Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Let the Weeping Philosophers Walk

Today’s inspirational verse, from “Popular Follies of Great Cities,” Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay, 1841:
He who walks through a great city to find subjects for weeping, may find plenty at every corner to wring his heart; but let such a man walk on his course, and enjoy his grief alone---we are not of those who would accompany him. The miseries of us poor earth-dwellers gain no alleviation from the sympathy of those who merely hunt them out to be pathetic over them. The weeping philosopher too often impairs his eyesight by his woe, and becomes unable from his tears to see the remedies for the evils which he deplores.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

A Question or Two about the Accused Cop Killer

According to Saturday’s Chronicle, Juan Leonardo Quintero, who’s accused of fatally shooting police officer Rodney Johnson, “had been working for a landscaping company in the Deer Park area and was driving a company Ford double-cab pickup” when Johnson pulled him over Thursday for speeding.

So, out of curiosity, what is the name of the Deer Park landscaping company? Who, exactly, hired Juan Leonardo Quintero, even though he had been previously deported from the United States after being given deferred adjudication for indecency with a child? And who, exactly, allowed him to use a company vehicle, even though he previously had been arrested for DWI, driving with a suspended license and failing to stop and give information after an auto accident (we presume he would have been charged with unauthorized use, if he’d taken the pickup without permission).

We’ll go out on a limb here and wager that Juan Leonardo Quintero wasn’t carrying proof of liability coverage, either, when Officer Johnson pulled him over.

If the shooting actually raises questions about immigration policy, the city’s or the nation’s, then let’s bring out all the parties to the equation. Let’s hear what the accused’s employer has to say.

After all, Juan Leonardo Quintero didn’t jump the border and come to Houston for the scenery.

And by the way: What kind of person packs a 9 mm handgun in his pants when he goes to pick up his daughters from school, as Quintero supposedly was doing?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Everybody Wants to Be My Good Shepherd

Perhaps our president was right last week when he spoke of a revival of religiosity, a possible Third Awakening sweeping the countryside.

As usual, though, it’s hard to tell where devotion ends and all this newfound religiosity shades into an excuse for showy self-righteousness and license to get into your neighbor’s face with your faith.

In Texas, it’s getting real hard to tell.

The highly irreligious Kinky Friedman is all over the television these days, scratching the ears of various mutts and hounds while invoking some “old-time preacher” and telling voters he wants to be their “good shepherd.” (It’s a real good commercial, though---everybody’s a sucker for a forlorn pooch, right?)

Meanwhile, the purse-lipped Democratic gubernatorial nominee is claming to be all about Jesus, or maybe that he is Jesus, which is going to get him as many extra votes as his current strategy of running as if he’s still in a Democratic primary (zero).

But all that bald-faced piety pales next to the television advertisement we saw this Sunday for “Christian trial lawyers” Simmons & Fletcher, which featured one of the name partners wielding a Bible and walking in a sanctuary while explaining, “It’s not un-Christian to get what you deserve,” or something to that effect (we know this mixture of trial lawyering and overt Christianity is nothing new: John Devine, the former state district judge who displayed the Ten Commandments in his courtroom, was very tight with John O’Quinn, Texas’ preeminent ambulance chaser).

As generations of Texans have learned, it’s a good idea to watch your wallet when the revival comes to town.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Nothing Says “September 11” Like Subjecting a Captive Audience of Government Employees to a Middle-Aged Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy

We owe the Houston Chronicle an apology for thinking the newspaper’s Monday story on the “odd pairing” of terrorist attacks and the fashion industry scraped the bottom of the barrel in 9/11 anniversary inanity. At the time we hadn’t heard about the 9/11 observance at a local school district headquarters where the featured entertainment reportedly included the district’s chief publicist, apparently on a short break from spreading Shinola about the local schools.

Our correspondents report that the mouthpiece did not entertain the assembled administrative types by reading a press release but instead was part of an aging amateur “rock combo” that flailed away at The Rising, Little Pink Houses and Let It Be (odd choices, those last two).

Well ain’t that America?

We didn’t witness the alleged show and can’t vouch for the accuracy of the reports. Surely someone is pulling our leg.

We’re gonna take another bath, just in case.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Nothing Says “September 11” Like Oscar de la Renta

Of all the remembrances, commemorations, think pieces and other media markings of the Sept. 11 anniversary, one stands out. Leave it to our very own Houston Chronicle to plumb the impact of the terrorist attacks on the fashion industry.

Perhaps this was an angle you had not considered, but, yes, apparently America’s brave fashion designer corps was unduly affected by the events of five years ago (and shame on you for not thinking of them!). What’s more, as a result al-Qaida has influenced not only where we travel and how we pack but what we wear. Check it out:
Every September since 2001, fantasy-filled fashion collides with the realities of an unsafe world. It is the oddest of pairings: Fashion Week — eight days of nonstop shows where next season's trendiest styles are unveiled — and the anniversary of the nation's most devastating terrorist attack. But the link is not as incongruous as it appears.

Fashion always reflects society. It's a mirror to what's happening. Look at all the camouflage clothing people are wearing now, when America is at war.
Yeah, we can’t recall anyone wearing camouflage before Sept. 11, especially not in Texas, especially not in the fall. (And now at least the families of the almost 2,700 Americans who’ve died in our false-premised war in Iraq have the consolation of knowing their loved ones were fashionably attired.)

So, you’re probably thinking, what about Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera and the rest of our front-line warriors against affordable and sensible attire?

Not to worry, somebody named Fern Mallis, identified as “Olympus Fashion Week organizer,” tells the local paper. They are unbowed and will unveil their spring 2007 collections on Monday.

The shows will stop for a moment of silence, "and then we go on," Mallis said.

"And that's the way it should be. We can't let (the terrorists) stop us from doing our work."

There’s more, but you can read it yourself.

We gotta go take a bath.

Friday, September 08, 2006

All Out of Pork Chops: The New Dylan CD Sucks the Milk from 1,000 Cows (Or At Least 500)

“I like cows, ’cause they faces are so round and brown and easy to understand.” - Lightnin’ Hopkins*

Driving back from Louisiana on Labor Day, listening for the first time to the new Bob Dylan CD, we caught our self thinking: When is the new Bob Dylan CD gonna be over? Because by that point, just outside of Beaumont, it was all receding into one wheezy, grinding aural blur, and we were growing groggy on the highway. Surely it would end soon and we could find something to our liking on the radio, there at the apex of the Golden Triangle.

But no … it went on. And on, well past the point where the landmark Red Carpet Inn used to stand. But we listened, dutifully, because we’ve always listened to what Bob Dylan has to sing and say, dating back to when Like a Rolling Stone was all over the radio in 19-and-65. We listened to Self Portrait---we liked Self-Portrait, and wish we still had ours---and even gave a borrowed copy of Under the Red Sky a couple of chances. When we were in high school we five-fingered Tarantula and read it through in study hall, and even though it was a distinctly bad excuse for a book we really liked the cover and wish we hadn’t sold it for a pittance at Half Price Books 20 years ago (’cause it’d bring a lot more on eBay today).

Later, we listened to Time Out of Mind and couldn’t figure out what all the critical fuss was about, then went back and listened again after several people whose opinion we trust told us how good it was (and still couldn’t figure out what the fuss was about). Love and Theft was better---we enjoyed the one where he stole the melody from a tune we know only as the background music for one of our favorite Lil’ Rascals episodes (when they were good: pre-Spanky)---but it’s not like we spent a lot of time with it after the first five or so spins.

But we had hopes for the chart-topping Modern Times, primarily because of Bob’s recent extracurricular activities. Chronicles was as engaging a book as everyone said it was, and his Theme Time Radio Hour on the satellite radio (which we download here, in the spirit of love and theft) reveals the host to be a generous and affable codger with an appreciation for a variety of great American music and a penchant for precise diction.

The reviews have been uniformly positive, if not downright gushing: the guy at Slate called it his best since Blood on The Tracks (a grievous misestimation: Modern Times isn’t fit to occupy the same shelf as Infidels, much less Street Legal) and just yesterday we heard Imus pronounce it a “great, great” album (Imus’s tastes in music are sketchy, although we’ve seen Levon Helm on his show twice---this is still a great country when you can wake up and see Levon Helm perform live on TV at 6:30 in the morning).

We couldn’t say Modern Times is a horrible album; it’s just flat, turgid and uninteresting. A low listenability quotient, if you will. We did take note of that line we’d previously read about, the one where he boasts (or confesses) to having “sucked the milk out of a thousand cows.” This might have been funny on Highway 61 Revisted; on Modern Times it sounds creepy.

Oh well. Maybe it’s just that we, too, sometimes feel old and raspy and diminished, and would rather not be reminded of that.

We’ll give it another listen …

Addendum: We’ve listened again, twice, and it’s our considered opinion that Modern Times contains two decent songs that warrant further listenings: Thunder on the Mountain (the one where he sucks the milk from 1,000 cows and rhymes “sons of bitches” with “orphanages”) and his appropriation of Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (“I got troubles so hard I just can’t stand the strain/Some young lazy slut has charmed away my brains …” [Maybe that’s the problem!]), but it's not even Cream, much less Muddy Waters.

Which means Modern Times would have worked better as a 45.

(Workingman’s Blues #2 threatens to turn interesting at points, but he’d have been better off doing a straightforward remake of Merle’s Let’s Rebuild America First.)

The rest of it … we’ll file next to Saved.

Further Addendum: Ron Rosenbaum has an idea why Modern Times sucks so many cows: It’s the Bobolators!

*Lightnin’ Hopkins may not have said this. Maybe it was John Lee Hooker. Or some friend of ours.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

“Miscellaneous and Unknown"

In Mayflower, Nathaniel Philbrick recounts Native Americans’ 17th century practice of maintaining “memory holes”---foot-deep circular holes that members of the Pokanoket tribe dug at points wherever “any remarkable act” had occurred. The holes caught the attention of New World immigrants Edward Winslow and Stephen Hopkins as they set out on a walk in the summer of 1621 to better acquaint themselves with their new neighbors. As Philbrick tells it
As they conversed with their new companions, the Englishmen learned that to walk across the land in southern New England was to travel in time … It was each person’s responsibility to maintain the holes and to inform fellow travelers of what had once happened at that particular place so that “many things of great antiquity are of fresh memory.” Winslow and Hopkins began to see that they were traveling a mythic land, where a sense of community extended far into the distant past. “So that a man travelleth …,” Winslow wrote, “his journey will be far less tedious, by reason of the many historical discourses that will be related to him.”

They also began to appreciate why these memory holes were more important than ever before to the Native inhabitants of the region. Everywhere they went, they were stunned by the emptiness and desolation of the place. “Thousands of men had lived here,” Winslow wrote, “which died in a great plague not long since, and pity it was to see, so many goodly fields, and so well seated, without men to dress and manure the same.” With so many dead, the Pokanokets’ connection to the past was hanging by a thread---a connection that the memory holes, and the stories they inspired, helped maintain.”
We were reminded of the memory holes after reading this fine Washington Post story on Mark Opsasnick, an obsessive amateur historian/journalist, self-published author (The Lizard King Was Here: The Life and Times of Jim Morrison in Alexandria, Virginia--sounds like a page-turner, don't it?) and full-time civil servant who’s on a one-man mission to document the hidden history of the Washington D.C. area. David Montgomery writes:

Every community that doesn't have a Mark Opsasnick needs to get one. He is a tall and obsessed man from Greenbelt who quietly rages against forgetting. What he rescues from collective amnesia are not the big things. One of his favorite phrases is: "miscellaneous and unknown."

He's the guy to ask about, say, Patsy Cline's seminal gigs at the Dixie Pig in Prince George's County. Or James M. Cain hard-boiling his last novels in a house near College Park. Or the true story of the local "haunted boy" who inspired "The Exorcist."

This set us to wondering whether Houston, a city whose ”shrines” date to the 1930s, boasts of any similar person or persons.

If not, we'd like to volunteer you for the job, although this gentleman, who apparently is based out of South Carolina, does some entertaining work, and this forum seems to argue against the notion that Houstonians don’t care about their history (recent as it may be).