Monday, March 21, 2016

I Felt The Pressure In A TV Way

I have what I consider to be a major quirk. I have this irritating craving to hear the ending of every story I run across on television. And I don't like it.

Eat your heart out, Ned's Atomic Dustbin

Here's why: most of what I bumble into, on the sliding scale of depressing to clever, tends to sit on the depressing side (e.g. Law & Order SVU, the various CSIs, Blue Bloods and NCIS are interesting but occasionally go there) and I just can't take much of that without it affecting me. It's really best if I avoid it altogether. It's like vodka in a plastic bottle. You know there's nothing good there, it's not going to leave you feeling any better; but, y'know, it sure is an EXPERIENCE. Yeah. (Spoiler Alert: it's not gluten free either.)

Somehow I've noticed that television is a bigger culprit than movies. Something about the neat one-hour format is both somewhat predictable and simply too neat and tidy for me. Movies (if not edited for time, content and formatted to fit your TV) tend to leave such things more flexible. It might be due to this fact that the scraps of the Jason Bourne movies I've seen seem comparatively more interesting despite only seeing bits on WGN here and there. With a TV show, I can tell if Grissom or Gibbs or 21st-Century-Holmes-And-Watson-Played-By-The-Always-Attractive-Lucy-Liu really have the suspect cornered by looking at the clock. Movie? Fuck me, I lose track of time when I don't have commercials at regular intervals. And that's a good thing.

I wonder if the fact that there's more freedom to choose precisely what you want to watch when selecting a movie over plopping down for a TV episode that's effectively been selected for you makes any difference in how I feel about it. (I mean, for years we've all been told - yes, you too - abut what junk TV beams into our homes, and I tend to agree in general. The cadmium age of reality television pretty much codified that for me.) And that's actually another thing: I get tired of murder for after dinner every night. Murder in a movie doesn't bother me near so much. A good murder mystery movie - like one of my personal favorites, the 1974 Murder On The Orient Express - is a complete experience, something to set aside a serious chunk of time to enjoy, experience, and savor. What use is a meal without SOMETHING to chew on? There's always a loose thread, something that just gnaws at you. And sometimes that thread turns out to be a descending whip - a plot twist that breaks everything you thought you knew to be reliable and solid. Hitchcock knew. Every movie of his has something to make you want to see the next scene. Commercial breaks utterly spoil the flow of a theatrical movie; TV shows are made with them in mind. They are in effect pre-spoiled for your convenience (I love this turn of phrase. Sorry if I overuse it in real life).* I've always felt that having to work around commercials somehow makes the work compromised; kills the flow, forces shortcuts, makes it easy to slouch into routines defined by those very breaks and just become the dreaded phone-in that everyone loses interest in.

I think another thing that contributes is the need for closure. Since the beginning of time, humans have yearned to have their questions answered. How many people went off to war, or to find work, or whatever, and simply disappeared from the lives of their families, never to return? Not even with the grim uncertainty of being recorded as missing in action? No grave, not so much as a sliver of evidence they were there besides fallible memory? Sure, that may not have been the same relationship as it is today; but even so, any emotional connection would lead one to wonder just what happened. If a TV show can get just one hook into your reserve of emotional interest, of course it's going to drive you to find out. If a writer and an actor and a production team can distill an emotional connection with a face on a TV screen to a strength addictive enough that just ten seconds of NTSB-delivered presence can drag you in front of the screen by the feels and keep you there; there's obviously something inside you that's been prepared, over the course of human history, to respond, to follow along. It's a part of you, if you're not a sociopath (y'know, like the villains-of-the-weeks on Criminal Minds, especially).

Another thing is that with SO MUCH screen time devoted to finding the murderer within an hour(ish); you know, you just know that somewhere along the line, plots are going to be reused. Maybe not by the same shows, or even on the same network, but eventually, some writer is going to stumble on a used idea. A good writer should be able to use it in a unique way, or at least put their own unique stamp on it; but some core element is going to turn out to be suspiciously similar to one previously aired. At least South Park once pointed out that The Simpsons already did it all. Which, ironically, was kind of original, actually.

I think if less time were devoted to murder and ugly street crime (something many of us tune in to fiction for an escape from [and not counting alleged 'reality' TV, either, which is pretty ugly too]) I'd be more inclined to tune in; I actually miss Letterman, Leno, and Ferguson, for one thing (who'd a'thunk?). Sitcoms don't usually do much for me; Britcoms are preferable, actually. Original and interesting stand-up comedy may have died with Mitch Hedberg, unfortunately. And British sketch comedy is far better than what passes for the American variety these days - even old British sketch comedy. Canadian isn't too shabby, though. At least even Lost managed to contain enough of an element of mystery to keep people talking about it. Game Of Thrones? The Shanarra series now on (really?) MTV? I'll just take the original novels, thanks.

I know I've written some bite-size diatribes against television before; but that was typically in offense against some specific piece of televised waste. Not this time. I'm finally declaring to the world that I am officially done with broadcast and cable television. I just can't fucking tolerate it anymore. Paul Graham recently wrote that anything you find yourself saying that life is too short to contain, you should fucking jettison (paraphrased).

TV, consider yourself by-and-large jettisoned from my life. It was already too short for you once I stopped watching Shining Time Station and Walker, Texas Ranger. Politely fuck off.

* I should clarify that my dislike of commercials is not part of some diatribe against consumerism; rather it's because I find them personally irritating. Imagine if your TV suddenly got zits one day. I'm certainly no anti-capitalist; I just exult in the fact that the Information Age makes it possible to seek out the products one wants with far more... interactive interaction. Or maybe with more agency on the part of the customer. Something like that.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My City Had Been Pulled Down, Reduced To Parking Spaces

So you all know about the story behind the cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash's self-titled debut, right?


Well, then I guess I'll tell you!

So, when it came time to pick the cover art for the group's self-titled debut, they hadn't yet finalized the name of the band. So they decided to get a jump on the art, and found a vacant house in West Hollywood outside of which a sofa had been left behind. So they plopped down for a seat to get the photo - Nash, Stills, and Crosby, from left to right.

As the album neared its release date, the group settled on 'Crosby, Stills & Nash' as the band's moniker; but realized that they were lined up backwards in the photo as a result! So they went back to retake the photograph, but when they arrived at the address, only a pile of lumber remained.

Also, I didn't know that Dallas Taylor, CS&N's drummer, wasn't there for the photograph, but was pasted in the back door window afterwards. Found that out at the CS&N (maybe Y, maybe not) website. I've always found the story an amusing piece of rock trivia.

But it's funny how history can repeat itself.

In 2004, The Black Keys used a vacant tire plant in their hometown of Akron as a studio to record their third album, Rubber Factory. The disc was enough of a success to break on to the Billboard album charts after release and increased their fanbase by an order of magnitude.

Seven years later, Pat and Dan were celebrating ten years of rocking together after some tough times; the smash-rock album El Camino debuted as a result in 2011, with the art reflecting their hometown and beginnings as a band. Thus the album itself featured the Chrysler and Ford vans they toured in very early on; and the singles had scenes from around Akron. The most curious of these was the single for 'Lonely Boy', which featured a bulldozer on a vacant lot, with rubble piled in the background.

Turns out that the band wanted a photo of the factory where Rubber Factory had been recorded, but it had been torn down not long before they arrived! Dan quipped in an interview in 2011 that "We keep stumbling into these profound artistic expressions. That's how we roll, though." Also, I was under the impression that the factory had appeared on the Rubber Factory sleeve, but I'm not sure what building it is, mainly because none appear to be suitable candidates. If someone could clear that little mystery up for me, I'd be grateful.

The Fireball We Rode Was Moving, But Now We Got A New Machine

Last weekend, at the Greenberg's Train Show in Monroeville, I picked up a new locomotive. It's an O scale, 3-rail prewar-appearance Pennsylvania Railroad K4s Pacific-type in brass, made by Williams. I won't say how much I picked it up for, but it's easily half of what it was sold for.

You see, it's an older model made in either the late '80s or early '90s, before O gauge trains began to receive high-quality electronic sound and digital control systems. It's not the most minutely detailed model either; but it's to scale, dimensionally accurate, and just plain looks good! Other operators might not be inclined to look too close (or assume it's messed up just by looking at the low price) as a result, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity. 

I've recently put together a video of some trains running on my grandfather's layout; and the last group of clips features this newest addition to the roster.

Now to find one with the postwar appearance!