Thursday, January 24, 2013

Anything Goes - The Cole Porter Song Decoded

Like many people who yearn for a simpler and less wasteful life, I've long had a love affair with all things 1930's. Somehow, my older relatives who actually lived through the depression had an amazing ability to not only get by, but to thrive and be happy with much less than most people consider necessary these days.

But my depression era addiction goes way beyond thriftiness. I also love the music and art of the era.

Recently CatMan and I have developed an affinity for this song from the 1934 Cole Porter musical, Anything Goes.

The song is packed full of social references that fly WAY over the head of most of us modern day listeners, so I thought it might be fun to research a few of them.

So here goes....

Anything Goes by Cole Porter 1934

Times have changed and we've often rewound the clock
Since the Puritans got a shock when they landed on Plymouth Rock. 
If today any shock they should try to stem
'Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock would land on them. 

In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. But now, God knows, Anything goes. 

So, this is clearly a reference to the fact that in the early 1900's (the so-called Edwardian era) it was considered grossly improper for a woman to show her ankle. I'm not sure if there was something about ankles specifically, or if it was just that women were supposed to cover up as much flesh as possible. Anyhow, think Downton Abbey fashion - which really wasn't that long ago from the perspective of a person living in 1934!

Good authors too who once knew better words Now only use four-letter words Writing prose. Anything goes. 

If driving fast cars you like, If low bars you like, 
If old hymns you like, If bare limbs you like, 
If Mae West you like, Or me undressed you like, 
Why, nobody will oppose. 

Most people are probably familiar with Mae West, but in case you aren't, she was an actress and an early sex symbol, known for her provocative style, and the famous line "Why don't you come up and see me sometime."

Here's a fabulous compilation of some of her most characteristic film moments:

When every night the set that's smart is intruding in nudist parties in Studios, Anything goes. 

Now, when I think of the 1930's my brain conjures up images of bread lines and hungry children dressed in clothing made from flour sacks... nudist parties aren't exactly the first thing that comes to mind! But apparently the nudist or naturist movement as it was then called began in Germany during the early 20th century as a "get back to nature" sort of thing, and by the 1930's it had made its way across the Atlantic. Who knew?

When Missus Ned McLean (God bless her) Can get Russian reds to "yes" her, Then I suppose Anything goes. 

Mrs. Ned McLean is Evalyn Walsh McLean, who was a wealthy mining heiress born in Leadville, CO around the same time that my great grandfather owned a saloon in that town! She was married to Edward Beale McLean, a publishing mogul, and was the last private owner of the Hope diamond. They must have been quite the couple as he was a notorious alcoholic and womanizer and she a morphine addict

She apparently took a much publicized trip to communist Russia shortly after the Russian revolution. I'm not exactly sure of the reason for the trip, except that the exploration of Marxism was popular among American intellectuals of the era. Hard to see a person of such wealth and extravagance embracing communism though... and maybe that's why Cole Porter was poking fun at her in the song.

When Rockefeller still can hoard enough money to let Max Gordon Produce his shows, Anything goes. 

Max Gordon was a successful Broadway producer, best known for producing The Jazz Singer in the mid 1920's which was made into the first real Hollywood musical in 1927. 

This photo from the movie opening in 1927
I assume from this reference that Rockefeller was a patron of his or somehow funded his work, but I can't find any more information than that. 

The world has gone mad today, and good's bad today, 
And black's white today, and day's night today, 
And that gent today you gave a cent today 
Once had several chateaux. 

When folks who still can ride in jitneys find out Vanderbilts and Whitneys lack baby clothes, Anything goes. 

First of all, a jitney is any sort of a bus or unlicensed shared taxi, the kind that generally carry "the great unwashed." And the Vanderbilts and Whitneys were two of the most famous wealthy families of the era. 

Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park, New York
So I suppose the message of this line is that when folks discover that even the wealthiest of the wealthy are struggling it sort of lifts the pressure of "keeping up with the Joneses."  I guess in my mind that's one of the most endearing qualities of the depression era.

If Sam Goldwyn can with great conviction Instruct Anna Sten in diction, then Nana shows Anything goes. 

OK, this is one of my favorites. Sam Goldwyn was a famous movie producer (think Metro Goldwyn Mayer or MGM.) Anna Sten was born Annel Stenskaya Sudakevych in the Ukraine. She had been a silent film star in Russia and Germany, and Goldwyn brought her to the US to compete with Greta Garbo who was the blonde bombshell du jour. 

Anyhow, her much anticipated US debut was a movie called Nana, which was a complete and utter flop because her accent was so think that American audiences couldn't understand a word she said! Here's a clip of her singing from the movie Nana... I do admit it's a tad bit difficult to understand the lyrics:

When you hear that Lady Mendl standing up now turns a handspring landing up on her toes, Anything goes.

Lady Mendl refers to Elsie de Wolfe, who is widely considered to be the first lady of modern interior decorating. She reportedly had a lengthy lesbian romance with Bessie Marbury, one of New York's most prominent citizens. The name Mendl comes from Sir Charles Mendl whom she married at the age of 60 for his name and title since she reportedly continued her relationship with Marbury after the marriage.

I can't find any actual references to her doing handsprings, but she was apparently famous for her morning exercise routine which included yoga, standing on her head and walking on her hands.

Just think of those shocks you've got and those knocks you've got
And those blues you've got from that news you've got
And those pains you've got (If any brains you've got)
From those little radios.

OK... now the reference to "little radios" is still a bit puzzling to me. Since transistor radios weren't invented until the 1950's the only thing I can figure is that this is a reference to the crystal radio, sometimes called a crystal set.  These are simple radios that do not require electricity to run and were very popular in the 1920's.

On one forum someone suggested that instead of "if any brains you've got" the lyric actually is "if any range you got" which would make sense since crystal radios are not very powerful devices and can only pull in a very strong signal.

So Missus R., with all her trimmin's, can broadcast a bed from Simmons 'Cause Franklin knows Anything goes.

OK, Mrs. R is Eleanor Roosevelt. She apparently had a weekly radio show which was sponsored by the Simmons Mattress Company. This was quite a scandal at the time as many people felt she was "cashing in" on the presidency.

So there you have it! I must say it's been great fun digging into all this. It sort of gives me a glimpse into, if not the day to day life of the average person, at least a sense of what was "talked about" back in that era.

Sorta makes me wonder what people seventy years from now will think about the popular culture of today. I shudder to think....

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thoughts on Living the Dream

I've been reading a lot of posts recently with a similar theme. Perhaps it's because of the new year, but everyone seems to be talking about how to get out of their ruts and finally start to live the life they've always wanted to.

Now... if you happen to be the author of one of these posts, relax, this isn't aimed at you. This isn't really aimed at anyone or any post in particular.

It's just that something inside me always starts to recoil a bit when I hear things like "Be the You that you've always wanted to be" or some other similar phrase.

It always conjures up pictures of lollipops and rainbows, and a life immersed in eternal happiness and bliss. And of course we all go chasing after it because, really, who wouldn't like to live inside such a fairy tale picture?

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I have any objection to making positive changes or adopting a more authentic lifestyle. But these types of things always come across like some warped combination of self-help program, late night infomercial and carnival busker to me...

And the way most of them turn out, authenticity very rarely makes an appearance.

I guess I just think that we all tend to approach this sort of question from the wrong direction. We sit and think "Gee... what kind of life would I really, truly like to have?" And then we set about making our real lives look like the picture we've conjured up in our heads.

We imagine ourselves thin and healthy and stress-free, in idyllic surroundings without a care in the world... or whatever your fantasy life might look like.

And always in these pictures, we ourselves are somehow different. The equation always seems to go sort of like this:
"If only ___________, then I would feel ____________."

You can fill in the above blanks with your chosen fantasy and desired feeling du jour.

But you know, I've made a LOT of changes in my life, and in my experience it just doesn't work that way. In fact, the only way I've ever really gotten anywhere was by ditching all of the pretty pictures and all of the ideas about how I want to feel, and simply following the emotions that I actually do feel right now!

The thing is, you can control what you do, but you can't really control what you feel.

I'm not sure I'm doing a good job explaining all this, so here are a few examples.

After I had my little "nervous hoedown" in college, I decided to "follow my dream." At that point in my life I had a beautiful picture in my head of being a travelling singer songwriter. I would live out of my car, write songs, record albums and basically become a modern day troubadour. So I headed in that general direction and ended up working for a non-profit folk music school. I considered this a temporary stop since what I really wanted to do was perform.

But since the school was one of the "larger" concert venues for music of this type in the country ("large" meaning we had a 125 seat hall,) and since most of the members of our faculty were professional musicians  I also got a first hand look at what life as a performing musician was really like.

At some point it dawned on me that I get carsick if I drive more than about 30 minutes, I HATE sleeping in hotels or being a guest in someone's home, I have a pile of food allergies so eating anything I didn't cook myself is a nightmare, and the "romance" of being a starving artist wears off pretty darned quickly when you're sick and can't afford to see a doctor!

And while there is certainly something very gratifying about being on stage and having everybody tell you how wonderful you are, and cheer for you etc, there's also something very hollow about it all. People who are your "fans" don't really like you, you're really just a big screen upon which they project all sorts of strange and bizarre things. On some level we all crave public approval, but when you see it in that light it's really a very strange, and not completely fulfilling sort of thing.

So when the time came and I was asked to "go on the road" with some friends as their opening act - the dream I had always longed for, I turned them down flat. The reality of it all just wasn't as glorious as the dream had seemed.

Here's another example.... After 16 years of working at the music school, it had turned firmly into a "real job" and I wanted out. Even though I had decided that being a travelling musician would be hell on earth, I still longed for the freedom and self sufficiency of not being an employee.

So after years of frugal living and saving my pennies, and trying various methods of making money, I finally hit on success and was able to quit and strike out on my own. This was what I had always wanted... freedom and time... nobody to answer to... life was gonna be absolute bliss!

And then it actually happened, and that first year after I quit working was one of the most miserable times in my entire life! I was just as stressed out and exhausted, and overwhelmed as I always had been, only now I didn't have a boss and a job to blame it all on.

So there it was... it was me and only me... I had finally come face to face with myself, and it wasn't pretty!

In the end I had to own up to a LOT of stuff that I had been avoiding my entire life. I had to dig up a bunch of shit from my childhood and really deal with all of the emotions that I had tried so very long to avoid. It's not like I didn't know the stuff was there, I just somehow figured that knowing it was there was enough... but it wasn't - I actually had to feel it all (and still do - every single day.)

So what's my point with all of this?

I guess I just think that ultimately "living the dream" has much less to do with the circumstances of your life (like what you do for a living, or where you live, or how many things you own) than it does with the way you choose do deal with yourself as a human being. Because no matter what things you accomplish or how many pounds you lose, or how few belongings you de-clutter your way down to - you're still gonna be the same person - and that's the part we all really need to come to terms with.

Now I'm the last person on earth to say that you shouldn't try to change your life for the better. But when I really look at it - all of the many things I've "accomplished," and the many ways I live an unconventional life (financial independence, frugal living, simplicity, etc) aren't what has made me happy.

Changing my circumstances only helped me create time and space to do the real work, which is dealing with myself, and that is what has made the difference.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The War on Drugs Hits Home

OK, fair warning - this is a bit of a rant.

You know, I've never been a big fan of the so-called "War on Drugs." It's just always seemed a tad bit absurd to me that you can walk into a store and buy an assault weapon - the only purpose of which is to kill a lot of people really quickly. But you can't buy marijuana, because you might hurt yourself with it. (Except that you soon will be able to buy dope here in Colorado - hooray for my state! But that's another story.)

Somehow I always thought that it was my government's job to protect me from other people, not from myself, and that people do bear some modicum of responsibility for what they choose to do to their own bodies. Oh silly me...
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of drug abuse, and I know what havoc addiction can wreak in people's lives. CatMan lost his brother to a heroine overdose, and the primary reason I left my Ex was because of his drug and alcohol problem.

I just think that criminalizing the substances does very little to keep them out of the hands of people who want them, and in many cases fear of prosecution delays or prevents people from seeking the help that they need to overcome these sorts of problems.

It just seems that by in large the "war" against these drugs does much more harm to the general population - especially to innocent bystanders - than the drugs themselves do. But never has this "war on drugs" hit home like it did over the past few weeks.

You see... cats can't tolerate most painkillers. In fact, the only ones that they can really handle are opiates, more commonly referred to as narcotics.

So here I have poor little Sputnik with his bladder tumor. Now it's unclear how much actual pain he is in, but he's clearly experiencing irritation when he urinates, and the painkillers help to keep him from getting into a cycle of urination-irritation-urination until he's straining to pee and further complicating the whole situation.

Anyhow, the pain killer of choice for cats is something called buprenorphine. It's basically synthetic morphine, and it's delivered in a liquid form that is absorbed through the skin inside the mouth. Coincidentally, humans can use this very same liquid intravenously, and hence, it is a controlled substance, and REALLY expensive.

The cost really didn't bother me, because I have pet insurance which is paying for 80% of the cost of his care - but getting the prescription filled was a complete and total nightmare! Seriously, I could only get a few day's worth at a time and every time I'd call the vet to refill it, there was a major problem. Either they didn't have any in stock, or it was on the way but not there yet, yadda, yadda, yadda.

I was starting to understand the panic that an addict must go through when they're not sure where their next fix is coming from! So since it's looking like this is gonna be more of a "long term" situation (ever hopeful - we really have no idea how long his "term" may be - but since he hasn't worsened appreciably over the past month or two there is room for optimism.) Anyhow, it seemed like we should try to find a better alternative for pain relief.

Soooo, we attempted one of the few other choices out there - another opiate called Tramadol. For reasons that are unclear to me, this drug is not a controlled substance, hence it's cheap and (more importantly) easy to get. Suffice it to say, the experiment did NOT go well. Apparently Tramadol can cause "dysphoria" in cats - all I can say is that the drug would be more aptly named.... "Trauma"-dol!

Seriously, we tried for 2 days, and by the end of it, I had to isolate poor Sputty to one cement floored room in the basement with 4 litter boxes - where he basically ran around in a drug induced panic peeing constantly for about 24 hours.

After that little adventure, I called the vet back and basically pleaded with him to find a way to make the buprenorphine more available. Turned out all they had to do was fill out some extra paperwork and tomorrow I get to go pick up a 3 week supply. Thank Fucking God!

Plus, he's back on his amitriptyline (an anti-depressant which had to be discontinued during this little experiment because it doesn't play nice with Tramadol) and he's doing much, MUCH better.

It all just makes me sad and angry. I mean really... why should my poor little cat have to suffer just to try to prevent some junkie from getting his hands on this medicine - which, BTW is generally only used as a method to get OFF of heroine or other more problematic drugs?!?!

And don't EVEN get me started on the countless other victims of this ridiculous "war." There are the obvious ones, like the people caught in the crossfire of gang violence (which is fueled by illegal drug trafficking).

But then there are the less obvious ones like my friend who was very nearly infected with hepatitis by some hospital intern who was stealing drugs to fuel her habit because that was the only way to get them.

Or another friend whose brother was in hospice care dying of AIDS - he was near the end, so my friend brought him some marijuana brownies, and suddenly his brother started doing much better... at least until the nurse found out about it and threatened to press charges against my friend. He stopped bringing the brownies and his brother went sharply downhill and died within a few days. Because, you know, it would be terrible if a terminally ill patient actually got some pleasure in his dying days.

I guess that's the part that really gets to me... the whole idea that somehow this "war on drugs" is some sort of a moral crusade. Apparently in the eyes of this crazy society, preventing a consenting adult from getting an unauthorized high is a cause so noble, moral and important that it's worth incarcerating a significant percentage of our population, or turning our streets into virtual war zones, or creating currency to fuel gang violence, or perpetuating virtual civil war in Mexico & Central America, or making it ridiculously difficult for people with a legitimate need for certain drugs to actually get them!

OK... rant over. Seriously though, I'd love to hear what your thoughts are on this whole topic.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Dealing with the Ever Changing "Normal"

I often hear people talking about the "new normal." And while I certainly understand the concept, the older I get the more I feel like "normal" is a fleeting state at best.

I'm sure some if this is because my cat is sick, and I can't know what to expect from moment to moment, but I can't help but feel that the only constant in my life these days seems to be change.

I've never been very good at routine - I think partially because I chafe against the idea of being locked into any particular schedule or system. But it also seems true that as soon as I manage to establish some sort of system for doing things, something will change and the entire thing goes off kilter.

And it's not just the big stuff like people or pets dying... I find this to be true with virtually all aspects of my life. I'll finally come to a place where the kitchen is clean and uncluttered, and then the seasons will change and I'll go from salads to soups, and suddenly my system doesn't work anymore.

Or I finally get my closet and drawers arranged so that everything has a home, and then I buy a road bike and suddenly need a place for all sorts of cycling clothes, and I'm back to having piles of homeless clothes everywhere because there's no room.

Or I try to establish a regular schedule, but then the cat has an "issue" in the middle of the night and I'm up all night taking care of him and everything is thrown off for days to come.

Somehow, I always feel like this is evidence of some sort of failure on my part. Why can't I just find a system that works and stick to it? But really... should I blame myself because the seasons change, or my life evolves in one way or another? Perhaps I simply have unrealistic expectations in regards to the longevity of my organizing and scheduling schemes.

Part of me feels like I should be making some sort of New Year's resolution to make better systems, or do a better job forcing myself to stick with a routine, but honestly it seems like a pointless endeavor.

Instead, I think that my goal for the year will be to try to accept the fact that life is fleeting and nothing will ever stay the same - and to recognize that this is really a good thing.

I mean, if everything was static, and each day was the same as the last, then what would the point be?

So how do you organized types deal with the inevitability of change? Do you just buckle down and stick to your guns, or do you create new systems all the time? I can't be the only person who struggles with this sort of thing. Seriously, I'd really love to hear how y'all manage this one.