Archive for category Entertainment

Memories

Kansas City Bomber Raquel Welch

I have a vivid memory of watching the Tonight show as Johnny Carson was interviewing Raquel Welch.   She comes out with a cat that sits on her lap.   She asks Johnny “do you want to pet my pussy?”   He answers “sure, if you move that damn cat.”   In my memory it’s vivid, I can see the picture, hear his reply, the exact intonation and see her response.   I’m sure I saw it.

Or did I?   Not according to Snopes.  They note that the story most often involves Zsa Zsa Gabor, but sometimes involves Raquel Welch or a number of others.   That inconsistency is the mark of an urban legend, they state.    Doing a google search the story most often includes Gabor so I must be wrong.   Or maybe not — in this thread another person remembers it just as I do, with Raquel Welch, and around 1970, when I would have seen it.   This post also has the incident involving Welch in the 70s, which would fit my memory (it even mentions a clip, though I can’t find a clip posted anywhere).

In my mind there is no doubt but that it happened.  The memory is vivid and clear, including a memory of me shocked by hearing that (suggesting it probably was 1972 or a little after) and seeing her reaction.   There is no way my memory could be so detailed about both what I saw, how I felt and what my reaction was without it being true.   That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, that’s what I feel to be true deep down.

But, of course, the evidence is against me.   Who am I to argue with Snopes?   What if as a 12 or 13 year old I heard this urban legend, visualized it in my mind, and somehow over time came to believe I’d seen it.   Having watched Johnny Carson almost every night from age 10 to when I went to college at 18 I know his mannerisms and could easily have concocted a mental image of this exchange.   Over time real memories and stories heard/scenes imagined blur.   Perhaps what was once my imagination of a story I heard became to me a real memory.

Memories are strange things.   In the court of law eye witness accounts used to be given the most weight; now they are if anything more distrusted than objective evidence one can glean from records, videos or other documents not so vulnerable to subjective error.

Part of the problem is that memory is imbued with a strong sense of subjective interpretation.   For instance, let’s say I had an argument with someone in a bar in 1994 — or perhaps an early internet debate back when usenet was new and flame wars common.   I might remember it with me rationally trying to reason with someone who is obstinate, arrogant and even rude.   If that person were to recall the argument he or she would likely have the same memory — but with me the obstinate one.

If one has self-doubts, one may remember things as being more personally insulting and cutting then they were.  Small statements that one is sensitive to may dominate a memory of a conversation where objectively that statement was inconsequential.

I remember seeing John F. Kennedy’s picture in the newspaper in color when I was three years old.   He had just been killed, and a color photo was rare.  I remember learning to walk and wondering why my parents were forcing me to do that, as my dad flashed lights at me.   But there is also a picture of those first steps — is my memory a reconstruction based on that photograph, or real?   Did that photo reinforce a real memory?

One memory I have is at age 2 in the Black Hills going to a zoo.   My dad was enthralled with buffalo on the other side of a ridge, but I couldn’t see them (he had binoculars).   I looked down and saw blankets and sheets floating down a stream, then apparently going under the stream and coming out at the start and flowing down again.  I tried to get my mom and dad to look, but they were just into the buffalo.   There was a picture there too — me looking down, my dad with binoculars.   Once years later I asked my mom about that, and she said, “all I remember is you were really fascinated by a clothes line with sheets on it in the valley below.”

So the memory was real — albeit through the eyes of a two year old whose brain had not yet categorized clothes line perception and thus saw the sheets flowing down the river.  But that shows another limit of memory, our brains interpret and categorize based on experience.   We can’t be sure that our perceptions and interpretations are accurate, only that our brain is doing the best it can within its experiential framework.

Yet within our brain every memory is said to exist.   Brain surgeons sometimes trigger old conversations, or cause patients to hear the past as if it were happening in the present.  For that person the past is the present, the experience of that conversation is suddenly real.

Memories are flawed and biased; one remembers a reality where oneself is more benevolent than was likely the case, with others perhaps more flawed and malevolent.    Memories fit into categorizations and can reinforce conflicts and bias, whether on a personal level or between groups like the Israelis and Palestinians.

Memories are useful, of course.   Remembering how one was swindled makes one less likely to fall for the same ploy; memories of help and friendship can lead to positive action.   The subjectve bias inherent in all memory means simply that we should be open to learning how others may have interpreted a situation differently, recognizing that even if it contradicts what any of us remember, that doesn’t mean the person is lying or dishonest.   We all mold memories to fit our own subjective states.   Recognition of that makes it easier not to carry grudges and to avoid resentment.

Yet I still insist that it was Raquel Welch being interviewed by Johnny Carson, and he delivered that line.   Perhaps he was reprising something he did with Zsa Zsa Gabor earlier.   Perhaps an angry Raquel demanded the tape be destroyed, and since this was pre-VCR and original tapes were often unique, the whole incident could easily have been made to go away.   As long as the two never talked about it all there would be were the stories of people who remember seeing it, but in an era where Youtube provides instant proof for all recent claims, no clip exists.

I remember this 1970 poster...at least I think I do...

There is no way to objectively know if my memory is right or wrong.   There is no evidence for the objective observer to side with me, and as Snopes notes, the evidence suggests this to be an urban legend.   My subjective evidence is still convincing to me, even as I recognize the likelihood of error on my part.   It’s also a reminder that even though we think we objectively and clearly perceive and understand the world, interactions and activities around us, we’re always twisting and interpreting it in ways that are biased towards our beliefs, past experiences and world views.   At the very least, that should lead to humility.

28 Comments

Pan Am: Surreal yet Compelling

This post contains spoilers from the first three episodes of Pan Am (ABC – Sunday 10:00 PM EST)

I’ve broken from my usual writing about politics and world affairs to comment on music, today I’ll wade into the territory of network television.

Set in the early 1960s, the new ABC series Pan Am follows the lives of a group of stewardesses (not flight attendants yet) traveling the globe on one of Pan Am’s top of the line international jets.   But the story gets complicated, one stewardess, Kate, works for the CIA.  She’s not a full blown agent, but recruited to run errands — make deliveries, exchange messages and the like.   Yet she is a vehicle for a lot of cold war intrigue, bringing politics and the Cold War at its height back into American living rooms.

So you have gorgeous women (each with their own personality quirks), hot shot pilots, jealousy, romance, rivalry and espionage set in the early sixties.  Isn’t that enough to get you to check it out!?   But it’s more than that.   The series does something that is very difficult to pull off — it uses a kind of soft surrealism to blend together an unlikely mix of characters and situations into a compelling and very entertaining show.

Two of the women, Kate and Laura, are sisters.  Laura left her would be husband at the alter to ultimately join Kate in her career, with her drop dead beauty earning her a cover of Life magazine.    Their mom, who has already appeared (bringing the would be groom to Paris to try to win Laura back) finds this life style dangerous and strange.    Done wrong, that kind of story line would be corny — oh yeah, she leaves the groom at the alter, becomes a stewardess with her sister and gets on Time?   But within the surreal framework of the show it’s perfect.   It works.

Collette, from France, is an intriguing and very likable woman seems to have a kind of ‘old world’ wisdom and perspective that plays off the brimming optimism and idealism of the Americans.    She already was confronted by the wife of a man she had slept with (without knowing he was married), in episode three we learn of her past.    Set in Berlin Germany as the crew took reporters to see John F. Kennedy’s Ich bin ein Berliner speech, it’s revealed her parents were killed in the war and she can’t get over her hatred of the Germans.    In a surreal scene at an embassy party for the President (who had left by then) she starts making accusatory statements to Germans she meets.   She then apologizes, says she’ll make up for it and asks to the pianist to play the German national anthem and sings in perfect German “Deutschland, Deutschland ueber alles.”    She isn’t trying to honor the Germans by doing this!

Maggie and Kate

It’s surreal because a pianist would not have played it, especially once the words of the “forbidden” first verse were sung.  She would have been stopped and kicked out.   Yet somehow they pull it off; in the context of this show, it works.   Another stewardess, Maggie (a free thinking woman with drive and courage), has a crush on the President and spends the whole show trying to get to meet him.  She finally sees Air Force One and tells Laura that she can’t make the return flight and to tell the crew she’s sick.    She gets to the tarmac and when stopped she pleads for a chance to shake the President’s hand.   When that doesn’t work she informs the Secret Service that she has a box of Cuban cigars as a gift for Kennedy.

Impressed by the cigars the agent tells her to wait, and heads to the plane.   The President appears atop the plane’s entrance, somewhat in the distance (it’s dark we can’t see features) and waves at her — close to what she wanted, and she’s enthralled.

Gender issues of the early 60s (before ‘women’s lib’) will clearly be covered by this show.  Maggie’s already gotten in trouble for mocking the “weigh ins” required of stewardesses  (can’t have any chubby unattractive women serving Pan Am!) and even stabbing with a fork a first class passenger who tried to assault her.   He backs off, but it’s clear that if he complains Maggie will lose her job (while he risked nothing for what would now be considered a crime).    The pilot settles him down with some expensive scotch and an apology, but instead of being thankful that her job is not in danger, Maggie steams over the injustice of it all.

Dean (the captain of the airplane) and Collette as he notices she's not herself at the embassy party.

The show is only three episodes old.  So far more emphasis is placed on the women — who are the stars — but the Captain (Dean) and first officer (Ted) are integral parts of the story lines as well.   We’ll see how it develops, but at this point it’s got me hooked.

Pan Am started regular transatlantic flights in 1958, and the show is set in that golden era of flight when service was a premium, especially on international flights.   Given the historical allusions — we’ve already had the Bay of Pigs and JFK’s Berlin speech — those of us who enjoy Cold War history will find that part of the show interesting.   This week Maggie helped an East German spy defect, though it got her in some trouble.   It also clearly shows the Machiavellian nature of Cold War intrigue — the key is to combat the Soviets without risking a ‘hot’ war.  One reviewer suggests that this is “TV for old people,” and being 50 it might well be that there is a nostalgic allure to it.   I’m OK with that!  Anyway, I’ve always liked airline movies (I keep waiting for George Kennedy to show up to do mechanical work).

Another complaint is that it’s “too happy.”  So far the dramas are not the kind of tragedies that hit shows like “Desperate Housewives” (another rather surreal hit that preceeds it on ABC), but that’s OK.  It’s a fun show, and it captures the optimism of the era just before Kennedy’s assassination and the subsequent horrors of Vietnam.    So for the first time in a long time I’ve found an hour long network drama that I plan to watch regularly!

Pan Am suffered financial collapse in early December, 1991 — the same month that the Cold War would end with Mikhail Gorbachev’s announcement that the Soviet Union was breaking up.   In that sense the subject matter is doubly fitting: the Cold War era was Pan Am’s era.

Leave a comment

“One Hundred Years From Now” and “Cyclorama”

    

I thought it would be fun to compare the most recent solo album by Dennis DeYoung: One Hundred Years from Now with the most recent studio album of new songs from the band Styx, Cyclorama.   DeYoung’s album came out in 2007 in Canada, and then was released with some changes to the US in 2009.   Cyclorama was released in 2003 and is the only Styx studio album without DeYoung’s presence.   DeYoung’s album apparently did not chart in the US (though it hit number 1 in Canada), while Cyclorama reached 127 on the Billboard chart, selling about 50,000 copies.   I’ll start with the older album.

I believe Cyclorama is an excellent album and I enjoy it more as I listen to it more.   It’s just not really a Styx album for me.  Without DeYoung it seems like a very different band.   Not a bad band, but a different band.   The album has a number of highlights.   James Young shines with These are the Times, his best song since Miss America.   It is a powerful hard rock song that probably could not be written by a young man.  It reflects the wisdom of experience along with the recognition that choices matter.   One with Everything by Tommy Shaw is another of my favorites — on so many levels the song moves and amazes me, the music is one with the lyrics, it is on my list of all time favorite songs.  Lawrence Gowon, who replaced DeYoung, also contributes solidly to the album, especially with the socially and psychologically relevant More Love for the Money.

The album has no clunkers.   Killing the Thing that you Love drags a bit for me, and is the song I most often click past. James Young’s Captain America is OK; the idea is good and the music rocks, but the song itself seems to be missing something.   Otherwise, every song is enjoyable, well produced and well written.    Tommy Shaw’s contributions reflect some of the best song writing of his career, showing that he has grown as an artist.  Rather than following old formulas, he explores new ground and each song is interesting and compelling.

One of my favorites is Kiss Your Ass Goodbye by Glen Burtnik, a song which combined with the Bourgeois Pig bit by Billy Bob Thornton at the start is the kind of break from the norm that compares to Mr. Roboto and Plexiglass Toilet.   It’s a novelty song, but fun.    It also adds to the complex variety the album offers while still seeming coherent and connected.  In that Shaw’s One With Everything captures the spirit of the ablum — diverse, yet a true unified effort.

One Hundred Years from Now by Dennis DeYoung sounds more like a Styx album than does Cyclorama.   In fact, it’s got a collection of songs that rival anything DeYoung wrote either solo or as a member of Styx.   Given that on any given Styx album his contributions represented three or four songs, his ability to put together 12 tunes this good is amazing.  I have since ordered his Hunchback of Notre Dame musical and will listen to that as well!

The title track, done on the Canadian version partly in French in a duet with Eric Lapointe, is done in English by DeYoung alone on the US release.   To me it is up there with Suite Madame Blue, Unfinished Song, Grand Illusion and Pieces of Eight among DeYoung’s best efforts.  It combines a pleasant, catching and powerful melody with lyrics conveying a profound message.

Another song that I find riveting is Rain.   It has DeYoung’s hallmark talent of writing a melody that is intensely powerful yet accessible, evoking images of real devastation (apparently Katrina was an inspiration) as well as being a metaphor for one overwhelmed by life.    Crossing the Rubicon is a deep and almost mystical song that reflects wisdom and experience.  As one ages one has to recognize the need to move on and make changes; instead of ‘waiting for a better day,’ you have to take risks and move onto new ground.   If you’re like Estragon (the character from “Waiting for Godot” to whom DeYoung alludes) you’ll simply be waiting for death.  Each time I listen, the more meaningful the song is for me.

There was a Time is a reflective look back, reminding me a bit of his earlier Goodbye to Roseland, but better.   Private Jones is a hard rock tribute to those who fought in the post 9-11 wars, reflecting the uncertainties and disappointment of those whose patriotism seemed confronted with an ambiguous reality.

There’s also a group of songs that has a spiritual sense of human faith in relationships: Save Me, I Believe in You, and Forgiveness.   Breathe Again rounds off that list, being a very personal song from DeYoung to his wife Suzanne, yet a powerful statement in its own right.  Two of my favorites are social commentaries on the information revolution: I Don’t Believe in Anything and Turn Off CNN.

Any fan of Styx in its heyday will appreciate DeYoung’s solo effort.   He’s allowed himself to create an album with the elements that made Styx one of the most successful bands of its era, but doesn’t do so in a formulaic manner.  The songs show his versatility both as a singer and song writer.    His voice sounds very much like it did in Styx’ heyday; to me the album stands alongside Grand Illusion and Paradise Theater in quality.

The good news, then, is that both Styx related acts have quality.    Like the original band in the early days, both refuse to take short cuts or coast.   Cyclorama‘s songs are fresh, exciting and coalesce a diverse set of elements into a superb album.   Dennis DeYoung captures the spirit and sound of classic Styx in a dynamic, fresh collection of songs.   The bad news is that neither CD sold enough to create anticipation of new material any time soon.   It’s unclear if the current Styx lineup will ever release another set of new songs (songwriter Glen Burtnik has left the band since Cyclorama) and DeYoung has a variety of projects.

The quality of these two CDs hint that a studio album reuniting Styx and DeYoung could be big.  Shaw and DeYoung showed in these albums that they are if anything better song writers than they were in the past, and James Young’s These Are the Times hints at his capacity to contribute a gem.   If they came back together and pooled their creative juices, having the maturity and perspective to realize that product they create is worth not delving into past disagreements and fights, they could not only have a better album than either of these two, but one that might actually sell — Gold, perhaps even platinum.   What a coup that would be for a band that’s been around in some form for almost fifty years!

They need not lose Gowon either.   With CDs running 65 or 70 minutes, he could contribute some songs and an expanded Styx could satisfy and unite a fan base that’s often been split between DeYoung fans on the one hand and Shaw-Young fans on the other.   DeYoung and Chuck Panozzo are the only true original members of the band remaining, it would be a fitting cap to the band’s career to heal the rift.   If DeYoung’s other projects and dislike of heavy touring continues, that would no longer be a problem.  He could perform some big concerts, and Gowon could handle the longer tours.   The band could be reinvigorated and fans would be delighted.

A pipe dream?   Are the egos really too big and the feelings too sensitive?  I hope not.  DeYoung has claimed he’s willing to try it again.   The others might decide its worth a chance for another best seller and spike in their career.   They may feel that it would be a gift their fans deserve.   And maybe, as they shot past age 60 and start to look mortality in the face, they may realize that the collective magic that gave them five straight multi-platinum albums deserves another run.

Leave a comment

1977: Illusions and Star Wars

1977 may not be remembered as an especially important year, even though it started with Commodore demonstrating the first personal computer – the Commodore PET – in early January.   Gerald Ford was finishing out his short term as President, while Jimmy Carter was getting ready to move into the White House.   But in 1977 three pieces of popular culture were released which represent major reflections of and influences on my world view.

On May 25, 1977, 20th Century Fox released a film many in the company thought would not be worth the $12 million they spent producing it: Star Wars.    It was the creation of George Lucas whose surprise hit American Graffiti  had given him the credibility to pitch this sometimes silly sounding story of good vs. evil in a galaxy far, far away to the movie execs.   Sci-fi films rarely made much money, though.   Moreover it opened at only about 40 theaters because of lack of interest.

Yet from that first day it was an instant hit, with lines in every city where it was shown.    Most people think that a smart strategy of hitting sci-fi conventions and releasing a comic strip before the movie’s release generated enough beneath the radar buzz to turn what some expected to be a flop into a major success.  In any event, overnight it changed the film industry and unleashed a phenomenon that spread across the country.   Now almost 35 years later my 8 and 5 year old sons know every character, have toy light sabres, Star Wars Lego sets and video games.    3D versions of the films will start being released to theaters next year — the force is still with us.

On July 7, 1977 (7/7/77) the struggling band Styx released The Grand Illusion.   Styx had hit the big time with the single Lady, but its two recent LPs Equinox and Crystal Ball failed to push them to the next level; Crystal Ball  actually undersold Equinox.    The release was met with a yawn.   The first single from the album, Come Sail Away, moved slowly up the charts and seemed to stall.    Then suddenly it took off to the top ten.   The album quickly went platinum and Styx became a certified big time act.   They would dominate the concert circuit and LP sales for the next five years, the largest and most successful act of the late seventies/early eighties.

Also in 1977 author Richard Bach published Illusions: the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, a follow up to his unexpected best seller Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which had been published in 1970.   Illusions would not sell nearly as well as Seagull had, but when I read it I was amazed.  It not only reflected thoughts I had inside about the nature of reality, it also helped shape how I look at the world.    The book exemplifies a kind of new age spiritual philosophy, a bit neo-Platonist, and one which if embraced requires one to take full responsibility for every aspect of ones’ own life.

What sets Illusions apart from other spiritual descriptions of life, or ideological attempts to define what life means and how one should live is the books final thought:  Everything in this book may be wrong.   Bach did not provide dogma around which cultists would gather, he presented his personal philosophy in story form, allowing readers to find it as persuasive as they wished, reminding them that it’s just his interpretation of experience.   Unlike religious leaders he did not claim divine authority; unlike some philosophers, he did not claim to have discovered truth.

Styx album The Grand Illusion has a similar theme — ‘if you think your life is complete confusion because your neighbor’s got it made, just remember it’s a grand illusion, and deep inside we’re all the same.’   Yet the album focused less on giving a world view than reflecting the way in which America’s cultural embrace of materialism and consumerism lead to a dead end.   We can fall under the spell of believing we need wealth, beauty and fame, but in the end those things aren’t real — they are illusions.   From the biting cynicism of Miss America, the hopeful escapism of Come Sail Away to the introspective Man in the Wilderness, the album explores the human quest to find meaning in modern America from a number of perspectives.    Whatever the external trappings or competitions won and lost, we still ask “who the hell we are.”   The Grand Illusion remains my favorite album of all time.

Star Wars, of course, contained similar allusions.   We are surrounded by an invisible force that permeates and unites all that is; reality is much deeper than its material appearance. George Lucas studied mythology as he designed the story, casting it as good vs. evil, and ultimately a story of the redemption of what might be one of the heinous criminals one can imagine.   On the surface it was a throw back to the old Flash Gordon type serials of the fifties, when the good guys were very good and the bad folk were pure evil.

It was fun, the mysticism didn’t overwhelm the action, and though the characters were not well developed, the plot moved quickly and audiences connected.    It also had another connection to the other two cultural products – it dealt with reality beneath appearances.    That’s why people connected – it wasn’t a complex cynical analysis of the human condition, it was a straightforward appeal to our basic ideals of freedom and values.

Taken together, what influence did these 1977 works have on my world view?  I guess they reinforce my view that we each have to take responsibility for our lives, recognizing that much of what we strive for and take seriously is temporal and unimportant.   Beauty fades, wealth does not satisfy ones’ spirit, and battles and competitions are quickly forgotten (this obviously connects with my last post on Augustine and Petrarch).   More importantly, there is a purpose.   Life isn’t meaningless.    Just as it was Luke’s fate to confront Darth Vader, I trust that life leads us to where we are meant to be; each of us is actually the captain of our life voyage.  Blaming others only pushes us deeper into delusion.

The final song (save the album coda) on Grand Illusion is Castle Walls by Dennis DeYoung.   I’ve often thought about the Star Wars saga as I listened to these lyrics.    I also suspect the last two lines reflect true wisdom.

Far beyond these castle walls
Where I thought I heard Tiresias say
Life is never what it seems
And every man must meet his destiny

Leave a comment

“The Problem’s Plain to see…

…too much technology
machines to save our lives, machines dehumanize”
— Styx, “Mr. Roboto” (1982)

In the nearly thirty years since Dennis DeYoung of Styx penned those lines, the growth of technology has multiplied.   In 1982 the internet was an unknown form of communication between science departments of a few large research centers.   The personal computer was on the market, but still rare and without operating systems that made use easy.   Satellite phones were rare, expensive, large and clunky.   Most people had never seen one, let alone used one.

On television cable programming was just beginning to expand.  MTV had already debuted, as had CNN.   At this point they were still experiments, no one knew if they would succeed.    There were news reports that the Japanese were developing the capacity to put music on discs that could be laser read, but if you wanted music you either had to put on a record album or cassette tape.    VCRs were the new high tech toy.   Not only could you tape your favorite shows and watch them again later, but places renting movies in VCR form were popping up, meaning you could watch an old film without commercials at your leisure.   People no longer were limited to watching what happened to be on television at the time they wanted to watch.    When you photographed people or places you took care to try to get a good shot.  Developing film was expensive, and you wouldn’t know how it turned out until you got the prints back from the camera shop.

At the time, of course, we thought we were living in a world filled with technological wonder.   The VCR is hyper-cool if you don’t know about DVDs, streaming video, or DVRs.    The Minolta SLR camera with different lenses and filters made it easier than ever to take high quality photos.   Color TVs were increasingly affordable as the old black and white sets disappeared and Sony’s new expensive “walk man” allowed you to play cassette tapes in a small portable device with headphones.   One could conceivably jog and listen to music at the same time.  How cool is that!   So much for transistor radios!   Home movies were really are (and the equipment expensive and bulky), but a few people had a screen and projector to look at slides.

Some cars even buttons to roll down windows or even lock the car.   That seemed a bit excessive — one can easily roll a window up and down (and the car didn’t have to be on) and why have a labor saving device for something as simple as pushing down a car lock!?   Pinball machines were still king, but Pac Man, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Donkey Kong and other “video games” were becoming popular.   The Atari company even put out a machine you could hook to your TV to play such favorites as “missile command.”   Video games on your television?   Wow!

One good thing about being 50 is that I got to experience first hand this remarkable era of technological advancement.  The last thirty years have seen life become fundamentally altered.    As a student in high school and college I’d go use the IBM selectric typewriter my dad’s secretary had whenever I could.  That had a button that would erase a mistake (white out the error) and it was easy to type on.    Alas, I often had to re-type whole pages thanks to a typo or margin error, and if anything was revised it would often mean retyping the whole paper.

In college researching a paper required a trip to the library.   One became adept at using card catelogs, knowing the library of congress scheme of arranging subjects, and plugging dimes into the photo copy machine to copy magazine or journal articles.    I was lucky to be a fast typist — most boys hadn’t learned to type.  I was one of only a few in my typing class back in 8th grade, wanting to someday become a sports writer.  Girls learned to type to become secretaries.   Boys, of course, would be the bosses using Dictaphones (which were already making short hand obsolete).

So while my friends tried to cajole their girl friends to type up their papers, I could just sit at my type writer and work.   Yet we were the pinnacle of technology, a TV and small refrigerator in every dorm room, and nice stereo systems – the best had components, a tuner, amp, a couple large speakers, a nice turntable and a tape deck.

My girlfriend at the time was studying computer science — learning languages like Basic, Pascal, and Cobol.   I’d go into the computer lab sometimes and try to create programs — one where the computer asked questions and then came up with a personality profile was my best.   Of course then Bill Gates would come and create an operating system that took away the need to program your computer (remember when one had to know html to write a web page in the early nineties?)

Now my kids can’t comprehend why the TV at a hotel can’t be paused or set to record shows.   They have told me we should be able to watch on demand any show on the program guide.  “In a few years,” I replied, realizing that may indeed be the case.   Students can revise papers constantly without even printing them out.   Almost any question can be answered via google, while youtube provides videos of just about anything you might want to watch.   You can do better research from a poor rural university than you used to be able to do at all but the best schools.

Music is now portable, you can have a vast array of music on demand on gadgets as small the adapters one used to have to use to play 45 RPM records on a turntable.   Everything can be downloaded, traded, and even movies and TV shows can be watched on devices one carries in ones’ pocket.    Where once we had to call each other, meet at the mall or library to hang out, or as teens cruise downtown to run into friends, now there’s facebook and texting.     We used to be able to escape our parents easily — once we were out the door, we were out of touch (and out of reach).   Now there are cell phones, tracking software, and constant contact.    The internet allows communication across cultures and contexts.

Is there too much technology?  Does all of this dehumanize us?   At one level yes.  All technology even going back thousands of years removes us a bit from the state of nature.  Yet with all due respect to Rousseau, this only means that we are able to alter what is human, perhaps even changing human nature.    It may be de-humanization compared to what we were before, but since we humans are constructing our new selves, it’s still human.    And while the computer, texting and social media are altering who and what we are, the book, telegraph and postal service did that to earlier humans.   So, though Dennis DeYoung’s lyrics are often prophetic, I don’t think there is too much technology — now or in 1982.

5 Comments

Banacek

There’s an old Polish proverb that says when your mind is in the past, listen to the sound of a watch being wound.

Well, that one was never on Banacek, but there a number of them listed here.  Or watch them:

Before he was Colonel Hannibal Smith of the A-Team but after enjoying Breakfast at Tiffanys with Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard played Thomas Banacek in a two year 16 episode series in 1972-73 (the same time Styx was making those Wooden Nickel albums).   I just purchased the DVD collection of the series and find it as enjoyable as I remember, one of my favorite series of all time, even if it had such a short run.

Peppard played millionaire free lance insurance investigator Thomas Banacek, a sauve and sophisticated puzzle solver of Polish descent (despite an oddly Czech sounding last name, pronounced Banachek).   The show, set in Boston, always started with an impossible crime.   Something got stolen when protection was tight, when there was no conceivable way a thief could have made the heist.    During the show as you watch Banacek investigate, you’re also trying to figure out just how it was done.

Boston, circa 1972

I think what makes the show is the personality Peppard gives Banacek.  He’s a tad arrogant and smug, but always in a pleasant way.  He keeps his cool, has a good sense of humor, luck with the ladies, and he irritates the insurance investigators who inevitably are angry that Banacek is on the case.   As a freelancer he gets 10% of what the insurance companies would have had to pay out (sometimes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — and that’s 1972 dollars!) if he solves it, while the insurance guys slave for a salary.

There is of course always a beautiful woman involved in some way.   But what makes Banacek so appealing (and a role model when I watched the show — not in its original run but a few years later on re-runs) is his calm self confidence, amusement at the follies going on around him, and his refusal to work for anyone but himself.   He guarded his independence quite fiercely, even with the ladies.

It was mostly a cerebral show.  Banacek got in fights but they were brief and usually he used wits over braun to come out ahead.  In one scene the guy who would later play “Jaws” in the James Bond movies is trying to beat him up, and Banacek doesn’t have a chance.   He manages to briefly elude “Jaws” and then puts his billfold with $100 bills hanging out in the engine of a junked car.  When the crook, thinking Banacek gone, reaches in to get it, he slams down the hood and is able to knock out “Jaws.”  He then calmly takes his billfold back and walks away.   The show was about the puzzle, the bad guys were often insiders manipulating the situation.

Banacek had a chauffeur, a likable Sicilian named Jay Drury, played by Ralph Manza.  He helped provide humor — and the show had a lot of subtle dry humor (another reason I love it).   Banacek also had a friend who was owner of a bookstore that specialized in rare books, played by Murray Matheson.   He would do research for Banacek, and again added humorous banter.   A very short example:

Banacek, being wealthy, had a telephone in his car.  He’d have to call the mobile operator to connect him and his cars were vintage models.  It all demonstrated that he had fine taste, wealth and knew how to live.

I also like how he was fundamentally moral and ethical (unless you’re one of those who thinks a single man shouldn’t mess with women before marriage) yet also didn’t make it emotional.   He might smile when a villain says or does something bad, not in a happy way but in a bemused “that guy’s got a problem” manner.   He’d talk to them in a friendly, respectful way, even if he despised them and was plotting their arrest.  It was as if he were above it all, amused by the spectacle and the fact that he could make lots of money solving puzzles that others could not.

Almost always the plots involved personality flaws of the villains (or even the victims) which Banacek would see through and manipulate to his advantage.   The psychological twists add to the mystery and the humor to make a thoroughly delightful show.

Still, the core was Banacek, affable, smiling, never losing his cool and always having a witty (if at times smug) come back to insults and efforts to put him down (such as how the investigators from the insurance companies would purposefully mispronounce his name).   When someone mentions the hostility from the company’s investigator is reply is always the same: such hostility is an “occupational hazard.”   It was agreat show — and worth purchasing on DVD!  If you want some samples, here is a scene where he encounters Margot Kidder, who would later go on to play Lois Lane (with a Superman reference six years before she’d get that role):

Here’s another clip: enjoy!

1 Comment