuited at the moment that Watts wasn't taking any of this very seriously, and that made the fun somehow more fun.

Over the years I convinced myself that I'd seen a variation of that eye-roll in a late-70s/early-80s era Stones video; I searched the band's promos from Some Girls through Tattoo You, but couldn't find it. I saw plenty of bored Charlie, but not that blasé eye-roll, until I was directed by Molly McDonald in a piece at The Millions to the video for "Worried About You," which I'd somehow missed. These weren't the nonchalant moments I'd mythologized in my imagination, and the caps really don't do Watts' countenance justice, but still:
Are you kidding?
Gimme a break.
There's the Charlie I (don't really) know and love. But there's more that's boss about Watts than his seeming impatience with the trappings of adolescent rock & roll. There's his loyalty to the band. In the documentary 25 x 5: The Continuing Adventures of the Rolling Stones, he quipped dryly on the band's golden anniversary: "Five years playing and twenty years waiting around."  But he's apparently ready whenever Mick and Keith say "we're hitting the road." Not that this sense of duty hasn't been tested—certainly in myriad private, out-of-public ways, and notoriously in the oft-told tale of Watts laying out a drunk Jagger in the latter's hotel room, at some point in the 1980s; Jagger had haughtily demanded to know "where my drummer is" and upon learning of this bidding, Watts carefully put on one of his dapper suits, walked to Jagger's room, and knocked him over the bed onto his ass, declaring that Jagger is Watts' singer, not the other way around. This incident occurred during a murky era for Watts when he was struggling with drinking and heroin addiction. He's rarely talked about his abuses in public (another cool notch in our era of compulsive disclosure).

Then there's the fidelity to his wife, Shirley, to whom he's been married since 1964. That is, pre-fame. I have no idea whether the stories are true about Watts' monogamy, but I'd love it if they were. For decades, he's drawn a detailed sketch of every bed in every hotel room in which he's stayed, rather than go out partying and philandering; during an early 1970s tour he infamously hung out in the pinball room at the L.A. Playboy Mansion for days while everyone else, bands and hangers on alike, were prowling and whoring it up. There's a terrific interview with Watts from 1993 with Matt Lauer on the show Later. A relaxed and relatively talkative Watts was promoting a tour of the Charlie Watts Quintet, one of his on-again/off-again side jazz combos, and was a month or so away from rejoining the Stones for sessions that would result in Voodoo Lounge. At one point in the interview, Lauer, obviously attempting to quell his fandom and be professional, talks excitedly to Watts about the first couple of Stones tours in the United States in 1964.

"You'd be met at the airport by hundreds of screaming women!" Lauer gushed.

"Girls," Watts respectfully corrected him.

It's one of my favorite Watts moments. In a single word he gently reminds Lauer of the essential adolescent shallowness of much of the rock & roll game, without betraying its obvious excitement and appeal to those of us on the outside looking in. It was a mature rejoinder from a mature man who's been married for 46 years and who still plays a great rock & roll backbeat. Watts admits to loving playing with his mates, but still dreads packing and leaving his home and his woman. And oh all of that silliness that comes with it.

Here's an interview from 1976 with Watts (and Bill Wyman) where he describes, among other road woes, the misery of closing that hotel room door behind him:


NEWS FLASH: Charlie Watts "very pleasantly surprised" that Shine A Light wasn't boring.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Frisbee's on the Roof

There's no greater emblem for suburban futility than a Frisbee on the roof.  You're playing with a friend, enjoying the sun and the breeze, when an errant toss and a wind gust conspire against the afternoon: Frisbee's on the roof, man.  Step back to the furthest edge of the yard and crane your neck and peer at it, if you can see it, and you know that the day's possibilities have been foreshortened not only by the mishap but my your youth, your size, the fascistic insistence of parents, older people, necessary people.  The sun seems to be disappearing too quickly.  You have to wait for your dad to get the ladder.  You're too small or scared to get it yourself.  You wait.  You'll have to wait.  But isn't there always a cooler kid—or maybe it's your friend who's cool, suddenly—who'll get the ladder, laughing wide-eyed as he wrestles it out of the garage or the backyard, it's impossibly heavy, and your chest tingles; or he climbs a tree and lunges dangerously for the roof, and inside you're excited for the outcome, this nerve against adults, oh man the possibilities!  Or you simply wait.  Where's the memoir written by that cool kid with the nerve to step into Grownupland?  I want to read that account, see how it's been tempered, or reduced, or elevated, or exaggerated by the passage of time and the scars borne of dutiful citizenship in Adultville.  Where's that kid now?  I need him.

Frisbee On The Roof via BrianKaneOnline.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Private Screening with the Mind's Eye

Like many, I've long fantasized about a machine that records my dreams.  My imagined device—in visions consistently corny and unscientific since childhood—features electrodes affixed to my head which reads and transmits my dreams, and then records them onto a video player.  In the morning, all I have to do is unhook the electrodes, press rewind, maybe grab some popcorn if I've had a particularly rip-roaring dream or two, and press play.  This would be amazing, and this would be horrid.  I'm afraid of what I might have dreamed and forgotten: who knows what might have lurked in the deep canyons of my imagination that night, lurid or embarrassing fantasies let loose during REM sleep but thankfully repressed upon waking.  I'd have to have a private screening before I'd let anyone else see.

According to some U.S. researchers, we might be closer than we think to recording dreams, in theory, a least.  Writing in Nature, Dr. Moran Cerf has said his team has "developed a system capable of recording higher-level brain activity." The aim of Cerf's project is "to develop a system that would enable psychologists to corroborate people's recollections of their dream with an electronic visualisation" of brain activity:
He admits that there is a very long way to go before this simple observation can be translated into a device to record dreams—a "dream catcher." But he thinks it is a possibility—and he said he would like to try.
     The next stage is to monitor the brain activity of the volunteers when they are sleeping.
     The researchers will only be able to identify images or concepts that correlate with those stored on their database. But this data base could in theory be built up—by for example monitoring neuronal activity while the volunteer is watching a film.
     Dr. Roderick Oner, a clinical psychologist and dream expert, believes that while this kind of limited visualisation might be of academic interest, it will not really help in the interpretation of dreams or be of use in therapy.
     "For that you need the entire complex dream narrative," he said.
     Another difficulty with the technique is that to get the kind of resolution needed to monitor individual neurons, subjects had to have electrodes surgically implanted deep inside their brain.
     In the Nature study, the researchers obtained their results by studying patients who had electrodes implanted to monitor and treat them for brain seizures. 
Electrodes surgically implanted deep inside the brain?  Gulp.  In my childhood fantasy the electrodes were simply taped onto my forehead, as in all gullible movies featuring earnest scienticians. The article continues: "By showing volunteers a series of images, Dr. Cerf and his colleagues were able to identify neurons for a wide range of objects and concepts—which they used to build up a database for each patient. These included Bill and Hilary Clinton, the Eiffel Tower and celebrities" (including Marilyn Monroe, of whom an intellectual conjuring apparently lit up a certain neuron in the brain.  I bet.).  The ability to correlate one's dream imagery with the storehouse of public imagery, of course, is as limited as the storehouse itself, and who's in charge of what images get into—or are banned from—the storehouse?  An "entire complex dream narrative" would indeed be the Holy Grail.  And just as elusive.


This morning I awoke having dreamed of being terribly ill with the flu, of getting lost while driving in Washington D.C. (where my car turned into a bicycle, and vice versa, and where the roads morphed from two-lane width to alley-width with no warning); and of keeping pet monkeys in my back yard.  All fun stuff.  I would've loved to have seen those monkeys again!  The babies fit right into the palm of my hand!  I think.  As is the case with most dreams, the moment I awoke, the gradual, then rapid, fading of the REM celluloid began.  I started to then re-imagine what I dreamed; when describing the dreams to Amy just minutes after waking, I was unsure as to details, the order of events, and was as likely inserting and re-purposing details as I was recalling them.  A video recording of these dreams might be interesting to watch, or it might be disappointing.  My monkeys-in-the-backyard dream might've been simply two or three momentary narrative images, not an entire raucous story.  And that dream of getting lost in D.C., my modes of transport suspect, at best?  That might reveal far more to me than I want to admit of how my intense homesickness for the East Coast has shaped me, an voluntary/involuntary exile in the Midwest.  Right there on the big screen.

Much of the emotional power in dreaming is rooted in our having forgotten them.  There's some grieving there, especially if the dream was a pleasant one, or an intensely joyous one—visiting with a long-gone loved one; revisiting some childhood idyll.  But I think that the inevitable, crushing fade of those dreams encourages us to overcompensate in the re-telling: it's gone, we say, and man it must've been something.  As in  memories, we sometimes mistake loss for content, a vanishing, or an erosion, with substance.  Maybe the dream was simply silly, stupid, nonsensical, a blind alley.  Maybe that memory I cherish from so long ago is similarly constructed: given misleading gravitas through my stubborn insistence that it matters simply because I've lost it.

Dreaming image via Refined Minds.