Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Return of the Hitler Font

So, The Wife has piles and piles of books throughout the house. I'll often catch a title here and there but to-date we've never read the same book - a 25-year tradition that Carly Simon's memoir, Boys in the Trees, might end. But that's for another day.  A few days ago I was passing The Wife's nightstand when I caught a glance at a book.  I walked a few paces and stopped: "Hmmmm. I've seen that book before." I walked backward three steps to take a second gander at the book, A Wild Swan.  I'd never heard of it, nor of the author, someone called Michael Cunningham. So, where in the hell had I seen this book before?

Most of the rest of that day it was driving me nuts. Then I thought more about it - maybe it was the cover; is it a similar cover to something? Pretty plain looking cover as you can see in the above right.  WAIT! The font! Holy hell: that's Hitler Font! As in Mein Kampf font. No, thought I: no publisher in his or her right mind would breathe life into a font that died over 70 years ago.  Along with the Hitler Mustache, the Hitler Comb-Over and the Hitler Salute, the Hitler Font died with Germany's defeat in World War II in 1945. Yet, here it is again.

Now, this is in no way to even remotely suggest that Mr. Cunningham is a Nazi. I don't know the man and for all I know he had zero input into the cover design. Nonetheless, it's a pretty ballsy thing to publish a book cover in the same font as the cover of Mein Kampf. I mean, even Howard Stern decided not to call his first book Mein Kampf  [he instead chose the more subtle Private Parts]. Even Howard realized that vestiges of Hitler's "brand" - while perhaps funny in the way that one uses laughter to comprehend and dismiss a horrible situation or person - was not ready for rehabilitation. I mean, it took Genghis Khan a good 600 years before he had his first knock-knock joke, in 1827: ["Knock-knock"; "Who's there?" "Khan". "Khan who?" "Genghis Khan, you idiot."....I didn't say it was  a funny joke].

I'd say that you won't see another Hitler Mustache in your lifetime. Perhaps some time around 2545 or so, some rebellious young Disney star [presumably male, but who knows] will sport it. There will be much uproar. Then an athlete will wear it. The next thing you know, Gillette will be selling razors designed specifically for trimming the Hitler Mustache. Now, the Hitler Come-Over has made a slight comeback. Without the aforementioned mustache, however, it can be hard to spot. Indeed, it may be that the two are inseparable and that the Hitler Comb-Over really is back but no one's noticed. Maybe that's what gave the publishers of A Wild Swan the idea to see if they could sneak in a return of the font.

The Hitler Salute, I'm afraid, has already made a comeback. You see it at sporting events - they don't call it the Hitler Salute, over course; but there's almost no difference between the Tomahawk Chop and Sieg Heil. That's not including the reappearance of the salute at various Republican presidential events this winter.

But the font? Who the hell saw that coming? You may argue that I'm being hyper-sensitive [that's been known to happen] and that the two fonts are different.  Yet, having seen various different covers of Mein Kampf in my life, it took me less than three seconds of looking at A Wild Swan to subconsciously make the connection. Now, it's just a matter of time before Microsoft adds "Hitler" to its drop-down menu of font-types in Word. Then you'll see a sports team redesign its brand and - holy hell - there's the Hitler Font on the Pittsburgh Steelers new typeface! A stadium full of Terrible Towels - printed, naturally, in Hitler Font, - waving in violent, furious passion, shown on a Jumbo-Tron with "This is Steeler Country" in Hitler Font written on the marquee, and all of a sudden we've got a real problem.

Especially if I'm wrong and the Hitler Mustache makes a quicker comeback than I expect, and half the players are wearing it. Well, at least their helmets will cover up any Comb-Overs

Thursday, February 18, 2016

100% Helpful Texts for Planning

There's a very unfriendly service provided by Verizon [and, for all I know, every other data carrier] that sends you friendly texts as you are drawing near the end of your data plan. Getting these texts is a bit jarring - particularly if it's two weeks until your 'cycle' ends. Of course, there's a helpful link you can use to buy a larger data plan.  Data being like heroin, however, it's a dangerous and shameless thing for Verizon to offer.  Then again, charging you for data is obscene in the first place, so there you go.

Looking at this message recently, I realized: how amazing would it be if other things in life worked this way? For example: what if you could receive a text that would say, "You've lived 90% of your life span. You might want to start making arrangements."?  Think of the possibilities. Think of the angst you could avoid.

So, say today I got a text [presumably this would also be from a data carrier] that said, "You have used 75% of your life span. Relax - but don't get too comfy." At my age, that would mean I'd have about another 16 years left to live from today. So, if I got a chest pain, I could easily write it off as indigestion and perhaps save an ER trip. Indeed, had I received such a message back on Thanksgiving, everyone could've been far more calm as I lay in a heap on the floor - knowing with firm conviction [because data carriers never make errors] that I still have 16 years to live.

Granted, these texts would be even more jarring than the data-limit ones. Particularly that 90% one. If I got that one today, it'd mean I have only five years left. Presumably, that would come with links to things like living wills, cemetery plots and life insurance carriers.

Of course, let's not just be morbid [for once] and consider other applications. Toward the end of an evening with your spouse/partner/fuck-buddy you could get a text saying, "The person you are with has used up 90% of their energy this evening. You better get started with the foreplay."  In employment situations, too, it'd be useful: "You have spent 75% of your allotted tenure with your employer. Time to brush up the resume." Or sitting through a long, God-awful movie/conversation/lecture/concert/religious ceremony, you could get a text saying, "You have sat through 90% of this brutal and painful, eye-bleeding farce of an event". You could plan your nap accordingly. And for those of you dating, it'd be a great way to gauge the future of your relationship. You could get a text that says, "This relationship is 90% spent. Start losing weight and get your teeth whitened, Junior."

The possibilities are nearly endless.  Alas, your text plan/life span, etc. is not. This blog post is now 100% complete..

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Review: Frank - The Voice, By James Kaplan

Reading any biography of Frank Sinatra is dicey. When you love Mr. S as much as I do, a real biography that explores both his genius and his demons can be disconcerting. The genius is so undeniable - and, now that Sinatra has been dead nearly 20 years, it only grows larger - that thoughts about his darker side are much easier to avoid if not forget completely.

To his credit, James Kaplan covers both the genius and the darkness in his two-part biography.  Today's review is part one of that biography, from 2010, Frank Sinatra: The Voice. My main complaint about Kaplan is that his writing is sometimes crude - perhaps intentionally so, to reflect the rough and tumble vernacular of the subject. But snippets like, "Dolly [Sinatra] was holding the Sinatras' fortunes together. Imagine her delight at having to take in a slow-witted cripple" are both unnecessary and insensitive - even back in 2010.

For Frank Sinatra, Kaplan argues that the trauma of his birth - the bloody story is chillingly recalled in the text - forever shaped Sinatra's view of the world.  After Sinatra was violently removed from his mother, Dolly, he was laid - bleeding severely from the ear - by the kitchen sink [he was born at home] while doctors worked to save Dolly's life.  Sinatra was left, "feeling like they didn't care about him and were only interested in saving the life of his mother."

On the subject of his mother, Sinatra was terrified of her. She once pushed him down a flight of stairs, knocking him unconscious. As Kaplan notes,  "Sinatra would feel ambivalent about women until the end of his days. He would show every lover something of what Dolly had shown him. Sinatra was scared of his mother until the day she died."

In addition to Dolly, Kaplan points to Bing Crosby as another great influence on Sinatra. He took to dressing like Bing, singing like Bing [eventually, of course, developing his own sound], smoking a pipe like Bing, and Kaplan concludes, "Crosby's influence on Sinatra cannot be overstated."

Kaplan argues that Sinatra's New York accent and turns of phrase were almost as important to his early success as the beautiful sound he created with his voice. In 1940, Kaplan writes, "when Americans heard their president speak on the radio in godlike aristocratic tones, when they heard American movie actors declaiming in indeterminate English-y accents - here was something utterly new: a warm Italian boy. A boy with a superb voice that was also a potent means of communicating all kinds of things that white popular singers had never come close to: call it romantic yearning with hints of lust behind it, or call it arrogance with the quaver of vulnerability. In any case, it was a formula absolutely irresistible to blindsided females - not to mention to impressed males, who very quickly began using Sinatra as background to their wooing."

Sinatra's success with Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra is well documented by Kaplan.  Indeed, if Dolly and Bing were major influences in his early life, it was Tommy Dorsey who soon became Sinatra's idol and ideal. Kaplan writes, "It's not enough to say that from the moment Sinatra joined the Dorsey organization he deliberately set out remaking himself in the bandleader's image: the process was both conscious and unconscious. Tommy Dorsey was the most powerful male figure Sinatra had ever encountered - everything the younger man wanted to be, the strong father he never had."

Yet if Dorsey was a mentor, Sinatra soon was champing at the bit to record on his own. His leaving the Dorsey organization mirrored, Kaplan writes, a common theme in Sinatra's life: "The story of Frank Sinatra's life is one of continual shedding, both of artistic identities and of associates and intimates who had outlived their usefulness."

Whenever discussing Sinatra and Dorsey, the Mario Puzo The Godfather angle must be covered [and revisited ten years later with From Here to Eternity].  Kaplan sides with those who argue that the truth of the Sinatra-Dorsey breakup is probably not as exciting as the fiction. What is known is that Sinatra gave Dorsey notice in February 1942 that he was leaving the band.  At that point, there were still ten months left to run on Sinatra's three-year contract. According to Kaplan, Dorsey felt betrayed by Sinatra. "This was a wound that would stay with [Dorsey] till the end of his days."

Where it gets cloudy is in what transpired next: According to Kaplan, there was "a sit-down between [Sinatra], Dorsey, and Dorsey's agent Leonard Vannerson, a meeting in which each side felt, not quite accurately, that it was holding a hand full of aces. In exchange for Sinatra's release, plus an advance of $17,000  (at least $225,000 in 2010 dollars) to start his solo career. Dorsey and Vannerson had Frank sign a piece of paper - one can almost smell the sulfurous fumes rising from it - that made Dorsey his manager, and guaranteed not just a 10% agency fee to Vannerson but also 33.3% of Sinatra's gross earnings to Tommy, either (by some accounts) in perpetuity or for the next 10 years."

Although Sinatra signed the document, obviously the terms were outrageous. Sinatra himself had no intention of fulfilling the contract's obligations - so why he signed it at all is not clear. In the end, Kaplan believes the contract situation was resolved peacefully. That being said, though, he concedes, "Whether other, darker forces were brought to bear - and if they were, whether Sinatra knew anything about it - are questions that will forever remain unresolved."

When discussing the 1940s and Sinatra, World War II is another topic that must be addressed.  Sinatra registered for the draft in December 1940, but - as a new father -  he received an exemption from service. By fall 1943, however, such deferments were abolished.  In October 1943, Sinatra reported to the local board examining physician in Jersey City and was declared fit for service. In early December 1943, however, Sinatra was inexplicably reexamined by another army doctor and this time was declared 4-F.

Soon thereafter, the FBI investigated a rumor that Sinatra paid $40,000 for the 4-F classification. Very quickly, however, they closed the case, finding no basis for the rumor.  The press, however, did not close the case.  Sinatra was soon being labeled a "draft dodger" and was subjected to a great deal of harassment, particularly from males in the armed forces. Indeed William Manchester in The Glory and the Dream wrote, "It is not too much to say that by the end of the war Sinatra had become the most hated man [among those] in the armed services." Kaplan also pointed to the ethnicity factor: "None of America's editorial writers were getting on John Wayne's case for not enlisting. But then Wayne wasn't Italian or liberal." Kaplan also argues that the reason for Sinatra's 4-F - the perforated eardrum suffered during his violent birth - was a valid reason for receiving a 4-F classification in 1943.

By 1944 Sinatra was reading quite a bit and had become interested in a number of liberal causes.  He was particularly intrigued - and angered - by the issue of bigotry against minorities.  While the issue was sincere to Sinatra, his management looked at fighting for tolerance as a way for Sinatra to make people forget that he had been an 'draft dodger'.  The result was a short-film and song in 1945 entitled The House I Live In. Sinatra would receive an Oscar for the scene in the short-film where he explains to a group of kids why it is important to respect differences and appreciate that our varied backgrounds accounts for the success of the United States. Kaplan says that, "The man in The House I Live In is Sinatra's best self, twenty-nine years old and beautiful and solid and thoughtful. This self existed, not just on celluloid."

But, with Sinatra, periods of light were often followed by a dark episode. His infamous four-day trip to Cuba in February 1947, where he was in the company of Mafiosi is a perfect example.  He was photographed on the tarmac of the airplane after it landed carrying a bag that looked a lot like a sack of cash [although Sinatra would always deny it].  There were many theories as to why Sinatra would be carrying cash [rumored to be in excess of $100,000] for the Mafia, but nothing was ever proved.  As for the trip to Cuba, Kaplan writes, "Even giving Frank the benefit of the maximum benefit of the doubt, it would seem that he made some very bad decisions at a very sensitive time in his personal life and his career. This was his walk on the wild side with the Mob, with the men he had come to admire for all kinds of reasons, both inexcusable and understandable."

By mid-1947, Sinatra's career was in trouble. Americans' musical tastes had changed with the end of the war.  The ballads that were a Sinatra staple and been replaced with novelty songs; sadness and longing replaced by gaiety and a desire to "forget the war". As such, crowds started dwindling at his performances. Writing of one poor turnout for his show at the Capitol Theater in New York, Kaplan writes, "It was no fluke: the wheel really had turned. The relentless bad publicity couldn't have helped; still, the cold fact was that Frank's core audience, those nasty little chits, that sexually excited jailbait, were growing up and moving on. Throughout the year, despite Sinatra's unprecedented number of studio sessions, his record sales had slipped badly; his discs spent just twenty-six weeks on the Billboard charts in 1947, as compared with ninety-seven the year before."

By the end of 1948, if it seemed Sinatra's life had become unmoored [his recording career and live performances were almost nonexistent] it would soon take a further jolt, one that nearly led him eventually to suicide yet would eventually allow him to tap into a reservoir of sadness and longing that would fuel perhaps the great career turnaround in history. Not to mention produce some of the most beautiful music in history.

Ava Gardner.  Those two words alone sum up the new turmoil in Sinatra's life.  Of Gardner, Kaplan writes, "Frank found a true partner in the opera that was his life. All his other women had been supporting players; Ava was a diva. Like Frank, she was infinitely restless and easily bored." Kaplan also argues - in a classic Freudian analysis - that the similarities between Ava and Dolly were strong. "Frank must have found the similarity to the first woman in his life [Dolly] unspeakably exciting. Some part of him was still that little boy, not knowing if he'd get a hug or a rap with the nightstick."

Sinatra's reading by the early 1950s included From Here to Eternity and he became enamored of the character of Maggio. When it was announced that the book would be made into a movie, Sinatra knew that he was Maggio and began a full-court press with the movie's producer - Harry Cohn - to get the role. Here The Godfather reenters the picture [pardon the pun].  The story was that Cohn refused to even consider Sinatra until someone made him "an offer he couldn't refuse". Kaplan argues this is horseshit [as opposed to a horse's head, which -in The Godfather movie - is what the fictional producer Jack Woltz gets in his bed].  For one thing, Kaplan argues, unlike the Woltz character, Cohn himself actually liked Sinatra a great deal.  He simply thought Eli Wallach would be better for the role.  Wallach's agents, however, were demanding more money than Cohn was willing to pay. Sinatra offered to work for scale. The decision was made to give Frank a screen test.  He did fabulous and - after checking one more time with Wallach's agents to see if they would come down in price [they wouldn't] - the part was given to Sinatra.  End of story.

The success of the movie From Here to Eternity is joined with Sinatra's signing with Capitol records on March 13, 1953 as the two cornerstones of his rising from the dead. Paired with Nelson Riddle, the music Sinatra would make for Capitol would be among the greatest in the world.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The [Not-So] Fab Four

With the New Hampshire primaries once again at our throats, I thought it might be a good public service for me to break down the top four candidates for my readers who - if they're like me - haven't paid any attention to the campaign, save for any Saturday Night Live skits they may have seen on YouTube. I must caution that this is not an exhaustive breakdown of the four leading candidates - so I'm sure there are many more strange and dangerous ideas they are proposing that I’m leaving out. The important thing to remember is this: it really doesn't matter if you vote; and it truly doesn't matter who wins. The important thing is to be entertained by it every four years; like the Olympics without the HGH [although with Hillary Clinton, I’m not so sure].

First, on the Republican/Fascist side:

TED CRUZ - This guy is apparently a senator from Texas, although I've no idea when that happened. The last time I paid attention, Texas' two senators were Phil Gramm and Lloyd Bentsen. I think they may both be dead now. Sorry, got off on a tangent there. When I first heard 'Ted Cruz' I thought it was the former Phillies' infield prospect who went on to win a World Series with the Orioles in 1983.  Turns out that was Todd Cruz. He’s not running.

As far as I can tell, Cruz would be on the right end of the political spectrum, a few paces to the right of Hitler and Ted Nugent. I think he's younger than me, which should automatically disqualify him. But I just reread the Constitution [you might want to try it for the first time, Ted] and it says you only have to be 35-years old.  There's apparently some question about Ted's citizenship, but I'm pretty sure that's not the biggest reason why he shouldn't be president.

Cruz's big issue is apparently repeal of the Thirteenth Amendment. Now, he may have his numbers confused, or he may really want to repeal the amendment that abolished slavery.  My guess is that's not the one he wants to repeal [although it may be the Fourteenth, which would be almost as disturbing]. He wants to repeal Obamacare, with the idea being that healthcare should only be available to those worth keeping alive.

DONALD TRUMP - This one really caught me by surprise. The last time I saw Trump he was running a beauty pageant and banging girls younger than his daughter. Trump's platform is pretty interesting - in the same way that a massive, bloody car wreck is interesting but not necessarily pleasant and is prone to make one vomit.

Among Trump’s more controversial plans: he wants a Constitutional amendment requiring women between the ages of 18-35 to wear thongs and pasties at all times; he’s calling for the construction of a wall around all Taco Bell restaurants; and he wants to ban interracial screwing in the porn industry, calling it “Fucking disgusting – literally.”

Trump is anti-abortion now, with the single exception of saving the figure of the mother – that is, he’s calling for mandatory abortions for any women between the ages of 18-35 with decent figures.

On the Democrat/Socialist side:

HILLARY CLINTON – Jesus Christ, is she still around?! Do you realize this woman has lasted longer than the Beatles and almost as long as the Rolling Stones? I thought she was still in Obama’s Cabinet or chasing her husband around the world as he promoted yet another memoir [his latest is a real hoot, called You Can’t Call it Cheatin’ ‘Cause She Reminds Me of You].

Now, it wouldn’t be Hillary if there wasn’t a group of people calling for her lynching. They seem to be really pissed about her emails while she was in the State Department.  They should’ve seen her husband’s emails in the White House. Now, that’d be a good read. If I’m understanding the story correctly, she had a private server storing her emails while Secretary of State and – although none of them were marked classified at the time – all of them have since been reclassified as ‘Top Secret’, making her a felon facing nearly 294 years in prison. I think she’d serve that term just to piss off the Right.

Hillary’s big issue is that we robbed her of her rightful position as President eight years ago and we damned well better vote for her now. She promises to support most of President Obama’s policies as well as things that’ll make the Right wish that Obama could have run for a third term.

BERNIE SANDERS – I’m pretty sure this is a goof, as the Bernie Sanders I know is a 74-year old Socialist. He has some interesting ideas, including abolishing heterosexual marriage, income tax, and the Department of Defense.

No one appears more surprised [with the exception of Hillary] at Sanders’ candidacy than Bernie himself. Of course, the problem is that Sanders has no interest in being President and has no idea how to stop his own momentum. “I’m going to French-kiss a Boy Scout in Nashua,” Sanders joked when asked how he might derail his candidacy in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, for Sanders and the rest of us, that’s liable to put him over the top.

Sanders’ most controversial stance, though, isn’t even his plan to turn the United States into Norway. No, that title belongs to Sanders' call for a law that will change the name of any landmark named for’ Ronald Reagan’ to ‘That Heartless Bastard’ [i.e. “Welcome to That Heartless Bastard International Airport”].  Sanders’ law would include the renaming of Reagan’s own Presidential Library. Feel the Bern, indeed..