Saturday Odds & Sods: Wrecking Ball

Swing Landscape- Stuart Davis
Swing Landscape- Stuart Davis (1938) via IUB.EDU.

I’m not feeling particularly destructive this week but the heat is getting to me. We’re on target to break a record that nobody wants to break: consecutive days of highs of 90+ degrees. We’re at 48 days and counting and the record is 51. I’m just trying to stay cool, which is why I posted Stuart Davis’ Swing Landscape. Ain’t nothing cooler than that, y’all.

In other local news, some knucklehead tried to move a house in Uptown New Orleans and it  got stuck for several days on General Pershing Street between Camp and Magazine, which is not far from Adrastos World HQ.

Photo by Jennifer K. Lloyd.
Photo by Jennifer K. Lloyd.

It’s half a shotgun house sliced lengthwise, which was being moved to another lot where it was to rejoin its woody mate, replacing a circa 1970’s house. I believe the other house was demolished, which brings us to this week’s theme song. Make that theme songs, 3 different tunes with the same title: Wrecking Ball. We begin with a Wrecking Ball written by Neil Young and recorded by Emmylou Harris as the title track of an atmospheric album she made with producer Daniel Lanois in 1995:

Our second song reflects another theme this week, Wrecking Ball as album title. This more political song was written and recorded by some guy from Jersey:

Our final Wrecking Ball is wielded by Joe Walsh. It comes from Joe’s fine 2012 album, Analog Man, which was co-produced by Jeff Lynne. I guess that’s why it sounds like the James Gang meets ELO:

Please follow the bouncing wrecking ball after the break.

Wreckage comes in many forms, we begin with economic wreckage in my ancestral homeland.

The Greek Warrior: Yanis Varoufakis is, of course, the academic turned Greek MP, and finance minister. He’s the high stakes gambler who bet on flipping the bird at the 800 pound gorilla of the EU, Germany, and lost, which is one reason he’s an ex-finance minister. His audacity thrilled many but cost his country dearly as they ended up with a worse deal than they would have gotten before the hastily called vote.

Ian Parker hung out with Varoufakis during the referendum and has filed a brilliant profile in the New Yorker. Varoufakis comes off as a nicer guy than his public persona, but just as politically clueless. He expected his side to lose the referendum and was uncertain what to do once they prevailed. He was winging it. In short, Varoufakis fought the law and the law won:

Speaking of wreckers:

Jim Jones Meets Father Divine: There’s a fascinating piece at Believer by Adam Morris about the spiritual and political roots of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Jones’ style was a bizarre mixture of tent show revival Pentecostalism and Marxism. It turns out that a well-known African-American minister with a God complex was Jones’ major influence. Father Divine was part shaman, part showman as well as something of a political boss in the Harlem of the 1920’s and ’30’s and  later in Philadelphia after relocating his headquarters there.

Father Divine was even more ambitious than Jim Jones. His Peace Missions spread throughout the country although there’s only one left today. He never, however, advocated the sort of revolutionary murder/suicide practiced by Jim Jones at Jonestown. Nobody else ever has. It takes a toxic mix of paranoia, megalomania and speed to do such a thing.

I have some personal ties to the People’s Temple disaster. I stumbled into this piece while  researching another project. At some point, I’ll go into it in some detail here, but it’s time to lighten the mood  before I start drinking whiskey in the morning. As a recovering alcoholic, Joe Walsh would not approve:

Vodka may have been Joe’s best friend but it’s my enemy. All I have to do is look at vodka and it gives me a headache like I was hit by-get ready-a wrecking ball.

Gamaliel: A Love Story- Warren Gamaliel Harding is best known as an amiable lightweight whose Presidency was brief and unsuccessful. His candidacy in 1920 was the source of two classic political phrases. The “smoke filled room” wherein he was selected by Republican party bosses and his pledge to “return the country to normalcy.” The latter mangling of the language still pops up from time to time among the chattering classes much to my chagrin. It’s normality, y’all.

Harding is back in the news because of DNA testing. That’s right, it’s finally been confirmed scientifically that the daughter of his mistress, Nan Britton, was Gamaliel’s flesh and blood. Oddly enough, the case was pursued by Dr. Peter Harding who’s Gamaliel’s great-nephew. Yeah, I like calling him by his middle name. Sue me or issue a Warren for my arrest if that vexes you…

The DNA test disproved rumors spread by his political enemies that Harding was part-black. That rumor came back with a vengeance in a 1968 biography by Francis Russell, The Shadow Of Blooming Grove. No, not Bloomington, Bloomingdale’s, or Bloom County. I’ve read the book and it’s entertainingly scurrilous and I say that as someone without an ax to grind. Harding wasn’t anyone’s idea of a good President but he’s not in my bottom five, mostly because of his pardon of Eugene V. Debs and generous treatment of the anti-war Left after their persecution at the hands of A. Mitchell Palmer and J. Edgar Heehaw. In one of history’s great ironies, Palmer was a Quaker. Hoover was just an asshole.

I was pleased that Peter Baker’s article mentions my favorite Gamaliel tale:  the story of him and Nan copulating in a closet at the White House. That story, among others, was told by Gore Vidal in his 1990 novel Hollywood, which was the fifth book in his Narratives of Empire/American Chronicles series.

Speaking of the late, great Mr. Vidal, as a satirist he knew how to wield a wrecking ball with the best of them.

Best Of Enemies is the title of a new documentary about Vidal’s epic teevee duel with snooty, patrician right-winger William F. Buckley on ABC News during the Republican and Democratic conventions in 1968. Actually, they were both snooty patricians but Gore is my boy so I gotta stick with him.

The movie is the subject of a fine essay/review by Peter Holt in New York Magazine. I don’t agree with his conclusion that Vidal and Buckley are headed toward “cultural oblivion.” The combination of the internet, their copious writings,  and documentaries such as this one and Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia makes that less likely to occur than Holt thinks. Besides, if “cultural oblivion” is their fate why the long article?

1968 was one of the most fascinating elections in our history and the Vidal-Buckley teevee feud was an entertaining sideshow to the main event. It was the year that the FDR coalition of Northern liberals, big city bosses, blacks, Jews, and Southern segregationists finally collapsed. Nixon narrowly won, but the Republicans won 5 of 6 Presidential elections much to Buckley’s delight. It was the year that New Deal liberalism lost its political mojo, which was a very big deal indeed.

The Vidal-Buckley duel is all over the YouTube so if the movie isn’t playing in theatres in your town, you can check out the highlights. I suspect it will pop up on PBS, HBO, or Netflix at some point. Here’s the classic clip wherein Vidal calls Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” and his adversary loses his cool and calls Gore a “goddamn queer” and threatens to punch his lights out:

Hollywood Ashes: It’s time to wind down this edition of Saturday Odds & Sods with links to 2 film related articles. First, a Gore Vidal retrospective at the place where he did some of his best writing: the New York Review of Books. Shortly after the Master’s death, they published a tribute with links to some of his essays about movies, Hollywood Ashes. In one essay, Vidal quoted a film studio co-worker:

“Shit has its own integrity.” The Wise Hack at the Writers’ Table in the MGM commissary used regularly to affirm this axiom for the benefit of us alien integers from the world of Quality Lit. It was plain to him (if not to the front office) that since we had come to Hollywood only to make money, our pictures would entirely lack the one basic homely ingredient that spells boffo world-wide grosses. The Wise Hack was not far wrong. He knew that the sort of exuberant badness which so often achieves perfect popularity cannot be faked even though, as he was quick to admit, no one ever lost a penny underestimating the intelligence of the American public. He was cynical (so were we); yet he also truly believed that children in jeopardy always hooked an audience, that Lana Turner was convincing when she rejected the advances of Edmund Purdom in The Prodigal “because I’m a priestess of Baal,” and he thought that Irving Thalberg was a genius of Leonardo proportion because he had made such tasteful “products” as The Barretts of Wimpole Street and Marie Antoinette.

Vidal wrote those words in 1973 but the Wise Hack is still right: shit does have its own integrity. That brings me to Scott Timberg’s piece in Salon: The worst Best Picture decade: How Crash capped off the strange crossover years when the Academy lost its mind.

Timberg is referring to the years from 1995-2005 when upsets ruled Oscar’s roost and I’m not talking about my cat. Everybody knows Della Street rules this roost. Where was I? Timberg’s piece was inspired by writer-director Paul Haggis’ admission that his film, Crash, might not have deserved the 2004 best picture award. I guess it’s what happens when you stop being a Scientologist but he’ll always share a name with a vile tasting Scottish dish.

Timberg goes on to mention several of the Academy’s biggest mistakes during that period. My personal pet peeve was 1997: Titanic over LA Confidential. The Curtis Hanson masterpiece was one of the best films of the decade, making stars out of Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce, and Kevin Spacey as well as giving James Cromwell’s career added legs as the villain of the piece. What’s not to love about a villain named Dudley? Moore villains with that name, please…

One of the most impressive things about LA Confidential is how Brian Helgeland and Hanson’s script brought James Ellroy’s impossibly complex novel to the big screen. Others had tried before but they made it work. Uh oh, now I sound like Tim Gunn. I think James Ellroy would chew him up and spit him out. At least Ellroy doesn’t have access to a wrecking ball. I sure hope not…

My other Oscar best picture pet peeve from that era is 1990: Dances With Wolves over Martin Scorsese’s best film, GoodFellas. Dances was a better film than Titanic, but nowhere near as good as GoodFellas. I do have a soft spot for Dances With Wolves.  It was the first time I noticed longtime Adrastos crush, Mary McDonnell. Athenae is not the only one at First Draft with a thing for President Laura Roslin or Captain Sharon Raydor. She has a voice that could melt butter…

Saturday Classic: It’s another rock and roll album this week as opposed to your basic Saturday standard. Why? You’ll see tomorrow.

David Lindley is best known as Jackson Browne’s right-hand man or Ry Cooder’s partner in crime,  but he’s made some remarkable albums of his own. 1981’s El Rayo-X was his breakthrough solo effort and became the name of the band he led for many years. It’s a swell combination of ska, rock, reggae, country. cojunto, and blues blitzed in a blender:

It doesn’t apply to El Rayo-X, but the Wise Hack’s aphorism lingers in my head. Repeat after me: Shit has its own integrity.

2 thoughts on “Saturday Odds & Sods: Wrecking Ball

  1. Seems the movers of the bisected shotgun house never heard the saw, “Measure twice, cut once.”

    1. I understand that they didn’t have the proper permits either and got fined up the wazoo.

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