Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Time Machine

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So, it’s Saturday morning, and I’m sitting here with the music going off behind my head.

But it isn’t the usual music. 

For some reason, the only thing that would do this morning was George Gershwin, from the only CD I own, called The Essential George Gershwin and made up almost entirely of classic recordings of things like “I Got Rhythm” and “Summertime.” 

I think the “Swanee River” track might actually have Al Jolson singing. 

But it’s like I said.  It’s going on behind my head, and I’m not in the mood to go into the other room to check the liner notes.

I k now it must seem, sometimes, to people who read this blog, that I only listen to classical music, or early music (as in medieval), or even just harpsochord music, but that isn’t true.

I actually like quite a few other things, including Gershwin–jazz of almost every variety, Sixties and early Seventies Rock and Roll, Fifties Rock and Roll, some more modern Rock and Roll, and lots and lots and lots of modern Country.

There are probably categories that I’m leaving out, but you get the picture.  I am about music the way I am about reading–I like practically everything at least some of the time.

The reason that I never talk about anything but classical on the blog is that I tend to write the blog right after I write the for real, which I do invariably in the mornings.

Music, for me, is tied really strongly to particular times of the day.  Jazz and Blues belong to the dark–not just to the nighttime, which can be very light very late in the summer, but to the dark. 

Gershwin isn’t Koko Taylor and he’s not John Coltrane, either, but I still tend to associate what he does with darkness.

Most of the time, it doesn’t even occur to me to put something like Gershwin on in the morning, and then there’s the problem with lyrics.

I really write better when I’m listening to instrumentals, and not to lyrics.

This morning, though, I’m not only in a Gershwin mood, I’m in a not-later-than-the-Thirties mood. 

Since it’s Saturday and I have a fairly clear day after I get the computer stuff done,  I’ll crank up the DVD player later and Watch Things while I correct papers.

It always helps to Watch Things when you correct papers, because when the papers get exceptionally egregious you can always turn your attention to–whatever.

The whatever this afternoon will be, I think, also up-to-the-Thirties.

I’ve got a couple of largish Charlie Chan collections (one from each actor), plus a good stack of Busby Berkeley musicals.  Any of those will do.

I do a lot of this kind of thing lately.  I pick an era and just let myself live in it for a while.

For a while, I worried that this was a weird form of nostlagia.  One of the eras is quite definitely the Fifties, and I have all the seven seasons of the Perry Mason television show that have been released. 

I’ve got some movies from the same period, too, and I want one that isn’t on DVD yet called The Girl He Left Behind.

Most of the eras I get “nostalgic” for, though, I can’t be nostalgic for, because I wasn’t alive when they happened.

There just seems to be something about the imaginative representations of these eras that seems to me to be more congenial to who I am, than the era I’m living in now.

Intellectually, I know this is not really true. 

I would not have enjoyed living in the actual Thirties, or the actual Forties.

What’s more, I did, in fact, live in the actual Fifties, and I was  miserable.

Still, there is something going on here, and I wish I knew what.

The best way I can explain it is to say that there is something about the underlying sense of living in these eras that feels better to me than that same underlying sense of living feels to me now.

Maybe it’s just that these eras seem to me to be so much less angry than ours is now, and so much less divided.

Of course, that insight–if that’s what it is–snags on another one, which is that angry and divided isn’t always bad. 

If the world is wrong or bad or corrupted, we ought to be angry.

And if only some of us see that corruption or want it fixed, then we ought to be divided.

For some reason, though, even the wrongness and badness and corruption–and even the wrongness and badness and corruption that would have personally affected me–seems less bad than a lot of what I’ve got at the moment.

I’m not sure just in what sense that is true, but it does seem to be true.

And for today, I’m not going to worry about it.

I’m just going to run a lot of Thirties movies, and listen to Gershwin in between.

Written by janeh

March 2nd, 2013 at 10:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Time Machine'

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  1. Interesting about the longing for other eras. I just finished reading “Criminal” by Karin Slaughter, half of which is set in 1975 Atlanta, when women were just starting to be brought into their police force.

    I often think about those days, given that I was 20 and gorgeous and So Friggin’ Young in 1975. But the descriptions in the book of the outrageous harassment, discrimination and sometimes even assault the women had to tolerate just enraged me. I mean I *lived* then, and I still can’t encompass having to have a father’s or husband’s signature to get a safety deposit box at a bank, or open a credit card account. Maybe it was the difference between the deep South & midwest, but my own struggles with equality were much milder.

    I suspect that thrown into that milieu, I would have been jailed for assault or murder quite quickly. Or committed for insanity. Intolerable.


    2 Mar 13 at 2:21 pm

  2. I just lately ran into a comment by Robert E. Howard that the milieu in which he would prefer to live–knowing what he did and being raised as he was–was not the milieu in which he would prefer to have been born and raised. Places and periods are different looked at from the inside.

    And interesting times and places to visit fictionally or just to enjoy the culture are different once again. Fictionally and culturally, I like the sort of 1950’s–beginning with Eisenhower and ending maybe 1963 or 1964–folk, jazz, early rock and roll, the last of studio Hollywood, really good science fiction, and a sense the country was being run by adults and problems could be solved. What we’ve got today is an improved situation, but negative momentum, and the cynicism and despair that go with that. You don’t have to approve of what was done in a period to prefer a time with hope to a time with none.

    Mind you, the late 18th and early 19th Centuries have their points–Beethoven, Austen and Scott, and revisited by Heyer and Orczy. I’m very partial to periods when the hard men can also be gentlemen. It’s something else we lost in the 1960’s and haven’t gotten back yet.

    And not all my favorite places and times are real. When SM Stirling wrote Courts of the Crimson Kings a few years ago, it was the first trip to the dying Mars of Percival Lowell, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett in about 40 years. A lot of us bought a ticket.

    But as for music–it’s very situationally dependent. I’ve seen references to multiple fantasy/SF writers putting on Miklos Roscza’s EL CID theme when they needed to write a fight scene, and I’ve been known to put Mike Post’s “Wiseguy” theme in the CD player, hit “repeat” and just go down the road for half an hour or more–but only at night. Silvestri’s “Captain America” theme is sunrise or sunset music. And starting a trip? Ideally, Dominic Frontiere’s score from John Wayne’s “The Train Robbers.” Wayne always paid for good music. But good luck finding that one.


    2 Mar 13 at 2:54 pm

  3. Having become increasingly deaf since my early 30s, I’m pretty much locked into a musical time warp. I effectively lost my ability to enjoy music of any description from about 1975. I’ve regained a lot of that ability since I received my second cochlear implant a couple of years ago, but I’m still limited to relatively simple musical forms because the implants only “cover” about 20 frequencies and, being digital, harmonies ain’t, so that rules out most classical or complex orchestral music.

    Fortunately, I can enjoy most of my pre-deafness favourites including most Gershwin, and most of what Mark Steyn calls the Great American Song Book. I’m currently pigging out on all my 60s favourites including the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and her contemporaries, that shamefully underrated genius Mel Tormé, Dave Brubeck, Dakota Staton, Nancy Wilson and even the Dutch Swing College Band. Roy Orbison, Don McLean, Willie Nelson, Merle Travis, Patsy Cline and the list goes on and on. Happy is. One of these days I’ll go looking to catch up with modern musicians like Wynton Marsalis.

    It’s always tempting to reminisce about the “good old days”, but they never really existed as the “happy days” many people like to fantasize. Apart from the social nasties that were endemic (and that, perhaps less flagrantly, continue to bedevil us in one form or another to this day, eg poverty, religious bigotry, racism, sexism and so on and on), the constant threat of war, and the vast array of endemic and then mostly incurable diseases seemed, at first hand, and to my memory of the 40s and 50s to have caused a great deal of unhappiness pretty much comparable to that which exists in modern times.

    Seems to me that things might have seemed better then because fewer people had access to the electronic news media and, without constantly being reminded of their relative poverty by the advertising industry, people were more content with their place in the scheme of things. The thing I miss most about those days is that politicians governed for most of their term in office. They were not, or at least not so obviously, endlessly campaigning for their next election every day of their lives. Also, it seemed to me back then, that most journalists were adults with a working knowledge of their society, its place in the world and, unlike many if not most journalists today, with at least a passing familiarity with the written form of their native tongues.


    2 Mar 13 at 8:35 pm

  4. I’ve essentially been deaf since I was 3 so music means nothing to me. I will pass on that part of the discussion.

    But the “when I was young” “golden age” phenomena sets me thinking about what today’s teenagers will say when they are over 60.

    Given the divorce rate, the number of single teenage mothers and the abortion rate, I wonder if they will consider this a Golden Age?

    I just came across a mention of a support group for women who chose abortion and now regret it. That reminds me of the women who complain that they were forced to allow their babies to be adopted in the 50s.


    2 Mar 13 at 10:27 pm

  5. I suppose a lot of people have a tendency to enjoy the idea of various historical periods, especially those which seem to fill a gap that they see in their own time. I know I do. I don’t particularly think I personally would have been better off in those other periods, I just enjoy the idea I have of them and learning about them or reading stories set then. As for music, I think I stopped enjoying popular music with the Beatles – I must be one of the few people of my generation who never bought a Beatles album. I liked early rock and roll, country and folk music (my favourites), old-fashioned hymns, Gilbert and Sullivan, and more recently have begun to develop an interest in classical music, including opera, but mostly earlier stuff – rennaisance and baroque music mostly. I’m not a big fan of romantic music or jazz.

    Anyway, to get back to past times…not only weren’t they the same for all the real residents, we tend to look at them through our own eyes. That is, although my equivalent in most of past history would probably have been an overworked servant or laborer, that’s not the role I think about when I think about the past. And I think people tend to visualize the past with more horror than is often warranted because we focus on the abuses we pride ourselves on having eliminated. People who actually lived with them may have fought against them, but they often didn’t allow their lives to be ruined by them. They took them for granted, as an unpleasant part of life. An aunt who was unable to find suitable work in a male-dominated field found it hard, but moved on and had a long and, as far as I could tell, happy and satisfying life. I complained somewhat more when I had a job in which the boys’ summer jobs paid more than the girls’, but it was a temporary thing and I moved on too. I just avoided the co-worker who liked groping young female’s legs.

    I’m not saying that such things were right, but that our reaction to them is not that of most of the people who lived with them, and both regarding the entire past society as uniformly suffering from the offence in question and assuming that all sufferers were scarred for life by the existence in their society of such things is really a cultural bias.

    There are still worksites today, often in the trades, in which women are sometimes subject to harassment. We say it’s wrong, some women avoid such places, others fight back – but it doesn’t define our society.


    3 Mar 13 at 7:39 am

  6. I lived through the 50’s, too, as a teenager, so the music was new and rebellious. Up to that point, classical was all I knew. My father forbade R&R in our house . . . then bought me a radio I could listen to in my bedroom (talk about wisdom). I still listen (occasionally) to Chuck Berry, Rick Nelson, Buddy Holly (etc), but my love of music in general has led me to explore and learn about much more.

    There were no “good old days.” There were just some things about that time period that struck a chord. I, too, loved Perry Mason. I had read most of his novels before we even got a TV. I think I was struck by his honesty and determination to help those who needed help. Perhaps that, for me, is the “good old days.” Movies today are so full of violence, anger, and vengence. So, I listen to the Big Bands, to the originators of Rock and Roll, to the idiocy and marvelous harmony of the Beach Boys, to all types of jazz, to Texas hillbilly, to the pristine sounds of the King’s Singers . . . and that becomes my “good old days.”


    4 Mar 13 at 11:38 am

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