It used to be that you could put the word “Young” in front of the name of an iconic character and have a fair shot at the box office. Consider Mel Brooks’ 1974 smash Young Frankenstein, which remains the gold standard of the “Just Add ‘Young’” formula.
Director Barry Levinson would follow 11 years later when exploring the Edwardian youth of a super-sleuth with Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985. Lauded mostly for its then-groundbreaking CGI, the film did moderate business and pointed to the viability of the nascent “Youngin” genre. And, yes, I made that term up because no one else had – you know why?
Because an Aussie named Greg Pead killed it dead. Better known as the comedian qua conceptual artist Yahoo Serious (six long years before Jerry Yang flipped the switch on Yahoo.com), this one-man cultural wrecking ball wrote, directed, produced and starred in a tragical history tour of Albert Einstein’s early life entitled Young Einstein.
Serious’ effort was anything but, having removed all factual matter from the physicist’s biography and replaced it with juvenile humor. As summarized on IMDB, in this film “Albert Einstein is the son of a Tasmanian apple farmer, who discovers the secret of splitting the beer atom to put the bubbles back into beer.”
The only “fact” that Serious included was that Einstein seemed to be in the midst of a perpetual bad hair day. Having tresses in tumult is, I’ve come to realize, the unified field theory (sorry Young Einstein) that unites these films. Why would all youngin films feature leads with biggish, bushy hair? Is it an earmark of their burgeoning genius, a signifier of greatness to come? Or did the hair and makeup department just phone it in with a rat-tail comb and a can of Aquanet? We may never know since no one has dared release a Youngin film since. Because of Yahoo. And his stupid hair.
As an armchair Jungian, one of my factory-default-settings is a heightened sensitivity to synchronicity – the perception that separate phenomena may share some shared significance but without “any discernible causal connection.” Think of it as pattern-recognition-plus or being bisociatively-curious.
Connecting the dots in this manner might be an earmark of genius or paranoia, depending which side of the meds one wakes up on. I’m neither a genius or paranoid, nor, for the record, a paranoid genius, but no matter how disparate or faint the stars, I can usually make out (or make up) a constellation.
I’m presently trying to wrestle some meaning out of the following folly, which has absorbed several precious hours this weekend:
Years ago, Trane DeVore snapped a photo of me with my hands through a large film reel as if I was locked in stocks like a 17th century ne’er-do-well. After some Jurassic-era Photoshopping (this was the early 90s), the result became the de facto logo for SCAM Magazine and other of my early enterprises. When packing for a recent move, I unearthed an original print of the image and, for safe-keeping, stowed it in a handy copy of Dylan Thomas’s Adventures in the Skin Trade until I could file it in my Smithsonian Box. Continue reading “Bass Fishing in America: The Search for Meaning in a Beer Bottle”
Since our brains are really overhyped pattern-recognition devices, our species has a tendency to see significance where perhaps there is none. Like when you buy a new car then suddenly, it seems, the same make and model is everywhere – as if your particular purchase somehow unleashed the others from the Guf. You’re like the first Japanese macaque to wash a potato – now they all do it. You’re a trendsetter – or your witnessing a frequency illusion also known by the rather sinister-sounding (or at least extremely German) name Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Continue reading “Minotaur + Mini Cooper = Vanity Plate Gold”
Last Thursday, we marked the official launch of poet Lisa Summers’ Star Thistle & Other Poems with a wine and music drenched reading at the Epicurean Connection in Sonoma, CA. The evening was a capacity-crowd -smash (and I was smashed as well). Fortunately, I had already prepared the affectionate toast-n-roast below…
The late French publisher Maurice Girodias had a bold approach when marketing his line of smutty books. He would list provocative titles in a catalog, then hire writers to write them once a title was actually ordered. And he had a crack team of hacks on-call that included expatriate writers Henry Miller, William Burroughs and other names that eventually became big.
And the titles rocked. Among them:
The Convent of Satan; A Flutter of Lashes; Chariot of Flesh; Dr. Onan; Classical Hindu Erotology and one simply titled White Thighs. But pronounced with a Z, I bet. The best title, however, was on a book by someone called Greta X about five women, or more specifically, ”four sadists and one nymphomaniac,” on a sex spree across Europe. Continue reading “There’s a Whip in My Valise”
If you, people of the world, don’t already know, permit me to inform you that today is World Information Day. This is the annual acknowledgement of worldly information first observed in 2006 by the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations.
So, why haven’t you heard about it until now? Like many specialized international agencies (S.P.E.C.T.R.E. comes to mind), sometimes information is hard to come by.
When trying to fix this, I enjoyed a brief correspondence with Sanjay Acharya, the ITU’s chief of “media relations and public information,” who directed my request for a quote to a four-and-a-half minute YouTube video of ITU Secretary-General, Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré. Well-played, Sanjay, but if I were going to quote a YouTube video, it would probably be something a little more viral than Dr. Touré’s monotonic admonition not to text and drive. Though a worthy sentiment, the doctor should also warn drivers not to watch his video lest they fall asleep at the wheel. Continue reading “TMI on World Information Day”
Our son’s maternal grandmother was a kindergarten teacher, consequently we’ve inherited children’s books spanning both the decades of her career and those of her own child-rearing. We’ve inherited a library dating back to the 70s with many gems and as many that seem to be cultural artefacts form a parallel universe.
Among the my son’s current favorites is this peculiar title credited to a one “Theo. LeSieg.” Thanks to my superhuman ability to decipher anagrams (the result of mild dyslexia), I immediately recognized the surname as a mirror of “Geisel,” as in Theodor Geisel who is perhaps better known as Dr. Seuss. Though this was apparently no secret to either publishers or readers, it was a revelation to me and for a moment I felt like Dan Brown’s Harvard-bred symbologist Robert Langdon. And nearly as fictional to boot.
Apparently Geisel used the backward nom de plume for books he authored but did not illustrate. Among them is Wacky Wednesday, which steps up the surreality of most Seuss works with a Buñuel-like play on the banal – a shoe on the wall. Then there are two shoes on the wall. Then the androgynous protagonist observes:
“Then I looked up and said, ‘Oh, MAN!’
And that’s how Wacky Wednesday began.”
Continue reading “Wacky Wednesday: Acid-Drenched Orwell via Dr. Seuss”
Here’s the secret recipe to writing fantasy fiction, courtesy of an audiobook engineer I know:
When activist Anna Jarvis originally conceived of Mothers’ Day, it was intended as an intimate, perhaps even somber event, during which children can acknowledge the myriad sacrifices endured by the women who birthed and raised them. By 1914, her campaigning led to President Woodrow Wilson’s signature on a bill establishing Mother’s Day as the second Sunday in May.
Nearly a century later, that “intimate” event, according to estimates of the National Retail Federation, is a $20.7 billion business. Naturally, our moms deserve every bit of that $20.7 billion brunch they get from us but Jarvis would not have approved. She brought numerous lawsuits against organizations that used the “holiday” in conjunction with charity causes and even petitioned the government to remove it from the calendar after having worked so hard to get it on there in the first place.
History.com reports an incident that occured in 1925 in which “…an organization called the American War Mothers used Mother’s Day as an occasion for fundraising and selling carnations. Jarvis crashed their convention in Philadelphia and was arrested for disturbing the peace…” Find me a national holiday invented in the 20th century that hasn’t become a marketing bonanza and I’ll kindly direct you to my birthday and call you all slackers (be assured, my day will come).
That said, I do find some aspects of all this consumer spending disturbing, especially since among the Mother’s Day profiteers is Hallmark, the monolithic greeting card company that has metastasized into its own TV channel among other atrocities. This is my fear – born from a drunken conversation with Trane DeVore sometime in the mid 90s: In the deep future, alien archeologists will visit a quiet, dead earth and exhume countless greeting cards from the rubble. They will evaluate the treacly one-liners and sanctimonious couplets and, in a moment of cosmic bathos, conclude that “Hallmark” must have been the earth’s poet laureate since his name is printed on all of them. At which point, they would stop digging and go home never to learn of the poetic genius of DeVore and Howell. And maybe Shakespeare. And Pound before the war.
So, in some regards, I empathize with Anna Jarvis, who, ironically died childless and destitute in a sanitarium in 1948. Perhaps if she had offspring of her own to shower her in flowers and mimosas she would have felt differently (probably sticky). That said, the kids would probably put her in a sanitorium anyway, given all that muttering, like an anti-capitalist Cassandra, on and on about the evils of Moloch. You remember Moloch? The ancient god whose name translates from the Phoenician literally as “Mark on the Hall of the Gods.” Just say’n.
Photographer Todd McLellan has cornered the market on what one might call “object autopsies.” His new book, Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual for Modern Living, is a beguiling study in the complexity and innate beauty that informs good design. Match that with aesthetic restraint and a bit of OCD and surely some new form of design fetish porn is at hand.
“It fascinates me that older objects were so well-built, and were most likely put together by hand,” McLellan writes in the book’s intro. “These items were repaired when broken, not discarded like our devices of today.” So, my question is, did McLellan reassemble his subjects after their close-ups or is their some mass grave of discarded parts waiting to be excavated?
At first glance, I thought the title was Things Fall Apart from the W.B. Yeats’ apocalyptic poem The Second Coming, which would make for a more portentous (and pretentious) point of reference. Though the idea of our beloved objects spontaneously dissembling at the End Times is pretty cool. Pre-order McLellan’s book before the rapture at Amazon.
More typewriter porn.