Tag Archives: friends

Video Fridays: The Twilight Zone

twilight-zoneEver have one of those days, when everything seems to go wrong; when, as Hamlet said, the time is out of joint; when things just seem off; when you’re not on your game; when you woke up on the wrong side of the bed?

I believe it is not at all an exaggeration to posit that most people who grew up on television, where and when I did, think of the following when we’re having a day like that:

(Queue the haunting theme music by Marius Constant…)

You’re traveling through another dimension.

A dimension, not only of sight and sound, but of mind.

A journey through a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.

That’s the sign post up ahead!

Your next stop: The Twilight Zone.

– Rod Serling

This week I conclude my series of nostalgic Video Fridays posts, wherein I’ve reminisced about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.

Having covered The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple, M*A*S*H, and Star Trek: The Original Series, it’s time now to enter…The Twilight Zone!

Thanks to the 1:00am airing time, it’s safe to say that, of all of these shows, I saw The Twilight Zone with less consistency, unless you include the many times I fell asleep in the middle of an episode.

And yet, when I did watch I was captivated and very often creeped out, thanks to the late hour and the often mysterious, mind-bending, and even scary stories.

The Twilight Zone resembled two of the other shows in particular ways.

First, like The Honeymooners, it was in black and white, and while not dating back quite as far — the last episode originally aired in June 1964, a few months before I was born — it was a terrific time capsule, offering up a charming glimpse of the clothing, furniture, appliances, and vehicles of the time, as well as many no-longer used colloquialisms.

Second, like Star Trek, The Twilight Zone often featured science fiction stories, including even more dated and, to our modern CGI-trained eyes, cheesy props and special effects, but always focused on human drama and ethical dilemmas rather than on action.

The Twilight Zone, unlike Star Trek, was mostly a half-hour show (season four featured hour-long episodes, but it returned to a half-hour for the fifth and final season), and I’d argue that this time constraint (actually 25 minutes without commercials) speaks to the show’s primary greatness, for each episode was a masterpiece in miniature, with solid story arcs, tight scripts offering a mixture of humorous and dead serious dialogue, incredible casting, deeply committed acting, and gorgeous photography, employing experimental techniques that were quite radical for the time.

In preparation for writing this post, this past week I re-watched numerous episodes, starting from the pilot, continuing in sequence through much of the first season, then skipping around amongst the remaining four seasons, and I was particularly struck by how good the show was right out of the gate.

In fact, the eighth episode of the first season may be the most famous one of all, titled Time Enough To Last, and starring the late great Burgess Meredith as a book worm, so distracted by his obsession with reading that his marriage and job are in jeopardy, until one day, while taking his lunch break in the vault of the bank where he works, a nuclear apocalypse goes down, and, after recovering from the shock and coming to the realization that he may be the last person alive on the planet, he discovers the rubble of the public library, enough books to last a lifetime, and time enough at last to indulge his reading obsession without interruption, only, as he’s about to dig into the first book, his super-thick eyeglasses, without which he can barely see a thing much less read, fall to the ground and smash completely, unusable.

It’s devastating and awesome.

And yet, this is not the episode I’ve chosen to include here. Rather, I’ve selected episode 21 of the first season, because it shares common ground with the episode I featured in last week’s Star Trek post.

Titled Mirror Image (the Star Trek episode was titled Mirror, Mirror), like it’s counterpart, it explores the possibility of a parallel or alternate universe, a copy of the one we exist in, only…different.

But, rather than me rambling on any further, let’s just get to the video fun!

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

(Disclaimer: I apologize that, due the video having been rendered in a different aspect ratio than the original, parts of the image are cut off throughout, especially noticeable during close-up dialogue.)

What is your signature song?

johnhancockA few weeks ago, a friend posed the following question on Facebook:

What is a song that speaks for you in some way? A song that means a lot to you. A song that you would want played at your memorial. Your signature song.

Now, if I was just an ordinary casual music listener, this might be an easy task.

Rather, I’m an obsessive music geek, who has collected and studied and enjoyed thousands and thousands of songs over many years, over numerous genres, songs that speak to and/or for me on a variety of levels, from emotional to spiritual, from soothing to rage-venting, with lyrics simple and sweet, to abstract and esoteric, to direct and political.

To be asked to choose just one song, then, well, I don’t think it’s possible. And yet, I can’t resist the opportunity to spend a great deal of time pondering it, trying to narrow down the list, trying to determine what the phrase “signature song” really means to me.

The question was posed on January 27th, it’s now February 17th, a day has not gone by without my having thought about this, and the only thing that has become clear is that the crux of this question, the thing that makes it unique, as opposed to the typical “what’s your favorite song?”, is the phrase (my emphasis added in bold) “a song that speaks FOR you”. This, I suggest, is WAY different than asking what song “speaks TO you?”

All songs, especially those we like, speak TO us, by their very nature. Music is a form of communication, after all. But, only so many songs speak FOR us, communicating what we see, what we feel, what we experience, what we believe in, or what we don’t.

And then there’s my personal conflict, a conflict between what I experience and what I believe and aspire to.

If the purpose of a song, chosen to be played at one’s memorial service, is to represent the kind of person that we were, encapsulating not only what we felt about the life we lived, but also what we had hoped for, for ourselves, for others in our lives, or perhaps even for all humanity, in other words, an honest expression of what life was truly like for us — a Song Of Today — as well as an idealistic picture of what we believe is possible if elusive — a Song Of Tomorrow — then, in my case, it calls for two songs, two very different songs. If I’m to be authentic, I would like to be remembered for both.

Even then, picking just two songs is painfully difficult, and so I’d say that the two I’ve chosen for this post represent a snapshot of what seemed to fit today, what messages mean the most to me right now, and it’s very likely that if I try to answer this question again in the future, even days from now, that I might very possibly choose two very different songs.

The Unifying Theme
Love

A Song Of Today: Love Reign O’er Me
I think it’s safe to say that when most people long for something in their life, something that transcends material needs, if we think about it long enough we really do wish the same for all. And yet, in the immediate expression of personal longing, especially for something so fundamental as love, it’s understandable that it may be expressed with “me” language.

And so lyrically, yes, this first song — Love Reign O’er Me by Pete Townshend, performed by The Who, from their epic 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia, which I wrote about a couple of years ago — sounds somewhat self-interested.

And yet, there is the suggestion in the lyric, however subtle, that longing for love is universal, in the line (my emphasis added in bold):

Only love can bring the rain that make you yearn to the sky.

But then there’s the music, music that transitions from a gentle rain of tender love to a thunderstorm of longing, a longing for love to reign down, not just rain down, on one and all. And, as I struggle day to day with how the news is dominated by all of the most horrible things going on in the world, this song speaks for my deep, desperate, urgent longing for love, rather than hate, to reign.

A Song Of Tomorrow: Box of Rain
Keeping with rain as a symbol, perhaps because I live in Bellingham, I turn to Box of Rain, from the 1970 album American Beauty by the Grateful Dead.

The music for this song was written by bassist Phil Lesh, in honor of his dying father, Phil had asked longtime Grateful Dead lyricist, Robert Hunter, to write the lyrics, and Phil has said that he was amazed how perfectly Hunter had captured the sentiment he had hoped to express to his dad.

It’s a beautiful gesture of love, and the lyrics are filled with images of love’s healing power, not necessarily divine love, but maybe more importantly the love of one human being for another:

What do you want me to do
To do for you, to see you through?
A box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through.

Gone, here, is The Who’s anthemic angst, and in it’s place a sweet melody and lovely, loving imagery, a beautiful hippie song, really, in all the best idealistic ways, filled with hope for tomorrow.

And, in terms of a song for a memorial, you couldn’t do much better, given its origins, with a line that speaks to how precious and brief life may be:

Such a long long time to be gone
and a short time to be there

I just hope that these two songs won’t be needed for my memorial for quite a while longer. :)

(I couldn’t find a video that had the lyrics, and so here’s the song, followed by the full lyrics.)

Look out of any window
Any morning, any evening, any day
Maybe the sun is shining
Birds are winging or
Rain is falling from a heavy sky –
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
This is all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago
Walk out of any doorway
Feel your way, feel your way
Like the day before
Maybe you’ll find direction
Around some corner
Where it’s been waiting to meet you –
What do you want me to do,
To watch for you while you’re sleeping?
Well please don’t be surprised
When you find me dreaming too

Look into any eyes
You find by you, you can see
Clear through to another day
I know it’s been seen before
Through other eyes on other days
While going home –
What do you want me to do,
To do for you to see you through?
It’s all a dream we dreamed
One afternoon long ago

Walk into splintered sunlight
Inch your way through dead dreams
To another land
Maybe you’re tired and broken
Your tongue is twisted
With words half spoken
And thoughts unclear
What do you want me to do
To do for you to see you through
A a box of rain will ease the pain
And love will see you through

Just a box of rain –
Wind and water –
Believe it if you need it,
If you don’t just pass it on
Sun and shower –
Wind and rain –
In and out the window
Like a moth before a flame

It’s just a box of rain
I don’t know who put it there
Believe it if you need it
Or leave it if you dare
But it’s just a box of rain
Or a ribbon for your hair
Such a long long time to be gone
And a short time to be there

Video Fridays: Star Trek

star_trekSpace: the final frontier…

Man, every time I saw that star field and heard the opening tones of Alexander Courage’s theme music, and then William Shatner‘s voiceover…well, pun intended, it transported me.

Continuing with my series of Video Fridays posts, reminiscing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth…

…after having covered The Honeymooners, The Odd Couple, and M*A*S*H, this week it’s all about Star Trek: The Original Series.

By this time in the evening, midnight, I was really pushing it in terms of my bedtime. As mentioned in my first post in this series, I would have to keep the volume as low as possible, sit ridiculously close to the tiny TV I had in my room, and even throw a blanket over me and the TV trying not to get caught by my parents.

But, boy was the risk worth it. Star Trek was awesome.

When I first started watching, it was post Star Wars, and while Star Trek seemed campy and low-fi in comparison, I was able to see the two as very, very different from each other, and I enjoyed them each in their own way.

What I loved about Star Trek was how it resembled the science fiction I had just started to read. The stories seemed to explore the drama of situations and dig deep into ethical questions. There was this sense that the central purpose of the show had very little to do with entertainment. Rather, it was an effort to fully consider what life might be like in the future, to imagine the possibilities of human beings giving up war and exploring the universe on a mission of peace.

I had no idea at the time that Star Trek would go on to spawn numerous TV series and movies, and I never became a full-blown Trekkie. And though I have seen all of the movies, LOVED Star Trek: The Next Generation as much, if not more, than the original series, I’ll always feel a fondness for the Shatner-Nimoy era, and it’s been great fun, watching episodes over the past few days in preparation for writing this.

Now, onto this week’s video, one of the most famous episodes from those mere three seasons, titled Mirror, Mirror, notable for its parallel universe plot, and for alternate-universe-Mr. Spock’s rad goatee.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: The Odd Couple

odd_coupleTwo weeks ago, as a Video Fridays installment, I took a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane, writing about a late night lineup of TV reruns that I was fond of in my youth.

In writing that post, I decided to do a separate Video Fridays installment for each of these shows, and I chose The Honeymooners to start off with.

This week, it’s The Odd Couple, and what a fantastic show it was!

That it was based on Neil Simon‘s play and movie of the same name highlights common ground between two of the other shows from the lineup. M*A*S*H was based on the novel by Richard Hooker and the film by Robert Altman of the same name, and Star Trek, created for TV, went the opposite direction, spawning numerous movies and spin-off TV series.

There were SO many things about The Odd Couple that I loved: the basic premise of two mismatched divorced men living together, one an anal-retentive neat freak and the other a manchild slob; the wonderful New York City humor; the groovy 70s clothing and decor; the goofy supporting characters; and consistently great writing over five seasons.

And yet, similar to The Honeymooners, the best things about the show were it’s primary actors, Tony Randall as Felix Unger, and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison. To fully appreciate these two, consider the monumentally big shoes they had to fill. Neil Simon’s play opened on Broadway with Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney (who, as mentioned two weeks ago, played Ed Norton in The Honeymooners) as Felix, and in the movie Matthau again played Oscar, while Jack Lemmon played Felix.

I never saw the original Broadway show — I was just shy of 3-years old when it closed — and I didn’t see the movie until I had already been watching the TV show for years. So, for me, Jack and Tony are the Oscar and Felix I always think of first, which really is a testament to how well they took over these roles, established as they had already been by other great, great actors.

Of course, the heart of the show is the clash of opposites in the pressure cooker situation of having to share an apartment. And so, as I tried to pick just one episode to include here, I searched for one that really highlighted their domicile. But, this search paralyzed me with indecision, as there are SO many greats to choose from.

Finally, thanks to my longtime buddies from New Jersey, Mike and Keith, mentioned numerous times here at Fish & Bicycles (one case in point), our collective effort yielded the perfect choice!

So, here’s episode 69, the 22nd episode of the 3rd season, it’s titled Take My Furniture, Please, and it revolves around Felix’s efforts to redecorate their apartment, despite Oscar’s protestations, and while Oscar tries to work on a book he’s writing. Naturally, hilarity ensues.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Video Fridays: The Magic of 1977 Grateful Dead

jerryDisclaimer: I recognize that this installment of Video Fridays may only appeal to music geeks like me, or maybe even to just Grateful Dead music geeks like me, but inspiration hit me and this is what I have to share today. That said, if there’s even a sliver of a chance that I can turn someone on to this music that I love so much, then my work here will not be in vain.

There’s an old Jewish saying that I love a lot.

Two Jews, three opinions.

Well, I’m convinced, after many years of debating the relative greatness of the different eras of the Grateful Dead‘s 30-year career, that it would be accurate to paraphrase the Jewish saying by substituting “Deadhead” for “Jew”.

Consider my recent communications with my longtime friend Keith, who has been featured in two prior posts of mine: Post 1, Post 2.

A few days ago, Keith emailed, imploring me to go to Archive.org, a gold mine for Deadheads, and to listen to what some believe is the greatest show the Grateful Dead ever performed, out of their 2,317 total concerts, a show from a year, 1977, believed by many more Deadheads still, to be their best.

This was the legendary May 8, 1977 concert at Cornell University’s Barton Hall in Ithaca, NY.

Having been intimately familiar with this show for many, many years, dating back to when I owned a bootleg of it on cassette tape, now sadly lost, I was more than happy to listen to it again, and doing so led me and Keith to exchange a total of 38 emails and 100+ text messages over the next two days.

During the course of the discussion, I started out agreeing that 1977 was a great year and that the Barton Hall show was great, but I disagreed with Deadheads calling it “the best”, as I was of the opinion that this distinction was not important, and I mentioned that lately I’d been listening to and loving shows from 1974 more than any shows from other periods.

But then, I inevitably became lured into a 1977 immersion, listening to shows at Archive.org and watching shows on YouTube, and while I still don’t think it’s important to label 1977 “the best”, it absolutely was a VERY special year.

There are several factors that made it so, but one of the most striking things, clearly evident in Jerry Garcia’s smile in the lead photo I’ve included here, and as can be seen throughout the video below, as Jerry himself said, “We’re having fun again.”

The band had gone on a touring hiatus after their Fall 1974 tour, they only played four one-off shows in 1975, but they had a bunch of new songs from their 1975 album Blues For Allah, and a bunch more from the album Terrapin Station, which they recorded in the winter of 1976 and would release in July of 1977. All of that studio time had two interesting side effects.

First, it demanded discipline, as studio time is expensive and records are for posterity, leading to consistent cohesion and tightness in their music, and, as a performing musician myself, I can attest that this is up there near the top of the list of the most fun things humans can experience.

Second, after a grueling 1974 tour, with their legendarily massive “Wall of Sound” sound system, a system that demanded they play on large stages, where they tended to spread out from each other like this:

GD-74

…they set out on their 1976 tour with a a greatly reduced amount of sound equipment, and having been in the confining spaces of a recording studio, they set up their gear very close together, and for most of their time onstage for the next few years they’d be huddled together, like this:

Grateful Dead live

…paying really close attention to each other and playing off each other, often, as mentioned, smiling from the pure joy of it.

Time moves on, and due to a combination of the occasional internal strife that all bands struggle with, as well as having reached a level of maturity, musically, that no longer required them to play in such close proximity to each other, they gradually spread out on stage again, and from around 1980 onward, with the exception of the acoustic sets they did in the ’80s, they mostly looked like this:

GD-90

So, yeah, 1977 was special, magical even, if you believe in music magic, as I most decidedly do, and thanks to the Music Vault YouTube channel, another gold mine for Deadheads, we’re lucky to have access to a number of videos from 1976 and 1977, including the following treasure from the Spring ’77 tour, a full hour and 45 minutes from their April 26th show at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, New Jersey.

Again, just watch Jerry to see how much fun he’s having! That fun comes through the music in a glorious, glorious way.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!

Happy 2015: Defending Resolutions

New-Year-resolutions-30000Have you noticed that New Year’s resolutions are getting a REALLY bad rap?

Around this time last year, many media outlets reported on findings from University of Scranton’s Journal of Clinical Psychology that only 8% of Americans achieve their resolutions.

Time.com contributor Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, a couple of days ago, while referencing the Journal of Clinical Psychology stats, went so far as to claim that New Year’s resolutions are actually bad for you!

When you tie your behavioral change to a specific date, you rob yourself of an opportunity to fail and recover, to “fail better.” If you believe that you can only change on the New Year — the inherent message of New Year’s resolutions — you will have to wait a whole year before you get another shot…

She also quotes Steve Salerno, author of Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless:

My concern is that the resolution takes the place of the action, as is also true with so many millions of people who sign up for an endless succession of self-help programs: They think some magic words, some avowed promise, will magically transform their lives, when we all know that the real transformational work is tough, grueling, and usually involves sacrifice and unpleasant choices.”

I’m sorry, I just don’t see the making of resolutions and “real transformational work” as being mutually exclusive, and yet Salerno and Lamb-Shapiro base their entire argument on this being the case.

Read carefully, it seems to me that Lamb-Shapiro’s piece doesn’t actually support the sensationalist claim that resolutions are bad for you, as much as it points out that it’s how you go after trying to achieve your resolutions that matters the most.

It’s self-serving — they both have written books criticizing the so-called self-help industry — and deeply cynical.

Ironically, Lamb-Shapiro concludes, sounding just like the self-help gurus she holds in such contempt:

Here’s a better idea. Instead of listing an abstract goal like “lose weight,” think of specific small steps you can take, every day, that will have the same result. If you fail at any of these small steps — which you inevitably will — brush it off, and realize that failure and recovery is part of any process.

I believe that it is an inherently good thing that people live intentionally, set goals, and work toward personal growth, and it’s even a deeply optimistic thing that people continue to make resolutions despite an 8% success rate.

So, great ideas, Jessica! Very helpful! Thanks for giving me a better chance of achieving my New Year’s resolutions!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Video Fridays: Dire Straits Didn’t Give A Shit

dire_straitsA few weeks ago, I received an email from Keith, one of my High Fidelity friends. (For a full explanation read my January 2012 post titled I Lived High Fidelity Before High Fidelity Was High Fidelity!. Shorter explanation: Keith’s a longtime friend who, like me, is a music geek.)

Anyway, the email had no subject line, and the entire body of the email consisted of this:

Toro, Toro taxi. See you tomorrow my son.

I’ll pause a minute as folks try to place it…

Ok, so, it’s a line from a song called Skateaway, from the third album, Making Movies, by now-defunct band Dire Straits.

And even though I hadn’t heard the song in years, in fact hadn’t listened to any Dire Straits, except on accident, if it just happened to come on the radio, I recognized the lyric and the song it came from instantly, within seconds of reading it I opened Spotify to intentionally listen to Dire Straits, and I’ve been listening to them off and on ever since.

This morning, I wrote this, in response to Keith’s original email:

Keith, I hold you personally responsible for sending me off on a Dire Straits binge.

Thank you. I haven’t listened to this stuff in years.

Seriously, their first three albums are frickin’ incredible…

(Yes, there’s some great stuff after that, like Telegraph Road, a very Springsteen-ish song from their 4th album, Love Over Gold, and some of the stuff on Brothers In Arms.)

…and I think it’s stunning to think about them in the context of what was going on in music at that time, the late 70s and early 80s, so dominated by punk, post-punk/new wave, etc., and there wasn’t much else out there that sounded like Dire Straits. Maybe Tom Petty and a few others.

Early Dire Straits was like a great early to mid 70s rock and roll band, full of American roots music influences, who stubbornly decided to just keep making great early to mid 70s rock and roll.

And there I was, thinking I was making a keen observation, perhaps even a unique observation, but as I was researching for this post, I came across this in the Wikipedia article for Dire Straits’ 1978 debut album (emphasis in bold added):

In his review for Rolling Stone magazine, Ken Tucker wrote that the band “plays tight, spare mixtures of rock, folk and country music with a serene spirit and witty irony. It’s almost as if they were aware that their forte has nothing to do with what’s currently happening in the industry, but couldn’t care less.

Oh well.

Since this is Video Fridays, this post must include a video, and boy what a video I’ve got for you, nearly an hour and half of early Dire Straits, a 1979 concert that includes songs from their first two albums, tight, clean, rootsy music in a year dominated by wholy different, seminal albums by The Clash, Joy Division, Talking Heads, The Police, Elvis Costello, B-52s, etc., proving that Dire Straits, indeed, didn’t give a shit.

Enjoy, and Happy Weekend, everyone!