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The Kids Will Be All Right.

When I say Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is one of the best films of the ‘80’s and even deserves a place among the best films of all time I’m not kidding. Sure, it got blasted by critics when it first came out, but so did Led Zeppelin’s debut album which is now considered a classic, and, sure, it’s got its weak spots, but so does Led Zeppelin’s debut album and for that matter so do a lot of great works of art. It may not be Citizen Kane but it would be ridiculous if it were because Citizen Kane had already been made almost half a century earlier. And Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure has lasted, meeting one of the main criteria for a film to be considered classic. Mark Twain also described a classic as “a book which people praise but don’t read,” and the film is so dependent on sight gags and actors’ performances that if it were made into a book that book would be terrible and no one should read it.

Granted this is just my opinion and while most opinions should be taken with at least a grain of salt it’s up to you to decide just how big that grain should be, and I’ll sprinkle in some additional thoughts. At least three times a day I ask myself, what makes you think that? And the first time I saw Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure I said, wow, I know we’re going to see a lot more of Alex Winters, and maybe that other guy too. Keep in mind, though, that this was before Keanu Reeves was famous and was even before I was asked to play Keanu Reeves in a school talent show, back when I had more hair and less waist, but that’s another story. What I’m saying is that with opinions you should always season to taste, and a voice is telling me I’ve already hammered this point so hard it’s embedded in the wood and I should move on.

The critics who hated Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure were also, in my opinion, a bunch of old ugly dudes who missed that Bill and Ted aren’t as stupid as they seem–and maybe even smarter than they realize, like when Bill lets it slip he has “a slight Oedipal complex”, and while it’s lasted, I think it’s greatest impact was for people of a certain age at a certain time, which is ironic for a movie about time travel, but then films about the future have a lousy track record of actually predicting the future with the possible exception of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. And what made it great was not that the way it spoke to a rising generation but its message to the older generation: trust the kids and they will turn out all right. With the right guidance, in fact, they can be extraordinary, and can even make a better world where miniature golf scores are way down and bowling scores are way up. In retrospect it seems almost too perfect that Bill and Ted’s mentor from the future, Rufus, is played by George Carlin who, two decades earlier, embraced the youth culture that was being rejected even by some of his own generation.

Source: Gfycat

While that other well-known ’80’s time travel film, Back To The Future, also contained the warning that the future and even the present aren’t fixed, it looked to the past. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure looked to the future, keeping it largely unknowable, but placing the greatest burden not on the past but the present. Bill & Ted also fully embraced something Back To The Future only touched on: when you’ve got a time machine you’ve literally got all the time in the world, as the disappearance of Ted’s father’s keys in the first reel has a most excellent payoff in the final one.

Source: Bill & Ted

As much as I loved the first film I had low expectations a few years later when I went to the theater to see Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. It felt like the first film was so complete in itself that, in spite of the success, there couldn’t be a sequel. In the theater, though, I did get a brief reminder of what the first film meant to me. There was a group of kids in the front row and somehow before the movie started I got to talking with them found out it was the tenth birthday of one of them. I gave him a pair of sunglasses with glow in the dark frames. “Thanks!” he said. “That was really excellent of you,” his mother told me. I just said, “Party on, dudes,” and took a seat in the back row where the Bogus Journey, in spite of the Ingmar Bergman references and great use of the Vasquez Rocks, was most heinous and non-triumphant.

And now there’s a third film in the works, and I wonder what this future holds. I don’t ask why because it’s Hollywood, Jake, and sequels and franchises have been part of the game at least as far back as the 1930’s with setups like The Aldrich Family which spanned a total of eleven films.

What I’m wondering now is, have they gotten better? Have we? And by “we” I mean those of us who are like Bill and Ted: guys who’ve already started out pretty high up on the ladder and get an extra boost. The future, so far anyway, hasn’t turned out to be so excellent for many people. Those of us who saw ourselves in Bill and Ted had a chance to make the world better and we largely failed. And one of the biggest flaws of the first two is that women, whose historic roles have largely been sidelined or even ignored, get the same treatment from Bill and Ted–even the historic babes. Sure, Joan Of Arc takes over a Jazzercize class, but even the woman who manages their band turns out to be Rufus in disguise. Bill and Ted have been to the past and future and to Heaven and Hell and even defeated Death, and now is their chance to see history as much more complicated than the contributions of as many dudes, mostly white dudes, as can be stuffed into a phone booth. George Carlin is sadly gone but that means we are now Rufus, and we have a responsibility to extend the help we offer far beyond the Circle K parking lot. And some of us old ugly dudes need to be reminded that while we can still party on the first and most important thing we can do in both the present and future is to be excellent to each other.

Riding The Route: Number Seven.

Recently Nashville had a referendum on a new transit plan. I was, well, firmly ambivalent about it. There were a lot of potential benefits I could see but also some major downsides and problems just with the implementation and I was worried Nashville would end up like Cincinnati which started a subway then abandoned it. The referendum, and its failure, reminded me I need to resume my plan to ride every Nashville bus route and also inspired my choice of a route: lucky Number Seven. The Number Seven route goes to Green Hills which is one of the most congested areas of Nashville, mostly because there’s so much stuff there. There are actually two routes that go to Green Hills. The other is the Number Two, which runs roughly every forty-five minutes from 5:34am to 8:55am and then doesn’t restart until 2:15pm on weekdays only. The Number Seven runs roughly every twenty minutes on weekdays and every forty minutes on weekends.

Like all Nashville bus routes it starts from the downtown bus center.

It then winds through downtown and onto Broadway, which takes it by Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt Hospital. I hope I never get tired of making jokes about how you take the fork at the whisk.

Now this is where things start to go wrong: Hillsboro Village. It’s a small but charming little area near Vanderbilt full of stores and nice restaurants. The Belcourt Theater is there and the Fido Coffee Shop and The Pancake Pantry where people literally line up around the block waiting to get in. And cars are allowed to park on the street, reducing the number of lanes and making the whole thing a nightmare of stop and start traffic.

Several blocks after Hillsboro Village is the new challenge of crossing over I-440. Why is that a challenge? Because of all the cars trying to get off I-440 so they can go to Green Hills.

Parts of Green Hills are quite green and even a little hilly.

The bus then winds through the parking lot of Green Hills Mall, the last operating mall in the area and one of the main reasons for all the traffic.

Then it winds out and by Hillsboro High School where, many years ago, I took my first driver’s ed course, but that’s another story—and there was a lot less traffic then.

Then it’s a fifteen minute break at the last stop before the whole thing resumes.

The Portrait.

It’s pretty frustrating that Netflix has just announced a whole new cast of The Crown but is holding off on when the new season will be available—for now they’re just saying 2019—but it made me look back at my favorite episode so far—episode 1, season 9, the one called “Assassins”. I’ve read a little bit about art history—just a few dozen books or so, and taken some classes, but I’d never heard of Graham Sutherland, the artist who painted Churchill’s portrait, a portrait Churchill hated, and which was ultimately destroyed. When Churchill called it “a remarkable example of modern art” he meant that as an insult and the audience laughed.

The episode—spoiler alert—shows Mrs. Churchill burning the portrait herself in broad daylight, with Winston himself as a witness, which is what she claimed happened. It wasn’t until 2015 that it was finally revealed that the portrait, which was supposed to hang in Westminster Abbey, was kept in a cellar for years. Then, in the middle of the night, Mrs. Churchill’s secretary Grace Hamblin and her brother took the painting to the brother’s house and burned it there.

So the story as told in The Crown episode is sort of true and sort of not true. That’s interesting because, as Graham Sutherland himself said in 1944,

I feel that an artist’s business is to find an equivalent to the things which give him is idea, an equivalent which derives its life from being a ‘work of art’ rather than a ‘work of nature’…A metamorphosis has to take place.

Here’s a good example of that: Sutherland’s 1975 work Cathedral Of Rocks:

Source: Pinterest

And here’s a photo of the rocks which inspired that painting:

Source: Graham Sutherland : life, work and ideas by Rosalind Thuillier (The Lutterworth Press, 2015)

At the time Sutherland painted Churchill’s portrait he was highly respected in Britain but his reputation diminished, not so much over the portrait but because of his decision to live part of the year in the south of France, although he became highly respected—and well paid—in Italy, where they know a thing or two about painting. British critics raised their opinion of him a little when he started painting regularly in Wales, drawing inspiration from the landscape and painting pictures like the one above and his 1978 Thicket With Self Portrait. It’s good to see him get some attention again because his paintings are remarkable examples of modern art—and I mean that as a compliment.

Source: Elephant & Castle

 

The Beach Rules.

In order to enjoy the beach safely and responsibly please observe the following rules:

  1. Pets are allowed on the beach but please pick up after them.
  2. Children are allowed on the beach but please pick up after them.
  3. This is a public beach. Please dress appropriately. Yes, we’re talking to you. Really, those shoes with that shirt? Did you get dressed in the dark this morning or what?
  4. If caught in an undertow swim parallel to the beach until you are out of the current and can swim back safely.
  5. If caught in an overtow dive as deep as you can and swim parallel to the beach, if you remember where it is. This is a great chance to see how long you can hold your breath!
  6. If your car is towed call 251-555-3219.
  7. Don’t build a fire unless you’ve been in a horrific plane crash or fallen off a cruise and found yourself stranded alone on the beach. If that’s the case as soon as you start making a fire someone’s bound to show up and tell you you’re doing it wrong. Get a lift home from them.
  8. Feed the seagulls at your own risk. Every year dozens of tourists are carried away by flocks of seagulls.
  9. Do not linger under the palm trees. It makes the coconuts skittish.
  10. Solicitation is prohibited. So is selling anything. If someone approaches you and tries to interest you in a timeshare or beach property tell them you’re Canadian.
  11. There are lifeguards on duty but they can only run in slow motion. If you’re drowning try and prolong it as long as you can.
  12. If you find a lamp on the beach and rub it and a genie doesn’t come out take it home and try plugging it in.
  13. Do not get high on the beach. You might fall off.
  14. Do not taunt the seahorses. They may look cute, especially the babies, but the adults are very protective and, at up to six feet long and three-hundred pounds, can inflict a nasty bite.
  15. Do not drink the water.

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.

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