Billy Liar, the sweet-natured 1963 coming-of-age comedy by John Schlesinger, is a movie worth going back to. The first time I saw it was, nearly half a decade ago, my pals, JT and Helen out in Philly, chose it for a dinner and a movie night. Maybe after enough pints spent hearing my lionization of epic children--having long counted titles like The Unvanquished, Other Voices, Other Rooms, The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, Lord of the Flies and Chris Ware's stunted bizarro bildungsroman, Jimmy Corrigan, Smartest Kid on Earth as touchstones, they figured it was time my affinity evolved. Maybe it was that the gilding of hard youthful lessons distracted me from the equally hard--if less youthful, lessons that were to follow, that with age must come other generations of spiritual wounds, diversions and errors.
Our culture absorbs movies like this into its deepest tissues, the characters reemerge in satires--as remakes. We dream of having children just to show them this and not everything else.
Ride's seminal Brotpop single, "Twisterella", a jangling Hollies-like dance pop-out, takes its name from the tune Billy co-wrote--a rapturous and innocent bit of bubblegum, perhaps Billy's only invention not to injure his working-class beloveds (or himself for that matter). The Decemberists too, with bookish exhibitionism forged, with "Billy Liar", an only vaguely related character piece, replete with conveniently trisyllabic words and ever baffling Victorian speech mannerisms.
Of course what sets the movie apart from the book written by Keith Waterhouse in 1959 (the same year as the publication of Catcher in the Rye) besides Schlesinger's acrobatic balance of pathos and ridiculousness, are the performances of Tom Courtenay (as Billy) and Julie Christie (as Liz).
Their chemistry (generated here, and again two years later in Dr. Zhivago) popped up in yet another musical ode--two, when you consider the complementary single version and alternate take, Yo La Tengo's "Tom Courtenay". Husband Ira Kaplan sang the A side version, a faithful shoegaze buzzer full of admiration and empty promise forgivability. It's a Billy Liar love letter worthy of Billy's own immoderate hand--written not to the characters but the actors playing them. Schlesinger used the concept of role-playing and staged drama to great effect, showing worlds overlapping one another, but separated by willful deceptions and armored fantasies. Yo La Tengo imaginatively went at it with a kind of blurred distinction between who the real subjects even were: the characters or the actors. Georgia's singing of the same song, an alternate take rescued on the 2005 collection, Prisoners of Love, a paean from Liz' frame of mind. Much as Georgia patterned herself on Liz' charm and liberality, she revealed in between the cracks a kind of pining suspected in Liz, but given that much of that buouyant charm derived from either her mystery or her unknowability--maybe both, never quite glimpsed with such dimension. It gave the tune an empathetic quality that puts its on high in our poplife menagerie of tired reference and painfully self-conscious homage. In the end I've resolved for my own liking that Georgia's is the definitive version regardless of where it wound up, and how it came to us.
Ultimately I love how these movies, and their lovely barnacles compel us to go back, weigh them again, and with diminishing surprise, feel the difference in meaning from year to year. When last I watched a disgraced Billy Fisher desert his love at the train station last I felt the hopeless familiarity accompanying his march back to the house where he grew up, as if watching my own mistakes played back for me. Wasn't he doing what he'd always done? Wasn't he running back to his shell, the boyhood providence, the unprofitable daydreams? And who abandons Julie Christie anyway?! This time around I thought differently. It wasn't the abandonment of love at all, in fact it was the opposite. The daydreamer was going back to the source of his problems, to the things he needed to change about himself, maybe even to care for the people who sheltered him in the nadir of his spinning disconnect.
It's actually a fantastic little scene, one in which, much as Georgia would nab it from Ira in the song, Julie Christie's Liz stole that final scene in the train station from her daydreaming man: The train is set for London, they'll have a life together. Billy's lies, romantic clusterfucks and petty crimes can become a thing of the past. It's a fresh start, except it couldn't possibly be. Liz sees it. Billy fidgets in his seat as the porter calls the last of the passengers in for final boarding. He needs an excuse. One last lie so he can go back and set all the other things right. There is an order to things. He rushes from the train to fetch the two of them some milk for the journey. He retrieves two bottles from the machine, turns and finds the train has left the station. Likely knowing Billy too well to be fooled Liz has left his suitcase on the landing. It's like in that charming breed of human acceptance born most often later in life in many of us and never in as many others, she says without bitterness, "not yet."
Leave it to someone with a better footing in the rational world to elucidate the psychological purposes of dreams; I come from a perspective that dictates the less I say the better.
I say that now...
This morning and last night and the night before I tried explaining--with the kind of atmospherically charged frustration attendant in certain phantasms of 20th century Russian painter, Marc Chagall, in which a simple Dikanka farmer, perhaps even on his wedding day--in this case the Dikanka farmer is yours truly, though I waste no time in clarifying I haven't marrying aspirations, abandons the conventions and physical template of space to grasp, as one might, reaching into the bounty of the sky a mylar balloon, the moon itself or some kind of celestial goat to punch in lieu of a living person who might, in response, sue or consult law enforcement, a dream of agonizing spiritual dimensions.
I couldn't capture the essence of this dream. It was all around me, but I felt like I was fumbling with dull buttered lobster mitts. A while ago I half-jokingly offered to sell my hands on account of tough times and I now take that back. It was a dream about a woman falling asleep. But the rest is too elusive. And of course the intercession of the rain--both terrestrially and in the narrative of the dream made my brain shut down in a kind of stunned interjection of wildest natural beauty. One of those moments when you abandon your itinerary and accept the serendipity of your surroundings.
Of little consolation, I remembered the dream I had about Joe B., involving the Herman Melville novella, Billy Budd, in which, with characteristically stoic romanticism, from the bow of Billy's conscripted ship, The Rights of Man, Joe and I regard an enormous News Gothic-style lowercase e sticking up from the sea on the horizon as if it was an iceberg or an island. He explains how it fell from the story, and somehow that's just the most remarkably sad thing I ever heard.
Oddly enough this was just meant to be one of those posts about the shit I bought at Jerry's Records this morning. The big find was a white label copy of Van Morrison's 1967 post-Them solo debut, Blowin' Your Mind. It's just kind of eh, but that tune 'T.B. Sheets' is terrific for a hot summer day when you're penned up inside with a few bottles of cerveza and sweating gratefully over the realization that you are not dying a consumptive tubercular death in a sweat-stained bed.
I found a delirious, raucous Hound Dog Taylor live record, nice mono copy of Chuck Berry's Greatest Hits on the Chess label and a heart-exploding Little Anthony & the Imperials record.
Oh shit, there's also this fantastic Fats Waller record on RCA Victor--his mischievous grin luminescent, like Jackie Gleason's in the intro to The Honeymooners, and a late-60's 45 reissue of Erroll Garner's 'Misty', which I've loved--like many people, ever since seeing the fantastic 1971 Clint Eastwood movie, Play Misty For Me. I said to myself, the disc in my hand, someday sooner or later you're gonna feel as dirty and sad as a grizzly bear's asshole. And you're gonna want to hear 'Misty'. So I got that too.
More on the substantiation of the sleeping woman dream as my faculties augur it from the pot tar and too too many late nights boxing it out with the Mule of the Night...
Greetings from the great state of Impermeable Sleeptitude. If you're just joining me I was needlessly explaining the significance to some of the familiar faces--folks for whom my insomnia has bred excuse-making and concerns over purple clouds having left shadows on the eyes, of the solid granite paperweights in the form of repeating Z's lying atop the level surfaces in the bedroom. At a glance it looks like a quixotic art project, which is why up til now I have never even mentioned the presence of these stone formations. And only now it is with the mounting agitation of finally acknowledging an elephant in the room. The less that is made of it the better.
Be patient, as the recurring dream about Gogol is about to start. In it he explains how beet-related gas emissions caused an ejection from a ladies' house in Dikanka (down one flight of stairs, the momentum from which rolled him across a brief parquet and to a landing, which upon reaching continued his descent until he was met by the humorless substance called: Dikanka). It comes back to me fairly often, even for a recurring dream. I think the reason is because his narrative grasps at all the most-often disparate though seemingly compatible elements of self-consciousness: his sexuality, his body awkwardness, and his propensity to turn the search for happiness into misfired, if innocuous, slapstick.
The anecdote I tell him isn't as thrilling, one about meeting Tanya Donnelly and thinking for sure we're gonna hook up, but then we don't. It's Washington D.C., probably around 1994 or 95. He rightly points out that it doesn't matter when or where it happens. People like to add that such and such was based on a true story, mostly because it seems, in the hindsight of invention, like it didn't happen.
Even now I wonder if I don't keep having the same dream over and over til I figure it out where the wishbone snaps in perfect halves, and I say just the right thing, and leave out the part about Washington D.C. and the year.
I awoke this morning thinking of rich people eating breakfast. Well, brunch actually. There is an event held nearby each weekend at one of those converted steeler mansions. They throw open their doors to all, but seem only to invite those who could at least plausibly inhabit the grand old place as tenants. The rest of us just look and feel kind of unwanted. The house says no. This event is called 'Bach Beethoven & Brunch' and sounds preposterous. I like the idea of a secular alternative to the conventional forms of worship and I love Bach and brunch. But the confluence of money, cultural showboats and foreboding real estate just sounds gross.
Instead I had a cup of coffee sitting in a bathtub. I was looking at ferns, housesitting in the most literal sense. The first record of the day, which as best as I can date it, goes back to the mid-30's but could be as late as 1943, was called, "Hula Blues" by Sol Hoopii. As I wandered off, occasionally batting away a curious kitten (the only time a cat ever wants a bath is when you're in the bath), I thought of all the disconnect and hard resistance fought by artists who emerged in the good light by virtue of talent alone. And then I thought of the rest of us, how limited we are by those means, and how we're compelled, not always by the direct motivation of happiness, but by the displacement of an audience we do not enjoy. By the lack of a recognized greatness. I was listening to Mozart's Piano Concerto no. 20, in D minor and then a formative favorite, the tumultuous 2nd Piano Concerto by Rachmaninov.
The former, by my limited means of articulation and insight on the subject, shows a quality in Mozart that I suspect may even have been watershed to his composition, the unity of confidence and color invested in the solo instrument in the context of the orchestra. There is no room for preening, though the piano delivers limitless surges. The authorial instinct gave intelligence to the strings in a way familiar to anyone who enjoys, say, Gauguin or (my favorites) those old WWII-era Warner Brothers cartoons, all of which rely so heavily on the currents and rigor of the backgrounds, without which the central characterizations would pale. I know precious little about Mozart, and sometimes to a silly degree wish I could have met him just to watch old cartoons and trade Playboys from the 60's--the ones in which the very idea of nudity is only possible as an outrageous opposition to the equally contrived setpieces in which it is displayed. What a blast.
Of course there's high school, but that Rachmaninov, anymore, reminds me of a wonderful movie from 1945, Brief Encounter, starring the magnetic Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, the latter whom you may remember as the embattled English cop in The Third Man. When I think back to its evocations--the concerto, it now feels slightly strange to associate it with a romantic scene, an association made concrete in a terrific staircase farewell sequence in the movie. In much the same way young people are occasionally caught off guard by Turner and Constable, I was impressed by something in the 2nd Piano Concerto that felt purely abstract and atmospheric. Like Turner's roiling waves hugging the sun and all but blotting out the doomed evidence of sea-going humankind, this concerto speaks in heavy, ominous gestures. It's amusing to think of it just now. I heard it at an age when nothing romantic had ever done that.
This recording was made for the Remington label (1950-57; the specific date of this recording escapes me), one that creeps up in my crate digs with increased frequency these days. Listeners in the Pittsburgh area are advised to check out the small but impressive Remington section at Jerry's. A budget label devoted to classical recordings, Remington captured in a way few small imprints could the austere stylism and substance of the golden age of the record industry--a time when the currency of art in music recording was king.
Sadly, brunch will not be served today. The photos I took of last night's grilled sockeye salmon and sweet and sour potato ratatouille came out dark and blurry. Customarily I like that in food pictures, lends them a kind of Bruegelesque binge delirium. But I was really relying on my cheapo digital Polaroid to pick up up a little of that ruby red grapefruit color of the fish, offset by the onyx cubes of eggplant. No dice.
On a final editorial note, I extend gratitude to my latest reader, Cap'm. Thanks for your kind words. I'll be following along with you!
Just a quick word before I shuffle off to work this morning on my enchantment with Tammy Wynette's angelic 1969 Nashville record, Stand By Your Man. It still dumbfounds me that a record with such a heavy populist soul bent hasn't made a more wide-spread comeback, whereas, say, Etta James' At Last and Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis are both now nearly as widely recognized as records by Aretha Franklin and The Beatles.
One song in particular has been stuck in my head in the craziest way for months now, and especially now--perhaps owing in no small part to the fever pitch adherence I've developed to Camera Obscura's My Maudlin Career, hardly a day goes by that I don't at least cut right to "It Keeps Slipping My Mind" and sad out just for the hell of it. Books are waiting to be written on the subject of sad songs that sound happy (by Joy Division standards 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' is quite chipper sounding) but the Wynette tune, co-written by Nashville wizard, and this session's producer, Billy Sherrill, is just the opposite. So much so that I made the discovery of its bold soul-in-drag interior in a fit of personal self-abuse and indulgence. It involved beer, pie-eyed ogling and "It Keeps Slipping My Mind" on a jukebox. When I got up close to it, and separated its sentiment from the mirage of its overlying country torch song sensibility it made me laugh to myself. The gist is simple, Tammy pulls her old flame aside, she's been meaning to tell him something. The sound is plaintive and soars in the way Nashville tells us heartache soars. She goes on to sing about love's errors and regrets, but in the end she has to admit, she's moved on. All the things she thought she had to say no longer bother her, she's made peace. It's a lap steel-gilded take on the adage that the best revenge is good living.
These are low fire days and once--not a week ago, okay maybe two, I felt one of those mortal convictions one has (e.g. "I will throw up if I crawl back to religion...or to so and so..."), and believed it was impossible to live without those encumbrances. Eh.
I've been stocking shelves at a grocery store which is hardly as dehumanizing as it sounds. Truthfully I don't care any longer what I do for money. As long as it ends in money, and after money the work is there to make more money I guess it's just shoving verbs at nouns and waiting for the managerial compliments to roll in. They roll in like hatemail, and I get 20% off pretty much everything, save for The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, which is hardly worth a verbal gripe--certainly not worth typing, though nevertheless...
After years of buying the Gray Gal--it's price expands as it grows ever smaller, I don't even wince (outwardly) anymore when paying the floor price for the, geez, there really is no nickname for The Gazette. Malnourished. People definitely see it in the deep end of my gaze, which has gained a troublesome opacity in the last year, the concoction of which involves being willfully depressed, sleeping little and literally eating oily mud along the side of the turnpike between residences. I can't help it, I love Pennsylvania.
Today was another grand dream. I got slightly high the moment I woke up, and walked the dog. I was nearly late for work. I was 15 minutes late. This evening I made some flank steaks in the cast iron skillet with spring onions and almond romesco. Oh shit yeah: corn on the the cob. I tell you, if Chanel could just bottle it she'd be famous all over again. But then it wouldn't feel quite like this.
Forget what I just said.
Ella, sensing my dolor at Frick Park today, acts out one of my absolute favorite scenes from Paths of Glory.
And so I've reached the conclusion of a brief, intermittently rewarding, phase of The auld lang syne.: A life in verse...eh, not so much for me. At least not a public one. Short of that and with what the past few weeks has shown to be a taming of ways--with no heartfelt desire for any of the old instigations, it's liable to look a bit like nap time around here.
I'll be housesitting for my pals, Wendy and Robert, quite a bit this month. Between their fantastic kitchen, and patio with a grill and a view, don't be surprised if this thing in short turn morphs into a bit of a food blog. And if interjections as to my spending habits at Jerry's strike a familiar chord among readers of the always great 7" Slam--from whom both template and energy have been admittedly drawn then all the better. Food and records is a good way of life and 7" Slam is shining the light.
I realized this past spring having logged resident intern hours watching The Food Network and The Travel Channel that, whether by programming strategy or by innate lack of diverse curiosities, many food personalities (what a creepy, Cronenbergian notion!) project little enthusiasm beyond their milieu. Anthony Bourdain, a guy I once followed with nearly a disciple's reverence, has become a tv gadabout, defensively mocking his own purposeless vignettes, occasionally dropping the same three or four Class of 77' punk band names--while confessing love for necrotic American hacks like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam in an interview with The Onion's AV Club. The man's taste is his own of course, but he was as close to a mainstream personality whose predilections sat with my own. There are others less form-fitted to my interests whose musical affinities are, I suspect, at least passably adventurous. Oddly, the cloyingly autonymic Rachael Ray has emerged one of the sharpest, whose party at the South By Southwest Festival was met by the scorn of haters and hipsters alike; the latters' precarious iconocasm was suddenly met by the possibility that a woman who runs her own line of gourmet dog food and designer cutting boards could, by simply showing a little risk in her listening curiosities, mar their already preposterous generational identity. I'm pretty sure Ray's party went off despite the clamor, and no doubt the food was fantastic.
I really hate these explanatory transitional writings. They invariably feel short on respect for the reader's ability to gauge a broader trend that encompasses the direction of a publication. Something must've happened. I suppose it did. Apologies for the effusion. I'll have some grub for you by the end of the weekend without a doubt. Happy holiday!