Conceptual video artists and whimsical kittens have this in common: the Internet was made for them.
I have no kittens for you, but I do have a bit of Galloconceptualisme today, posted in part to mark the precipitous and unexpected elimination of France in (and by) South Africa in the first round of this year's World Cup.
Refait -- from the verb "refaire," to remake or re-do -- is a project of the French arts collective Pied La Biche, consisting of a shot for shot side by side recreation of the television broadcast of the final 15 minutes of the match between France and then-West Germany in the semifinal round of the 1982 World Cup in Seville. Instead of a soccer pitch, the facsimile plays out in a variety of random urban settings: overpasses, empty lots, an escalator.
The actual 1982 game was highly dramatic, featuring spectacular collisions, at least one player removed unconscious on a stretcher, and what many German football fanciers claim as the finest German goal in World Cup history. None of that is in this video. (I have reproduced the lengthy Wikipedia description of that game below the fold.)
The final 15 minutes of the game, the minutes that are recreated here in excruciating detail, consisted of a series of penalty kicks and the preparatory space around them, involving a good deal of standing about, posturing, and certain mystical rituals of French thigh massage, which is not particularly appealing either in the original or as reenacted.
Mesdames et messieurs, Refait:
This comes, yet again, via Vancouver BC's BOOOOOOM!, where it is praised for its "sheer pointlessness" and declared to be "the greatest video on the entire internet." It is certainly one of the best not involving whimsical kittens.
And lest you should get the misguided notion from that first video that clever tricks with paper are a solution to every problem, or to any problem -- or, most particularly, to the perennial "Girl in the Gallery" problem -- consider this cautionary tale:
[being a loose adaptation, for our time, of "The Walrus and the Carpenter" by the Rev. C. L. Dodgson, to whom all honor be given and to whom no offense is meant]
The sun shone down upon the sheen,
He shone his shining light
On twinkling petrochemicals,
Their spectra sparkling bright,
And this seems odd, because that oil
Was really black as night.
The moon declined to show her face
Though stars were overhead, Deterred by toxic fumes that rose
And bubbled from the bed, Or wafted from the surface where
Dispersants had been spread.
The Gulf’s green waters rolled ashore
On bayou, beach and bay, And brought along the weeds and waste
They’d picked up on the way,
As well as dead and dying things,
Destruction and decay.
The Walrus and the Petrol Man
Had just stepped from the bar
And started strolling down the beach,
Consid’ring from afar
Just what it was that might be done
To clear the place of tar.
“If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose” the Walrus said,
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it,” said the Petrol Man,
And shed a bitter tear.
“I’d like to have our lives back, sir,”
The Petrol Man complained.
"These locals are small people, sir,”
The Walrus he explained, “Perhaps, if we consulted them,
Their wrath might be contained?
“A Town Hall meeting’s just the thing.
That’s sure to gain their trust. It works for politicians, sir, It ought to work for us.”
The Petrol Man, with furrowed brow,
Said, “All right, if we must.”
The Walrus grabbed his megaphone:
“Come learn the full details!
Come creatures great and creatures small!
Come shrimps and wasps and whales!
Come pelicans, come loggerheads, Come snakes and snipes and snails!
“Come Oysters, get up from your beds,
Come Mussels from your shoals,”
The Walrus said invitingly,
“And as the water rolls, The Petrol Man and I will share Our worst case cleanup goals.”
The local creatures gathered round
To hear what they might hear.
The Oysters clustered near the front, Their faces tense with fear.
The Walrus stood. He cleared his throat.
His words were calm and clear:
“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“A remedy’s at hand:
It’s booms, and berms, and sieves, and scoops,
And whopping bags of sand,
And sponges, and detergents Of a cheap generic brand.”
“Now hold it there,” the Oysters cried,
“That hardly seems an answer!
What of our jobs? And habitat?
And tourism? And cancer?”
The Petrol Man just shook his head:
“There’s much more to the plan, sir:
“Some golf balls and some shredded tires
Is what we chiefly need!
Some robots! Shears and diamond saws!
A nonstop online feed!”
“With these things, yes,” the Walrus said,
“We can’t help but succeed!”
“We’ve chatted up the President,
And several admirals, too,”
Said Petrol Man, “and they’re convinced
There’s nothing else to do.”
“But what of compensation?” cried
The Oysters, turning blue.
The Petrol Man looked heavenward
And stood in uffish thought, Then sighed and said, “O Oysters,
Has our caucus been for naught?
Is money all you think about?
You say you can be bought?”
“I hear your doubts,” the Walrus said,
“They cut me to the quick!
You think I’m talking for my health?
You think this is some trick?”
By now the rising tide of goo
Was many inches thick.
"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize.
But accidents will happen, eh?
That’s not a big surprise.
You need us more than we need you:
To cross us isn’t wise.”
The Petrol Man said, “There you are: We’ve made our plans succinct.
What say you, friends?” He mopped his brow,
And wiped a tear and blinked.
But answer came there none because
Them critters were extinct.
In the ongoing investigation of the BP Deep Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it came to light that the company's environmental response plan included sections dealing with the preservation of walruses. How walruses came to be included when they are not native to the Gulf of Mexico is something of a mystery. Perhaps BP staff simply cut-and-pasted a section from an Arctic response plan, or perhaps as fans of Lost they knew that a subtropical climate is no obstacle to surprise encounters with denizens of the Frozen North.
Among the many living things threatened by the spill, oysters and oystermen have figured prominently.
Walruses, oysters, tragedy along the strand . . . I could only think of "The Walrus and the Carpenter" from Through the Looking-Glass, and so set to crafting a contemporary revision of that poem.
I have kept the stanza and rhyme scheme intact, and something of the overall structure of the original -- the prologue in the heavens, the calling of the oysters, the set speeches, the descent in to silence. Several lines, and nearly the entire fifth stanza, have been imported unchanged. Discrete references to current events and to other poems have been included, though I could not fit in any "mermaids singing each to each."
My method of composition was to create a document with the original poem, stanza by stanza, in one column and my revision in the other. If you've nothing better to do, you can see the "comparative text" version here [PDF].
Bloomsday is again upon us, honoring that real-yet-fictive day, June 16, 1904, on which Mister Leopold Bloom and Mister Stephen Dedalus made their joint and several legendary peregrinations round and about Dublin, its vicinity and its vicissitudes, all as memorialized by Mister James Joyce in his non-iPad-compliant misterwork, Ulysses.
Bloomsday is now sufficiently well established that it comes with its own Full Colour Brochure. Many maps and walking tours are attendant to the occasion.
The above illustration is a detail from "Eccles Street," a part of In Medias Res by artist David Lilburn, "a suite of seven intaglio drypoint prints which together form a map of a large part of Dublin and its environs which include the areas of the city that feature prominently in Ulysses." The area covered by this particular print includes Nighttown, "reputedly the largest red-light district in the British Empire and the location for Bella Cohan’s brothel in the ‘Circe’ episode [Episode 15 in Ulysses], in the south east."
Circe, you will recall, is the sorceress encountered by Odysseus/Ulysses and his men on the island of Aeaea (pronounced "eye-yi-yi"). By the exercise of feminine wiles and magical powers she transforms Odysseus's men in to beasts, a fate Odysseus himself escapes thanks to a combination of awesome manliness and a timely warning from the god Hermes. (Given that she was a daughter of the son, the Aeaean sorceress's full name was likely "Circe du Soleil".)
Joyce's Circuitous sequence is presented in the form of a drama, with dialogue and stage directions, in which Bloom enters the red-light district seeking to follow Dedalus. Bloom experiences a series of encounters and hallucinations, from which he eventually emerges to find Dedalus involved on the wrong end of a fistfight. Surrealism abounds throughout the segment, with abundant sexual imagery and imaginings, as is only to be expected in a chapter largely set in a brothel.
As Joyce had already cast the incident in dramatic terms, it is hardly surprising that an enterprising playwright would adapt the episode as a standalone work for the stage. It is here we find the hitherto unsuspected connection between Joyce's Dublin and the Great White Way. Let us consult the New York Public Library Literature Companion, in which at page 523 we learn:
In 1958, Marjorie Barkentin’s Ulysses in Nighttown, an adaptation of the book’s “Nighttown” sequence, ran for six months off-Broadway. Under Burgess Meredith’s direction, the cast included Zero Mostel as Leopold Bloom as well as Carroll O’Connor, Beatrice Arthur, Anne Meara, and John Astin. A Broadway revival in 1974, again starring Mostel and directed by Meredith, was less successful.
Fans of Mel Brooks and of Joyce may have wondered if it was mere coincidence that the mousy accountant in the film The Producers (1968) is named Leo Bloom. Brooks’s 2001 Broadway musical adaptation of his film makes the reference explicit: according to the show’s program, the second scene (in which Leo first meets Max Bialystock) is set on June 16, the day on which the action of Joyce’s novel takes place, known as Bloomsday (Leo even asks [while wondering if he’ll ever get a shot at big time showbiz], ‘When is it gonna be Bloomsday?’).
That 1958 production of Ulysses in Nighttown had some serious theatrical bona fides, I must say: a great generation of actors was working nightly in New York during that era, and this show contained a particular concentration of them. Below, a pair of stills from that original production, via Wired New York. In the upper photo, Bea Arthur and Zero Mostel, ten years prior to his immortal turn as the aforementioned Max Bialystock. In the lower photo, Carroll O'Connor, Anne Meara (Jerry Ben Stiller's mom, kids!), and Lucille Patton.
And so, a happy Bloomsday to all.
As you file toward the exits -- in to the Sensual World, as it were -- we conclude our tour of Nighttown with a relevant musical interlude from my favorite Irish rock band, Horslips, which claims to conceal about its person the traditional jig, "Bill Harte's Favourite."
Incidental Intelligence: I've not been able to turn up a full cast list for the 1958 Ulysses in Nighttown, to determine who played whom. However, I have discovered that the 1974 revival featured Tommy Lee Jones, of all people, as Stephen Dedalus (with a pre-M*A*S*H, pre-Disney David Ogden Stiers as Buck Mulligan, which sounds about right to me). After the 1958 production of U in N, Bea Arthur next worked with Zero Mostel in 1964 as the original Yente the Matchmaker opposite his original Tevye in the original Broadway premiere production of Fiddler on the [original] Roof. Sounds crazy, no?
Not every ship that sinks is the Titanic, requiring that its tale be told on the scale favored by James Cameron. When loss capsizes the little vessel of the heart, something more intimate is called for. Ricky Ian Gordon's song cycle, Orpheus and Euridice, for soprano, clarinet, and piano or chamber orchestra, keeps its focus tight and close, eschewing broad mythic gestures and obvious dramatic incident in favor of calm and reflective clarity.
With music and text both by Gordon, Orpheus and Euridice was written partly in response to a commission from clarinetist Todd Palmer and partly as a response to the illness and death of Gordon's own companion. It premiered in 2001 in New York in a version for clarinet and soprano and has gone through a number of revisions and expansions since, adding first a piano, then a string quartet, and finally an eleven piece chamber ensemble.
The Belmont pool opened in August, 1968, with the U.S. Olympic swimming trials ahead of the Mexico City games, in which Mark Spitz did not fulfill his boast of bringing home six golds. The Belmont bleachers can hold some 2500 spectators at full capacity and the facility was considered the premier indoor swim stadium of its day. Its famously large gutters simply swallow up waves, keeping the surface remarkably calm.
I did not have the opportunity to see the 2008 performances, but I was able to attend Friday evening when the company launched a three-performance run of a revised version of its production. (The remaining performances are tonight [which is at or near selling out] and Sunday, June 13, both at 9:00 p.m.)
Gordon's version of the Orpheus myth follows the traditional contours: the musician/poet Orpheus, here preferring a reed instrument to his traditional lyre, falls in love and binds up his life with that of Euridice; she sickens and dies; Orpheus descends to the land of the dead and, by dint of musical wizardry, obtains Euridice's return, with the condition that he must not look back to see if she is actually with him until they have both reemerged upon the earth. Orpheus fails the test, of course, and Euridice is lost to him forever. He mourns and mourns and in the end is literally torn to pieces by his grief in this world, but his musical spirit lives on, floating out of and in to the dark.
There is no dialog between the characters as such. The story moves through a series of brief songs and musical interludes. Orpheus is "portrayed" less by the clarinetist than by the clarinet itself. Euridice is referred to, but never speaks herself: she appears, really, only through the eyes, heart and music of Orpheus. The soprano part is more narrator than character, though Palmer and Futral interact with one another throughout the performance. They travel, sit, stand, sing, play, together and separately, in a small boat and around the perimeter of the pool. Silent actor/dancers also double for Orpheus and Euridice, in and out of the water, as well as helping to move the boat about. The gods do not appear at all, except once as a silent eye on multiple video screens on the far side of the pool.
Apart from the degree of difficulty involved in playing a clarinet while standing up in a small boat -- don't try this at home, kids -- the core challenge of the Belmont Pool as a performance space is acoustic: everything echoes off the water and surrounding hard surfaces and sound of pumps and filters is ever-present. Both clarinet and singer were judiciously amplified in Long Beach, generally to good effect. I overheard some complaints about the balances between soloists and orchestra, but it was all surprisingly clear from where I was seated.
Orpheus and Euridice is undeniably a "little" work that would be smothered entirely by the ministrations of a "grand opera" company. It needs and rewards the smaller scale provided, by inclination and necessity, by a small and enterprising company such as Long Beach Opera. Its payoffs are not explosive or spectacular. They are, rather, modest but lingering, as in a distant but important dream.
Todd Palmer, intimately familiar with it at this point, makes the most of the virtuoso demands presented by the supple and wide-ranging clarinet part. Elizabeth Futral's performance is emotionally pointed and lovely, dramatic but without unnecessary frill. She also gets to sport an awfully nice yellow dress.
And thus ends Long Beach Opera Season 31, on a note of quiet satisfaction, to be savored discretely and lingered over for a time, in anticipation of the new and different pleasures that Season 32 will surely bring.
Incidental suggestion: perhaps next time Long Beach Opera retools this production, they can take it on the road and perform al fresco in the Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle.
(Top) Todd Palmer and Elizabeth Futral from the 2008 production. Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff, used with the kind permission of Long Beach Opera.
(Bottom) Belmont Pool prior to 2010 performance. Photo by the blogger.
Long Beach Opera ends its 2010 Season this weekend with a three-performance revival of its staging -- if that's the word for a production largely on the surface of a swimming pool -- of Ricky Ian Gordon's song cycle, Orpheus and Euridice. (Saturday is a near sell-out, but tickets seem to be available for tonight and Sunday.)
LBO has had two particularly sterling seasons in a row now, as witness my previous gushings over, for example, their winning, moving Cunning Little Vixen, their wonderfully silly Motezuma, and, earlier this year, their triumphant Nixon in China.
As the 2010 season circles the drain of the Belmont Pool, LBO has just announced its 32nd season for 2011, which holds at least as much promise as has been delivered these past two years. While budget constraints have forced our other major company to roll back the number and size of its productions, Long Beach soldiers on with an adventurous campaign of four West Coast or southern California premieres, skewing toward work of the last half century:
First up, and oldest on the program, is Luigi Cherubini's Medea(1797), to be staged in an abandoned big-box furniture store in January 2011. The role of Medea is closely associated with Maria Callas, who sang it to acclaim at La Scala and elsewhere in the late '50s and early '60s. She is not expected to sing the role in Long Beach.
Beethoven is reputed to have thought Cherubini the very finest of his contemporaries; Cherubini is reputed to have thought Beethoven unspeakably rude and his music incomprehensible.
March 2011 brings us the item that already has me most excited: the western premiere of the full version of Philip Glass'sAkhnaten (1984), the third component of the trilogy that includes Einstein on the Beach and Satyagraha. Akhnaten concerns itself with the pharaoh of that name (more commonly spelled "Akhenaten"), spouse to Nefertiti and father of Tutankhamen, who tried and failed to institute a new monotheistic religious order in Egypt in the 14th century B.C.
Next up, in May 2011, it's time for . . . Soviet!Musical!Comedy!
Specifically, it's time for Cherry Town (Moskva, Cheryomushki) (1959) with music by Dmitri Shostakovich, a tale of housing shortages, petty bureaucrats, and true love in the workers' paradise.
This puckish satire of contemporary mores was sufficiently popular in the USSR that it was adapted to the screen not long after its premiere. From that version, let's meet those fresh-faced socialist love birds, Sasha and Masha, as they dream their dreamy dreams of an apartment of more or less their own:
The season concludes this time next year with David Lang's The Difficulty of Crossing a Field (2002), based on a one-page story written by Ambrose Bierce in 1909 in which a southern slave owner disappears into thin air while, yes, walking across a field. LBO's press release remarks:
Ironically in 1913, while moving with rebel troops in Mexico, Bierce himself vanished and was never found.
But there is a deeper mystery yet at work here . . . .
In the mid-1950s, a number of books and magazines published supposedly factual reports of an incident occurring on September 23, 1880, in which five witnesses described the vanishing of a man they knew into thin air while he was, yes, walking across a field. Those reports have since been consigned to the category of hoaxes and urban legend. There is some dispute whether rumors of the 1880 incident may have predated and inspired Ambrose Bierce's story, or whether the 1950s reports of the 1880 incident were themselves simply a retelling of Bierce's 1909 tale. What is undisputed is that the name consistently given to the man who vanished on September 23, 1880 is . . . David Lang.
David Lang the composer was not even born until 1957, which is to say that he did more appearing than disappearing in the '50s. He is one-third of the core of the Bang on a Can organization, and therefore one of the ruling eminences of the New York New Music world. He won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2008 for The Little Match Girl Passion. Difficulty was commissioned by American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and premiered there in 2002 with the Kronos Quartet as musical ensemble.
These excerpts come from a 2006 production at Montclair State University, in New Jersey:
Ah, southern Gothic.
No details have yet been shared on performers, production teams, etc., for next season, although it is a safe wager that principal conductor and LBO Artistic and General Director Andreas Mitisek will lead most if not all performances. There is no telling yet even which language(s) will be used: Long Beach tends to favor English translation (with supertitles), but Medea exists in French and Italian versions, Akhnaten incorporates Akkadian, ancient Egyptian and Biblical Hebrew (as well as English), and those merry Russians sing in, well, Russian.
What is clear at this early point is that the 2011 Long Beach Opera season is quintessentially LongBeachy: contemporary and/or little-seen works that can be expected to make for imaginative and compelling music drama. Wake me when December ends, so we can get started.
Photo: Akhenaten, in the museum at Alexandria, by Flickr user Andreuchis, used under Creative Commons License.
Composer-critic Kyle Gann, early on in a long and technical post on the process of music composition and whether it is ever a matter of just writing down what the composer "hears in his head", connects the dots between crafting a sonata, say, and crafting a blog:
Take this blog entry, for instance. I've started it because I've got a bug up my ass, as happens, about some mistaken notion I see myself in a position to correct. It's been running through my mind for a few days, and the mental form it always takes is that the initial, central idea always comes first, and other related ideas, or apropos phrases, group themselves around it in no particular order, like spokes around the hub of a wheel. Now I've sat down to write, and all those disconnected ideas must arrange themselves in series, into coherent paragraphs. Some of them don't link logically. Transitional ideas must be grabbed out of the air. I struggle with introspection, because at this exact point in writing my initial idea has been stated, but the other eloquent phrases I'm eager to use don't fit in yet. Very, very often I find, as I think any serious essayist must, that what I end up meaning as the essay takes shape is not exactly what I expected to say. I might possibly find myself contradicting the gist of this blog entry and not finishing it. What's given, though, is that the linear format of these paragraphs is not isomorphic to my obsessive musings of the past few days, and that I cannot possibly simply throw the latter down on paper (or screen) as they exist in my head. The impetus is transformed by the process. In a sense I had something to say and I will have said it, but more accurately, I will have found out by the end of this essay what I think. Which is the value, for me personally, of writing a blog - and would continue to be even were no one reading it.
Yes, it is exactly like that, especially the posts that never quite get finished to satisfaction or that draw near to completion too late to any longer be thought of as "timely." I suspect many bloggers have, as I do, a collection of incomplete items in draft to which they promise themselves they may someday return, sad little lamps flickering 'neath dusty bushels for years or perhaps for always. Best put this one up before it shares their melancholy fate.
Photo: Unfinished Inscription, Kilmuir cemetery, near Hungladder, Scotland:
The stone marks the burial place of Charles MacArthur, one of the pipers to Clan MacDonald. According to tradition, the piper's son, who had commissioned a sculptor to letter the stone, was drowned while crossing the Minch. As the sculptor considered he was unlikely therefore to be paid, he abandoned his work, never to return.
Image Copyright Richard Dorrell, reused under Creative Commons license, via geograph.
Primary Election Day 2010 in California brings with it only one certainty: the official return of Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. to big-time California politics as the Democratic nominee for, and early favorite in the race to become, California's next Governor.
Jerry Brown's return comes 27 years after he last served as Governor, from 1975 to 1983. Term limits on state officers had not be instituted when he last Governed, so they pose no impediment to his return.
When Brown last occupied the Governor's office, he famously refused to occupy the recently constructed and reasonably palatial Governor's Mansion in Sacramento, preferring a modest apartment and (so it was said) a futon on the floor. He dated singer Linda Ronstadt. He used the National Guard and launched helicopters to spray the citizenry with pesticide from on high in his battle against the Medfly. He earned the "intractable sobriquet" of Governor Moonbeam from columnist Mike Royko, and a reputation for flakiness fanned by recurrent jokes in Doonesbury.
When Brown later ran credibly but unsuccessfully for President, Doonesbury featured a week of strips -- pulled by most California papers -- alleging his receipt of favors from noted organized crime figures. Also implicated was Brown's chief of staff, Gray Davis, who would himself go on to become Governor only to be recalled by voters and replaced with the now-departing Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In 1979, in the heady rush of California Punk, Jerry Brown inspired Bay Area band the Dead Kennedys and frontman Jello Biafra* to pen "California Über Alles", a screed linking cheerful NewAgery with National Socialism, all of it via the Governor. For a flavor of the thing, here are the first two largely incoherent verses:
I am Governor Jerry Brown My aura smiles and never frowns Soon I will be president… Carter power will soon go away I will be Führer one day I will command all of you Your kids will meditate in school California Uber Alles Uber Alles California Zen fascists will control you 100% natural You will jog for the master race And always wear the happy face Close your eyes, can’t happen here Big Bro’ on white horse is near The hippies won’t come back you say Mellow out or you will pay California Uber Alles Uber Alles California
Unrelated to Jerry Brown's return, but perfectly timed for it nonetheless, video artist Kota Ezawa, whose specialty is using low end animation software to super-simplify existing film footage, has combined "California Über Alles" with the Beatles' premier appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, to give us "Beatles Über California". It's just the thing to get Californians marching straight to the ballot box:
* Given that the secessionist nation of Biafra has not existed for some 40 years, and that few now recall the civil war, blockades and resulting famine that made that sad place so notable at the time, I am left to wonder: does anyone still consider Jello Biafra's chosen moniker scandalous?
It is certainly true that SCOTUSBlog is the Blogospheric Go-to Resource for all things U.S.-Supreme-Courtian.
And yet . . . .even that worthy site has thus far declined to Rip the Proverbial Lid off of the Literal Scandal that is:
June Crenshaw: Sex Kitten to the Supreme Court
This lost, albeit scandalous, cinematic record of High Jinks at the High Court has at last, as it must in a Republic founded upon Principles to Be Named Later, come to light. All credit is due here to the painstaking researches of playwright/screenwriter/connoisseur of the tastefully if tackily erotic, David Mamet, and his Circle.
Judge, so to speak, for yourselves:
Thorough and diligent Advocates will study this primary document closely, gleaning invaluable, nay, indispensable, well nigh irreplaceable, and simply irresistible insights into jurisprudence and judicial history, into Dred Scott and dishabille, and into the myriad varieties of Court-packing contemplated at one time or another by the Roosevelt administration.
How comforting to know that this material is certifiably, indeed certiorarically, Safe for Most Workplaces, so that it may be scrutinized at length and at leisure. Continuing Legal Education credit has been applied for.
What was going on in this country eighty years ago today, you ask?
On June 2, 1930, architect William A. Delano, fresh from the opening of his American pavilion at the Venice Biennale,graced the cover of TIME magazine, in company with a story on "the sixty-third Convention of the American Institute of Architects, an exclusive body devoted to the preservation of professional standards, the solution of problems" in Washington, D.C.:
Architects have one thing in common—they are the least advertised professional men in the world. They do not sign their work. Advertising copy writers never get a McKim, Mead & White or a Warren & Wetmore account. Even in the pages of architectural journals you will look in vain for architects' advertisements. Everyone has heard of the Woolworth Building, the Lincoln Memorial and the palatial Pocantico Hills residence of John Davison Rockefeller, yet few laymen can name the designers (Cass Gilbert, Henry Bacon, Delano & Aldrich, respectively). The feats of great lawyers and even doctors are popularly associated with their names. But if you want an architect you have to go and get him, and the information you have as to his worth is usually conveyed by word of mouth.
On June 2, 1930, the Wall Street Journalreported that Sears had begun to experiment with a five-day work week, and that National City Bank of New York was confident in an early economic recovery. Press and business leaders nervously eyed the final committee negotiations on the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which Henry Ford correctly predicted would "stultify business and industry and increase unemployment."
And, oh yes, my father was born in Toledo, Ohio, which makes today his 80th birthday.
My father spent a good part of my childhood as an automotive engineer for Chrysler, toiling in architect-like obscurity while attached to the company's high performance and racing programs. In that connection, he spent more than a little time roaming along with Chrysler's teams on what would eventually become the NASCAR circuit. The story I have always liked to tell -- the beauty of it being that it it true -- is that our family liquor cabinet once held a Mason jar full of clear liquid from the personal still of Richard Petty. No one ventured to open it, and eventually the liquid in question ate through the lid of the jar.
When Bobby Isaac went to the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 1971 and set 28 speed records in four days, my father was not only there, he occasionally rode along, one hand on the roll cage:
Retired Dodge engineer George Wallace went along with Isaac and the K&K Insurance Dodge team when they set the records at Bonneville. Known for riding along in race cars during practice to check instrument readings, Wallace took advantage of the opportunity to ride with Isaac on the salt flats.
'Normally at Bonneville for long distance records, they run on a circle, but with the condition of the salt that year, they had to run an oval,' said Wallace. 'It was basically two-mile straightaways and three-mile turns, for a 10-mile lap. I rode with Bobby while they were setting the car and it got to about 205 at the end of the straightaway. He wouldn't lift. He'd throw it into that three-mile-long turn like he'd throw it into a half-mile dirt-track turn.'
He's George Mills Wallace; I'm George Mills Wallace, Jr. I don't use the "Jr." professionally, because there is no likelihood of confusion between us. I know nothing about automotive engineering, though I would be wiling to bet that my father would pick up the practice of law like a shot if he were so inclined.
Somewhere along the line, one of the high performance automotive journals -- I can't rightly recall which -- published a brief profile of my father. The writer described him as possessing "the bemused smile of true genius." That has always sounded right to me.
I took two attempts to get marriage right. My father managed on the first try, and he and my mother will reach their 56th anniversary before the month is out. Tonight, with my two sisters, my wife and my two sons, I will be joining my parents for a celebratory 80th birthday dinner. My father is badly slowed up by Parkinson's at this point, but remains ultimately himself. The still vital essence at the core makes the physical ravages that much more aggravating.
I have never had a strained relationship with my father. Neither he nor I are ones for flagrant or overt shows of affection, the one for the other. I believe, though, that each of us has always known that he has the love and deep rooted respect of the other. I know for certain that my father has mine, and always will. Everything that I consider remotely worthwhile about myself, I trace in one way or another to my parents. I could not ask for a better father. (I could not ask for a better mother, either, but this post isn't about her.)
Happy 80th birthday, Dad, with all the abiding affection and gratitude I can muster.
Photo: a speed demon and a collection of lunatic engineers, circa 1971, via MOPAR Magazine. My father, and his autograph, are at left.