Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ad Newseam

"I read the news today, oh boy . . . "

I've been a news junkie ever since grade school, or grammar school, as we called it, loving what was then termed Current Events as my favorite subject. The afternoon Stamford Advocate would be delivered the same precise time every day, it seemed. 4:26. My father came home from the shop at precisely the same time every day, 4:14. My brother and I would listen for the soft thwinnnk of the Advocate being placed between the screen door and the front door of our apartment in the William C. Ward Homes. The Projects. Jack and I would race to the door, open it, and fight to surrender the paper to my father, to place it, as if it were an offering, on our dad's footstool. An unspoken protocol prohibited grabbing and reading the paper before Dad had had first dibs. Then Jack and I would wait like cats to pounce on the paper when Dad would casually finish each section and place it on the footstool. As much as I was a news junkie, let's be honest: Jack and I both were vying for the fiercely coveted second section: Sports.

I went on to work as a copy editor at a daily, from September 1976 to February or March 1979. Great atmosphere: surly, hard-boiled, intense, witty, competitive. Filled with characters. Smart folks. Hard-working. Competent. Whiskey bottles kept in drawers. The ring of Teletype machines. Headlines written by hand. Something strange on desks: VDTs, or video display terminals. We did not think of them as computers or PCs. I even obnoxiously smoked a cigar on the rim sometimes and for fun wore one of those vinyl newspaperman visors seen in movies.

News junkie.

Now, I wonder. News? Hard to take. I don't mean just the string of endless tragedies. That's always been part of the news game. No, I mean something like this: 1984. LIES ARE TRUTH. WAR IS PEACE. That sort of Orwellian nightmare. Maybe, in my mind it started with the Swift Boat campaign of 2004 [was it 2004] that discredited John Kerry's reputation as a hero through lies and distortion. Forget about whether you supported him or the Vietnam War. It was the fact that "the media," "the press," now saw fit to give lies the same footing as truth. Rumor got the same attention as news. We'd been Drudged. Tabloided. McPapered. Under some sort of perversion of the Fairness Doctrine, every crackpot theory got equal play with reason and sobriety. And it only got wackier. Want a war? Enter: the media passing along unsubstantiated hysteria perpetrated by the government about alleged "weapons of mass destruction" and "terrorism." The so-called august New York Times, a year later, 2004, apologized to its readers for abdicating its role of healthy skeptic. The tease was on A1. The rest of the story was buried on A17 or wherever. You can look it up. And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut [met him, with my son, Ethan; another story, another time] would put it. Vaccines. Creationism. Global warming. Birthers. Bailout. Stimulus. You name it. LIES ARE TRUTH. News? What's that? Whatever works to grab attention. This is not whining or whingeing that "my take," my perspective, is getting short shrift. No, it is lamenting that utter quackery and poppycock share the front pages with sober renderings and analyses of complex issues.

Hard to take.

It's enough to shut off the news, whether online or in print or on TV -- as I do when I'm at camp.

Ad newseam.

Of course, that raises the solipsistic question about care, concern, and commitment about the State of Affairs, as if "knowing the facts" itself is a power, is a tool of democracy. (It should be.) As if carrying the burden of knowledge was a redemptive gesture.

It should be.

Is it?

Is that day gone, as gone as the idyllic image of the 1950s described above?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lyrical dissonance

You've heard of the term "cognitive dissonance," right? I guess it means something like "discomfort or tension caused by holding simultaneous conflicting views or ideas." Um, maybe like Bill Clinton having a Monica Lewinsky flashback while having dinner with Hillary. Another example of cognitive dissonance could be rich Republican members of Congress (are there poor members of Congress?) boo-hooing that they have to pay taxes -- any taxes, really -- while they suckle at the federal teat for their paycheck.

How about "harmonic dissonance" or "lyrical dissonance"? That's how I describe a melody at odds with its lyrics -- surprisingly so. My first embarrassing discovery of this occurred while driving around in my car chirpily listening to and singing along with "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," on Abbey Road, by The Beatles. It's very catchy. Whimsical. Almost nursery schoolish, in its sound and rhythm. My younger daughter, maybe 9 or 10 at the time, or even younger, was sitting in the back seat. She dutifully called my attention to the outright violence of the lyrics. I mean, really, at least three people are hammered to death in the song, but, heck, it sounds like a jingle for chewing gum! I had no explanation for her. I, a wordsmith, had never really paid it much mind. And she never lets me forget it.



There's a current hit, by Foster the People, that summons the same lyrical dissonance. "Pumped Up Kicks" is an exuberant, danceable song with lyrics about a six gun and trying to outrun bullets, and other terribly disturbing references. It is positively finger-snapping catchy.

I guess the moral -- if there is one -- is either "don't take things too seriously" or "take them more seriously" or both or neither.

I will admit it is hard for me to get sanctimonious, given my own lyrical dissonance history.

I'm sure you have your own examples. John Lennon's "Imagine" comes to mind. A haunting, gorgeous melody, but not everyone would be quick to accept its secular, casually atheistic, anti-nationalist message -- if they even hear it.

Speaking of imagining, what if "Yesterday" by The Beatles were a heavy metal anthem? Or a cha-cha or salsa?

This reminds me of a game my older brother and I used to play, back in The Sixties. We'd conjure up mismatches, stuff like Kate Smith doing "Purple Haze" or Perry Como doing "Satisfaction."

Get it?

Got others?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

then and now

we were made low
ashes in the mouth
dust to earth to dust to fire
finding brothers we didn't know we had
lost sisters paled by the empty noon

we were made low
and saw what was missing
the pain of a hollow
fullness seared
a rich vacancy

we were made low
for a moment
seized with common
pulse and possibility

we were
then
and
now?

Friday, September 09, 2011

reflextns on txtng2

It happens. After all, who wants to use more thumbstrokes? Who wants to slow down the effluvial ephemera of quotidian trivia? The "it" I refer to above -- an "it" typed without its antecedent -- is the shortening, the abbreviating, the consequent depunctuation of texting.

I do it.

I've done it.

Both with and without guilt.

I'll not do "it" when I want to be pedantic, when I want to prove a point to the recipient that I'm either not uneducated or that I was an English major or that I do not subscribe to the vulgar laziness of texting, the habits of stark simplicity.

But other times I do subscribe to minimalist fervor, an icon of the age.

And linguistically we know that language inexorably grows, organically, toward simplicity, as a sign of its sophistication!

So, when I text I sometimes will say to myself, hey, the question mark was obvious just by the phrasing, it couldn't be anything but a question. or I mutter to self that periods commas or semicolons are just getting in the way course they no wot i mean who needs caps either its all undrstd txtng is fun after all japanse grls hv wrttn txt novels etc no end pt

Texting.

Txtng

Just some thoughts.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Labor Day Eve


Fruit of their labors labors forgotten. Union wages waging peace and social justice. Private property demanding social obligation and more mores (either one syllable or two syllables). Rerum Novarum. Mater et Magistra. The eight-hour day. Paid vacations. Holidays. OSHA. Union strong. Fought and died for. Strike and struck. Robber barons. "No more taxes!" No more services. Social security. Social security. Laborite. Laborious. Laboring. Labor. Day. Labor Day. And labor night. Blood sweat and tears. And human dignity. And eternal thanks.