Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Creepy Pedro Reviews "District 9"

It should not surprise you that, when I accidentally touched the grease of a Hollywood Scriptwriter's typewriter, I began to transform into a Hollywood Scriptwriter myself.

This first manifested as a paunchy sadness. My doctor, instead of giving me Milk of Magnesia and a poultice for my bedsores, hit me on the head and wrapped me in a bag, and the next thing I knew I was in Peter Jackson's torture chamber, screaming.

"I have an idea for a blockbuster movie, but I'm unable to to nail it down, you see," said Mr. Jackson, reclining on a settee with his hairy feet sticking out. "I have stolen a disused Hollywood Scriptwriter's Typewriter from George Lucas' secret museum, but neither my Faceless Spouse nor I can make it operate." And there I saw the Faceless Spouse herself, gnashing and twisting.


Mr. Jackson applauded. "That's excellent! Your transformation into a Hollywood Scriptwriter is almost complete! We need you to operate the Hollywood Scriptwriter's Typewriter in order to ensure the success of our new movie. We want it to be about rampaging aliens that get all shot up. Other than this we do not know."

"I WILL NOT COOPERATE!" I shouted, but when Peter Jackson shocked me with an energy weapon attached to his belly, I told him that he needed to write a socially-relevant story with a strong character arc.

"Social commentary can be complicated and taxing to the audience," said Peter Jackson.

"Not if there are enough guns," I explained patiently, and both Peter and his Faceless Spouse applauded.

"We'll say it's all very maverick and visionary, and not a Hollywood action film at all!" said Peter, laughing. "If anybody gets bored, we'll say it's simply entertainment and not a social commentary!" His Faceless Spouse seemed to enjoy Peter's joke, and as a reward she shambled forth to push gruel into his wet, questing maw. This, I saw, was the source of their twisted bond: the gruel with flecks of meat, the laughing faces, the cynical horror.

Suddenly contemplative, Mr. Jackson stopped eating and pushed his Faceless Spouse aside. "But wait. I can't think of a single socially-relevant topic that hasn't been explored ad-nauseum."

"Xenophobic discrimination," I said.

"Is that good or bad?" asked Peter, and after a few additional shocks due to my predictable non-compliance, I typed out the first draft of a movie which would explain to viewers that xenophobic discrimination is both bad and pervasive. After reading it, Peter put down the script and said "That's really enlightening," and his Faceless Spouse gibbered mindlessly as though hungry for sex.

"But..." said Peter, turning over slightly like a sleek and largely immobile seal, revealing the engorged suckers which hung from his buttocks. "But...if we're going to convince the audience of such an audacious moral idea, we need to make them CARE about the goopy aliens. They must feel EMPATHY. Here's my guy from Weta Digital," and for the next three hours I endured a featurette about the design and implementation of the alien creatures. "After we film the man in the green suit, we digitally erase the wires and begin the sound design," said the guy from Weta Digital.


"Not until you give us a hook to hang the audience's sympathy on."


"Not in Middle Earth," he snarled, and he barraged me with electrical zaps from his bellygun. "Give us what we want or I'll blast your stinking willawalla to the billabong!"

"DESIGN A CUTE ALIEN BABY WITH WET EYES!" I screamed, and then everybody exploded, and now Peter Jackson is rich, and I'm just sitting around and folding these fucking flowers.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Why Helen?"

Hey! If you read more than just this blog (gasp!) you might be interested to know that I'm in the latest issue of India's first (and only) queer periodical, Bombay Dost.

It's a three-page spread with pictures, featuring an article I wrote about Bollywood film idol Helen...or at least the mythical version of Helen that I adore. If you're interested in getting a copy, you can order the issue (number two) online.

It looks great and the article is lots of fun, even if you wouldn't know Helen of Burma from Helen of Troy.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Videosex (No, It's Not What You Think)

I have long been enchanted by this cover of "Across the Universe." It is somehow -- inexplicably -- both heart-wrenchingly beautiful and David Lynch creepy. Likewise the video, which gives me goosebumps and makes me want to run away fast at the same time. It all makes me think of a cross between "O Superman," a church choir, and a meeting of the Hitler Youth.

The band (and tongue-in-cheek presentation) is certainly Laibach, but the singer (Anja Rupel) was in her own band: Videosex, '80s darlings of the former Yugoslavia.

"Videosex" is very weird to the contemporary, non-Yugoslavian listener. Their early new wave/post-punk music has aged poorly with its generic drum machine and vomit-inducing keyboard sax, but even then there was something INTERESTING about their work...a little twist, a little something added to make it stand out, even when they were working in a straight-forward pop genre.

Fortunately they didn't stay there for long. It's on their third album ("Svet Je Kopet Mlad") that they start performing a weird electro-cabaret-swing, as exemplified in this (fortunately translated) video for "Zemlja Pleše."

It's the final album -- "Ljubi In Sovraži" -- that's truly great. It's full of crazy beats and wild stylistic changes...from the quiet ambient booping of "Space Lab" to the over-the-top Foetus-like swing of "Snip Snap" (a cheerful English song about a boy whose thumbs get cut off because he sucks them). "Computer's First Christmas Card" is like nothing I've ever heard, a nonsense scat montage that you'd consider impossible until you actually hear it.

Fortunately the final album is available on iTunes, and so is their enormous "best of" compilation (at a very cheap price). The catch is that the sound quality ranges from "good" to "terrible." It's poorly mastered, has no mid range, and the bass sounds occasionally clip with an awful ripping sound.

The other sad thing is that I can find very little information about the band or their music. They obviously never made a dent in the English-speaking world, and their CD re-releases seem to have made fast-and-loose with the discography, transplanting songs from various eras as "bonus tracks."

Anyway, I'm happy to have found these little gems. If you're a fan of odd pop with a healthy tinge of complete insanity, check out "Ljubi In Sovraži" or -- since the "best of" collection contains most of those songs at the same price -- just get "Arhiv." "Across the Universe" is on there as well, though they've amusingly tried to remove the Laibach grunts at the end.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Meet the Happy-Go-Luckies

Oh wow, these things are ugly and weird.

It gives us great pleasure to present the twelve Happy-go-Luckies, the most amusing place cards that ever graced a sophisticated dinner table. Don't you like the way the cigarettes actually form part of the picture? Do you see that they make the legs of the little bathing girl below...and that a match makes her parasol stick?
As of April 12, 1930 the Lucky Strike company had made twelve varieties of these monstrous things, including what I think is a lady golfer and some jockeys jumping over cigarette-barricades. If we're lucky they'll print close-ups of the others in future issues.

Meanwhile, since they don't make 'em anymore, you can always build your own by centering the picture on your computer screen, taking a pair of gardening sheers, and cutting them OFF the screen, being careful to not disturb the other items on your desktop.*

If you don't want to cut a hole in your monitor, you can always hope to buy them at an online auction. Here's a lot of eleven that recently sold for $100.

Are you wondering what's on the back?

* Don't actually do this!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Miss Scratching Post, February 2010?

There's a contest goin' on...and I'm in it!

Steve "Kitten Do'Claw" is holding a series of YouTube competitions to find Your Favourite Queens. I am honoured and privileged to be one of the three contestants for this month.

What do you need to do? Go to the video and post a comment listing the two queens you want to vote for (Loraguy, Josh Sorce, or me). Votes are taken until February 20th, and the queen with the most votes wins. It's easy if you've got a YouTube account! And if you don't have one...well, think of all the terrible comments you can leave in OTHER videos! And all of the one-star ratings! And the obscenities you can spout! Voting for me in this contest is just the first step to an all new type of social life.

And while you're hanging around, check out Kitten's channel (LiveFromTheCatHouse) to see the only other "domestic drag shows" I've found online. Kitten is a pro, and a sweetie also.

Get your voting gloves on! But please, for the sake of decorum and karma, do not vote with multiple aliases. Seriously. I hate it when other people do it.

Creepy Pedro Reviews "The Exterminating Angel"

I warned them! Didn't I tell the improbable Mexican aristocrats that they must not rise above their social station lest they suffer the consequences of my wrath?

If they were worried about starvation, they should have packed a taco. Rather than fear baldness, they could have donned a wide sombrero. Had they put aside their evening wear and instead worn their comfortable ponchos, they would have escaped the ire and condemnation of me...yes, THE EXTERMINATING PEDRO!

A mistranslated title has confused film students for almost fifty years. Solemn, bearded young women unplug their cherrybomb mouths and scream "What was it all about, Pedro?" because they do not know my full name, they do not know my predilections, they have been tragically mislead.

You see, The Exterminating Pedro admires and respects Mexican culture, especially the jolly antics of the Mexican Jumping Beans. To me, Mexicans and their film directors are like flies in a washbasin, pleasing when they link arms and copulate and play their grand pianos. Otherwise they anger me, so with newspaper or poisoned frijoles I smite them 'til they're DEAD.

But still the girl with the goatee is screaming "What did it all mean?" so let me explain a few things. When the Mexican lady saw a plastic hand floating the darkness, that was MY plastic hand, seeking alms and offering salvation. She screamed because of the Mexican complex about religion, finance, land ownership, imperialism, cleanliness, and The Alamo.

What about the bear and the sheep? Those were MY bear and sheep so please don't touch them.

Why didn't the victims simply leave the room, she asks? Because I wouldn't allow it! I am The Exterminating Pedro! This is all you need to know!

Enough...stop shouting, bearded lady, or I will put you in a room with nine other people who are much like you and equally vapid. I, The Exterminating Pedro, grow weary of your buzzing. Like I did with the improbable Mexican aristocrats of 1962, I wave my plastic hand for silence. You have been warned. You will play or die.

Scrutable Poetry Corner: "Guestroom Books" by Newman Levy

"Guestroom Books" by Newman Levy (The New Yorker, April 12, 1930).
Beside my chaste and downy cot
There stands a goodly number
Of stately tomes of prose and pomes
To lull the guest to slumber.

The verse of T. S. Eliot,
A copy of "Ulysses,"
As though to say "No place you'll stay
So cultured is as this is."

The works (in French) of Baudelaire,
And Keats "Epipsychidion"
And next to it The Holy Writ
Purloined, I fear, from Gideon.

A goodly and narcotic list
Of literary glories,
While down below my host, I know,
Is reading Snappy Stories.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"God's Country: A Short History" by Ralph Barton

The New Yorker panned this book, but it sounded so interesting that I couldn't resist finding a copy: "God's Country: A Short History" by Ralph Barton, published in 1929. As you can see by the tag list for this post, it contains elements of pretty much everything I talk about in this blog.

Barton was a popular '20s cartoonist and caricaturist, and he seemed to be trying to establish himself as a writer before his manic-depression prompted his suicide in 1931. I'm not surprised that he killed himself two years after writing this book. "God's Country" is a bitter thing indeed.

It's a satirical, absurd history of the United States, beginning with Christopher Columbus and ending with a bizarre dystopia in which women have taken over the government, radio advertisers have inadvertently caused widespread looting and domestic terror, and poison gas has destroyed everybody except for eight criminals who -- following the intentions of the pilgrims from the beginning of the book -- set out to wreck everything all over again.

Oooo, it's nasty. Barton has equal loathing for Democrats and Republicans (known in the book as "Uniboodlists" and "Multiboodlists" for reasons I didn't understand), Presidents ("Misters"), businessmen ("Interests"), newspapers (who dictate "Public Opinion"), and the everyday citizens who allow the aforementioned to get away with everything they do, over and over again, throughout the entire history of democracy.

Is there anybody Barton doesn't hate? He appears to have sympathy for Native Americans, he finds few unpleasant things to say about Abraham Lincoln, and he goes out of his way to avoid lampooning African Americans, but for the most part "God's Country" is a relentless, snarky skewering of EVERYBODY. And that means you too, reader. And me.

You can imagine how tedious such a book can be. It's especially tedious to somebody (like me) who doesn't know the finer points of every President -- errr, Mister -- in American history. Barton goes through them all, giving them the names of monarchs ("St. Abraham," "Franklin the Debonaire") to highlight one going theme throughout the book: the American obsession with electing "jus' plain folk" who are -- in actual fact -- part of the social elite who have been carefully groomed to appear otherwise.

This obsession is one element of the book that still holds true today (see Palin, Sarah). Another element is the reliance on FEAR to manipulate public opinion, as formented by business requirements and amplified by the newspapers. We sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that the disgusting collusion of politics, business, and media is a relatively new phenomenon. "God's Country" will tell you different.

After 250 pages of spot-on satire, Barton comes to women's suffrage and temperance activism. I can only assume that he really, really didn't like women, as the book tips from "cutting satire" to "cruel stereotype" in the space of a few pages, detailing a world where women with "blacksnake whips" run around emasculating everybody and turning them into "ex-males." They conceive arbitrary rules and devise irrational schemes to enforce them, finally bringing about the downfall of the already-tottering country. It's ludicrous and leaves a bad impression, and is probably one of the reasons The New Yorker reviewer panned it.

But there are great moments, especially near the end when everything goes completely off the rails. The businessmen are discovered to have retreated into a secret society with its own language ("Six huh pcent a fi million dollas is thutty million dollas. Fiscal.") and in a mysterious desert pilgrimage they invent golf. This presentation of Big Business as a totally self-interested, self-contained, and illogical cabal is ominous in light of the subsequent financial collapse.

When the new breed of radio announcers start to amuse themselves by shouting demands like "Desire to see a prize fight!" and "Long to see a movie about Arabs!", the book provides an amazing insight into '20s popular culture. It's like reading a Readers Digest Condensed Version of The New Yorker between 1925 and 1929:
[They were] soon being ordered to deodorize, to smear mud on their faces, to hate New York, to play Mah Jong, to do cross-word puzzles, to ask each other questions, to bathe in violet rays, to develop personalities, to practice numerology, to adore the Russians, the negroes and aviators, to eat Eskimo Pie, to throw bits of paper out the window, to have themselves psychoanalyzed, to engage in Marathon contests, to eat liver and to perform a thousand other like obediences.
When "God's Country" is good, it's very, very good, but most of it is the 1920s brand of screwball, sledgehammer burlesque that leaves me exhausted, alternating with some surprisingly dry historical dissection.

More importantly, however, it is a clear expression of the immense disgust that an intelligent, educated, creative, and mentally-tortured man had for all the things he saw in the world around him. If he'd had a more balanced view of human nature then "God's Country" would be an easier book to read, but it never would have been written in the first place.

Overheard Over Breakfast: God's Plan Revealed

One great thing about Sunday breakfasts is that I hear all sorts of religious conversations, but since there's no invitation for argument I can just listen in baffled amazement. Here's this morning's treat:
"I just realized that Doris' situation was all part of God's plan. She and Ted divorced and had all that trouble with custody, and then she messed around and married the other guy and they had two kids but it was nothing but problems, and now she's realized that Ted really was the right one after all, so she's getting another divorce. It's like God was guiding her to Ted all along!"

I don't even know where to start with this, so I won't, except to say that when I told Jay about this afterward he said "So the lesson here is that God's a JERK."

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Creepy Pedro Reviews "Airport"

Because we might die before or after we experience love, "Airport" says "Go for it, Mister! Beware the old lady!" These sentiments are even more important now, after The Terrorism, than they were 1000 years ago.

There was a tough-guy mechanic named Joe Patroni, constructed not of flesh or blood but of tightly-knitted quips, like the "Quip Golum" of old. How can one build a tougher man than Patroni, except perhaps with additional quips and sequels? Will he ever get the girl? Will she be compatible with his gruff? These are questions for the next time, my friend, in "Airport 2."

Patroni is in my favourite movie scene: the Snow Boss says "Get out of my way, Patroni!" and he shouts "NEVER!" and there is a mammoth clash of Patroni and the snow removal machine, and you wonder who's going to win until Patroni says "NeeeAHH!" and pushes one inch further and the Snow Boss loses the fight...UNTIL NEXT TIME.

Mayhem and suction, this is the weird world of Airport Management, which you wouldn't understand until you've actually seen it as your parents have. Do you want to apply to work in this job? No way, married men and women, this is not the placement for the likes of you! Gigalos and whores need apply, it says here, if you are cockpit licensed.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dr. Seuss and Flit: "The Big Game Hunter"

I was going to mention that Dr. Seuss draws his insects larger than they really are, but then I'd also have to mention their binocular vision, their dentition, and their unusual number of legs.

Actually, if you look at these creatures and manage to forget that they're "funny," some of them are downright scary!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Requesting Songs of an Orchestra?

Something just occurred to me: how did people transmit their musical requests to orchestras?

Think of it: You're at a swank supper club in the 1920s, and you decide you want to hear "The Kashmiri Love Song." Whether you're dancing on the floor or eating at your table, how would you convey your request to the orchestra's conductor?

Even though you often hear about people in such situations MAKING requests, you rarely hear HOW. Did they politely mention the request to their waiter or a passing busboy? Did they shout it out while applauding? Did they approach the musicians during a break? Did they leave notes on the stage? Was there an established job of standing at the edge of the stage and taking requests?

My guess is that the waiter or busboy was the go-between, but I have no proof and I'm very curious.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Creepy Pedro Reviews "Hell House"

Some people are worried about going to "The Hell House" after they die, so I will try to be accurate here instead of riding the winged Gorgon of Dante's fancy, no matter how often that Gorgon says "C'mon, Pedro, and ride me!"

The "Hell House" documentary was a powerful life-changing experience for me, not because I was ever a Pentecostal Person who killed my peers but because I have spent every one of my two-thousand lives inside "The Hell House." I do not expect this situation to change.

For example, in one life, my wife left me for a lover she met in a chat room for cat fanciers. I was the young girl who drank too much alcohol and saw a tree fall beside an old man, and yet that girl (who was I) did nothing and told nobody and perhaps even smiled. I burned my bra on the capital steps and then spent eternity eating the same food over and over again, while waitresses tormented me and made me continue to pay for the food even though it was just the same food over and though it were all some kind of "Hell House!"

Like the children in "The Hell House" I learned that it is difficult to refuse homosexuality when it is slipped to me at a rave, because raves make you feel "out of this world" and are distracting for those who think in "slow-mo." My school teacher used to say to me: "WHAT IS YOUR HOMEWORK, PEDRO?" and I'd scream "I DON'T KNOW, STOP LAUGHING AT ME!" and the teacher would say "YOU'RE CREEPY, PEDRO, AND YOU ARE THIRTY-FIVE YEARS OLD!" and I'd scream "WHEN WILL IT END?" just before, fortunately, it ended. This is a bit like when "The Hell House" ended.

Other than that, however, the movie was booooring. I learned that the Pentecostal People in the film were not ageless demons who had existed "before Jesus time," but instead they were all from the south, and some of them were in fact very old. According to the man who appeared in the middle of this documentary, the Pentecostal People spent time in hell and wanted to warn us to go elsewhere for a while. One part of the torture was to wear a plastic bag, and another part was abortion. They would not allow the Dalai Llama to go into "The Hell House" because of a policy regarding animals. FOR THIS ALONE I SALUTE THEM!

One final thing to watch out for: at 48:10 minutes into the movie, the "Hell House" people spoke in a love language that I didn't understand! I did not understand that love! This should not surprise anybody but it made me feel terrible!

(Another of the "Creepy Pedro" movie review from Genxine, the literary organ of Generation X Video. This one is from August 25, 2007 and it contains portions that were removed from the printed version...perhaps because they were simply too creepy!)

A $100 Hamburger in Every Stomach

In response to my "Plane in Every Driveway" post, pilot-friend and musician extraordinaire Chad Faragher had this to say:
Cool! Well, I have two opinions. The "dream" of a plane in every driveway was squashed for the same reason as a car in every driveway - infrastructure. Car travel was made popular by two things: service (gas) stations and paved roadways. Airtravel was made popular by airports with paved runways. But at the time ...of the invention of each, nobody believed it was possible to put enough gas stations around so you could get everywhere you wanted to go. and the idea of travelling anywhere you want to go without leaving pavement was absurd. But mass production made cars popular enough that people had to build the roads. Henry Ford actually conceived of a plane for every person too. For some reason, the idea never "took off". There was no supporting infrastructure for aircraft. At least cars had horse & cart pathways, wooden bridges etc. to build on. Modern pilots are pretty lucky to have things like controlled airspace, radar, transponders, GPS, modern weather reporting and predicting, satellites, etc.

I guess fear is a factor too. I know that some people that first rode in cars were scared to drive them faster than a horse could run. I'm sure people have plenty of reasons to be afraid of aeroplanes. They are particularly dangerous when things go wrong, so you have to put a lot of effort into making sure that things go right.

That brings me to pilot training vs car-driver training. If everyone got as much training to drive a car as pilots to do fly a plane, I think the world would be a safer place. On the other hand, piloting likes to be exclusive, after all, if it were easy, everyone would be doing it.

And finally, what do _I_ want to do with my pilot's license? Apart from the personal achievement of doing it (because it _is_ difficult) I really like the freedom of being able to go wherever I want, whenever I want. Although as we are constantly reminded, freedom isn't free. In fact, renting it costs about $150/hour.

I will probably visit many of the little hole-in-the-wall places in Ontario, but only for lunch ;) An afternoon in the muskokas, some sightseeing, and just generally answering the call of the open skies (referring to "the call of the open road" that motivates many recreational motorists.)

And another reason that must be mentioned, is the $100 hamburger. Although I'd be more inclined to go to Boston for lobster dinner or something like that.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Elizabeth Bowen, "The Heat of the Day"

I read a glowing review of an early Elizabeth Bowen short story collection in a 1930s New Yorker magazine, so I picked up one of her well-regarded novels: "The Heat of the Day." Written in 1948 and covering the London Blitz -- a period that fascinates me -- it should have been a satisfying read. Unfortunately it drove me crazy with tedium and frustration.

"The Heat of the Day" follows the complex interactions of a small group of characters in wartime London, none of who is unambiguously who they claim to be. Surrounded by the unique rules and sensations of a country at war, they both rely on each other and threaten each other, using ominous and largely-unspoken powers and secrets to make life difficult for everyone around them.

On the surface it has the plot of a thriller (an intelligence agent is blackmailing a woman because he knows her boyfriend is a traitor), but that's only the first layer and it's the least important. The second layer is the constant uncertainty of who is who, why they say what they say, and what sort of ominous secrets do they hold, not to mention the influences that war and secrets and uncertainty have on people's behaviour.

Unfortunately even THAT layer of plot is subordinate to the novel's real, central focus: the extremely complicated mental and emotional interplay between the characters whenever they gather in different combinations. I say that's "unfortunate" because the bulk of the novel is dense, head-to-head dialog that veers into psychology and philosophy for dozens of pages at a stretch. People come together, they debate, and they debate some more. They talk about their own thoughts and impressions in such an artificial way that it's like witnessing a therapy session for neurotic poet-philosophers:
"Anything one must say, one must say as soon as one can. One cannot time feeling--at least, as you know, I can't: I suppose that's where to women most men seem to blunder. No, you must face it: all along the line I'm not half so clever as you seem to have thought--or half-thought?"
And on and on and on.

People don't talk like that. It's not even artificial in a "deeper level of language" sort of way. It's not the kind of language that resonates, it's the sort of thing you'd read in the rough notes for a textbook. Everybody in "The Heat of the Day" both talks and thinks that way...and most of the novel is them talking and thinking, alone or in pairs, in a succession of increasingly dreary rooms.

But there's something else underneath it all which manages to hold it together: the mood. A sense of approaching danger and a deep, wicked, selfish wartime hopelessness. Most fascinating is Louie, a character so tangential to the plot that she need not even be there...but her petty, stupid uselessness is what informs the rest of the book and puts everything else in context. It all begins and ends with her, even though she has no actual influence ON anything.

That tells you something important about "The Heat of the Day," but I'm not sure exactly what. I found the book befuddling; though I'm impressed by Elizabeth Bowen's writing, and though I found the more tangible and restrained sections of the book to be beautiful and slightly terrifying, the book itself was an annoyance.

I've gotten my hands on a complete collection of her stories and I look forward to reading it: my impression of Bowen is that her obsessive and searching eye is much better suited to short stories.

Admirable Mom Traits: Forestalling Public Tantrum with Simulated Enthusiasm, Plus Bonus Odd Comment

Most of my favourite mom-traits are the various methods of forestalling tantrums. Here's one I witnessed in the supermarket today.

MOM: Honey, they're popsicles.


MOM: Gasp, look! Neapolitan icecream!


MOM: I love Neapolitan icecream, we haven't had it in SO LONG!


MOM: Neapolitan ICECREAM! Let's...oh, no, this isn''s something else...


Bonus comment overheard in Tim Horton's during lunch:
Hey Joe, have you seen that movie, "Zeitgeist?" You should really...huh? It's Z-E-I... It's an American movie. I don't know why it's got a German name.
Edited: additional mom/child interaction overheard yesterday in crowded checkout line:

MOTHER: Stop it.

CHILD: Mom, don't hit me!

MOTHER: I'm not hitting you!

CHILD: Mom, don't hit me in the face!

MOTHER: Daniel! When have I ever hit you in the face!

The Drys Go Happily to Hell, Plus Cat Joke

In March, 1930, after ten years of expensive prohibition "enforcement" that did little except make bootleggers rich, Americans loudly debated whether to reform the Volstead act. It was obvious that people of all social stripes were still drinking almost as much booze as they had been previously, and it was obvious to most people that prohibition encouraged outright graft and corruption to the point where people just assumed that every cop (and government official) was on the payroll of crime syndicates.

But still the "Drys" held on. Powerful voting blocs had not yet reached the point of "repeal," simply asking for "reform." Magazines like The New Yorker had a field day with this whole debate, as often happens when opposing views become totally strident, polarized, pointless, and out of touch with reality.

So March 29, 1930 brings the first really great New Yorker cover that I've seen so far, drawn by Rea Irvin, probably the most constant contributor to the magazine since its inception. Just look at the happy grin of the "Wet" good-time girl falling to hell, and the awful drabness of the "Dry."

(As always, click for a bigger version)

I'm confused about the cat, though. Was this from some temperance meme of the day, or was the "Dry" a caricature of a notable cat-loving person, or did Irvin add it simply to add balance and humour to the cover?

We'll never know, but I DID find this great cat joke:
Amie Semple McPherson was an old time evangelist who was known for her dramatic sermons. Once she sent a little kid up into the choir loft and told him to release a dove out of its cage on cue.

So she was preaching away and said, "And the Lord will send a dove of peace..."

And the kid yelled out, "The cat just ate the dove. Should I throw down the cat?"

Sunday, January 03, 2010

I'd Buy Anything By...Skinny Puppy

One of my first jobs was as a part-time clerk at "Sounds Music Plus," a record store in New Hamburg. Besides sitting around waiting for somebody to buy the latest New Kids on the Block or gospel album, me and friend/fellow clerk Lynda would get to hear the latest music.

In 1988 she played me the extended remix of Skinny Puppy's "Testure." I'd never heard of the band before. Until then I'd mainly been listening to synthpop, but thanks to Lynda my musical interests took an irreversible new course into politically angry NOISE.

"Testure" was far more commercial than any of Skinny Puppy's older songs so it was a good introduction to the band. After I picked up their "viviSECTvi" album I was exposed to the real Skinny Puppy sound: dirty, chaotic, multi-layered, screechy, and totally unlike anything else before or since.

It took two more years until Lynda and I finally got to see Skinny Puppy during their "Too Dark Park" tour. It was a year after their Ministry-produced "Rabies" album had been released, so the crowd was a diametrically-opposed mix of angsty goths and mohawked crowd-surfers. Their gleeful moshing stopped after only a few minutes exposure to the on-screen video footage.

Here's the live backing video for "Testure," and it's EXTREMELY graphic. I'm presenting it as an example of what sets Skinny Puppy apart from other bands which use shocking, horrific imagery, and why I still respect them for what they did.

Second warning about this footage, especially for those of you who adore animals. Don't watch. You've been warned.

You see, Skinny Puppy never glamorized atrocity. They used it as a tool. You won't find a single Skinny Puppy song that glorifies its subject matter; instead you get vocalist Nivek Ogre screaming about how sh*tty us human beings are, without an ounce of glitz or self-aggrandizement. This stands in stark contrast to horrorcore or even the Nine Inch Nails-ish bands which combine glam, self-pity, and rock star posturing to diffuse whatever message they might have had.

So Skinny Puppy was a topical band concerned with warfare, greed, corruption, and injustice. It's true that they didn't offer solutions to any of the problems they wrote about, but at least they took an unflinching and honest view.

Anyway, I continued to wallow in Skinny Puppy's misery during my teens and early-adulthood. I attempted a terribly-executed and misconceived Nivek Ogre hairstyle in grade 13. They inspired (and continue to inspire) many aspects of music that I love today, heavy percussive delay and distortion (on everything) in particular. I even met my first two girlfriends at Skinny Puppy concerts, and joined my first band thanks to a Skinny Puppy shirt, and learned about another long-term musical obsession (The Legendary Pink Dots) through a Skinny Puppy side-project.

Then -- while the band was struggling through the long process of recording "The Process," -- I started reevaluating my life. I realized that I'd sunk so far into depressing, angry music that it was actually feeding my worst character traits: a sense of helplessness, a deep self-pity, and a crippling misanthropy. A radical cure was required, and I swallowed it whole: I dived head-first into ABBA.

It couldn't have happened at a better time, because Skinny Puppy was disintegrating. Synth/sampling genius Dwayne Goettel died of a drug overdose and -- even worse -- Nivek Ogre decided he should sing. He and remaining member cEvin Key called it quits at the same time I was putting my Skinny Puppy CDs and vinyl into storage.

Then, in 2003, they reformed and started releasing new material.

It would be silly to expect them to sound the way they used to, but rather than run ahead of musical trends they are now lagging sadly behind, aping a dozen other "new metal" bands on the scene. The lyrics have lost their edge and both time and repetition have dulled the impact of the stage shows. A friend once described Ogre's live performance as "Come out dirty, hit himself, fall down, get dirtier, keep on falling down." He also said it would be far more shocking if Ogre wore a suit. He was right.

Their new albums aren't bad but they aren't good either. Ogre's decision to sing isn't a good one, and their meticulous sound certainly suffered when Goettel died. I CAN say, however, that after ten years of dismissing my previous love of Skinny Puppy as misguided, I have rediscovered their early genius and I try to remember them as they were:

Albums to buy: "viviSECTvi" hits the hardest and has the most layers, while "Bites" shows their earlier, cleaner, pre-Goettel sound. Albums to avoid: Excluding their two "reformed" albums, "The Process" is a terrible train-wreck and "Rabies" is pretty weak, and some people think "Mind: TPI" is a mess (but I like it). For fans only: The inevitable cEvin Key "Brap" releases of demos and early material, which are interesting appendixes for those who love the albums.

Creepy Pedro's Favourite Songs from Movies

  • I was offended when Tina Turner sang "We Don't Need Another Pedro." In response to this insult I called her a "spoiled ham." When asked about this on television she called me "a no-talent meat-man," and we have not spoken since this incident.
  • I was happier with her song called "Acid Queen" from "Tommy," which did not address me personally. But the song I REALLY liked in that movie was Ann-Margaret's rendition of "Beans, Beans, Beans!"
  • "Indian Love Call," from I forget.
  • In "Kiss Me Kate," when Ann Miller sings "Too Darn Hot," she is sexier than a cat with tap shoes!
  • Songs about asteroids make me cry for obvious reasons.
  • In "Forrest Gump," Tom Hanks farts in a way that I consider musical, if unstudied.
(A few years ago I wrote movie reviews for Genxine, the literary organ of Generation X Video. Some of them were pretty good, so I plan on reprinting them here, including those -- like this one -- that I don't believe were ever published).


(In reference to Reuben's practice of naming sandwiches after Broadway stars..."The Eddie Cantor Chicken Club," etc. The artist is Leonard Dove.)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

A Plane in Every Driveway

Either folks in the early '30s were positively airplane crazy, or the companies that built airplanes wanted to manufacture that impression. Issues of The New Yorker have contained airplane advertisements from the late '20s, but by March 15, 1930, the trickle of plane promotion has become a flood.

Half of the advertisements are devoted to commercial flights, either for vacationers ("Havana") or commuters ("New York to Boston"). The commuter flights were surprisingly cheap ($11 or so) and seemed to involve some level of comfort: in-flight food, heated cabin, the works.

The advertisements for PRIVATE airplanes are far more interesting. It seems you could buy a plane for about $1000, and by folding up the wings you could keep it in an ordinary car garage. The implication, by 1930, really was that you could store and use a plane enough to make the price worthwhile...though they're a bit vague about what you'd actually use the plane FOR. And they tend not to mention picky things like "runways" and "engine maintenance" and "maximum load."

I'm looking at an advertisement for a personal open cockpit biplane from the Travel Air Company. It's the story of a man whose wife -- after landing the plane "on the lower lawn" -- finally talks her father-in-law into "going up." He has the time of his life and is an instant convert to private air travel...but he never says "Wait a minute...what do you guys use this thing for?"

And that IS the question. Why don't we each have an airplane in the garage? I suppose because few of us have "lower lawns" to use as runways, and neither do our workplaces. Maybe most of us are afraid of heights. Or maybe air congestion would be too difficult a problem to solve. Or -- most likely -- the growing passenger capacity of commercial air travel made private planes less essential to most of those who would have bought them.

Today I only know one person with a pilot's license. I'll have to ask him what he plans to use it for. I hope he'll have some insight into the practicality of air travel.

PS: In the same issue of the magazine, the London correspondent laments the sorry state of air travel in England. Apparently the problem was that the airplane insurance was so high that each year's payment equalled the cost of the plane itself.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Xanadu and '80s Sexuality

I'm sitting here watching "Xanadu" and trying to define the elements of it which make me slightly queasy. It's not the music -- which I love -- or the clothes or hair -- which will look less and less ugly as time goes by -- or even the bad acting.

It's the ATTITUDE. It's the overdriven '80s sexuality.

This is hard for me to define because I grew up in that era. I also don't want to make any assumptions about the '80s without likewise analyzing OTHER eras. "Xanadu" is interesting because it encompasses some '40s elements as well, prompting the question "Why do I not see similar problems with the attitudes of the '20s? The '40s? The '60s? Today? Is it just because I cry whenever I see Gene Kelly dancing inside a giant pinball machine?"

Thanks to "Xanadu" I think I can finally define what makes me nervous about the late '70s and the '80s: a cocksure, unsubtle, party-all-night attitude combined with often sadistic misogyny. Every shot seems to communicate "We're havin' a three-day PARTY, everybody! And we're gonna have SEX WITH ALL THESE CHICKS! And the worst that'll happen is we'll get herpes and a bloody nose!"

Look at the musical numbers in "Xanadu" and compare them to a '40s musical, or compare "Solid Gold" with what you probably would have seen in a '50s nightclub. Sure the women would be objectified, and the men would pay overt sexual attention to the women, but while in -- for example -- a '50s nightclub they'd communicate "I really would like to have sex with her tonight," in "Xanadu" they're saying "I'm gonna f*ck her tonight, and her sister too, and it'll feel so GOOOOOD, LET'S GO!"

I can't prove this, I'm mostly just looking at facial expressions and body language. The sexuality is self-obsessed and dead-eyed and just a little creepy, if not simply lecherous. Leaving aside the number by The Tubes* for example (in which an moaning, orgiastic woman is strapped to a synthethiser by a simpering idiot) you've just got this feeling that it's ALL about the sex and the cocaine, nothing else, nada. It probably always HAS been about the sex and the Current Drug of Choice, but it was never quite as bare-faced and cocky.

I think things have changed. Men in the media still prowl around women like horny dogs, but there is no longer the same degree of entitlement and certainty and thrill-seeking. Even as outfits have become more sexual and revealing in the mainstream, women seem to have a BIT more power than they did in the '80s.

All that aside, however, Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra make the perfect combination. It's amazing the producers could afford such huge musicians after filling out their rotoscoping budget.

* When I think of cocky, aggressive, downright grotesque '80s sexuality I think of The Tubes. Do you?

Scrutable Poetry Corner: "Spring Song" by Richard Peckham

Oh jeez, I can't wait.
The oily air is warm and sunny
And I am feeling fine but funny.
Break out the sulphur and molasses;
The boys and girls are making passes
On buses and beneath Childs' tables.
The pigeons on their copper gables
Bellow like amorous vacuum cleaners.
Our winter fare of rolls and weiners
No longer suits. Let's have some rhubarb.
The air today has got a new barb--
Not frost but blue and growling fire.
The veins that were as stiff as wire
Are gone as slow and soft as soup.
Leave off the coat and give a whoop.
A bowl of well-steeped calamus
Would make a dandy lunch for us.
Let's not go back to work today.
This weather takes the will away.
This is the time when girls begin
To fill their clothes as plums their skin.
O for a yard of grassy hummock
On which to lay the languid stomach.
O for a month to be just lazy,
Sung at by birds a trifle crazy.
(From the March 15, 1930 issue of The New Yorker. Richard Peckham was the pseudonym of Raymond Pekham Holden, who wrote a lot of poetry for the magazine during the '30s. I can't find a single biography online).

The ZsaZsaBlog VII

Every day for the last year I've come home expecting to find Zsa Zsa either dead or dying. During that time she has gotten terribly skinny and bowlegged, and her posture has changed and she's not as concerned with personal hygiene as she used to be, but otherwise she's exactly the same cat. Which is weird!

She still yowls for food and for the privelege of sitting on the patio (or, at the moment, stepping onto the patio and saying "Oh wait a second, never mind"). She climbs up and down the stairs with no problem at all. She jumps from my armchair to my bed -- a seemingly impossible task -- without batting a whisker. And at every opportunity she snuggles up to me and purrs and purrs and purrs.

She has even developed a new vocalization ("Eeeow, yow, yow!") which means "I want to play!" Seriously, this arthritic and organ-failed cat loves to jump up on my bed -- always the bed -- to play the two games that still tantalize her: "Catch the feathered toy when it scoots past you" and "Stomp on the pen-tip papers when I flick them at you." She's playing the second game in the picture above.

After she soaked the basement carpet with urine, however, it was obvious that something needed correcting. So I cut the carpet into pieces and removed it under cover of darkness and I bought her a second litterbox, one with tall sides. I also removed the hood, and put one of those doggie pee-pads around it (thanks, Lydia!)

This has worked. She's stopped using the old litterbox almost entirely. I think she still TRIES to pee outside of it, but the edges are high enough to block the stream. I also bought her a cat water-fountain (her FOURTH) which seems to have improved her life immensely.

Getting her to eat can be a hassle. She used to be the least finicky cat in the world, but I think that food is less interesting to her than it used to be, and maybe it makes her a little sick. The vet prescribed Azodyl to supposedly remove some of her uremic toxins, but it's difficult to know if it's working.

Most strange is the way that our relationship has changed. For nine years she was a roommate who needed very little attention or upkeep, whereas now she relies on me constantly. I have discovered that if I interact with her through the day -- pick her up and let her look out the windows, play with her, put her on my lap, talk to her -- she becomes far perkier (and hungrier) than on those days when I'm distracted and selfish. It's to the point -- and has been for almost a year now -- that I'm afraid to leave her alone for an entire day, in case she might just give up.

So Zsa Zsa, now, is a surprisingly capable invalid. I'm hoping she lasts until the spring at least, so she can finally enjoy the patio at its best. I'm also hoping she dies when it's warm so I can bury her in the garden that she loves to play in.

But the way things are going, she'll outlast me!