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Friday, December 23, 2011

Duct Tape for the Holidays!

If your family, like mine, walks on the dysfunctional side of the street, you value distractions—any distraction—during holiday gatherings.  Why not, then, in the interest of family harmony, ponder this question?:

What were the first movies and TV shows where duct tape first replaced rope, cloth, etc. as a sinister restraint of choice?
My own recollections are fuzzy—the great migration seems to have emerged sometime in the mid-1990s.  As a point of departure, view the movie list by the self-appointed “Duct Tape Guys,” on their expansive duct tape web pages. Unfortunately, the list lacks dates.

Duct tape has been around since World War II and highly visible in consumer markets since the 1960s. (WD-40—the yin to Duct Tape’s yang and one of the few substances that can remove it from sticky situations—also has military provenance. It dates from 1953.)

Why then, if I’m right, did it take three decades  for Duct Tape to penetrate the silver and television screens? Perhaps the cinema and TV police refused to allow it. After all, you don’t need to be an Eagle Scout with a black belt in top knots to secure your friends and loved ones to the furniture.  With duct tape in hand, every American young’in with motive and opportunity might become a Houdini in reverse.
With that said, consider the above concerns.  In the spirit of the holidays, bond with your family and friends and share your revelations with fellow Wig & Pen readers. And let us know if the distraction aids and abets the family ties that bind.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Steal this Blog!: Abbie Hoffman Revisited

Abbie Hoffman would have been 75 on November 30. I grew up two streets away from the Hoffmans on Worcester’s predominantly Jewish west side.  Although Abbie was 15 years my senior, his footprint in the neighborhood was sticky. My father, a dentist, did business with  Abbie’s father,  who owned a medical supply store.  “Abbie has once again given Johnny a heart attack,” my father announced one night in 1968  at the dinner table.

Two years earlier, my closest friend—a world class rock musician—had boasted at age 16 that it was Abbie who had first turned him on (to marijuana). [Getting neophytes stoned was like scoring with a virgin; Abbie had many notches on his hemp belt.]
My first exposure to Abbie was as an 11-year-old, in my Saturday morning 6th grade class at Temple Emmanuel.  High-minded educators at the temple had asked Abbie to energize us with tales of his civil rights work in the South.  For a finale, Abbie urged us to grow up and marry both outside the fold of Zion and the Caucasian race. This was way too much culture shock for 11-year-olds in 1961, not to mention the  Jewish liberals who had invited him.

Abbie to his minions: "Cradle the Rock!"

Nine years later on April 14 in Boston I learned first-hand about the power of chiasmus. You know, it’s that figure of speech where in a sentence you flip-flop one of two parallel clauses/phrases  with the other: e.g.,  Ask not what your country can do for you; Ask what you can do for your country! or You can take Abbie out of the revolution, but you can’t take the revolution out of Abbie. On that date in 1970 Abbie helped prime a largely peaceful gathering of antiwar sympathizers on the Boston Common for mayhem later in the day in Harvard Square. His call to action: The time to rock the cradle is over; It’s time to cradle the Rock!  Follow-up  damages included  200 injured  and nearly every street-level window in the square shattered.

Abbie’s way with words (and shtick)  helped fuel his high-profile books, Revolution for the Hell of It (1968) and  Woodstock Nation (1969). Their successor, Steal This Book (1971), was a nightmare for booksellers, especially in Worcester.  After it had been picked clean by "consumers" who had taken its title to heart, booksellers refused to stock it. It also vanished from the shelves of Worcester’s libraries.  At the Worcester State College Library, where my late friend Dan Dick was head reference librarian, the book was stolen and reordered; stolen and reordered. . . Finally, noted Dan, the library reordered the book and secured it on reserve. Can you guess how long it stayed secure?  smirked Dan, a veteran Abbie watcher.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Welch & Rawlings Wow Northampton

Welch & Rawlings:  Spiritual-Musical Heirs of John Dowland?

Gillian Welch in Concert—In reality, it’s a shorthand for Gillian Welch & David Rawlings in Concert. Welch without Rawlings is yin without yang; Laurel without Hardy. Three standing ovations at the end of their November 28th two-hour concert at the Calvin Theater in Northampton, Massachusetts celebrated the musical beast with two fronts & two backs--Welch & Rawlings. (Still, their website and my Calvin ticket cast their brand as “Gillian Welch.”)

Throughout the evening, Welch’s distinctive, nuanced alto and phrasings embodied the constancy of a mature yet ominous river of song. Midway through each number, Rawlings responded with guitar improvisations that consistently surprised while adding crepuscular shadings.  They cut odd harmonic channels and at times added intensity through wanderings on the outskirts of dissonance.

Flow gently their tears
Above all, Welch & Rawlings excelled in material from The Harrow and the Harvest, their  first new cd in seven years. On the disc and on stage, they have embraced an aesthetic that holds melancholy to be most sacred (and thoroughly profane). Together, they’ve donned melancholia’s dark musical vestments, enshrouding themselves and their audience in somber songs like “Scarlet Town,” a “Dark Turn of Mind,” and “The Way It Goes.”  For up-tempo irony at the Calvin, they turned to “Six White Horses,” a thigh-slapping, shoe clomping reverie about a proto-hearse that comes for mama and by the song’s end for the singer/narrator herself. It brought down the house.

In their glass-is-half-empty aesthetic, Welch &Rawlings prove worthy descendants of John Dowland, the post-Elizabethan composer-singer-lutenist whose art exemplified his own dictum: “The Dark Is My Delight.” For him and other practitioners of the genre, melancholia was a good thing—a low-risk musical dwelling place for exploring and embracing dark emotional waters.  As fellow travelers, Welch and Rawlings follow suit but with (at least)  one notable difference—they explore those depths through a woman’s lens. That take on darkness is their delight—and ours.


Dark Turn of Mind:

Flow My Tears (Dowland):

Bonus Track: The Sick Rose (Benjamin Britten/William Blake)