Sunday, October 31, 2010

So Long, Paul Simon

Does anybody else remember "This Note's For You," the title track of an albumfrom 1988 by Neil Young and the Bluenotes? Neil mocked Michael Jackson and others who let their music be used in commercials: "Ain't singin' for Pepsi/Ain't singin' for Coke/Ain't singin' for no one/Who makes me look like a joke" -- man, those were the days. Back then it was still comparatively rare and shocking when a record originally released as a piece of music for its own sake was recycled as the soundtrack of a commercial. Nowadays it's business as usual. Nobody seems to get upset about it any more. No musicians seem worried that such a thing might make them look like a joke.

Latest case in point: a piece of the lovely multi-track vocal harmonies from Simon & Garfunkel's "The Only Living Boy in New York" is on a new Honda commercial. The commercial has been circulating for probably weeks now, and it's become so common for pop music to be used in commercials that it took me until tonight to realize that there went another one: another musician who doesn't mind looking like a joke, in exchange for a nice big slice of that sweet advertising money.

I used to respect you, Paul Simon. What was I thinking?

Who's left? Who hasn't sold their music yet as a backing track to peddle cars or soda pop or sneakers? Neil? Bruce? I think the Clash bit that dust a while back, after Joe Strummer died or was already critically ill.

I'm warning everybody: when Rage Against the Machine is the backing music for a commercial for Oreo's, I'm going to get REALLY mad.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Some of the People, Places and Things I'd Never Heard About Before Reading Gravity's Rainbow

The V-1. The V-2. The A-4. Kyrgyzstan. How the Soviet Union gave alphabets and written vernaculars to its previously illiterate nationalities. Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz. The benzine ring. IG Farben. The fact that Shell Oil maintained companies of great strategic importance for both sides in both Allied and Axis territory all throughout WWII. The Poisson distribution. Entropy. Plasticman. The Zoot Suit Riots. The genocide of the Herero. Margaret Dumont. The Spartakists. The cities of Nördlingen and Peenemünde. All of these were new to me when I came across a copy of Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow in a used-book store in 1974 or '75, when I was 13 or 14 years old. German rockets fired on London? Shell seeming to have no qualms about profiting from the war efforts of both sides during WWII? Math and chemistry which were actually interesting?

I checked all of these things and found that they were in fact nonfictional. So you can see, perhaps, that my world was broadened a little.

And then there was the matter of prose style, unfettered by considerations of "high" or "low," setting a good example for me before I'd had the chance to take seriously those who might tell me a piece of writing had to be one or the other. Thanx Tom.

And an inkling of the multiplicity of the world's culture was given to me, before some single ideology had had a chance to plant itself deep into me, with proto-Beatnik hipsters, upper-middle-class British, somewhat lower middle-class British and overachieving working class, tossed together by the War and all quite uncomfortable with each other, zoot suiters, Soviet functionaries, Kyrgyz tribespeople, German Communists resisting the Nazis, rich decadent sexual perverts (It's okay, that's how they would've described themselves), gauchos, pre-Bop jazzmen, grim American Calvinists, cynical American Calvinist businessmen, Chinese opium addicts, witches, dopers, Swedenborgian mystics, Navy lifers and others and many characters who were several of the above at once all in the mix.

You can tell I like the book a lot, right? But any praise is insufficient. Read it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chess Log

Sometimes I jot down some notes about the blitz games I play at the Free Internet Chess Server. Sometimes I write things during the games. That's very unusual, because after all these are blitz games, blitz as in 10 minutes a side or less to make all the moves you're going to make in the game, blitz as in hurry up. In anything like an evenly-matched game there is no time to write things. Every second not spent concentrating on the board is a significant gift to one's opponent.

Sometimes, however, even in a blitz game, the situation is so lopsided, and my opponent is taking so much time between moves, that I have to find some way of entertaining myself, and I jot things as I wait for my turn to move:

October 16

Waiting for Player A (rated 662) (I think some players might not like it if I wrote about them using their actual online handles so it's just going to be Player A, Player B and so forth) to move. I'm rated 1165, and this game is Ugh-LEE.

Player A has moved a few times since I wrote that, but time continues to be one of his big problems in this game. I'm at 7:02 in a 10 0 blitz, and Player A is 1:20 -- hey he just moved!

He forfeited on time with 5:32 left on my clock. So Ugh-LEE in so many ways, this game!

Waiting for Computer A (rated 816) to move. 2nd straight game against this computer. It resigned the 1st game, while I was being very careful, with 2 Queens, not to end the game in a stalemate.

Yes, Computer A is playing very -- I was about write "very badly" when it checkmated me. Effing Doofack!

Despite the frequency with which it happens in movies and sitcoms, if someone checkmates you in real life when before that move you thought you were playing well, you were playing extraordinarily badly. Checkmate usually comes gradually over a number of moves, gradually and painfully obviously. Most top-level games which aren't draws end with a resignation many moves before a checkmate would've come.

I played chess very badly this evening. Meanwhile, in a case of chess Charles Atlas, Player B, whom I was used to seeing with a rating under 1100, is now about halfway between 1200 and 1300. It's unusual to improve that much after having played a long time at that level -- in fact Player B and I are the only two players I know personally who've done it, so good for us both.

October 17

Chess is starting out well this morning: a draw against Player C (1365) and a win against Player D (1209). When I had 48 seconds left, Player E (1123) let her clock run down from around 1:25 to 1:06 and then resigned, thank you very much Player E!

When it rains it pours: Player F (1148) resigned from what looked to me like a very good position. I'm up 30 points, 1133 to 1163, in about an hour.

And another one bites the dust: Player G (1269) resigns after 10 moves, not entirely without reason. Played like a beginner but he or she has thousands of games on FICS.

And a draw against Player H (1319).

Okay, I think I'll take a break now, take my 43 points and run. 4 wins and 2 draws in 6 games this morning, the 2 draws against players rated over 1300, the wins against players rated between 1123 and 1269.

How much of my success when I'm successful has to do with simple determination and concentration?

Afternoon chess: an Ugh-LEE 19-move beatdown of Player I (1099). A merciless spanking of Player J (1055).

I got way ahead of myself: almost before the game began, I thought up an epitaph for the wrong player: "Player K tastes the pain." But no. I tasted it. And I don't like it! Concentration and determination are key to chess, but my greatest nemesis continues to be over-confidence.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Trailer for Incongruity, Starring Thandie Newton and Tom Hanks, Directed by Ron Howard

aerial shot of Watts

VOICEOVER: (The voiceover should sound somewhat like the voiceover in "South Park"'s trailers for movies starring "Rob Schneider, derber derber derber," because what I think of Ron Howard is similar to what Trey Parker and Matt Stone seem to think of Schneider.) She grew up in Watts,

montage of young girl playing YOUNG THANDIE, AGE 10 eating breakfast cereal, carrying books to school

fought her way through school,

montage continues with YOUNG THANDIE raising her hand in class, being surrounded by bullies on the sidewalk and defending herself by hitting the bullies with a large hardcover textbook

worked her way through college,

montage of THANDIE sitting on the grass with other students in front of ivy-covered buildings, listening to a lecture, washing dishes in a restaurant, fending off a lecherous professor with a large hardcover textbook which looks identical to the one with which YOUNG THANDIE fought off the bullies, waiting tables

and became one of the world's leading experts in theoretical sets and quantum fields, and a leading candidate both for the Fields Medal in mathematics and the Nobel Prize in Physics.

montage of THANDIE finishing a lecture to a thunderous ovation, pondering alone at a desk at night, touring the Large Hadron Collider, pondering alone in a valley amid snow-peaked mountains

He was born in Beverly Hills

aerial shot of Beverly Hills

and grew up to be a bum.

montage of TOM, covered with as much funk and long hair and beard as Nick Nolte at the beginning of Down and Out in Beverly Hills, panhandling, sleeping on a bench, coaxing wild birds to alight on his fingers and head, being moved along from several different locations by several different cops

TOM is sitting beside Mulholland Drive, rubbing his ankle. An SUV stops and THANDIE gets out

THANDIE: Are you alright?

TOM: I think I may have sprained my ankle.

THANDIE: (taking a close look) I think it may be broken. C'mon, (slinging his arm over her shoulder and helping him to his feet) I'll give you a ride to an emergency room.

TOM: (very surprised) Thanks!

inside the SUV

TOM: The thing about emergency rooms is, they'll probably send me to a psych ward as soon as they're done with my ankle. If experience is any guide.

THANDY: Really? Are you crazy?

TOM: I don't think so. I'm unconventional.

THANDY: Maybe a stay inside would do you good.

TOM: I like fresh air. On psych wards all the windows are always sealed up.

THANDY: Well, you don't seem crazy or dangerous to me. And even if you are dangerous, I've been defending myself from bullies since I was small. I'll take you to my place and call a doctor, you can stay there while you heal up if you want to.

TOM: (very surprised) Thank you.

at this point "Animal" by Neon Trees begins to play in the background

montage of TOM moving in, playing with wild birds in the yard while on crutches, taking a bath, THANDIE'S YOUNG DAUGHTER asking, "Mommy, why does the car stink?" THANDIE giving it a whiff, shuddering and replying, "Sweetie, we may have to burn the car," THANDIE whiffing the air and muttering, "We may have to burn the whole guest house!" the DAUGHTER coming across a bathtub with a big black ring and screaming

VOICEOVER: Sometimes, it takes a truly exceptional mind to recognize another one!

montage of TOM in clean clothes, with his hair and beard still long, but clean and unmatted now and the hair in a ponytail, THANDIE saying, "You have a remarkable mind! You are a little bit crazy, though," TOM delivering a lecture, TOM wearing a tuxedo and shaking the hands of other people in formal attire

VOICEOVER: Thandie Newton. Tom Hanks. Ron Howard's extraordinary new film, Incongruity. Rated PG-13.

Montage of THANDIE and TOM frolicking in various locations with and without the DAUGHTER, ending up with the the two of them kissing at sunset beside Mulholland Drive

Friday, October 8, 2010

Selections From My Dream Journal

Lately I've been keeping a dream journal. If I can remember to write soon after waking up, I tend to remember a lot of detail. In my recent blog post How Art May Save Us From Ourselves, the part about elephants being penned and painted and a slender earnest beautiful woman trying to set them free was from a recent dream of mine.

In earlier times, people believed that dreams were messages from God or from the dead or other folks. I suppose some people may still believe such things. Why not, if they believe in horoscopes and haunted houses and prophecies from Nostradamusand so forth? Freudbelieved they were a key to better mental health. My attitude toward them is an existentialist one similar to my attitude toward many other things: I don't know how important they are, but they're interesting.

Some highlights from recent dreams of mine:

I was among a large group of people, mostly artists, being driven around in some downtown from one opening, reception or similar event to the next. At first I was underdressed to the point of wearing no shoes and one sock, but then this problem was somehow resolved. A tall handsome painter wearing a tux who looked like Brendan Fraser and may have been Brendan Fraser was accompanied by a small woman who was his art agent and who shouted unpleasant things at him, into a cell phone and elsewhere, just an all-round unpleasant person. People were carrying a two-sided painting by the tall artist, with a full-length portrait of Julian Sand on each side, incorrectly labeled "JULIAN TEMPLE" in large bright block letters on each side. Our group found itself first in the extremely metallic-looking lobby of a huge skyscraper, and then inside a vast apartment high up inside this skyscraper which in great contrast to the lobby was very warmly furnished in wood and other earth-toned things, and went up for several stories, with open-aired spaces going up the full height of the apartment, sometimes with stairs, sometimes with ladders or other fun things to climb.

I dreamed I was playing basketball on a very large court in the courthouse of a hotel or motel, in a pick-up game with large groups of people, many more than five a side, none of whom was dressed to play basketball. Some wore suits, others casual street attire. No-one else but me seemed to be taking the game very seriously, which annoyed me greatly.

I dreamed I was in the middle of a big flea market which was either under a tent or in a large dimly-lit building, and Lindsay Lohan was figure-skating with a partner through the crowd. I was amazed to see that Lindsay could figure-skate in addition to all of her other talents. I was annoyed that the crowd generally ignored her, not even moving out of her way, which made what she was doing even more impressive. I'm no expert on figure-skating, but I was impressed. Her costume wasn't the greatest, a green satin minidress, but she looked very strong and healthy, which was a relief to me, as I've been very concerned about Lindsay's health since she went through that deathly-skinny phase a few years ago. In the dream it didn't strike me as strange that Lindsay and her partner were ice-skating on a surface which didn't seem to be ice for all of us flea-market shoppers, who were walking and not slipping on ice.

I dreamed I was a "Roman" conquering "Gaul," although the conquering seemed to consist of pleading with individual French people who mostly ignored me, and we all appeared to be in 1950's Paris or a good imitation thereof. A large group of beautiful female medical students in long 1950's style skirts came walking toward and past me out of a medical school in the Sorbonne, all carrying books under their arms. The entrance to the medical school had a 1950's, Frank-Lloyd-Wright, spacious and glassy look. I and several other people rode in an enormous Citroën around the edges of Paris rooftops.

I dreamed I was caught in the midst of a cultural conflict of some sort which sprawled over several boroughs of New York City. It was not clear what people were fighting about. It may have had to do with ethnic resentments, or women's rights, or sexual orientation, or all of those things and more. The threat of physical violence seemed to be constantly "in the air," as they say, but luckily, at least where I was, the conflict was waged mostly in the form of a game which resembled basketball in that a ball was thrown at a painted totem roughly the size of a basketball backboard. And in some cases the totem seemed to be mounted on a pole or over a garage door at about the height of a basketball backboard. But sometimes, as on a totem pole, the totems were stacked from the ground up. There was one miniature version of such a totem pole, about a foot high altogether, inside a casing of bars, and one had to throw the ball -- more marble-sized in this case. Usually they were similar to basketballs -- at the totems through the bars of the casing.