“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous”
Toni is a big science fiction fan, so we took in “Interstellar” and were not disappointed, although I needed a few explanations afterwards, in particular why the main characters, who go through a wormhole in an attempt to find inhabitable planets, didn’t age at the same rate as those on Earth. Most physicists doubt that wormholes exist, but I was familiar with the concept thanks to “Star Trek.” The visuals and music were stirring and the cast first-rate, not only main characters (Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Matt Damon) but two favorites in supporting roles, Michael Caine and John Lithgow.
Opening on the same day as “Interstellar” (but not in Northwest Indiana) was the Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everything.” Claiming that the survival of the species may depend on interstellar travel, Hawking in 2006 stated: “Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers we have not thought of.”
I was a huge fan of “At the Movies,” especially when Gene Siskel was going at it with Roger Ebert. They were a study in contrasts, Siskel pushy and aggressively opinionated, Ebert more contemplative and laid back. Josh Schollmeyer of The Chicagoan called them “frenemies,” whose relationship was like “a peevish marriage”: “They could get incredibly upset with each other, but in the end, they had the type of empathy for one another that they never could have had with a true adversary.”
Jim Gordon, who attended IUN in the 1960s and became an English adjunct professor, wrote movie reviews for the Post-Trib, succeeding Alan Barr, whose taste might have been too highbrow for their liking. Auditing Barr’s film classes, I appreciated his choice of foreign films, such as “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” the French New Wave production directed by Alain Resnais. When a student complained of too many foreign films, Barr replied that 95 percent of important movies were non-American. Gordon, who died five years ago at age 60 of a heart attack, hung out at Miller’s Marquette Perk and branched out into features similar to what Jerry Davich does now. Whenever I’d put out a new Shavings, he’d plug it, blending in his own Region memories.
Davich wrote a column about “Almost Famous.” In the Cameron Crowe film 15 year-old William Miller gets to tour with the fictitious Seventies rock band Stillwater for Rolling Stone. One member warns, “He looks harmless but he does represent the magazine that trashed ‘Layla,’ broke up Cream, [and] ripped every album Led Zeppelin ever made.” Like all bands then, Stillwater wants to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. Kate Hudson plays a sensitive groupie and Frances McDormand, as William’s mother, tells a band member that if he harms her son, “you will meet the voice on the other end of this telephone and it will not be pretty.”
Two of my favorite movies are “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Both explore the craziness of Sixties America. In “Strangelove” Keenan Wynn as Colonel “Bat” Guano and George C. Scott as General “Buck” Turgidson personified Cold Warriors itchy to unleash super-weapons against the Russkies. “Cuckoo’s Nest” was a tour de force for Jack Nicholson as a petty criminal who ends up in a mental ward and Louise Fletcher as the controlling Nurse Ratched.
The best parts of the Farrelly Brothers’ “Dumb and Dumber To,” like their “Three Stooges” movie, were in the previews. Dimwits Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) still love practical jokes, bathroom humor, and mooning passersby. Both think they might be the father of Penny (beautiful but clueless), but all Harry did with her mother (Kathleen Turner) was fondle her breasts while Lloyd put a condom on his finger. Asked if he’d brought protection, Lloyd said “yeah” and put on a helmet. When Turner explains the sex act to them, Harry makes a disgusted face and Lloyd says his mother would never have done such a thing. While the flick was pretty lame, I was still chuckling at some of the antics hours later.
Marla Gee will intern for the Democratic Black Caucus in Indianapolis during the 2015 House session. The bravest, most resilient person I know, she’ll attend Valpo law school next fall. Last month after her interview she emailed me:
“Before meeting with anyone, I had to submit a ‘writing sample.’ They sit you down at a computer and hand you a copy of a House Bill. I was given 30 minutes to write a letter in response to an imaginary constituent from an imaginary Congressman, and was encouraged to glean any material from the Bill for inclusion in the letter...it could be either for or against the Bill. The assignment itself wasn't particularly difficult - - my main concern was the writing style I was expected to use. It would have helped me to see samples of this Congressman's letters so that I could imitate cadence, word choices, things like that, but instead, I had to wing it. I guess I did okay.
Next, the actual interview. It was ME on one side of a long conference table, facing the FOUR interviewers. I felt like I was being grilled at one of those televised Senate sub-committee hearings. It was hard to ‘read’ the room at first, but at its conclusion I felt the interview went well. The lead interviewer remembered my Cover Letter (!) which I suppose was a good omen, and another interviewer walked me to the parking lot, all the while giving me tips on temporary housing in town. He left me his card, and asked me to call if I had any questions about a certain neighborhood, apartment complex, stuff like that.
There won't be any decisions made until after the elections; they need to know just how many Democrats will be in office in order to determine how many interns they will need. Fingers crossed that I will have good news to share with you before Thanksgiving. If I land this gig, I owe you SO MUCH!!!”
The Times published a letter by Archives volunteer Maurice Yancy entitled “Why aren’t we upset about black-on-black crime?” It contrasted the outrage over the killings of Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, with with “deafening” silence over the slaying in Gary of Kobe Jones. Khanji Fairley arrived home to discover he’d been burglarized and allegedly shot Jones nine times after the 13 year-old laughed at his angry reaction. Yancy wrote: “As an elderly man raised in Gary over 70 years ago, I fail to see why we aren’t upset about black-on-black crime. It’s no wonder the powers that be ignore our community; we ignore our own community.”
Elaine Spicer wished hubby Jim a Happy Birthday on National Joke Day and wished she could have made up a limerick. Being that my Eagles are playing his Packers Sunday, I made one up for her:
“There was an old man named Spicer
He couldn't have been any nicer
Until the Eagles made hay
Against his beloved Green Bay
And he erupted just like a geyser.”
One year ago the Jeff Koons’ pop sculpture “Balloon Dog” sold for $58 million, most ever paid for a work by a living artist. A huckster following in the tradition of Andy Warhol, Koons told Stephen Colbert with a straight face, “I’ve always enjoyed balloon animals because they’re like us. We’re balloons. You take a breath and you inhale, It’s an optimism. You exhale, and it’s kind of a symbol of death.” Koons first made his mark with erotic photos and sculptures of him and porn star La Cicciolina.
In the Women’s Lit Jeopardy category I knew who won a poetry Pulitzer 20 years after her death (Sylvia Plath) and the author of “The Woman’s Room,” Marilyn French. Anne Balay posted a photo from Puerto Rico with another National Women’s Studies Association award winner and distinguished author bell hooks, who in “Communion: The Female Search for Love,” wrote: “Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust.” In a statement that could apply to Balay’s untenable situation at IUN, hooks pledged: “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.”
I found an Andy Garcia flick on Starz, “At Middleton,” about two married parents who fall for each other while taking their son and daughter to check out a small college. Garcia plays a mild-mannered surgeon and Vera Farmiga, who was George Clooney’s love interest in “Up in the Air,” a troubled free spirit who loosens him up. Tom Skerritt has a bit part as a famous linguist who warns Vera’s daughter Audrey not to be so compulsive and to enjoy life more. Andy and Vera wind up in a room where a student is watching “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” starring the beautiful Catherine Deneuve in a teenage love story ends badly.
The Los Angeles episode of “Sonic Highway” focused on Rancho de la Luna, a recording studio in Joshua Tree, a few miles from my favorite California hangout, Pappy and Harriet’s. As David Grohl put it, “You know how to explore the history of music in Los Angeles? You get out of Los Angeles.” Foo Fighters guitarist Pat Smear grew up in L.A., became part of the punk scene, and played with the Germs. Smear described a Germs performance at the Orpheum Theater: “We made noise. Darby suck he mic in a jar of peanut butter. It was a dare, we had no songs or anything! Lorna (Doom) wore her pants inside out, and Darby covered himself in red licorice. We made noise for five minutes until they threw us off.” Joan Jett produced one of their albums. Before a reunion concert, Darby told Smear he wanted to make enough money to O.D. on heroin. He did just that, dying on the same day John Lennon was shot.
Grohl discovered Rancho de la Luna while recording songs for “The Colour and the Shape’ in L.A. and loved its laid back ambience. Joshua Tree native Josh Homme of Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age described the stoner metal scene 20 years ago, comparing the upscale Palm Springs with the more proletarian lifestyle in Palm Desert and Indio, where bands held “generator parties” out in the desert away from cops. Homme described the legendary 1997 Desert Sessions at Rancho de la Luna with a constantly changing cast of characters, including Brant Bjork, whom I saw perform at September’s Cracker Campout at Pappy and Harriet’s. Joining the Foo Fighters on the song “Outside” was Joe Walsh, who bragged: “Now I’m an honorary Foo Fighter.”
James bowled six games in a tournament at Camelot Lanes. Wearing special shirts for the occasion with nicknames on the back, James chose “Jamerson” while teammate Andrew English was “Rooster.” Both bowled well over their averages. Andrew’s dad John was a close friend of Phil in high school, and I was pleased to see his mother, Kermita whom Annette Mendosa interviewed 25 years ago for my Portage Shavings. Kermita told Mendosa about a clean-up drive the Girl Scout organized around 1970:
“Where Wendy’s is now on Willowcreek Road was an empty field. I got the permission of the owner o allow us to put a snow fence in a big circle there, with a big sign that said, ‘Look what the Girl Scouts of Portage have collected.’ All the trash they collected they bagged and put inside the fence. Then the city came and carried it away when we were through.”
Diane Sesler, who was in Girl Scouts as a teenager, described Kermita English as a mother figure who’d listen to girls with problems without being judgmental. Kermita recalled:
“I had a girl that ran away from home three times while she was in our troop. After I became aware that she had done this, I said to her, ‘If you have a problem, don’t just take off down the street at night in the dark. It’s dangerous.’ I told her to come to our house, so she did do that a couple of times. I would just listen. When she was through talking, I would ask questions so that she would try to think of both sides of her problem and possible solutions.”