Monday, November 19, 2007

Finding History

There were news reports this past week about the discovery of a new photograph of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. A historian spotted Abe in a wide shot, riding a horse, trademark stovepipe hat on and he appears to be saluting the troops are he rides by. The story – and photograph – has fascinated me. It really is discovering a little history nugget.

There are only about 130 pictures of Lincoln that we know about. A new one is a rare find. This got me thinking. What other kinds of pieces of history could be found? It wasn’t that long ago, 1989 to be precise, that a chap found a copy of the Declaration of Independence hidden an old picture frame. He bought the picture for 4 bucks at a swap meet because he liked the frame. He was taking the painting out of the coveted frame, the document fell out. Literally money falling into your lap.

There’s also the 16mm footage of Babe Ruth “calling his shot.” It isn’t definitive, but is does give the urban legend some merit. He may have called that home run in Wrigley Field in 1932.

So what else could be found? A photo found in a forgotten trunk in your Nanas attic. A journal found in a used bookshop. Or a canister of 8mm film lost in the basement.

I wonder about possible discoveries like this;

Another photo of Billy the Kid. There is only one confirmed likeness of the Prince of Pistoleers. The image was flipped for many years, leading to false stories of the Kid being a southpaw.

What about another picture of Robert Johnson. The most mysterious figure in the history of modern music. There are only two pics of The King of the Delta Blues. A couple years ago, some footage appeared that many thought was Bob playing on a street corner. Unfortunately, the footage was shot years after Bob’s death in 1936. We still don’t know how he died.

What if there is a lost letter from Jack the Ripper that gives his identity. Is he of royal birth? Was he a doctor? Hell if I know. Saucy Jack needs to be ID’d.

Maybe footage from a different angle of the Kennedy assassination in Dallas 1963. With a shot of the grassy knoll for example. Second shooter? Maybe there is a photo of Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, Lyndon Johnson, the mafia, the CIA and the Cubans planning it.

I saw this documentary once called “Independence Day.” With a historian named Will Smith or something in it. They talk about a UFO crash landing in Roswell New Mexico in 1947. What if a photo exists of the crash site that has been “lost.”

You never know.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I Hate My Cell Phone

I do. It has become this necessary evil for me. Yes, the convenience of the damn thing cannot be argued. And I will eventually purchase an iPhone so I can have the NFL game-casts on my phone, but I won’t like it.

To me a cell phone is like vegetables. I may eat them, but I don’t have to like them.

This week I saw a couple oddities. People actually using a payphone in New York City. The first was on the subway platform on 103rd Street. A guy was yelling into the greasy receiver while hundreds ignored him waiting for the train. The other was on the second floor of Barnes and Noble on 82nd Street. There’s a payphone next to the head. It was strange to see. The payphone is dying faster than the Chinese Alligator. (It’s endangered, okay. Come on kids, stay with me here.)

A couple years ago, I decided I was going to ditch my cell. My contract was up and didn’t renew. I thought it was great. The problem was, everyone else didn’t. I had to endure my family and friends constantly complaining that I didn’t have a cell. I got tired of the complaints and a year later, I got another phone. I wasn’t happy about it.

I think the system was fine the way it was. I call you, you weren’t there, I leave a message. You called me back. It worked. What was the problem?

I don’t need to be available 24 hours a day. You walk down the street and see dozens of people on the phone. Talking about what? Everyone in the car chatting away. About what? Not to mention the schmucks that keep that Bluetooth device in their ear all day. You look like an idiot with that thing in your ear.

Watch the old Seinfeld re-runs and there isn’t a cell phone in sight. It’s nice. I’m out, leave a message. The system was fine.

The payphone/landline is integral in classic storytelling. Like Sam Spade on the horn to the cops in The Maltese Falcon. Mobsters relaying info from The Godfather to Casino to The Sopranos. (The Departed is a great film, but the cell phone stuff was a little tiresome.) And where did Clark Kent switch into Superman? He didn’t slip into the Verizon store on 5th Avenue and duck behind the “Do You Hear Me Now? Guy’s cardboard cutout.

I know this is never going to change. If I ditch my phone again, I’ll have to listen to the complaints again. I do get to talk to my nephews a lot, it’s not all bad. In fact, I was just told this story yesterday. My nephew Luke is two. Very, very two years old. He’s a mischievous little stinker. A couple nights ago, about three in the morning and for no apparent reason, Luke took off all his pajamas including his diaper. My sister-in-law has no idea how long he was roaming the halls buck-booty-naked. Luke came into his parents room, jumped on the bed, woke my brother and said, “Daddy! I’m cold!” No kidding buddy, it’s November and you’re nude. You can’t make that story up.

Last year, Stephen King wrote a novel called Cell, where a cell signal called “the pulse” starts a zombie-like epidemic. Let’s hope that doesn’t actually happen. That would be a real bummer.

Thus ends my pointless but mildly funny rant of the week. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to make a call.

Friday, November 9, 2007

I'm Not There

On November 21st, The Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” will be released at your local cinema. The film is going to be a very unorthodox way of telling parts of Bob Dylan’s story. There will be seven different actors portraying Bob at different points in his life. Including a pre-teen African American and the amazing Cate Blanchett.


The uniqueness of the narrative is befitting it’s subject. True to Dylan himself. He is perhaps the most unique voice ever to make popular music. He’s an enigma. A rogue. A genius.

If you were to debate who has had the most influence on popular music, the discussion would have three components. John Lennon, Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. That’s it. Not even Sinatra would be in the ring with those three heavyweights. I would take Dylan. Here’s why;

As great as Elvis is, he was not a songwriter and barely a musician. Yes, his voice is unparalleled, as was his fame, but The King was not singing his songs. The Beatles are the greatest band of all time, and John was the engine that powered the bus, but the great songwriting periods after the initial bubble-gum records was due in large part to Dylan. After John and Paul listened to Dylan’s first couple records, they determined to write “important” songs. They took lyrics more seriously. (Okay, I don’t understand I am the Walrus either, but you get my point.) after hearing and meeting Bob, we got Rubber Soul, Abbey Road and Let It Be. The Beatles evolved because of Dylan. They were also introduced to pot and LSD, but that’s another kettle of beans.

Dylan made lyrics important. He made songs matter beyond what they ranked on the top 40. Dylan couldn’t have cared less if his singles charted. He showed what it meant to have artistic integrity. He basically said, these were the songs, take them or leave them. You don’t like the electric guitar? Go to hell, those are the songs. You don’t understand what some of the lyrics mean? Piss off, those are the songs, interpret them if you want.

The main contribution Dylan made was that he showed the importance of the songwriter and what a pop song could really do. A song could do more than make you sing along in your car. A great song could actually influence change. It could make you think. Listen to Chimes of Freedom, When the Ship Comes In or Pawn in the Game to see what I mean.

I have a theory about Bob. If you have any kind of good taste in music, somewhere along the line, you’ll learn to appreciate Dylan. I honestly believe that’s true.

If you are not that versed in Dylan, I suggest renting Marty Scorsese’s documentary “No Direction Home.” And the recent DVD “The Other Side of the Mirror,” which is Dylan’s performances at the legendary Newport folk festival from 1963 to 1965. Those may help you understand why “I’m Not There” is an important film.

These are my favorite Bob Dylan songs right now. Subject to change in the next fifteen minutes.

1. My Back Pages
2. Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues – From The Bootlegs box set.
3. Chimes of Freedom
4. One More Cup of Coffee
5. Mama, You Been On My Mind – There’s also a good version of this song that is a duet with Joan Baez.
6. Most of the Time – This song was used in “High Fidelity.”
7. Man Of Constant Sorrow – No, that song was not written for “O Brother Where Art Thou?” It’s a very old song.
8. Ballad of a Thin Man – How do not like a song that mentions a “one-eyed midget?”
9. Forever Young
10. Not Dark Yet – A newer Dylan song.

Listen to Bob Dylan…