Saturday, January 05, 2008

Odds and Ends

Well, it's been sort of a slow week here at the Kaplan hacienda as my self-imposed vacation draws to and end, and I don't have anything particularly interesting to write about. So instead, I'll write about myself and what I've been up to. I realize how self-indulgent and potentially yawn-inducing that can be, but on the other hand, nobody's forcing you to read this.

Even if the past week hasn't been that interesting, I did have a few memorable dreams. In one of them, I was looking for a shovel, so I went into my garage and found about twenty shovels. In my waking life, I only have about two shovels, if you don't count the one that disappeared somewhere -- probably my next-door neighbor's garage -- many years ago. In my other dream, things were coming to life all around me. All I remember is that I was in some sort of grotto, and a big crab about three feet in diameter appeared out of nowhere and slowly crawled past me. Then another crab about twice as big crawled past me as well.

I don't analyze my dreams, so I have no idea what these dreams were about, if anything, and the truth is I don't even care. Most of the time I don't even remember my dreams, and when I do remember them, I usually just ignore them. Every now and then I have a dream that's so annoying that it wakes me up. And even after I wake up, I'm still annoyed because it's usually too early in the morning to get out of bed and too late in the morning to try to go back to sleep.

So that's it for my dreams. I'm not a very good consumer, because I tend to hang on to things until they wear out or break instead of until they simply stop being new. I heard recently that about 99% of consumer goods in the United States get thrown out after six months. That number seems a little high to me, but when you consider that the two major leisure activities in this country are watching television (thereby subjecting oneself to a barrage of advertisements) and shopping, maybe it's not so high after all.

But as I said, I'm not a very good consumer. Part of the reason is that I hate to shop, but the other part of the reason is that I hate to throw out things that are perfectly good. But every now and then, I do go out and buy something. A few days ago, for example, I bought a few polo shirts. The only reason I'm telling you this is that the woman in line in back of me said something like, "That berry one is a pretty color." I didn't even know she was talking to me at first, but I turned around and she repeated herself.

I was sort of confused because I didn't know which of the shirts was berry-colored. I don't even think of "berry" as a color -- I think of it as a berry. There's the strawberry, the blueberry, the blackberry, and the boysenberry, and that's just the beginning of the list. Each of those berries has a different color, so to me, saying something has the color of a berry is almost the same thing as saying it has the color of paint.

It turns out she meant the red one, and I told her I was thinking of not even buying that one because I thought I already had another one of the same color. She told me it was so nice that I should buy it anyway. So I did, but only because there was a sale going on and the guy at the cash register told me that in addition to the sale price, if I bought five shirts, it would cost the same as four. I have a lot of polo shirts of various colors, but most of them could probably be considered the color of some berry or another, except for the black shirts, since blackberries aren't really black.

A day or two before I bought the shirts, I went to a museum to check out a couple of exhibits I was interested in. I liked one exhibit more than the other, but the one I didn't like as much had one saving grace: In one of the rooms, they were playing some early films by Chris Burden.

As you probably know, Chris Burden isn't a film-maker -- he's an artist. And in the early '70s, he was mostly a performance artist, and he documented a lot of his performances on film. I'm not exactly sure what kind of stuff he does now -- I think he mostly builds a lot of things -- but back in the '70s he was notorious for doing things most people wouldn't even consider art, such as being nailed in crucifixion position to a Volkswagen beetle.

Of course, his most famous performance was probably when he allowed himself to be shot in the arm by a friend of his. I remember hearing about this when I was in college, just a year or two after it happened, and then later, sometime in the late '70s, Laurie Anderson wrote a song about it entitled "It's not the bullet that kills you -- It's the hole."

But the thing is, as familiar as I was with this event, I had only heard about it -- I never actually saw it. So I consider it a rare treat to have seen the film of that performance. It was a pretty short film -- maybe ten or fifteen seconds -- and you couldn't really see much. You didn't see the bullet wound or the blood, for example -- you just saw him standing there, and then a few seconds later, you saw him running off camera with his hand over the wound. But that was just one of the films. They also showed the one in which he crawled across a floor of broken glass with his legs bound and his hands tied behind his back, wearing nothing but a very skimpy bathing suit. All together, the films lasted about only 25 minutes, and the sound quality was awful, and I had to wait about an hour before they started since they were showing films by other artists as well, but still, watching them made me feel like I was a part of history somehow.

So that was one of the high points of the week. I did a few other things, but they aren't really worth mentioning. The only other noteworthy news is that my book of short stories, Essential Stories, was published and can be purchased online. I don't like to praise my own work, but I think most of the stories in this collection are really good. The rest of the stories aren't that good, but they still present and explore some interesting ideas. So, as usual, my advice to you is to buy a few copies.

And that brings this week's post to an end. But since it's the first post of the new year, I'd like to wish all my loyal and devoted readers a Happy New Year, assuming you observe that particular holiday.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Roller Skates and Fig Leaves

Remember Melanie, that singer back in the '60s and '70s? I never really liked her -- I always thought her songs were childish and annoying, and I didn't really like her voice much either, but I have a good friend who really liked her back in the '70s, and that, as they say, is why they have horse races.

Anyway, there was one Melanie song that I actually did like -- probably because it was so different from all her other songs -- and that song was Lay Down (Candles In The Rain). I never knew what it was called, and I didn't even know that Melanie sang it, but I was visiting some friends of mine last week and don't ask me why, but somehow this song became a topic of conversation, which ultimately led to us downloading and listening to it.

It's a pretty good song, and it made me sort of curious about Melanie, so I looked her up on allmusic.com, which as you probably already know, is one of the best places on the web to find information about your favorite artists, albums, or songs.

Here's an interesting quote from the allmusic.com entry regarding another song by Melanie: 'Her first subsequent single, "Brand New Key" hit number one on the U.S. charts while on its way to becoming a million seller; thanks to its not-so-subtle sexual undertones, the song became a kind of "in" dirty joke in some circles, and was even censored on some radio stations, but it also made Melanie one of the top-selling artists of the year 1971.'

I always thought Brand New Key was childish and annoying, but I never knew it had sexual undertones, not-so-subtle or otherwise. However, maybe sometimes I miss stuff like that, since I tend to take things sort of literally at times, so I decided to look up the lyrics of Brand New Key and see if I could find the sexual undertones.

I'm sorry to say that I couldn't, so I guess they're still too subtle for me. Maybe they'll be more obvious to you. The only lyrics that sounded even vaguely sexual were from the chorus, which is as follows:

Well, I got a brand new pair of roller skates
You got a brand new key
I think that we should get together and try them out you see


I can see how this could be considered sexual, if you understand "brand new pair of roller skates" to be code for "vagina" and "brand new key" to be code for "penis," but I still think it's kind of stretch to call this a "not-so-subtle sexual undertone," especially considering how tame it is in comparison to lyrics from a lot of other songs of that era. But who knows, maybe all those other songs were censored on some radio stations too.

Of course, not all songs with sexual references were censored, at least not on the radio stations that I listened to. For example, consider the following lyrics from Van Morrison's extremely popular Brown-Eyed Girl:

Cast my memory back there, lord,
Sometimes I'm overcome thinking about
Making love in the green grass
Behind the stadium


I must have heard that song a million times in the late '60s, but apparently none of the Top-40 AM radio stations in my broadcast area thought the lyrics "making love in the green grass" were too overtly sexual, because the song was never banned, as far as I know.

There was an alternate version, however, in which the lyrics "making love in the green grass" were substituted with "laughing and running," so maybe there were some radio stations somewhere that wouldn't play the song with the original lyrics.

Interestingly, I hear the alternate, censored version a lot these days. I have digital cable TV at my house, and the service includes a lot of digital music channels. There's an "oldies" channel that I sometimes listen to while working out at home, and that channel plays only the censored version.

I think that's sort of odd. After all, why should a subscription service in the year 2007 be more skittish about the words "making love in the green grass" than an advertiser-supported AM radio station in 1967? It's too simplistic to say we're more prudish today than we were in the '60s, although that may be true in some respects.

The truth is, this sort of thing has been going on throughout the history of humankind. For example, in the '30s, Cole Porter wrote the song I Get a Kick out of You, which was a popular hit of the time, and which today is still considered a classic. But whenever you hear it today, you never hear the verse about cocaine. And centuries before that, people were given the task of taking perfectly good paintings of nudes and covering the genitals and breasts with fig leaves. So as I said, this has been going on for some time now. Maybe one day we'll grow up and stop this sort of idiocy, but I sort of doubt it.

But that isn't really what I wanted to write about. As a matter of fact, I didn't really want to write about anything. But I didn't post anything last week because I was visiting some friends of mine, and I didn't want to go two weeks without posting something, so this is what I ended up with.