The Decline of the West
By Brian Arsenault
This is my first “Takes On” column wherein I can go outside album and concert reviews to touch on things I like and things I don’t, often music related but sometimes not. If you enjoy it, great, but at least I hope you find it worth your time to read.
They’re making a big budget Godzilla film. Honest, it’s shooting right now. Hey, the early Japanese ones were like cartoons, actually were cartoons or the equivalent with shots of rubber creatures and such. But now it can be done with all the wonders of special effects made possible by computer graphics, video game and other special effects technology.
And that’s the best they can come up with: silly dragon-like creature fries jeeps. There’s a great documentary of Ferlinghetti that I figure maybe 4,000 people will see. They’ll count the viewers of Godzilla in the tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe millions once it’s on HBO 90 days after it’s released.
Just pray to whatever god(s) you honor that they never redo Casablanca. Maybe I should have kept that terrifying thought to myself. They’d probably cast Kevin Spacey and Katy Perry. Horror upon horror.
Or Godzilla could follow in the tradition of making musicals of movies. The creature could hit the stage in a melancholy mood to sing “What Kind of Fool Am I” or, if it’s more of a rocker, “Hot Fun in the Summertime.”
Speaking of bad taste, twice this week Good Morning America has brought me and you stories on Rick Springfield. That’s right, Rick Springfield of the single hit and it wasn’t even a good one.
Of all the musicians (term used loosely) in all the world, Rick Springfield!? But come to think of it, I have never seen a really great singer or musician on GMA. The closest being some so-called diva who might have a moderately good voice singing junk songs or possessing great legs. That’s a high price to pay for getting the nation’s weather and ABC’s idea of the news of the day.
I should just stop watching. We all should. Click on the radio early for the weather and then put on a Billie Holiday recording.
I just reread Jack Kerouac’s On the Road after many years. I suspect it’s not read much any more and certainly not taught in many lit courses because it’s “that beatnik book.” And that’s a shame because it truly is a great American novel: a celebration of America emerging in the world; prescient about the automobile’s rise to dominance in our culture; a tribute to the great American art form – jazz; and one hell of a good tale of a mad search for America.
One of my strongest mental images from the book is Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassidy standing in front of the bandstand yelling “Go, go, go” at the horn player. These guys loved Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie so at least you know their taste in music was great.
The problem with labels is that things get stuck on a shelf and not brought down because of the label. There wasn’t a Hemingway because of “the lost generation.” They created a name for a generation of writers because they were so damn significant — Ernest, Scott Fitzgerald, others.
Similarly there wasn’t a Rimbaud of Baudelaire because there was something called French Symbolist poetry. They had to come up with a term because of those two remarkable French poets.
So we put the so-called beat writers and poets in their lexicon place and largely forget them. Never mind that Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still amongst us, our greatest living poet and probably our best since Walt Whitman. And Kerouac looked at his America with as clear an eye as Melville and Twain looked at theirs.
Remember, one of the principal meanings of the word Kerouac first applied to his group is beatitude. He was that in his all too brief life.
The gal who cuts my hair is still in her twenties; pretty, gentle, soft spoken, loves her grandmother and doesn’t eat meat. But she loves UFC (the Ultimate Fighting Championship) and its rivals: you know, where two guys climb in a cage and pummel each other without discernible rules until both are bloodied and one is unconscious or beaten like Tony Soprano when the whole crew worked him over. She and her boyfriend know all the fighters and hardly ever miss a good beating, er, contest.
Her friends like it too. They don’t watch boxing and many don’t watch football. But let two guys kick the crap out of each other and they’re there.
I have a theory that young guys like it because they can fantasize themselves doing that. They know that real boxing takes training and skills and strategy that they would never put in the time for. But they think that on their toughest day they could get in that cage and hammer someone. It may not be true but they can half believe it. And that’s enough. They can hear that Rocky theme. Oops, that’s boxing.
I have a harder time explaining why the gals like it. Maybe Scarlet O’Hara syndrome. They pretend the guys are fighting over them and will emerge bloodied and sweaty to carry off the woman they’ve won for less violent grapplings. I dunno, maybe it’s just the action.
I have another theory that some day one of these shows will kill someone. Surprisingly I don’t think it will be cage fighting. Have you seen the high platform diving show? Guess they didn’t kill the fat guy but I wouldn’t have been surprised. Survivor could also add new meaning to its title one of these years.
Maybe we are in The Last Days. Worse yet, maybe the downhill slide will continue for eons yet to come.
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