The Making of The Mask

Four years ago, I was halfway into my third novel, The Mayor is a Gringo,  and gaining  momentum on a sequel to my memoir, Cinema Penitentiary, when my daughter. Estrella del Carmen, was born, and I no longer had the blocks of time neccessary  to continue work on either one.  I was able, however, to knock off 15 articles a day describing various auto parts, but that ended abruptly when my employer was imprisoned after being convicted on a non- violent drug charge.

Two years before the birth of my daughter, I had joined a group that set aside the month of February for its members to write and record an album.  I had always written songs erratically throughout the years, and the result was, excepting the instances when I was writing them for one of many reasons, a hit or miss randomness. I reasoned that by limiting my songwriting to one month out of the year,  the scattered impressions woud be replaced by a  more unified vision.

So I worked steadily on fiction and essays throughout the year, setting aside february for songwriting. This worked for the first two years, but with a newborn to care for, I could not focus on the fiction, and decided to express all my ideas through song.  Once I worked a song out in my head, I could write it down in an hour or so, then record take after take in stolen moments until it seemed finshed.  I joined another group that required one to write and record 50 songs in three months, and after the first year was writing a song every day. This last February, after my daughter turned four, and I had completed seven albums in eight months, I was certain that I had exhausted my musical and lyrical ideas and was intent upon leaving songwriting behind to return to other pursuits.  

My wife had just started a new job as co-ordinator of all mental health facilities in the northern sector of Lima. By the middle of March we had enough money saved to move to a new apartment across the street from the clinic in which her office was located.  We had been living with three branches of her family in her mother’s three story house and were eager to start life as a single unit family consisting only of mama, papa, and baby.

The day after we moved, the Covid-19 lockdown was announced, and neither Estrella nor I has left the apartment since.  Kelly spends most of her time across the street engulfed in paperwork, which she brings home and works on for most of her non-working hours.  I spend nearly all my time playing  on the floor with plastic animals and barbie dolls,  cooking and cleaning,  and coloring dinosaurs while cartoons and childrens songs fill the air.

In April, I was invited to participate in poetry writing month by writing a poem every day. This was a welcome challenge, as I had been planning to put in some time improving my weak attempts at lyrics that could stand on their own, without music.  When the month ended, and I had filled a notebook with poetry that reeked with coronavirus paranoia and speculation,  I couldnt help but reach for the guitar and digital recorder.

There was rarely a moment during the composing and recording of these songs that I was not under  seige by my daughter,  who demanded my participation in perpetual play, and often when i did manage to break away from her to attempt a recording, she would break into my room, yelling and laughing and ruining the take.  On one occasion,  she joined in singing with such gusto and a remarkabl feel for lyrics she was hearing for the first time, that I saved the mangled take and ultimately used it for the album.   On another song, I wrote a part for her to sing.  When  finished recording and sequencing the album  it sounded to me like it was recorded on death row, not in a child’s playroom.

It is a paradox that this most despairing album was created in such a childish and playful atmosphere.  But I am not a depressed person. I love life,  and hate to see it wasted.  The Mask is an affirmation of the neccessity for human consciousness in the universe, the holiness that shines from every human being, and the darkness that descends with each death.

A film maker from my hometown whose work I despised recently passed away, and news of her passing filled me with an inexplicable sorrow.  In my professional capacity as a film critic, I was merciless in my assessments of her work, but my critical appraisals no longer matter.  That so many loved her and her work is what remains.  After the lights went up on a press screening of her first film, I had turned to the critic sitting next to me and moaned that this was one of the worst movie I had ever seen.  “I loved it,” she replied.  “I mean, I really loved it.”  And I realize now that she is the better for her love, and I am the worse for my hatred.  And I know that the light that emanated from this film maker’s conciousness spread so much joy among so many people that it touched…and the prospect of the life force, so precious,  now being exterminated on such a horrifying scale……..

Well, this is what I have tried to express in The Mask. 

1.Fruit of the Flesh 02:37lyrics
2.Transmission Mechanism 01:29
3.The Mask 01:55
4.April 2020, New York City 03:03
5.Virus Free 01:54
6.Mother Country 06:47
7.A Suffered Soul 02:46
8.Handle Up the Roof 02:19
9.I See the Line 04:47
10.Ratification / Psychedelation 03:36
11.After All These Starry Nights 02:43

about

This is what a pandemic sounds like, feels like…it eats awayy at your miind, , body, and spirit as it brings you face to face not only with your own death, but with the possiblility of the extinction of all consciousness in the universe.

credits

released May 23, 2020

all songs written and performed by bill white during lockdown in lima, peru april-may 2020

license

all rights reserved

to stream or download album, click on link https://billwhite.bandcamp.com/album/the-mask , or listen to individual songs direct from playlist listed above

Cicada Song is a Rare Find Among Recent Indie Productions

Since the advent of high definition digital technology, movies should be cheaper than ever to make.  Yet more money than ever before is spent on their manufacture.  The reason is that the people who are making the movies dont know what they are doing, so they hire, at great expense, warehouses filled with technicians to make their movies for them.  What they themselves cannot accomplish, they pay others to do. So much so that $500 million is an acceptable budget for an A picture, especially when the potential to make twice that much in the first weekend at the box office is there.

Independant film was traditionally defined as a film made outside of the studio, often with non-union workers.  Today, with most of the studios having lost their autonomy over the films in which they are involved, an independant film may  now be defined as a film made made with private investors, even when some of those private investors may represent the remnant of a studio.  I am nostalgic for the days when a movie opened with a grand announcement that it was a 20th Century Fox, a Universal, or an MGM Picture.  Today, we often have to sit through five minutes of production credits before the title.  Studios no longer have an identity, even when they are involved in some obscure capacity.

Independant film makers were mavericks who could buck  the system because they didnt need the system.  they knew how to write and direct,  had professional relationships with DPs who had all the knowledge of studio film making but none of the restraints, and knew how ro cast a picture with actors who were more interested in their roles than their own market value. 

Since it is relatively easy to get something on the screen that looks like a movie with just a little bit of financing, the market has been overwhelmed with independant product that is worse than anything since the porno explosion of the seventies.  Having covered the Seattle International Film Festival from 1999-2009, I have been torturously aware of the drop in quality of the indie market.   Still, I continue to seek out the one in a hundred sincere artistic efforts among the festival flotsom and when I find it, the search proves worthwhile.

I recently stumbled upon a film with the compelling title Cicada Song.  It is the first feature by director / writer Michael Starr, and featured, aside from Joseph Bottoms and Kim Reed,  a largely unknown but somewhat experienced cast. The story, a mystery concerning shady real estate deals and disappearing chilfren, promised to touch on subjects such as the precarious and often hostile relationshops between Latino and white Americans.   The film begins with  grisly and horrific images of a battered woman struggling for survival in the wildernness.  The first thing I noticed was that her wounds were not exploited by the make up or camerawork. The presiding shot was a high angle view of her head from behind, so that the ugliness of the facial wounds were downplayed.  The second thing I noticed were two women waking up in bed together, exchanging loving morning greetings, with no exploitation of their LGBT orientation.  And rght though to the end, this love affair was written and directed with every bit of tenderness and strenth that any relationship deserves.  When moments in the film came wherein their orientatiion was a factor in a scene, it was never either downplayed or exploited.  In fact, Lyndsey Lantz and Jenny Mesa take the prize as my favorite movie couple of 2019.

I was also very much taken with the way director/writer Starr dealt with the racial aspects of the story.  The tension between the whites and the Latinos was always present, even in the most minor circumstances.  And the fear of deportation provided a major motivation for the silence of those victimized . 

Ryan Griswold’s cinematography captured the envirvonent with  such a precise eye that it is difficult to believe that he has had but a decade of work on shorts and television to his credit.  He is somebody to watch.  The music from Alex Williamson is equally fine, and the theme song playing over the end credits settles the mood of the film perfectly. You wont want to get up until the song is complete.

I was much more interested in the characters, their situations and interactions, than the uravelling of the mystery.  I imagine this may also be the case with Starr, as well as with his people both in front and behind of the camera.  People dont make a movie simply to give the audience a joyride with a few protracted moments of tension and relief.  Starr has some important things to say here, and he was lucky to find the people to share his vision.

As I mentioned earlier, when you have people who know what they are doing, and why, you dont need that much money to make a great little film.

Oscar Injustice

Image result for bombshell

Imagine all three Charlies Angels suing their boss for unwanted sexual advances, the result being each of the three plaintiffs receiving $15 – $25 million in damages  and the defendent being fired from his job with a $35 million separation package.  Contrast with Dupont poisoning 99% of life on Earth with a chemical used in the manufacture of Teflon, and settling with the next of kin of a few of those who have died from the exposure for a few million apiece, and you not only see the triviality of Bombshell compared to Dark Water, but a key to why the values of America are so screwed up.

Next consider that model turned actress Charlize Theron has received a Best Actress nomination for her one note performance in  BOMBSHELL and Margot Robbie receives a supporting nomination in the same movie..but nothing for Mark Ruffalo’s exceptional performance as the tireless investigator of Dark Waters or Anne Hathaway’s distinguished turn as his wife.  Granted, neither of these movies is of what was once considered Oscar Quality, and neither of the actresses playing Fox News Succubi are likely to win Oscars, but the comparative grosses of Bombshells $32 million to Dark Waters $12 million suggests that the world is far more interested in the erotic tribulations shouldered by Fox News tramps than the contamination of the planet by deadly chemicals. 

Twenty five minutes into another Oscar nominated movie, Jo Jo Rabbit, awretched, formless, neo hipster take on hitler youth and i cant take any more.  this is one of the lamest, dullest, and yuckiest movies i have tried without success to watch.   For a good movie on the subject, check out louis malles lacombe lucie.  For an excellent satirical portrait, there are some classic scenes in Fellinis Amarcord.  But this is just garbage. I suppose Scarlett Johansson was nominated here in the supporting category because she hasnt a chance of beating out Rene Zellweger in the leading actress category.  I havent liked Johansson since Ghost Stroy, but she was very good in Marriage Story.  Her nomination for that performance, though she will lose (if there is any justice left in Hollywood)  to Zellweger’s transcendent portrait of Judy Garland  is enough honorable mention for her limited talents.

Other actresses competing for honors include Saoirse Ronan, whose scenes provide the only watchable moments in the otherwise execrable Little Women, and Florence Pugh, who should have been nominated in the leading category for her outstanding work in the utterly ignored Midsommer.  Instead, she receives a support nomination for a terrible showing in Little Women, one of the worst movies of the year that has been nominated for Best Picture alongside another of the years worst, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  

Quentin Tarantinos movie is  a pathetic  attempt to cannibalize his former self.  Twenty five years ago,  when his short shelf life was nearing its expiration date, he drew remarkable performances from John Travolta and Samuel Jackson, one of the best buddy pair ups in movie history.  He tries to strike gold again with Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. but there is absolutely no charisma between them, and individually they are deplorable bores.  Yet each as been nominated for an Oscar, DiCaprio for the lead and Pitt for the supporting roles.  Pathetically, the movie has also been nominated for its meandering screenplay, as well as a heap of technical awards it does not deserve., the solidly entertaining yet slight

Marriage Story is the best of a bad bunch in one of the worst years for Best Picture nominations, but it is too slight to win, so the top honors should go to 1917.  Although I am not among its cheerleaders, it must be admitted that director Mendes achieved what he set out to dom and that in itself puts it heads above the failed self cannibalisms of Scorsese and Tarentino, let alone the absolute incompetence of Greta Gerwig, who deserves thanks only for refraining to appear in the film herself.

1917..World War One as a Video Game

A millennial recently told me that she doesnt watch movies.  Instead, she plays video games.  Why watch a movie when you can be a part of the action?  Movies have been becoming more like video games for some time now, and 1917 completes the transition.  All that is missing is viewer participation.  The film is designed like a video game.  Its set design is structured as a series of skill levels, beginning with warm up walk to the the general’s office, where the the routes and objectives are explained to our avatars, played by two little known and not very accomplished actors.

The second level is a run through the trenches, with miniature confrontations with soldiers who represent minor impediments to their progress. This run, like the preceding and many subsequent ones, is shot in what is seemingly one long take by a camera following the runners.  At this point, the avatars  are not in harm’s way.  They are simply required to provide the neccessary retorts to the obstacles who would prevent their progress.

As a narrative film, the first 45 mintes of 1917 are a virtual waste of time. For a gamer, however, they provide a warm up that sets the pace.  It is not until the avatars reach the fourth level where, after clearing the trenches and covering open ground, they take shelter in a building formerly occupied by enemy troops, that a potential arises for the film to become somewhat interstong. At this point they  do something incredibly stupid, something that makes no sense yet has been preceded by an event that has caused them to become complacent in such a situation.  The result is the first bit of suspense and  release offered by the film,  The effect is jarring while the technology behind the effect is faulty.  The event itself provides a turning point in the film that, under conventional circumstances, would have jump started the story that was so long in hitting its starting line.

Instead, this is where the gaming begins, as our principal avatar becomes our sole alter ego, fighting our way through a series of escalating danger zones,  enemy fire coming from predictable directions, and his response just as ours would be were we playing a video game. The sets are spectacular.  One in particular evokes the Du Long Bridge sequence from Apocalypse Now in all its psychedelic horror.  But I have to agree with the millennial.  This would be so much more fun were I the player in the game rather than passively sitting here waching the progress of an avatar. 

Regarding the climax.  My powers of observation were so weakened by the tedium of the experience that I could not tell whether or not the mission was successful, My guess is that it was partially accomplished.

If you are interested in seeing a real movie about the first world war, check out the link at the top of the page.  The movie is 90 years old, but dont let that scare you off. The war itself happened over 100 years ago.

To School or Not to School

I was recently asked by novelist/photographer/teacher Cindy Bruchman (https://cindybruchman.com/ ) if I regretted not having gone to college I have been mulling over my answer to her for the better part of a week, and will try to set it down here, as the subject may be of general interest to some.

I have usually lived in the university districts of college towns  Although I was only officially enrolled at one college,   I spent many years auditing classes. My first critical encounters with movies occurred in the film studies programs with Richard T Jameson and Kathleen Murphy at the University of Washington.  My presence in their classes was no  pleasure for them, but I am forever grateful for what I learned in their classrooms. Sone years l later, I enjoyed several lectures by Noam Chomsky at MIT, where I worked as a  librarian at the library of Geophysics.  I had also filled in for a professor at the Harvard School of Business while he was off doing research in Japan (not teaching his classes, merely answering his mail and telephone calls), had facilitated a move of the Harvard Law library, and acted for David Wheeler’s directing class at Harvard. At Boston Univerity,  I was hired by Nobel Prize–winning poet and playwright Derek Walcott to direct African playwrite Nabie Swarays Worl Do For Fraid.  After seeing my production of Hamlet at Suffolk University, poet Richard Moore engaged me to give a lecture on the play  to his students at the New England Conservatory of Music.  After seeing my adaption of Wuthering Heights, Bostpn University professor Lin Haire Sargeant, author of H, a sequel to Wuthering Heights, produced a revival of my production for her own theatre company.

So  I am no stranger to the Academia.  I treasure my many memories of the people I have met and/or worked with inside those halls, including Sam Fuller, Norman Mailer, Susan Sontag, Geraldine Ferraro, Barack Obama, David Mamet, Philip Glass, and Linda Hunt,as well as the three people I hated more than any other  creatures encountered on planet Earth=== Madalyn O Hare, Bernard Law, and BF Skinner. 

My only regret in not having graduated from one of these institutions is that I  have lived a life below the poverty line in spite of accomplishing much more in the fields than hired graduates of those programs. For example, graduates in the school of Journalism earned five times what i did as proof readers of the copy I wrote for the Seattle Post Intelligencer that would not hire me on their staff because of my lack of a diploma, although they did print over a half million of my words.  Imagine how  many master theses that number of words would have earned in a graduate  school.  I also worked with a comedian who was making a transition from comedy clubs to the Broadway stage.  Together, we developed a show that was so successful that it propelled him into a much higher tax bracket.  But when the show that I directed opend in new York, it had another director attached to it.  He got the money and the fame without  doing anything but overseeing two technical rehearsals. Why?  Because I wasnt qualified to direct the show that I had directed because I didnt have the proper papers.   And the list goes on throughout a lifetime of working for peanuts while people who did much less demanding work were pulling down big salaries.  So this would be my only regret in not graduating from college, but what I have gained from the intellectual and artistic freedom I have enjoyed  has been well worth the economic suffering.

Although I would have gladly given everything to have been a student of Harold B;oom at Yale, most college students settle for much less from their professors.  A friend who studied at the University of Washington spent an average of 2-3 days each on authors such as Homer, Virgil, and Dante in his World Literature course.  He didnt come out learning too much, and upon receiving his Maters decided it would be more lucrative to start a landscaping business to pursue a teaching career. I remember playing Trivial Pursuit with a woman who had a similar Masters Degree.  The clue was the family name of a fictional group of Russian brothers.  When I suggested Karamazov, she laughed, thinking I had made up a funny sounding fake Russian name.   Then there was the psychiatrist who confused Jung with Freud.    So no..I do not regret having been deprived of such educations.

We are so lucky to live in a time and place in which all human knowledge is at our fingertips.  I grew up in the Seattle Library, reading everything.  Not everybody can go to college, but there is no stopping anybody from filling their heads with the whole history of human thought.  Its all out there in the open,  available to all.

On my first day of college, in English class, the professor asked the students to raise their hands if they knew the difference between a noun and a verb.  Nobody raised their hand.  I learned the definition of a noun when I was seven years old, and was re taught it every year until graduation.  And every year the kids didnt seem to get it.  And now, in college, it was the same thing.  Halfwits trying to figure out the difference between a noun and a verb.  After calling on a few students to offer their definitions, the professor closed the grammar book and recited the lyrics to Like a Rolling Stone, telling us it was more than a song lyric, it was a poem.  I had never been so embarrassed. Outside the classroom window, students had boycotted classes to protest the war in Vietnam.  I put aside my books aside and joined them

Golden Globes

The first week of the New Year passes.  Australia burns.  500 milion animals  dead.  On the beach, there is only one way out.  Put on a life jacket and swim into the ocean.   Assassinations and charades.  Looking back at the alternte reality satire, Winter Kills, from a novel by Richard Condon, author of The Manchurian Candidate and Seven Days in May.  Vilmos Zsigmond is the DP and the cast includes John Huston, Anthony Perkins,  Jeff Bridges, Dorothy Malone, Toshiro Mifune, Richard Boone, and an uncredited cameo by a reclusive legend that is like a desert after a twelve course meal.  Winter Kills is one of the best movies of the seventies and does  not even boast a star director.  William Richert is an unheralded maverick whose career never went anywhere, but shows here that he can direct as well as any of the decades superstars. He also wrote the astoundingly good screenplay.

Aside from throwing golden bones to their pet dog Quentin Tarantino, the Golden Globe awards were fairly distributed, at least among the actors, all of whom were deserving.  Rene Zellweger, Joaquin Phoenix, Cate Blanchett, Ana de Armas, and Brian Cox were all justifiably honored.  As for the television shows and special awards, I could care less.  Ricky Gervais was hilarious, though, the best host of any awards program since the rise of the plebeians.

I have failed in three attempts to watch The Lighthouse, which is immediately boring and after five minutes I am in mental paralysis.  I have been nodding out midway through most movies, but usually wake up for the endings, and dont feel my brief naps have deprived me of anything pressing, so therefore I have not bothered to go back to find what I had missed.  Hammer’s 1961 inheritance mystery, Scream of Fear, with Susan Strasberg and Christopher Lee, may well deserve a second, more complete, look at some point.  And I ddnt sleep at all throughout the thoroughly excellent Knives Out, boasting a cast any member of which is deserving of an Oscar.  This is a return to the high concept, star studded murder mysteries of times remembered.

On the other end of the entertainment spectrum is a silly, childish thing from South Korea called The Beautiful Vampire. Why did I keep watching?  What was I expecting?

The Nazis and the Reds

Saw two movies today.  Fell asleep for a bit in the middle of each.  Dont feel I missed anything. In Storm Center, Bette Davis plays a librarian who loses her job for refusing to remove a book about communism from the shelves.  Made three years after the publication of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451,  the ending of the film echoes some of the novel’s themes, but without the benefit of an intriging story. 

Ther was one bit in which the librarian defended Hitler’s Mein Kampf, on the grounds that reading the book helped define and condemn the enemy, and she believed this book had a similar value in undoing its own propagandistic intent.  When I was a pre-teen, I saw two documentaries that primed my young mind against the Nazis and the Reds.  Mein Kampf was not based on Hitler’s books, but focused on the atrocities of his regime.  I was eight years old, and the film led me to read William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which I condensed into a 60 page essay that so astounded my teacher that the school had me read the whole thing into a tape recorder for their archives.  It was my first  work of virtual plagiarism, which I followed with several science fiction and horror stories derived from the movies of the period, and four years later I won a national essay writing contest with a piece on Helen Keller.  That was the same year that I played the lead in the school play, Make Room for Rodney, a part I got primarily because I played the trumpet. Three years later. I would write and direct the school Christmas play.

The other movie I saw was the anti-communist documentary, We’ll Bury You. This one didnt have the visceral impact of the other, but since   fear of the Russians and the impending doomsday was a cloud we kids lived under for what should have been our childhoods, the title itself was frightening.  I only now realize how misleading the interpretation of Khrushchevs threat was.

I was watching a movie in whiich a woman mentioned that she had buried her husband.  She did not mean to infer that she had killed him. She had simply outlived him.  I do not believe that Khrushchev was threatening to blast the United States to rubble, but that he was boasting that Communism would outlive Capitalism.  It was not a military challenge, but a proclamation of ideological superiority.

Reading Khrushchevs memoirs, I was intrigued by his claim that the Cuban missle stand off was a charade he and Kennedy devised together as a show of Kennedys strength to his own military, which considered him weak and indecisive.  Whether this was true or not we may never know, but it is surely a possibiliy, and if true,  was not the entire Cold War some kind of devious joke on both countries by their leaders.  And how does that relate to the horrendous reopening of hostilities between the two countries, nearly thirty years after the fall of the Soviet Union?  Furthermore, when will the nation at large wake up to the fact that the Russians had virtually defeated the Germans before the Americans became fully involved in the battle, having delayed action against the Nazis until ten years after Hitler had taken power and four years since his invasion of Poland?  It seems to me that the  cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union had more to do with the dividing of the spoils of WW2 than a conflict of ideologies. And what is re-emerging today is  the rivalry between empires that shall determine who calls the shots when all governments become subserviant  to one ruling force.

The other movie that had a weak middle was the cute Korean comedy, The Beautiful Vampire.

Day of Rest

New Years day was hot, and I spent much of it lazing in the pool with Estrella.  Everybody was pretty shot from lack of sleep. In the afternoon, there was a reprisal of last nights party, with a contigent of the family  empire returning to scarf the leftovers from dinner to call it lunch. I watched a couple of movies.  Lenzis 1975 kidnapping/revenge picture, Syndicate Sadists, and a 1961 inheritance murder mystery from Hammer, A Taste of Fear.   Both were just interesting enough to watch through to the end. 

Like so many people, I gag myself when reading facebook posts.  These virtual rap sessions inevitably end with someone proclaiming End of Discussion.  I often wonder if there were any discussion to speak of, or if one news source was simply arguing with anpther news source.  

On a songwriter page, someone was explaining what a time signature was, and another person, one who was boasting abut his hot new tracks,  offered profuse thanks, confessing that he hadnt even known what a time signature was.  I was tempted to tell him that if he had learned to play an instrument in elementary school, he would have learned all about time signatures before he was eight years old.  But I stifled myself. 

Back in the 1990s,  when teenagers were running away from their small town homes to Seattle, a kid asked my opinon on something that had been troubling him. He wanted to know what he should do first.  Learn an instrument or start  a band?  I suppose his reasoning was that it would be pointless to learn an instrument if you were not in a band but once in a band it would be neccessary to learn how to play an instrument. At the time, the issue seemed absurd, but today Im not so sure.  It is possible to make something that sounds like a hit record without any knowledge of music or literary skills.  One can use computer apps to generate a random chord progression as well as a melody connecting the harmonic changes, design  a list of words and phrases associated with your song title sugggested by the computer and organizes them into lines to fit the melodic  phrases, and finally employ the magical band in a box to  drape the whole thing in a winning arrangement in any genre and era that you like.  And presto, you are a songwriter.

Next step is to complain that you are not famous.  When I was at that age, being famous was the last thing on my mind.  I was happy with receiving a passing grade on my composition for music theory class. And even after I had graduated, there was good reason for my not being famous.  I was not good enough.  I played in bands for five years before getting my first gig.  Back then, people formed bands because they were musicians not because they thought they were cool. 

If you were a singer, you were not Jim Morrison.  If you were a guitar player, you were not Jimi Hendrix.  If you were a songwriter, you were not Bob Dylan.  So who were you?  Maybe if you stuck with it, you would become somebody   Until then, there were plenty of people to learn from.  The people who were famous were famous because they were better than you.  Even the local bands that played regular gigs had more on the than you did.

That is not true today.  Any half witted teenager with a computer loaded with writing and production apps could generate something as good as Eddie Sheeran .  So when that kid with no musical or literary skills posts his surefire hit song onto soundcloud or YouTube, and wonders after 48 hours why he is not famous,  perhaps he has a point.

Happy New Year! From the Penitentiary into the Afterlife

Once upon a time, Thanksgiving was the most boring day of the year.  From the time I woke up untiil late in the afternoon, everybody in the family except my mother did nothing but wait to eat dinner. We killed time by cracking nuts and chewing on them. There was nothing on television except endless parades and sports.  Everything was closed, so we had to stay home, waiting to eat  And after all that food was scarfed, we were sleepy and our stomachs ached.

But Thanksgiving in Seattle was a high time compared to New Year’s Eve in Lima.  Since the party did not begin until midnight and usually went on for three or four hours at the least,  the day was wasted in trying to get some sleep in order to be able to stay awake for the party. And unless one was accustomed to daytime naps, actual sleep was a difficult, if not, impossible, acquisition.

I spent most of the morning putting together an album of the most popular songs I had written and recorded in 2019, selecting them  month by month according to the number of plays and downloads they received.  Then I argued about movies and politics on facebook  while drawing up a list of my ten favorites movie of the year.  This was easy, as I simply dashed off the titles of all those I could remember.  Usually I stop watching a movie after the first reel if there is nothing in it of any promise.  And much of what I do manage to stick with until the end only keeps me engaged as a distraction to the thoughts that keep me awake at nght.

So here are the ten, in no particular order, and recalled with little critical thought

  1. The Last Black Man in San Francisco
  2. Destroyer
  3. Whered You Go Bernadette?
  4. Judy
  5. Blinded by the Light
  6. Midsommer
  7. Knives Out
  8. The Art of Self Defense
  9.  Red Joan
  10.  Zeroville

The afternoon offered less absorbing distraction.  The garden was filled with kids splashing in the pool.  I kept an intermittant eye on Estrella, although her grandmother hovered over and around her for most of the day.  I noodled on the guitar and posted some links to the complementary albums.  Although I received several dozen likes, nobody bothered to listen to any of the songs. 

I eat a lot of snacks during the day.  Not crummy snacks, but paltry things like fried egg sandwiches, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. mangos and bananas, some yoghurt, and three cups of coffee.  My customary meal is a concoction of eggplant, onion, garlic, mushrooms and asparagus mixed into spaghetti with huancaina sauce. So I made two plates worth because Kelly was hungry too.

Twice a day I prepare a warm drink of blended quinoa for Estrella, which is served in a bottle with a straw and has been christened Papa Tittie.  I wake up before seven each morning and wake her up with it, and then give her another bottle before bedtime.  As she feeds, she selects and watches YouTube videos.   I also feed her two meals a day, which are usually centered on a piece of chicken, sometimes fish or pig or beef, poorly prepared by Bertha, our maid and cook. As a vegetarian, it makes me sick to see her eat such crap, but this kind of diet didnt do me any harm as a child, and it wont be long before she can determine for herself what kind of food she decides upon for her nourishment. She likes ice cream and yoghurt, fruits and vegetables, as well as chocolate and other candies. When she dislikes something, she spits it out.  She used to spot it out on the floor, voicing an extreme yuck, but little by little she is becoming compliant with discreetly spitting the offending foods into an alternate dish.

I made several attempts to get Estrella to take a nap, but she was too energetic and did not anticipate the all night party to come, so I frittered away much of the afternoon watching the movies Jackson County Jail and  Court Vic.  She finally went to bed  with Kelly at seven and I killed the next four hours downloading music videos from YouTube by Janis Ian and Dido as well as a 1968 New Years party from Paris that featured sets by The Who, The Troggs, Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, and Joe Cocker.

At last the Midnight Hour was nearing, and I helped carry the piles of party accessories to the second flloor while Estrella slept until the last minute, and was cranky from that moment until she was handed a plastic baseball bat with which to batter the candy-filled pinata half an hour later, after the adults had delivered their ofen over emotional toasts to the new year and the ones they loved and the ones they missed and the ones they  loved and missed or didnt miss but used these occasions to affect a deep and tragic emotional connection to absent friends and family.

Once the party itself was underway, the gloom of inactivity lifted and the feeling of joy and togetherness filled the lively room,  Eating and dancing and laughing, the next three hours passed quickly and pleasantly as my mind wandered, anticipating the changes in the coming new year.  Kelly has been promoted to co ordinator of all the mental health centers in Northern Lima, and so we will finally be able to move out of the family house and begin a family of threem escaping the interference of overbearing grandparents and the intrusiveness of household help.  I cannot stand the presence of maids hvering around me as I try to live and work.  I can clean up after myself and cook for myself without someone following me around all day with a broom and a sauce and a saucepan.  It has been a difficult three years in a sometimes chaotic and oppresive environment, but we shall shortly be creating our own environment for ourselves.  And with this to look forward to, I welcome the New Year, as I fall asleep watching the National Theatre production of Medea.

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