Archive for February, 2011

I was nine years old when I first watched the Academy Awards, the first time I really understood what they were and rooted for a movie to win.  It was April 15th, 1971 and I remember being allowed to stay up late to see whether or not my favorite movie that year — Airport — would win. It’s a fuzzy memory, watered down by time and the similarity of multiple memories of ceremonies past, but I do remember noting a certain look on my mother’s face whenever I expressed my hopes for a Best Picture win.  It’s a knowing look a parent gives when they want to be encouraging in the face of a child’s lack of understanding.  Of course I hadn’t seen any of the other nominees — why should that matter?

By most accounts, 1970 was a good year for movies. Nominees for Best Picture that year were Airport, Five Easy Pieces, Love Story, M*A*S*H, and the winner, Patton. The Best Documentary winner that year was Woodstock, and the Beatles walked away with a Best Song Score for their cinematic epitaph Let It Be. If I had to pick a winner from that group today, having since seen them, I would have had a hard time choosing between Five Easy Pieces and M*A*S*H. Neither Love Story nor Airport have held up as well over time, but that’s always the gamble when picking the “best” of anything in a given year.

It wasn’t like I would have seen any of the other films that year.  I only went to Airport because my aunt was in town and wanted to do something.  Or maybe it was the teen girl upstairs who occasionally watched us kids while our parents went out.  Whatever the reason, I had seen my first real grown-up movie in a theatre (as opposed to “adult” movies with their triple-x connotations) and as far as I was concerned it was the best movie I’d ever seen.

I don’t know if I’ve missed and Oscar night since, though having seen that many I can’t be sure how many were truly memorable.

I grew up in LA and Hollywood is a company town. I quite literally had MGM movie lots just over the wall in my backyard. MGM took out full-page ads i the back of my high school yearbook. The Oscars were a big deal but only because Hollywood made sure they were a big deal, a tradition that continues to this day across the country. If you know which film had the highest grosses on any given opening weekend — or better still, went to a movie because it was opening weekend — then you have participated in one of the longest running and most successful marketing strategies of the last 50 years. Hollywood might seem perpetually on the brink of collapse, but you’ll ever see a studio in line for a government bail-out.  It’s one factory that just keeps humming along.

But my adult self, looking back and from the perspective as a writer with an interest in younger readers, feels a little sad that we don’t have a similar national excitement over books.  A few years earlier, in 1968, I would have been in a better position to choose a title from the ALA Newbery list: The Black Pearl, The Egypt Game, The Fearsome Inn, Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, and the “winner,” From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (a good year for Konigsburg with two titles in the running.  My first choice would have been The Black Pearl, but I would have been fine with The Mixed Up Files.  I would have been 100% behind the 1970 winner, Sounder, a book my teacher read to us in class.  I fact, while most of my serious moviegoing didn’t take place until my late teens, and my knowledge of Oscar nominated films was minimal prior to that, I was well-versed in books — for adults and for kids — and could have been as equally excited by an awards show treated with the panache of the Academy Awards. In adult books, 1970 saw the publication of 84 Charing Cross Road, Hard Times, Deliverance, Ringworld, QB VII, The Paper Chase, Islands in the Stream (posthumously), and Master and Commander.  What fun it would have been to root among those titles!

I know, what bizarro planet am I living on, thinking we would celebrate books and authors the way we elevate and celebrate movies and actors?

For just a moment though, lets imagine that world.  Folks are rushing around getting food and drinks ready for their Book Award party.  Some are even doing themselves up in the costumes of their favorite characters. Celebrity authors are hosting — that is, authors who are celebrities, as opposed to those who are wielding their fame in other areas to get books deals — and there are dramatic readings and reenactments of key passages from this years’ nominees.  This year (finally!) they have a Graphic Novel category, there’s a separate special category for audio poetry, and rumor has it that Apple has bought ad space right in the middle of the broadcast to launch their new, smaller tablet that will make one-handed reading easier than on any other e-reader. The ads on TV and in newspapers have been pretty intense, but no more so that the friendly arguments taking place in people’s homes across the country as everyone chooses their favorite books. Buyers in bookstores have already hedged their bets and pre-ordered some titles they expect to win, but are otherwise glued to their seats tonight with phone in hand ready to place orders for winners. Pre-paid orders for winning titles will turn the day after the ceremony into the second biggest sales day in most stores fiscal year, right after Black Friday in November. Office betting pools will be won, lesser-known authors will gain new-found clout, full-page ads will fete the winners in the newspapers…

Sadly, there really is nothing like Oscar night… for books.


Read Full Post »

I can’t stop!  Well, actually, I could, but I’m having a little too much fun writing these “sequels” to Mother Goose rhymes.  This week a sort of accidental theme emerged: children being bad.  Technically, I think “children being bad” sums up a vast majority of fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

A Tattler’s Tale

Jack Horner’s brother
Cried to his mother,
“Guess where Jack’s put his thumb?!”
Jack’s brother, the snitch,
Brought mother a switch,
And said, “You’re not good, you’re just dumb!”


The Calamity Kids

Jill and Jack were sent out back,
To fetch their mother some camphor;
Jill was tripped and split her lip,
And Jack was caught by a brown bear.

Jill staggered ‘round, fell to the ground,
Her limbs felt heavy, her thoughts dim;
“Don’t leave me here!” Jack cried in fear,
But no one bothered to save them.

Repeat Offender

Tom, Tom, the preacher’s son,
Stole a bull and he tried to run;
The bull got bored, and Tom was gored,
And Tom was denied his Great Reward!

It’s Poetry Friday!  Plenty of good poems just ripe for the pickin’!  The roundup this week is hosted by the effervescent Sara over at Read Write Believe.

Read Full Post »

St. Peter ascended
to heaven resplendent,
his mother he longed to see.

But she was polluted
and thus was rerouted,
a prominent Hell addressee.

“There’s been some confusion
at this institution.
Who gave my mom a bad rep?”

Thus Peter was granted
his mother transplanted
so long as he made the schlep.

Both were excited
to be reunited,
no longer would they be cleft.

But then Peter observed
reputation deserved;
Ethically, she was bereft.

St. Peter ascended
his spirits amended,
his mother remained below.

Does she yet dwell in Hell?
Only one way to tell.
Here’s hoping you’ll never know!

c. 2011 david elzey

Read Full Post »

Well, that was a bit of fun last week digging up some old ‘Nother Goose rhymes, so I thought I’d try another round this week.

Burning Sensation

Jack be numskull
Jack perspire
Jack now finds
His pants on fire!


Shopping List

Snakes, steaks, abalone,
Chocolate cheesecake, macaroni,
Carburetors, alligators,
Coffee for the percolator,

Ham hocks, salt, and chili sauce,
Bottles, swamp gas, slimy moss,
A musty, rusty old cheese grater,
Buttons from an elevator,

Wigs, figs, cauliflower
Several puddings, Sweet and sour,
Horseshoes from a Shetland pony,
Soap flakes, dried-up pepperoni

Licorice whips and gravy mix
Egg shells, sheep dip, garlic bricks
Moisturizer, fertilizer,
A broken popcorn sanitizer

Gingerbread, a telephone
Beans and franks, a doggy bone…

All the things that Mother Hubbard
Used to have inside her cupboard!


Thrush Mush

Four-and-twenty blackbirds
Met an awful fate.
Packed inside a pastry,
Now it’s much too late.

Every Simple Simon,
Any child of five,
Knows that birds from ovens
Don’t come out alive.

It’s Poetry Friday, do you know where your couplets are?  Why not check the roundup over at Great Kid Books and see if they aren’t hanging out over there.

Read Full Post »

Dog’s version:

After all my years of loyalty to the service of Lion I was finally recognized as a Noble and ceremoniously decorated.  About time, too, if you ask me.  In addition to ceremony he gave me a title — Duke Dungslakeheaping — and the deed to my own small kingdom. Quite an honor and a prize, I must say.

When I told my sister Cat she was very sweet and congratulatory, which should have made me suspicious, but I was too jazzed to think clearly.

“Listen, Duke, you can’t run around with your deed in your mouth getting all slobbery,” she purred.  “Why not leave it with me and I’ll look after it.  When necessary you can retrieve it.”

Again, I should have known, sister Cat is never anything less than clever, but I found her enthusiasm intoxicating and agreed.  It’s that purring, it’s like some sort of drug, I tell you.

Anyway, one day I’m out and about and I find some Wolves making a mess in my brackens and I say “Hey, you Wolves, clear out!” And they were like “You don’t own this land, Dog, you’re not the boss of us!” So of course I have to run home and get my title to show it to these wannabe dogs

“Yeah, so, about that title, Duke” Cat says, and I knew she’d planned the whole thing even before she told me what happened.  “So I have this little hidey-hole in my cupboard — it’s where I like to keep special treats away from the kittens.  That’s where I put the parchment you gave me.  But the other day I went looking for a little treat and saw that the parchment had been destroyed…”

She took it out and showed me.  It was in strips no wider than one of my claws.  She claims Mouse must have done it, but I know better.  She wouldn’t put her treats where a mouse could get them, and there’s no way she didn’t do this herself out of spite.

I went back to Lion an explained the situation, and do you know what he said?

“Well, if you can be so careless with the title I gave you then I don’t suppose you’re fit to rule the land I deeded you.”

Which is why I’m going to spend the rest of my life bowing and scraping to Lion. And why now and forever I hate Cat.

Cat’s version:

Really, you’re going to take his word?

I had as much to gain and lose by Dog’s commission.  With him in charge I felt I finally had the ear I needed to get some much-needed improvements to this crummy end of the kingdom.  Our waterways are polluted by Raccoons upstream, Birds are constantly breaking noise ordnances with their early morning parties, and those Wolves are a menace and have been rumored to run off with kittens in the night. Why, when I finally had a chance to be heard by Lion would I throw it all away?

It happened just like I said. I put it away not imagining for a moment that Mouse would have any interest in paper. But one day I hear this noise in my kitchen and there’s Mouse, tearing the parchment into shreds.

“Mouse! What are you doing! That isn’t even food!”

“My nest needs lining, dear Cat, and I didn’t think you cared what I did so long as I left your food and your kittens alone.”

I was so furious I gave Mouse a good batting.  I should have killed Mouse when I had the chance but I didn’t.  Now I might as well give up ever getting anything taken care of in this part of the woods. I understand Dog is mad, but the truth is the truth, and for the rest of my days I’m never going to forgive Mouse for what he did.

Mouse’s version:

Oh, please.  Everyone knows what this is really about. It’s all about the Cheese.

Think about it, who loves cheese more?  More than mice, I mean.  That’s right, Dog.  Cat doesn’t mind a nice cream now and then, maybe a runny Brie, but if he could Dog would eat Cheese until it was coming out both ends.  Sorry to be so graphic about it, but there’s Cat’s truth and then there’s just plain Dog truth about the matter.

Because Dog can’t hold his Cheese it is kept under lock and key in Lion’s castle.  For decades now Dog has been bowing and scraping before Lion in the hopes of one day getting access to the Cheese House. It’s because of Dog that the only way I can ever get any Cheese is by making daily rounds to people’s homes and making it look like they have an infestation.  They freak out, put down mouse traps with tidbits of Cheese, and I go making my rounds trying to keep myself fed without breaking an arm or a leg or having to chew off my own tail.

Did I shred that piece of paper?  You bet I did.  You know why?  Because Cat told me it belonged to Dog.  If she had told me what that paper meant, if she’d told me that it meant Dog was no longer in Lion’s palace I would have left it alone.  With Dog gone maybe Lion would have lightened up the security and I wouldn’t have to risk life and limb to eat.

So even though, yes, I tore the paper to bits to line my nest — you try living in a wall, it’s cold and drafty — the only person at blame here is Dog.  He’s ruins everything, for all of us.  I’ve hated Dog forever and I always will.

Cheese’s version:

For a long time the Cheese stood alone, sequestered for her own protection and with no knowledge of what went on beyond the walls of the Cheese House.  She had heard horrible stories, bedtime fairy tales, of Cats and Dogs and Mice and Lions and all manner of Beasts and she was glad for her cool dry home in the dark. The outside world sounded like a dreadful place to her and she was afraid it would eat her alive.

And she was right.

Read Full Post »

I’m on assignment.  Sort of.  A friend who is a professor has asked me for the second year in a row to contribute to a blog based on one of her course subjects, Los Angeles.  I grew up there, and though I haven’t lived in the city or spent any significant time there in the last (mumble mumble) years or so, I still have some pretty vivid memories.

When I was initially asked to contribute to last year’s blog I wrestled with some mixed emotions.  On the one hand, having not lived in a city that changes as radically within a given ten-year period I didn’t feel I had anything to contribute.  On the other hand, at what point does one’s history become an invalid point of departure for reportage?  Distance is a physical thing, but memory is as close as the memory is strong.  Why shouldn’t I be able to talk about the city of my formative years?

My current assignment involves the memories of streets.  I have a few I’m sorting through in my mind to determine which will speak the loudest to me.  At the same time those old doubts come creeping in. Do I have anything relevent to say?  Are my memories of streets that have long since seen cosmetic surgery even really the same streets?

It was while perusing a book on screenwriting this past weekend that I stumbled on a quote by Willa Cather.

I became an artist when I stopped admiring and started remembering.

Setting aside that I’ve never like Cather’s books, or that I find her use of the word “artist” pretentious and a bit insecure on her part, I found this quote to be remarkably well-timed for discovery.  In the beginning we learn by studying those who inspire us. In 8th grade I wrote an unbelievably ridiculous story based on people I knew in the style of Kurt Vonnegut.  Since then I’ve studied, and aped, films and radio plays and painters and photographers I admired.  While I find some of the work done in homage to be relatively successful, it wasn’t until I learned how to mine my memories that I understood these various arts and crafts better.

What “works” in my writing are those moments that tap into the rich vein of what I remember.  About childhood, about cities, about creating, about everything.  I can see the clear, clean architectural lines of a building but cannot capture it until I can tap into my memories of wonder at first seeing such things.  Standing in front of an abstract painting may mean nothing at first, but then comes a memory of color or pattern, where describing it becomes an attempt to locate the hidden vocabularies of experience.

Why do certain colors and scents move us?  What makes a particular time of day feel brighter or melancholy?  Everyone admires an exquisite sunset; it’s how you remember it that renders the memory valuable.  We attach emotions to these things we admire and experience, and rendering these feelings transforms the work.

So I’ve stopped questioning whether or not there’s validity to my memories of the streets of Los Angeles. The only question now is to settle on which ones are the most evocative.  We can tussle over whether or not it’s art later.

Read Full Post »

kidlit book love

It’s St. Valentine’s Day, which means among many other things that it’s the day the Cybils winners are announced.  After a public nominating process and two rounds of judging by bloggers in the kidlitosphere, the 2010 winners have been selected and are officially posted on the Cybils website.

Once again I was a judge, and this year I was back to graphic novels.  I’ll have more to say in about a week about the winners and my choices in the graphic novel category (and perhaps about judging in general), but for the next week or so I’m going to be posting reviews of some of the books considered for this years Cybils over at the review site, the excelsior file.  I’ve decided to hold off on posting about my decisions until after my reviews are up, starting tomorrow since I’ve got a (semi) Valentine’s book reviewed today.

As with most years, they Cybils provides a nice alternative to the other book awards out there.  I don’t know if it’s the nominating process, or the variety of people involved in judging, but there always seems to be a few surprises when it comes to naming winners.  And this year I actually read a number of winners before they were announced! That’s a first.  (I even reviewed the Teen Sci-Fi winner Rot & Ruin for Guys Lit Wire.)

Always full of surprises, the 2010 Cybils: check ’em out.

Read Full Post »

This week I dredged up a few poems from a series I started a while back that were part of what I was calling my ‘Nother Goose series.  Basically my take on some classic nursery rhymes.  You can’t beat the classics, but sometimes it’s fun to try.  To beat them.  I don’t know why I stopped doing these, I remember having fun with them…

The Nuisance

Miss Muffet’s daughter
Sat by the water
Eating her sushi with roe.

The fat, hairy spider
That dropped down beside her
Was flattened with one single blow.


A Tragic Ending

The Spoon and the Dish
Had one simple wish:
To wed by the light of the Moon.

They were crushed by the Cow,
So the Dog’s crying now,
And the Cat plays a funeral tune


The Question

Humpty Dumpty lay on the ground,
Shell bits and egg yolk spread all around.
Many came running when they heard him fall…
But who put the egg man on top of a wall?

Poetry Friday, a marketplace full of goodness at a price that’s right.  Carol Rasco has the roundup over at her place this week. Buy, sell, or window shop, it’s all good on Poetry Friday.

Read Full Post »

Tonight, children, I think I should tell you the real reason why dogs sniff one another.

~Aw, Poppa!  Not again!  We know that story!

Oh you do, do you?

~Yes, Poppa.  The Lion invites all the animals to a big feast, but the pepper was missing.

~So the Lion calls on the Dog to go the neighboring town to fetch some pepper for the meal.

~But the Dog was so upset at being sent on the errand that instead of bringing the pepper back he decided to run off with the pepper.

~And the Lion became so enraged that he told all the other dogs that they would get nothing but bones for the rest of their days unless they found the one who never returned with the pepper.

~And from that day forward all dogs sniff each other to find the one who took the pepper.

I see.

~And they never found him, because after all this time that dog would be long gone.

~So all dogs are forever looking for something they cannot find.

I see.

~All a lot of bother for some pepper.

And you believe that is the real reason dogs sniff one another?

~That’s the story, Poppa.

~Yeah, you’ve told it dozens of times.

And so that is what you believe?  You think that is the real reason dogs sniff one another?

( . . . )

I see.

~But if that’s not the real reason dogs sniff one another, why did you tell us that story?

What did you think the first time you heard it?

~I thought you were being a silly-head.

~I thought you were making it up to be funny.

But have you ever really wondered why dogs sniff each other?  Did you ever imagine there might be another reason, a real reason?

( . . . )

I see.

~Is there a reason, Poppa?  A real reason?

~Yes, Poppa, is there? If there is you must tell us!

~Yes, tell us!

Very well.

In the beginning when all the creatures of the world were made the dog was the most mischievous.  As they were created the others animals would wait patiently to be told their purpose. The elephants were given the duty record the earth’s history which was why they were given strong memories.  Dolphins were given guardianship of all the fish in the sea which is why they swim with different schools and protect them.  The birds were tasked to survey the lands from above and serve as living maps for lost creatures which they convey in their songs.

While the other animals were learning their place in the world the dogs would be off frolicking and generally not paying attention.  Then just before it was time to enter the world the dogs ran around asking all the other animals “What are we supposed to do?  Do you know what our purpose is?”  None of the animals knew.  But the cats, who had been charged to enforce the laws of their assigned kingdoms, decided to play a joke on the dogs.

“Your purpose,” said Tiger, “was given to the lead dog to be passed along to the rest of you.”

The dogs were dumbfounded.  They had no idea which one was their leader.

“It shouldn’t be too hard to find the leader,” said Panther with a wink. “The one in charge smells like a leader.”

At this point the dogs all began to sniff one another frantically.  The cats could barely contain themselves from laughing.  The Leopard took it one step further.

“But once you find the leader the only way pass the information along to one another is line up tail-to-nose.  It’s the only true way to know for certain that the information is true.”

And like an endless link of sausages the dogs entered the world tail-to-nose and continue to this day sniffing each other out to find the leader who knows their purpose. There is one further wrinkle to this story that concerns house cats.  The cats we know as pets are descendants of various desert families and they didn’t think it was right to fool the dogs.  Every chance they had they tried to tell the dogs that they had been lied to, but the dogs wouldn’t hear it.

“Your elders, the large cats, they wouldn’t lie.”

“Can you not see how they have made fools of you dogs?  Do you not hear them laughing at you behind your backs?”

Which is why, to this day, dogs and cats do not get along.

( . . . )

I see that this story doesn’t please you as much as the old tale.  Perhaps I was wrong to tell you, perhaps you were not ready to hear it.

~Is that really the reason, Poppa?

~Is that really why dogs and cats don’t get along?

It is the only explanation I know

~Were dogs ever given a purpose, like all the other animals?

I don’t know, children, I haven’t sniffed a dog to find out. I strongly suspect they don’t smell of pepper, but if you’d like you may find out for yourself.

Read Full Post »

freelance dream guide

The gray light fades and I slowly open my eyes singing altered words to a Beatles song.

I once had a dream, or should I say, it once had me.

It wasn’t my dream, I was clearly on loan.  Riding the outside of a space capsule like a stuntman hitchhiker into the cargo bay of a man-made asteroid.  Man-made.  Man, maid.

The interior is like the fantastical lobby to a space station designed by people who normally design movie theatre lobbies.  Gleaming tile, high-impact carpeting, polished brass railings, ramps and escalators reflected off the glass facade facing infinite space.  People dart everywhere, there’s an urgency, chaos and the sense of danger.

And there is a man next to me.  He’s probably in his 70s, maybe older.  He’s got a long face and at times it feels as if he makes himself invisible and hides inside me.  I don’t figure this out until much later, but I am his Trojan horse into this world, into his own dreamscape.  He has found some need to sneak into this place and I was available.

I/we wander the complex.  At moments there is a danger in the air as people begin to disassemble themselves and become deadly robots intent on killing.  Their sites are set on us but once we engage, once I make eye contact, they fade and disappear.  People, things, come yelling, sirens and alarms, all melt away once acknowledged.  What was once a space station full of random obstacles slowly, quietly, becomes a disjointed shell of a building. I know, I can feel, that all of these obstacles have been built over the years by the man next to me, behind me now, following me.  I catch glimpses of him – looking directly at him appears to be a violation of the rules – the wonder on his face is a mix of familiarity and child-like wonder.  He didn’t just need a way into this place, he needed a guide.  He’s lost his way, or his memory, and there’s something here he needs to find.  But he cannot tell me what, he doesn’t speak at all, and I do my work by instinct. It takes an outsider to navigate clearly.

Edges appear as neon lines of digital code.  I unwind the edge of an elevator, monofilament thin with a crackling sound like a fuzzy telephone connection.  I don’t hear the sound, I feel it, and it tells me what I need to know.

“Your phone,” I say to the man.  He isn’t as surprised to hear me speak as I am by the sound of my own voice.  As his proxy I appear to have adopted his vocal timbre, and for all I know I look like a mirror image of himself through his dream eyes.  I dial in the code to retrieve his voice messages.  The machine is old, cold, mechanical.

“You. Have. Fifty. Five. Thousand. Messages.”

We both know the messages are all the same, left three times a day for fifty years.  We only need to listen to one.

“I’m half way up on the left side, on the aisle.”

There is no one left but us two.  A double set of doors open to a movie theatre.  I hold them open and for the first time the man leaves me and moves ahead.  There is a movie on the screen but he’s facing the audience and scanning for a face lit by the light of the screen.

And there she is.

She stands and comes down the stairs, a relieved smile on her face.  I follow them as they head out into the lobby, arm in arm, whispering to each other.

Trailing them, answers flood into my head as if the dam holding them back had given way suddenly.  The man had missed her message once, many years ago, he failed to meet up with her, and he never saw her again. In these waning days of his life, racked by dementia or delirium or perhaps even Alzheimer’s, he needed reconciliation.  In here, this memory imprisoned within a dream, he had unfinished business.  He had a debt to clear, a regret to right. He used what remaining mental capital he’d reserved to rent a neutral guide, someone who could get past the elaborate traps and safeguards he’d erected to prevent himself from accessing this one memory. I was a foreign agent, a virus, his landscape as alien to me as I was to it.  What would have stopped him cold in his tracks was nothing more than a collection of odd scenes that didn’t intimidate me.

Walking across the lobby the walls became transparent, the darkness of space faded into a gray.  Beneath our feet the floor began to ooze a slushy mix of marshmallow and melting snow.  The light grew and we became enveloped in a fog.  The man and the woman were swallowed by the fog and the gray blended with the red of the light filtered through the veins in my closed eyelids.

I transitioned seamlessly from the dream to being awake.  But it wasn’t a dream.  As clearly as I know anything else in this world I had been with that man, in his final moments, helping him make one final trip through a personal landscape.  Somewhere a man left this world happy, having located the one piece of memory that meant the most to him, found with the aid of a freelance dream guide.

It was the most bittersweet moment of my dreaming life yet.

Read Full Post »

musical communion

Being a film student during the MTV revolution I watched as movie editing and visual narratives leaped into head-spinning hyperdrive with both awe and horror.  It was clear that movies that worked at their own pace would no longer work in a world that quickly became hooked on the slam cut.

No more would a film leisurely explore a character for its first twenty minutes before setting them onto their journey. Audiences with an accustomed taste for five-minute mini music video narratives (some of which barely made sense, or pretended to) would gladly accept twenty minutes of action before they needed to understand who the main character was or why they were on their journey.

Everyone griped at the time that music videos destroyed the art of cinema by changing the narrative pace, but if anything ruined movies it was the Walkman.  While we were all busy pointing at the screen and complaining about the way the images were put together it was our aural landscape that was most radical change taking place, and it took over our lives not just our movies.

If you look at movies set before 1979, in an anthropological way, there’s a fascinating experience you can see repeated over and over.  A character will come home, alone, remove their shoes or pour themselves a glass of wine, and then go and on some music on the stereo.  The music fits the mood, of the character and the scene, and often there will be no dialog. It’s a private moment that involves a desire, a selection, and a conscious decision to seek solace in a particular album of music.

The Walkman was a step into the future where you could take your personal music everywhere you went.  The world in you head was viewed through a personal soundtrack.  The sanctity of music in the home (and to some extent in the car) had lost its personal cathedral.  There was no need to wait until you were home to steep in your private mix, you could do it all the time.  At work, while jogging, on the bus.  The soundtrack became a constant and, as with music video editing, we came to expect music all the time to fit the mood.

The movies echoed this by programming a soundtrack of songs specific to the story.  Soundtracks became collections of songs that would help rekindle our memories of the images, in addition to add profits to the films and artists involved.  We surrendered our personal peace for a relentless musical landscape.  We no longer listen to music, we consume it, and as a result our ears have become dulled to the idea of personal connection.  We either have a constant need for what’s new, newer, newest, or we retreat to the comfort of the familiar.  Movie soundtracks do the same thing, and while it might stand in for the mood of the moment, the music has no real connection with the mood of the character.

I can clearly remember days coming home from work late at night, quietly turning on my stereo, and listening to whatever suited my mood.  Beethoven’s Pastorale.  “The Last Chance Texaco.” Maybe all of Darkness on the Edge of Town.  Yes, I can listen to these things today any time I want, but that’s sort of the problem.  Because I can dial them up at any given moment I’ve lost the moment of communion I once had with music.  Personal music has lost its rites and rituals, as far as I can tell.

Music has become such wallpaper in our lives that up until I started this sentence I had my iTunes running quietly in the background. I don’t find that ironic, I find it sad.  I’ve grown so accustomed to having a “soundtrack for writing” that I don’t even notice it’s there.

I find that a little sad. And I blame the Walkman.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »