Sunday, August 30, 2015

Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy will take you For a Good Ride

I had long seen the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in bookstores, but it seemed too long to read and the title too eclectic to classify as comedy or science fiction. 109 minutes of DVD, I could handle, and while the science fiction backdrop doesn’t seek any deeper understanding, the comedy made me feel as an honorary member of the British Empire. In other words, plot, cast, special effects, whatever – just the passive/aggressive intellectual and sometimes cryptic delivery of the dialogue makes this 2005 film well worth watching.
Arthur Dent (Martin Freeman) is a victim of said empire and lives his life as if paying penance for its crimes. He respectably adheres to the required norms, while questioning whether there is anything more to satisfy the perquisite English guilt to make him feel like he is letting loose.
Enter Tricia whose lack of an English accent doesn’t have Arthur lost in a dialect that speaks to his yearning to throw off the chains of empire.  Charming, witty and with blue eyes that dim the sky, Tricia springs her impromptu approach right onto the prepackaged Arthur. “Let’s go somewhere….I was thinking Madagascar,” she seeks a partner in her spontaneity.

Obviously hesitant over his Earl Gray, Arthur’s depth falls prey to the serendipitous appearance of the less than sincere Zaphod, who is the President of the Galaxy and played by Sam Rockwell. Happy to troll among his constituency in anonymity, Tricia is taken by his groovy complacence to engage at a moment’s notice and the Hitchhike is on.
“Do you want to see my spaceship? What sort of chat up line is that,” Arthur gripes as the mindless Rockwell makes off with his girl.
We learn all this in flashback on the Vogon spacecraft where Arthur has escaped with the help of a Hitchhiker Guide writer named Ford (Mos Def).   Forcing a towel on Arthur before beaming up, cryptic definitely applies. “You’re going to need this,” he instructs the mystified Arthur as the Vogon Commander’s voice booms across the horizon.
 “The demolition orders have been on display at your local planning office in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your earth years, so you’ve had plenty of time to lodge formal complaints,” the officious alien informs the people of the Earth before imploding the planet.
Soon discovered as Hitchhikers aboard the monstrous ship, Ford and Arthur once again escape doom, and end up aboard Rockwell’s ship – Tricia a compliant occupant.  
Adding to the adventure is a manic depressive robot named Marvin. Programmed with Genuine People Personalities, he’s not hesitant to lay out his lot in life and put it on whoever will listen.  “I’m a personality prototype. You can tell, can’t you?” Alan Rickman grounds the chaos.
Probably necessary as the quartet traverses the reaches for the “meaning of life, the universe and everything,” a gun that allows the target to immediately understand the point of view of the shooter and Earth Mach 2.  
In between, there’s possibly a discussion of larger issues – or more likely – pure irony for laughter’s sake.  “Presidents don’t have power, they’re meant to draw attention away from it,” Ford lets down Zaphod’s puppetry.
Power emasculated by spreading it too thinly isn’t spared either as the trio tries to rescue Tricia from the overly bureaucratic Vogons.  “Leave this too me. I’m British,” implores Arthur as he tries push the necessary paperwork past the uninspired official to save Tricia from execution.
We’re also teased to maybe take a turn at the guide in actual book form. “Many have speculated that if we knew why the bowl of petunias had thought, ‘Oh no, not again,’ we would know a lot more about the nature of the universe,” says the Guide Voice, spoken by Stephen Frey.
Who knows what the towel is about either? But more importantly the galaxy crossed lovers receive resolution – despite The Hitchhikers’ advice in regards to love.  “Avoid if at all possible,” Frey assures.
Even so, you should do no such thing when it comes to this movie. And don’t forget your towel.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Southside Johnny by the Seaside

Southside Johnny Lyon grew up on the Jersey Shore Club scene with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Van Zandt, and a full gamut of R&B performers that the mid 60’s offered. In full collaborative mode, they learned from each other and made their bones before Springsteen hit it big in 1975. But coming from a home where Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters and Big Joe Turner were always playing, he never really considered a career in music until he made the most of stealing his brother’s instrument of choice.
“Playing around with his harmonica and getting into the clubs as a teenager, Jimmy Fox of the Starfires said to me, you’re going to sing with me. Once I got up there, I loved it, and they haven’t been able to get me down since,” said the Jersey legend.
Thus, he gives due credit to his father. “It was my dad who convinced me to leave the post office. He worked there 40 years and always wanted to be a musician. He told me just do it. So I realized I couldn’t work all night and then show up for work at 6AM,” says Lyon.

Fortunately, the opportunities in those days were certainly aplenty, and he didn’t miss the call. “The clubs had bands like the Aztecs, the Jaywalkers and all kinds of Blues. So to me it was like a siren that said, ‘I got to get in there,’ he remembers.
However it was Upstage that got everyone’s eyes and ears flashing. “All the young musicians used to go there and play after hours. Springsteen, Stevie and a bunch of us used to share an apartment. We hung out, listened to music and played monopoly,” says Johnny.

Still, it’s hard to believe that Monopoly was the extent of the escapades. “We used to play poker too, but only with suckers because we needed rent money,” he jokes.
No infighting were also the terms when it came to music. “There was never competition. There still isn’t. We were just lucky to have a place to play, grow and learn from each other,” says Johnny.
As such, the Jukes got their start at the Stone Pony and enlisted Stevie Van Zandt in 1971. “We were able to hang onto him and got three albums out of him before he joined Springsteen, says Johnny.
Their break came when Van Zandt made friends with an engineer in an old recording studio in NYC. “We used to sneak in late at night and ended up with a contract with Epic," says Johnny. 
The day they heard “I Don’t Want to go Home,” on WNEW in 1976 was the moment the Jukes knew they made it. “I went on the road for the next 20 years,” he says.
Having now reached 64, and then some, he reminisces how he’d joke with Paul McCartney on who would die first. “He didn’t I did,” Lyons deadpans.
But he doesn’t attribute his demise to taking full advantage of being a rock star, while exhibiting the appropriate level of shame. “I’ve always been monogamous with my girlfriends so I’m pretty much a disgrace to my fellow lead singers,” he jokes.
Nonetheless, Johnny’s happy to defer on the job requirements. “People are always following you around, and you always have to look great. That’s why I’m not one because it’s a wearing occupation,” he reveals.

So he’s happy to leave the stardom to Springsteen. “When he took off, we loved it. He was one of us, and in continuing to play with us and giving us great songs, he was instrumental in my career," he says.

This left the Jukes plenty of wiggle room to eventually ditch Epic. When we first signed, we had a couple of cool guys in our corner who believed in us. But after people moved on, since we weren’t selling a million records, everyone thought we were crazy. I didn’t want to work for people like that, and when I started my own record company, I could do what I wanted, says Johnny.
All told, Southside Johnny finds all he needs in his music.  “No kids, no pets, no friends,” he slyly concludes.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Lathe of Heaven Proves Idealist can be the most Dangerous among Us

I read Poland by James Michener a number of years ago and came to a startling conclusion after reading the chapters on the Nazi Occupation during WWII. I certainly know of the Holocaust and that Hitler wasn’t particular fond of Poles in general. But I was not aware that his long term goal was to eradicate every single Polish person from that county and the face of the earth. Wow. The question that then arose is how do you get an entire occupying force – especially professional soldiers and officers - to carry out such a definitive action? Well, if they think they are making the world a better place, it’s easy, and that’s what they thought. In this, I determined that idealists can be the most dangerous among us, and that was what came to me as I watched the PBS adaptation of Ursula Le Guin’s, The Lathe of Heaven.

As a child George Orr, played by Brad Davison, learns that he has the ability to change the world’s reality through his dreams. Sometimes having tragic consequences, he seeks help from a Psychiatrist William Haber. Thinking George is a schizophrenic and suffering from delusions, Haber induces the young man into a series of effective dream states to record brain function. Through this process, Haber learns that George is telling the truth and sets on a path to change the world for the good.
As such, Haber encourages George to dream an institute that will be a focal point of this new vision. Of course, Haber is at the helm, and his attire and office space upgrade in step with the new found prestige on the world setting.

The pace seemingly too slow for his sudden preeminence, Haber ups the evolution by having George dream the end of over population.  Probably doing Hitler proud – at least by the numbers – George’s subconscious delivers by wiping out three quarters of the Earth’s population.

Thus, Haber accepts the downside in stride, and his growing megalomania conveniently overlooks his part in the oversight, while blaming George’s twisted mind for the catastrophe. But George’s conscious mind does not suffer the shortfalls of Haber’s grand visions. “You cannot outthink God,” George implores Haber.

“Defeatism,” Haber seamlessly defends himself, “we have to change the world.”

Steadfast, George fails nonetheless in his reasoning that overpopulation is not a problem to be solved in the swoop of a sleep state or any other magic elixir. “You have to build to change things,” he lectures Haber.

Undeterred, Haber takes on world peace and the unification of mankind. So absent the rationality of George’s waking state, humanity is completely united in the face of an alien invasion that threatens to wipe out the rest of the population.

Fortunately, George regains control of his dreams and sets the world back to the chaos rational minds accept as a given. In contrast, Haber loses his mind and takes his place along side other idealists – only the intent to actually make the world a better place serving as a distinction from the truly evil. 

Of course, that matters little to the dead in the lathe of Haber’s creating and serves as an apt lesson to all dreamers.