Soon You’ll Get Better

Saturday morning in New Orleans, and all is as well as can be expected in this hellish timeline we are all living through at this point. I’ve been sleeping exceptionally well lately–not sure why, but don’t want to question it and simply enjoy it for as long as it lasts, frankly–and I may even just stay in bed as long as I want to tomorrow; I could have easily lazed in bed much longer this morning. I may treat myself to cappuccinos while I get everything on-line done that I need to get done before closing my browser and shutting the Internet down for the rest of the day so I can get to work on Bury Me in Shadows, which I haven’t even looked at all week, much to my deep and abiding shame. I’ve not completely adjusted to working 8:30 – 5 every day, really; and am always tired and mentally fatigued when the daily shift comes to an end; too mentally fatigued to read anything, let alone write anything. I did manage last night to clean up/organize some electronic files, though.

While I was condom packing yesterday (I filled three boxes of them, a personal best thus far) I continued my journey through 1970s cinema, with yesterday’s theme being paranoia. Paranoia was a big thing in the 1970’s, and the films and novels of the decade reflected that–not surprising, given it was also the decade where Vietnam came to an end (1975), when Watergate occurred (1972-1974), and of course, the decade where terrorism really became a thing–it was the decade of the Munich Olympic massacre, the Entebbe skyjacking, etc. It was a decade where trust in institutions began to erode and fade; where conspiracy theories really began to come into their own; and cynicism replaced optimism–if optimism could be said to have ever been an integral part of the American outlook and not simply another part of the mythology we were being sold. It was the decade of the Bermuda Triangle, the Amityville horror, UFO’s, and countless other strange conspiracies and/or cover-ups; when Area 54 really entered the public consciousness, and a time when it became much easier to believe that the government was lying to us about everything and that corporations and billionaires were truly running the world for their own benefit and profit. (This was, of course, the primary theme of Taylor Caldwell’s bestselling novel Captains and the Kings, a thinly veiled history of the Kennedy family’s rise to wealth and power, which was made into a mini-series later in the decade.)

The two films I watched yesterday while condom packing were definitely reactions to the paranoia of the times: The Parallax View (starring Warren Beatty) and Three Days of the Condor (starring Robert Redford). Both were based on novels; both were about conspiracies and/or cover-ups led by incredibly powerful people; and both had very cynical endings. The Beatty film was about the cover-up of a political assassination, in which Beatty played a crusading journalist trying to get to the bottom of the story; the Redford film was about a man who worked for a CIA front (the American Literary History Society) and whose job was to read books, articles, journals, etc., looking for coded references to spy organizations and conspiracies (which was, in and of itself, another example of paranoia); the Redford character finds some curious reoccurring references in some South American and Greek novels and articles and writes a report. One day when he goes out to pick up lunch for the office he returns to find everyone dead; even the guy who called in sick was murdered in his apartment. Redford, whose code name is “Condor”, is not a field agent and has no idea what is going on, other than his life is in danger and he needs help. He winds up taking Faye Dunaway hostage at some point at gunpoint and getting her to help him–she eventually succumbs to Stockholm syndrome, winds up helping him rather than escaping, and they even have sex together*–and throughout the course of the movie you never are certain who can be trusted or who cannot, as people keep switching sides, including the professional assassin (played by Max von Sydow), and the end of the movie is also cynical, implying that not even journalists can be trusted (subverting the popular 1970’s trope of the crusading reporters, inspired by Woodward and Bernstein’s coverage of Watergate).

It was an interesting decade to experience puberty and adolescence through, that’s for certain.

We’re nearly finished with The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, and are really enjoying it. I think we’re going to go with Never Have I Ever next; we’ve pretty much been watching non-stop noir-like heavy crime dramas for quite some time now (although the foreign ones have been absolutely delightful) but I think some light comedy will be welcomed gratefully into the Lost Apartment.

We also had an astounding thunderstorm/flash flood warning yesterday afternoon, which seems to be happening almost daily now. I love rain–I don’t even mind being caught in it as long as I am not having to lug shit into the house while it pours–and there’s nothing quite so comforting as being safely warm and dry inside while it pours outside and the sidewalks get covered in an inch or so of water. I’m not sure if it’s going to rain today–there’s nothing but sunshine and blue sky outside my windows this morning–but I feel fairly confident it will at some point; after all, it’s pretty much a daily occurrence now.

I also realized belatedly last evening that part of the funk I’ve been in lately has to do with the impracticality and uncertainty surrounding the football season for this year. I usually spent most of August excitedly reading everything I can about the Saints and college football, wondering what the coming season will hold; will it be an exciting one or a disappointment; but no matter what happens, I am always entertained–and last season was, as Paul reminds me pretty regularly, one for the books. As huge LSU fans last season was like a fairytale, a Disney film come to life–with every element in place for a great uplifting movie, and the ending was perfect, too; LSU stuck the landing and gave all us fans a season we will always remember with a smile. I am deeply grateful I got to see that championship team play twice in Tiger Stadium–we went to the season opener against Georgia Southern and the Florida game, which was one of the best times I’ve ever had in Tiger Stadium, and we’ve been to exciting games before but that one was everything–and am even more grateful I got to see Joe Burrow play, not only those two games last year but in the games we were able to see the year before. Not knowing if there’s even going to be a season, or if there is, what it will look like, has been kind of depressing on top of everything else; it’s as though all the things in life I find joy in are all gone, with just the bullshit left in its place. I’m not even sure how I feel about the conferences trying to make a limited season happen; it just seems vastly unfair to the players to put them at so much risk, and I don’t know if I should encourage that by even watching the games if they do happen and air on television.

I will never forgive the non-maskers for the loss of this football season, or however it turns out–whether it’s shortened, messed up, or cancelled. NEVER. Thanks for being such complete selfish assholes! You, for the record, are why we can’t have anything fucking nice–although the loss of college football is the LEAST of your crimes. Enjoy meeting your God with that black sin on your soul.

So, I am going to finish this and head back into email hell for a while, before showering and getting back to work on my book. I’ll probably try to do some cleaning and organizing while I’m at it; I still haven’t started–or even selected–my next fiction read, although Poe Dameron; Free Fall is sitting right there….but I also want to read Lovecraft Country before I start watching the show.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

*This is the same trope that Robert Ludlum used in The Bourne Identity, in which his character, Jason Bourne, who has been shot in the head and now has amnesia and no idea why everyone is trying to kill him, kidnaps a woman and takes her hostage; by the end of the novel they are in love and making a future together–and no one thinks anything of this, and it’s presented as normal; another sign of the times, I suppose. I’ve been meaning to reread The Bourne Identity as well as revisit Ludlum; his career as a novelist actually began in the 1970’s with a paranoia novel, The Osterman Weekend, which was also made into a movie, and almost all of his books have some sort of paranoia at their heart. I loved Ludlum when I discovered him in the late 1980’s; I’ve meant to revisit him for quite some time now, to see how he holds up. My favorites of his were The Chancellor Manuscript, The Gemini Contenders, and of course, The Bourne Identity, but I read all of the books he wrote himself until he died–I’ve not read any of those written by other authors since his death.

If You Asked Me To

It’s Friday! I made it through my first week home after Bouchercon! Huzzah! Huzzah!

I kind of need this weekend, to be honest. I am still kind of discombobulated, out of it, wondering where and what I need to get done and when I need to do it by. I know I need to make a list, but I don’t even know where to start. It feels like whatever I was focusing on or doing before I left for St. Petersburg has been lost forever in the ether of my mind.

A scary thought, is it not?

But I’m working on a new story, and I have another idea for a book that I am noodling around with this week, and we’ll see how much I can get my life reset this weekend.

Yay, weekend!

I’ve also been watching the documentary series Bobby Kennedy For President on Netflix, and enjoying it–if you can say watching the history of a life and the potential for greatness snuffed out too young enjoying–but it has made me think about a lot of things. (I also highly recommend CNN’s documentary series The Fifties and each decade series that followed; we have such a tendency in our country to forget even our most recent history, and this lack of knowledge is at the heart of so many things wrong with our present day world….it makes me sad.) I remember 1968; I remember the night Bobby Kennedy was murdered. I remember the sense that, with all the rioting and murders and lawlessness seemingly running rampant in the country, that the noble American experiment in self-rule was coming to an end; that these seismic social convulsions would end with the downfall of the country and result in an uncertain future. I didn’t know much about Bobby Kennedy before watching this documentary; I know more now, and watching him in action, his speeches and what he believed in and what he was fighting for leaves no question in my mind that had he not been murdered in Los Angeles that fateful night he had a very good shot at becoming president that year. How different would our country, would our history, be had we not suffered through Vietnam until 1975; had there been no Watergate investigation and presidential resignation; had Spiro Agnew not been vice-president when his past crimes as governor of Maryland surfaced in 1973? But then again, who knows what would have happened had Bobby Kennedy not been shot in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel, or what his presidency would have been like. It’s hard to imagine, though, that the next eight years would have somehow been worse.

When I read Taylor Caldwell’s novel Captains and the Kings in the early 1970’s (it was also made into a mini-series) it was fairly apparent to me that she based the Armaghs on the Kennedys; one would have to be an idiot not to realize that, particularly when she wrote, in an afterward, about how she had warned President Kennedy not to go to Dallas. Caldwell, a conservative and a staunch Catholic, believed in what is generally known as a conspiracy theory involving a coalition of incredibly wealthy and powerful men around the world who decide elections and the future of the world, based on how it will impact their wealth to the positive. In her roman-a-clef about the Kennedy family, originally the patriarch was one of those “captains and the kings” who controlled world events; his ambition, however, for his son to become president eventually overrode his loyalty to the cabal, with the end result that his son is assassinated. The family matriarch believes the family to be cursed; there has always been talk of a curse on the Kennedy family as well.

Given the cruelty of fate to the Kennedy family–one has to wonder. So much death, so many young lives cut short. Awful.

I do recommend the documentary series. Kennedy haters won’t like it, but it’s a nice introduction to who Robert F. Kennedy was, and why he was so important to so many people in that terribly turbulent time.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Misled

Saturday morning, and everything is dripping outside. A thunderstorm woke me up in the middle of the night, but the rain lulled me back to sleep almost immediately. I feel very rested this morning, which is a good thing. Today I am going to write and edit and clean and go to the gym; it’s been a while–I haven’t been to the gym since before the Tennessee Williams Festival, which is not only shocking but scandalous–and I have to make sure this mess of an apartment is under control. I also want to do some reading today; I am rather behind on the Short Story Project, and I really want to finish that Bryan Camp novel. (Preorder it, seriously.)

I reached the halfway point of the Scotty novel yesterday, which was both a relief and a little off-putting. It’s not very good so far, but it’s also a messy first draft; first drafts are supposed to be messy. This weekend i am going to reread it, as well as track the various plots while doing an outline of the first half; this will hopefully help me to catch mistakes and errors, and places where the story may have gotten off track. Sigh. The drudgery that must be done. It’s lovely to not be on a deadline, though, so I don’t that horrible pressure, that sense of time running out. I think that’s all part of the reason I have never felt satisfied with anything I’ve ever published; I always feel like I ran out of time.

So last night I watched the end of Jesus Christ Superstar, and then, bored, scrolled through all of my Apple TV apps until I found Red Dawn–not the remake, but the 1984 original–and thought, Hmmm, I wonder how this holds up, particularly in reading Molly Ringwald’s piece about The Breakfast Club, so I watched that, and have some thoughts. (And yes, I know it was remade recently, and perhaps that might be worth a watch at some point–Chris Hemsworth–but I was more curious to see the 1984 version as a time capsule of its original period).

So, Jesus Christ Superstar. I remember when it originally surfaced in the late 1960’s, a new take on the New Testament and the ubiquitous Christ story. It’s hard for people who weren’t alive during that time to understand how different the world was then than it is now; the changes that the 2016 election was a reaction to were beginning. Christians felt Jesus Christ Superstar was an abomination, a heresy, an attack on their faith; a modern day reinterpretation of the story, an attempt to make all the characters of the New Testament human was seen as an attack on their faith. Telling the story from the viewpoints of Judas and Mary Magdalen was even more offensive; the betrayer and the fallen woman? An attempt to justify and understand Judas, who committed the biggest crime in the history of the Christian faith? And well, the whore?

It was, regardless, incredibly popular; it made Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber stars (paving the way for everything they’ve done since; so in some ways we can blame Cats on Jesus), and the music was everywhere. “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” and “Superstar” played on Top 40 radio incessantly; even Helen Reddy recorded the former and had a hit with it. Ben Vereen was the original Judas and it made him a star. It was made into a film by Norman Jewison, which sparked more outrage and yet the soundtrack was a huge seller, with Yvonne Elliman playing the Magdalen again, with Carl Anderson as Judas and Ted Neeley as Jesus. I loved the film soundtrack–those vocals by Ted Neeley are intense–and listened to it all the time. I think I know the score by heart; but I also remember being criticized by classmates when I moved to Kansas for loving it so much.

I was rather dreading this live concert staging, to be honest; I like John Legend, but just wasn’t sure he had the vocal power to hit those intense notes. I also liked that they had cast a man of color as Jesus; Judas has always been a role for a man of color, and knowing that Brandon Victor Dixon, who’d played Burr on Broadway in Hamilton and Sara Bareilles was playing the Magdalen was reassuring. I didn’t watch it as it aired; we were watching something else Sunday evening, but I was following the live tweets and Facebooking, and the reviews were definitely mixed. But when I watched it myself, despite my misgivings and how much I associated the roles/vocals as already having been definitely performed, I thought it was very powerful and beautifully done.

Even as a child, certain tenets of Christianity, and the mentalities that went with it, made no logical sense to me (I know, trying to find logic and reason in religion is a fool’s game; which is why it’s called faith). The vilification of Judas, for example, never made sense to me. If Jesus is venerated, not just as the son of God but because his sacrifice made our salvation possible, didn’t it stand to reason that had he not be crucified our salvation through faith and Christ wouldn’t be possible? So, to me, it only made sense that Judas also should be venerated; without his betrayal the rest of it wouldn’t have happened. Likewise, the anti-Semitism reverberating through the century, based in the Jews being Christ-killers; if Christ hadn’t been crucified there would be no Christian faith, and no salvation. 

No one I ever asked these questions of were ever able to give me an answer that made sense to me.

So, my watching Jesus Christ Superstar as an adult who no longer considers himself to be Christian was vastly different from the twelve-year-old who saw the film after church on a Sunday. As I watched this time, I was able to see it from a new perspective, a new appreciation of the story; how would people see something like this happening in their lives, in their reality today? Over the centuries Jesus’ Jewishness has been whitewashed out of him; images of the blond blue-eyed Jesus are everywhere (Ted Neeley in the original film is one of those great examples) and I also realized that all the fiction about the mythology of the Christ (and there are a lot of them, from Ben-Hur to The Robe to Quo Vadis and on and on and on; the enormously successful mid-twentieth century author Taylor Caldwell wrote enormous, bestsellers taken from these stories–Dear and Glorious Physician about Luke, Great Lion of God about Paul of Tarsus, and I, Judas) always played up the supernatural and religious aspects of the story; Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the very few I am aware of that actually tells the story from a human perspective. Who were these human beings, these apostles, who listened to the message of Jesus and saw religion and faith and the world in a new light? Who witnessed the events described in the contradictory gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

To me, looking at the story from that perspective–“he’s a man, he’s just a man”–is a lot more interesting, and can provide fresh insight; make it relatable to newer generations. I always thought the resistance of organized Christianity to Jesus Christ Superstar, which made the story more accessible to younger generations, was kind of strange. But times, as I said, have changed. In 1970, the possibility of a live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar was unthinkable. And yet here we are today.

Red Dawn, in its 1984 original version, is a whole other ball of wax. And yet, as a historical document, watching it again now was an interesting experience. We forget the paranoia of the Cold War years, and people now in their thirties don’t remember the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the anti-Russia anti-Communist sentiment that was, in truth, the precursor to the prejudices of today. The fall of the Soviet Union and eastern European communism, the fear of world domination by Communism and the end of “Western freedom” as understood by Americans, was a serious thing; and while it heightened after the end of the Second World War, it existed since the Romanovs fell and the old Tsarist Russian empire became the USSR. Cuba was a huge part of that, too, and the anti-Castro hatred; a Soviet outpost just ninety miles from Florida, the fall of Central American countries under the sway of Cuban Communism…the geopolitical world of that time is incredibly hard to imagine today if you didn’t live through it, and even I forget…yet watching Red Dawn brought it all back vividly.

This is not to say it’s a good film, because it’s not. As a film it fails on many levels, not the least of which is acting and the script itself.

At the time of its original release, the movie was a big deal. People my age–early twenties, teenagers–made it into a hit, and also saw themselves as the characters in the movie, which even then I was all, yeah, right. (We always identify with the heroes in movies; we never see ourselves as the quislings.) The movie is about the outbreak of World War III and a Soviet invasion of the United States; it opens with Patrick Swayze dropping off his younger brother (an incredibly young Charlie Sheen) and his best friend (C. Thomas Howell) at the local high school. The score from the last football game is still up on the scoreboard; a loss for the local team, some good natured joshing about how it’s a disgrace and an embarrassment, the usual straight boy ribbing, and then it’s time for school. During History class soldiers start dropping in from the sky; when the African American teacher goes out to see what’s going on, he becomes the first casualty of the invasion (and my first thought was, of course the only black character in the movie is killed in the first five minutes). There is chaos, a group of the boys escape when Swayze comes back for them–why they drive past any number of commandos and soldiers who are killing everyone in sight and blowing shit up and aren’t targeted or killed themselves is move magic) and then rush out to hide out in the nearby mountains and forests, armed and dangerous, with no idea of what’s going on. Eventually two sisters join them–Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey–and again, there’s really not much development of the characters; ‘something happened’ to the Lea Thompson character which is never discussed, but it’s changed her. Eventually, the kids become the Resistance, calling themselves Wolverines after their high school mascot, fighting back against the invaders.

There’s also a rather telling shot in the opening of the film, where you see the bloodstained back of a pick-up truck, with a close up of the bumper sticker reading You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers. The camera then pans down to the dead body holding a gun; a commando reaches down and literally pries the gun from the cold dead fingers.

Eventually, they hook up with an American soldier who teaches them strategy, tactics, and they become an impressive teen fighting unit; he also explains to them how it all happened (paraphrasing): “All our allies in Europe stayed out of it because they’ve forgotten how to fight especially when they’re not the ones being invaded” and “Cubans infiltrated the country, coming in through Mexico pretending to be refugees from Central America or workers, and were able to get into our bases, ready for the signal.”

You can connect all those dots for yourself. All I will say was I sat there, watching and listening to all of this, and was like, really? And they talk about Hollywood’s liberal agenda?

There’s also a scene where the invaders have lined up a bunch of Americans who refuse to be re-educated, to be machine gunned, and they start singing “America the Beautiful” just before the Wolverines take the invaders out.

I also found myself wondering if anyone in 1984 saw this film as problematic, but I also rather doubt it. I know all my friends thought it was amazing, imagined themselves as freedom fighters, etc.

I know I thought about writing a book about an invasion of the United States; a seed of an idea that over the years has encompassed many themes and realities. Rewatching Red Dawn when my imagination had already been triggered by Jesus Christ Superstar  was an interesting experience.

But the most interesting thing was to see how much my own perspectives have changed over the last thirty or so years.

And now, to get some shit done.

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