For more Mini Cooper parts car thoughts, permit me to introduce you to the Minitar…
Today is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. It also marks the beginning of a Golden Age of conspiracy theories that continues to thrive to this day.
My first sense of the reach of conspiracy culture occurred while listening to a Woody Allen standup album back in the 80s. He quipped that he was “working on a non-fiction version of the Warren report.” Though Allen’s comedy never represented the pinnacle of the mainstream, his one-liner was indicative of the general acceptance and shift in attitudes regarding the possibility of a conspiracy behind the president’s death. The album was released in 1968. Imagine if Lenny Bruce, who was followed by the FBI and hounded by legal issues for trumped up obscenities charges, had made the same “subversive” gag prior to his death in 1966. His untimely death would have been even more untimely. Maybe it was.
Remember the dude who used to hang around Lombard in the Marina toting a sign that explained how Stephen King killed John Lennon? Apparently, this was on orders from Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon (who else?!) who communicated to the then-unknown King through magazines. This is according to New York Magazine, which could muster little else on the matter besides a side-by-side photo spread of King and Lennon’s assassin Mark David Chapman (why do assassins always have three names?).
Frankly, a better conspiracy theory would have been that J.D. Salinger was in on killing the Beatle, having written Catcher in the Rye specifically to program the impressionable mind of the future gunman to kill the rock star (in real life, Chapman declared the book was his “statement” on the matter). The fact that rock-n-roll didn’t even exist as such in 1951 when the book was first published would be of no consequence to proponents of this theory because Lennon did exist then. He was 11. And had to be stopped.
Chapman’s obsession with The Catcher in the Rye became an unfortunate touchstone in Mel Gibson’s schlockbuster flick, Conspiracy, in which he is tracked by evil government forces via electronic sales records of his purchases of the Salinger title. Bookstores wish their sales tracking systems were that sophisticated. Moreover, is Mel Gibson even allowed in bookstores? I submit that if Gibson, who is prone to frothing at the mouth with offensive invectives, strolled into Sonoma’s own Readers’ Books, proprietor Andy Weinberger wouldn’t let the actor leave without his rabies shots.
Of course the only thing more fun than reading conspiracy theories is making them up oneself. Here’s one I’ve been working on and will preview for you: I’ve been noticing depictions of masks on beds. And by mask, I don’t mean the “sleeping masks” flight attendants dole out on international flights, or those Darth Vader-esque sleep apnea masks. The leitmotif of my week has been images of Venetian masquerade-style masks – in beds, in old movies and records. Why? What do they portend?
The most famous is perhaps the grim countenance atop a pillow in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which I recently saw clips of while watching Room 237, a documentary love letter to Kubrick conspiracies (he helped fake the moon landing and admitted as much through Native American symbols in The Shining, which incidentally was based on a Stephen King novel. But you knew that).
Then I was pawing through some vinyl and discovered Billy Joel’s album, The Stranger, which has a similar image of a mask on a bed. One of the tracks is titled “Vienna.” Where does Rhapsody: A Dream Novel by Arthur Schnitzler, the source material for Eyes Wide Shut, take place? Vienna. Coincidence? Or is Kubrick trying to tell us something about Billy Joel who name-checks The Catcher in the Rye in his tune “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” If Billy Joel et al didn’t start the fire, then who did? Perhaps we should ask the author of … Firestarter. Stephen King. See how this works? You can play too. All you need is an Internet connection and no life. Go!
Did anyone else notice that San Francisco’s two favorite birds both got hawked yesterday?
SF-based Twitter flew the coop with its soaring IPO while the Maltese Falcon, the titular bird in Dashiell Hammett’s novel and John Huston’s big screen adaptation, went on the auction block.
“The infamous black bird prop from the 1941 Humphrey Bogart noir classic is up for bidding from Guernsey’s auction house in a highly anticipated sale,” read a story in the NY Daily News. Meanwhile, Twitter’s initial public offering was minting many a millionaire.
Perhaps they should have coordinated. Then one of them could cash out a bit of scratch and purchase the dingus and return it to its spiritual home of San Francisco. I won’t bother with the “two birds and one Biz Stone” gag nor brag about knowing why the caged bird sings (spoiler alert: he sings of freedom). Instead, I’ll just imagine the inevitable mashup of Nick Bilton’s excellent history Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal with Hammett’s Sam Spade.
Jack Dorsey laughed. His laughter was brief and somewhat bitter. “That is good,” he said, “coming from you. What have you given me besides money? Have you given me any of your confidence? any of the truth? any help in helping you? Haven’t you tried to buy my loyalty with money and nothing else? Well, if I’m peddling it, why shouldn’t I let it go to the highest bidder?”
The rest, of course, is the stuff that dreams are made of.
Not a Trekkie, nor a Trekker be. This was advice someone once gave me at the outset of my love life. They needn’t have bothered. I was part of that cultural shift that occurred when Star Wars came along and absorbed the collective attention of an entire generation for anything with “star” in the title.
Besides, Star Trek with its humanist themes and nifty moralizing was distinctly grown-up fare and something I wouldn’t come to appreciate until I was older. Like wine and women.
At the time, my only familiarity with wine, women and Trek was in the form of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, jugs of Almaden wine at family dinner parties and the teenage girls who lived next door who were smitten with some alien life form called Shaun Cassidy.
Clearly, this was not an auspicious introduction, but I eventually figured it all out. Except the Shaun Cassidy part.
That said, Star Trek remained something of a cypher. But if you sit long enough in one place, the whole world will pass, including the Starship Enterprise.
Thus, it was inevitable that Star Trek would come to Sonoma. And when I looked for it, I realized it’s been here for years, in quiet ways.
Consider this: Five years ago, actor Chris Pine, who plays young, brash Capt. Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ rebooted Trek film franchise, portrayed winemaker Bo Barrett, who, according to the locally produced film Bottle Shock, had a hand in the 1976 Judgment of Paris. Just as Vancouver doubles for any location in the States (and its moribund production biz), Sonoma doubled for Napa, Paris and elsewhere – meaning Capt. Kirk was here and I had a chat with him.
After some Internet sleuthing, I learned that our own legendary action-adventure scribe, Jack London, was depicted as a bellboy in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Apparently, Data the android time traveled to Gold Rush-era San Francisco, was mistaken for a Frenchman and helped encourage the young London to pursue his dreams of being a writer.
Following that narrative to its logical conclusion, you can draw a line from “Star Trek” to our Valley of the Moon, where London eventually set up shop. So thanks, Data! And sorry that later in the episode you were decapitated and your head was buried for 500 years. The sacrifices we make for literature, right?
But wait there’s more … Earlier this year, Sonoma’s own Viansa Winery released a series of limited edition Star Trek-themed wines that featured retro-styled labels by artist Juan Ortiz. Certain episodes are commemorated including, The Trouble with Tribbles, The City on the Edge of Forever and Mirror Mirror, which features a goateed alterna-Spock.
And last week, Star Trek reached out to me personally in my capacity as a columnist for the I-T. The Official Star Trek Convention was en route to the Bay Area with “headliners William Shatner and Jeri Ryan” in tow to “celebrate a weekend of everything ‘Trek.’” This is how I ended up chatting with Tim Russ, who portrayed everyone’s other favorite Vulcan, Lt. Commander Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager. Russ seemed as mystified as me about the Trek experience.
“I was excited to have a full-time gig for possibly seven years. That’s what I was excited about,” Russ said about scoring the gig as the emotionally distant, full-blooded Vulcan. “Everything else was, you know, what came along with the package. It certainly was unusual. It was different. It was a big, fat plus-column of extras as a result of being on that show. The thing is, it’s still benefitting me in any number of ways.”
So, basically, when you’re in Trek, you’re in Trek all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dyin’ day.
“I’ve been able to benefit from other acting roles, gigs that have come as a result of being on the show. I’ve been able to benefit in any number of ways in terms of still earning income, not just residuals but also from conventions that are still going on as we speak, every single year, for 17 years. It’s insane man, it’s insane! I still don’t understand it. I still don’t get it,” said Russ. “I can only talk about that show. How many times can I say the same thing?”
Dude, I ask myself that all the time, then the check comes and the whole “live long and prosper” notion becomes much more clear – clearer than an empty bottle of Almaden.