Saturday, January 26, 2008

Monday, January 11, 1960: Cold Shower

According to author Stephen Rebello, in his extremely interesting and well-researched book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho (St. Martin's Griffin, 1998, p. 138), on January 8, 1960, director Alfred Hitchcock sent a memo to his sound men, Waldon O. Watson and William Russell, giving them explicit instructions about the role of sound in the shower scene. Surprisingly, no mention is made of music. We can safely assume, I think, that the (now famous) shower scene of Psycho was being edited--though was certainly not completed--on Monday, January 11, 1960. The premiere of the film was slightly over five months away.

The title of Rebello's book about the film is carefully worded, because it is clear that Alfred Hitchock cannot take full credit for the success of Psycho--indeed, his role in post-production was virtually non-existent. Revealingly, after screening a rough cut of the film, Hitchcock himself thought the film was terrible, and considered cutting it down and salvaging it by showing it as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The achievement of Psycho, such as it is, seems in retrospect to have been the result of two factors: the extremely talented artists with which Hitchcock surrounded himself--first and foremost, film editor George Tomasini, the aforementioned sound designers, Waldon O. Watson and William Russell, and composer Bernard Herrmann--and the first generation of American critics (e. g., Andrew Sarris) who had adopted the assumptions and perspectives of the auteur theory. The achievement of the film itself is largely a technical one; its status as a "classic" is largely a discursive one, Hitchcock having pride of place as the first movie director bestowed the imprimatur of auteur. What was Romanticism in the nineteenth century was called Modernism in the twentieth, and like all Modernists, Hitchcock took to heart the principle of the self as art, and ran with it. (I highly recommend Robert E. Kapsis's book, Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation, University of Chicago Press, 1990.)

The French New Wave critics who had disseminated and promoted the auteur theory through the journal Cahiers du Cinema—Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol and Jean-Luc Godard—had one primary champion, and that was Alfred Hitchcock. Eric Rohmer and Claude Chabrol's Hitchcock was published in 1957, shortly after the release of Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956), and was an early important work of auteur theory (although it remained untranslated into English for many years). The reason for Rohmer's and Chabrol's choice to champion Hitchcock most certainly was because they perceived him to be much like themselves: Catholic, politically liberal, intelligent, and Modern. However, since auteurists (at least the French ones) always had trouble with what they called a "Tradition of Quality," the auteurist position tended to champion directors who sometimes made bad films (e. g., besides Hitchcock, Otto Preminger) or were not very nice (e. g., Sam Peckinpah) or were not very intelligent (e.g., name omitted). And as one might expect, the hallowed pantheon of auteurs was also always a boy's club--the offices of Cahiers du Cinema had pin-ups on the walls well into the 1960s.

My friend Frank Mazzola, who grew up in Hollywood and eventually became a respected film editor, told me that while he was an apprentice editor in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was a "gofer" at Universal while George Tomasini was editing Psycho and Bob Lawrence was editing Spartacus (the films were released about three months apart in 1960). Tomasini's offices were at one end of the floor and Lawrence's were at the other. Saul Bass, who created the title sequences for both films, was also there, moving between both sets of offices. While Frank saw Kubrick, he never saw Hitchcock, although Hitchcock had a office/bungalow at Universal. The famous shower sequence in Psycho was created not by Hitchcock but by Tomasini, sound designers Watson and Russell, by Bernard Herrmann's strings--and, according to Stephen Rebello, by Mrs. Hitchcock, who in her screening of the sequence was the only one of them all to notice that although she's presumably dead when she falls to the floor, Janet Leigh blinked, forcing Tomasini to insert a brief cutaway to the shower head.

I should note that Tomasini was Hitchcock's editor of choice for a decade, from Rear Window (1954) through Marnie (1964). After Tomasini's early death in November 1964 at age 55, Hitchcock made only four more films in a period of twelve years, none of which are very interesting. For whatever reason, it would seem that Hitchcock lost interest in making movies after Tomasini's death.

In retrospect, the major contribution of the French auteur theorists is that they invented film studies (and directors such as Alfred Hitchcock as well), for without the notion of the director as writer, film courses never would have been able to be offered in university English departments, which is where film studies courses were first offered. Of course, there are other reasons that contributed to rise of film studies--the collapse of university enrollments following the abolition of the draft in the early 1970s being one, but nonetheless the auteur theory was an extremely important factor in the development of film studies in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Has the significance of the shower sequence been over-emphasized in critical discussions of Psycho? For interesting discussion of that question, go here. For an excerpt from Rebello's book, as well as contemporary film reviews in addition to critical interpretations and re-assessments of Psycho, see Robert Kolker, Ed., Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho: A Casebook, Oxford University Press, 2004).

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday, January 10, 1960

The crucial role of television to promote presidential candidates and their agendas is now an accepted truism. If this commonplace bit of wisdom is indeed true, then it should come as no surprise that three future U. S. Presidents were television personalities in 1960: John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, of course, were presidential candidates, but perhaps the most popularly-known figure of the three was Ronald Reagan--but not because of the "obvious" reason, that he was a movie star. In fact, at the time, Reagan was host of the highly successful television series, General Electric Theater. Broadcast by CBS on Sunday nights in the 9:00-9:30 p.m. Eastern time slot, after The Ed Sullivan Show and before Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Ronald Reagan become program host of General Electric Theater on September 26, 1954; with Reagan as host, by December of that year--three months later--General Electric Theater had entered Nielsen's Top 10 among all television programs as the most popular weekly dramatic program.

According to William L. Bird, Jr., in an article on the program that can be found at the Museum of Broadcast Communications website,

By the time General Electric Theater concluded its eight-year run in 1962, Reagan claimed to have visited GE's 135 research and manufacturing facilities, and met some 250,000 individuals. In later years, Reagan's biographers would look back upon the tour and the platform it provided for the future President of the United States to sharpen his already considerable skill as a communicator.

The last General Electric Theater program was broadcast on May 27, 1962; four years from that date, Ronald Reagan was about five months away from being convincingly elected Governor of California (1966). Although defeated in his 1960 presidential bid, Richard Nixon would return to politics as well, and be elected President in 1968. Perhaps it is not ludicrous at all to consider the possibility that politicians and their handlers learned something from Col. Tom Parker, who used television to catapult Elvis Presley from regional success to national sensation in 1956. Indeed, the rise of Elvis corresponds to a transitional moment in media technology--the rise of television. So, too, would the political careers of future presidents correspond to the new technology of television.

Saturday, January 9, 1960

A week earlier, on January 2, 1960, then Senator John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for President of the United States, ending several months of speculation about his intentions. JFK was the first to introduce "speed" into presidential politics, as he was the first presidential candidate to use a private aircraft as his primary means of transportation--"the soaring 60s" indeed (see my blog entry for January 5). According to the page devoted to JFK's airplane at the National Air and Space Museum website, the aircraft was a Convair 240 that had been purchased several months earlier by Joseph Kennedy in preparation for his son's Presidential campaign. According to the NASM webpage:

Historians credit this aircraft with providing Kennedy with the narrow margin of victory for it allowed him to campaign more effectively during that very hotly contested race. The "Caroline," named after President Kennedy's daughter, revolutionized American politics; since 1960 all presidential candidates have used aircraft as their primary means of transportation.

Following his successful bid for President, for security reasons the aircraft was seldom used by JFK afterwards, although it was used by members of the Kennedy family until 1967, when in September of that year Senator Edward Kennedy, recognizing its historical significance, offered to donate the airplane to NASM. Following a formal ceremony in November 1967, the plane was flown to Andrews AFB and then trucked to Silver Hill where it was dismantled and left outside to deteriorate for the next twenty years. In the late 1980s, a curatorial crew and the conservator cleaned the filthy interior of the aircraft, and finally it was moved indoors to safety.

Certain material artifacts of historical significance, such as JFK's Convair 240, have a curious circulation in our culture in their "afterlife." Unlike most quotidian (manufactured) objects, they are transformed into "found objects," capable of being contemplated as works of art, but unlike found objects they often also become excessive signifiers, quasi-magical objects with demonic powers. Think of the myths surrounding James Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder for instance, or the custom-built 1961 Lincoln Continental in which President Kennedy was assassinated. While I could provide many other examples of this sort of fetishization--visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to get an idea of what I'm talking about--this sort of preoccupation is a peculiar characteristic of the so-called "Baby Boom" Generation (of which I am a member), which has detailed and catalogued every last compartment of Baby Boom Culture. While the preservation of such objects serves to connect us in a material way to previous generations, and thus provides the important function of continuity from one generation to the next, the transformation of these manufactured objects into excessive signifiers seems to me to be a recent historical phenomenon, perhaps because the recent hundred years or so seems so characterized by the disaster.

In the Middle Ages, superstitious religious pilgrims often purchased holy relics such as saints' bones, duped by unscrupulous merchants into buying them. The value of the contemporary equivalent of the holy relic is largely determined by that particular object's excessive signification. About a year and a half ago I visited the Titanic exhibit in St. Louis, where a portion of the hull was displayed under plexiglass. A small round hole had been cut into the display, allowing visitors actually to the hull. The hull of the Titanic, JFK's Convair 240, James Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder--even Graceland itself--are all examples of excessive signifiers.

Did I reach through the hole in the plexiglass display and touch the hull of the Titanic? Of course.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Friday, January 8, 1960

"...But there ain't no cure for the summertime blues..."

According to the webpage, on January 8, 1960, rocker Eddie Cochran--perhaps most famous for "Summertime Blues"--completed his last formal studio recordings, at Goldstar Studio in Hollywood. The next day, he left for an extended tour of the UK, arriving there on January 10th in order to join up with the Gene Vincent Show. Several popularly successful television performances featuring Cochran and Gene Vincent were broadcast in the UK over the next several weeks.

As is well known, Eddie Cochran never left the UK alive, having been killed slightly over three months after his arrival, the result of an automobile accident that occurred near 12 midnight on April 16th, 1960; he died from his injuries the next afternoon. (I note in passing that author Albert Camus was killed in an automobile accident on January 4, 1960.) In an improbable twist, according to, the name of the cab driver that fateful night was--George Martin . . . not the George Martin who would later, famously, produce The Beatles, but the serendipity is startling. Perhaps especially so, since one of the earliest known recordings of The Beatles (or, more precisely, three-quarters of the band that would become The Beatles), found on The Beatles' Anthology 1 (1995), is virtually a note-by note copy of Eddie Cochran's "Hallelujah, I Love Her So," recorded by the future Beatles sometime during the spring of 1960.

"Hallelujah, I Love Her So," released in the United States in October 1959, was the last single released in the UK during Cochran's lifetime, released in the UK in January, 1960, no doubt in order to coincide with his UK tour (although I strongly suspect that such extended appearances would not have called "tours" in those days). No doubt John, Paul, or George--or all three--picked up the single sometime soon after its UK release; one strongly suspects that while Cochran didn't appear in concert in Liverpool during his last tour, he made concert appearances (e. g., Manchester) that would not have been impossible for the young lads to attend.

Although John Lennon was always forthcoming about being an Elvis Presley fan, at the time Elvis wasn't doing much recording: he was in the Army--and, on January 8, 1960, Elvis was in Germany, celebrating his 25th birthday. His Army service was coming to an end, but he still had a few weeks left.

Happily, Eddie Cochran was, deservedly so, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Thursday, January 7, 1960

"Marina found herself thinking, how odd, that when Khrushchev visited Minsk while she was living there with Lee, there were strong rumors of an assassination attempt."

--Don DeLillo, Libra (Penguin, 1991), p. 451

According to Norman Mailer's Oswald's Tale: An American Mystery (Random House, 1995, p. 64), on January 7, 1960 Lee Harvey Oswald left Moscow by train for Minsk, Belarus, where he would be employed in a factory. Hence Oswald, living in Russia at that point for about three months, probably didn't have any knowledge of the fact that five days earlier, on January 2, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy had announced his intention to run for President of the United States.

Until the publication of Mailer's book, not much was known about Oswald's time in Minsk, but it is a fascinating tale (indeed, as is Oswald's tale in general), and Mailer devotes almost the first two hundred pages of his book to Oswald in Russia, referencing interviews consisting almost entirely of Oswald's Russian friends.

It was in Minsk, while he was employed there in a factory, that he would meet his future wife, Marina Prusakova, on March 17, 1961 ("...a girl with a French hairdo and red dress with white slippers" wrote Oswald about her in his journal, qtd. on p. 167). If it weren't for the fact that his name is Lee Harvey Oswald, his and Marina's story would by now have formed loosely the basis of a stormy, steamy Hollywood Romance. Having met her in mid-March, by April they are going steady; when she refuses his attempts to seduce her--"to put him off" in colloquial American English--he proposes marriage to her instead--which she accepts. They were married on April 30, 1961, six weeks after they'd met (the picture above was taken in Minsk a month or so after they were married). Marina soon became pregnant, but way before that, Oswald had already decided to return to America.

Of course, Mailer would, I think, caution against "fitting Oswald into one or another species of plot. Perhaps it would be more felicitous to ask: What kind of man was Oswald? Can we feel compassion for his troubles, or will we end by seeing him as a disgorgement from the errors of the cosmos, a monster?" (p. 197). Has any modern historical figure been the subject of so much speculation? Has any figure been so carefully studied, had so much written about him, had so many narrative emplotments constructed, so many hundreds of details scrutinized and re-scrutinized, as Lee Harvey Oswald? I have no idea of the number of websites devoted to Oswald and Kennedy assassination conspiracies, but they must number in the dozens. I'm not a believer in the conspiracy theories, all of which, as is well known, received renewed interest after Oliver Stone's JFK (1991). I for one think Mailer is right: rather than ask, Who killed John F. Kennedy? the more difficult and more daunting question is, What kind of man was Oswald?

"Who among us can say that he [Oswald] is in no way related to our own dream?" Mailer asks at the end of his long and disturbing mystery (p. 791), a reminder to us that the Other is not entirely different than ourselves. And as the story of Lee Harvey Oswald also reminds us, some mysteries are even more disturbing to us because they have no reassuring answers, no comforting revelations.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Wednesday, January 6, 1960

"Until one morning in mid-November of 1959, few Americans--in fact, few Kansans--had ever heard of Holcomb."

On January 6, 1960, Richard Hickok and Perry Smith were returned from Nevada to Finney County in Western Kansas, in order to stand trial for the murders of the Clutter family in mid-November, 1959: the parents, Herb and Bonnie, and two of their younger children still living with them, Nancy and Kenyon. The return of Hickok and Smith to the place of the murders was depicted in the film Capote (2005), with future In Cold Blood author Truman Capote (wonderfully played by Philip Seymour Hoffman), by then having traveled to Kansas and researching the case, witnessing the event.

Six months earlier, on June 25, 1959, Charles Starkweather was executed by electric chair by the State of Nebraska. I had turned five years old a couple of days earlier. I don't remember anything about Starkweather's execution, although it happened just up the highway. I have a vague memory of staying overnight with my grandparents during his murder spree which, in January 1960, would have happened a couple of years earlier. The reason I remember the historic moment at all was because at bedtime my grandmother asked my grandfather if he'd locked the doors--the first time in my life I remember anyone ordering the doors of the house to be locked. Later--perhaps the next day, I don't recall--I asked my mother why granny and grandad had locked the doors, and she explained it to me: a killer was on the loose, he could show up anywhere. At the time, we lived about forty miles from Lincoln, where Charles Starkweather's murder spree had begun. Whether the doors of our house continued to be locked after Starkweather was arrested I do not know.

Over two decades later, in 1986, I was living in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I'd been living since 1979. My wife and I locked the doors at night. Was that habit instilled in us by the likes of Charles Starkweather, Richard Hickok and Perry Smith? Or by family habits with which we'd grown up? I do not know. One hot day that summer, my next door neighbor asked me if I'd like to see Charles Starkweather's grave, and I said yes. A good friend of his was a gravedigger at Wyuka Cemetery, located on the north side of Lincoln's O Street between 33rd and 48th Streets, and recently he had shown my neighbor the grave site. On the arranged day, we drove to the cemetery, between five and ten minutes from my home. You have to know where his grave is in order to find it, as the small rectangular stone, inscribed only with the name Starkweather, rests flat on the ground in the shade of a large tree (at least at the time), just a few steps from the road.

On the day we visited--and this is a true story--we discovered that someone had left a small bouquet of flowers on top of the gravestone. Serendipitously, it must have been around the 25th of June--that day, or one or two on either side. Seeing those flowers on the gravestone instantaneously connected me to my past and invoked all the memories associated with Charles Starkweather, not only those when I was a small boy, but those from years later, in 1976, when his putative accomplice at the time of killings, Carol Fugate, was, controversially, released from the Nebraska State Prison in Lincoln.

Despite the historic proximity of the murders, and despite the fact that both cases featured the Midwestern outlaw couple (as in "Bonnie and Clyde"), the crucial difference between the two murder cases is, of course, Truman Capote: Starkweather never had the literary equivalent of Capote, while Hickok and Perry did. The style of writing known as "New Journalism" grew out of In Cold Blood, while in contrast, because his story had no prestigious literary antecedent, Starkweather's story, devoid of the compelling, if not sympathetic psychological portrait created by Capote, became, in its filmic incarnations, more "sensational," the killer more incoherent, more of a "bad seed" rather than portrayed as a consequence of his environment.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tuesday, January 5, 1960

"A nationwide poll of your hopes, plans and fears for the decade ahead, with picture reports on the mood of the American people as they enter THE SOARING ‘60’s."

As the cover of the January 5, 1960 Look magazine reveals, the mass media's role to promulgate the government’s agenda is so obvious it stares you right in the face. (The X Files' tag line, "The Truth is Out There," is in fact very true--it's right in front of you.) After the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik I on October 4, 1957, the so-called Space Age began. Translation: the U.S. government convinced the American public that the Soviets’ ability to launch satellites meant they had the technology to launch ballistic missiles, that is, long-range rockets with nuclear bombs. A threshold moment, a new relationship between the government (military) and educational institutions (science and technology) began. Sputnik prompted Congress, in July 1958, to pass the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which created the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as of October 1, 1958. In January 1960, 50% of the government’s total budget was devoted to defense. The cover of Look associates the space program and a rocket's nighttime take-off with the promise, mystery, and anxiety of the new decade. Ironically, the word "soaring," associated with "flying" and being "high," anticipated the language of the drug experience--"tripping"--popularly associated with the 1960s. (See the January 1 blog entry.)

In the media, ever fond of the sound bite, the Space Age soon became the Space Race, figuratively transforming what was originally a wholesale institutional restructuring (new jobs, job incentives, re-defined job relationships, job responsibilities, new administrative duties, new budgets, budget sources and amounts of funding, re-defined institutional objectives, on and on) into a competitive sporting event with the Soviet Union. By means of the national media, neologisms such as “astronauts,” references to “flight teams,” acronyms such as NASA, rocket types associated with military bases such as Redstone, and mythological (divinely sanctioned) designations such as “Mercury” and “Gemini” all allowed military and quasi-military terminology to become part of the language of daily life. During the 1960s, Life magazine—alone—dedicated over three-dozen covers to the space program (the cover of the March 3, 1961 issue is above left), although it is hard to tally the number of hours of television programming that was devoted to launches, orbital flights, moon flights, and so on. A new, very modern sort of hero was born, characterized, some years later, by Tom Wolfe, as having "the right stuff." Since "astronauts" were no longer (military) pilots in the traditional sense, their character had to be redefined anew.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Monday, January 4, 1960

"Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl..."

According to Billboard Top 1000 Singles 1955-1990 (Hal Leonard Publishing, 1991) Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” was the “Number 1” single in the United States for two weeks beginning the week of January 4. “El Paso” is indebted to the corrido (a narrative song, often a ballad, sometimes with a rhythm much like that of a waltz) that Robbins transformed into a country-western ballad. It told the story of a cowboy who fell in love with a Mexican cantina dancer (her name is not important). She was wicked, though, and mocked his love by flirting with other cowboys. One night, so the narrator tells us, in a jealous rage, he shot and killed a boy to whom the girl was being overly attentive. The cowboy fled El Paso, but soon realized that his love for her was stronger than his fear of death, and he returned. He was set upon by the vengeful friends of his victim, and was mortally shot by them. He dies, seemingly happy, in the feckless girl’s arms. He died exalted because of his passion, and yet his passion remained unfulfilled, and thus his desire brought him not ecstasy, but death.

Another pair of famous lovers, Romeo and Juliet, who had only a few days to celebrate their passion--after all, they met on Sunday and died on Thursday, and had just one blissful night of erotic pleasure together--and whose love ended in mutual suicide, are nonetheless celebrated as the happiest and most famous lovers in the western world. Paradoxically, the brevity and misery of their fated love is touted as the model to which lovers should aspire. For love to be genuine, it has to be autonomous, intense--and calamitous. On the one hand, our myths uphold the idea of living happily ever after, but on the other, we measure authentic love only by the degree to which it incites misery and suffering. Denis De Rougemont, in Love in the Western World, says that obsessive passion is really the desire for death: Isn't that the lesson "El Paso" teaches us? In order for love to be real and authentic, we must be unhappy. In one of those delicious ironies possible only in art and not life, “El Paso” was covered by none other than...The Grateful Dead, who played the song in concert several hundred times. Perhaps Bob Weir, or Jerry Garcia, or both, knew what the song was really about.

Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, released in September 1959, was one of the very first LP records I remember (as opposed to 7" 45s and my parents' 78s). Holding the cover in my hands, I would study the cover, flipping it back and forth, first the cover, then the back, examining every detail, reading every word. And I would play the record over and over and over. My mother was very tolerant. I was fascinated by it—and still am. The songs are remarkably diverse, each one a narrative in miniature; they were about religious conversion, Fate, Destiny, Love, and Death, filled with unexpected reversals, catastrophic endings. I now own it on CD. Robbins, gifted with a beautiful, remarkably expressive voice, was a mystic who died prematurely in 1982 at age 57.

In 1976, a few years before his death, Robbins revisited “El Paso” with a song titled “El Paso City.” The narrator is a passenger on an airplane flying over the west Texas desert, near El Paso, who remembers a song he’d heard long ago—“El Paso.” The narrator experiences an anamnesis (a sudden remembering of something he’d forgotten he'd forgotten) and asks, “Could it be that I could be/the cowboy in this mystery/That died there in that desert sand so long ago,” which I’ve always interpreted as Robbins’ admission that he believed he was, in fact, in his previous life the doomed cowboy he wrote about in the earlier song. Of course, in exploring his relationship with the muse that resided within him, "El Paso City" is also about the mystery of artistic creation.

And of course, "El Paso" is not about the real place, the Texas border town. In its figurative sense, "El Paso" names a certain imaginary location, a border kingdom where Desire and Obsession meet Death. In El Paso, you can find the answer to the daunting riddle, Why is passion so strongly linked with death?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Sunday, January 3, 1960

"…the personalities of the popular music industry have every reason to cultivate the child market and are quite willing to “rob the cradle.” This…means that children are compelled to learn how to respond to music, in a fashion their peer group will find acceptable, at increasingly earlier ages. Under these pressures, music can hardly help becoming associated with both the excitements and the anxieties of interpersonal relationships."

--David Reisman, The Lonely Crowd, qtd. in On Record, S. Frith and A. Goodwin, Eds. (Pantheon Books, 1990), pp. 10-11.

The “Number 1” record on the pop music charts the week of December 28, 1959-January 3, 1960 (the "week of" determination was Monday through Sunday) was “Why” by Frankie Avalon. The teen idol’s hit was about to be displaced on the charts, the next day, by Marty Robbins’s “El Paso,” a profound (if unconscious) narrative exploring the relationship between sex, obsession, and death, a entirely different view of love than the one in Avalon's momentary hit.

The lyrics to "Why" begin as follows:

I'll never let you go
Why? Because I love you
I'll always love you so
Why? Because you love me

No broken hearts for us
‘Cause we love each other
And with our faith and trust
There could be no other

Why? ‘Cause I love you
Why? ‘Cause you love me

In retrospect, David Reisman may have been among the first critics of American popular music to produce what Michael Jarrett, in Sound Tracks: A Musical ABC, Volumes 1-3 (Temple University Press, 1998), has called "aberrant readings or interpretations" (p. 195), because for Reisman, these ostensibly winsome, largely monosyllabic lyrics might just as well have been sung by the "other-directed" personality of modern America singing a song of love to the peer group to which he wants so desperately to belong as they are--so it would seem--about idealized Romantic love.

Although published almost sixty years ago, the analysis of popular music performed by sociologist David Reisman in The Lonely Crowd (1950) remains exceedingly insightful. I doubt that many music critics and scholars--at least those with a sociological orientation--would dispute his contention that the meaning of popular music resides in a large part in the way its consumers use it, that one’s identification with a particular kind of music is used as a means to form bonds with (or against) a particular social group. For Reisman, writing in the midst of the economic boom of post-war America, the consumption of a particular form of music was one of the various means by which the “other-directed” person was able to accommodate himself or herself to others to gain approval (the approval of the “peer group”): musical taste was largely pragmatic. As the quotation used as the epigraph to this blog reveals, Riesman believed that American industry had every reason to inculcate this type of “other-directed” person, so concerned about the opinions of others, because the "other-directed" personality was indispensable to the corporate, “team-playing” mentality: "The other-directed person wants to be loved rather than esteemed.” The anxieties and ecstasies of interpersonal relationships--the need to belong--should be inculcated in individuals at as young an age as possible. Hence, songs such as "Why."

As a sociological type, Reisman's "other-directed" personality might well have been the inspiration for the character of Arch Hammer in Rod Serling's "The Four of Us Are Dying," the Twilight Zone episode I discussed in yesterday's blog, and which premiered the evening of January 2nd: Hammer's skill of modifying his physical appearance (and hence personality) in order to blend seamlessly into any social group uncannily anticipates Woody Allen's Zelig (1983), although the character of Zelig is portrayed as an anxiety-filled conformist, not an "other-directed" personality, but the underlying anxiety is consistent in both types.

A compelling portrait of David Reisman by his former student, Todd Gitlin, is available here.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Saturday, January 2, 1960

Media theorist Marshall McLuhan asserted that each new media takes as its content the older one. The movies, for instance, became the content of television. Now, the old television programs are (slowly) becoming the content of the internet (in the form of digital downloads). As an experiment trying to verify this theory, I tried to find out whether I could download any of the programs from Saturday night, January 2, 1960. (Saturday morning children's programming at the time, ironically, is something I don't remember well. I remember much better the evening programs, and in any case Saturday morning programming is not something I'd care to download, anyway, for reasons I'll have to explore in some future blog.) Our university library has several books which contain information about U. S. network programming of the past several decades, but since the university is currently on break and the library closed, I was unable to get hold of these books. I used Wikipedia instead, and indeed, found I could indeed recover the network television schedule for the 1959-1960 TV season. Next, I visited the Internet Movie Database in order to determine the specific episodes the networks broadcast that night.

None of the programs televised that night are currently available in the form of downloads--but several of them are available, or will become available, on DVD. Of the ABC programs shown that evening, only Leave It to Beaver (8:30 p.m. EST) is available on DVD, and of the NBC programs, only Bonanza (7:30 p.m. EST) is available. CBS, however, has done a better job of making its programs available in digital format. The Perry Mason episode shown that night, "The Case of the Violent Village," is no doubt forthcoming on the Season Three DVD box set of that series, but Season Three hasn't been released yet. The Gunsmoke episode shown that night (the most popular show on television at the time), "Groat's Grudge," is not yet available on DVD (or download), either, although no doubt it will be.  The Have Gun-Will Travel episode, "The Prophet," is available on DVD (but not download), but I was unable, alas, to get hold of the Season 3 box set. That left me with the one episode I did have, available on the Season Two box set of Wanted: Dead or Alive, "Mental Lapse." I also happened to have Season 1 of The Twilight Zone: The Definitive Edition, and therefore the episode that was televised 10:00 p.m. EST the night before, on January 1st, "The Four of Us Are Dying."

With these two half-hour programs in hand, I sat down and watched them back-to-back, "The Four of Us Are Dying" from January 1, and "Mental Lapse" from January 2, and--much to my surprise--learned that both starred Harry Townes (right), a marvelous actor I remember seeing on television for years. As far as I can remember I've always loved movies, but outside of Elvis Presley--the first "star" I can remember as a child--I grew up with greater familiarity with television actors than movie stars. Harry Townes is one of them--not that I could have given you his name at the time. Only years after, by virtue of reference books, could I have given you his name.

In "The Four of Us Are Dying," a sort of SF/noir hybrid, Harry Townes plays a hard-nosed con artist named Arch Hammer who has the ability to simulate the physical characteristics of others. By studying a snapshot of someone, he can "make his face change" and become that person, a replica of that person, complete with bodily mannerisms. As the episode begins, Hammer has arrived in New York City with some luggage filled with newspaper clippings containing pictures and news articles about a couple of men who recently suffered violent deaths. In the drama's first movement, he morphs into a dead musician named Johnny Foster in order meet--and to seduce--Foster's former, beautiful, girlfriend, a nightclub singer named Maggie (Beverly Garland). He becomes Johnny Foster and morphs into--Ross Martin! An experienced charmer, he convinces Maggie to quit her job after that night's show, with the promise that the two of them will run off together and have a great time (an offer, one infers, the real Johnny never made her). And why shouldn't I have a beautiful woman as a residual benefit? Hammer asks himself after leaving the club.

In the show's second movement, in order to acquire the much-needed cash for his upcoming fling with Maggie, Hammer morphs into the betrayed and murdered mobster Virgil Sterig, in order to extort money from his ex-boss, and becomes--Phillip Pine, a fine veteran television actor I also well remember through television. However, before Sterig can successfully pull off his getaway after having extorted the money, two of his ex-boss's thugs arrive, and he's forced to run for his life. Trapped in an alleyway, with no clear escape in sight, in the nick of time he spots a tattered poster announcing a past boxing match, and at the last moment morphs into--a heel, Andy Marshak, played by Don Gordon. As was so characteristic of Rod Serling's rigid Puritan sensibility, Hammer's desperate, selfish act has unintended consequences: almost immediately, he unknowingly runs into Marshak's irate, pathological father who, at the show's conclusion, shoots and kills him because of what he (Marshak) has done to his mother and his girlfriend. In a sort of pre-Terminator 2 sequence that anticipates the T-1000's attempt to survive after falling into the molten ore, upon being shot Hammer tries to grab, hold on to, one of the simulacra he's become over the course of the evening--hence the inspiration for the show's title, "The Four of Us Are Dying." Such was the Twilight Zone on January 1, 1960.

Serendipitously, I'd already planned to watch the January 2 Wanted: Dead or Alive episode, but near the end of the TZ episode's end credits, a brief segment urged viewers to look for Wanted: Dead or Alive (also a CBS show) on the same network. A minute or so later, as if heeding the suggestion made by the oracular announcer 48 years earlier, I had Wanted: Dead or Alive cued up--and there again, this time in a western setting, was Harry Townes. Interestingly, the episode was written by William F. Nolan, well-known as a SF/fantasy writer, perhaps best known for the feature film Logan's Run (1976). In the episode, Townes plays a man suffering from amnesia (hence the episode's title), who, at the story's opening, in a sort of Phlip K. Dickian twist, is improbably posting a "Wanted" poster asking for information about himself: who he is, what his name is, where he's from. Since he's offered a $500 reward for information about himself, bounty hunter Josh Randall (Steve McQueen) takes him up on his offer. It turns out that the character Townes plays is named Olin McDonald, falsely accused of killing his partner about a year earlier after the two had won a pot of money gambling. Subsequently attacked by the minions of the corrupt owner of the gambling hall, McDonald was left for dead, but later found on the trail--his memory gone (presumably by means of trauma to the head). By the show's end, he has experienced an anamnesis and the story ends happily, with McDonald reunited with his beloved.

Although I'm not using the term precisely the way media theorists would like me to, the yield of information achieved by juxtaposing these two episodes is an example of the "convergence" achieved by the ease of digital sampling in the era of the internet (multiple sites available simultaneously), a presentation of information not available in the era of analogue broadcast. I had Wikipedia, the Imdb, and the episodes themselves in digital form. The sort of information yielded by the juxtaposition (convergence) of these various media would not have possible in the era the programs were originally broadcast. At present, the entire season of a particular show is available (or will be available); one wonders if, through internet downloads, whether (theoretically) an entire year of television is going to be (re) produceable.

Intrigued by the serendipity of seeing Harry Townes in the two episodes, I thought I'd learn the rest of the story. According his obituary in the New York Times, about a decade later Townes was ordained as an Episcopalian minister, an event, interestingly, anticipated in a Route 66 episode from 1960, The Strengthening Angels, in which he played a minister.

A photograph, from years later, reveals Harry Townes in a different role, courtesy

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Friday, January 1, 1960

To fathom hell or soar angelic
Just take a pinch of psychedelic.

--Dr. Humphry Osmond, in a 1957 letter to Aldous Huxley (quoted in Acid Dreams, by Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain, Grove Weidenfeld, 1985, p. 55)

According to John Tobler's book, This Day In Rock (Carroll & Graf, 1993, p. 6), Johnny Cash gave the first of his many free concerts at Folsom State Prison, Folsom, California, on January 1, 1960. He continued to give these free concerts there and elsewhere (San Quentin, for instance) in the years after; eventually these concerts would be recorded and become the basis of hit albums in the late 1960s. At five years, six months, and a few days old on New Year's Day, 1960 (I was most likely tucked into bed long before midnight on New Year's Eve, unless we'd gone to my paternal grandparents, who lived about two blocks away, to celebrate) I'd heard neither of the singer nor the prison--at least that I can remember. By this date, Cash had, a few years earlier, had a hit record with "Folsom Prison Blues" (recorded 1955, released as Sun 232 early in January 1956), but the song was inspired not by his experience or knowledge of the actual Folsom State Prison, but instead by the Hollywood movie Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison (1951), which, according to most accounts, Cash had seen while stationed in Germany in 1953 as a member of the U. S. Air Force. Art had inspired art.

In 1973, slightly over an unlucky 13 years later, Dr. Timothy Leary, one of the primary advocates of psychedelic drugs and a figure forever associated with the tumultuous 1960s, would be imprisoned at Folsom State Prison and became one of its most infamous inmates, certainly as infamous as another inmate also incarcerated there at the same time, and a figure also indelibly associated with the 1960s, Charles Manson. So, as it turns out, on the first day of the year 1960, Folsom State Prison was poised to become a potent signifier in the decade of the 1960s, a decade that, considered in this light, was not so much about "peace, love, and freedom" but about drugs, violence, and imprisonment, all of which find their emblems in Johnny Cash (whose drug problems have been well-documented), Folsom Prison, Timothy Leary, and LSD-25 (declared illegal in 1966). Moreover, as Lee and Schlain observe in Acid Dreams, LSD itself is duplicitous, as it has been used "both as a weapon and a sacrament, a mind control drug and a mind-expanding chemical" (Acid Dreams, p. xxi).

The year 2008 represents the 70th anniversary of the discovery, by Dr. Albert Hofmann, of lysergic acid diethylmide, popularly known as LSD-25, a drug which would influence--and change--so many lives in the second half of the twentieth century, including, especially, Dr. Timothy Leary, whose life took a big swerve after being introduced to LSD around 1960. Dr. Hofmann discovered the drug while working at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, in 1938. His 1938 discovery was shelved at the time, but retrieved by Hofmann five years later, and in April 1943, he ingested a dose of the drug and experienced an hallucinogenic experience, later immortalized in "psychedelic rock" (or rock music which used electronics to aurally simulate an hallucinogenic experience) in psychedelia such as the British band Tomorrow's "My White Bicycle."

By January 1, 1960, however, drug researcher Dr. Humphry Osmond (pictured above) in a 1957 letter to Aldous Huxley, had already coined the term "psychedelic" to describe the effects of hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD-25, a neologism suggesting "mind manifesting." (See the epigraph to this blog entry.) It was under Dr. Osmond's supervision that Aldous Huxley first ingested mescalin, on 4 May 1953, at Huxley's home in Hollywood (around the time Johnny Cash saw Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison?) I hadn't even been conceived at the time Huxley took mescalin, although I had been by the time Huxley published The Doors of Perception, early in 1954, philosophic speculations prompted by his drug-taking experiments. I suppose I'm attracted to these dates in part because my birth, in late June 1954, occurred about four months after Huxley had published The Doors of Perception and about two weeks before Elvis Presley, while at Sun Records, recorded "That's All Right (Mama)." A little over a year later, Johnny Cash would record "Folsom Prison Blues."

What, then, was the link between drugs (and, especially, halluncinogenic drugs) and rock music? How and why did these two independent developments converge in the 1960s?Certainly drugs had been a part of the jazz scene for decades (Charlie Parker's addiction has been well-documented, and Louis Armstrong was a life-long smoker of marijuana), and perhaps became part of the rock scene through the interaction of jazz and (what would become) rock musicians. But rock musicians would seem to have been drawn to hallucinogenics, perhaps because they were perceived as more contemporary and perhaps because they were associated with the philosophic speculations of authors such as Aldous Huxley. Moreover, drugs such as mescalin (and therefore hallucinogenics in general) were associated, rightly or wrongly, with Native American ritualistic practices, and hence perceived as more "authentic" (in the Modernist mind associated with the "primitive") as opposed to the inauthentic, civilized (industrialized) world.

Serendipitously, the two movements converged in 1960, in the form of The Gamblers' 45 rpm single issued that year, "Moon Dawg," which contained, on the flip side, the instrumental "LSD-25."

Friday, January 4, 2008

What is 60x50?

"A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them. That is, he does not draw on a reservoir; instead, he engages in an activity that brings to him a whole process of unforeseen stories, poems, essays, plays [and] laws..."
--William Stafford, Writing the Australian Crawl

60x50 isn't so much of a blog as it is an experiment in invention. By "invention" I mean something similar to what invention has always meant, "discovery." William Stafford means much the same thing in the quotation above, taken from his book Writing the Australian Crawl. The existence of this blog is dedicated to Stafford's insight that a writer "is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them."

It is this idea which informs 60x50. So what, precisely, does the title of this blog, 60x50, mean? "60" refers to the year 1960, and "50" is the approximation of my age. Saying it out loud, you'd say "sixty by fifty." I was originally going to call my blog "60x60," but since I'm closer to 50 years of age at the moment than to sixty years, I called it 60x50 instead.

The year 1960? Why the year 1960? What's so significant or important about the year 1960? Is this an "historical" blog? What possibly could be so compelling about a blog devoted to the year 1960? The answer is, I don't know yet. This is a blog devoted to discovery.

My goal isn't to document the year 1960 so much as to make the year 1960 a means of invention, a way of inventing things to write about. Frankly, it's as good as any other year (or method of invention, for that matter) to write about, and while I was a five year old boy who turned six years old in June 1960, I don't remember it well, so it's not a year I know much about--which, I'm happy to say, violates a conventional rule about writing, that you should know something about the subject you're writing about. I'm not much interested in having the mass media choose my topics for me (sometimes called "newsworthiness"), so I decided to invent another.

Actually, I'd like to take credit for inventing the idea of using a specific year as a means of invention, but I can't. The famous Surrealist, André Breton (pictured above) pioneered the method, as he thought the initials of his name, AB, written in longhand, resembled the numbers in the year 1713 (imagine the letter A written like the letter H except closed on top, or the number 1 and the number 7 written with a strike-through). Intrigued by the resemblance, he began to research extensively the year 1713, believing that in the course of his investigation he could find out something about himself and his identity. Another Surrealist, Salvador Dali, called this form of research "paranoid-critical." So this blog is, as it were, based on the Surrealist method of being paranoid-critical. There's nothing in my initials that suggests a specific year to me, although the number 6 has always been highly significant to me in a Bretonian way, since each of the names that form my complete "proper name" has 6 letters in it, or 6-6-6. Spooky. I turned six years old in the 6th month (June) of 1960. Six years from 1960 is 1966 (double 6s) when I turned 12 years old (6 + 6), and six years after that, in 1972, I graduated from high school. 1972=1(9) + (7+2) or 9 + 9 or 18, or 6 + 6 + 6. I'd like to say I graduated high school at age 18, but I didn't. I was only 17--but very close to 18!

But again, why 1960? The inspiration for the method of 60x50 came from Breton, but the year itself is, in part, indebted to two books about Elvis Presley, who recorded his first, historic songs the summer I was born. (In fact, the first records at Sun were recorded only about two weeks after I was born.) One book, by Megan Murphy, is entitled Elvis is Back (Elvis Unlimited Productions, 2007), a day-by-day reconstruction of the year Elvis returned from Germany and was discharged from the Army--1960. And, as all Elvis fans know, there's a book by Peter Guralnick and Ernst Jorgensen entitled Elvis Day By Day (Ballantine, 1999) that's more ambitious in scope than Megan Murphy's Elvis is Back in that it tries to render Elvis's entire life day by day, not just one year in his life. Elvis was born in 1935, or 1 + 9 + 3 + 5=18 (or 6 + 6 + 6). I was born in 1954, or 1(9) + (5 + 4)=18 (or...).

So my idea is not entirely original, although perhaps my specific inventive method--using the year 1960--is so. I would like to emphasize, however, that I am not a Positivist, in the sense that if I merely accumulate enough data (in this case, dates and events), the world, miraculously, becomes meaningful. It is only the narrative--the cause and effect relationships--that one puts on these dates and places that makes all this data meaningful, although I hope to illuminate more about myself (and the world) than simply a novel way of constructing a narrative of recent history.

Will I stop once I reach December 31, 1960. I don't know. Perhaps I'll never reach that date at all in this blog. But if I do, perhaps I'll continue on into 1961, or maybe begin with a different year, I don't know, but in any case, I hope the results of this experiment in invention are not uninteresting.