The Late Great Planet Earth

Posted in Whatever Else on April 27th, 2010 by bill
Maybe they just don't like the human being.

Maybe they just don't like the human being.

I’m a bit freaked out right now because Stephen Hawking said that aliens are coming to kill us all. I’m paraphrasing a bit there; the actual quote was:

If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.

I’ve always believed that if extraterrestrials came here it would be more Close Encounters than Mars Attacks!, because you’d hope that any species advanced enough to develop interstellar travel would have evolved past those sorts of shenanigans. But Dr. Hawking is much smarter than I am, so he must be right and I must be wrong.

So how will they kill us? Take us over with pods, disintegrate us with ray guns, or just blow up the whole planet to make way for a new hyperspace bypass?

He gave his life for tourism

Posted in Gurn Blanston on April 26th, 2010 by bill

In the course of doing research for yesterday’s post, I discovered something that makes me ridiculously happy: lately Steve Martin has been doing a bluegrass version of “King Tut” in his concerts with the Steep Canyon Rangers. I found a couple homemade videos of this on the YouTube, neither of which is entirely satisfying, but here they are anyway.

This one has poor audio and some shaky camera work:

And this one has slightly better sound quality but is incomplete:

In any case, just to hear Steve say “Got a condo made of stone-a” again makes my day.

The Day SNL Became SNL

Posted in Gurn Blanston, The sacred box on April 25th, 2010 by bill

Over the last couple years I have made a careful study of the first few seasons of Saturday Night Live, by which I mean watched them on DVD late at night, sometimes while drunk. For the most part, they haven’t quite lived up to my fond memories; the writing is occasionally brilliant but uneven, and the musical guests in this early period are often questionable. One night recently, out of sheer stubbornness I sat through two long segments of Keith Jarrett playing tedious solo piano and making hideous, orgasmic moustache-faces — but I did not enjoy it, I can tell you that.

Last, night, though, I think I reached the turning point: the broadcast of April 22, 1978, with Steve Martin hosting and the Blues Brothers as musical guest. This episode had pretty much everything you could ask for: a lengthy Steve monologue of material not from one of his albums, “Theodoric of York,” Dan Aykroyd calling Jane Curtin an ignorant slut, a charming dance number by Steve and Gilda, Bill Murray giving Gilda noogies, a high-quality appearance by the Festrunk Brothers, the Brothers Blues1 doing “Hey Bartender” and “I Don’t Know”……..and this:

Yes, that was a good day.


1. I realize that not everyone considers the Blues Brothers a pinnacle of modern music. But I never grow tired of watching John Belushi sing and dance, and I don’t imagine I ever will.

A kind of strange oblivion

Posted in Read it in books on April 24th, 2010 by bill

My indolence, since my last reception at the Sacrament, has sunk into grosser sluggishness, and my dissipation spread into wider negligence. My thoughts have been crowded with sensuality; and except that from the beginning of this year I have in some measure forborn excess of strong drink, my appetites have predominated over my reason. A kind of strange oblivion has overspread me, so that I know not what has become of the last year; and perceive that incidents and intelligence pass over me without leaving any impression….

—Dr. Johnson, 4/24/1764

Yes, yes…well said, Doctor.

Entertainment is a kind of work

Posted in Read it in books on April 22nd, 2010 by bill

Continuing to make my way through Doing Nothing. This passage particularly struck me:

I try to convince myself that some of the time I spend entertaining myself is a kind of work. I’m a literature professor, and so reading novels is work, obviously, and given the importance of popular culture these days, even the airport thrillers and mysteries are important for me to read. And I can’t ignore the more dominant forms of narrative in my own time, can I? So all those movies, all that TV — work. It’s important for me, professionally, not just to be cognizant of but to study popular culture, and so I work to stay current, watching The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Daily Show, going to see the latest Hollywood blockbusters (and of course the festival-anointed independents), reading Harper’s and The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, surfing the reality shows and Tivo-ing Billy Wilder and Michael Curtiz films. Oh, and Reno 911 (very interesting) and Iron Chef (fantastic) and Arrested Development and reruns of The Rockford Files. And of course March Madness and the NBA play-offs. Where would one draw the line? A lot of sitting on the couch is involved, as it turns out, but still, this is all a kind of work for me, isn’t it?

And here’s one good reason to pursue the life of a writer or artiste—not just that the job involves very little of what others call work, but that it becomes easy to obscure the line between work and play. It is very easy to look at the garbageman watching a movie or sitting at the beach and say, you are not working. But if I call myself a writer I can argue that everything I do is part of my job; everything that’s feeding into my brain is going to marinate in there for a while and eventually become part of The Work, even if an unrecognizable one. So what if I often appear to work very little, if at all; can you say for sure that there’s not a thousand-page manuscript in my bottom drawer that’s going to stun the world when I disingenuously instruct my literary executor to burn it, knowing full well that he will not? No, you can’t say for sure, not 100%, and there’s the wiggle room I’m looking for; maybe today’s Wii golf marathon will somehow contribute to tomorrow’s masterpiece.

I could go on, but I may already have said too much. Fortunately, very few people will read this.

Happy BDay, Jimmy and Bob

Posted in Dancing about architecture, Somebody's birthday on April 21st, 2010 by bill

iggyking south-park
Cartoon versions of Iggy Pop and Robert Smith.

A couple of rock birthdays today: Iggy Pop turns 63 (!) and Robert Smith of the Cure, 51.

The continued existence of the man born James Osterberg as a living, breathing organism on planet Earth—along with those of his contemporaries Lou Reed and Keith Richards—must be considered something of a miracle. Consider this passage from Marc Spitz’s Bowie describing Iggy’s state in 1976:

Iggy Pop resurfaced again once the White Light tour rolled back into Los Angeles. Since being dropped from MainMan, Iggy had sunk even further. He was arrested for shoplifting, sleeping in a garage, and trying to write songs with James Williamson but mostly in a drug haze.

“Iggy was in such bad odor with the rest of L.A. that most of the dealers refused to let him into their apartments,” Nick Kent writes in his classic anthology The Dark Stuff. “He’d made such a mess of his life during the two years he’d been based in L.A. that everyone had him written off as nothing more than a washed up loser….”

When he began to vomit fluid of unrecognizable origin and indescribable color, and with the police threatening to prosecute him for vagrancy, he finally committed himself to the Neuropsychiatric Institute in L.A.

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The Beatles, the Vatican, Satan, LSD, etc.

Posted in Something about the Beatles on April 20th, 2010 by bill


Knox of Pixels at an Exhibition fame (an excellent site devoted to iPhone photography—check it out sometime) recently pointed me to the blog Dangerous Minds, which in turn pointed me to a couple of recent news items involving the Beatles.

One concerned Ringo’s response to the Vatican’s recent decision that the Beatles were OK after all:

The Vatican offered its latest peace offering to The Beatles in its recent issue of L’Osservatore Romano, its official newspaper, on Monday.

“It’s true they took drugs, lived life to excess because of their success, even said they were bigger than Jesus and put out mysterious messages that were possibly even satanic,” the newspaper said.

But, “what would pop music have been like without The Beatles?” it reasoned, describing the band’s music as “beautiful.”

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Famed for doing nothing

Posted in Read it in books on April 19th, 2010 by bill

Dr. Franklin looking genial

Dr. Franklin looking genial

Dr. Johnson looking cranky

Dr. Johnson looking cranky

I am learning a lot from Tom Lutz’s Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America. For instance, not being much of a fan of Jethro Tull the band, I never knew that Jethro Tull the person was (says Wikipedia)

an English agricultural pioneer who helped bring about the British Agricultural Revolution

or that (this is Lutz now):

Tull’s seed drill, first introduced in 1701, not only improved the germination rate and thus harvest yields but also inaugurated a long line of machine inventions and improvements.

These inventions and improvements, by enabling larger amounts of food to be grown by a smaller percentage of the population, had a great deal to do with the creation of slack as we know it today. There’s very little romance in a farmboy who sleeps late and fails to get his crops in; considerably more in the kind of urban idler who hangs around cafes writing poetry, or more likely talking about writing poetry.

The whole concept of the literature of slackerdom is an interesting one. The purest literary creations of the slothful cannot be found in any library or bookstore; they remained in the heads of their creators, who of course were too lazy to write them down. Therefore, what we do have by way of a written record is by definition compromised. Lutz writes quite a bit about Samuel (Dr.) Johnson, who in 1758 began a series of essays titled The Idler that sing the praises of indolence:
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A disinclination to work

Posted in Read it in books on April 18th, 2010 by bill

After I finished the Bowie book, next in line was a book that’s been sitting on my shelf, but that I have been too lazy to actually read, for a couple years now: Tom Lutz’s Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America. A subject near and dear to my heart; these are my people, as you know, but I had no idea we had such a rich literature and history. Consider:

“Slack”1 has been around since Old English variants, as a physical property of objects like ropes. And in the seventeenth century “slacken” became a common way to denote a relaxation of activity. By the nineteenth century, a “slack” could mean a slowing or a lull in business. But 1898 is the earliest instance of “slacker” in anything like its modern sense — in the OED, when it began to replace some earlier epithets for people not pulling their loads….
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Politics, religion, and sex, not necessarily in that order

Posted in Whatever Else on April 17th, 2010 by bill

Responding to my plea for comments, The Old Man writes:

Maybe you should post something on politics, religion, or sex, or maybe all 3 – that should get things going!

And you know I rarely write about controversial-type topics, partly because there’s already so much of that stuff on the Web, and partly because I abhor conflict. But I have to admit, this latest scandal involving the Pope and his minions has me thinking controversial thoughts — like, maybe it’s time for the Catholic Church to call it a day.

Frankly I just don’t see what purpose the Church serves in the modern world. (Or any organized religion for that matter…but let’s stay focused; I don’t have all day.) That’s assuming it ever did have one; authoritarianism and spirituality have always seemed like a strange mix to me, and while no doubt sincere Catholics and Catholic charities have done a lot of good in the world, in historical context the Church looks more like an instrument of control than a positive force.
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