Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Preacher Woman.

Source: Wikipedia

If, like me, you started watching Whose Line Is It Anyway? in its original run as a British program, which, on this side of the pond, ran on a fledgling comedy network that wasn’t up to making shows of its own yet, but that’s another story, you probably remember Sandi Toksvig, whose birthday is today. At least you should because she was brilliant. I remember that when the group improvised a gospel song she didn’t sing. She got down and preached, and not just to the choir.
Since then she’s taken over as host of QI, because she has that special gravitas that makes you feel like your IQ is going up just listening to her, was the host of The News Quiz and 1001 Things You Should Know, founded the Women’s Equality Party, co-hosts The Great British Bake Off, has written a slew of books for children and adults, and gave an amazing TED Talk, all of which makes me wonder where she finds the time, but of course she makes it look easy because she’s brilliant.
Preach on, Sandi Toksvig, preach on.

 

It Was A Thursday. I Can’t Get The Hang Of Thursdays.

“He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher…or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.”-Douglas Adams

Normally I’m suspicious of technology. Sure, I appreciate all that technology has given us: computers, cars, robots, coffee makers, digital watches, pasteurized cheese, nuclear bombs, flying cars, vacuum cleaners, cotton-polyester blend shirts—I could go on but I think you understand and we can agree that technology is not only just for solving problems; it also creates whole new problems we didn’t even think about when we were naked creatures squatting around campfires—which actually describes my Uncle Larry right now which is why advances in technology don’t bother him, but that’s another story.

Anyway I’ve had ups and downs with the Nashville MTA app, mostly ups because it’s usually accurate and it’s handy to know when the next bus is coming and on occasion when I’ve just missed the bus. In spite of the bus stops being numbered on the app but not having any corresponding numbers on the signs I’ve been able to figure out what stop is where. Sometimes it just baffles me, like when it tells me the schedule information for all buses is “N/A” and I wonder if it’s a holiday I didn’t know about and that the buses aren’t running, although one always turns up around the usual time.

The other day even though I got to the bus stop in plenty of time the app informed me that I’d just missed the bus and that it would be more than a half hour before another one came along. The timing was so close, in fact, that it seemed to suggest that if I squinted I’d be able to see the bus I’d just missed speeding away, but I wasn’t interested in looking. I decided to go with my backup plan of walking the extra half a mile or so to catch the express bus. It was a nice day and I was ambling along happily, listening to the first episode of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: Hexagonal Phase , looking at dandelions, and reflecting on the legacy of Douglas Adams.

And as I was walking along, between bus stops, the bus sped right past me. It stopped at an intersection just ahead and I ran to try and catch it, but I wasn’t fast enough. I didn’t need to squint. I stood there and watched it speed away. And I wondered if the Nashville MTA app were designed by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation which, as fellow hitchhikers know, has only one profitable division: its complaints department.

 

The Handwriting On The Wall.

It’s hard for people to understand the importance of a cartoonist’s handwriting. In the same way melody transforms lyrics, handwriting transforms words and can have a profound impact on how the story is received and understood.

That’s from Lynda Barry’s review of BRAZEN: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu, a book of cartoon portraits of historic women, in the March 20, 2018 New York Times Book Review. Barry adds that, since this is a translation from a French book, Bagieu’s original handwriting has been almost entirely removed “even when completely unnecessary”.

That’s a shame and it also got me thinking about the intimacy of handwriting, of written language itself. Letters evolved from pictures and we’re kind of getting back to that with emojs becoming a language of their own.

Lynda Barry is a cartoonist herself and I remember seeing some of her comics when I was in college, in various alternative newspapers that got passed around the dorms. Something I remember from the same time one of my professors told me, “I always recognize your handwriting because I can’t read it,” but that’s another story. I loved Barry’s excruciatingly weird and funny portraits and I never thought about it but there was something special about the way she lettered her comics too.

At the same time I was reading Lynda Barry’s comics I was also reading Arthur Rimbaud for the first time so, as a final send-off to National Poetry Month, here’s a poem of his, translated by George J. Dance.

Vowels

Black A, white E, red I, green U, blue O: you vowels,

Some day I’ll tell the tale of where your mystery lies:

Black A, a jacket formed of hairy, shiny flies

That buzz among harsh stinks in the abyss’s bowels;

 

White E, the white of kings, of moon-washed fogs and tents,

Of fields of shivering chervil, glaciers’ gleaming tips;

Red I, magenta, spat-up blood, the curl of lips

In laughter, hatred, or besotted penitence;

 

Green U, vibrating waves in viridescent seas,

Or peaceful pastures flecked with beasts – furrows of peace

Imprinted on our brows as if by alchemies;

 

Blue O, great Trumpet blaring strange and piercing cries

Through Silences where Worlds and Angels pass crosswise;

Omega, O, the violet brilliance of Those Eyes!

That’s pretty good but I think Lynda Barry deserves the last word.

Source: Lambiek Comiclopedia

 

 

 

The Atomic Age.

Source: Wikipedia

The 1980’s were a totally tubular decade, the era of Rubik’s cubes and Max Headroom, bandannas and leg warmers, of Cabbage Patch Kids and Garbage Pail Kids and conspicuous consumption, and of course some great and some not so great music, which is why the ‘80’s gave us the mixtape. If you love the ‘80’s then you didn’t grow up in the ‘80’s, but if you did grow up in the ‘80’s see if you can match these songs with their descriptions and deeper meanings below.

  1. 99 Luftballoons-Nena
  2. Take On Me-A-Ha
  3. Melt With You-Modern English
  4. Safety Dance-Men Without Hats
  5. Dude Looks Like A Lady-Aerosmith
  6. Eat It-Weird Al Yankovic
  7. Girls Just Want To Have Fun-Cyndi Lauper
  8. Billie Jean-Michael Jackson
  9. Like A Virgin-Madonna
  10. Karma Chameleon-Culture Club
  11. Every Breath You Take-The Police
  12. The Reflex-Duran Duran
  13. Our House-Madness
  14. Purple Rain-Prince
  15. Hip To Be Square-Huey Lewis & The News
  1. On its surface a denial of paternity this dance tune by the then rising King of Pop was also a response to growing interest in western goods in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe even as the Warsaw Pact nations remained suspicious of capitalism.
  2. Even the most well-stocked bomb shelter, this song reminded us, would require careful rationing and maintenance of a filtered ventilation system to ensure long-term survival in the event of a nuclear war.
  3. A comeback hit for a band that had been on “permanent vacation” this song used gender-bending lyrics as a metaphor for the increasing nuclear arms stockpile that was intended to be a show of force as part of the policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) that was intended to keep the nuclear superpowers in check even as international tensions escalated.
  4. This popular love song that’s become ubiquitous in cheesy commercials was inspired by the melting of mannequins used in nuclear bomb tests.
  5. The effects of widespread nuclear blasts on the climate and the ensuing “nuclear winter” became a widespread topic of discussion in the 1980’s and the subject of this song which became one of its performer’s signature pieces. It would be followed a few years later by “Alphabet Street”, about the codes entrusted to a “designated survivor” in the event of a nuclear attack during the president’s State of the Union address.
  6. Missile-launch surveillance is a full-time job as reflected in this song about the military personnel entrusted with keeping watch over the “lucky clover” of radar tracking and other early warning systems.
  7. A popular club hit the “dance” referred to in this song is international agreements toward nuclear disarmament and the negotiated withdrawal by the superpowers from certain parts of the world.
  8. Best known for its amazing music video that combined animation and live action as a young girl enters a comic book world the song and video both were a subtle yet poignant commentary on nations in remote parts of the world engaging in armed conflicts as proxies for the United States and Soviet Union.
  9. A popular parody of a Michael Jackson hit this song was also about the importance of storing canned goods and other non-perishable food items in bomb shelters in preparation for nuclear war.
  10. This British ska toe-tapper was all about the ongoing maintenance of a bomb shelter and the responsibility thrust onto the younger generation of ensuring survival in the event of nuclear war.
  11. This song’s performer shocked MTV audiences with her provocative wedding-dress performance but even more shocking was the song’s addressing of the nuclear superpowers’ massive arsenals and the fact that some of the weapons had not been updated in decades.
  12. A nuclear holocaust would likely require survivors to stay in cramped fallout shelters for months, even years. One of the biggest challenges would be staying healthy, as emphasized in this catchy hit from 1986 which featured then-San Francisco 49ers Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott singing backup vocals.
  13. Best known for their flamboyant lead singer this band’s catchy dance tune with its line about “red, gold, and green” was both a plea for universal harmony and a reference to Africa’s strategic importance in providing uranium for nuclear arsenals.
  14. This catchy German pop that went big in the English-speaking world hit is delightfully upbeat in contrast to its dark Dr. Strangelove-type story of nuclear war set off by a handful of children’s toys.
  15. Written and performed by a singer whose vocal range was as extreme as her punk hairdo and makeup this anthem to girls having fun was a cultural response to the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation.

Just Keep Walking.

A few years ago I spotted new Poetry In Motion poems regularly on the different buses I rode. This year I’ve only seen one, and I’m actually surprised—although happy—that the program is still active. I’m just not sure why I haven’t been lucky enough to catch the buses with poems, especially in the month of April, which is National Poetry Month.

Although its website doesn’t explicitly say so I think the Poetry In Motion program started with Joseph Brodsky, who, when he lived in the Soviet Union, was exiled for practicing poetry without a license. When he was appointed Poet Laureate Of The United States one of his goals was to make poetry more publicly visible, and his plans included putting poetry on buses and in subways.

Maybe I should do that too. What are they gonna do, kick me off the bus? Oh, yeah, they just might. I don’t want to end up being exiled and having to hoof it home.

Here’s a poem read by the current Poet Laureate Of The United States, Tracy K. Smith.

Where They Lived.

A question that I’ve been turning over in my head for as long as I’ve been studying art history and the philosophy of art is, what is art, anyway? The other day I walked into the breakroom where I work and on the table there was a banana with a spoon balanced on it. I figured the spoon was left there by the person who brought the banana and when I talked to her later she said yes, she’d put the spoon there so people would know she wasn’t giving away the banana. Whenever someone has food they want to get rid, usually cookies or a cake, of they leave it on one of the breakroom tables, although for a while I had a coworker who liked to go through the food in the fridge and take bites out of peoples’ lunches, but that’s another story.

Anyway I thought that if I’d taken a picture of the banana and spoon it would be, well, just a picture, just like the millions of odd ones that people take and upload every day, but if I printed it and framed it the picture would then be art and if I put it in a gallery it could be really expensive art. I didn’t take the picture and now, writing about it, I regret that.

Source: SF MOMA

There’s an exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art of twenty-three lost bird posters collected by the artist Rigo 23. I haven’t seen it in person but you can see the works online. Here’s one:  I heard about it on an episode of the Bullseye podcast. In the final segment host Jesse Thorn talks about growing up in the area then being forced out by development and rising property prices. The fliers for the lost birds have been preserved but the neighborhood where they were collected is gone. That, and many of the messages, hit me where I live, which is what art should do.

 

The New Zodiac.

Your Allergy Horoscope For The Week

Pollen: While everyone else is complaining about the sudden cold snap you’ll be glad for the relief. For at least a few days you’ll be able to breathe again without being medicated to the gills. Oh, wait, it’s a dogwood winter and those blooms are wide open. Never mind.

Shellfish: Be prepared to explain at least three more times that it also means shrimp and lobster, and that, yes, you do know what you’re missing but you’d rather be breathing. And once again you’ll have to tell someone to knock it off with the escargot. That wasn’t funny the first time.

Pet Dander: Aggressive people will try to take the lead. Step back and let them. What you’ve been dreading will come to pass. Or it won’t. Take a little “me” time this week. An old romantic interest will flare up, or it might just be your sinuses.

Mold: You’re a fun guy, even if you’re a gal. Haven’t heard that one a million times, have you? This week just say no to those mushrooms your friend brought back from a backpacking trip in Northern Europe or you’ll be having an emergency room freakout.

Peanuts: At least you’re not allergic to almonds because those things are everywhere these days. Or cashews because those are delicious. Here, stick your hand in this can of mixed nuts and see if you can pull out some almonds and cashews. Don’t worry, it’s less than fifty percent peanuts so you’ve got a good chance.

Beryllium: Do you know if you’re allergic to beryllium? Better go ahead and cancel that trip to the X-ray tube factory just in case.

Dust Mites: Imagine millions of tiny little bugs with pointy legs and sharp pincers crawling all over your body all night long. As they march along they eat up pieces of your dead skin that flake off and collect in tiny troughs and canyons of your sheets. Anyway, sleep well!

Eggs: All time is relative at the celestial level. The heavenly bodies move in their never-ending dance to the music of the spheres and all are part of an infinitely circling cosmos. Renewal is constant. So, really, when you think about it, a bacon cheeseburger really is the best breakfast. Especially with that hangover.

Milk: Put down the knife, step away from the Camembert, and no one gets hurt.

Sagittarius: The only people not allergic to Sagittarians are other Sagittarians. Avoid hyperactive, optimistic, outdoorsy types, especially if they’re into archery.

Latex: When stressed ask those around you to treat you with kid gloves. When insulted remind them you are rubber, they are glue. Hypoallergenic rubber in your case.

Bee Stings: Just think of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings, while you’re waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

IF YOUR BIRTHDAY IS TODAY: You’re too young to read this, but don’t worry. There’s an allergy out there for everyone.

Answering The Call.

Source: NPR

The clock radio in our bedroom wakes up my wife and I. It’s set to NPR and for years most weekday mornings we’d be stirred out of sleep by the gentle baritone of Carl Kasell reading the morning headlines. There was something comforting about his voice, even when it was bad news, and he was as much a part of my morning routine as taking a shower, brewing coffee, taking the dogs out, and flossing my toes. Then he went away and while his successors were fine it was never quite the same. Then an odd little comedy news quiz called Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! started up, hosted by the guy who wrote Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights, Peter Sagal. Every fool has to have his straight man and it was Carl Kasell who stepped in. He was as somber and professional as the show’s scorekeeper as he was when reading the headlines, although every once in a while it I’d hear a strange, low rumbling. It took a while before I could get used to the sound of Kasell laughing. Now he didn’t wake us up in the mornings but he accompanied us on errands around town and on road trips, for an hour, anyway, or until we drove out of broadcasting range.
Kasell was always honest that in its early days Wait! Wait! just wasn’t that good but, to their credit, the powers that be at NPR allowed some tweaks to the show, including the addition of a live audience, that made it great. They recognized that it had potential, or maybe they just liked the prize: lucky listeners would get Carl Kasell to record the outgoing message on their home answering machine.
Several years ago when Wait! Wait! came to Nashville and was recorded at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center my wife surprised me with tickets and we got to go. It was fun seeing the panel banter back and forth with Peter and talk to the “Not My Job” guest Vince Gill, but what made it really special was that, off to one side of the stage at his own podium, was Carl Kasell. No offense to his successor who does a fine job, but I was so glad to finally get a good look at the man who joined us in our car and came into our bedroom every morning for so many years.
Hail and farewell Carl Kasell.

 

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