Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Jukebox Generation

“Send in the congregation
Open your eyes, step in the light
A Jukebox generation
Just as you were.”
“Congregation,” David Grohl and Foo Fighters

Nashville, country music capital and home to the Grand Old Opry, was the third stop on the Foo Fighters’ “Sonic Highway” sojourn.  David Grohl pays homage to the traditional country musicians who commonly appeared on the Opry stage and “Hee Haw,” but his heroes are outlaw types such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Steve Earle, and Tony Joe White (who performed “Polk Salad Annie” with the band on David Letterman.  Grohl also admired Carrie Underwood, Emmy Lou Harris, and Dolly Parton, string women who refused to conform to all the wishes of industry moguls.  Dolly revealed that Elvis Presley nearly recorded “I Will Always Love You” (later Whitney Houston’s signature song), but manager Colonel Tom Parker first demanded publishing rights.  It broke her heart because she loved Elvis, but she stuck to her guns.  Modern country rocker Zac Brown played on “Congregation” and appeared with Foo Fighters on Letterman doing Black Sabbah’s “War Pigs.”

Teenagers from the misnamed “Silent Generation” listened to music from several sources, among them the jukebox, a fixture in diners and bars all over the country, especially in the South.  Many a Nashville country and western, rockabilly, and rock and roll release made the Billboard hit parade from jukebox play.  Conservative cultural critics blamed mob-controlled jukeboxes for juvenile delinquency, sexual licentiousness, and other maladies.  In postwar America jukeboxes could be found in basement recreation rooms, perhaps with tables, a wet bar, space for dancing, and the type of lights one might find in an intimate nightclub.  I recall seeing one in sister-in law Maureen’s childhood home and hearing her mom, nicknamed Boots, describe the parties they held there, slow-dancing to doo-wop and jitterbugging to rockabilly.

Laid low by a cold, I had plenty of time on my hands to read, watch football, and check out movies OnDemand, as we regrettably cancelled bridge and dinner with the Hagelbergs. I stayed in the basement when Alissa and Josh stopped en route to Grand Rapids from a Halloween party in Chicago, too germy even to risk hugging them.

Dallas quarterback Tony Romo being a last minute scratch, I got only one point in Fantasy Football out of receiver Terrance Williams, a mere 6 from Jason Whiten, and a season low eight from DeMarco Murray, as Arizona often positioned eight in the box to stymie him. QB Tom Brady earned me 28 points, but Pittsburgh Dave accumulated 36 from Ben Roethilsberger and 27 from Cincinnati’s running back Jeremy Hill.  Had Dallas defeated Arizona, Dave and I would have finished the CBS pool1-2 instead of 4-9.

After discovering Starz channel was part of our Comcast package, I watched Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” starring Oscar-winning Cate Blanchett as Jasmine, financially strapped after her husband goes to jail.  Ironically, she squealed on him to the feds upon discovering that he was a philanderer.   Macho comedian Andrew Dice Clay nails a role as her sister’s boyfriend, as does Bobby Cannavale parodying Marlin Brando’s performance as Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  In fact, “Blue Jasmine” is a tribute of sorts to the Tennessee Williams play.

Watching “Blue Jasmine” gave me an idea for Alan Barr’s annual film course: viewing remakes of old movies along with the originals.  “Rotten Tomatoes” lists these among the 50 all-time best: “True Grit” (a western), “The Departed” (of the gangster genre), “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (horror flick), “Insomnia” (psychological drama), “Heaven can Wait” (comedy), and such classics as “King Kong,” “Scarface,” “Dracula,” and, my favorite, “Cape Fear.”  Martin Scorsese’s remake even employs original stars Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, and Martin Balsam in cameos.  I should tell Barr about my idea – oops, he’s shunning me.

According to “Bossypants,” 44 year-old Tina Fey grew up (like me) in a Philadelphia suburb, Upper Darby, was slashed in the face by a stranger when just five (she still bears a scar on chin and cheek), had a low sense of self-esteem as a teenager (who didn’t?), hung out with older, lesbian actresses she met in a summer theater program, and attended the University of Virginia (so did I), where her sex life consisted mainly of getting dry-humped by dates, a practice that I would have thought had gone out of style by the late 1980s.  But, of course, the Reagan counter-revolution had settled in, and sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS had put a crimp on the Sexual Revolution.

Corey Hagelberg asked me to participate in a Gardner Center Christmas sale.  In addition to hawking “Gary’s First Hundred Years,” I’ll ask Anne Balay to be there with “Steel Closets” and offer buyers free copies on my latest Shavings (with her book on its cover) to buyers.  From a speaking engagement at William and mry College she replied that she’d be in town then and loves the idea.

Karren Lee, President of Miller Beach Arts and Creative District, announced that Legacy Foundation chose Miller to be a Neighborhood Spotlight community and will provide grant money for a full-time employee.  Along with congratulations  I suggested that she persuade John Cain to reprise his annual holiday reading coming up at Munster’s Center for Visual and Performing Arts at Gardner Center.  This year’s theme is “Home for the Hols” and will include Cain reading passages from Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.”

Describing her in-laws from rural Ohio visiting New York City one Christmas, Fey wrote:
  “I learned quickly that trying to force Country Folk to love the Big City is like telling your gay cousin, ‘You just haven’t met the right girl yet.’ They just don’t like big cities.  It’s OK.  It’s natural.  They were just born that way.
  When you see your Big City through a non-admirer’s eyes you notice things you normally would not.
  ‘Hmmm.  I guess there are a lot of dog turds on Eighty-Third Street.’
  ‘No, it’s great.  We just put our garbage out the back door, and when it starts to overflow the super picks it up.’
  Who, that guy?  Yeah . . . he’s playing with himself.  Okay, let’s go to the playground the other way.’
  If I had one bone to pick with Country Folks, it’s that they are not gastronomically adventurous.  Family-style Italian sent them all running for the Alka-Seltzer.  Greek yogurt left my sister-in-law stymied. Like I had offered her a bowl of caulk. But who am I to judge?  I have never been able to get my head around ham salad or pickled eggs.   And I would like it explained to me in writing what’s so great about apple butter.
After four days I could see the city wearing them down.  It was too much walking for them, oddly.  It turns out City Folk walk way more than Country Folk.”
Cain recently told Times correspondent Philip Potempa that he often has read stories by Truman Capote, such as “One Christmas” and “A Thanksgiving Visitor.”  His most unusual subject was an autobiographical account entitled, “Christmas with Larry Flynt.”  Could he have worked on the “open beaver” two-page spread, I wonder.  I am so impressed with John’s willingness to share intimate memories with large audiences.   Cain told Potempa:
            “Back in 1977, after I was out of college, I went to Columbus, Ohio, to work with Larry Flynt when his Hustler magazine was based there and starting out.  It was only for nine months, which included Christmas, and it made for an interesting holiday reading, to share that experience once again.”
 Frances McDormand as Olive Kitteridge

Monday I felt well enough to pick up a book on Tudor England by Suzannah Lipscomb and the New Pornographers CD “Challengers” at Westchester Library, fruit, milk, and beer at Strack and Van Til, and a 6-inch cold cut at Subway but not well enough to drive the 20 miles to IUN. 

I watched two scintillating hours of the HBO mini-series “Olive Kitteridge” OnLine and the final two hours that evening.  Having enjoyed the 2008 Elizabeth Stroud novel, I thought Frances McDormand (whom I’ve admired ever since “Fargo”) captured Olive’s indomitable spirit and sharp-tongued sensitivity.  Husband Henry (Richard Jenkins), as sweet-tempered as she is crabby, helps out Denise (Zoe Kazan) a young widow only to have “Ollie” ridicule her as his mousy girlfriend.  It is an unfair accusation, I believe, but in a car scene when Denise embraces Henry, one is left to speculate whether it arouses Henry.  As Larry David put it in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” after Auntie Rae hugged him, after five seconds guys have no control of their penis.

Olive’s soul mate is self-destructive fellow teacher Jim O’Casey; before leaving a bar drunk and fatally crashing his car, writes on a napkin a line from John Berryman’s “Dream Song 235,” “Save us from shotguns and fathers’ suicides.”  A former student finds it on the wall along with O’Casey’s photo and recognizes the source. When Henry asks Olive tenderly if she’s going to leave him, she snaps back, “You could make a woman sick.”  Still, Olive wins you over when you least expect it and represents, I think, all those Fifties married women who were frustrated from not being able to reach their full potential.

Ron disagreed with my assessment of Olive, writing: After all, Ollie was a high school teacher, loved her flower garden, and kept busy. She was just very depressed, probably inherited, so am not sure what this means about the 1950s.  What is different today?”   I responded: “Olive was trapped in a small town, married to a nice but boring man, the mother of an unappreciative kid, without grandchildren close by to nurture, and really unable to spread her wings and be herself, whether it was consummate her passion for O'Casey or have an intellectual life.  Betty Friedan called it the “problem that has no name.”

I ran into former IUN Marketing director Michele Searer on campus last week and again at Homecoming but blanked out on her first name – fixating on Linda but knowing that wasn’t right.  Paulette LaFata-Johnson set me straight and said she was cheerleader coach, a position she held a decade ago (it finally came back to me) when at IUN full-time.
Bishop Andrew Grutka

I told VU student Tommy Morrison, researching how Region church leaders aided the Civil Right movement, about Reverend Julius James, active in the Combined Citizens Committee on Open Occupancy and the Gary Freedom Movement, and Bishop Andrew Grutka, who chaired the influential Advisory Commission on Human Relations.  Active in CADRE/ Partners for Civic Progress, Grutka held the silver anniversary celebration of his consecration as bishop at Gary Genesis Center, probably the first time in years many guests had set foot in a city that had fled. Morrison knew about the Archives’ Grutka collection, and I told him about papers at Calumet College.

The 2014 elections were a disaster.  Democrats lost control of the Senate.  About the only good news was that incumbent New Hampshire Senator Jeanne Shaheen defeated carpetbagger Scott Brown.  Democrats need to offer voters an alternative to the pro-business, anti-union, pro-military industrial complex GOP – the kind of issues Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have been talking about.   

Democrat David Reynolds beat Michael Brickner to become Porter County sheriff.  The vote was close, one reason I’m glad I went to the polls.  Reynolds held the job eight years ago, then was succeeded by David Lain, who could not seek a third term.

In “Hope, frustration drive voting experiences” Jerry Davich wrote:
  In Miller, Anne Balay arrived at her voting place around 6 a.m. so she could catch an early morning flight to Virginia. After 45 minutes of waiting, while poll workers unsuccessfully tried submitting her votes into a new machine, Balay had to leave — in a huff.
‘They had no idea how to use the machines, no idea. It was insane,’ she told me after leaving Wirt-Emerson Visual and Performing Arts Academy, for Precinct 21. ‘They kept putting cards in them that canceled out all the votes made so far. If they continued to cluelessly erase all votes on those machines, then the election is totally invalid.’”

Davich wants me to go on a drive with him and point out places he could make use of for his “Lost Gary” book project.  I suggested that he ask Earl Jones or Bill Hill to take him on the Central District tour they organized of sites once important to Gary’s black community and that community activist Samuel A. Love would be a better tour guide than I.

Times sports columnist Al Hamnik, extolling the rebounding skills of former Bull Dennis Rodman, compared grabbing an errant basketball to snagging a loaf of bread to one who hasn’t eaten in days.  Here’s another Hamnik comparison: “Rodman went after rebounds as if the keys to a new Corvette were taped to them.”

Ron Cohen spoke about the Gary schools in Steve’s Indiana History class and dropped off the November 6 issue of New York Review of Books.  Gary Wills, examining Harold Holzer’s “Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion,” discribed Lincoln’s imaginative ways of dealing with enemies:
  “[Lincoln] continued dealing with people – editors, generals, politicians – who had been personally insulting to him, as well as destructive in their performance during a war.  He did not let amour proper get in the way of what he was trying to accomplish.  He had an inner confidence that could absorb obloquy and dishonesty and viciousness without letting them jostle him off his concentration on what he felt was America’s calling as well as his own.”
Sounds like Bill Clinton but, sadly, not Obama.

Leaving me a Nation issue that contains an article about Martin J. Sklar, who went from being a Marxist to a fan of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, Ron teased me about author James Livingston calling Bucknell, my alma mater, the university where Sklar taught for 20 years, an intellectual backwater located “in the middle of nowhere.”  Founder of the radical publications Studies on the Left and In These Times, Sklar came to regard liberals as worse than reactionaries and evidently was insufferable, even to his onetime friends; Bucknell administrators spent ten years trying to rid themselves of him.

At a Soup and Substance program on Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”
I compared nineteenth century chain-gangs with the burgeoning private prison industry and, secondly,m the selective enforcement of Prohibition to the perversion of the War on Drugs.  I pointed out the systemic problems of police harassment of minorities, unfair plea-bargain practices, and rigid statues that take away judicial discretion.  I made a point to tell the groupo that I first read “The New Jim Crow” in a Gender Studies class taught by Anne Balay, deemed too outspoken to be awarded tenure. James Wallace, working on a PhD about ex-convicts continuing their education, read germane passages that he had underlined.

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