Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

One CC of Cordrazine

Until recently, when I would click on the “Publish” button that commits my words “permanently” to this space, the screen was filled with ideas for another great blog article topic. The fine folks at WordPress were basically offering up writing prompts, not unlike the kind of essay-question starter kits one might find in the midst of a standardized Language Arts test. So this is my response to one of their more interesting prompts, namely:

What historical event would you attend if you were able to time-travel?

With the understanding that time travel could possibly lead to strange realities like meeting your own grandfather and accidentally killing him…

If we could travel into the past, it’s mind-boggling what would be possible. For one thing, history would become an experimental science, which it certainly isn’t today. The possible insights into our own past and nature and origins would be dazzling. For another, we would be facing the deep paradoxes of interfering with the scheme of causality that has led to our own time and ourselves. I have no idea whether it’s possible, but it’s certainly worth exploring.” –Carl Sagan, 1999 interview

Or at the very least, with the understanding that time travel might make life grammatically difficult…

…I quit trying to phrase it, realizing that if time travel ever became widespread, English grammar was going to have to add a whole new set of tenses to describe reflexive situations – conjugations that would make the French literary tenses and the Latin historical tenses look simple.” –Robert A. Heinlein, The Door into Summer

…I decided to think about this question.  It only asks which historical event I would attend, not which one I would change. If the goal were change for the better (setting aside from the fact that I might return to a present that was (is?) (see?!!) at least somewhat different, and possibly completely different, since it makes my head hurt), I might choose moments like the birth of Adolf Hitler, or the moment when TV writers dreamed up the concept of “My Mother the Car”.

Perhaps I might reflexively have chosen to show up at Mission Control during the first mission to the Moon – cool! Or … the day when Edith Keeler crossed the street in front of that truck

(Nerd.)

But, considering the relatively throwaway remark that I made, in the midst of a recent interesting conversation with a friend … here are some ideas. Interesting if I showed up at …

 

[] The first rehearsal of “West Side Story”. When the cast first got the music and lyrics, or perhaps when they first started work on the choreography. “Lenny… we trust you, and we loved ‘On The Town’, but… explain this to us again?…”

[] The WLW radio station studio in Cincinnati during the late 1920s, as Henry Fillmore‘s Syrian Temple Shrine Band performed one of its weekly broadcasts. A concert band with a weekly radio show. Now there’s an idea.

[] The writing meetings for “The Muppet Show”. Any season, any episode. Or possibly the writing meetings for “This Is Spinal Tap”.

[] The first time Groucho Marx ever performed the song “Go West, Young Man”.

[] The first time Charlie Parker ever played in public.

[] The band rehearsal where John Philip Sousa first brought out the sousaphone.

[] Any performance of the Brat Pack. (The first, last and only time I’ve been in Las Vegas, I got to go to a show called “The Brat Pack Is Back”, featuring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joel Grey impersonators. The actors were so good, the snappy patter (early-1960s politically-incorrect though it was) was so funny, and the band was so on, I can only wonder what the original genuine articles were like.)

[] DCI finals in 1987, as the Garfield Cadets addressed Aaron Copland. Thom Hannum, for the win.

[] The Harry Connick Jr. concert at the Wang Center for the Performing Arts in late 1991 – because I was there, and I’d like to see it all again. I would risk meeting myself (although I would be forced to ask myself what I was thinking when considering wardrobe choices).

[] John Williams’ first rehearsal with the Boston Pops. “Hi everyone. Pleased to be here. We’re going to do hard music now.”

[] Any live performance by Louis Armstrong. (Speaking of Pops.) It just seemed like it was probably a pack of fun to watch and listen, and/or to be onstage.

[] I know it’s got nothing to do with music, but … just one taping of the Laugh-In Joke Wall.

 

If you could time travel through a trumpet, would you find today and tomorrow too loud?”  Jarod Kintz, A Letter to Andre Breton, Originally Composed on a Leaf of Lettuce With an Ink-dipped Carrot

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December 30, 2011 Posted by | band, drum corps, entertainment, Famous Persons, humor, marching band, media, music, radio, television, Thom Hannum | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Slightly-Less-Snarky Year-End Review Than Last Year’s

So, how to characterize the year 2011? Tempting to try to boil it down into a phrase or even a word. Oversimplification can be fun!

 

TIME Magazine recently declared “The Protestor” as its Person of the Year. Seems logical: all year long, whether in the Middle East or the Midwest, whether peaceful or violent, whether full of human microphones or thrown rocks, whether self-named (Occupy) or not (help me out here: was the “Arab Spring” so named by the media covering it?) … protests have been the order of the day. The Year of the Protest!

Early this year, the Arab Spring uprisings made the job of “Middle Eastern affairs analyst” a special brand of tightrope: first Tunisia, then Egypt, then Libya, then Syria. Governments and leaders were toppled, regimes were ended, celebrations were launched, and (predictably) complete uncertainty about the future was felt. (And the passive voice was overused, seemingly.)

Here in the US, it began with residents of Ohio and most notably Wisconsin protesting their governors’ and state legislatures’ raids on union collective bargaining rights (not to mention did you spot Michigan governor Rick Snyder’s remarkable assault on democracy itself? Go here for that harrowing story) … and the year has ended with the spread and evolution of the Occupy movement.

 

Maybe it was the Year of the Crisis. In January, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head, and the resultant conversation in the media rightly suggested a crisis in public discourse (unfortunately, the moratorium on gun- and violence-related metaphors in public speech lasted only about as long as this sentence). In March, Japan experienced a massive earthquake and tsunami, leading to the meltdown of a nuclear reactor in the north of Japan. In April, Prince William and Kate Middleton were royally wed (–sorry. I apologize to my UK relatives: not a crisis after all; just a frenzy).

All year, the European debt crisis expanded, beginning with Portugal, Ireland and Greece, and spreading to Belgium, Italy and France. And other crises arose!! involving debt ceilings … payroll tax cuts … and NBA players and owners nearly cancelling their own season thanks to a disagreement about how to distribute their absurd amount of revenue. Well, some crises were man-made and perhaps not that necessary. Come to think of it, I haven’t heard quite as much about the War on Christmas as I usually do. (And oh yes! How about… blog posts that yield Defcon-One-grade comments from the Mightily Offended? Okay, speaking of unnecessary crises…)

 

Perhaps it was the Year of the Scandal. (To be fair, what year isn’t?) Arnold Schwarzenegger had an affair…? Anthony Weiner had, well, had a cellphone that took pictures…? Amateurs. The Ohio State football team had the kind of problems that would cause the resignation of its head coach, and would attract NCAA sanctions…? Sad, but not super-unusual.

A former Citigroup treasury finance VP was arrested on bank fraud charges stemming from his embezzlement of more than $19 million…? Bank of America used $355 million in settlement money to resolve Justice Department allegations that Countrywide Financial Corporation (purchased by BofA in 2008), “engaged in a widespread pattern or practice of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers in their mortgage lending from 2004 through 2008”…? Now we’re getting into scandal-of-worthy-scope territory.

Charlie Sheen, and tiger blood, and winning!!…? A celebrity-fluff scandal, but a loud one, and one which should have been more of a cautionary tale than it turned out to be.

In fact, up until the last month or so, I thought that the News Corp. cellphone hacking scandal, which is still a big news story in the UK and needs to not be forgotten in this part of the world, would be the Scandal of the Year. Anything that remotely threatens Rupert Murdoch’s global media (and by extension, political) empire is something that deserves all the attention we can give it, I think.

Until Penn State. If the Penn State / Jerry Sandusky mess is Scandal #1, then Scandal #2 actually ranks about #14. The Penn State child sex-abuse scandal is horrifying, beyond its basic content, because it’s important from so many different perspectives.

 

Maybe it was the Year of the Rather Momentous Death of Momentous Public Figures who have spent at least ten years being infamous, about which it may or may not be polite or politically wise or humane to celebrate: in May, Osama bin Laden. In October, Moammar Gaddafi (or however the frak he spelled his name).

 

The Year of Endings? In July, it was the final Space Shuttle mission. In September, it was a treaty, signed by India and Bangladesh, which ended their 40-year border demarcation dispute (hey! This sort of thing CAN be done!). This fall, it was the end of the era in which the global population could be described as “six billion” (the United Nations selected October 31 as the symbolic date on which the population hit seven billion). Ah yes! And Regis Philbin retired from television after fourteen decades of exemplary work.

 

More endings: at the end of a year, the mass media hurriedly generates lists of celebrities who have gone to the Great Celebrity Beyond, usually with titles like “Those We Have Lost” – as if we knew them personally, which is a topic for another time. This year, some of the names that struck me particularly, as I perused other people’s lists, included …

Golfer Seve Ballesteros. Boxer Joe Frazier (and it wasn’t long, sadly, before a wiseacre sportscaster made a “down goes Frazier” joke).

Electronic music composer Milton Babbitt. Film composer John Barry, whose passing made me think of the film composers that have made the biggest impression on me, here.

Pianist George Shearing, a 33 rpm record of whose music I ground down to nothing as a kid. My favorite growlin’ saxophonist, Clarence Clemons. Singer Amy Winehouse, who probably died of complications from stardom. Singer Gerry Rafferty, who is probably justly famous for other things than this, but this is my association.

Author Anne McCaffrey, none of whose books I have read but ALL of whose books’ covers I have marveled at; one day I’ll rectify that.

Actors Elizabeth Taylor, Jackie Cooper, Peter Falk, Cliff Robertson, and Charles Napier, who for me will forever be driving an RV in “The Blues Brothers”. And actor Harry Morgan, paid more complete and proper tribute here.

Euthanasia advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian – there are probably ironic punchlines to be generated, but I shall resist. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, easily one of the most important figures in the history of innovation in America, but also probably a large beneficiary of the standard mass-media post-celebrity-death worship mode.

(By the way, I have a side bet going with myself about that last paragraph.)

Former First Lady Betty Ford. Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher. Former VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro. Statesman, activist and Peace Corps founder Sargent Shriver. Czech playwright, dissident and politician Vaclav Havel, whose life was devoted to freedom from oppression, and whose death was completely overshadowed by the passing of the North Korean dictator, the oppressive “Dear Leader” his own self, Kim Jong-Il.

 

For me, the last year(-plus) has featured all of those things: change, upheaval, the expressing of opinion (constructive or not). In particular, it’s been a year full of passing-away – an unusually protracted run of deaths, of people directly or indirectly connected to the circles in which I travel (both professional and personal). I wrote about one of those, a member of the church choir that I direct, here.

As I’ve gone back over my notes and eMails from 2011 and taken note of the unusually great number of people who have passed away, I’ve been tempted to wallow, bemoan their passing, and think about how much they’ll be missed, either by me or by the friends and colleagues to whom they were more directly connected. These are not by themselves bad things to do. But it seems appropriate, concurrently, to follow one of my favorite “Starred Thoughts®”, which suggests: “Tell people what you think of them, before it’s too late.” Or, less morbidly, …when you have the opportunity.

So I won’t sit it out; I’ll dance. I have a pack of remarkable friends and colleagues, and however it may be that our Venn-diagram circles intersected, the important thing is to recognize that I ought not take them for granted. So I won’t.

(Neither can I take for granted the people who have decided to read all the way to the end of any of these windy blog items, this year. Holy cats! –I’d stink at Twitter.)

 

Finally, the best thought of all, from Harry Morgan’s Col. Potter, of M*A*S*H: “Here’s to the New Year. May she be a damned sight better than the old one and may we all be home before she’s over.”

December 29, 2011 Posted by | blogging, celebrity, entertainment, Famous Persons, government, humor, journalism, media, news, politics, sports, Starred Thoughts, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

O, Ye of Little Faith

Or, How I Thought the Latest Star Trek Movie Was a Violation of Every Trek Rule In The Book… Till I Actually Watched The Thing.

 

During the previous entries in this blog, there may be one detail which has not come through loud and clear. Faintly, perhaps, but not at all in the heavy-handed way that it should. That detail is that I am a Trekkie… a Trekhead… a Trek nerd… whatever the current term is, I am him.

Since the age of 9, not only have I been entertained by this phenomenon – I have gotten quite good at details like, Captain Kirk didn’t always wear the yellow shirt, he sometimes wore the slightly more green-looking wraparound jersey, and besides, the shirts only looked yellow on TV, they were actually much more green if you saw them in person while filming was going on, even though I obviously never saw the filming in person, but I read about that in a pretty official-sounding book when I was 13.

To be equally clear, when I went to my first Star Trek convention, during the “Next Generation” era, I went largely to hear Patrick Stewart give the keynote speech. I did NOT wear a full Starfleet uniform like the people sitting next to me on the subway, a family of four who were also going to the Con. I have the books, the CDs, the videos, and the Internet bookmarks … but I also have my dignity.

And although The Original Series was clearly done on a shoestring budget, with only the cinematic technology of the 1960s (only slightly more advanced than the stuff my fifth-grade best friend had in his basement), and even though the entire last third of the series sounded like it was written by someone who wasn’t smarter than a fifth-grader, a lot of it is still a heck of a great basis for an American entertainment franchise. It has a terrific (if unrealistically Utopian) philosophy: lots of different-looking people (and non-humans) working together for the common good – on a spaceship with lots of fun blinky lights.

A lot of the writing on the “Next Generation” series (after the first year or two, when they’d figured out that Captain Picard would never say that!!) did what great science fiction should do: it told stories (thinly-veiled or not) about current controversial issues – and slid their social commentary in right under the noses of whatever TV network was distributing it. “Deep Space Nine” did a version of that, taking on religious issues as well as the Bosnia/Herzegovina situation of the years of its production; “Voyager” was an interesting concept (kick the cast halfway across the galaxy and introduce a whole new set of adversaries and situations) and featured the wonderful Kate Mulgrew as, essentially, Captain Katharine Hepburn; and “Enterprise”… well, perhaps best not to delve too deeply. (I liked the idea of using that pop tune as the theme song, but I might have been the only person in the world who did.)

And that seemed to be the trend. The further away from the original series the Trek franchise got, the more diluted it seemed to get. Or maybe that was just the response of the fan base. The movies tried hard, and occasionally succeeded, in getting things right, but for every great Trek moment, there was a truly awful one. Are the people making these films, these TV shows, aware that there is a history here, a canon, that needs to be followed, or at least understood?  (Talk about a subject about which there has developed a corps of True Believers…)

 

So, a few years ago, word came down that J.J. Abrams was making the next Star Trek movie. And it wouldn’t involve Captain Picard. It was going to be a re-boot. Re-invent the franchise. Start from Kirk and Spock again. Get younger actors to play the parts. Some fans rejoiced (“oh hey, J.J. Abrams!”). Some fans despaired (“oh Lord, J.J. Abrams!”). After all, the last two decades of American filmmaking have been littered with re-boots and re-imaginings and re-envisionings of Classic American Entertainment Franchises. I’m not sure I was the only fella who went to see the Dan Ackroyd/Tom Hanks movie version of “Dragnet” and actually chuckled at it, but I might have been.

I awaited the movie release with guarded interest. I saw the opening episode of “Lost” and it looked interesting, after all… so maybe this Abrams fellow would have the same effect on the Trek franchise as Nicholas Meyer did with “Wrath of Khan”. I was willing to hope.

But the more images of “Star Trek” (2009) that I saw via the Internet – even as I desperately attempted to avoid finding out too much about it because I hate spoilers – the more skeptical I got. To wit:

[] The Starship Enterprise was built on planet Earth? Not true; it was built at a shipyard in Earth orbit. It was supposed to be too big and too heavy to land on a planet and then get off it; that’s why Gene Roddenberry invented transporters.

[] The Enterprise bridge looks like an Apple Store? Me, I was kinda hoping that the basic look of the bridge, and the rest of the ship, would look like the 1960s version, but with more blinky lights because we now have the money and technology to build sets that look and work realistically. The rail around the edge of the bridge isn’t red? What is this?

[] Spock and Uhura are kissing in a turbolift?! A Vulcan and a human are in a relationship? Not tr– … oh, wait, Spock’s parents were Vulcan and human, respectively, so that’s not so far-fetched. But the last I heard, Spock was desperately trying to fight down his human half and would never, ever, in a million zillion years, smile at humans, let alone smooch them. Have ye not known, have ye not heard about the “Nurse Chapel is hopelessly infatuated with Mr. Spock” recurring subplot?

All right, so they found someone to play Spock who was the spitting audiovisual image of Leonard Nimoy in 1967. The rest of it looked suspect to me. And, as I have been out of the habit of going to see movies in the movie theaters over the last several years, I therefore knew I’d wait for the thing to come out on video. And then I didn’t even have the grit to buy the DVD. After all, I gave “Star Trek: Nemesis” the same treatment, and Patrick Stewart was in that one. This Abrams re-boot didn’t have a prayer.

 

I discovered some more details. It didn’t give me a lot of hope.

[] Kirk’s father died without meeting his son? Not true. Not according to the “Star Trek Concordance”, a tome assembled in the 1970s to package all the known facts about the known Trek story (all 67 episodes and no movies yet, at the time).

[] Kirk and Lt. Uhura and Dr. McCoy and Mr. Spock all knew each other before they got aboard the Enterprise? Not true. Besides, what are the odds? Starfleet’s a huge organization. What are the odds of me being on the same teaching staff as someone I knew in third grade? Remote, thanks.

[] The entire crew is intact from the start? Hmm. The Enterprise‘s first crew, in the original pilot episode, “The Cage”, featured many characters, but not: Kirk, McCoy, Scott, Sulu, Chekov or Uhura. The Enterprise crew in the second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, features more of the well-known regulars but still not McCoy or Uhura, and Chekov was added only during the second Trek season in 1967 as a response to the accusation that no Russian was aboard the ship even though the first man in space was a Soviet cosmonaut (and that Trek needed a younger, “Beatle”-looking cast member). Everybody knows that.

[] No Romulan has ever had a name like “Nero”. Or had a tattoo. And no Romulan ship has ever looked like that.

[] The planet Vulcan is destroyed before the movie is 45 minutes old? If they plan to do lots more Trek movies or even TV, you’ve just lost a huge part of the Trek universe in which or about which to tell stories. Wise?

Then I heard that Leonard Nimoy was in this thing. That should, logically(!), have given me happy pause, but then I remembered that he was in “Star Trek V”, which was awful in nearly every way, and he was heavily involved in the creation of “Star Trek VI”, which had more than a few little details and large performances that went spectacularly against the original Trek canon. Nimoy’s presence did not necessarily guarantee quality or authenticity.

 

Then, a friend of mine suggested to me that “if you liked the original Trek, you’ll like this one.” And eventually herded me in front of a large-screen TV, sat me down, and forced this thing on me.

It takes a brave guy to admit he’s wrong.

So. I was forced to be brave.

I liked it.

A lot.

Partly, the story involves time travel, which, from the moment of James Kirk’s birth, throws the Trek universe into an alternate timeline. Granted, this plot point was not explained unto the audience till more than halfway through the movie, so the first 75 minutes of the thing had me appreciating a lot of the nice touches but still maintaining my air of jaded skepticism – I know Trek, after all. I had to admit that the sound effects alone started the process of dismantling my defenses within the first five minutes of the film. But out of some desperate need to defend the Original Version of the Original Intent of the Original Series, I remained safely guarded.

But as soon as prime-universe-Spock told the film’s backstory, I got the idea. Within this story, it’s okay (even helpful) for some things to be slightly different, to be slightly “wrong”. I’ve been a fan of alternate-reality stories for a long time, and Star Trek has done them at least as elegantly as any science-fiction franchise (the Original Series’ first-season award-winning “City on the Edge of Forever” and Next Generation’s “Parallels”, for starters).

And, as soon as the movie was finished, I realized that Abrams and his writing team had managed to include every famous Trek line of dialogue, integrating each “logically” and appropriately into the story. “Captain, we’re being hailed,” says Uhura. Doctor McCoy gets more than his share of the fun: in his first scene, he gets to deftly and canonically-accurately foreshadow his “Bones” nickname. “Green-blooded hobgoblin,” he mutters sotto voce, after asking Spock, “are you out of your Vulcan mind?” As Spock explains a plot point, McCoy responds, “Dammit, man, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!” There’s a 15-second riff on Chekov’s Russian accent. In his first scene wearing the yellow captain’s jersey, Kirk bounds down the bridge steps and calls out “Bones!” in a manner that is vintage Kirk and yet not precisely a William Shatner impression. At the last moment, Spock gets an opportunity to say, “Fascinating.” And, gloriously, in a Scots accent that is in fact finally authentic, Chief Engineer Scott cries out from the engine room, “I’m givin’ ‘er all she’s got!!”

Which, in the end, it looks like J.J. Abrams might have been saying, too.

Yes, the film is heavy on ferociously-paced action sequences and a bit low on the classic Trek philosophical and ethical themes, but I suppose I can hope this was because Abrams needed to use this film as setup for some other ones he wants to do, in this new, slightly revised Trek world. And those Trek ethics lectures could be a bit long in the tooth, way back when.

I was even a little bit wrong about the musical score of “Star Trek” (2009) as well, but that’s a thought for another day.

 

It’s possible that there may be a lesson in all this (speaking of philosophical and ethical lecture opportunities). But for the moment, I’m content to sit down every about couple of weeks and screen this movie again, and just chuckle. The kids are alright.

December 27, 2011 Posted by | entertainment, film, media, movies, science fiction, technology, television, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment