That Cold Night
in December 1980
Thanks for always being on our side.
Few things resemble more our evolutionary pedigree than body hair. Culturally, having a ‘full head’ of it means being young, beautiful, healthy, even powerful. Until it departs on its own, we spent years combing it, cutting it, shaving it, dying it, and splitting it with aplomb.
It’s another story, though, with hair elsewhere but on top of the head. A reminder of how fast we went from furry animal to naked ape, we’ve set strict, and clearly gender-biased, social codes to dealing with its appearance. For ear and nose strays, though, antipathy is genderless.
The inconvenient truth about hair is that it’s easily matted with sexism, racial intolerance, and political and religious oppression. It can get greasy with prejudice, scorched dry with the dust of old traditions, and offensively malodorous, reeking of staled rites and bad blood.
In other cases, the way we look at hair or lack thereof reveals the huge gap between our general perception of what each gender is supposed to look like, and what evolution has determined was the best way to cope with changing climate and environmental conditions. We adapted and changed to survive, but often still carry the phantom of an obsolete, long discarded psychological association.
Chest hair, for example, long thought to be a symbol of manhood and testosterone dominance, has recently been found to actually be a deterrent for potential female mates. Scientists long knew that women’s preference for hairlessness may have been a way to avoid lice and other tiny mites that would enjoy the comfort of chest hair in unkempt males of yore (read, all males born some 10,000 years ago).
Even though that’s hopefully no longer the case (as hygiene habits have evolved), the pattern is still present: a paper, published on the Archives of Sexual Behavior journal, shows that women still prefer ‘relatively hair-free guys,’ over hirsute types, even in areas where that kind of parasite is not a realistic threat to humans. Would skinny Williamsburg hipsters chuckle at this notion too?
THE BRAZILIAN RAPUNZEL
For a while, Natasha Moraes de Andrade had one of the longest hairs in the world, which caught the skittish eye of international tabloids. But when the shantytown girl from Rio sold her most marketable asset at 12, she felt relieved. Easy to see why: some things can make anyone drunk with big dreams. Like her, there are many whose dreams haven’t yet been crushed, bless her souls.
China’s Xie Qiuping, for instance, whose hair measured at one point 18ft 5in – still far from Guinness Record material – also sold it. With the proceeds, she got to do things many 12-year-olds take it for granted, like riding a bike, or not having to spend hours (more)
* Show it, Grow it
A New Yorker who spent most of his life in the U.K., Stanley Kubrick had been an accomplished photojournalist before his movie career as a director took off. His 1946 series for Look magazine, Life and Love on the New York City Subway, displays the same keen eye and compositional style that would mark his filmography later on.
In just a few years, the man who would say at one point that ‘the most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent.’ went on to become anything but, with a string of now classics, such as Path of Glory, Spartacus, Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, 2001, A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange, to name a few.
Today, when he would’ve become 90, Stanley Kubrick is intrinsically connected with the future that he realized with his movies, more than anything he’s ever envisioned. And that’s no small feat for such an overachiever. Even as he just missed the dawn of the iconographic year that named his sci-fi masterpiece, much of what he and Arthur C. Clarke anticipated is finally rising on the horizon of our times.
Not that we should feel too nostalgic about the future that could’ve been, with its interstellar travel, and dreams of finally understanding our evolutionary connection with the ‘indifferent’ universe surrounding us. We’re actually lucky that another one of his disturbing dystopias of what may lay ahead, A Clockwork Orange, based on an Anthony Burgess book, hasn’t quite materialized. Yet.
Before going back to those pictures of a post-war Manhattan, and to a few interesting audio and visual tchotchkes about Kubrick we’ve found on the Internet, let’s do him some justice. For even at the heart of his enormously challenging techno-futuristic visual parables, there was his deeply humanistic option for a different construct of our own fate.
From his anti-war trilogy of sorts, Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and Full Metal Jacket, to his portraits of individuals at odds with an all too powerful system, either stoically like Spartacus, or as a crook, like Barry Lyndon, or even one succumbing to his own creeping madness, as in Stephen King’s The Shinning, Kubrick remained faithful to his non-religious but highly moral Jewish working class roots.
RIDING THE UNDERGROUND
The Museum of the City of New York has some 40 thousand negatives that the young photographer took of Manhattan in the 1940s. Some of his pictures are so cleared eye they could’ve been taken now. Subway riders fast asleep, hanging from the overhead bars, or with their faces buried in newspapers. Yes, you could make that iPhones, but the underlying content would be the same.
Calling him Stan Kubrick, the Camera Quiz Kid, Mildred Stagg wrote in 1948 about ‘the boy who said that had turned nineteen a week ago, and has been a staff photographer for Look magazines since age seventeen.’ And registered the kid’s own impressions about (more)
* The Shinning
* Polly & Meow
* Checking In
* Strange Love
A song stuck in the head is akin to Tickle Torture: a lethal pleasure with a level of agony measured in riffs and laughter. Both are hard to take seriously until the feather strikes, or the loop starts. I don’t know about torture, but I could be easily killed by a lovely song.
It’s called Earworm for a reason, but again, its power is deceiving, compared to, say, a spider literally stuck in the canal. Even more so if the song is, well, lovely. But we all know that’s bull; once that beat gets pounding, it’s either dance to it, or jump off the roof.
No way around it, the clickable bunch below is mostly preposterous. Maybe not to you, who may’ve heard them on your friend’s wake playlist. But they’ve spoiled the weather, and drove me to that parapet many a day, right to the moment when, suddenly, they were gone.
And yet, they carved, wormed if you would, a deep, warm burrow inside me, that when I’m free from their spell, I may dwell into a brief appreciation of their power. That is, right before I feel what ax murderers must feel whenever someone wishes them a nice day.
Studies and the Internet suggest solutions, strategies, and some comfort for the affliction. King among them is to start humming another tune, but that not always works: since lyrics often falter me, the words-and-music combo of loopy songs always reign supreme.
Here they are, with as much unvarnished commentary as a bad parent can offer of his children. Some notable performances, or impressive chart climbing, explain nothing of their appeal, or nauseating side effects. No order, only hope it’s the last I hear of them but doubt it.
PINK LEMONADE – Peppermint Rainbow
It’s embarrassing to think that I was once captivated by this extinct New England group of white kids, but it may had to do with the string quartet. Or The Beatles. It was 1968, after all. Even worse is to admit of searching for years, trying to locate this tune. Once I did, I was doomed. But pink lemonades, I do like them.
LOVE IS ALL – Malcolm Roberts
Song festivals were all the rage in Brazil of the 1960s, and when this unknown Brit won one, all big voice and arms widespread, some must’ve thought about a flash in the pan. Years later, I interviewed the nice chap, who went back to play much smaller venues. But my fav that year was, brace yourself, the ‘great’ Romuald, of Andorra.
QUASE FUI LHE PROCURAR – Roberto Carlos
Still in Brazil, RC was considered the king of rock during that time, but this corny song was what he did best. I Almost Went Looking For You shined for a few months, and then crashed down fast. But not before hooking me up for life. I still hum it on my mind, and once I start it, something inside stops working. The chorus, oh, that chorus.
OBLADI OBLADA – Beatles
This song may have split up the band for good, and I always hated it with a vengeance. But while I can listen to all their other ones, without tiring and never having enough, this one has probably played on my mind more than any other. Which crushes my soul. Every time. And you know what? it’s not a bad reggae. Actually, it is.
OH ME OH MY – B.J.Thomas
Hard to believe that Elvis felt threatened by this guy, but he did score a number of hits in the king’s backyard. For some reason, this one stuck with me, and I can’t even listen to the end of it. Actually, I don’t need it: just writing about it gets me going, all the way to the ‘my crazy babe’ part. To use a tired bromide, Sad.
IF – Bread
Two words that should’ve given it away, but millions fell for the cliche-ridden verses and saw-sounding guitar. Not that David Gates lacked talent, or a voice to melt housewives and secretaries alike. But after Telly Savalas talk-sang it to death, only Sinatra to finally (more)
* The Standards
* Newspaper Taxis
Four years for now, some of us will complete the four decades that separate us from John Lennon’s last birthday, on Oct. 9, 1980. His life had been so intense up to that day, that the same length of time following it seem now warped and much emptier in comparison.
In his last two months, the man was full of hope, ready for a comeback that’d be only partially realized. Whether his best work was really behind him there’s no way of knowing, but since then, we’ve been badly missing whatever was that only he could’ve delivered.
And he has indeed given us plenty, enough to keep us busy going over it even now, so many years later. Just like a post we’ve published four years ago, about a particular moment in 1967, that wouldn’t have had such an imprint on all of us hadn’t been for him.
Like another way of marking a date that still holds us under its spell. Even without knowing that the next two months were his final countdown, John lived his life with the intensity that only those who know they’ve got just this one chance to do it, really do it.
He’d have been 76, this time around. Instead, he’ll never age a day older than 40. Amazing to learn that many born since then consider him a friend, and his songs, a guide to live intensely and grow wiser. Happy Birthday, John. Thanks for everything.
I’d spent the whole day with that song playing on my mind. But had no idea that I’d wind up singing it late at night to a room full of Koreans. It was fun, but let’s be clear: it was not the highlight of my life.
The disclaimer is apropos of a coda that my wife always finds a way of inserting, whenever the story pops up at family and friend gatherings. Which, I must quickly add, it’s hardly ever mentioned anyway.
She says it with a sweet smile insulating the blade of her tart tirade. A certain imagined past she swears by I’m still stuck at, can be squeezed out of it, like blood from a surgical scrub. In my defense, I invoke happier times that I’ve spent on stage, to no avail.
For that usually happens only later. No matter how many times I get stung by the putdown, I can never think of an equally sharp rebuff to throw back at her. There, in just four brief paragraphs, I’ve given you all the wonders of married life, warts and all.
There had been a few bar stops before we wandered into this splashing island of colored lights at the heart of Koreatown. In a city full of towns, one can hit Africa and Latin America, skip Europe, and duck right into a dive out of Seoul.
Back in my waiting tables days, I’ve worked for James, a friendly chap whose real name I wouldn’t dare to pronounce. He was the one to educate me on the nocturnal habits of single Koreans, once they’re in a striking mood for finding mates.
Guys sit on one side, and girls on the other, and the waiter is the go-between. You like that gal? tell the waiter and, for a tip, he’ll deliver your message to her. Which may be a flower, a fancy drink, or an entire bottle of Scotch for her and her giggling friends.
SONGS TO GET WASTED BY
Hey, I could do that, I thought, for a moment forgetting that with my looks, I’d never make it as far as the frame of the front door. But couples do get together and fall in love, their secrets safe with the go-betweens. And the tips are outstanding too, I’m told.
Give it a few years, and some of those guys and gals are hitting the karaoke bars, after work. Overtired and thirsty, it’s unreal how well Billy, from Payroll, and Janet, from Receivables, can duet a Whitney Houston tune into a late night epic apotheosis.
Stats may exist somewhere, about what are the most popular songs, and artists, karaoke enthusiasts prefer, but I suspect that none in the top 10 list is among my favorites. Celine Dion comes to mind. A few-octaves-lower Maria Carey. The theme from Ghost.
Lack of scientific method never stopped the Internet: some lucky keystrokes and voilá, dozens of sites pop up, with popular karaoke lists. And best fits for when you’re drunk. Or throwing a birthday. Or simply out, lonely, searching for a new hit.
LOOK, MY BROTHER IS ON TV
Which was probably not what Daisuke Inoue had in mind when he created the machine. It made him famous, but not rich: he’s still not credited as its creator and doesn’t seem to mind. Karaoke exists in its own space and time, and the usual rules hardly apply.
In my book, Elvis is perfect for just such a space and time: his catalog is immense, full of wild rocks and mid-tempos and high-octane semi-standards, and there’s no risk of playing a bigger ass than the 1970s Las Vegas version, or rather, pastiche of his.
Of course, I grew up with the best and the worst (more)
* Long Live
* The Man Behind the King
* Album Art
Frankie was the singer baby boomers loved to hate. But then along came maturity, and the recognition of his maverick spirit, and they finally connected with the Chairman of the Board. By then, he’d already earned the nickname that the so-called Greatest Generation had given him: The Voice. Still, he never seemed to care much about that sort of stuff.
That’s part of the allure of Frank Sinatra, who’d be 100 this Saturday: first he grew on the very people who grew up with him. They were enthralled and disgusted, at times sympathetic and repulsed about every one of his ups and downs. And he had many, collected as sobriquets, each marking a distinct moment of his trajectory. And then, he got to you.
The great swinger was a reference point to the popular music that animated and chastised the many revolutions of the 20th century, with two world wars to boot. He also added a few deep sulks of his own to its history. Like sex, for instance, arguably his greatest contribution as an interpreter, and the differential between his art and that of other crooners of his time.
It permeated his whole carrier, from the screaming teenage girls, anticipating Beatlemania by decades, to the virile enunciation and graceful phrasing of his maturity, to the weariness of his final years of artistic brilliance, in the early thunders of the rock and roll explosion. He faced the decline of his vocal chords prowess with the stoicism of a fallen hero.
As Sinatra progressed towards irrelevance, a man who’d conquered one too many heartbreaks to count, he could no longer understand the primeval beat that had replaced the precise jazz syncopation he used to excel at. The urgency and straightforwardness of rock lyrics offended his American Standards-educated sensibility. Even his political sympathies were out of step with the times. (more)
* The Standards
* 50 Summers