Saturday Odds & Sods: End Of The Line

Man at the Crossroads by Diego Rivera.

The image you see above began life as a joke at a rich man’s expense. Nelson Rockefeller commissioned the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera to do a fresco at Rockefeller Center. Big mistake: Rivera was not only a lefty, he was a Communist. If you take a closer look at the image you can see Lenin, Trotsky, and Karl Marx among the figures. The future Governor of New York was not amused and had the mural destroyed. Mercifully for art lovers, Rivera had a friend take pictures of the Rocky mocking work. He later did a second version in Mexico City. Take that, Rocky. There’s a lesson in this story for our times even if Rocky’s politics weren’t as odious as those of the Insult Comedian.

This January is a time for sad songs. End Of The Line is a rock torch song. It was written by Bryan Ferry for Roxy Music’s brilliant 1975 album Siren. I listened to Siren obsessively during the bleakest time of my life and it helped me get through it. Thanks, Roxy.

We begin with the studio version; sung by Ferry as if his heart was ripped out of his chest. It’s followed by a swell but less overtly emotional 1993 cover by Concrete Blonde:

I’ve also been known to sing End Of The Line under my breath when taking the bus or streetcar downtown to Canal Street, which is the you know what. I don’t think I’ve been caught in the act but ya never know. I suppose this is as good time as any to insert the break thingamabob. See you on the other side.

We begin with a NYT piece about one of my pet peeves. If you’re reading this post on your smart phone, put it down for a few minutes. You’ll survive.

It’s an addiction that’s potentially as lethal as Oxycontin. I’ve seen people crossing busy streets while glued to their screens. I’ve seen hipsters tweeting as they ride their bikes against traffic. It’s an addiction that knows no demographic boundaries: I’ve seen little old ladies looking at their iPhones while driving. Stop the madness.

I’m a city boy. I was taught by my wise mother to pay attention to my surroundings. You cannot do that if you’re reading TMZ on your Droid. When crossing the street, I keep an eagle eye on oncoming traffic. My mom learned to do that the hard way. She came from a small town in Wisconsin and the first day she was in Chicago, she was nearly hit by a taxi because she didn’t look both ways when crossing the street. She never made that mistake again and passed the lesson on to me.

I love my smart phone but there’s a time and place for everything. I’ve never been hit by a car or mugged while walking the streets of any city. Put your phone in your pocket or purse and pay fucking attention. The life you save may be your own.

Now that I’ve vented, let’s talk Canada. Our neighbors in the frozen North have to deal with a lot of stereotypes. Sometimes even the positive ones bug the shit out of them.

Hockey, Weed, and Taxes, Eh: The Guardian’s Richard Whittall debunks 11 commonly held stereotypes. This is the most amusing one as far as I’m concerned:

Canadians live in the wilderness

Pierre Berton once declared: “A Canadian is somebody who knows how to make love in a canoe.”

But there are a few problems with this all-Canadian adage, beyond the obvious issue of tipping. For one, Berton never actually said it. For another, the image of Canadians as a wilderness-dwelling people is not borne out by research: as of 2011, a full 81% of Canadians resided in a “population centre”, census speak for urban area.

In fact, about 35.2%, or one in three Canadians, lives in either Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver alone.

And if you think the vast majority Canada’s city-dwellers love nothing more than to race to the countryside, you’d also be wrong: a 2010 poll found that only 23% of Canadians see their ideal vacation as a visit to a cottage or a lake.

I’m delighted that they’re such effete urbanites that they don’t think of dirt sleeping as a vacation. I certainly do not although a cottage sounds better than sleeping on the hard frozen tundra. If that image made you feel cold, a shot of Crown Royal or Canadian Club makes for an excellent warm-up.

My favorite Canadian stereotype involves these hosers, eh:

We move on to a fascinating story of a collaboration with David Bowie that did not pan out but it makes for a helluva good article.

Stage Oddity: Novelist Michael Cunningham worked with David Bowie on a musical that was never produced. Cunningham was able to move past star struck fan-boyism and become Bowie’s friend. That’s a difficult odyssey but he stuck the landing. He tells the story for the first time in GQ. It’s a must-read for all the Bowie fans out there. There are at least a few, right?

Our next segment is about the Mercury program, not Gemini but you cannot beat a Bowie tune for a segment segue.

Hidden Figures: This Oscar nominated movie is about two of my favorite subjects: the space program and civil rights. And Hidden Figures somehow manages to make math exciting. I don’t know about you but I never cared for maths as the Brits call it. Of course, I never had to do complex calculations to make sure John Glenn wasn’t a fried astronaut. I hate the smell of burning Tang in the morning…

We saw Hidden Figures on MLK Day and loved it. The crowd cheered at the end, and not because they were glad it was over. If you see it in a theatre, make sure you stay for the closing credits so you can see the pictures of the real math mavens compared to the fictional ones. I’ll do it for you right now. Why not? We’re a full-service blog after all:

Hidden Figures

That’s Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, and Olivia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan. All three performances are splendid as is the movie itself.

Hidden Figures opens with the standard disclaimer that it’s “based on a real story.” Some dramatic license is taken but all the changes (i.e. Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst’s characters are composites) fit the spirit of the real story as you’ll learn when you read the Hidden Figures post at History vs. Hollywood.

The most interesting thing I’ve read about Hidden Figures is an interview Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams conducted with screenwriter Allison Schroeder. Ms. Schroeder was born to write this screenplay:

But let me backtrack a little, you have NASA in your blood, right? I read that interview that you did with The Hollywood Reporter where you talk about how you grew up with the smell of NASA.

Yeah, the smell of NASA. So I had written this Agatha Christie script. Donna Gigliotti, the producer of “Hidden Figures,” and executive and co-producer Renee Witt reached out to my manager and said, “Do you have any female writers who can write a variety of genres?” And he sent her “Agatha” and she loved it. She sent me a few projects, and one of them was the book proposal for “Hidden Figures.” I freaked out because she had no idea I’d grown up a NASA baby.

I got on the phone with her and Donna and I said, “You have to hire me for this; I was born to write this.” Donna sort of rolled her eyes and was like, “God, these Hollywood types would say anything.” I said, “No, no, I grew up at Cape Canaveral. My grandmother was a computer programmer at NASA, my grandfather worked on the Mercury prototype, and I interned there all through high school and then the summer after my freshman year at Stanford I interned. I worked at a missile launch company.”

She was like, “OK that’s impressive.” And I said, “No, I literally grew up climbing on the Mercury capsule — hitting all the buttons, trying to launch myself into space.”

We’re all glad she did not. She spent a lot of time conversing with Katharine Johnson who insisted that the film not be about her alone. The space program was a team-effort and Hidden Figures does a superb job conveying that.

Hidden Figures does hew a bit too closely to Hollywood bio-pic conventions BUT it does it so well that it doesn’t matter. The story of these three remarkable women and their colleagues is beautifully told and makes for a great time at the movies.

I give Hidden Figures an Adrastos Grade of A-, 4 stars, and an exuberant Ebertian thumbs up.

Speaking of powerful and brilliant African-American women, it’s Ella time.

Saturday Standards: The great Ella Fitzgerald was at the peak of her popularity when she recorded Ella Swings Gently With Nelson Riddle in 1962. Arranger-Producer Riddle had the magic touch with Ella and such contemporaries as Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Pour your favorite adult beverage and let the music wash over you.

That’s it for this week. The picture of Rick Perry forever blowing bubbles behind a glowering Insult Comedian is too good not to re-use: