Monday, February 27, 2006

Debutantes! Dowagers! Chorines! Mannequins!

I just rented George Cukor's 1939 film The Women. In the original theatrical trailer, those four words popped up, in rapid succession, describing the cast of characters, over scenes from the film. Made me want to get myself a turban and a caftan. Or some pleated shorts and tap shoes.

Greetings to the New Brunette

This is Billy Bragg. I am indebted to him for many things, one of them being the line below the title here. It came from his song "Must I Paint You a Picture". Apparently he's 48, says Rolling Stone, which recently told me he's got a box set out now, and writing a book called England Made Me, Too, but this picture looks oldish. Here's a gratuitous Brush With Celebrity Charm story. A few years ago I interviewed him. I'd just bought a microcassette recorder that morning and apologized for having to fuss with it a bit to prevent technical difficulties before we began. At some point I asked him, I don't know why, now I'm a bit ashamed that I did, if he ever wrote songs to woo women. "Absolutely! That's the whole point," he said. Then he went on to talk about how he'd been guilty of sending thinly veiled messages to ladies in lyrics. "For instance. Say I go home tonight, write a song, and put a lyric like 'She had a brand new tape recorder that she didn't know how to work,' in it." Say you did indeed. He didn't have to be that nice to tiny faux-journalistes earnestly questioning him in hotel conference rooms, but he was. Did I mention he's British?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Addendum: Or, Really, I'm Not As Fascist As Evelyn Waugh

The day after I went on and on about how great the British are, I discovered that Radio 4 is going to axe a five-minute medley of British folk songs--"Greensleeves" and "What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor" among them--that they've been playing each day at 5:30 AM for thirty three years. Which is what I deserve for waxing on as I did--I mean, these people have a stock exchange, too. And they're responsible for the thing that is "Posh" and "Becks," and were led into a fake war by an opportunist-in-chief. (Though sometimes when I listen to Tony Blair I want to cry--he can at least string words together coherently when he's trying to explain why Iraq needs us there. And as the proprietess of Prunes and Prism reminds me, the British, see the phenomeon of chavs, may even do rednecks better than we do.) The medley, called "The UK Theme," announces the moment when Radio 4 switches off the World Service and begins its daily programming. Why? The BBC director thinks that its listenership may be better served by a "pacy" news brief and an extended shipping forecast. To me, "pacy" has the ring of "dodgy". I'd much rather wake up to completely unnecessary and irrelevant tootling of strings and woodwinds, even if the whole thing does smack of nationalism. Wouldn't you? But I'm not British, I'm just a crank, and so here are reports and judgments from across the pond. On the bright side: the completely entrancing, equally irrelevant shipping forecast gets expanded.

So That's How Things Are In Their Family

I am in the Poconos. A region whose classic rock needs are served by Rock 107 FM, which is giving away tickets to an upcoming Motley Crue concert. I was listening on Saturday night while making dinner and some guy--Kevin?--was the winning caller. Kevin from Exeter. You won tickets by being the first caller to identify whether an audio clip was from Tommy Lee's sex tape or Vince Neil's. I had no idea that Vince Neil had been working in that medium as well. So the DJ says "So Kevin, are you sure it's Tommy Lee?" And Kevin laughs. "Heh. Yes, I'm sure." Some banter about the concert ensues, and then when the DJ asks who he's taking, Kevin, who sounded no older than, maybe, 38, answers: "My pregnant stepdaughter." From the tone of his voice--an audible, Grinch-like smirk, heh-heh--it was clear he couldn't wait to tell the whole of Northeast Pennsylvania that.

My mother and father were married 35 years ago today. They honeymooned in the Poconos the weekend after they were married--just a weekend because, my father now says sarcastically and ruefully, thinking about the maniac workaholic he was, he had to go to a sales training session that started the Monday after. Lest you think my parents were not romantics, there are pictures of my mother in a heart-shaped bed. As a child those photos to me seemed the height of....well, I guess I'll say adult glamour. And I think I was more fascinated at the suggestion of a their having a life before they had my sister and me than embarrassed by that suggestion. Who were these people, lying around in bed, who now relentessly, heartlessly, rout us out of ours? Now that I'm older, I'd say that there's a little bit of Breathless meets the Mount Airy Lodge about those photos. My mom, at 23, sort of looked like Catherine Deneuve, if Catherine Deneuve did the bookeeping for the business office of a car dealership with one younger sister and had another one who worked at the proto-Sizzler steakhouse chain Rustler. In the way that my sister sort of looks like Gwyneth Paltrow, if Gwyneth had been raised on Birds Eye frozen vegetables and reruns on UHF. Cheers to my parents, and here's hoping I can build things that last that long.

P.S. Why wasn't Cheney the one that got peppered with pellets, not some nearly octogenarian (though Republican) lawyer? More proof that we are living under a Teflon administration: Did you all read that story in the Times about a major Italian study showing that (duh) aspartame causes cancer in lab rats? Apparently Searle, the company that devised aspartame back in the 70s, was headed by Donald Rumsfeld during the years it submitted most of its research on the safety of the chemical to the FDA. The studies' credibility was seriously questioned, and the justice department suggested a grand jury investigation, but the lawyer who was tapped to look into it went to work for the law office that represented Searle soon after, and the investigation went nowhere. Then Reagan became president, appointed a new FDA chief, and aspartame was quickly approved. This won't just give you hives about your Diet Coke addiction.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Writing Life, And How To Live It, Maybe

Cheers to Harper Lee, who wrote one book that was neither tract nor tome, changed people's lives, won a Pulitzer, and then was hardly ever heard from again, on purpose, while people went on reading it and reading it and naming their children after her and her characters. Without ever shtupping 18-year-old Joyce Maynards in the process.

An excerpt from the recent Times article, which you can read here.

With more than 10,000,000 copies sold since it first appeared in 1960, "To Kill a Mockingbird" exists as one of the best-selling novels of all time. For decades, Ms. Lee has remained fiercely mindful of her privacy, politely but resolutely refusing to talk to the press and making only rare public appearances, in which she always declines to speak. She has maintained her resolve despite renewed attention in the wake of the film "Capote," in which Ms. Lee is portrayed as the moral conscience of her childhood friend Truman Capote; the coming "Infamous," another Capote movie in which Sandra Bullock plays Ms. Lee; and a biography of Ms. Lee scheduled for May.


But since the essay contest, sponsored by the Honors College at the University of Alabama, got going five years ago, Ms. Lee, who is 79, has attended the ceremony faithfully, meeting with the 50 or so winners from most of the state's school districts and graciously posing for pictures with the parents and teachers who accompany them.

At a book signing after the ceremony on Friday afternoon, a little girl in a velvet dress approached Ms. Lee with a hardback copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird," announcing that her name was Harper. "Well, that's my name, too," Ms. Lee said. The girl's mother, LaDonnah Roberts, said she had decided to make her daughter Ms. Lee's namesake after her mother-in-law gave her a copy of the book during her pregnancy. Another girl, Catherine Briscoe, 15, one of the essay contest winners, had read the novel six times. She trembled and held her hand to her heart as she spoke of its author: "It was breathtaking to meet the most important person in my life."

I read this and thought So just shut the %@#*& up already, Philip Roth! Take a lesson! Longer, more coherent post to follow.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Tuppence A Bag

Here is something that I found that cheered me up a bit. While also depressing the hell out of me, because it's one more piece of evidence bolstering my hypothesis that the British really are better than we are. We can start with the preponderance of great British rock musicians and great British women writers relative to our own, the graphic design of the Tube, the graphic design in Boots, their biggest chain of drugstores, and then move on from there. Also, they have celebrity chefs, mock their Rod Stewart shags if you must, who have actually tried to remedy what I last posted about. Before we gave them the idea to replicate The Biggest Loser, they were airing this.

But first, please do visit the website of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and spend some time at Tales of the Big Garden Bird Watch. If you mist over at memories of going to sleep with Radio 4 murmuring in your London hotel room, this is the next best thing. Additionally:

1. They are promoting nationwide birdwatching "schemes" under the rubric "Aren't Birds Brilliant," no question mark, because of course they are.

2. Their slogan is "For birds, for people, for ever".

3. The design is clean and sharp with clean and sharp and lovingly snapped pictures of...birds.

(Yeah, it's hipster-girl porn, as is this, which the proprietess of Prunes and Prism turned me on to. Related: A Special Report from A Special Way of Being Afraid on mascot-on-mascot violence that is not to be missed.)

An excerpt, voiceover done by Jim Broadbent:

As a father of two small children, the excuse to sit down and lock myself away for 60 minutes is welcome. However, this year, Molly (just turned five), joined me to take part in Big Garden Birdwatch.

My garden in Cambridgeshire is fairly standard, a couple of bird tables and lots of bushes. It backs onto a cow field which in turn backs onto the River Ouse. I get all sorts of things flying over or along the river but what would I get actually in my garden this weekend?

The suspense is unbearable! Put on a pot of Earl Grey, get yourself a canister of milk chocolate HobNobs, and settle in.

P.S. I decided to learn to link. I don't suppose you can tell.

Oh, Come On! Part Two Hundred And Six

From the Times today:

In New York Schools, Whole Milk Is Cast From the Menu
To reduce the risks of obesity, diabetes and other health problems, New York City has decided to serve one percent and skim milk.

I haven't read the article, of course, and I know there was something in the paper a couple weeks ago about a program to encourage bodega shoppers to buy lowfat milk but: like it's really the thimbleful of whole milk served and likely unopened on the cafeteria tray that's causing childhood diabetes and obesity. Maybe it's the chips eaten for breakfast (how many times have we all seen that on the subway and wanted to cry? or maybe that's just me), the McDonald's for dinner, the soda constantly imbibed, the tater tots I know they're serving alongside the whole milk. Maybe the whole milk is the only actual food these kids get all day, even with the hormones and God knows what else they pump it full of. Maybe the problem lies in the fact that we have an underclass, and no one wants to admit it, or do anything to address the root causes of potato chips for breakfast. Because look, some has-beens are skating with celebrities!

Forgive me for being more humorless than usual. I'm in a bad mood after hearing Bush say this yesterday: "I'm the educator in chief" and "in times of uncertainty it's my job to explain our path to victory."

I can no longer pretend I'm in a six-year-long episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 wherein the goofy unreal images on the screen are Bush and his merry band of big fat liars, who are aliens to the human race and the compassion needed to govern, and I can vent my rage by supplying alternative dialogue to state of the union speeches, NPR broadcasts, and various periodicals. Good thing the Republicans keep keeping it easy to get a gun. Oh, wait, but they've made it so they could probably imprison me for writing this.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

This One Goes Out To James Frey. Are You Here Tonight, James?

Lyrics to the song "What does T.S. Eliot Know About You?" from What Are You On?, the new record from East River Pipe, otherwise known as F.M. Cornog. On Merge. Sleepytime angry-funny drug rehab music, like Elliott Smith crossed with Stephin Merritt.

What does T.S. Eliot know about you?
He knows nothing in particular
but you talk and talk as if he do

You bought that April stuff
Just like an innocent pup
But all those months are equally cruel
When I rip off the mask
You wanna hang with Slash
Smoke bong hits by a heated pool

What does T.S. Eliot know about you?
He knows nothing in particular
but you talk and talk as if he do

Yeah, you read half a book
Then you say "Take a look!"
T.S. is my new best friend!"
You just want showbiz kisses
From Hollywood bitches
Not visits from the hollow men

He knows nothing 'bout you
Nothing 'bout you