Saturday Odds & Sods: Spirit In The Dark

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.

It’s full-bore summer in New Orleans. We’ve had our share of heat advisories this week. All one can do is drink buckets of water, keep out of the sun, and stay in an air conditioned space. It’s a good thing that I’m essentially an indoorsman. It’s too bloody hot to be all outdoorsy and shit.

I usually write about matters personal and local in the Saturday post intro, prologue or whatever the hell this is. But I cannot resist taking a swipe at the idiot president* over his recycling the “Black Jack Pershing pig’s blood on bullets to ward off Muslims” story. First, unlike the Insult Comedian, Black Jack Pershing was an intelligent man who never said or did such a thing. Second, who the hell, with the possible exception of Frank Gaffney, believes this crapola in 2017? Only a very superstitious moron, that’s who. Third, there *is* a New Orleans connection. There’s a General Pershing Street not far from Adrastos World HQ. Some of the streets in my neighborhood were named after Napoleon I’s battles: Cadiz, Bordeaux, Milan, and Marengo to name a few. General Pershing was originally Berlin Street but was renamed while the country was in throes of anti-German hysteria during the Great War. We go through times like that periodically. We’re in one of them now thanks to the Kaiser of Chaos. So it goes.

As to the featured image, I usually steer clear of using an artist’s best known work but how could I resist Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks for this nocturnally named post? Like Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops, I Can’t Help Myself.

This week’s theme song was written by Aretha Franklin for her 1970 album of the same name. It’s perhaps the best song the Queen of Soul ever wrote. We have two versions for your listening pleasure: Aretha’s original and a duet with Ray Charles from her fabulous 1971 album, Aretha Live at Fillmore West.

It’s hard to top the Genius and the Queen of Soul, y’all. I won’t even try. Well, maybe after the break.

I suspect you won’t be surprised to learn that the title is a pun on the contents of this week’s post. If anyone is gobsmacked, I’m selling the naming rights for the Huey P. Long bridge. Any takers? It’s one of the scariest bridges I’ve ever been on. My bridge phobia goes into overdrive just thinking of it.

Before we get down to business, here’s another spirited tune.

With a name like Greenbaum one has to wonder why he recorded a song called Canned Ham:

Oy, such a mystery. Greenbaum even came from an Orthodox family. Canned Ham sounds unorthodox to me. Norman, Norman, Norman…

It’s time for a pay-off on all the spirit references with two pieces from the Failing New York Times.

The Spirited Spirit Of Nearest Green: We begin with a story about the history of Frank Sinatra’s favorite adult beverage, Jack Daniel’s. It turns out that a slave named Nearest Green was a master distiller who mentored young Jack Daniel. The story was an open secret in Whisky World until writer Fawn Weaver insisted that Jack Daniel’s keep a promise to publicly honor Nearest Green. The NYT’s Clay Risen has the details.

Since I mentioned the Chairman of the Board, it wouldn’t be right to move on without posting a nocturnally titled tune from Francis Albert:

Let’s turn to an equally intoxicating spirit: human rights and how the British Labour government advanced them fifty years ago.

The Spirit Of ’67:

Harold Wilson’s Home Secretary Roy Jenkins (seen above in the NYT embed thingamabob) enacted some radical reforms during his tenure at the second most powerful ministry in the British government. Joan Smith draws a vivid contrast between British politics in 1967 and 2017:

Countries, like the people who live in them, go through periods of anxiety and depression. Right now, Britain is pessimistic and demoralized, so much so that 2017 promises to be an “annus horribilis” more profound than the one famously described by Queen Elizabeth IInearly a quarter-century ago. She was referring to events in her own family, principally the separation of her eldest son, Prince Charles, from his wife, Diana. But the Windsors’ marital woes in 1992 are as nothing compared with the country’s current low spirits.

The sense of a nation mired and stalled is only more acute because Britain celebrates the 50th anniversary this year of the passage of what was arguably the most socially progressive legislation in its history: the partial decriminalization of male homosexuality in July 1967 and the legalization of abortion in October. Both acts, brought to Parliament by a Labour government led by Harold Wilson, had their flaws, but they marked the moment when our elected representatives decisively redrew the boundaries between the individual and the state in a series of remarkable legislative reforms. A half-century on, 1967 looks like an annus mirabilis when Britain became, briefly at least, a world leader in liberal values.

Those days are, of course, long gone as are Harold Wilson and Roy Jenkins. Jenkins would be derided today by the purity police in both the UK and US for being insufficiently hard left. That was true back in the day too: Jenkins was the first leader of the center-left Social Democratic Party that broke away from Labour in 1981.

In addition to being a champion of human rights, Jenkins was a helluva writer who wrote fine biographies of former Prime Ministers Asquith, Gladstone, and Churchill. He was often called the best Prime Minister Britain never had. I quite agree.

Before moving on, it’s time for another spirited song:

You didn’t seriously think I was capable of skipping that one, did you?

Let’s take a trip to the movies. Save the aisle seat for me.

Dunkirk: I promised some Facebook friends a review of Christopher Nolan’s new epic, Dunkirk and I’m a man of my word or is that many words? Probably the latter but y’all already knew that.

We saw Dunkirk in IMAX in the hopes of counting Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance’s nose hairs. Apologies for that Trump level bullshit. I wanted to see this very cinematic film on the biggest screen possible. It was well worth the extra dosh even if it’s not as cheap as chips. Writing this review seems to be bringing out my inner Anglophile, eh wot?

If, like the Current Occupant, you don’t know much about history, Dunkirk tells the story of how the defeated British army was evacuated after the fall of France in 1940. It turned an abject defeat into a moral victory and allowed the British army to fight another day. It inspired  Churchill’s legendary speech with the “we shall fight on the beaches” riff. I wonder if he was anticipating the treacly Better Midler-Barbara Hershey flick. I certainly hope not.

I’m not always a fan of cross-cutting between multiple stories but it works in Dunkirk. I never once evacuated my seat, I was glued to the screen. Nolan’s style in this movie is to emphasize the visual with dialogue taking a back seat. It’s probably why Tom Hardy was cast as a bad ass pilot who was a man of few words. It took me awhile to realize it was him but Hardy is a star without the vanity of one. I’m not even sure he has a mirror in his house. Hmm, does that make him a vampire? I couldn’t get through Taboo so maybe he was one in that show.

The directorial style of Dunkirk is a cross between Nolan’s own with that of David Lean, Alfred Hitchcock, and King Vidor who made one of the greatest silent films of all-time:

I mentioned Hitchcock because he believed in “pure cinema” with an emphasis on the visual as opposed to dialogue. As to Vidor, The Big Parade *is* still one of the best war movies ever made.

I loved every nano-second of Dunkirk. I give it 4 stars, an Adrastos grade of A, and an ecstatic Ebertian thumbs. You may have noticed that I almost never give out As. They’re reserved for genuine classics like Lawrence of Arabia. Dunkirk is *that* good.

Facebook Status Update Of The Week: I don’t usually approve of playing with one’s food. I’ll make an exception in this case,

A big hat tip to Lizzy Caston. Thanks, hon. I wonder what kind of hat I should tip? We’ll stick to a fedora or maybe a nice straw boater.

Now that we’ve had a junk food fight, let’s conclude the festivities with some music.

Saturday Classic: You’re not seeing double, Spirit in the Dark is one of Aretha’s best albums. Enjoy.

That’s it for this week. We’ll give the dynamic duo of R&B the last word.