The Late Great Planet Earth

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

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

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

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

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.