Tuesday, October 25, 2016

World Series and Crazy Christians

I am getting lazy lazy about blogging, but have to come in here for this - the World Series starts tonight - with some good old fashioned curses on the line. Cubs and Indians! Though for me, it looks like a Red Sox intramural game - Tito, Napoli, Miller, Coco Crisp vs. Theo, Lester, Lackey, Anthony Rizzo (probably why Theo is in Chicago - if AdGon had worked out in Boston, he and Tito might still be there...) Fun times!

All logic dictates the Cubs to win. If the Indians had their full compliment of pitchers, it would be close to a toss up, since with Kluber, Salazar, Carrasco and Tomlin, they would be a match for anyone. As it is - Cubs just have more at their disposal. And some big game players in there - Lester going for his third ring, Lackey too... But still - I think I might root for the Indians. Underdogs - and not the Cubs. Much as I like this edition, they are the Cubs...

Meanwhile - as far from that as you can get - I read that Jack Chick has died. Well - not completely unrelated. Chick's tracts - the little ones, the ones people handed out at camp meetings and on the streets - have always been around me, and I got to read a good sample fo them when I was a kid. I always remember This Was Your Life - some smug asshole gets struck dead at a party and goes before the throne of god to be confronted with his sins. Typical camp meeting style scare mongering "evangelism" - with a line I couldn't ignore. At one point our damned hero is sitting in church - he's all excited - "see! I went to church!" - but god can read minds: "I wonder who's winning the ball game?" That's a burning offense! And poor me, sitting in some church service, wondering who was, in fact, winning the ball game, or who would make the all star game, or whatever occupied my mind, thought, well - I guess I am one of the damned too....

So: now he is dead, Mr. Chick. Im not sure if it's more surprising that he was still alive, or that he existed at all - there is something about those little tracts that suggests an elaborate joke of some kind. Dark dungeons, in particular, has taken on a pretty strong half life as a camp classic - but a lot of them have that effect. Even when I was a kid and subject to that kind of pressure more than I care to admit, Chick tracts were almost amusing, and somehow extremely compelling. I think it's the art - the simple, crude, mostly realistic style - it was within my reach, maybe. I wished I could draw, tell stories in pictures (and words), and those tracts showed a way to do it. Maybe. I know that - here's an irony for you - the look of those comics had the same effect that the art in the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books had, especially the incidental art in the DMG - "no honor among thieves" - the same pen and ink drawings, clear and quick points, little mini-narratives in every picture... like marginal doodles. I have a soft spot for that kind of art generally - illustrations in Hardy Boys books do the same thing. Great stuff. So - I could smirk at the heavy handed fire and brimstone stuff and admire the form, even in high school or before....

Though that didn't work so well when I came across some of the comic books he published. The Crusaders - sweet holy fucking Jesus! The tracts are fairly standard issue high pressure Repent or Go To Hell! "evangelism" or cheesy culture war stuff (taking on evolution, D&D or whatever). But the comics? I saw some of those when I was in high school still - fairly innocuous things about smuggling bibles into Russia or whatever - but in college, I came across the harder stuff. One of the guys had a pile of them he'd let people read - and these... I guess it's the "Alberto" stuff that really took the prize: a former Jesuit who found the truth and revealed the inner workings of the Catholic church. Yikes: they invented communism, evolution, satanism, nazism, homosexuality and rock and roll (if I remember it right), all while priests and nuns fucked like rabbits and filled tunnels with aborted fetuses.... I don't think that is hyperbole. They were astonishing, those comics - both for their virulent anti-Catholicism (in 1979! I still heard some ant-papists running around in the 70s and 80s, but even the worst of them weren't accusing the pope of founding both the communists and nazis), and for the batshit insanity of it all. It was stuff straight from the good old days, 19th century know nothing anti-catholic propaganda (rather specifically: I saw the same stories in 19th century anti-Catholic tracts)... horror show stuff, played - kind of straight. Though like a lot of things, it's hard to tell the difference between someone trying to seriously argue that the pope founded the communist and nazi parties, and someone parodying the idea, to make a good horror story...

Anyway. I can't deny, I found those things fascinating - the tracts anyway. The comics, trying for a more sophisticated style, plus their plain evil, were less interesting. Read them once and walk away... But the tracts - people still hand them out on the streets once in a while and I look them over with that odd mix of amusement and revulsion, and, well, envy - at some weird level, making art, no matter what the purpose, offers something like redemption, even for evil people and evil art. Maybe that attitude goes back to Chick, just a bit - the split between the stupidity and viciousness of the content, and the inherent value of being able to express yourself is very strong in some of those tracts. I suppose I am one of the damned - damned to formalism. There are worse things, though.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate

Bob Dylan has won the nobel prize for literature. This is surprisingly moving to me - fills me with more delight than I could have imagined. There will be complaints (that one isn't stupid, just a complaint that Dylan is a musician, not a writer; or something), but I don't care. Dylan's art is made of words, and words are literature, and that's enough for me.

I wrote about him recently so I won't go into depth again. The relevant part of that essay might be this paragraph - Bob the writer:
Leave it then. Let's get to the good stuff. Because there is no denying his genius: as a writer at least, though he is not slouch as a songwriter, and though he is not what you would call a singer - he is most definitely a voice. But it is the words that make him what he is. I sometimes come across people who doubt the Bob - who try to show he wasn't so good after all - they are incorrect. They might complain about some aspect of his writing - the obscurity and obliqueness of some of his songs - but they complain about those things by ignoring the songs that are nothing like that: that get to the point and fast. What's obscure about Hurricane or the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll? But plain or obscure, conventional or experimental - he was always sharp, dazzling, surprising and careful. The words make him what he is, the words and how he uses them. It's there in those piles of words, lines, images in the early songs - in the clear, direct statement of songs like the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll - in the meandering narratives of 70s songs, from Desire or Blood on the Tracks. He uses words to make music - the way they clash and throng, jammed together out of time, their mysterious pauses and transitions, repetitions, all the poetic tricks he uses - rhymes and internal rhymes and alliterations and assonance - While preachers preach of evil fates/Teachers teach that knowledge waits... lay slain by a cane... (or those three tables, also in ...Hattie Carroll...) - they all add up. However they read on the page, he always wrote these words to be sung - or performed, anyway - they are rhythmic and propulsive, ragged (usually), fitted to his voice. It's as if the words were a musical instrument.
For the full appreciation, I would recommend Edroso - he's far more eloquent... But for me - this makes perfect sense. Song writers deserve to be honored as writers once in a while. It is good to have people appreciate words across different media. As for Dylan himself: I like him, though he is probably not my favorite songwriter, even considered purely as a writer. I always liked Lou Reed more; I have my own little pantheon of heroes - Richard Thompson, David Thomas, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey - and in more conventional styes, Mick Jagger (And Keith Richards, whatever their division of duties is), and, maybe most of all, Smokey Robinson. But those are my preferences, undoubtedly idiosyncratic in places - and Dylan has the advantage over all of them in terms of the length and breadth of his career, his influence, both on the world and other writers/singers/musicians. He did indeed strike out in new directions as a "pop" songwriter - the others followed. Most of them (the ones I named) explicitly following Dylan. So - you bet he deserves this prize.

And so? some music, huh? A beautiful video for Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.

Something about the roots - where he comes from, where he took it - and, you know.. Dylan on TV, singing Man of Constant Sorrow:

And - influence: Richie Havens covering All Alongthe Watchtower:

And deeper influence, I guess - a school of rock band covering the Minutemen's Bob Dylan Wrote the Propaganda Songs":

Friday, October 07, 2016

Baseball Playoffs and Weather

So the sox lost last night, Porcello giving up three gopher balls in quick succession - yup. I should have written some predictions on this stuff - maybe I will after all. I don't know what the Red Sox are going to do - the starters are very good - but I don't trust any of them. I don't know. The offense cruised along, but sort of took the last week or so off - Bogaerts looks tired - so I don't know. Said that too much. I want them to win, but I want the Indians (and Terry Francona, and Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller, Coco Crisp, etc) to win. So - still think the Sox might be slight favorites, even down a game, but they could be done in three.

Since I'm doing this - I think the Blue Jays will win their series. Obviously got the right kind of start. Texas is a strange team - best record in the American league, but barely outscored their opponents - that is not a recipe for beating any of the other teams in this post-season.

I think the Sox would beat the Jays, if they play in the next round; I think the Jays will beat the Indians (who are missing too many of their pitchers) if they play...

And NL? I think the Nats will finally win something, beating the Dodgers. I certainly hope so.

And the Cubs? I mean - they're supposed to win the world series, and if they don't, well - but they are playing the Giants and it is an even numbered year. The Cubs can take comfort in the fact that Bumgarner isn't likely to start more than one game, though who knows how many relief innings he'll throw. Yep.

After that? Cubbies should still win through. Though, you know - Bumgarner. Unless the Cubs hold their regular season form, this is a pretty open post-season.

World Series? if the Red Sox can beat the Indians, they should win the series. If they don't - Cubs are the obvious pick; Giants though - what can you say? You mean I have to commit? Sox if they win this series - Cubs if they don't.

I really want to see Nats and Indians, and Tito get another one. But hey...

Meanwhile - here's Bob Dylan offering advice for those in the path of the hurricane - stay safe! (And gotta say: man, this is a scorching take on the song.)

Wednesday, October 05, 2016


(Cross posted from Wonders in the Dark.)

Alphaville is the first Godard film I ever saw, way back in the mid-80s. I saw it on a double bill with Alexander Nevsky, if my memory is accurate after 30 odd years. I remember liking Nevsky, though finding it all a bit strange; but Alphaville was a revelation. I had ideas about what Godard was supposed to be like - he was supposed to be difficult, possibly blasphemous (this is back around the time of Hail Mary - which I think was the second Godard film I ever saw, and came a bit closer to what I had been led to expect.) Instead, I saw this astonishing science fiction noir...

It is a beautiful film, with its rich play of light and dark, its bodies in rest and motion in overlit antiseptic spaces and dingy dark hallways, its faces, its eyes, especially Anna Karina's face and eyes. It's an overpoweringly romantic film - I walked out enthralled by Eluard and the staging of his poetry, Anna Karina’s voice, the light and dark, hands and faces, the strange contrast between Karina and Eddie Constantine - that sequence is, by itself, one of the most romantic, achingly sensual, passages ever put on film. I had never seen anything like it then, and haven't seen much like it since. But what might have been even more surprising was how funny the film is. Full of jokes, full of wit, visual, verbal, jokes coming out of the material, the references, the performances, staging, the setting. (That machine that asks you to insert a coin, then gives you a thank you token.) It's always serious, but never takes itself seriously - a pretty universal trait in Godard’s films. They are funny - they are full of serious things, conversations, ideas, images - but they are packed with jokes, visual and verbal puns, in jokes, references and allusions that become comical in context. (And it gets even funnier when you start spotting the things Monty Python stole - it's tattooed on the back of their neck!) It was a fine introduction to Godard - it conditioned me to look for beauty, romanticism, sensuality and wit, as well as Deep Thoughts and Art. (Which it has; don't discount that.)

And even more - it worked quite well, when I saw it the first time, as straight up science fiction. It holds up as science fiction now, both as pop fiction and for its ideas. It's ideas are legit, it’s image of the future: artificial intelligence, technology and technocracy, its particular brand of dystopia - a cool vicious embrace of science and logic, a technocratic tyranny, power diffused and de-personalized, a cruel, violent regime uncluttered by charismatic monsters. Dr. Von Braun is a cold dead eyed technocratic sadist, surrounded by dull technicians who follow him around like nervous interns. The only villain with any personality is Alpha 60 itself, a thing of rhythmic flashing lights, slide shows, and a mechanical voice. People have become zombies in this world, responding automatically - "Yes, I'm fine, don't mention it" - to any conversation; clapping politely at executions - their responses as automated as machines. Against this comes Lemmy Caution violent cool in a trench coat, cigarettes, and 45 automatic, crashing through this world with passion, emotion and art. This might be Godard's most Romantic film, too - in the sense of Romanticism as the embrace of passion, art and beauty, emotion and disorder against logic, order, science. Lemmy comes bearing pop culture props and poetry and represents the artist very well. He represents Godard very well - this is his quintessential mixture - pop culture and high art, science fiction tropes (high and low science fiction), plus noir, plus comics, plus high art, Eluard and Celine, and Cinema, always cinema - and maybe some general semantics to boot. All of it is fed in, all of it is taken seriously, and all of it is material for jokes. Nothing is allowed to settle in Godard's films - and it's that settling, that insistence on control, predictability, order, that Godard (and Lemmy) object to under the rule of Alpha 60.

Though in fact even the computer is more complicated that that. It is commanding and charismatic, in its way - almost Romantic, in a strange sense. A Satanic figure, undone by the hero - but compelling in itself. Satanic in Mick Jagger's sense, which itself is a Romantic notion of the devil - Satanic like Lucifer, bringer of light, trying to take the place of god, to rule all creation - not a bad description of Alpha 60.

And yet it’s a very ordinary monster, that computer - represented by just what you see there - lights, wires, boxes; sometimes by fans, or a simple flashing light, and always by a disembodied, mechanical, voice. This is another extraordinary quality of Alphaville - it is a very convincing science fiction film made up entirely of things in the real, contemporary (1965), world. It is probably the epitome of the type of film I referred to writing about Face of Another, films that shoot the real world to look and feel like science fiction. Alphaville is shot on the streets of Paris, in the buildings of Paris - but the glass and steel Paris, the modern Paris, of lights and machines and clean, modernist design. It looks other-worldly.

Godard constructs a futuristic world from this. Streets and cars and most of the actual technology are all contemporary, though shot and combined to look alien. Godard treats the world as it is like a science fiction place: flying in from New York (6000 miles away), becomes intergalactic travel. Only the computers are not part of the everyday world - but they are perfectly normal contemporary (1965) machines. Rooms full of banks of processors, wires, with keyboards and switches and card slots and flashing lights. You don’t see a lot of computers from 1965 - though it's interesting to consider that the back rooms where the real computing lives aren't that commonly seen now. We see the desktops and laptops and screens, keyboards and mice, the phones and tablets and all the other things people use - everything that interfaces with humanity. But even now, we don’t see the back rooms, where the infrastructure lives. Even now, it seems a bit alien when you see it (in Werner Herzog’s new internet film, say) - and not much different from what it looked like in 1965. Routers and processors and disk arrays and wires haven’t changed that much.

Though Godard does imagine the interface with humanity, though this didn't exist so much in 1965. It's an odd mix of analog and digital - invisible technology, disembodied voices, pervasive surveillance, microwave ovens - all made of sound and light. He warps it out of the real world, combining things in strange ways, showing pieces of the world, showing a world of sound and light, reflections and window panes, that subtly distort the world. Inside and outside, up and down, intermingle - it's an odd, translucent world, up on the surface....

And when the chance comes to use cinema to transform the world, he’s ready:

And so it is. A beautiful film, funny, fairly exciting, as adventure yarn (at least containing action scenes, half joke and half real excitement), imagining a dystopic future and what might be done about it, arguing what we have to protect - art, love, words - without quite (quite) disavowing what we could get from technology. And at times, almost exploding from sheer passion, desire and loss. Alphaville, the Capital of Pain, indeed...