Sunday, August 26, 2012

Vital Viewing (We Sure Showed Those Rooskies Edition)

I just now--really, about 15 minutes ago, which would have been 1:43 PM EST--found out that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, had died. How did I get this breaking news? Did I get it online? No. The last time I was online would have been yesterday at a little before 5:30 PM. I check both The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post frequently for breaking news events, and there was nothing at that time.  Did I see it on TV? No. Got rid of the cable some time ago, and now just get static.  Did I hear it on the radio? Driving from my apartment building to the Circle K down the street takes less than a minute, not worth the effort to turn it on. I finally found out Armstrong died when I walked into the store and bought the Sunday Plain Dealer. It was right there on the front page. It might have well been 1969, for as up-to-date I am on things.

Odd that I should get the news in such a low-tech way, considering Armstrong's achievement was so high-tech at the time. Actually, it's high-tech now, since no one in the 43 years since has come up with a suitable encore (by the way, subtract 43 years from 1969. You get 1926. It will be another year before Lindbergh crosses the Atlantic.)

I have mixed feelings about the space program. Unlike most other kids of my generation, I never particularly wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. A cartoonist, stand-up comedian, movie star, sitcom star, rock star, author, Mad Magazine writer, late-night horror movie host, newspaper columnist, talk show host, disc jockey, and TV news anchorman, yes. I wanted to be all those things at one time or other as a kid, but not, for some reason, an astronaut. I was a fool not to have had such an ambition. Why, with the same worldwide audience that Neil Armstrong commanded, it would have been an opportune time to impress all of Earth with my Boo-Boo imitation ("Gee, Yogi...") Instead, Armstrong wastes the moment babbling on about small steps and giant steps. Some people just don't know how to rise to the occasion.

Even if I didn't want to be an astronaut, I was fascinated by the space program as a kid. Especially if blast-off occurred during school hours, and they rolled the TV into the classroom so we could all see it and get a break from having to divide 38 into 826401 (the pocket calculator wouldn't come along until I was in about the sixth grade.) And really, it was just plain exciting. Just plain entertaining. Nonfiction science-fiction, if that makes any sense. But should millions of taxpayers money be spent just to keep a little kid like me entertained? Especially if I'd rather be a late-night horror movie host anyway? I'll answer those questions, and maybe raise a few more, in a future post about the space program.

For now, here's what all the excitement was about in '69:


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In Memoriam: Phyllis Diller 1917-2012


 Onstage comes something that, by its own description, looks like a sackful of doorknobs. With hair dyed by Alcoa, pipe-cleaner limbs and knees just missing one another when the feet are wide apart, this is not Princess Volupine. It is Phyllis Diller, the poor man's Auntie Mame, only successful female among the New Wave comedians and one of the few women funny and tough enough to belt out a `standup' act of one-line gag.

--Time Magazine, 1961

It's my real laugh. It's in the family. When I was a kid my father called me the laughing hyena.

--Phyllis Diller

Saturday, August 4, 2012

In Memoriam: Gore Vidal 1925-2012

Writer. The City and the Pillar. Visit to a Small Planet. The Best Man.  Julian. Washington DC. Myra Breckenridge. Burr. Myron. 1876. Creation. Lincoln. Empire. Hollywood. The Golden Age. Palimpsest. And hundreds of trenchant, acerbic, often hilarious, essays.

"Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates."

"As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests."

“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.”

“Today's public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can't read them either. ”

"Writing is thinking"

“The malady of civilized man is his knowledge of death. The good artist, like the wise man, addresses himself to life and invests with his private vision the deeds and thoughts of men. The creation of a work of art, like an act of love, is our one small yes at the center of a vast no.” 

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn." (If Vidal ever did give a damn, he certainly kept it to himself--KJ)

Jim flushed. “She’s full of crap. I’m not afraid of her or anybody. Besides, I do my traveling on the other side of town.”

“Really?” John was interested and Jim was glad he had lied.

“Sure.” He was mysterious. “Bob and me go over there lots of times. All the baseball team does, too. We don’t want to mess around with ‘nice’ girls.”

“I guess not.”

“Besides, Sally isn’t so fast.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.”

“I’ll bet Bob Ford said that about her.”

[From Aaron Burr's (fictional) journal]:...Jefferson was a ruthless man who wanted to create a new kind of world, dominated by independent farmers each living on his own rich land, supported by slaves. It is amazing how beguilingly he could present this contradictory visions. But then in all his words if not deeds Jefferson was so beautifully human, so eminently vague, so entirely dishonest but not in any meretricious way. Rather it was a passionate form of self-delusion that rendered Jefferson as president and as man (not to mention as writer of tangled sentences and lunatic metaphors) confusing even to his admirers.

In an afterword to the novel, Vidal informs the reader that he thinks Burr is being a little hard on Thomas Jefferson.

I am Myra Breckinridge, whom no man will ever possess. The new woman whose astonishing history started with a surgeon's scalpel and will end who-knows-where. Just as Eve was born from Adam's rib so Myron died to give birth to Myra. Did Myron take his own life you will ask. Yes and no is my answer. Beyond that my lips are sealed. Let it suffice for me to say that Myron is with me and that I am the fulfillment of all his dreams. Who is Myra Breckinridge? What is she? Myra Breckinridge is a dish and don't you ever forget it you motherfuckers - as the children say

He thrust his enormous Reinquist deep within her Whizzer White.

Vidal protested a 1973 anti-pornography Supreme Court ruling by replacing dirty words with the names of the justices who voted for the decision. In a re-issue of the novel  decades later, he let the four-letter words back in.

"Gentlemen, I know some of you personally from the past. I know all of you by name and repute. I am glad that this conference continues, and I will do what I can to give assurance and reassurance to the Southern state that we mean them no harm. It is true that I was elected to prevent the extension of slavery to the new territories of the Union. But what is now the status quo in the Southern states is beyond my power--or desire--ever to alter."

A Southern congressman challenged Lincoln. "Will you uphold the laws, where previous presidents did not? Will you suppress the likes of Mr. John Brown and the Reverend Garrison, who preach war against us and our property?"

"Well, we hanged Mr. Brown, and we put Garrison in prison." Lincoln was mild. "That strikes me as a reasonable amount of suppression."

The final chapter of Vidal's novel is devoted to a fictional meeting between President Theodore Roosevelt and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst...

"...I was also stuck with the fact that once you start a war, you have to have heroes. So you--of all people--came bustling along, and I told the editors, 'All right, build him up.' So that's how a second-rate New York politician, wandering around Kettle [San Juan] Hill, blind as a bat and just about as effective, got turned into a war hero. But you sure knew how to cash in, I'll hand you that. Of all my inventions you certainly leapt off  the Journal and into the White House. Not like poor dumb Dewey, who just stayed there in cold print until he ended up wrapped in fish at Fulton's Market..."

"...Of course, there are surprises, here's one. When you're out of a job, and need money to feed that family of yours, I'll have you write for me, the way Bryan does. I'll pay you whatever you want."

Roosevelt produced his most dazzling smile. "I may be a hypocrite, but I'm not a scoundrel."

"I know," said Hearst, with mock sadness "After all, I made you up, didn't I?"

"Mr Hearst," said the President, "History invented me, not you."

"Well, if you really want to be highfalutin, then in this place and this time, I am history--or at least the creator of the record."

"True history comes long after us. That's when it will be decided whether or not one measured up, and our greatness--or it's lack--we be defined."

"True history," said Hearst, with a smile that was, for once, almost charming, "is the final fiction. I thought even you knew that."

One day, in the spring on 1950, I was invited to lunch by a very ambitious, very young southern novelist who wanted to shine in those social circles that are, for the most part, closed to very young ambitious southern writers. Like Capote, he wanted to be accepted by what was known than as cafe society, and like Capote, he had mistaken it for the great and largely invisible to outsiders, world that Proust had so obsessively retrieved from lost time. In later years , I liked to pretend that Capote had actually picked the right ladder and I would observe,... Truman Capote has tried, with some success, to get into a world that I have tried, with some success to get out of. Truman was surprisingly innocent. He mistook the rich who liked publicity for the ruling class, and he made himself far too much at home among them, only to find that he was to them no more than an amusing person who could be dispensed with, as he was when he published lurid gossip about them. Although of little interest or value in themselves, these self-invented figures are nothing if not tough, and quite as heartless as the real things, as the dying Swan discovered when he found that his life meant less to his esteemed ... than her pair of red shoes.

Truman Capote was one of several famous people with whom Vidal feuded. He had public quarrels with William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer as well. As for the above quote, not knowing any rich people, I have no idea if Capote picked the right ladder or not. I do know the unfinished novel that came out of it, Answered Prayers, is a helluva read. As is Palimpsest.