Mr. George A. Romero

Some years ago now, I wrote a rambling blog post that was titled “Closing the Loop On Romero.” I still have what I wrote but I’ll spare us the reposting of it. The gist of it was that when I was in the seventh grade, in my Advanced English class, we watched two films, a 1955 film titled “Les Diaboliques,” in which a wife and mistress plot to get rid of the abusive man they’ve been sharing at their digs at a French boarding school owned by the wife, and a 1968 film titled “Night of the Living Dead,” in which a group of people hole up in an abandoned house in order to escape the “living dead” rising up out of the cemetery, whom seem to be interested in dining on human flesh, which makes it sound sophomoric when it is, in fact, completely adult, and despite our seeming cultural desensitization to such horrors, if you engage your brain and think about what you’re watching, it remains a completely terrifying film.

These two films taught me to understand films as art. These two films began my fascination with films as art. It was one of those moments in life when the world changed for me, expanded, deepened, became more interesting.

Imagine the world if George Romero had never made the film, “Night of the Living Dead.” It is an art film. It has been selected for historical preservation by the Library of Congress. “Night of the Living Dead” has a lot to teach us about the ways in which people interact with one another. It isn’t the first so-called zombie film, it is, however, the zombie film that irrevocably changed our cultural landscape.

Rest in peace, Mr. Romero.

It Is Still Beautiful. Chris Cornell.

Grunge is the music that my generation created, whether the label of “grunge” is one that was met with approval or acceptance or not. Passionately philosophically divested in many ways from the heavy metal and “pretty” hair bands and glam bands of the heyday of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” of previous generations, the “heavy” in “Grunge” was born not only of a complete love of music, but of an emotional intensity extracted from a dissatisfied, sometimes bored, sometimes angry, raw, emotion, that infested not only the musical content itself, but the lyrics, which range from the poignantly poetic, the depressed and angry, to the sarcastic and sardonic, to the socially aware. Drawing on influences from both the punk sound and the likes of Black Sabbath, Grunge was music that was, and is, awake. Grunge said that whatever propaganda it was that the world was selling, they weren’t buying it, because it “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

“People were wearing flannel here long before grunge came out. It’s cold here. It’s a cheap and effective clothing apparatus for living in the Northwest. I don’t even associate it with a fashion statement or lack thereof. Eddie Vedder did more for flannel than anybody.” ~ Tad Doyle, from Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Mark Yam

“I think it’s come to mean alternative (grunge) in a way. I saw a grunge compilation album with a picture of a flannel shirt on the cover, and only half the bands were from Seattle. Now it seems like that word embraces anything that’s popular. You can watch a Tony! Toni! Tone! video and most of the people in there are wearing their version of grunge fashion. They look like they’re from Seattle, yet it’s an R&B song. So grunge has become an easy marketing reference, a handle for people who aren’t particularly interested in listening to music or what the bands do.” ~ Chris Cornell, Interview Magazine, 1994

What I remember about the beginnings of the stirrings of grunge, as it filtered down from the Pacific Northwest, was that it was only being played on alternative radio, or college stations. I remember hearing something about “grunge” having some claim on flannel shirt wearing and thermals and thinking, “We wear those here too (when it’s cold), well, some of us.” And no one quite being tuned into the fact that what was happening was a huge shift in our culture, this was music that was counter-culture. This was music that cared so much that it couldn’t care anymore what anyone thought of it.  It was a generation rejecting a post 1980’s pretension that it couldn’t sink its teeth into as any kind of a viable reality, certainly not an affordable one, and what’s more, it didn’t want to. “Grunge” didn’t want to be labeled as anything other than music. It took the garage band to the warehouse and then on to the stadium. It wasn’t stoner-hippie music, it was “damn the man” music coming from my generation, a generation that wasn’t sure it was ready for that when only moments before we’d been tuned into Miami Vice, Magnum P.I., and Family Ties. Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and Pearl Jam’s “Ten,” broke in 1991, and so did Soundgarden’s “Badmotofinger,” and the tribute album, “Temple of the Dog.” While Nirvana and Pearl Jam stormed the airways into the mainstream with big hits there was something different about the voice of Chris Cornell, from the very beginning. This wasn’t music that was just willing to be dark, this was music that had jumped headlong into the primordial muck to mosh and try to body-surf through the ages. Balls to the wall, Grunge was the ultimate trust-fall. The song that stuck with me, that still stays with me from that time, that I’ve many a night before dinner said/sung, “Well, it’s on the table…” is Temple of the Dog’s, “Hunger Strike.” Then there was “Outshined,” with heavy lines that sound like a dirge and then it melodically takes flight, “it gives me the butterflies…” and traverses the depths again just as quickly.

The soulful anguish, the raw ache, the depth of emotion of Chris Cornell’s voice is at the beginnings of a musical revolution. If Kurt Cobain burned out, and Eddie Vedder became, to some, something of a musical statesman, if Dave Grohl became the embodiment of no-nonsense getting up and getting on with it while still having a good time, Chris Cornell became the poet laureate of grunge. To say now that some of his lyrics are haunting is obvious and redundant, his lyrics and vocals were always haunting.

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“I’m not a lyric writer to make statements. What I enjoy doing is making paintings with lyrics, creating colorful images. I think that’s more what music and entertainment should be.” ~ Chris Cornell

Is fifty-two years old, young? Is fifty-two years old, old?

Fifty-two years old is a person in my peer group, completely my generation. Chris Cornell had gotten sober. I’ve noticed lately that’s kind of a thing with my generation, if you’re of my generation and you partied as a teenager, or in your twenties, drank your way through your thirties, at some point in your forties, you run up against sobriety. In the 80’s we used to sometimes jokingly say, for one reason or another, “It was all the drugs I did in the 60’s.” even though, or because, that’s when we were born. Now, as middle-aged adults, we can say, “Well, it was the 80’s” and that passes as a cultural definition of excess. Grunge was the antidote for the 80’s, a coming of age emotional release, that for many of my generation has ultimately given way to sobriety becoming its own kind of rebellion. I think my generation fluctuates between, “The Power of Positive Thinking,” and “This World Is Hard, Don’t Bullshit Me.” Does it ever turn out the way that any generation thinks that it will? I’m finding my peace through the acceptance of this world is hard, but it is still beautiful.

I’m upset about the death of Chris Cornell in a way that I can’t quite explain. I think that I’ve listened to “I am the Highway” about I don’t even know how many times now, I love that song. I’m looking at the world starkly, that’s what works for me, I’m not a puppies and kittens and rainbows kind of gal, I’m the other side of that coin, even though I am certainly a romantic. The world needs both, balance. But I’m thinking about that too, the world, and what are any of us doing here. Earlier today, I saw a news story about how Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is flattered by those who think he really should run for president, how “popular” an idea that is to some, and that he, The Rock, told GQ magazine that a bid for the White House is “A real possibility.” I don’t think that’s even the least bit funny or amusing. I thought it was deep down sad that that is where the mindset of anyone in this country is at, not that former actors haven’t taken up political office before, and not that I don’t like The Rock, as an actor, and hey, he might even be great at being president if that were to happen, but it’s this idea that celebrity, that “popularity,” rules the day. It’s boneheaded. I was thinking about how, in the same interview from 1994 where Chris Cornell talked about how you could watch a Tony! Toni! Tone! video and see a grunge fashion statement, Kim Thayil said that they had taken to avoiding wearing flannel in order to try to help distance themselves from what had become cliché, because it had become popular in the mainstream. What was the very antithesis of fashion, became fashion, and then the people for whom it was a usual mode of dress, they abandoned it, I was thinking how messed up that is. I was thinking that it’s awful that not even six months into the current administration the fighting between political parties has reached epic proportions and it is beyond pathetic to the point of being ludicrous. Everyone has an opinion, including me, and I thought, that’s it, this is it, the exact moment when I ceased to engage in political discourse, the moment when I heard that The Rock was seriously considering a run at the White House. I thought of the movie “Idiocracy” and of Flint, Michigan, and Brawndo, it’s popular, it’s what plants crave. Everyone seems to be feeling instead of THINKING. Has the world always been this crazy? Has the world always been this dumb? I think, it’s important to remember to find healthy ways to keep from feeling overwhelmed and to disengage from the din.

The last thing that I read about the death of Chris Cornell was that he may have taken an extra Ativan or two. ( Rolling Stone.) Ativan is used to treat anxiety. You never know what someone else is going through. Addiction is a big demon. You think, the guy had everything. But there’s no judging that, for anyone, what is everything? I think, am of a mind, to say, stick around, fight, see what happens, to hell with ’em! But there’s no judging that for anyone either. I don’t want to descend into a discourse on battling dark times, just, there’s no judging what it’s like for any other human who isn’t feeling great or well or thinking clearly. Reports of his last show in Detroit have been that something wasn’t quite right with him. I haven’t watched the concert footage and don’t know if I will. I thought about, wondered about, how far away do those guys get from where they started? How far away does anyone get from who they began as, if they get where they think they wanted to go? It seemed to me that Chris Cornell stayed pretty true.

I made up my mind not to watch anymore news today, I don’t know if I’ll watch any tomorrow either. Am I obligated to? Am I obligated to pay attention to the mess or to be a voice for anything? I straightened up my house, did laundry, made some food. I looked at a catalog, thought about ways to decorate, about how much I like flannel shirts and don’t give a flying fig if they’re fashionable or not, ever. I thought about the irony of the fact that the renaissance of coffee-house culture was spawned at the birth of grunge, the Seattle Sound, and how that gave way to the very corporate Starbucks, something that is the antithesis of everything grunge was about. Grunge, though, outgrew the label, the terminology, and grew into itself from those roots, the bands and musicians that emerged from that era, are the creators of the musical landscape of my generation. I gathered up some cd’s, made a plate of chicken and rice and sat down to write something about it all.

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Chris Cornell’s music has seen me through many a long night writing, and, providing that I have anything to say about it, it will see me through many more seasons to come. An important artistic voice of my generation, a musician, a poet, a soulful singing prince with an intense Jesus gaze and flowing locks, an originator and innovator, of not only musical change but of a cultural shift in awareness, Chris Cornell left us with many gifts, he will be missed. The world is a hard place, but it is still beautiful.

Carry on, my friends. Get up. Go on.

Teri

The Promise Lyrics

If I had nothing to my name
But photographs of you
Rescued from the flames
That is all I would ever need
As long as I can read
What’s written on your face
The strength that shines
Behind your eyes
The hope and light
That will never die

And one promise you made
one promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
As we’ve always done

And you said
“The poison in a kiss
Is the lie upon the lips”
Truer words were never shared
When I feel
Like lies are all I hear
I pull my memories near
The one thing they can’t take

And one promise you made
one promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
As you’ve always done

The books still open
on the table
The bells still ringing
in the air
The dreams still clinging
to the pillow
The songs still singing
in a prayer

Now my soul
Is stretching through the roots
To memories of you
Back through time and space
To carry home
the faces and the names
And these photographs of you
Rescued from the flames

And one promise you made
one promise that always remains
No matter the price
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
And dare to rise once more
A promise to survive
Persevere and thrive
And fill the world with life
As we’ve always done

Quotes from Chris Cornell.

Resilience. Carrie Fisher. The New Modern. How To Be Yourself.

So, I’m uploading/importing files to Kindle Direct and, apparently, that can take a minute, unless I start typing something else, I figure, and never mind that I need to vacuum and dust, and I thought, I’ll write that post now.

Last night I watched the HBO sort of documentary, it was more personal than that, “Bright Lights,” about Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. It was an exceptionally well done, intimate, revealing, glimpse into the lives of these two enigmatic, iconic, stars. That sounds canned.

I grew up watching old movies, was a fan of the Golden Age of Hollywood. There was the glamour of it, of course, but I was drawn to the stories behind the stories, how the “movie stars” became movie stars. In those days, the Hollywood studio system controlled every aspect of the lives of the actors and actresses under contract to them. Everything was about the canned image, the keeping up of appearances. Love affairs and scandals were kept from public view, as much as possible, and nonetheless, became the stuff of legend. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, Lana Turner and Johnny Stompanato, Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rosellini, Elizabeth Taylor and, well, Eddie Fisher, the husband of Debbie Reynolds, for one, among others.

I read quite a few movie star biographies because so many of them were “rags to riches” stories, the kind of thing that got so many naive young ladies to get on a bus and head out to Hollywood back in the day, however, what it was that appealed to me about those stories was that there was always a strength of character presented, presented, as in, a lot of those stories are loaded with fabrications as well, because that’s what they did, they put the best face it on it all that they could. There’s something to be said for that, there’s a lot to be said for that sometimes. Debbie Reynolds was a product of that Old Hollywood system, and that made for some tough dames. The old school, “Never let ’em see you sweat, kid.” I’ve known women like that, women who said things to me, in my youth, like, “That’s when you really know you’ve got ’em by the balls!” But, only as an aside, you’d have never in a million years heard them utter such a thing in “public” or in polite company. Stoic. There’s great strength in that.

Debbie Reynolds personified this kind of stoic strength, putting the best face on it, right to the end. In this documentary, it is so there at the surface as she’s telling Carrie how they should be seen, how they should appear to be while they are in public, as they’re going to an awards show where she will be the recipient of the SAG Life Achievement Award, even though she’s barely well enough to be there. It’s apparent after her final show appearance on stage, as she’s carting around a casino afterwards saying that you can’t let life get you down because life is hard and if you do, it’ll kill you, you’ve got to keep going. It’s there in her making light of her “bad” marriages right to the end, because it’s how she owned it and controlled it. I was reminded of why I read those old biographies, because those women had great big balls to go play in the rough and tumble world that is Hollywood, especially back in those days, they had moxie, they had independent spirit, they had intestinal fortitude, and they had backbone for days. The show must go on! I took strength from those examples, what they said to me was, Yes, life’s a total bitch sometimes. This is how you do it! And that was Debbie Reynolds, without ever saying the word “bitch,” that you know of.

Enter Carrie Fisher. The prodigal daughter of Old Hollywood, the opposite of her mother in so many ways. At the very beginning of the documentary, she’s taking a soufflé that she has made out of her own oven in her very lived in kitchen and she’s spewing the words, “Fucking criminy.” She chain drinks Coca-Cola’s like they’re going out of style, she smokes, splashes herself with glitter, has a player piano in her bathroom. The walls are green, purple, blue, red, whatever, and on them are such delights as a painting that she describes as “A very unhappy woman who looks like Kevin Spacey.” When she appeared in her first movie role in the film “Shampoo,” her mother didn’t want her to say the line, “Want to f____k?” wanting her to use the word “screw” instead. Warren Beatty went to the house to talk to Carrie Fisher’s mother about that, the f-bomb stayed. Carrie Fisher, the daughter who had to find the strength to say, “I can’t do it your way. I can’t do it the old way.” And in that, showing everyone a different kind of strength, a different kind of resilience and backbone.

It was an incredibly moving portrait to be able to understand the depth of meaning that was on display in this representation of a true changing of the guard, the transitioning from not only one generation to the next, but from one era to the next. It occurred to me that I was raised with so many of those old ways because they weren’t just the ways of Old Hollywood, they were the ways of the world, the old social mores, not just about the way that a woman or a lady should behave, but about the way that people in general should behave, like not sitting down at a table, to eat, without taking your hat off. It wasn’t a matter of being phony or fake, keeping up something of a facade for “the sake of appearances,” though some certainly used that to be fake and to hide horrible things, it was that the world was a different place, people understood things in terms of there being no point in wallowing in it or focusing on the ugly because yes, life was hard, but it went on, and best to get on with it. They also understood the great buffer that manners and a mannerly society can often provide, for everyone. BUT, I was always of a mind of, I can’t do it your way.

I understand Debbie Reynolds stoicism. I understand Carrie Fisher’s, “Fucking criminy.”I realized, that has been so much of my own struggle, and I’m sure that of many other women of my generation.

As I watched, I realized that there are a couple of generations now to whom those old ways are completely unknown, and to whom they must seem patently ridiculous, if not unfathomable, not only as ideology, but in practice. Actress Loretta Young, who was single at the time, had a child with actor Clark Gable, hid the pregnancy, gave the child up for adoption, so that she could adopt it back as her own, without the public ever knowing, in order to protect their careers as Gable was married to Maria Langham. Who now would ever think of such a thing? Or try it if they did?

I think of Carrie Fisher in “The Blues Brothers,” as the mystery woman with her arsenal, just blowing shit up.

This is how social structures are rebuilt, reformed, as though they were fashion, and in some ways, they are.

I was moved by the revelation of this relationship, enduring friendship, between mother and daughter. I thought it was wonderful to get to see inside the homes of two great stars who very obviously actually lived in their houses, that were essentially only a walkway from one another. The sterile super-mod glass, chrome, polished marbles of celebrity mansions so often presented to us these days are complete bores, totally lacking in creativity, by comparison. Debbie Reynolds went into debt collecting up old movie memorabilia in the hopes of building a museum to share and preserve it, though that never happened, her affection for, and care of, this time in movie history was completely admirable, filled with affection and sentimentality. Carrie Fisher’s home was filled with things that she loved seemingly without a moment’s thought for whether or not any of it “went together,” or what anyone might think of it, and it was amazing.

There was something so exceedingly normal here, at one moment they’re all standing around in formal wear in the driveway, Carrie, her daughter, actress Billie Lourd ( Scream Queens), Carrie’s brother Todd, his wife, actress Catherine Hickland, limousines waiting to take them all to an awards show, and they’re waiting on grandma, Debbie Reynolds. They could have all been heading to Bingo together for the fanfare involved, except that they weren’t. What struck me about it was that it was less staged, less fake, than any A-list star wafting by in their sunglasses, looking at the ground, that you’ll see anywhere today. Secure in themselves, so famous that it was normal, and they were over it. Carrie Fisher was completely over being famous, and that’s famous. But there’s a lesson in that for everyone, about how to be.

These two women, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, gave us two completely different examples of resilience, and strength, of backbone par excellence, they did it right. I think that Carrie Fisher personified, in so many ways, a new kind of modern which is, simply put, being and embracing oneself. Completely inspirational.

T.S.