Friday, June 15, 2012

More notes in passing....

One of things I had intended to do while I was on vacation was a thorough cleaning of my teeny tiny studio. It is easily the dustiest place I have ever lived. So much so that the winter and spring cleaning require moving what few pieces of furniture I have left in order to get at the harbingers of dust apocalypse. The wiring for all the electronics, so carefully laid out to make changes easy, had become an obstruction sapping the life-force of progress. I'd been having my normal "no, you -will- work" argument with the wifi device. I pulled it out of its front of the tower usb port and pushed it back in. The computer shut down. The monitor flashed a message that there was no input and that it was going to sleep. The power to the tower would not turn back on. I kept trying, but there was no response. In the ensuing panic I moved everything so I could get to the surge suppressing outlet adapters. Still powered. I unplugged., sweating beads of desperation and despair. I waited. I bided my time. I plugged back in. I pressed the on button again. It lit. I'd made it.

The experience was not without cost. Passwords and screen id names to websites had melted into the ethernet. I could cope. I also cleaned as I went Being sick all week, I knew I wasn't going to get a deep clean done. But I'd done little bits here and there. Now the area where I sit  has been cleaned up back to the baseboards. It cheers one up to have the floors clean, the dirt swabbed up off the linoleum in the galley, no dishes in the sink. Guest chairs which can actually be used for such purpose instead of temporary storage. The change was gradual and will hopefully continue. It helps.

This week has seen the passing of people whose time here impacted my own, and I must note them. At the beginning of the week, I learned that Frank Cady had died. Anyone who grew up in the 1960's in a house with a television would recognize him instantly. Aside from prolific appearances as a character actor in  movies and on tv, he was Sam Drucker, the storekeeper back home on The Beverly HillbilliesPetticoat Junction, and Green Acres. It was a great character. He knew it, and seemed to inhabit it effortlessly.

The beginning of the week also saw the passing of Nolan Miller. I'm not a fashion maven, and what interest I have in the subject now is in retrospect. But in the 80's, Mr. Nolan designed the costumes for one of those life among the super-rich nighttime super soap operas, Dynasty. The first season had some glamour, and had ended with the head of the clan on trial for killing his son's male lover. There was a commotion in the courtroom as the camera revealed a pair of elegantly shod legs slinking towards the bench. We had to wait until the next season to learn that the legs belonged to Joan Collins. Her character, wealthy first wife, started a glam war with the second wife. Nolan Miller designed those costumes. It would not surprise me to learn that they were enough to make Cher cry. It was all great fun.

First glimpse in the courtroom...
Nolan Miller with Joan Collins 
typical high fashioned Dynasty

Ann Rutherford passed away. She'd been Scarlet's youngest sister in Gone With the Wind. And she was Polly Benedict, the (girl next door with sass) romantic interest of Andy Hardy. And she was the moon faced and starry eyed female lead of the Glenn Miller movie, Orchestra Wives, who stared so dreamily at trumpet player George Montgomery.

And Wayne Roberts has died. I'd never heard his name before. But I knew his work. Everyone in New York City in the 1970's did. Not that any images conjured themselves, memory was not helpful. And then I saw it - the tag. Stay High 149. It was instantly recognizable, you just never really "saw" it because it was so ubiquitous. It was everywhere. In the era of 1970's New York City budget cutbacks, graffiti was not being removed, and it started changing. No more block letters of names denoting a neighborhood. A look and style began to develop. Wayne Roberts was one of the people who made that happen. He tagged everything. He went everywhere (turns out he was a messenger). His was the first work to have a logo - a stuck figure like the one from the tv show The Saint, except this one was smoking what had to be a joint.

His tags began to be noticed and he began to get a bit of press. He started using entire sides of subway cars as a giant canvas. Norman Mailer featured him in a coffee table picture book celebrating ghetto art for rich white liberals who wanted to be with it. They should have just tried using the subway or actually walking around the side streets where things weren't so pretty and the real people were. At any rate, his picture got published, and he got arrested. The attention brought problems, and he disappeared into a world of drugs where he wouldn't be found. In 2000, someone recognized him. He learned that he had followers, and that he was accorded respect. And his work was being shown in galleries. He cleaned himself up, and made a little money selling his tags. He had a few good years before passing this week of liver disease. He was 61.

While it was easy to applaud the sheer gall and the in your face statement of existence of his surreptitiously and  nocturnally accomplished monumental graffiti, there was another side of it which made me sad. It wasn't that I was concerned about the destruction of public property. It was more the side effects, the proliferation of disrespect - for buildings, for conveyances most people used every day, for our immediate world. The decaying urban environment was gritty enough, it didn't need this visual pollution that grew to infect even small out of the way towns like Brattleboro. 

Graffiti became a movement. And it became the backdrop and artwork of an explosion of urban black creativity that channeled into dance and music. Rap. Hip Hop. Like anything else real and vital it quickly became a commodity to be sold and managed. It was linked to the growing image of thug culture, another sales job that too many people bought into. With the addition of cheap drugs, the new way of things, the image of cool, a veritable lifestyle, would trap and destroy more than just one generation. It's a cynical style that has cheapened our world and our culture. And I hope its time is passing, too.

The need to be done with that era is kind of like cleaning up your living space after a burst of drop and go. Cleaned up, things are a little nicer. Not so depressing. It helps, if only a little.

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