Friday, August 22, 2014

Zappa in sonnet form

There's a blogger with too much time on his hands who likes to rewrite pop lyrics in the style of Shakespearean sonnets.  (See I thought I'd give the form a try on my own:

I dreamt I was a lad in Arctic climes,
Where bitter cold the tundra wind doth blow,
And there my weeping mother cried betimes:
“O be thou not a naughty Esquimaux.
“Keepest thou thy money in thy purse,
And ever be a good and trusty fellow.
Beware the spots that huskies may immerse,
And never eat the snow if it be yellow.”
As prudence be the stuff of common weal,
My mother’s wise enjoinings did I heed,
Until a trapper whapped my baby seal
And spurred me to a base and violent deed:
Life’s Authoress, do not your son chastise
For rubbing golden crystals in his eyes.
― Frank Zappa: Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Poem for Robin

Thinking about Robin Williams led me back to Edward Arlington Robinson's "Richard Cory":

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
"Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

Last thoughts about Robin Williams

Saddened as I am by the suicide of Robin Williams, I have to admit I lost interest in his work early in his career. He first caught my attention as Mork, not in his own series, but in the fantasy episode of "Happy Days.” I forget when I first saw it. I was studying abroad in February 1978, when, according to Wiki, it first aired, but I was home by the end of August, and I must have caught in a rerun. I remember thinking, who is this guy? I had no idea, but he was hilarious.

I was an instant fan when “Mork and Mindy” premiered. I don’t recall ever laughing as hard as I did during the show’s first hour. The bits that come easily to mind thirty years later were Mork’s attempt to free the eggs, and his imitation of Spencer Tracy in “Inherit the Wind.” These were the days when I harbored the pipedream, like on of O’Neill’s drunks, of being a comic, and Williams quickly became a hero, a model that could never be successfully copied.

The novelty of a show like Mork and Mindy wears off quickly, however, and the series faded rapidly after its first season. Even Jonathan Winters couldn't save it. After the show was canceled, Williams never reached those early heights again. The albums were a disappointment, They contained some brilliant bits (Elmer Fudd sings Bruce Springsteen), but those were few and far between, and separated by uninspired hyperactivity (Shake Hands with Mr. Happy). The jokes that lay beneath the mania were often no better than the kind of one-liners Bob Hope put out, and as with any performer who relies on improvisation, Williams seemed to spin his wheels for long periods while inspiration to strike. The comedy didn't build. Instead, he went from peak to peak, slogging through some pretty deep troughs. He wasn't as consistently funny as those comedians, like Steve Martin, George Carlin, or Woody Allen, who wrote and structured their routines.

It was Williams who made me realize that even the greatest comedians are truly funny only about half the time. The Marx Brothers, long my favorites, peaked with “A Night at the Opera” and limped along repeating themselves for another fifteen years. Woody Allen and Steve Martin abandoned standup for the movies, and Martin finally gave up the movies for music. Even Jonathan Winters, Williams’ own hero, was often more clever than funny. He never made a great movie, or even gave a great performance in one. Williams had a better record on that score, at least, since he was willing to branch out into serious acting. He kept working, and by most standards, enjoyed the kind of success that makes his suicide all the more puzzling.

But depression is not a rational process. Robin Williams didn’t sit up on the last night of his life weighing the pros and cons of his existence. At that point the pain was too much, and he knew only one way to make it stop.