Sunday, April 05, 2020

Escape to the Shakespeare Garden

Well after three weeks of virtually no exercise, I had to get out. I went to the Shakespeare Garden in Central Park. While I was inside, spring had sprung.
















Saturday, March 21, 2020

Carnival of Light



How is it possible I have never heard of this until yesterday? If it wasn't for French in Action I may have gone to my grave never knowing about this.

According to Wikipedia:
"Carnival of Light" is an unreleased avant-garde recording by the English rock band the Beatles. It was commissioned for the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, an event held at the Roundhouse in London on 28 January and 4 February 1967. Recorded during a session for "Penny Lane", "Carnival of Light" is nearly 14 minutes long and contains distorted, echo-laden sounds of percussion, keyboards, guitar and vocals. Its creation was initiated by Paul McCartney's interest in the London avant-garde scene and through his connection with the designers Binder, Edwards & Vaughan. 
Since the event, "Carnival of Light" has rarely been heard, and does not circulate on bootlegs. For McCartney, the piece came to hold significance in his efforts to be recognised as the first Beatle to fully engage with the avant-garde, over a year before John Lennon recorded "Revolution 9". In 1996, McCartney tried to release the track on the Beatles' Anthology 2 compilation, but its inclusion was vetoed by his former bandmates. The tape was confirmed by McCartney to be in his possession in 2008. As of 2016, he was still considering the track's release.
I've been a fan of the Beatles since I was fourteen and I have never ever heard of this before.

And I found it while falling down the Internet rabbit hole. I find the Wikipedia article about Carnival of Light from another Wiki article about raves and which mentions it in passing:
Presaging the word's subsequent 1980s association with electronic music, the word "rave" was a common term used regarding the music of mid-1960s garage rock and psychedelia bands (most notably The Yardbirds, who released an album in the United States called Having a Rave Up). Along with being an alternative term for partying at such garage events in general, the "rave-up" referred to a specific crescendo moment near the end of a song where the music was played faster, more heavily and with intense soloing or elements of controlled feedback. It was later part of the title of an electronic musicperformance event held on 28 January 1967 at London's Roundhouse titled the "Million Volt Light and Sound Rave". The event featured the only known public airing of an experimental sound collage created for the occasion by Paul McCartney of The Beatles – the legendary Carnival of Light recording.[16]
I came upon the rave article from a Wiki on MMDA (aka ecstasy and Molly) and I come to that article from one about sassafras - apparently MMDA is made from an essential oil found in sassafras, which was once an important ingredient in rootbeer which also contains anise, which is an ingredient in pastis, which a character in French in Action drinks in one episode.

And that's how I finally heard of Carnival of Light. 

I thought I knew every interesting thing there was to know about the Beatles.

It's amazing it's never been bootlegged, and you can't hear it although McCartney still has a copy and tried to get it into the Beatles Anthology. I mean, you can hear A Toot and a Snore in 74, why can't you hear Carnival of Light?

There are four tracks and I would love to especially hear the third:

eatles historian Mark Lewisohn was granted access to the completed recording of "Carnival of Light" while compiling his 1988 book The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions.[22] He outlined the contents of the four-track tape:
  • Track one: "distorted, hypnotic drum and organ sounds"
  • Track two: "a distorted lead guitar"
  • Track three: "the sounds of a church organ, various effects (water gargling was one) and voices ... perhaps most intimidating of all, John and Paul screaming dementedly and bawling aloud random phrases like 'Are you alright?' and 'Barcelona!'"
  • Track four: "various indescribable sound effects with heaps of echo and manic tambourine"[23]
The piece concludes with McCartney asking the studio engineer in an echo-soaked voice, "Can we hear it back now?"[21] Lewisohn wrote that a rough mono mix was given to Vaughan,[4] while Miles stated that the mixdown had "full stereo separation".[17] After completing the session, according to engineer Geoff Emerick, Martin said: "This is ridiculous. We've got to get our teeth into something constructive."[2] Emerick wrote that Lennon's "Barcelona" yell and other "bits and pieces" from the "Carnival of Light" session were later recycled for "Revolution 9", the sound collage Lennon recorded with Yoko Ono in June 1968.[24]





Thursday, March 19, 2020

The New Yorker April 17, 1926

The New Yorker from April 1926
This cover of the New Yorker from April 1926 does not look like it was created in 1926. I might have believed 1966 but even more 1996 or 2016. It's not only the clean lines and the appearance of the woman drinking with a straw, it's that bright pink, which seems so contemporary, rather than from a decade before my mother was born.

When this cover was printed, few people knew who Hitler was, and nobody knew what atomic bombs or TV or penicillin were, let alone laptop computers and blogging and Wikipedia.

The artist is Clayton Knight, who had a busy life - he was a WWI aviator before he became an artist.
Then he created the Clayton Knight Committee to prepare to fight the Axis while the US was still neutral in the beginning of WWII. So it wasn't only his illustration work that was forward-looking.

In spite of its cover, the inside of the issue is believably from 1926. It features a profile of F. Scott Fitzgerald and family which, although "The Great Gatsby" had been published a year before, does not mention the book once, while it mentions "This Side of Paradise" several times. This must have been the last time Fitzgerald was profiled without Gatsby being mentioned.


The author of the New Yorker piece keeps raving about how attractive Fitzgerald is, but I don't see it. Certainly his center-parted 1920s hair style did him no favors.




The rest of the issue is very much from 94 years ago, with reviews of silent movies and inexplicable humor. I've written about the New Yorker magazine many times on this blog, and back in 2010 I wrote about incomprehensible examples of humor of the time. Unfortunately the cartoons are no longer visible in the blog post, I deleted the original image files without thinking.

I found another example of comedic bafflement in this April 1926 issue. The caption reads:
"Tripe? Oh, I'm mad about trip!" "Me too. I always say I'd do almost anything for a bit o'tripe."
 It's by an artist named Peter Arno who was an important contributor to the New Yorker's early tone. This cartoon is apparently the first appearance of what became "The Whoops Sisters" described in a Vanity Fair article about Arno:
The Whoops Sisters are two middle-aged foulmouths, later named Pansy Smiff and Abagail Flusser, who spout double entendres (“Whoops, I lost me muff!”) as they stumble about tipsy in New York, with their bloomers visible to appalled young men. In a 1927 appearance, the sisters gleefully toboggan through a cemetery, shouting, “Whoops! Mind the tombstone!”
Dorothy Parker was an enthusiastic fan of the Whoops Sisters, which her disapproving friend Edmund Wilson saw as an example of her “cruel and disgusting” sense of humor. But Parker had lots of company, including Benchley and Fitzgerald. Arno didn’t offer Prohibition tut-tutting about their drinking. He celebrated their rudeness. “These, even more than the introduction of the one-line joke, were the red, red revolutionists of the joke world,” Benchley wrote of them, finding the ladies “sinister” and “macabre,” and that, with their arrival, “fifty years of picturized joking in this country toppled over with a crash.”

So the remark about tripe is an example of their rudeness or it's a double entendre? I guess? Does "lost me muff" really count as a double entendre?

I noticed the cartoon because the rest of that issue, and every other issue of the New Yorker in the 1920s is crawling with flappers, and the Whoops sisters are wearing long frilly old-fashioned skirts. Which I guess makes sense, they're supposed to be middle-aged and flappers were young things.

French culture was a symbol of all things fancy in 1926, too, and another thing that jumped out at me in this issue was the conversation between a married couple in an ad for a shaving cream called Latherite.

The wife suggests the husband try her shaving cream and he says "Egad, has the day come when my spouse shall even prescribe my shaving cream for me?"

To which she responds in French, sans translation: "Ce n'est pas la pomme seulement, mon ange, qu'Eve peut offrir à son mari aujourd'hui!"

Which I am proud to say I was able to translate without cheating as "It is  not only the apple, my angel, that Eve can offer to her husband today."

Although why did she suddenly bust into French? Apparently that's what readers of The New Yorker would want. Below the conversation it says "Latherite will appeal especially to readers of The New Yorker because it's so refreshingly different. It contains lanolin, menthol...

Lanolin and menthol are standard ingredients in shaving cream now but maybe Latherite was a pioneer and at the time lanolin and menthol were refreshingly different. Just like throwing untranslated French into your advertisement I guess.

But I don't get the comparison of suggesting your husband try Latherite with Eve offering Adam the apple. Were lanolin and menthol subversive in 1926?





Wednesday, March 04, 2020

The magnificent Ambersons of Merchantville NJ - tiny theater world

More Ambersonian magnificence
So the patriarch of the magnificent Ambersons of Merchantville NJ is named Earl, and he is now a playwright.

Although his wife Roberta took an interest in my art career and my religious instruction, I don't have any memories of Earl and mainly know him as the dad who liked Monty Python and was in television.

I discovered a video on Youtube of a small-town culture event in which Earl reads an excerpt from one of his plays. He appears to be the Bard of Queen Anne's County Maryland now. And after the reading he is interviewed and reveals details about himself and other members of the Amberson clan.

He admits that before he was a Maryland resident he was from "New Joisey." The Garden State is a joke not only throughout the US but internationally, as I discovered when I saw a theater production in francophone Quebec City a couple of years ago.

When our orbits intersected, Mr. Amberson was not so much "in television" as making films related to the space program for General Electric - he even interviewed astronauts - and then he created his own film production company.

Earl provided an update on the Amberson children: "they're all over the place." One of his daughters was a dancer and married a French guy and lives in France. The other had a career in her twenties and thirties as an actor and is now a commercial real estate manager in New York. His youngest son has an interesting career: "rebuilds cabins - he takes apart old buildings and sells them to hippies and makes nice little houses out of them. All entrepreneurial."

I can't help but feel he slighted his eldest, Blake, perhaps unintentionally, in his description of his career: "my boys are not in the arts at all. My one boy is in computer design in Atlanta." Actually Blake's career is in video gaming, and gives his own Youtube interview about his work.

In his interview, Blake explains that he was working as a background musician for films and read something in a magazine about "non-linear entertainment" which inspired his current career. Blake looks very much like his father. They are alike in so many ways: both involved in arts/technology, involved in space programs, created theatrical productions and started their own businesses.

In spite of Blake's career in "computer design" I will always think of him as a musician. Right before I met him, when he was fifteen, he was the Mozart of Merchantville NJ, writing and performing his own original musical. I managed to track down an article about it from the Camden County Courier-Post. The article justifiably compares Blake's musical, "Enchantment," to the Christian-rock musicals of the time, "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Godspell":
The son of God, Alpha (played by Blake) visits Enchantment where people are allowed to do anything that makes them happy. Alpha tries to instill a sense of responsibility in the land and is falsely accused and crucified for his efforts.
Wow man, buzzkill. It was after all this that Lynn and I got a taste of evangelical eschatology courtesy of Blake's mom.

The article notes that Blake's parents had their own arts backgrounds, and Mrs. Amberson almost had her own children's TV show - I could really see that, she was so pretty and vivacious and personable. She could have been the Pixanne of Merchantville New Jersey.

After "Enchantment" Blake was briefly in a rock band with my then-boyfriend Dan, the band's guitarist. Blake was the keyboard player. Blake was the far more accomplished musician, but it's Dan who still has a musical career. On sait jamais comment les choses vont tourner.

Blake also had a brief professional relationship as a musician with Frank Zappa, which is very impressive both for the celebrity angle (unless you are my mother reading this, and you're not, you've heard of Frank Zappa), and for Zappa's musical sophistication.

Maybe that's why Blake's father describes his career as not involved in the arts at all. I suppose it is a long way from "Enchantment" and working with Zappa to video games. But I wouldn't say his career has nothing to do with the arts.

So Earl Amberson is a playwright now but in a weird coincidence, our playwriting careers overlapped. In his video interview he mentions he had an off-off Broadway production in 2011:
We were really lucky with the musical because the off-off Broadway was a real theater, walk into the lobby from the street kind of theater. And that theater was just in operation for about three years and we just hit it. We hit it right. And it was affordable... 
Right away I knew which theater he was talking about, but I looked it up to confirm. The musical is called Celluloid, produced by The Tank at  354 W. 45th Street.

Yes, it was the same theater in which I produced my adaptation of Jane Eyre in 2008.

I found Earl on Facebook and discovered we had a mutual friend - a theater person, of course. The theater world truly is a tiny world. And I guess in spite of my origins, I turned out not so different from the magnificent Ambersons of Merchantville New Jersey after all.

And I could still buy Amberthorne one day.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

The magnificent Ambersons of Merchantville NJ - A Thief in the Night

St. Cecilia statue, Pennsauken NJ
As I said, Mrs. Amberson didn't only take an interest in my career prospects.

About a year before she invited me over to discuss fashion design, my friend Lynn and I sat in on a Christian youth group meeting that was run by Mrs. Amberson.

The reason we were there was because Lynn and the oldest of the Amberson children, Blake, were a couple and I tagged along. There were a bunch of other teenagers there too, some from Pennsauken High but I didn't know them.

This was a Protestant youth group and Lynn and I were Catholic. In fact we met in Catholic school, Saint Cecilia's, when my family moved to Pennsauken.

I liked Saint Cecilia's much better than my former church, Our Lady of Fatima. In part because Saint Cecilia's was small and neat and right in the middle of a block in town. Fatima was set in its own large tract of land with big empty fields behind, which are now Parx Casino.

But even more because Our Lady of Fatima came with a creepy origin story which, unlike most Catholic myths, was relatively recent: the Our Lady of Fátima Marian apparitions in Portugal in 1917. The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in the fields (child labor laws not being all they should in 1917 Portugal) and she told them to pray for world peace, the "consecration of Russia to Immaculate Heart of Mary" and did tricks with the sun, a phenomenon called Miracle of the Sun:
According to accounts, after a period of rain, the dark clouds broke and the Sun appeared as an opaque, spinning disc in the sky. It was said to be significantly duller than normal, and to cast multicolored lights across the landscape, the people, and the surrounding clouds. The Sun was then reported to have careened towards the earth before zig-zagging back to its normal position
Two of the shepherd children died in the 1918 flu pandemic (which got several of my ancestors too) but one of them lived until 2005. The founder of Our Lady of Fatima in Bensalem, PA, Father John Griffin, was fanatically devoted to this mythology and we had to do an annual May Procession to honor it, which involved wearing white first holy communion dresses (for the girls anyway) and marching around in front of the church and standing for uncomfortably long stretches of time while Mass was said.

Saint Cecilia's parish didn't do processions, and they didn't dwell on the origin story of Saint Cecilia herself who, as the patron saint of music was pleasantly similar to an ancient Greek Muse. She was martyred in Ancient Rome, so was comfortably far in the ancient past, not from the same century like Fatima. And unlike most Catholic iconography the image of Saint Cecilia chosen by the Pennsauken parish did not involve torment or ghostly apparitions, but rather just a statue of the saint, standing thoughtfully, holding what I guess is a lyre. Nobody ever claimed to witness that statue crying, which you get a lot with Mary statues.

As a child I believed in all of it, from crying statues to zig-zagging suns. But gradually it dawned on me that the adults around me who claimed to believe the dogma of the Church, which holds that all of life is just a test to determine your ultimate eternal fate (heaven, hell or purgatory-then-heaven), didn't live as though they believed it. Then I began to have problems with the logic of the omniscient god concept and by twelve years old I was an atheist.

I don't know if Lynn told her parents we were going to a Protestant youth group meeting, or, if she did, if they cared. Once upon a time I guess it would have been a big deal, with the long history of Protestants and Catholics trying to kill each other, but by the time we were teenagers there was basically a pan-Christian truce, at least in the US.

I didn't tell my parents because they weren't all that interested in what I was up to most of the time, but maybe would have been glad I was doing anything church-related. My mother and I had already had a couple of literal fist-fights over my questioning of Catholic dogma and I was avoiding Sunday Mass (obligatory on pain of mortal sin, FYI) whenever I could.

Lynn and I showed up with a box of store-bought chocolate-chip cookies, the Archway brand (which is still around) and Lynn claimed they were baked by her "Aunt Archway" which those gullible Protestants believed until she finally confessed. I'm not sure why Lynn brought any food, I'd think they would be serving us snacks at the church hall as a bribe to get teenagers to spend time doing religious stuff.  But I only remember two things about this youth group meeting - the Aunt Archway gag and the creepy movie they made us watch.

Now I was used to religious creepiness thanks to my own Catholic upbringing, but I had never seen a movie that portrayed evangelical beliefs, and I had never heard of "the Rapture" before. My understanding of Catholic eschatology was that one day an angel would blow a trumpet and then it would be Judgement Day and we'd all go to heaven, hell or purgatory. None of this some people would remain on the earth while other people just disappeared stuff.

The movie must have been A Thief in the Night - the Wiki description sounds right.  It was creepy because it played like a horror movie:
Patty awakens and the entire film's plot is revealed to have been a dream. She is tremendously relieved; however, her relief is short-lived when the radio announces that millions of people have in fact disappeared. Horrified, Patty frantically searches for her husband only to find he is missing too. Traumatized and distraught, Patty realizes that The Rapture has indeed occurred, and she has been left behind. In the ensuing plot the questions are whether or not she will be caught, as she was in her dream, and whether or not she will choose to take The Mark to escape execution.
It was like somebody made a movie out of a Chick tract.

Of course it's available on Youtube.

I was freaked out and I was an ex-Catholic atheist. I can only imagine how freaked out a devout evangelical teenager would have been.

Mrs. Amberson seemed a little perturbed by the movie herself and sort of apologized to us for it. But she must have known what it was about, and I assume she wanted to give us Catholics an introduction to the concept of the Rapture. Maybe it was more intense than she anticipated, maybe she was afraid she would hear complaints about it from our parents. It seems odd to me that the Ambersons were religious at all. As I said, Mr. Amberson was a fan of Monty Python.

But if she was trying to convert us into evangelical Protestantism, she didn't have any luck with me, I'm still an atheist. Lynn however, whom I haven't seen in-person in about 30 years, but am her Facebook friend, seems fairly religious now, frequently thanking the Lord for healing her heart (although who was responsible for her heart needing healing in the first place?) But hers is a religion that permits being a Reiki practitioner and instructor.

I had a yoga instructor do Reiki on me once while I was in Shavasana pose and it struck me as complete voodoo. And amusingly, the Catholic Church has a problem with Reiki, calling it "superstition." Unlike, I guess, crying statues and solar gymnastics.

I let the yoga instructor do her Reiki schtick on me without complaint though, figuring it made her feel better to think she was helping me, and I was glad to make her feel good about herself. My attitude is that whatever makes people feel better is OK as long as they don't force their beliefs on anybody. 

In addition to Monty Python, it turns out Mr. Amberson and I have other things in common, as I learned when I decided to research what happened to the rest of the magnificent Ambersons of Merchantville NJ, which is in the next post.

Monday, March 02, 2020

The magnificent Ambersons of Merchantville NJ

Roberta
I doubt the magnificent "Ambersons" of Merchantville NJ were the richest family in Merchantville, but to us working class kids, coming from the Pennsauken side of Centre Street, they seemed exotic and cultured and well-off. We were Catholic, mostly of Irish and Polish and Italian ethnicities. They were WASPs. Our parents were office workers, but it was said that Mr. Amberson worked in television.

Although perhaps they weren't as well-off as all that, since their eldest son Blake attended Pennsauken High School with us schlubs. Still though, the Ambersons had an in-ground swimming pool (which I swam in once) and named their home on Lexington Avenue "Amberthorne" - I seem to remember they actually had a plaque with the name on it above their doorway. It was a pretension that used to amuse John and Dan long after Blake left our under-achieving Pennsauken/Merchantville circle.

I was thinking of the Ambersons because I was lately looking at the prices of homes in the Pennsauken-Merchantville area. My mother currently lives three or four blocks away from Amberthorne.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised but I was anyway, that you can now buy an entire Victorian-esque house there for the same price as a tiny studio apartment in Manhattan. And then it hit me - I could buy Amberthorne.

As it happens, it's not currently on the market. But still, the realization was a shock.

The Ambersons seemed more cultured to me perhaps even than to the other teenagers in our motley circle because my parents were such enormous Philistines. They are not bad people, and my father was quite amiable and a very good father compared to most I had seen. But network sit-coms, bowling, the local daily newspaper, self-help books, Disney movies, Catholic Church-related activities and grammar school play productions were the extent of their cultural interests. My mother would claim this was due to having so many kids (6) and therefore not having enough time or money to indulge, but really she had no use whatsoever for the arts. She occasionally writes poetry but has no actual interest in the art of poetry itself and never reads any poets. I think the only poem she knows is Emily Dickinson's "I'm nobody, who are you." We had a decent local library, within walking distance, so money was not the reason she didn't read poetry and she has nothing but time on her hands these days and I've seen no evidence of her reading poetry, not even other poems by Dickinson. As a result, her own poetry is written in complete innocence of rhythm, meter, pattern etc. But it rhymes.

As if that isn't enough, she used to brag that she was able to get through high school English class by reading the "Classic Comics" versions of the assigned novels. Because obviously the only point of great novels is to get a grade for them. She had no shame about admitting to essentially cheating her way through high school, although she is liable to go to Confession once a week to ensure that, in case she dies suddenly, she won't head straight to hell for whatever heinous offenses she had committed against God in the previous seven days.

In case you're wondering: no my mother is not going to read this. She has no interest in my life, and never has except, mainly, whether or not I am currently gainfully employed. But then none of my immediate family has ever read this blog in its thirteen plus years of existence, because, clearly, I am the most boring person in the world.

So anyway, compared to my family, the Ambersons seemed like the School of Athens.

I didn't interact much with Blake's father, I actually don't remember ever having a conversation with him. But I was impressed at the time to hear that he was a fan of Monty Python. As a teenager I had to sneak around to watch episodes of Monty Python, then being broadcast on a Philadelphia public television station, with the sound very low, ready to spring for the channel-changing knob the moment I heard my mother stirring. She would not have appreciated their humor nor their cartoon nudity. To this day she's never seen a movie more naughty than rated-PG. And even a PG movie is likely to have plenty she finds offensive. 

But realizing I could buy Amberthorne set me off on a search to find out whatever happened to the magnificent Ambersons - or Amberthornes? - of Merchantville NJ. As I've mentioned on this blog, looking up old acquaintances online is a compulsion of mine, which lead in one case to discovering my most vicious grade-school tormentor died of AIDS in 2011 and one of my Pennsauken school friends Rita died in 2014. Just this year one of her former boyfriends found my blog post about her and emailed me some memories of her. And confirmed, as her online obituary did not, that she had died of cancer.

In 1999 I contacted Blake, just because I could, I guess, when everybody suddenly had email. I inquired about his parents, but he didn't respond to my questions about them, and I wondered if maybe they had died. I also attempted to connect to him on Linked-In in 2008 and he rejected my request - the only time a Linked-In request has ever been rejected by anybody - saying he only linked to people he actually worked with.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet I have just discovered that neither of his parents was dead in 1999 and in fact Blake's father is still living and his mother only just died last autumn.

When I was a teenager, Mrs. Amberthorne took an interest in my art career prospects.  I did not realize until I read her obituary that she was very artistic herself:
...a 1959 graduate of Temple University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theatre...
...Roberta worked as Program Director for "Girls on the Move" and as an educator in a career path that would span fifty years. She created fashion shows and promotional programming, was the Manager of the Atlantic City Ballet, and was the first Executive Managing Director of the Church Hill Theatre. She initiated a theatre program at the then new Stevensville High School and taught Theatre in After School Programs until her retirement...
This explains her interest in me - girls' careers and fashion were kind of her thing. I'm a little disappointed now, I had always assumed she heard really good things about my talent.

One day when I was sixteen, out of the blue, Mrs. Amberson contacted me and said she wanted to introduce me to a fashion artist. I had never had the slightest interest in fashion design, but I was flattered to be noticed.

So one evening, there I was, in the very bowels of Amberthorne - actually the attic, if I am remembering correctly - talking to Mrs. Amberson and a fashion design artist friend of hers. I have no idea where Blake, presumably my friend, was during this career counseling event. But really Blake and I were never exactly close. I met him through Dan, but that was a short-lived romance, and Blake briefly dated a friend of mine, Lynn, and I gather she broke his heart but even that was ancient history by then.

I have virtually no memory of Amberthorne Career Day except one thing: the very scary story Mrs. Amberson told of the noise in the wall. I think the noise had been in her wall but I don't remember for sure whose wall. She framed it as a ghost story: there had been a whining noise in a wall during the same time that a woman who used to live in the home (with the whining wall) died.

As a result, the only thing I got out of this event, which was admittedly a lost cause anyway, career-wise, was a fear for the next few years of hearing an inexplicable whining coming from a wall. Any wall.

It was nice, anyway, that Mrs. Amberson (impossible to think of her as Roberta) made an effort to encourage my artistic ambitions. I was sorry to hear she died last autumn, although I was glad at least she hadn't died prior to 1999.

And Mrs. Amberson also took an interest in my spiritual life, which I will talk about in the next post.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

I, Peppa Pig

Speaking of I, Claudius, I just realized that two cast members from that series are voice actors for the British childrens' cartoon show Peppa Pig.

Brian Blessed, who played the emperor Augustus in I, Claudius, plays Grampy Rabbit.



And Frances White, who played Julia, the daughter of Augustus (even though she's only two years younger than Blessed) plays Granny Pig.




So how do I know about Peppa Pig in the first place?

Because I practice French by watching Peppa Pig in French. In general they speak slowly and clearly which helps me understand.



There's a lot more Peppa Pig content in English than in French though, so lately I've had to branch out into another British TV show in French Le Petit Royaume de Ben et Holly about a society of elves and fairies.

Monday, February 17, 2020

I, Podius

I was really excited to see that John Hodgman was doing a podcast, called I, Podius, an episode-by-episode discussion of the 1976 British television series I, Claudius. I have blogged about my admiration for that series a few times.

Hodgman has a way of referencing semi-obscure culture that I'm interested in. I was disappointed that I missed Hodgman's riff on Ayn Rand, which was on stage right during the time I was working on my play DARK MARKET, which is about the influence of Ayn Rand on the fiscal policies of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.

A play I put aside once the election of Trump made that scenario seem quaint and tame by comparison.

In theory John Hodgman doing a podcast on I, Claudius is great. In practice... not so much.

I don't know how much planning went into the approach of the series, but the first episode seemed to be organized around the idea that Hodgman would be the one focused on I Claudius, while his co-host Elliott Calin, who had not seen the series prior to recording the podcast, would provide commentary focusing on post-I Claudius culture, from Star Wars - released in 1977 - on. I guess in order to make it accessible to the under-40 demographic who make up the bulk of podcast listeners.

This is a mistake. The people who are likely to listen to this series are likely to already be familiar with I, Claudius and don't appreciate the excessive number of asides about things not related to I, Claudius.

I also have issues with the editing, or rather lack of editing of the first episode. There was a moment where they were discussing a scene and they couldn't remember the name of one of the actors (Cheryl Johnson) nor her character's name (Octavia) and they don't even bother to look it up. Why? Instead of including their chatter about not knowing the actor/character they could have edited that part out, and included them saying the character and actor names.

This seems to be a feature of podcasts in general - this refusal to edit anything and let the audience hear plenty of chatter or failed attempts at humor amongst worthwhile content. It was something I noticed about another podcast I blogged about, the Embrace the Void Pod.

All these podcast dudes seem to think their audience wants hear every error or random pointless comment made in the course of producing something worth listening to. Or at any rate, they don't care enough to take out all the verbal excelsior.

Maybe that's why my attempt at podcasting for NYCPlaywrights failed to find an audience - I used to edit the hell out of each episode, including limiting my own voice to the bare minimum. But since many people say they listen to podcasts during their commutes, maybe it's more important to fill up time than to focus on the quality of what is being said.

In any case, I will keep listening since there isn't a lot of new I, Claudius-related content out there and I have hope that they will stop trying to be clever and relevant and focus more on the actual television series I, Claudius.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Fun with weightlessness over 50 years

James Burke in 1969

\

Weightless astronauts and fluids 1973





NASA cat and astronauts, 1980s





Kevin Bacon and Bill Paxton rehearse for the movie "Apollo 13" in 1995



OK Go music video 2016

Saturday, February 08, 2020

Ugh, Edward Einhorn

Since the lawsuit of Einhorn v Mergatroyd Productions ended 14 years ago this April, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about Edward Einhorn, happily.


I am not unhappy it is a fairly negative review:
Yet Einhorn remains a distant invention, a documentarian-artist through whom we encounter facts but who allows us no access to his own emotional back story: any hints of his early relationship with his mother, any depths to his fascination with his grandfather. 
As the show’s director as well, he serves up moments of postmodern fun, but sometimes falls prey to making scenes so cute they are obnoxious (a top-hat-and-lab-coat song-and-dance number, for example). Mike Mroch’s set design, with walls made of disconnected vertical panels, emphasizes the show’s fragmentary approach. 
“Doctors” is beholden to its premise, the story of Einhorn’s famous grandfather, even as it playfully cartwheels beyond to reveal its real intent. Yet it doesn’t commit fully to either Doctor Jane or Doctor Alexander but rather to the idea of writing about them. Here the writer, not the doctor, is in.
I think it's appropriate that Einhorn's theatrical production is about his family. Einhorn would not have a theatrical career if it wasn't for his family's vast wealth: he once mentioned on his blog that he doesn't have to work for a living thanks to his inheritance. 

He is a mediocre writer and a worse director. When he directed my play TAM LIN he put actors in dangerous situations and his staging was dead. Not to mention the excess audio-video equipment he decided he needed at the last minute, for a play that was much, much better low-tech. 

This is the problem with economic inequality in the United States. It leads to people like Edward Einhorn and Donald Trump doing things they should not be doing, but which wealth permits them to do.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Mitt Romney, American Patriot

I never thought I'd see the day when I praised Mitt Romney. 

But he is a true American patriot. I am extremely impressed by his integrity, honor and courage in the face of the hideous Trump machine.

I salute you, Mitt Romney.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Blogger slacker

Oof I've really slacked off on this blog. Mostly because in addition to a job I have other blogs I regularly update.

Meanwhile the Republican Party wants Donald Trump to be dictator. They are unspeakably evil.

This is exactly what I had in mind when Trump was elected and I immediately signed up for French classes with the idea of moving to Canada.


Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Four Boys in the Wind

Quatre Garçons Dans Le Vent is what the French call the Beatles' film "A Hard Day's Night" and it is the most frenchy-french conversion ever, and means "Four Boys in the Wind." LOL - or should I say MDR (mort de rire - aka death by laughter).

I couldn't find an overdubbed version so must be content with this subtitled trailer.