FILM: Summer’s Here And The Time Is Right…

…For Watching Films Indoors ◆ by Craig J. Clark

According to Hollywood, the summer movie season has been in full swing since the beginning of May, but by the time July and August roll around, temperatures are sweltering enough that it just doesn’t pay to go outside, even if your destination is an air-conditioned screening room. That’s why, instead of putting yourself at the risk of sunstroke, it’s much better to stay put and watch one (or more) of these summery cinematic treats.

The mid-80s had no shortage of movies about how people chose to spend their summer vacation – or their lack of one as in Carl Reiner’s Summer School. In it, high school gym teacher Mark Harmon’s planned getaway to Hawaii is scuttled when he’s tapped to shepherd a class of misfits through a remedial English class. Helped along by fellow teacher Kirstie Alley (his requisite love interest), Harmon tries his best to engage his inattentive charges, which leads to much high-jinks, including a classroom screening of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Nothing spells “summer” like watching a movie where other people watch a movie.

From "Summer Rental"

“Summer Rental”

Carl Reiner was also responsible for Summer Rental, in which frazzled air-traffic controller John Candy is given some much-needed time off and uses it to take his family to Florida, where a cascading series of mishaps prevents him from getting much rest and relaxation. His plight does give rise to one of the mainstays of ’80s comedies, though: the montage sequence where everybody pitches in to fix something up. In this case, it’s a boat that Candy needs to get shipshape so he can win a regatta, a plot point that also figures into the Nantucket-set One Crazy Summer. Written and directed by Savage Steve Holland, the auteur behind the ’80s classic Better Off Dead, it’s about a singular season of screwiness during which hapless cartoonist John Cusack and his pals (whose ranks include Bobcat Goldthwait, Curtis Armstrong, and Joel – brother of Bill – Murray) band together to save Demi Moore’s grandfather’s house from being razed by some shady developers. (That’s another trope of ’80s movies that could inspire an article all its own.)

From "One Crazy Summer"

“One Crazy Summer”

If you don’t mind getting a little arty, boating is also central to Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika, which was his first film to make a splash on these shores, largely because its American distributor capitalized on the title character’s fleeting nudity by releasing it under the lurid title Monika, the Story of Bad Girl. Said bad girl is played by Bergman’s muse, Harriet Andersson, who convinces her boyfriend to steal his father’s boat so they can get away from Stockholm for a few months. Andersson returns in Smiles on a Summer Night, which was made two years later and deals with the romantic entanglements of several couples. A classic of world cinema (one of many Bergman would turn out over the course of his career), Smiles later inspired the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music and Woody Allen’s pastoral A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, which isn’t quite on the same level, but it’s still plenty funny.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream has been brought to the screen on a number of occasions – most notably in a 1935 adaptation with the once-in-a-lifetime cast of James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland and Mickey Rooney (as Puck) and one from 1999 that features Kevin Kline, Christian Bale, Rupert Everett, Michelle Pfeiffer and Sam Rockwell, among others – but if William Shakespeare seems too daunting, you can always give Tennessee Williams a try. First staged in 1958, Suddenly, Last Summer was adapted by Williams and Gore Vidal the following year for Joseph L. Mankiewicz to direct. In the process they had to skirt around some of the issues that the play addressed more directly, but Elizabeth Taylor remains a force of nature as a patient in a mental hospital whose vindictive aunt (Katharine Hepburn, who was nominated alongside Taylor for Best Actress) wants kindly lobotomist Montgomery Clift to go to work on her. Before he can do so, though, he has to get to the bottom of what happened the previous summer, suddenly.

From "Suddenly, Last Summer"

Elizabeth Taylor In “Suddenly, Last Summer”

Williams’s flair for the psychosexual reared its head again in 1961’s Summer and Smoke, based on his 1948 play. Directed by Peter Glenville, it’s about a wastrel of a bacteriologist (Laurence Harvey) and a repressed preacher’s daughter (Geraldine Page, earning her first of many Best Actress nominations) who live next door to each other in a small Southern town and are about the most incompatible would-be lovers as you could ever imagine. That doesn’t prevent Harvey from trying his best to drag Page down to his level over the course of a particularly sultry summer.

Those who wish to go abroad without actually leaving home would be advised to look up David Lean’s Summertime, which got the director hooked on location shooting. Set in Venice and filmed in glorious Technicolor, it stars Katharine Hepburn as a spinster fulfilling her lifelong dream of visiting that most photogenic of Italian cities. What she doesn’t anticipate is that she’ll fall in love with a handsome Italian in the process.

From "Early Summer"

“Early Summer”

If the Far East is more to your liking, you can visit Tokyo in Yasujiro Ozu’s Early Summer and The End of Summer. In the first, Ozu regular Setsuko Hara plays a young woman who wants a say when her family decides it’s time for her to get married, and in the second, released a decade later, she’s one of the daughters of a widower who takes up with his old mistress. As is Ozu’s practice, both films are punctuated by shots of the Japanese countryside and downtown Tokyo, making them a miniature travelogue.

Doubling back to Europe, why not spend a couple of Summer Hours in the French countryside? In the 2008 film, which comes complete with the Criterion seal of approval, a family that is widely dispersed has to figure out what to do with their estate when matriarch Edith Scob dies. All three of her adult children have their own ideas about what to do with it, but as writer/director Olivier Assayas observes, it is the next generation that will be most keenly affected by their decision.

If beating the heat isn’t high on your agenda, then turn off the air conditioning to get the full effect of the sweltering Summer of Sam. Directed by Spike Lee, whose Do the Right Thing proves that he knows how to evoke a hot summer’s day, the film is set in New York City in the summer of 1977 when the Son of Sam was on the loose and tempers flared across the boards. Of course, if you’d rather not be reminded of real-life horrors, there’s always Red Hook Summer, in which Lee reprised his role from Do the Right Thing. Like Summer of Sam, that one had a hard time finding an audience and divided critics, but perhaps it plays better when people can watch it in the comfort of their own homes.

Oddly enough, Red Hook Summer could have easily been an alternate title for I Know What You Did Last Summer, which is about what happens when a quartet of fresh-scrubbed television stars is stalked by the Gorton’s Fisherman. Photogenic young people are frequently the focus of contemporary horror movies, especially those that take place at summer camps, but it took the makers of I Know What You Did Last Summer and its follow-ups – I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer – to put the word right in their titles. I cannot in good conscience recommend that you watch any of them, though (unless you’re nostalgic for the days when Jennifer Love Hewitt and Freddie Prinze, Jr. were considered bankable stars). Instead, why not cool off with an affectionate send-up of summer-camp movies?

From "Wet Hot American Summer"

“Wet Hot American Summer”

Set on the last day of summer camp in the Catskills, way back in the mists of time (also known as 1981, making it the spiritual successor of the Bill Murray vehicle Meatballs), Wet Hot American Summer was the debut feature of David Wain, who co-wrote it with fellow State alum Michael Showalter and stacked the cast with troupe members Michael Ian Black, Ken Marino and Joe Lo Truglio, plus such ringers as Janeane Garfalo, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler and H. Jon Benjamin. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that if you’ve watched any American comedy film or television series in the past decade, you could have seen (or, in the case of Benjamin, heard) half its cast here first. Few did, though, because Wain’s film received a critical drubbing and at best a token theatrical release in the doldrums of 2001, but in the years since it’s attracted a sizable cult audience. If you’re not yet a part of it, now’s your chance to hop aboard.

The Ryder ◆ July 2013

FILM: Wait ‘Til Your Father Gets Home

Movies to Watch on Father’s Day ◆ by Craig J. Clark

On television, fathers may think they know best, but at the movies they aren’t always so sure-footed. Whether they like to admit it or not, they can’t all be Atticus Finch.  As portrayed by Oscar winner Gregory Peck and brought to the screen by Robert Mulligan,  Atticus is the father to the impressionable young Scout and her brother Jem in To Kill a Mockingbird.  He is the preeminent upright father figure, but few of his peers can ever hope to measure up to him.

 Not that they don’t try their best, of course. In Terrence Malick’s Palme d’Or-winning The Tree of Life, Brad Pitt attempts to instill his values in his three sons, but the eldest (who grows up to be emotionally distant architect Sean Penn) chafes against his authoritarian stance. The same goes for Burl Ives as Big Daddy in Richard Brooks’s adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Based on the play by Tennessee Williams, which lost some of its subtext in the transition, Cat finds Ives struggling to relate to his grown son Brick (Paul Newman) and mostly failing, but they eventually reach a kind of mutual understanding.

Finding a way to relate to his family is also foremost on the mind of Gene Hackman in Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums. Long absent from the scene, he has his work cut out for him with his adult children (financial wiz Ben Stiller, moody playwright Gwyneth Paltrow, tennis pro Luke Wilson) who all blame him for the ways they’ve faltered in their lives. It’s hard to get more estranged, though, than Jack Lemmon is from his son in Costa-Gavras’s gripping political drama Missing. Another winner at Cannes, taking home the Palme d’Or and Best Actor for Lemmon, it’s a true story set in the aftermath of Chile’s 1973 coup and sees the deeply conservative Lemmon coming to a political awakening as he tries to find his activist son, who has disappeared without a trace.

Albert Brooks has a bit more luck as an animated clownfish in Pixar’s Finding Nemo, which turns a parent’s worst nightmare – a child being snatched away right in front of their eyes – into a thrilling and frequently hilarious adventure. That’s definitely a far cry from the work of writer/director Lodge Kerrigan. In his debut, Clean, Shaven, newly released mental patient Peter Greene attempts to track down his daughter in his own unhinged fashion, and his later film Keane follows a desperate Damian Lewis obsessed with finding his young daughter, who was abducted from New York City’s Port Authority Bus Terminal. The way Kerrigan gets inside his characters’ heads, you feel for them almost as much as you fear for their dwindling sanity (and realize that even if they found their children that might not be the best thing for either of them).

A kidnapping is also central to the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low, only this time the twist is that instead of the son of industrialist Toshiro Mifune, the perpetrators take his chauffeur’s son instead – and then insist that he still pay the ransom. There’s a great deal of tension in the first half of the film as Mifune debates whether he’s willing to ruin himself financially for the sake of another man’s son, but when his chauffeur pleads with him, one father to another, he knows he can’t refuse.

A father’s desire to protect his offspring is the driving force behind Orson Welles’s Mr. Arkadin as well, but it manifests itself in a completely different way. In addition to writing and directing, Welles also plays the title character, a filthy rich man of the world with a murky past who hires a private detective to dig up whatever dirt can be found on him – largely so his daughter (Paola Mori) will never hear about it. On the other side of the fence, Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone knows all about his father’s dirty dealings in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, but Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) tries to keep him out of the family business anyway (and we all know how that works out).

For some fathers, protecting their children is their way of atoning for past mistakes. In Firestarter, based on the Stephen King novel, David Keith is on the run from a sinister government agency that is really after his pyrokinetic daughter (Drew Barrymore). Of course, she would have been a completely normal little girl if Keith and his wife hadn’t taken part in a government experiment in college that left them with residual (but weak) psychic powers. Little did they know what they would be passing on to the next generation.

A similar situation is found in David Cronenberg’s Scanners, although in that case the mutation was the unexpected side effect of a pregnancy drug developed by scientist Patrick McGoohan, who subsequently withdraws himself from the lives of his two sons. That they grow up to be bitter rivals, battling for control of his legacy, is something he never could have foreseen, but at least McGoohan makes it up to the young brother (protagonist Stephen Lack) in his own way. Elder brother Michael Ironside, on the other hand, is a lot less forgiving.

Continuing the theme, it’s never explicitly stated where pint-sized Danny Torrance gets his telepathic power from in Stephen King’s The Shining, memorably brought to the big screen by Stanley Kubrick, but it’s intimated that his father Jack (a scenery-chewing Jack Nicholson) also has a touch of it. Instead of leading to father-son bonding, though, it merely leaves Nicholson more open to the malevolent influence of the Overlook Hotel, which eventually drives him to try to murder his wife and son, echoing the actions of a previous caretaker.

Jack Torrance may not be a candidate for Father of the Year, but at least he can blame his crack-up on a combination of cabin fever and supernatural forces beyond his control. In contrast, John Meillon, who plays the father in Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout, has no such excuses, and we never do find out what prompts him to drive to the Australian outback with his two children (a teenaged Jenny Agutter and Roeg’s own son, billed as Lucien John) and try to shoot them before turning the gun on himself. This also causes their car to go up in flames, stranding Agutter and John, so it’s a good thing they’re soon befriended by an Aboriginal youth (David Gulpilil) on walkabout who guides them back to civilization.

A car accident of a different sort is what precipitates the action in Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, in which an outwardly noble surgeon (Pierre Brasseur) kidnaps young women in an effort to restore his daughter’s beauty since he feels responsible for her disfigurement. Shocking in its day for its graphic face-transplant scene, the film also manages to get under the skin with its chillingly poetic imagery thanks to Edith Scob’s performance as the daughter, who glides through most of the film in a featureless mask. Brasseur gets points for his dedication to her, but what he really needed was to find another, less destructive, outlet for it.

Knowing when to let go can be hard, but one of the most important things a father can do in the movies is give his daughter away to another man, as widower Chishu Ryu demonstrates in Yasujiro Ozu’s Late Spring and An Autumn Afternoon. Made 13 years apart, the films bookend the final stretch of Ozu’s long career and find Ryu playing characters that comes to realize their adult daughter needs to be married off before they’re consigned to the life of an old maid. Don’t think their plots are identical, though. Ozu may have been fond of remaking his own films and reusing certain plot devices, but he always knew how to spin them in such a way that they always felt novel.

Things are a bit more lighthearted in both versions of Father of the Bride, which were made four decades apart. In the first, directed by Vincente Minnelli, Spencer Tracy is the doting dad overwhelmed by the hectic arrangements surrounding the wedding of his darling daughter (Elizabeth Taylor). In the second, directed by Charles Shyer, Steve Martin takes over the role, which means the emphasis is placed more on his physical comedy. At the end of the day, though, all he wants is to make sure his daughter’s big day goes off without a hitch (and doesn’t bankrupt him). You can’t ask for a better wedding present than that.

The Ryder

A Tale Of Two Brothers

When the Buddha Came to Bloomington ◆ by Filiz Cicek

Jigme Norbu walked alone along the edge of the Florida highway. It was a dark night and the white line along the road was his only means of navigation. Jigme had already logged 7,800 miles to free Tibet from Chinese occupation. His father, Thubten Jigme Norbu, the elder brother of the 14th Dalai Lama, had initiated these Independence Walks across America for peace and freedom.

Thubten Norbu (Left) With His Brother, The Dalai Lama

It had been a long day in the hot Florida sun. But in a few minutes Jigme would arrive at his rendezvous point, where he would meet his traveling companions.

There were no streetlights and the little natural light that filtered down from the moon and stars was obscured by trees that lined the side of the road. Consequently the driver of the dark grey Kia could not see Jigme; he was pronounced dead at the scene at 7:30 p.m. on February 14th, 2011. He was 45 years old.

In 1949, Jigme’s father, Rinpoche Thubten Jigme Norbu, had been courted by the Chinese government to convince his brother, the14th Dalai Lama, to welcome the Chinese army into Tibet. If his younger brother could not be persuaded, he was told, more drastic methods would have to be considered. Pretending to comply, Norbu visited his brother as the Chinese asked, but only to warn him about their plans to assassinate him.

Norbu decided to flee and left Tibet in 1950. He traveled to the US with the help of the Church World Service and the CIA. His brother would later follow suit and leave Tibet in 1959 to Dharamsala, India, where he teaches and governs to this day.

From the moment  Norbu left Tibet, he became a “freedom fighter,” as his son Kunga puts it. First, however, Norbu had to learn English.  At a formal event a waiter in a tuxedo imitated a chicken for him in an effort to describe what would be served for dinner. Norbu then wrote the words “roasted chicken” on a scrap of paper and would present it in restaurants when ordering.  “He ate roasted chicken for a very long time,” notes Kunga, until he bettered his English skills. Eventually he would be fluent in six languages, teaching as a professor at Indiana University.

While in New York he held odd jobs to make ends meet. One of these was at Macy’s at Herald Square. He greeted customers as they came in, directing them to appropriate departments such as ladies undergarments or menswear. Later as a curator of Tibetan artifacts at the Museum of Natural History, he was able to travel around the world and raise awareness about the situation in Tibet.

When she left Tibet, Jigme’s mother, Kunyang, was eight years old. She was 16 when she arrived in the States. Her youngest son Jigme was one month old when she traveled to Bloomington, together with two older sons and her husband to make her future home in the cornfields. Had the baby been born earlier, the family would have settled in Geneva, Switzerland. “He wouldn’t pop out,” she says laughing.

Mrs. Norbu (Center) Arrives In The US

Mrs. Norbu would take up her husband’s cause, doing her part to fight for the Independent Tibet behind the scenes.  “You would never see me quoted in the newspapers. I never gave interviews then.”

Once in Bloomington Professor Norbu established the Tibetan Studies program, what was then known as Uralic Altaic Studies at Indiana University. After the Canada family, heirs to Eli Lilly, donated land, Norbu and his family went to work and together they started the Tibetan Cultural Center (TCC) in 1979, currently the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center (TMBCC).

“He had spent all his energy and all our little livelihood there, to preserve the Tibetan culture,”  Mrs. Norbu recounted. They planted trees, and slowly began to shape what today is the TMBCC. Kunga took up the responsibility of mowing the grass, which would take a few days given the size of the land.

The first Stupa was built as a memorial to the Tibetans who died during the uprising against the Chinese Occupation. It was the first of its kind in North America and later duplicated throughout the world. It is a very involved process, says Mrs. Norbu. It entails many rituals, precisely placed sacred relics, and hundreds of mantras. “We xeroxed thousands and thousands of pages of Tibetan books and transcripts,” Mrs. Norbu explains, which were then placed inside the dome. Also included in the dome were “the hair pieces, of all the Dalai Lamas, starting with the first Dalai Lama all the way to the 14th Dalai Lama…, “My father put them in there,” explains Kunga,  “as well as the ashes of my grandmother.”

Now sitting at Turkuaz Café on Third Street, one of Kunga’s and his brother Jigme’s favorite places to eat, Mrs. Norbu and her son remember those days fondly—how they planted each tree and transported water in milk cartons to water them. Later someone donated a little money, and a water line was installed. “We were so excited!” notes Mrs. Norbu. Then the buildings and temples were built with the help of volunteers and more donations. The Kumbum Chamtse Ling Temple as well as the Center was intended mainly for His Holiness to have his private headquarters. “My husband had seen His Holiness travel all the time and stay in hotels and surrounded by many people, so he said ‘why don’t we build this little building, so he can come sometimes when he is traveling, quietly he can come and spend two or three days of relaxation, that was his aim.”

The Dalai Lama has visited Bloomington six times, most recently in 2010 to pay respects to his late brother, who passed away in 2008. During an earlier visit the Dalai Lama saw his brother alive for the last time, and “it was a special moment” says Mrs. Norbu. “I brought him in a wheel chair and the two of them put their foreheads together, staying in that position and in silence for a long time, finally tears streaming from the  His Holiness’ face, my husband was also crying. It was amazing how they communicated, not verbally.” Afterwards the Dalai Lama would send Para Rinpoche to stay with his brother until he died eight months later. After her husband’s death Mrs. Norbu left the TMBCC and moved to Seattle, where members of her family still lived. Meanwhile the Dalai Lama had appointed a new administrator, Arjia Rinpoche.

“We all feel good that we have all done our part; our only hope is that Arjia Rinpoche is doing things to preserve the Tibetan culture,” says Mrs. Norbu. “We also have to remember who started the Center,” adds Kunga, “and that everything that my father had started and done out there has to be preserved.”

Though she has been invited, Mrs. Norbu has not been back to the Center since she left Bloomington. “Too many memories…, when I am stronger, I will go back and check how things are going.  My hope is that Arjia Rinpoche will continue what my husband has built. An extra fancy looking little thing is not important to me, the important thing is to give the message out about what is happening in Tibet. It is all related to Mongolia now, I don’t know why. Did you see that there are no Tibetans out there?” The Center was renamed in 2007 after Arjia Rinpoche’s arrival (he is a Tibetan of Mongolian decent), to reflect the commitment to Mongolian representation. In an article in Bloom magazine in November 2012, Rinpoche said one of the missions of the TMBCC is to establish an interfaith program open to all, including local Mongolians because they “have nowhere to go.” The increase in Mongolian presence might have caused local Tibetans to attend religious services and cultural events at the Indiana Buddhist Center in Indianapolis instead.

In 1995, Norbu co-founded the International Tibet Independence Movement in a further effort to free Tibet from the Chinese occupation. The Dalai Lama, however, chose a different path: the “middle way” approach, which aims to achieve peace through non-violence, mutual benefit, unity of nationalities, and social stability. The 14th Dalai Lama opposes policies and sanctions that might harm the average Chinese citizen. He is also concerned for the safety of Tibetans in Tibet, Mrs. Norbu says; he doesn’t want to say or do anything that might make life harder for them than it already is. “I respect him,” she adds, “but at the same time it is up to people like us to speak up for the Tibetans back home. People in Tibet have to burn themselves in order to be visible, to be heard.”

“And as they die,” adds Kunga, “their slogan is ‘Long Live the Dalai Lama,  Free Tibet’, not ‘Long Live the Dalai Lama, and the middle way’.”  He believes that while people might not verbalize their desire for an independent Tibet while the Dalai Lama is alive, nonetheless that is what the majority wants.

Since the middle way approach is also an important philosophical teaching in Buddhism, I ask if, as the religious figure of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is trying to practice what he preaches? Moreover, as a self-proclaimed simple monk, perhaps it would be difficult for him to take a more aggressive stand against China.

“Yes, it is hard to be a religious person and the political leader at the same time, it doesn’t work and that is why he had resigned as the head of the Tibetan government,” responds Mrs. Norbu. “My husband and I were very free to speak but when you are working for the exile government you have to be careful. I think what His Holiness doesn’t realize is that the ones in Tibet are dependent on people like us. They [the two brothers] had a different approach to handling the Chinese occupation but they loved and respected each other.”

The first Independence Walk took place in 1995; Norbu walked from Bloomington to Indianapolis together with two other supporters. That was followed by a 300 mile walk from the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC, to the United Nations headquarters in New York. “He felt obligated to people back home to do something, and he never changed his goal,” explains Mrs. Norbu. Previously he had worked with the CIA to further the Tibetan cause, to recruit and train Khampa fighters, from the toughest Tibetan tribe to be infiltrated into the borderlands of China. According to the 2008 obituary in The Guardian “Norbu’s name appears in reports of secret training camps in the Colorado Rockies and on the Pacific island of Saipan.” In the end the US covert operations were unsuccessful and came to a halt in 1970s with Richard Nixon’s new China policy which sought to better relations between US and China. Determined nevertheless to fight for Free Tibet, Norbu did one last walk from Toronto to New York; he was then in his 70s. When he fell ill, his youngest son took up the cause and began to carry the torch until he was struck by a car in Florida.  On March 23rd his widow, Yaling, is holding a fundraiser for the Ambassador of Peace organization, which had helped sponsor Jigme’s Independence Walks, at Café Django on March 23rd in her husband’s honor to raise money to fund the future freedom walks for Tibet.

Jigme Norbu And His Father, Thubten

Mrs. Norbu is somewhat hopeful that as the old generation of leaders die off and the new generation of Chinese travel abroad and access free information about Tibet, the situation might change. Kunga remains cautious however, “nothing much has changed in 50 years; we watched a government drive a tank against its own citizens at Tiananmen Square.”

“We are against the policies of the Chinese government, not the Chinese people” concludes Mrs. Norbu. Similar sentiments are echoed by the Dalai Lama in his various public statements, aiming to win the hearts and minds of the Chinese people regarding Tibet.

Others now follow in Norbu and Jigme’s footsteps, taking part in Independence Walks across the country. While Kunga walks for freedom, Mrs. Norbu will travel back to Seattle to raise funds for Tibetan refugees.

“We are the voice of Tibet outside of Tibet.” says Mrs. Norbu, “Perhaps someday my grandchildren will take up the cause like their father and grandfather. Who knows?”

The Ryder, March 2013

LETTERS: If You Brand Too Deep, The Worms Will Get In

Inhabiting, Crossing-Over & Crossing-Out Textual Space in Crispin Glover’s/W.M. Baker’s Novel, “Oak-Mot” (1868 & 1991) ◆ by Christopher Martiniano

The 1868 American novel, Oak-Mot written by the Right Rev. William M. Baker, Pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, is largely forgettable and mostly forgotten. Baker’s sentimental story sprawls, while its family ranges and ultimately settles a new home in a place called Oak-Mot. Baker’s original book, in the hands of actor, artist, filmmaker, author, songwriter, singer and provocateur, Crispin Hellion Glover, is radically transformed. Glover published his version of Oak-Mot almost 125 years later in 1991, sharing with the original novel many of the same characters, much of the same text, many of the same chapter headings as well as the same typeset, printed pages. Besides these similarities however, Glover re-inhabits and radically transgresses Baker’s traditionally bound novel and transforms it into a worm-ridden, postmodern palimpsest. Glover’s palimpsest, however, operates much differently than the traditional definition of it used by manuscript scholars and historians.

Historically, a palimpsest is a parchment or other writing surface on which the original text has been effaced or partially erased, and then overwritten by another. In Glover’s palimpsest, however, he takes over the original pages, its characters and ultimately the story with what Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) called in 1987 his “hierographics.” Without total erasure, Glover effaces the original text with thin tendrils of India ink that sprawl across the page and reframe Baker’s pages. These spindly black cross-outs and white outs cover over many of the original words and passages; scrawled, handwritten words, sketches, and scratches that couple with the ominous, re-worked photography and illustration to recolor Baker’s novel. In an act of near total, palimpsestuous (to borrow a wonderful word from literary critic Sarah Dillon) effacement, the foundation of Baker’s Oak-Mot can barely be seen beneath the rising blackness of Glover’s Oak-Mot.

Due to these hierographics, the surfaces of Baker’s original novel are nearly unrecognizable. Describing his own method in an interview with The Ryder, Glover speaks of the organic growth of a narrative, from page-to-page beginning with a scrawl and ending with a coherent story. He says,
Old books from the 1800s…have been changed in to different books. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs…. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a bookstore upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800s and someone had put their artwork inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing…. I worked a lot with India ink at the time and was using the India ink on the original pages to make various art. I had always liked words in art and left some of the words on one of the pages. I did this again a few pages later and then when I turned the pages I noticed that a story started to naturally form and so I continued with this.

By his own admission, Glover originally began drawing and scrawling within found books as a means to create and house his own pictorial art — framed “inside the binding.” Oak-Mot and 12 other Glover books as well as his sculpture were first displayed at LACE in late 1987. And on a Late Show with David Letterman episode a few weeks before this exhibition, Glover showed Letterman his book Rat Catching in its original, pre-published form. Letterman asked, “Are these actual, earlier publications?” and Glover answered — or rather, nervously stammered through the answer — “I remade them.”

According to a press release by LACE in 1987, Glover’s was a “Bookstore Exhibition” and his books were “created within an existing book altered by his writing and imagery interwoven into the original narrative, the works included found photographs, bookplates and the author’s own system of hierographics”.

Of course fiction is a form of art but but Glover’s narrative art insists on the difference between using a book as a medium to create pictorial, sequential or sculptural art and creating a palimpsestuous narrative in novel. But what is it? Oak-Mot is a book in form if not a novel but more importantly, a palimpsestuous hybrid narrative of text and graphic, found object and invention, emergence and burial. The coherence of the narrative, outside of plot derives from Glover’s hierographics that create fairly simple thematic and affective juxtapositions by blocking out or burying much of the text from the original 220-page novel.

Recently described in an interview as “whimsical vagrancy,” Glover’s re-habitation of Oak-Mot, like his other books, radically re-shapes and wanders over the original text, often supplementing it as much as he builds over and conceals it, then quickly leaving that portion of the structure to begin a new one. What makes Glover’s Oak-Mot particularly “vagrant” or homeless and ultimately unsettled is his rebuilding the novel with patches and layers of lacunae — or holes and pits in the Latin sense of the word. This is not to say that the text is constructed from negativities or absences but that each page’s surface is a ruined yet annexed landscape of pits, ditches, channels and gullies in which parts of the original text are buried or layered over by new textual/graphical formations. The first three pages of Glover’s palimpsest, for example, are pages 7, 10 and 17 of Baker’s original. This new sequence, undermined by traditional lacunae or absence, is narratively cohered by the layering of Glover’s hierographics that connect and juxtapose passages of text that shockingly shift to new episodes and/or introduce new characters and locales.

Glover’s mark-outs or burials of the original grow organically out of and in the text, the various spindly lines emanate from the amoebic, black boxes as tendrils. These many black scrawls and scratches act more like worms or better still, channels or trenches that mark the path of a worm through Baker’s original prairie. The only recurring text of Glover’s Oak-Mot that originates in Baker’s is on page 94. Glover carries the macabre, “The worms will get in. They will get in” through his version of Oak-Mot. It occurs again at the bottom of page 101, “The worms will get in” and at the bottom of page 188 in very large, horrific and elongated letters, “The worms will get in”. The first of six selections from Oak-Mot that Glover reads for his accompanying CD ends with the dramatic flourish of the music on an echoing guitar’s E minor chord and Glover’s whisper repeating, “They will get in. The Worms will get in.”

Worms are of course hermaphroditic, each individual possessing both male and female reproductive organs, thus making them perverse mirrors of themselves from one end to another. Glover’s worms too, are hermaphroditic in the metaphoric sense, being both textual and graphical. Pages 58-59, for instance, show the worms channeling across the surface of the page, over the reworked photograph and encircling the text, burrowing across the gulley separating the two pages connecting Adry, the new Uncle and Prosy, culminating in the text, “Adry is a little wrong in his mind” just below the ghost-like image above it (59). Glover worms, like real ones, devour the surface of Baker’s original novel and deposit or secrete black residue upon his pages, building up new surfaces that bury and/or annex the newly cohered text of the restructured Oak-Mot. Glover’s worms operate as palinodes, which means “recantation” or literally from the Greek, “to sing again” as Glover re-narrates Baker’s original text.

Editor’s note: Excerpted from a longer essay that was presented at Indiana University’s conference, “Collections & Collaborations: Occupied: Taking up Space and Time”, March 22, 2012.

The Ryder, February 2013

The Stunt On Page 3

by Danusha V. Goska

Some years back I was watching a televised discussion about the existence of God. I felt compelled to email the atheist participant. To my great surprise, he responded. Our exchange continued for a year. We debated the existence of God, and we fell in love.

Two years after our relationship ended, I wrote Save Send Delete, an account of our email debate and affair. It was an act of courage for me to argue, in the book, for my Christian faith. I am an imperfect and unorthodox Christian. I actively support gay rights. I am a feminist. I am critical of the Catholic Church that baptized and educated me and that collects my donations in its weekly baskets. I lay claim to no Christian celebrity. I possess no snapshot of myself with the pope. I don’t even have a photo of myself with my parish priest. What right do I have to argue for Christian faith?

Upon reflection, I realized that it was my very imperfections, unorthodoxy, and plebian status that might lend value to my work. Save Send Delete isn’t about the Christ, or the Christianity, of power, perfection or piety. Save Send Delete is about one flesh-and-blood seeker’s encounter with Jesus Christ.

Warning: Nudity

I sent the manuscript to secular publishers. They attacked. I received a typical rejection from the publisher of a small but trendy house, one with one of those offbeat and pretentious-in-its-lack-of-pretentiousness names, something like Used Handkerchief Publishing or Chipped Coffee Cup Press. Or maybe it was the one with the outdoorsy, New Age label – Clouds of Bodhisattva Books or Cougar’s Spit Ink.

This trendy publisher’s rejection leaked more corrosion than an abandoned car battery. This was a practically audible email, with its own volume – eleven – and its own pitch – fever. It’s a truism among writers that literary agents, editors and publishers have no time. Once they reject your work, you are not to linger in their inbox, not to send any follow-up messages, and not to expect any. I sent a follow-up message: “Having a bad day?”

He wrote back. Immediately. More outrage. It’s Christians like you, he insisted, who stone gays, and prevent evolution from being taught in schools, and burn witches.

“It is?” I responded. Just those two, two-letter words were enough to bait him into a page and a half of fresh outrage.

I wrote back. “May I help you?” You bet he wrote back. Five times.

I began sending query letters to Christian presses. I received equally impassioned but differently reasoned rejections. One publisher sent a lengthy letter praising my writing. He said that Save Send Delete “emasculates” atheist arguments. But then he brought the hammer down, in a sentence I don’t think I’ll ever forget. “You can’t use the word ‘blowjob’ in a Christian book.”

My first reaction – had I used the word “blowjob”? I checked. There it was, on the third page of the manuscript. I suddenly remembered a previous rejection. That one had said that people like me didn’t do Christianity any good, and “I recoiled from the stunt you pulled on page three.” At the time, I was blank. What “stunt” on page 3? Now I understood.

In the 1943 novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn about the lives of impoverished Irish immigrants, young Francie Nolan submits to her teacher writing assignments that describe her own, real life. “Poverty, starvation, and drunkenness are ugly,” this teacher tells little Francie. “We admit these things exist, but one doesn’t write about them…. The writer, like the artist, must strive for beauty, always… stop writing these sordid little stories.”

Francie must look up the word “sordid.” She discovers it means “filthy.” She is crushed.

I felt like Francie Nolan. I’m also the child of immigrants. I did not realize that snooty Christian editors, my presumed social superiors, would assess my natural speech patterns as “filthy.”

Ephesians 4:29 counsels against “foul” language, but, it continues, speak “only such as is good for needed edification.” Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you know how you should respond to each one.” Each of these verses emphasizes that speech must be honed to fit its context. The Amplified Bible makes this most clear in its translation of Ephesians 4:29: proper speech “is fitting to the need and the occasion.”

I’m a working class girl from New Jersey. We use the conventional swearwords more than many other demographics. These are basic words that translate, variously, as “Ouch,” “I’m shocked,” “Listen,” or “Nonsense!” Used judiciously, these words are not foul, but, rather, serve excellently for needed edification. We value grace in speech, and we value the seasoning, the salt.

In 2005, Princeton University Press (in New Jersey!) published Prof. Harry Frankfurt’s book entitled On Bullshit. Frankfurt and Princeton argued that no other word could have communicated exactly what “bullshit” communicated. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug,” said Mark Twain. Words are power — power Christians are commanded by God to harness.

If Christians decide not to mention, when mention is called for, a given aspect of life, their speech is not edifying, it is not seasoned with salt. Jesus modeled this in his longest recorded conversation, the conversation with the Woman at the Well. In John 4:18, with the mercilessness of a film noir antihero, Jesus states the erotic facts of this woman’s life. It’s hard not to be shocked by his bluntness, but it is his bluntness that causes her to state, in the very next verse, “I can see that you are a prophet.”

After the rejection that accused me of pulling a “stunt,” I thought of the graphics on the webpages of Christian publishers. Puppies and kittens. Ponies and daisies. Soft focus and airbrushed. These warm and fuzzy graphics communicated Christianity-as-Barcalounger, Christianity as a soft, fat piece of furniture one could occupy when one wanted to feel sheltered and smug. I thought of the view outside my window. I see garbage, a bar, gang members. I see my neighbor, a single mother from the Dominican Republic, with determined gait, heading to her job as a nurse’s aide. I see her fatherless son, obese, leaning on a fence, far from any playing field, on his face the resignation of a caged animal, a life-form suspended by boredom and neglect till death or explosion.

I thought of the vocabulary necessary to converse with my students about their most pressing concerns. My students don’t approach me to have urgent, one-on-one conversations about puppies or kittens. These conversations never require multi-syllable, abstract, Latin nouns: sola scriptura, actus purus, transubstantiation. My students need to talk about pain, and the obscene vocabulary of abuse, betrayal, and exploitation. They need to confess to the orgy at a tacky Route 3 motel, the boyfriend who impregnated, the girlfriend who teased, and then ran. They need to talk about mom’s boyfriend who takes her daughter into the basement of the public housing complex and rapes her. They need to disgorge the words that name the unique nausea caused by the deaths of those who should not die. Nice words need not apply.

If Christians quarantine this vocabulary, they relegate these conversations to non-Christians who are all too ready to use these words. Atheists don’t have any problem with using the vocabulary needed to talk about sex or pain or bodily functions. And so my students, if turned away by me on the basis on of the inadmissibility of necessary words, would simply turn to atheists.

This relegation of discussion of the most intimate, the most intense, the most telling and testing moments of life to non-Christians is both tragic and farcical. If Jesus does not belong in that basement with that inner city girl being raped, Jesus does not belong anywhere.

Billy Graham used the word “blowjob.” Pope John Paul II used the word “blowjob.” Mother Teresa used the word “blowjob.” They’ve used the word, either out loud or internally, because it names an inescapable part of life. Since we all know that we’ve all spoken, or at least thought, the word, a public pretense that we have never used it, or that we live on the planet where this vocabulary word is not necessary, suggests that we require phoniness in order to be Christian.

Technology places office workers in Kansas into competition with office workers in Bangalore. Technology also places Christianity into instant competition with ancient traditions like Hinduism, invented ones like Neo-Paganism, as well as atheism. Only a Christianity vital in its authenticity will survive these debates. On this playing field, we can’t afford to anesthetize our language. We need to be able to address the panoply of human experience, as did Jesus himself.

The Ryder, February 2013

Smile Trek

He traveled across Southeast Asia, on footFrom The Diary of Winston Fiore

Bloomington-native Winston Fiore recently completed a 5,000-mile trek across Southeast Asia. After graduating from Bloomington North High School, Winston joined AmeriCorps, America’s voluntary national service program. In 2007, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and spent three weeks training in Senegal. As a middle-class American, his eyes were opened by the sight of children scavenging through garbage and women carrying water on their heads for great distances. Amid the poverty and cultural differences that surrounded his experience there, Fiore found himself inspired to make global changes — in his own way. After returning from duty in Afghanistan last year, Winston decided to form his own charity project and then embarked on his 5,000-mile walk, which he calls Smile Trek, in an effort to raise funds and awareness for facial-reconstructive surgeries in the developing world.

Winston Fiore

 

Winston’s parents own Bloomington’s legendary Le Petit Café where Winston will be hosting a benefit dinner on Thursday, March 7; all proceeds will be donated to the International Children’s Surgical Foundation. ICSF’s founder and principle surgeon, Dr. Geoff Williams, will speak. For more information about the benefit or to make a reservation contact Winston at (812) 272.2686 or at winstonfiore@gmail.com

What follow are excerpts from Winston’s blog describing some of his experiences along the road.

Locals often ask me what I’m up to. Apparently a westerner walking up to a roadside eatery donned in a bulky load-bearing vest in middle-of-nowhere rural Malaysia is not a common scene. So I tell them I’m walking across Southeast Asia. Without fail, they reply, “walking?!”, with emphasis on the second syllable, as if their incredulousness doesn’t kick in until half way through the word. “Yes, walking.”

Refined sugar fuels the Malaysian. It is a force of habit, a bien-entendu, a fact of life. Malaysians go so far as to add simple syrup to their coconut water, and their tea makes Sunny Delight taste like distilled water. “Milk” refers to a pallid, condensed corn syrup that is added to tea/coffee to make it even sweeter. I learned long ago to simply preface every beverage order with, “No sugar please,” no matter how ridiculous such a request may seem. I once came across real cow’s milk – a rare find – at an eatery and ordered a glass. “Surely,” I naively thought, “I don’t need to specify that I don’t want sweetener added to a glass of milk.” The glass arrived with a halfinch mound of sugar grains caked to the bottom. Sometimes, beverages arrive with added sugar even after my precautionary request. Most likely, this is due to force of habit, but I like to picture the shopkeep in the back, wittingly adding sugar by the spoonful, shaking his head as he chuckles to himself, “Silly American, asking for no sugar in his coffee. He has obviously lost his way, but I will show him the light.”

The rainy season has finally arrived, and with it, Murphy’s Law. Thick black clouds may billow across every square inch of sky, but taking preemptive cover only postpones the downpour. Water doesn’t fall until the instant I decide to begin walking again. A particularly memorable instance occurred a couple weeks ago. The sky betokened a thunderstorm, as usual, and a long bridge lay ahead of me. I decided to press on, fingers crossed that I’d come across shelter on the other side in case of rain. Naturally, the sky fell the minute I reached the top, and the landscape before me was roofless as far as the eye could see. I walked for miles, sandwiched between never-ending oil palm plantations. It was approaching nightfall, I was drenched, and any promise of dinner seemed long gone. As I began accepting the fact that I’d be camping on yet another plantation, which I hate doing because they are teeming with mosquitos, a nondescript road-sign appeared out of nowhere. On it were the words “Teluk Intan Golf & Country Club” with an arrow pointing down an intersecting backroad. Through some twisted sense of humor, the gods, having just made my last two hours a living misery, were now dangling a carrot. With nothing to lose, I took the hint.

A secret garden unfolded before me: mowed grass, manmade lakes, a swimming pool, sports cars. I entered the massive building that stood at the head of the country club. Not only was the house restaurant open for business, but the owner bought me dinner, let me use the showers, and allowed me to set up camp in the lobby! I took advantage of the powerful ceiling fans, and my boots, socks, and clothes were bone dry by the time I hit the road the following morning. It’s a funny thing when such poor fortune is so quickly reversed by good luck.

I spent one night in a Muslim graveyard. I hadn’t intended to, but every once in a while, you get caught in an urban area when the sun goes down. In towns, where prospective campsites are few and far between, cemeteries are a godsend. They’re quiet (dead quiet), secluded, dimly lit, and generally unpopular at night. Plus, what better way to fall asleep than to be surrounded by people who have been sleeping for a very long time? I was out of there by sunrise.

Entering Laos from northern Thailand was quite the snafu. I navigate with Google walking directions, which had been reliable to a T up to that point. How Google went from infallible accuracy to epic failure in one fell swoop is beyond me, but that’s exactly what happened. Somehow Google Maps displayed, not one, but five imaginary bridges linking Vientiane to Thailand! One of these was incorporated in their walking directions from Bangkok to Laos’s capital, so when I got to the river dividing the two countries and could not find the bridge that was supposed to lead me across, I went through all five stages of grief before finally hitchhiking to the nearest real bridge (20 miles in the opposite direction)

It’s funny because a half-hour before this discovery, two women in a pickup truck pulled over to ask me where I was headed. “Laos!” I exclaimed. “You’re going the wrong way,” they insisted. “No,” I assured them, “there’s a bridge right up ahead.” After some time trying to convince me of the opposite, they finally drove off in disbelief. “Wow,” I thought to myself in amazement, “it’s incredible that natives of this very area aren’t even aware of the transnational bridges in their own backyard!”

I stepped on a snake in northern Thailand. I was walking at night and noticed what I thought was a bamboo stalk on the road shoulder (this is quite common). The object was similar in width, straight in structure, and completely motionless. I ended up stepping on it, and it quickly sprung out from under me. It was the most terrifying part of the trek so far. What made it terrifying wasn’t the fact that I stepped on a snake, but the fact that I stepped on a snake that I thought was a stalk of bamboo. Having one’s perceived reality so abruptly betrayed by one’s physical reality is absolutely petrifying. Can you imagine sitting on a fur couch that ends up being a live grizzly? Or stepping out onto a field of grass that is actually a pond covered in duckweed? This experience instilled in me a deep respect for Jumanji players.

I saw a Buddhist monk smoking a cigarette the other day, which was odd because I don’t usually think of Buddhist monks as smokers. If I were a tobacco lobbyist, I would exploit this image for all its worth. I thought of other monks out there who don’t cross my mind. Are there Buddhist monks in prison? If so, what do these incarcerated monks look like? Hulking muscles and Nirvana tattoos clad in an orange toga and flip-flops would seem contradictory, but who knows…

I’m beginning to scare the children. Around the time school lets out, it’s not uncommon for me to share the roadside with clusters of kids headed back home after class. Over the course of a half hour, the mass of schoolchildren will diffuse and I will end up gaining on a small group of three or four kids, one of which will turn around and notice me in the distance. Curiosity ensues, and everyone in the ensemble will begin turning around sporadically to behold their new pursuer. Once I get into the 30-yard range, they begin running away from me, stopping once they feel like I’m far enough behind them, and resuming once I approach again. This pattern usually continues until they turn off the main road to where their homes presumably are. But on one occasion, a group of kids stopped walking entirely and waited anxiously on the side of the road for me to pass them. I could detect the air of panic that had overtaken their conversation, “Look he’s obviously not going to stop following us, and every time we run away he just keeps catching up, so let’s just park ourselves right here and stare him down as he walks by.” I haven’t had children run away from me since that day my mom packed squid as my school lunch.

The Chinese know how to build cities. This was my first observation after a month in Vietnam, where the infrastructure was… dated, to put it charitably. The amount of construction happening in China right now is unreal; the country is one big public works project. Not only that, but the Chinese appear to be future-proofing their cities, building enormous avenues that, while underutilized today, will undoubtedly fill up as cars continue to become more affordable to China’s growing middle class. Many of these gargantuan avenues are built on the outskirts of large cities in anticipation of the development to follow. It is comical to be trekking down a deserted Champs Elysees biding its time until Paris is built.

Just as in previous countries I had walked through, the nicer restaurants in China boasted food photography in their menus. Because I don’t read Chinese, I would depend on these photos to know what I was ordering, which was problematic because 90% of the time, the dishes that were brought to me looked nothing like the photo. The most extreme case was a time I ordered a banana split at a UBC Coffee, a prevalent restaurant chain throughout China. The picture was magical: a festive bowl bursting at the seams from the generous vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry scoops that filled it, drowned in rich chocolate sauce and buried under a heap of whipped cream, pierced with chocolate-filled wafer sticks and flanked by two hearty banana halves. My mouth watered as I waited with impatience for this bowl of sin to appear before me. The waiter returned promptly, tray in hand, but what he produced was of a more modest nature: three quarter-inch, perpendicularly sliced, morsels of banana topping two barren scoops of freezer-burned vanilla ice cream. Nothing more. I pointed out the disparity between the photograph and this naked dessert to my server, who spoke passable English. “It require some… imagination,” he told me!

An insightful window into Chinese culture was opened at another UCB Coffee in Fuzhou. This was my final destination in China, so I was well versed in menus’ unrealistic food portraits by this point. But my low expectations didn’t make me crave ice cream any less, and I found myself in a conundrum. One dessert option boasted whipped cream, but the ice cream flavors did not tempt me. Another option had the scoops I desired but whipped cream was not in its description. Luckily, my server was majoring in English at a local university, so communicating my request that whipped cream be added to the latter option went smoothly. “I’ll pay extra,” I assured him, to which he replied that he would need to consult his manager. When he returned a few minutes later, the twinkle in his eye had evaporated, “Sir, I’m sorry; we don’t have that computer button in our system.” I stared at him blankly and listened for the hum of a cooling fan from within his chest cavity. I inspected his waiter uniform for any protruding hydraulic wires. He seemed human enough. “Well, this is going to sound crazy, but I’m willing to bet that if you walk through those kitchen doors and talk to the cooks in person, they’ll be able to throw some whipped cream on there.” His countenance showed little promise when he returned from the kitchen moments later, “Sir, I’m afraid the kitchen manager is gone for the day, but even if he were here, he would have to call the owner of this branch for approval.” Everything I knew about the world crumbled. The decision to add whipped cream to a dessert would have to go through the restaurant owner because they didn’t have a button in the computer. My server was very nice, and very eager to converse with a native English-speaker, so he proceeded to explain how this highly centralized approach to decision-making was quite common in China. Those with power flaunt it and feel the need to remind subordinates of their status on a regular basis. Even the trivial decision to add whipped cream, if made by a waiter or cook autonomously, could cause an insecure boss to feel threatened. “Here, someone could get fired over this, maybe just to make an example of them,” my waiter explained. I nursed my Tsing Tsao, grateful to be from a land where initiative was generally rewarded with a promotion.

I don’t generally sightsee on days I walk, as making use of my day to cover ground is a priority, but a massive Buddhist temple snuck up on me one afternoon a few weeks into crossing China. Its size alone sparked my curiosity, and the serenity it exuded made it too intriguing to resist. An imposing staircase linked the temple’s distant threshold to the ground before me, and as I ascended the deserted steps, I felt like Bruce Wayne in the opening scene of Batman Begins, in which he pilgrimages to a remote ninja temple in the mountains to seek training. What this movie scene doesn’t reveal, however, are the brand new SUVs parked at the entrance, the free buffet, and sneaker-clad monks texting on their mobile phones, all of which awaited me at the summit. Any hopes I had of being greeted with an anachronistic martial arts montage after the climb were nipped in the bud. The temple was gorgeous, though, and the buffet’s spread was handsome. After leaving a donation, I made my way back down the stairs to resume trekking. When I later told my father the bit about the monks texting on their phones, he bellowed, “They’re texting Buddha!”

Hong Kong was a breath of fresh air: uncensored internet, chocolate, coffee, clean streets, bars that knew how to prepare cocktails, people who spoke English. Still, I couldn’t see myself living there. I’m a pedestrian at heart, and Hong Kong is the least pedestrian-friendly city I’ve ever stepped foot in. It’s like walking through an M.C. Escher painting. Sidewalks outright end. This is not an exaggeration. Literally, you’ll be walking along a sidewalk, and it will end without warning. You’ll see where you want to go from where you’re standing, but you’ll have no idea how to go about getting there, like Jennifer Connelly’s character in Labyrinth, who can clearly see the Goblin King’s castle in the beginning but has to navigate a maze to reach it. Your only hope is to retrace your steps in search of some tunnel or underpass or overpass or talking door knockers that might get you one step closer to your destination. Even in those rare instances when you can discern a path to your endpoint, there will be obstacles. You’ll have to hurdle sidewalk rails, benches, and landscaping, all while keeping a watchful eye for police officers all-too-eager to ticket jaywalkers.

I’ve never met a breed of city dwellers as obedient to pedestrian protocol as Hong Kongers. Masses of cutthroat businessmen, veteran financiers, movers and shakers, kings of the hill, merciless men who clawed their way to the top, tooth and nail, and who answer to no one, men with booming voices who slap backs, who eat market share for breakfast and close mergers on their lunch breaks, who don’t get pushed around by anyone and who don’t take “no” for an answer; these men, when confronted by the little red man in the pedestrian traffic light, become sheep. The fact that there isn’t an automobile in sight matters not; they kneel before this little red man and adhere to his every command. For 70 seconds, their undivided attention, their world, their lives, are his.

I had my share of preconceived notions before coming to ‘Nam, mostly derived from war movies: conical hats, rice paddies, and hot humid weather. It is true that the stereotypical hats are worn by most in the countryside, and that the countryside is composed almost entirely of rice paddies, but what the war movies don’t tell you is that it gets cold in Vietnam! I actually had to spring for a fleece, and even with a fleece and my warm-weather sleeping bag, it was too cold to camp. Luckily, guesthouses, or “Nha Nghi”, averaged no more than $10/night.

Pale lager is the only kind of beer I enjoy, and in Vietnam, I discovered the best pale lager I have ever encountered anywhere in the world in my entire life: Bia Hoi, or “fresh beer.” Sold on street corners across the country, this stuff is distributed to vendors daily and directly from the brewery. It is hands-down the freshest beer I have ever tasted, and the price is almost negligible. Vendors purchase 5-gallon kegs for the equivalent of $7! In NYC, it’s not uncommon for a pint to cost $7…

I am not a fan of Vietnamese coffee. A dysfunctional marriage between a failed French press and a broken coffee seep, the brewing contraption is a terrific flop in human ingenuity. A nine-year-old chimpanzee with a learning disability could not invent a less efficient apparatus. Grounds are placed inside a metal filter that is affixed atop each individual cup, an ounce or so of hot water is poured in, and the brewed coffee drips into the cup… one… drop… at… a… time. Not only does it take twenty minutes to brew an ounce of coffee, but the beverage is stone cold by the time it has seeped through the filter.

To make matters worse, coffee is not generally offered in eateries and food is not generally offered at cafes. So instead of being able to allow the coffee to brew at the table while I ate breakfast, I would have to eat breakfast at one place and relocate to a cafe afterwards only to stare for twenty minutes at my cup as the coffee brewed one… drop… at… a… time…

The Ryder, February 2013

Marketing the MAC

A Young Arts Marketers’ Journey ◆ By Brooke Feldman

This past summer, I had just started my first real-life job working as a marketing assistant for the IU Jacobs School of Music. As the youngest in the family, this moment was my right of passage from student to professional. My previous experience with marketing was as a media relation’s specialist for a student-run production company in college. When my current position opened, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about marketing the arts, and to help come up with innovative ways to attract audience members of all ages. When I started this job, I knew I wanted to work in the arts and market them to the public but I was naïve in thinking that everyone thought like I did.

I had been an intern with the IU Opera & Ballet Theater, developing its Twitter account and introducing the department to hashtags of the operas as well as ways to engage an audience through interactive videos. I even dressed up in a tutu promoting The Sleeping Beauty, hoping some audience member would hold their laughter and talk to me during an intermission. The Facebook accounts were popular, but Twitter was providing snapshots of people’s lives and a more personal way to network with people about music just like a conversation through text messages. Introducing Twitter as another marketing platform for the Jacobs School of Music provided a plethora of ideas to connect with a digital audience.

Brooke Feldman

Now, as a somewhat seasoned marketer, I have to open up my mind to not just digital marketing, but all kinds of marketing from face to face interaction, to distribution of promotional material. I became aware of the balancing act one faces as a marketer to please long-time patrons, while still connecting with students on campus who have never set foot inside the Musical Arts Center.

Baby Boomers and the Millenials retrieve information about cultural events differently. Baby Boomers, who make up a majority of our loyal patrons, rely on print advertisements, or physical promotional material. We offer a free monthly event newsletter, Prelude, to households in Bloomington and surrounding cities. Anyone can subscribe; there is also the option to just look on our online calendar. I receive a lot of phone calls from subscribers who do not look at our online calendar asking if I can verify information on the Preludes. I also listen to their suggestions on patron relations or stories about their past experiences with Jacobs, and I do it all with a smile. These supporters have shown me the importance of the long-term relationships I can create for Jacobs by doing a little bit more than what my job description might say on paper.

Then there are the Millenials, inhabiting Bloomington for only a brief window of time. Most Millenials do not read a newspaper. Millenials look for events online through organization websites or Twitter feeds. They might be the toughest group to reach.

Do you remember sitting in the back row of a classroom, waving your hand furiously, hoping the teacher picks on you to answer the question? Marketing to non-opera goers is like that. It also sometimes feels like a big convincing game. That time you found the best band in the world, and had to have your friends listen to them, but they will not? Yeah, that’s how I sometimes feel. I try my best to explain the bursts of emotions that comes over me when sit in an opera house, but there are no words to describe the feeling.

I have been in strategy sessions and learned some clever marketing techniques. For example, to promote the opening of The Merry Widow, we created a campaign for a date night special, in which patrons can buy 2 tickets for just $20. We also created an IU Opera Club for Kids, where parents and their children can experience opera and ballet together, and receive a backstage tour. Both of these initiatives had one goal in mind: invite a round of non-goers that will hopefully become frequent audience members.

Other arts organizations are faced with the similar marketing challenges. Take the Metropolitan Opera House. In December I took a trip back home to New York City, and made plans with two friends (an opera singer and a novice opera goer) to attend a production of The Barber of Seville. To my surprise, the production was shortened and sung in English rather than Italian. I read in the program that this was a special holiday presentation for audiences of all ages. As a fan of the piece, it was a bit hard to sit through, but the Metropolitan Opera created a new way to engage new opera goers.

I work with my co-workers to help figure out new ways to entice someone to step into the MAC. Our efforts are always hit or miss; we might be able to spark a little opera and ballet light in someone who sees an advertisement, reads a review, or walks past the MAC, and we could also be perceived as just another performing arts center in Bloomington. We just hope you give the arts a chance.

Photo cap
“Doing a little bit more than what my job description might say on paper….”

The Ryder, February 2013

The Subversive Cinema Of Crispin Glover

Look Who’s Talking ■ by Peter LoPilato

Crispin Glover is well known as an off-kilter character actor; who can forget the dippy dad, George McFly, in Back to the Future?

Glover is also a filmmaker, author and performance artist. And he’ll be combining all three when he arrives to the IU Cinema with his interactive, book tour/road show. The performances on February 15 and 16 are co-sponsored by The Ryder and will include screenings of Glover’s independently produced and self-distributed films (a different film each night) along with a slide show comprised of images from his extensively illustrated books — Glover’s books are visual works as much as they are texts. His dramatic narration will accompany the slide show. An audience Q&A and a let’s-get-acquainted book signing follow.

Glover’s films are provocative. In fact, that is an understatement and he believes that they are best experienced when he is present — screenings, consequently, are rare. It is Fine! Everything Is Fine will be screened on February 15. Produced and funded by Glover from a screenplay by the film’s star, Steven C. Stewart, It is Fine! dramatizes the psycho-sexual fantasies of a man with severe cerebral palsy. Combining elements of horror and  exploitation, this fantastical and often humorous tale is told completely from Stewart’s point of view – that of a man who has lived for years watching people do things he will never be able to do.

Glover will present What Is It? on February 16. Described as “the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are snails, salt, a pipe,” the film’s ensemble cast includes porn stars and actors with Down Syndrome. In addition to writing and directing What Is It? Glover also appears in the film as an actor in the role of a “dueling Demi-God Auteur and the young man’s inner psyche.” Actress Fairuza Balk voices one of the snails.
It is safe to say that even adventurous filmgoers will be venturing into unchartered cinematic territory when Crispin Glover comes to town. Glover discussed his films, books and his on-again-off-again relationship with Hollywood in an interview, conducted by email, with The Ryder.

Ryder Your films bring imagery to screen that audiences are not often (if ever) exposed to.  Many of these images are considered taboo, at least in mainstream media.  How are you trying to affect your audiences with these images?

Crispin Glover I am very careful to make it quite clear that What is it? is not a film about Down Syndrome but my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in filmmaking. Specifically anything that can possibly make an audience uncomfortable is necessarily excised or the film will not be corporately funded or distributed. This is damaging to the culture because it is the very moment when an audience member sits back in their chair looks up at the screen and thinks “Is this right, what I am watching? Is this wrong, what I am watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have made this? What is it?” -and that is the title of the film.

What is it that is taboo in the culture? What does it mean that taboo has been ubiquitously excised in this culture’s media? What does it mean to the culture when it does not properly process taboo in its media? So What is it? Is a direct reaction to the contents this culture’s media. I would like people to think for themselves.

Ryder You’ve been quoted as saying, “I admire films and desire to make films that go beyond the realm of that which is considered good and evil.”  How would you define “good” and “evil” in filmmaking?

Crispin Glover Films that are currently financed and distributed by the film corporations and distribution corporations must sit within the boundary of that which is considered good and evil. What this means is if there is a so called “bad thing/evil thing” that sits within a corporately financed and distributed film it must necessarily be pointed at by the filmmaker; the audience is dictated to think about that so called “evil thing” in that one way. Any other way of thinking about that so called “evil thing” would be considered wrong and the film must be made in such a way that the audience understands that the filmmakers feel that this “evil thing” is only that and no other way of thinking about that “evil thing” could or should be possible. A film that goes beyond the realm of good and evil may have this same so-called “evil thing” but the filmmaker may not necessarily point at that so-called “evil thing.” The audience can think for itself as to what this so called “evil thing” really is to them. I would say that description applies to both What is it? and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.

Ryder You’ve worked within and outside of the Hollywood studio system. I would assume that both have advantages and disadvantages. Can you talk a bit about those?

Crispin Glover I see myself as someone who has been raised with the understanding of how corporately funded and distributed film business works. I have had a certain amount of acceptance within that business.

While I am grateful to that system to have made a living in it for about 35 years I have also had questions about how to make the corporately funded and distributed film business more truly educational. Within the corporately funded and distributed film world I see myself as an actor for hire and am grateful to that system to have made a living in it.

In the year 2000 this was around the same time that the first Charlie’s Angels film was coming to me. I realized that the money I made from that film could be put straight into What is it? after Charlie’s Angels came out it did very well financially and was good for my acting career. I started getting better roles that also paid better and I could continue using that money to finance my films that I am so passionate about. I have been able to divorce myself from the content of the films that I act in and look at acting as a craft. Usually filmmakers have hired me because there is something they have felt would be interesting to accomplish with me in their film. If for some reason the director is not truly interested in doing something that I personally find interesting with the character then I can console myself that with the money I am making to be in their production I can help to fund my own films. Usually though I feel as though I am able to get something across as an actor that I feel good about. It has worked out well.

Ryder The very personal, self-distribution of your films is admirable, and pays tribute to early film exhibition, when live performance and music were very much part of the program. Was this the inspiration for you, or are you recalling something different?

Crispin Glover Thank you! The live aspects of the shows are not to be underestimated.

When I first started publishing the books in 1988 people said I should have book readings. But the books are so heavily illustrated and the way the illustrations are used within the books they help to tell the story so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visually representations of the images. This is why I knew a slide show was necessary. It took a while but in 1992 I started performing what I now call Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Side Show Part 1. I perform a one hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. The illustrations from the books are projected behind me as I perform the show. The content of that show has not changed since I first started performing it. But the performance of the show has become more dramatic as opposed to more of a reading. The books do not change but the performance of the show of course varies slightly from show to show based the audience’s energy and my energy.

People sometimes get confused as to what Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show is, so now I always let it be known that it is a one hour dramatic narration of eight different profusely illustrated books that I have made over the years. The fact that I tour with the film helps the distribution element. I consider what I am doing to be following in the steps of vaudeville performers. Vaudeville was the main form of entertainment for most of the history of the US. It has only relatively recently stopped being the main source of entertainment, but that does not mean this live element mixed with other media is no longer viable.

Volcanic Eruptions was a business I started in Los Angeles in 1988 as Crispin Hellion Glover doing business as Volcanic Eruptions. It was a name to use for my book publishing company.  About a year later I had a record/CD come out with a corporation called Restless Records. When I had sold the same amount of books as CD/records, it became clear to me that, because I had published my own books, I had a far greater profit margin. It made me very suspicious of working with corporations as a business model.

It is enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with audiences and discussions about the films afterwards. The forum after the show is also not to be under-estimated as a very important part of the show for the audience. This also makes me much more personally grateful to the individuals who come to my shows as there is no corporate intermediary. The drawbacks are that a significant amount of time and energy to promote and travel and perform the shows. The number of people seeing the films is much smaller than if I were to distribute the films in a more traditional sense.

The way I distribute my films is certainly not traditional in the contemporary sense of film distribution but perhaps is very traditional when looking further back at vaudeville era film distribution. If there are any filmmakers that are able to utilize aspects of what I am doing then that is good. It has taken many years to organically develop what I am doing now as far as my distribution goes.

Ryder Your books Rat Catching and Oak-Mot are altered versions of works that were in the public domain – could a similar approach work in filmmaking?

Crispin Glover I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a book store upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800’s and someone had put their art work inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing. Sometimes I would find images that I was inspired to create stories for or sometimes it was the binding or sometimes it was portions of the texts that were interesting. Altogether, I made about twenty of them.

When I was editing my first feature film What is it? There was a reminiscent quality to the way I worked with the books because as I was expanding the film in to a feature from what was originally going to be a short, I was taking film material that I had shot for a different purpose originally and re-purposed it for a different idea and I was writing and shooting and ultimately editing at the same time. Somehow I was comfortable with this because of similar experiences with making my books.

There are definitely filmmakers that have taken existing film works and reworked them for a different interpretation of the original footage. Sometimes it is very effective. I saw the 1936 film Rose Hobart by the American Artist Joseph Cornel projected at UCLA in the 1980’s. He had taken portions of a film titled East of Borneo and edited it with footage from at least one other film. I quite liked that film when I saw it. I am sure there are a lot of other good examples of this being done.

Ryder Many of your works, film and print, independent and commercial, focus on what some would consider “uncouth” objects, i.e. snails (What is It?), worms (Oak-Mot), rats (Rat Catching and Willard), cockroaches (Wild at Heart). Similarly, many of the women in What is It? are shown wearing various animal masks (monkeys, elephants, etc.). What do you find attractive or interesting about insects and animals generally? What do you think these things can tell your audience about themselves, if anything?

Crispin Glover I am careful not to publicly over-analyze the imagery in my own films. Wild at Heart is of course a David Lynch film. The nature of What is it? lets people’s thoughts come in to play. If I let people know what my thoughts are on the imagery in the film it can make people feel they are wrong in interpreting it differently. It is important for people to interpret the imagery in the way that make sense to them. I will say that I knew the macro shots of the snails in What is it? would help to personalize them in a way that would not happen if shot with a non-macro lens.

Ryder You recorded the pop classic These Boots Art Made for Walkin’ and put your own personal stamp on it. Is there a classic Hollywood film that you would like to do the same with?

Crispin Glover It was produced on the record The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be by Barnes and Barnes. They had asked me to record a top-40 song. I was a bit reluctant to do this, but ended up choosing that song.  I don’t have any film in my mind that would necessarily be good to remake, but I would never say never.

Ryder Who are a few of your favorite filmmakers? Is there anyone you would especially like to work with if you were given the opportunity?

Crispin Glover Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Luis Buñuel, Stanley Kubrick, Todd Browning, FW Murnau, Fritz Lang, Akira Kurosawa, Milos Foreman, Roman Polanski, David Lynch, John Waters, Russ Meyer, Karel Zeman, Abbas Kiarostami, Wong Kar-wai, Ken Russell, Gaspar Noe, Orson Wells, John Cassavetes, Dennis Hopper….

There are many more. My favorite film lists go into the hundreds and there are a lot of my very favorite films that are just one-offs where the director only made one film. Many of the above directors have made multiple films that I admire.

The Ryder, February 2013

Vinyl Revival

Record Collectors Preserve The Past ■ by Dan Melnick

They’re leftovers, clutter that needs to be dealt with. Vinyl records sit in the basement on dusty shelves waiting to be unloaded at the next yard sale. It’s been years, in some cases, since they’ve been removed from their sleeves. But for passionate music lovers and collectors, the hisses and pops embedded in the grooves of the vinyl sound better than the polished digital tracks produced today. Many of these collectors amass vast museums of vinyl comprised of thousands of disks. More than a hobby, record collecting is a livelihood that defines who they are.

With purchases these days just an Amazon or eBay click away, one of the vast appeals of record collecting is in the thrill of the hunt. Whether one seeks records, comic books, or even ceramic figurines, half of the fun is in assembling the collection. “I don’t do anything online,” vinyl collector Jonathan Richardson says. “It seems like cheating. It defeats the purpose. Almost 100% of my collection is from me scavenging yard sales and thrift stores. I normally do not pay more than a dollar for a record. I would much rather be digging through dusty bins in an antique mall. That’s the fun part of it, going out and finding these little treasures.” Richardson owns anywhere from 10 to 12 thousand records and his collection is valued at over $100,000. That’s a lot work and a lot of antique malls.

Jonathan Richardson

The hobby of collecting vinyl records has been around since their inception in the fifties, but the concept of assembling a collection, as opposed to simply buying records for their music value, didn’t take off until the mid-eighties and the birth of the CD. That’s when most replaced their collections with the new media form and the easier to store compact disk. But while many embraced the new technology, there were still those who would always be attracted to the vinyl medium. Records weren’t the first way to record music and they certainly aren’t the last, but there’s something about this format that many still find intriguing.

People collect whatever speaks to them, but when it comes to music, vinyl collectors stand out from the crowd. There’s a certain mystique and air of knowledge that surrounds the record collector that’s missing from other musical hobbyists. Collecting 8-track tapes for instance, just doesn’t have the same allure, same inherent coolness, about it that record collecting does. Record collecting has developed into somewhat of a loaded term these days thanks to many music gurus and true hipsters who have inadvertently left their knowledgeable mark on the discipline over the years. Putting together a discerning, comprehensive library is careful and painstaking work. So, what is it about vinyl that continues to attract both listeners and collectors to what would be an otherwise dead medium?

“For me it was always about the music. It’s not about the material that it’s made from,” says Ron Resur, an avid record collector of the past 60 years. Resur has been adding to his collection since records were first invented, taking great pride in discovering rare records. Sometimes, these can be popular albums of famous musicians. Resur’s most prized pieces however are records that most people may have never heard of: the remains of limited print runs and masterpieces of forgotten artists. He spent almost forty years looking for Dino Valenti’s self-titled album, having to settle for a CD until his son presented him with an original vinyl copy as a Christmas present. Finding these “little treasures,” as Richardson describes them, isn’t just about increasing the number of records one owns, it’s about adding another piece to the puzzle in a never ending quest to explore the past. Each record collection is a carefully chosen tapestry of musicians, put together disk by disk. Record collectors aren’t just hobbyists, they’re historians. “I wouldn’t call myself a record collector as much as a music lover,” says Richardson. “I’m really fascinated with recorded music and the amount of cool, interesting stuff that’s out there that hasn’t been heard by the general public.”

Ron Resur

Ron Resur calls this practice “audio archeology.” Over the past 60 years, he’s diligently cataloged his collection of over 800 artists and arranged the records for easy reference complete with music chronology and printed biographies of the artists. “I find it fascinating,” Resur says. “It’s really keeping a record on social mores through the music. What is the attitude of society at the time?” Like any work of art, the recorded music of any time period reflects the social issues and cultural trends relative to that era.

Resur’s point of view is shared by many avid vinyl collectors. Each record they find is an artifact of another age. “I like sincerity,” Resur says. In regard to music, “the rawer it is, the closer it is to the initial expression it is, the better. The purity of the idea coming through in the music is what I look for. I listen to the content more than anything. And that doesn’t necessarily have to be the words. It’s the way the person expresses himself through the instrumentation of the music and through the writing of the music.” He uses Neil Young as an example, explaining that not only is he a great musician, but “he has an intensity and a specific philosophical point of view that I have an affinity with.”

While Bloomington may boast only a half a dozen of serious collectors, each person has his own version of the Holy Grail. Like Richardson says, they’re “music lovers” interested in lost artifacts, not financial gain. Much like Resur’s Dino Valenti quest, these obscure objects of desire  hold a personal connection with the collector; what makes them valuable is the record’s genuine rarity. If you collect long enough, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for. “The record that I have been searching for my whole life is the next one that I have never heard of that I find,” Richardson says.

In terms of vinyl collecting and records in general, it’s impossible not to talk about the actual medium or mechanism by which the music is experienced, the delivery system if you will.

While being a potential thorn in the side of music completionists, the modern delivery format favors individual songs as opposed to entire albums.  Artists still record entire albums of music, but unless you’re a big fan of the artist, most of us only hear a hit single or two. Ten years ago, this single would attract a buyer to a music store and if the person wanted to own the music, he or she would have to purchase the entire CD. But now with mp3 files and iTunes, consumers can cherry pick their favorites for 99 cents. As the music industry evolves, making content more accessible to consumers, the concept of an entire collection of thematically related songs — an album — is losing its relevance.

Albums used to tell a story, either literally like The Who’s Tommy or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or figuratively, marking a specific era of the band’s growth. Take the work of any musician or group who’s been around for a long time and compare something they did 10 years ago to something they released last year. Remember when people used to say, “Man that was a good album?” That doesn’t happen anymore. We download, rip, and burn our music, put it on a mobile device and that’s the end of it. Sure, some may still want to listen to an entire album’s worth of music, but for many, they can’t even name what album the newest hit even came from.

Many music collectors like Richardson, trace the deterioration of album oriented music to the invention of the CD. “I think records have a little more permanent feel to them as opposed to a CD,” Richardson says. “You can burn a CD. But you can’t burn a record. It’s solid. It has a life. CDs and mp3s are disposable to me. They all look the same. You rip it and put it on your iPod and throw it away. It doesn’t matter.”

“I’d rather have an album than a CD,” Resur agrees. “With a CD there’s a thing called compression where it’s been remastered to take off the high end and the low end and you’re not getting the original sound. You’re getting part of it. It might be cleaner, but you’re only getting part of the original intent. And I want to hear what the artist intended, not what some engineer thought sounded better.” This is also an issue with all digital music, not just the CD. Digital media platforms may make music more ubiquitous, but only those recordings that companies have uploaded to their libraries and deem marketable.

These are complaints that most vinyl collectors share about modern music. As lovers of the art form, the more removed they get from the original sound, in this case, by the intervening technologies, the less they like it. It would be like a museum curator cleaning up the colors on a Picasso because he thought the blue wasn’t bright enough. The key distinction here is what Resur refers to as “intent.” Some artists can only record with modern technology. You couldn’t make electronica or dub step music without a computer. Other artists happen to like layered vocals and autotuning. Collectors like Richardson and Resur are fine with all of these methods as long as they meet the artist’s original intent for the music, as long as the recorded product is faithful to the authenticity of the music creative integrity of the artist.

Indiana has a rich musical history. Vinyl collector and music enthusiast Rick Wilkerson runs a website in which he has compiled a massive database of as many Indiana artists and their records that he can find.  We all know that John Mellencamp is a Hoosier. But there are others. Wes Montgomery was born in Indianapolis. Michael Jackson, the King of Pop was a native of Gary.  Axel Rose is from LaFayette. Van Halen’s David Lee Roth and of course, Hoagy Charmichael, are from Bloomington. Their work alone makes quite the record collection.

Wilkerson co-owned the record store Irvington Vintage on Indianapolis’s east side for 15 years and is no stranger to audio archeology. His newest project takes his collection up a notch as he seeks to chronicle Indiana’s vinyl history. Most of his research is secondary as he scours various books and websites confirming the origins of many artists and their music. “If I started this before the internet, this would have been a nightmare,” he says. Wilkerson’s project grew out of his personal record collection and like Richardson and Resur, he feels that there are still lessons to be learned from the past. If anything, his website chronicles a shared history with Hoosiers and other popular artists, bridging the distance between the two. Ultimately, his plan is to write a book. “The website that’s up there now is not even close to approximating what I’ve got,” he says.

Wilkerson will list popular artists and expensive work on his website because they have a connection to the state of Indiana, but he’s much more interested in finding those “little treasures” that others don’t know about, excavating forgotten or unheard of vinyl for others to experience. As many collectors like Richardson and Resur agree, the art and motivation behind an impressive collection is to provide others with a taste of something they may not have heard before. So often, the best records, aren’t always the most popular ones, but the least popular.

With the format and delivery method of music changing numerous times of the years, what is it about LPs and 45s that still has hobbyists coming back for more? Few records are made anymore, and only then largely for novelty’s sake, yet the medium is attractive enough for some to spend thousands of dollars on a rare find. The initial pressing of The Freewheelin’Bob Dylan and Velvet Underground and Nico’s Acetate haves sold for $25,000 to $35,000.

The Quarrymen (John, Paul, and George pre-Ringo) — “That’ll Be the Day”/”In Spite Of All The Danger” (UK 78 RPM, Acetate in plain sleeve, 1958) Note: Only one copy made, owned by Paul McCartney. Value: $200,000

As auditory historians, delving into the past for music unheard of today has tremendous appeal for Resur. We still have record parties,” he says. “Some of the folks here in town, we get together and everybody brings their own stuff. You get so many different points of view and of course you might hear something you hadn’t heard before. I like to play things that the other people in the group maybe haven’t heard because I’m so much older than everybody else.

“I’m 70 years old. I’ve been listening to some of these records for a long time. It’s interesting to me to listen to something today that I originally listened to in 1958. You hear something so many times that it’s ingrained in your memory; you don’t listen to it for a while and when you listen to it again, it sounds totally different. It’s a way of relating to the past and gaining a new perspective because the sound hasn’t changed, I have.”

Resur referred to the records as points of view, but he might as well have used the phrase “social mores.” That’s really the root of it. Each record is a fragment of a lost history. Many of the artists have long-since died, their voices forever recorded in the grooves of spinning vinyl.  What’s left behind is a legacy for future generations. And it is thanks to the efforts of audio archeologists like Richardson, Resur, and Wilkerson, sifting through a hodgepodge of crates and boxes in haphazard flea markets and rummage sales, that their legacy is preserved for future generations.

The Ryder, January 2013

 

 

 


 [P1]The hobby of collecting has been around since the 50s but the concept of collecting took off in the 80s. Since the hobby waw around in the 50s, wasn’t the concept around in the 50s?

 [MD2]You had these two highlighted. I know they’re awkward, but this is a direct quote. Should I edit them down anyway?

 [P3]I’ve added the word recordings. But a larger issue is how does this differ from pre-digital, pre- mp3s? Haven’t music co execs always based their decisions of what to release based on the artist’s marketability?

Peasant Happiness

Celebrating the Cultural Revolution in China ■ by Molly Gleeson

It all started with a phone call.  “Do you want to go to Peasant Happiness with my mother this weekend?” my friend Marsha asked.  I thought perhaps this was the greatest oxymoron I had ever heard.  “What,” I asked, “is Peasant Happiness?”

“It’s a place that celebrates the Cultural Revolution,” she said.

“But Marsha,” I said, “wasn’t the Cultural Revolution a really terrible time for China?”

“Oh, it was really bad for the country, but for individuals it was really quite fun,” Marsha said.

This is the same well-educated, well-traveled woman who said to me when I balked at “registering” at the local police office, “It’s just so if anything happens to you you’ll be treated like a citizen.”  I said I wasn’t sure I wanted to be treated like a citizen.  In any case, I wouldn’t go to Peasant Happiness that weekend, but Marsha had put it in my mind and I was curious.

I convinced my student friends Alice and Ida to join me one spring weekend to visit one of these Peasant Happiness’s, just outside Chongqing.  We took a bus and then motorcycle taxis up a mountain and arrived around 9: 00 p.m.  There are hundreds of these places in China, and dozens of them around Chongqing.  However, only a handful of them have the Cultural Revolution as their theme.  This one was called Longjishuanzhuang or “The Spine of the Dragon Peasant Happiness.”  We met the manager, the indomitable Mrs. Luo.  She told us this that “old intellectuals who worked on farms during the Cultural Revolution” pass through its gate every week.  Indeed, from looking around it seemed that most people there that weekend were between the ages of 50 and 70.  I certainly was the only laowai (foreigner) and Alice and Ida seemed extremely young in this company.  Most people would only stay a night or two, watching a performance about the Cultural Revolution one night and playing mah jong the rest of the time.  Mrs. Luo said these old-timers come here to “remember history and to renew their memory” and although they were “tough times” it makes them “appreciate what they have now,” she said.  Over a meal of preserved duck eggs, sour vegetable and fish soup, egg and tomato soup, fried corn kernels and a local vegetable known as kongxin cai, Ida proclaimed: “I think these people come here because the food is very delicious.”

We got a room to ourselves, and proceeded to play mah jong.  I was getting pretty good at it.  When we got tired of that Alice and Ida borrowed my camera and took endless pictures of themselves while I read Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn.  The next morning my friends got up early to explore the place and then came to wake me up.  It was Friday morning and the place started to fill up.  We took a walk around the grounds – full of fruit trees in bloom and a spectacular view of the Jialing River and the district of Shapingba beyond.  There was a large pagoda with tables for mah jong along this route.  A group of older people were already hard at it.  We were curious about them, and they were a little curious about us.  We weren’t the average visitors to this place.  I asked one of the men, a Mr. Xu, why he was here.  “We’re here to honor our memories,” he said, and added, “We’re here to remember and celebrate our youth.”.  Mr. Xu is 58.  He said he and his friends go to different Peasant Happinesses every month.  He said they were teenagers during the Cultural Revolution, and were sent to work in China’s burgeoning natural gas industry.  Mr. Xu’s education was delayed ten years because of the Cultural Revolution.  However, he considers himself “very patriotic” and is proud of what he and his friends did for China.  Mr. Xu admitted that Mao Zedong made a mistake with the Cultural Revolution, but that he was still a great leader.  He went back to playing mah jong.  So did we.  I won three times in a row.

Later I went for a massage, a service provided on the grounds of this Peasant Happiness.  I attracted quite an audience.  The masseuse assured me that it could help me lose weight.  I thought, well, it sure beats exercise.

That night was the performance.  I counted on my friends to translate for me, but they had a difficult time of it because it was all in Chongqinghua, the local dialect.  The show began with the entire cast, all in Red Guard uniforms, singing popular songs of the time.  The audience was encouraged to join in on “All the Members are the Flowers Facing the Sun” and “A Song for Zhiqing” (“Young Members of the Community”).  The emcee for the evening said that the performance was meant to “remind us of the Cultural Revolution”.  The players chanted that the purpose of the Cultural Revolution was “to fight against the imperialists and to build China like Mao said.”

The performance went through the various stages of the Cultural Revolution.  There was an actor praising Mao but it was difficult for my translators to grasp.  There was a story of a young girl, forced to marry the feudal lord’s son because her father had no money for taxes.  There were scenes of “materialists” being punished.  One poignant scene was a teenage girl having to leave her parents to go work in the countryside.  An audience member walked up on stage and presented the actress with flowers.  Anytime an audience member was moved, they would go up on stage and give flowers to the actors.  Plastic flowers were provided in front of the stage.  I thought if there was one thing many of these audience members could relate to, it would be leaving their parents to be “re-educated” in the countryside.  The performance soon ended, with rousing songs and flags flying.  They marched through the audience.  And then the disco lights came down and there was a “dance party”.  We didn’t stick around for it.  I went back to reading about materialists and imperialists in Phineas Finn.

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Karl Wu, who owns a bar in Shapingba, has gone to many Peasant Happinesses.  He was only a child when the Cultural Revolution happened, but he does remember that his parents sent him to live with his grandparents in the countryside because the situation in Chongqing was precarious.  Wu said he doesn’t agree with the politics of the time, but goes to these places because he wants to re-live his youth.  He said young people today don’t know the history of the Cultural Revolution, and they should.  He said Mao is “like a god in our minds.”  People don’t think of him like that anymore, however, he added.  ”It’s not to say he didn’t make mistakes, I’m not saying that, but he is the most important person in recent Chinese history.”

I contacted Dr. David Arkush, a professor of Chinese history at the University of Iowa.  I asked him if he thought it was weird to “celebrate” the Cultural Revolution in this way.  He said he could understand it because people have a need for nostalgia, and that was certainly what Peasant Happiness was all about.  In spite of the terrible things that went on during that time, he said it was a more innocent time.  There wasn’t the corruption that there is today, he added.  There wasn’t the disillusionment.  He said it was great for young people – they got to travel when no one was traveling.  They got to see some of China and to try new things.

Alice, Ida and I stayed until the next day.  We tried to get lunch, but Mrs. Luo said it was only for the groups that came and we weren’t part of a group.  So we left.  As we were leaving some of the workers there told us that we had been cheated badly – we were charged separately for our room and for meals, when everyone else just paid one fee.  This fee was considerably lower than what we had paid.   Laowai beware.  We took a bus down the mountain and back to our lives.

The Ryder, January 2013

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