March in Minnesota: according to the weatherman on TV right now, the low tonight will be 5 below. The high Friday will be 55 above.
Weve all dated someone like that.
Friday. Did Ians show on 107.1; we swapped old beloved bad music we wanted to share with the audience. He had a tune from the Babys, Isnt It Time, which I remembered completely; it was one of those ornately overproduced slabs of puffed-up froth-flecked candy that suffocated the airwaves in the 70s and 80s. I had the closing credits music from Wild Wild West. Did we get an hour of radio from this? Why yes. Yes we did.
The 107 booth is right next to the KSTP booth, and that simple fact of proximity reveals the peculiar illusion of radio: each station is a concept, a self-contained world, but theyre really just dim rooms along a hallway. When I was on KSTP we were out on the edge of town in a Moderne jewelbox building - the studio was ten feet from a wall of ancient electronics that powered the station, and the transmitter tower was out back across a barren field. This was the station. When they moved to the corporate HQ in St. Paul, KSTP became just a slot on the dial. When I walked into the old studio, I was entering K - S - T - P. When I did some fill-in work after the move, the new booth never felt like KSTP at all; by then theyd set up the network, and you couldnt even give the station ID anymore lest you contrude with the identity of the affiliates. The booth was too big, too clean, emptied of history; in the old booth the controls still had the braille stickers from the days of Don Vogel. The wall had a dent from the day a guest fell over and brained the metal molding with his skull. Radio erases and rewrites itself every moment, and its always a wonder that any station has any history at all.
The old station had history.
107 is brand new. But the booth is small. The booth has a good vibe I never got from the KSTP booth. I walked past that booth on Friday and thought Machine; Franchise. The 107 booth felt like the playground, the sandbox, the pulpit, the coffee table.
Friday night I was bored; Id finished with the Bleat graphics, finished scanning the latest batch of stuff, and went outside to consult with a small cigar. Welcome to the Diner, I thought. Its always open; its always here, just 13.5 miles down the road from wherever you happen to be right now. Im sitting at the long boomerang-patterned formica counter, with a cup of harsh and serious coffee, a stack of newspapers and a deep suspicion that I should be heading home - but its warm in here, and Im hungry. Jeremy the Dark Chef is behind the nickel-plated grill, making - well, what is on the menu?
Thats how the show usually began. Havent thought that for a year or two, but its woodburned into the neurons. I get letters every week from kind folk who tell me they still miss the Diner. I never missed it as much as they did.
But all of a sudden I miss it more than anyone.
Isn't its time? Maybe so.
Watched a few movies. I cannot recommend the restored version of War of the Worlds. Yes, its a great 50s creature-feature, my favorite next to Them - and yes, the print is bright and almost creamy. Yes, the final destruction of LA looks better than ever, and the abrupt ending with its explicit religiosity still makes it seem as if the Martians were vanquished by the invisible agents of Episcopalianism. But the restoration is so good I noticed something Id never seen before: the wires that hold up the spaceships. I mean, THERE THEY ARE. WIRES. You cant miss them. It reminded me of that old version of Star Wars I saw once - the print had degraded so badly you could see little squares around all the TIE fighters as they zoomed around.
The opening sequence is a bit hokey, too. The cold intellects of Mars, knowing their world was dying, looked around for another planet. The VO tells us how they looked at Pluto (too cold) and Mercury (too hot) before they finally decided on the juuuuust-right Baby Bear planet that was right in front of them all the time, for heavens sake.
Watched a movie from this century, too: We Were Soldiers, the Mel Gibson anti-Platoon feature from last year. You just wave a reel of this film at Oliver Stone and he hisses and shrinks back into the shadows. It contains a satisfying portion of Sam By-God Elliot, who now appears to be made entirely of jerky. In its tone and sympathies, it seems like a throwback to the old-style war movies. You know the genre - soldiers died by gripping their guts and falling over as though felled by a spasm of gas. The sort of movie where the top brass is always right and bright and smart and shiny, where the grunts behave like heavily armed Boy Scouts, and the last words on the credit express the producers thanks for the cooperation of various military branches. But it wasnt that movie. And it wasnt two hours of unbearably sweaty lurid terror like Black Hawk Down - nor was it an Allegorical Account of Technocratic Imperial Overreach.
It was a movie about soldiers in a battle, and now I understand some critics chagrin: it took the soldiers side. I remember reading reviews that slammed the movie for its jingo factor, for shameless retreads of old war-movie clichés. One of the scenes depicted the heros penultimate night with his family; hes reading to his little girl, and she interrupts the story to ask what is a war, daddy? This subsequent conversation doesnt just tug at the heartstrings, it ties them to a piano and pushes the piano out a 30-story window. (Gibson is very good with the children in the movie - as befits a man blessed with many of his own, he doesnt have to find his motivation when asked to play the father to a half-dozen offspring.) Then theres the dying words of some soldiers, which are straight out of a black-comedy skit about war-movie clichés. But what if they actually said those words? What if they believed them? When you think of it, theres not a single heartfelt sentiment that couldnt come from a comedy skit nowadays. The more unvarnished and elemental the emotion, the more likely we glib sophisticates will roll our eyes: oh, please. Either die screaming as you stuff your guts back in, or keep still and trust the director to let Samuel Barber speak on your behalf.
In other words, so much of this movie rang so true that the moments that rang false were probably the most accurate depictions of what actually happened. Stay with me here, please:
This isnt a movie that glorifies war. It reveres the men who found themselves fighting it. It abhors the cost. It turns away cheap sentiment when it would have profited most from indulging in it. When the men form up to take the midnight bus to leave the base, leave their families, the scene is fraught with sorrow - and it also subtly changes the mood of the film, paring away the world of wives and children, and reducing it all to the only thing upon which these men can depend: one another. When the troops break formation in Vietnam to run to the choppers, the soundtrack doesnt give us the hi-ho killbot theme youd expect. You know that tune - its the music that stands in for the Ideals and Beliefs and other delusions that will be cut to ribbons in the next hour. In the post-Stone era, the Obligatory Foreshadowing Music was replaced with 60s rock, partly for historical verisimilitude, partly because the sight of a doorgunner cackling as he picked off rice-paddy peasants was aesthetically palatable if the Jefferson Airplane was on hand as well.
In We Were Soldiers, as the troops board the choppers to the sound of a wavering Oirish voice singing some ancient plaint: oh lay me in the col col groun. Utterly irrelevant to the nationality of the fighting men, the location, the geopolitics, the century. Its the movies way of saying this is not the battle of history, but it is a battle, and in the end all battles are the battle - both for the living and the dead.
Then theres the slightly wounded guy who gives up his seat in the medevac to a gravely wounded comrade, and is promptly ventilated by enemy fire. Oh, right - retirony. Please! Do you expect me, a savvy consumer of media, to buy this?
Lets go to the writer / directors commentary track.
This is, this is horrific . . .this moment, like almost every other depicted in this film, occurred. That man, Captain Tom Metzger, gave up his seat in the helicopter to a wounded friend, and then was shot and killed.
It reminds you that a truth, repeated enough times, becomes a cliché. Once the smart set identifies something as a cliché, its stripped of its truth and regarded simply as a trick - regardless of how true the cliché may actually be. As for the dying words, and the scene with the little daughter, the director said:
I have to take responsibility for putting those words in the movie, but those words are exactly what the soldiers said. And the scene with the little girl is exactly what happened in Col. Moores memoirs.
Some of my soldier friends said that they hoped Id tell the reviewers it was too bad the soldiers dying on the field couldnt have come up with something clever and ironic, but in fact Tell my wife I love her was exactly what those soldiers said as they were dying on the battlefield.
The highlands of Vietnam in 1965; the desert of Iraq next week. Necessary as this may be, there are no words to describe the pain or the cost.
Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders recently expressed in concert the hopes that our soldiers die and lose.
At the risk of sounding like one of those bloodthirsty hawks you read so much about: I truly hope they dont.