Silents of the Week: the Cast of Grace and Frankie

Silents of the Week: the Cast of Grace and Frankie

Undoubtedly, the Silent Generation has made a huge impact in the field of arts and entertainment. Their careers go back to the Golden Age of film and to the dawn of the TV era. For my generation, which was weaned on television, they were the young actors of the sit coms and dramas to which we were first addicted as children.

So it is amazing to me today, after we have evolved past the convergence of TV and the Internet and into the streaming era, that their generation still has its own television show. That’s right, I’m talking about Grace and Frankie on Netflix. Every one of the four actors in the roles of the two comically disordered couples is from the Silent Generation: that would be Martin Sheen (b. 1940), Sam Waterston (b. 1940), Lily Tomlin (b. 1939), and Jane Fonda (b. 1937).

Now, it’s true that the show is produced by Boomers and the lead characters are probably meant to be parodies of Boomers, but the Silent personality still comes out. The characters are neurotic and confused, the tone warm and humane. The show is about elders opening up, pushing boundaries, and staying hip with the latest social trends and language – in the 2010s!

Grace and Frankie is the swan song of a generation that has managed to keep itself relevant through over half a century of social change. It is a reminder of the long-reaching effects of the transformative time of their youth – embodied in part in the family dynamic with the main characters’ quirky Gen-X adult children. The plot may be contrived, the writing clichéd and predictable, but the show is always fun.

We’re in the middle of the fifth season and we like the show almost as much as these guys do:

Love at the Center

Love at the Center

I discovered the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore by listening to the music CD A Gift of Love II. This is the second of a pair of albums by New Age author Deepak Chopra which put to music love poetry read by an ensemble of notable guest speakers (the first album uses the poetry of Rumi and is just as good). Tagore is considered to be a national treasure by the people of India, and from the great wisdom of his very quotable sayings it is easy to see why.

When I contemplate his many teachings, I find that I truly believe what the master says about love – that it is the ultimate meaning of life. For when the unity of consciousness, which is the ground of all being, separates into the duality of subjective observer and experienced world, it creates a yearning for reunion. This desire propels the Universal Will as it seeks higher and higher forms of expression within consciousness. Thus, love is the very reason for existence.

When you love, you are extending your conception of what you are, what belongs to you, outward into the world. You are expanding your ego-identity. Love is seated in the 4th chakra – anahata – which manages emotions, the confluence of your mental and vital natures. In other words, the meaning of your life. Anahata is the central chakra, and so love is central to your being. It radiates out from you in every worshipful act.

Keep that in mind, and love.

Millennials Rock

Millennials Rock

One thing I love about Vampire Weekend is that the two leads who formed the band are Jewish (Ezra Koenig), and of Iranian descent (Rostam Batmanglij). It’s like they represent the great hope of America – that people of all origins, even countries which are geopolitical enemies, are recognized for their common humanity and given equal opportunity to pursue their happiness. And what more American way to pursue happiness than to form an indie rock band?

If you haven’t heard them, you should check them out. They’re one of the best of the rock bands that the Millennial generation has produced. And considering how many generations of rock and roll there have been, they have a lot to live up to – I mean, all the great classic rockers are from a few generations before. Now, Rostam has recently left Vampire Weekend – on friendly terms – which means he wasn’t there when we got to see them last week.

Yes. that’s right, I was really just posting this to humblebrag about attending a hip indie rock concert with my BFF and her son. It was at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, and the crowd was huge, and energetic, and twenty to thirty years younger than us. We paid $10 for cans of beer and stood up and danced and were up way past our bedtime.

The opening act was the very talented blues guitarist Kingfish. He played old school rock with virtuosity, like a reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix. I actually felt like I had been transported back in time to Woodstock. This guy is only 20 years old, so he is a prodigy.

When the main attraction came out, the crowd leaped to its feet. The band kept the energy going through a long set, which included old and new material, as well as a couple of covers.

I must have looked foolish – a fiftysomething man bouncing around like he thought it was 1989 and he was at a Grateful Dead concert – but I didn’t care. For the encore, the band took requests, and the crew threw a couple of big inflated balls into the audience for us to toss around. It was so much fun.

As for the music, well, the way we see it, the songs of Vampire Weekend are all Millennial anthems. They perfectly capture the zeitgeist of their generation – anxious, questioning, dissatisfied with adult life after being raised with high expectations.

The chorus from their latest hit says it all, I think. When I hear it, I hear the Millennial generation’s disappointment in the corruption of the institutions run by their elders. They long to make the world a better place. But for now, all they can do is sing.

And the stone walls of Harmony Hall bear witness
Anybody with a worried mind could never forgive the sight
Of wicked snakes inside a place you thought was dignified
I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die

Vampire Weekend, Harmony Hall
Fine Art Time

Fine Art Time

I’ve been getting into art lately – painting, mainly – and wanted to share a recent experience. My BFF and I did one of those “paint and sips” where you sit with a group of people and all work on the same painting, while enjoying some wine or other such beverage. It’s a business model; you pay a little money, an instructor guides you through the process, there’s other people there, and you have a good time.

In this case the brand was “Painting with a Twist,” at a location near my apartment. We were going to be drawing a castle, and it was also “Wizard Trivia Night.” Meaning Harry Potter trivia night, though they didn’t call it that. It was BYOB, so we packed up some snacks and a bottle of red wine, with three wine glasses, since we were meeting a friend. Everything was all set up when we got there, and the canvasses had the castle (Hogwarts?) already drawn on it. We were among the first to arrive, but it wasn’t long before the space filled up.

What was interesting to me, no surprise, was the demographic breakdown of the participants. I counted 24 artists total, of whom 5 were male and 19 female. Almost everyone was from the Millennial generation, the exceptions being my BFF and me, possibly a couple of Gen-X moms, and one Boomer grandmother with her Homelander grandson. The three Millennial men present all appeared to be on dates (with women). The instructor and her assistant – a black man and the only non-white person present – were both Millennial.

It looked to me like most people did not bring food or drink. There was one other group that brought a bottle of wine, and a did see a couple of craft beers on the table, but it seems that people came for the art. Which was a lot of fun to do, and definitely easier with the help of our hostess. She was lively, as much MC as art instructor, and kept up a party atmosphere with jokes, a few fun games, and the trivia contest.

The prizes for the games and contest were either a pick off a table of painted bottles, or a $5 off coupon for another painting night. Because this was a business, after all. I think that combining the painting with a themed trivia contest helped draw in customers; it was almost a full house. That the clientele was majority Millennial is in keeping with the idea that their generation is more interested in acquiring experiences than material goods. Or perhaps it is more that this is the level of experience that young Millennials can afford.

We certainly had fun and would do it again. Check out our finished artwork below.

You may or may not be able to find me in this group of happy painters.
Movie Review: The Love Witch

Movie Review: The Love Witch

Last month my BFF and I were at The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in Cleveland, Ohio. It’s actually where I picked up this book that I reviewed a few posts ago. The proprietor of the museum recommended a movie called The Love Witch, which I duly put in my Netflix queue*, and which we just got around to watching a couple of nights ago.

We weren’t sure what to expect. Since the film is not rated, we decided to watch it without the boys. That’s probably for the best, since there was quite a bit of nudity and sexual content. The film was a great compliment to the aforementioned book, which is an autobiographical romp through the decadence of the 1960s.

The Love Witch stars Samantha Robinson and was written and directed by Anna Biller. And as it started, it seemed like it might also be set in the 1960s. It was filmed in vibrant technicolor and featured stilted dialog and acting. Visually it was stunning, especially with the costuming and the setting choices, but the writing wasn’t so good. We were actually wondering if we had stumbled upon the female equivalent of The Room.

The story revolved around the titular character, a young woman practicing witchcraft for the purpose of finding the perfect man. As she cast her spell on a succession of lovers, she found that none of them were strong enough to withstand the intensity of her love – though they certainly enjoyed the sex. The lovers came to bad ends, and the movie revealed itself to be a sexual psychodrama horror film. Eventually a chisel-jawed police detective got drawn into the plot, and – no spoilers – you can just imagine what happened with him.

Again, the movie came across as set in the late 60s or early 70s in its style and fashion choices, and with its slow and awkward exposition and stiff acting it imitated the film of that era. My BFF even said that sometimes it felt like we were watching an old Star Trek episode. But then there were some jarring moments when it was obvious this film was set in modern times (it was released in 2016). Were these clumsy errors, or was the director toying with us? Was this a luridly compelling B-movie, or brilliant satire? I will say that The Love Witch kept us watching, and stimulated some discussion when it was done, so it must have had merit. Right?

So here’s what I got out of it. The Love Witch satirizes gender roles and the romantic ideal of heterosexual relations. Men are egotistical and hyper-rational, women manipulative and hyper-emotional. But as the saying goes, vive la différence! When done right, heterosexual relationships strike a balance between the needs of men and women and fulfill them both. This is discussed by one of the witches in the movie, in a scene at a bar where a burlesque is being performed.

Unfortunately, the witch protagonist’s quest for fulfillment is selfish, and she uses magick irresponsibly, taking her gender role too far. She is portrayed as bafflingly naive, apparently so obsessed that she is blind to the consequences of her actions. The male victims of her spells are helpless and weak, overcome by supernatural powers beyond their ability to resist. When a man with a strong enough ego finally does come along, the witch’s next logical step proves disastrous.

This could all be allegorical, in which case we must face the truth that love has power and must be wielded with care. Most of us have experienced love triangles, even though not as lurid and bloody and occult as those that involve the Love Witch. But the pain is just as real, and the responsibility is as much ours to bear. For even ordinary heartbreak is tragic, and even ordinary deception in love is a crime against the heart.

That was my impression of this strangely enticing film. If you want to form your own, you’ll have to find a copy and watch it yourself.

*I still get Netflix DVDs by snail mail. I find it to be an excellent way to watch indie films and classic films, which are often hard to find on streaming services.

Silents of the Week: Congressional Leadership

Silents of the Week: Congressional Leadership

Last month I introduced a new post format celebrating a member or group of members of the Silent Generation who are still making an impact on the world today. I’ve also posted in the past about how that generation is still powerful in our society, even though they are deep into elderhood. Perhaps this is a consequence of greater average longevity, or perhaps it is just a pattern of history that repeats sometimes. With the wielding of power in mind, the subject of this week’s post will be the Silents in the United States Congress.

The Silent generation currently comprises 9% of the Senate, and 4.6% of the House. Reflecting the partisan makeup of the two chambers, they are mostly Republican in the Senate, and mostly Democratic in the House. Their number includes the two Congressional leaders – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (b. 1942) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (b. 1940). The latter is the highest ranking elected woman in United States history, highlighting her generation’s connection with the feminist movement and with the advancement of women in American life. Other prominent names among them are Diane Feinstein (b. 1933), Maxine Waters (b. 1938) and Bernie Sanders (b. 1941) – with Sanders being possibly the Democratic party’s best hope of winning the Presidency in 2020.

It’s interesting how the three most dominant Congressional Silents are stand-ins for the factions that exist in such unyielding tension in U.S. politics today. Sanders is the great hope of the Progressives, who want to reshape the American system, tilting it back in favor of the struggling 99 percent. Understandably, he tends to be popular with the younger cohorts. Pelosi represents the old guard Neoliberals, who think the current system is sustainable, maybe with some tweaking, but let’s not rock the boat and ruin our 401Ks. McConnell meanwhile is the obstructionist enabler of the Nationalists, who are selling protectionism and fossil fuel extraction, and trying to turn the country into a wealthy Third World dictatorship.

The thing is, the Silent generation always plays by the rules, and as long as they are at the top the tension among the factions will remain fundamentally unresolved. When they are finally gone is when the rules will really reset, change will accelerate, and it might get pretty scary. There’s no way to avoid this reckoning, but since the change may not be in the direction you want, it might be good to enjoy this generation while we still have them.

Joe Biden for President!

Keeping an open heart

Keeping an open heart

Last weekend I went to Manhattan to catch up with my BFF, who was already there for a conference. It’s the greatest city in the world, and I love to go there and feel the energy of the teeming masses and all the things there are to see and do. But mainly the plan was to see a show. You know what I mean: a Broadway show.

We saw two, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. What we do is go to Times Square where there is a booth to get discount tickets. You won’t get to see a show that is selling out this way, but there are enough options to find something you are interested in, and the tickets will be about 50% off. I got to pick the shows this time, because my BFF was so busy.

Saturday’s show was Waitress, a reliably fun and romantic romp through the life of a working girl whose dreams are grander than her circumstances. These productions know how to tug on your heart strings, and take you on an emotional ride – up and down like a roller coaster. TV and movies can do the same thing, but live theater is much more powerful. The experience leaves me enervated, but during the show I feel my whole being expanding with joy, from the center.

What I’m feeling is my heart chakra blossoming open. That’s the central of the seven chakras – there are three below it and three above. Theater, done right, connects you to the emotional core of your being. It makes you care. Yes, about something fictional, but in doing so it has healing power. Mushy romance to stir up your heart is vital to living a long and healthy life. I highly recommend it.

My BFF meets the King

Sunday’s show was King Kong. Which we absolutely love, and in fact we were seeing it for the second time. It is not as emotional a show as Waitress, but it is wondrous because of the skillful puppetry. It also has a standout performance from the lead, whose acting brings the great beast to life. I believe you have about a week to go see it before it closes.

But even if you miss it, at least get out there somewhere and see something romantic. Or even just watch it on TV. Your heart and soul will be grateful. Namaste.

Book Review: Stoned Apocalypse

Book Review: Stoned Apocalypse

I walked into a weird little store in Cleveland a few weeks ago, and saw this book. I think I was drawn to it because of all the apocalypse culture in my life lately, so I bought the book. It turns out to be an autobiographical account of two years in the life of the author in the late 1960s. The author, Marco Vassi, is Silent Generation (b. 1937) and what he did in those two years is leave New York City for the West Coast, mainly San Francisco and environs, where he was caught up in the student revolution and hippie life in general.

The book beautifully captures the spirit of an Awakening social era. The author is searching for a new way of life, seeking to defy social conventions and live spontaneously in the moment. He wanders from scene to scene, never staying with one particular group of people in one particular place for very long. All the familiar baggage of the 60s is there in the account – drugs, orgiastic sex, weird cults and communes – even the Grateful Dead. Vassi writes well, and is clearly very intelligent and well educated, describing his wild and decadent experiences with literary flair.

It is astonishing to read this book, describing real life events (we must assume) from fifty years ago, in light of the current hashtag era. It really highlights how much our society and its priorities have changed. No one today would admit to the things that Vassi does so explicitly, or even approach living with the same questioning, wandering spirit. The author’s career and reputation could not possibly survive the me too movement, but he is off the hook on that, having died from AIDS in the late 1980s. If you read the book, you’ll understand how that could have happened.

In the end, Vassi abandons his search and returns to New York and the life of a publisher. Whether in an individual or a society, there is only so long that the Awakening spirit can be maintained before sober matters of reality take over. Not that he led a particularly sober life afterwards, as you can tell from his page on Wikipedia. But I enjoyed this book as direct evidence of what life during the Consciousness Revolution was like – at least for the young adult generation.

Here’s a link to the book on Good Reads in case you feel inclined to try to find a copy – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1146089.The_Stoned_Apocalypse

Introducing: Silent of the Week Posts

Introducing: Silent of the Week Posts

I’ve posted earlier about the Silent Generation (b. 1925-1942) and how they are still an influence in our society. They are the eldest of the current generations, and I thought I would pay tribute to them in a new kind of post, focusing on one or a few living members of their generation at a time. I’ll call them “Silent of the Week” posts, with no claim that I will actually publish one weekly.

In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing on July 20, 1969, the first Silents to be featured are the crew of the Apollo missions. Those missions were the culmination of the American High, led by the energy and ambition of the Greatest Generation, then in power. But the tough and dangerous work was done by the young adult Silent Generation, the test pilots with the “right stuff.”

Here is a photo taken for the 50th anniversary of 8 living Apollo astronauts. All would have been in their thirties at the time of the missions – at a peak age of youth and experience. They are Charlie Duke (b. 1935), Buzz Aldrin (b. 1930), Walter Cunningham (b. 1932), Al Worden (b. 1932), Rusty Schweickart (b. 1935), Harrison Schmitt (b. 1935), Michael Collins (b. 1930) and Fred Haise (b. 1933).

Now octogenarians, these men have a simple role in American society today – as revered icons of a glorious past. They make sporadic appearances in the pop culture, more so in the past week because of the anniversary. For example, Michael Collins narrated a recent Google doodle animation about the Apollo 11 mission. But for the most part, they are resting on their laurels – and who from a younger generation can match them in the daring of their accomplishment?

These men really were from a different age, and just to remind us of the generation gap, here’s a viral video you may have seen already. It shows Buzz Aldrin encountering an obnoxious conspiracy nut, and giving him a taste of old fashioned values.

Generation X: Waiting for the Apocalypse

Generation X: Waiting for the Apocalypse

My BFF and I started watching The Walking Dead again after a long hiatus. She just couldn’t stand the show any more after a certain something happened at the start of Season 7 (if you watch the show you know what I mean). And so we stopped watching it. But in time she was ready to get back to it, and we have watched all of Season 7 and are now in the middle of Season 8.

When I watch this show, I can’t help but think of how Gen X it is. The main characters are almost entirely from our generation or from the Millennial generation. There is a smattering of characters from older gens, but they tend not to last, and there are some token kid characters with no real story arc. The Gen Xers are always in charge of the different groups, and have to become ruthless enforcers and daring opportunists, always thinking on their feet and doing whatever it takes for the group to survive. The Millennials meanwhile are the hopeful and idealistic ones, whom the Gen Xer leaders are protecting. What stung so much about the opening of Season 7 was that one of the nicest Millennial characters was brutally murdered. As my BFF put it, “they killed the heart of the show.” That made it hard to care about the series any more.

So on the show, each Gen X leader has their own unique way of leading, giving each group or community its own culture and political structure. The show ends up exploring questions of politics like what gives a ruler the right to rule, or how do you balance the needs of the many with the needs of the few. In fact, when one of our boys was taking a civics class and trying to understand the concept of “rule of law,” I used an example from the show to explain it to him.

There was one not very nice group in an earlier season that had a rule where if you saw something before anyone else and called out “claim” then it was yours. I explained how even the leader had to follow this rule; if one of the others called “claim” on something really nice, the leader couldn’t use his position to trump the subordinate and take that thing from him. If the leader acted that way, this basic rule that held the group together wouldn’t work any more, and the group would fall apart. That was the idea of “rule of law” – the law has priority over the whims of the politicians. This applies even in the very simple polity of a group of people banding together for survival after a zombie apocalypse.

What’s ironic about this show that explores politics being a Gen X show is that Gen X has actually eschewed political involvement our whole lives. It’s like we would only do politics if absolutely forced into it, as would be the case if civilization collapsed. In fact, it seems like Generation X has been waiting for the collapse – it’s our expectation after being told since childhood that the world is doomed. The popularity of end of the world shows like The Walking Dead is a manifestation of our yearning to see it all just go to hell.

I’ve even seen bumper stickers like the one above. You probably have too. We really do want to stand on the sidelines and watch the world burn. We don’t want to choose between the lesser of two evils – we want all the evil to come out all at once. We want to find out how we would handle it. We want the ultimate freedom of a lawless world where the winner takes all ethos prevails. Because that is just so Generation X.

Hence our society’s apocalyptic mood, our deep sense of foreboding that we express in this dark genre of entertainment. We are in a fin de siècle phase of history – the American century is coming to a close, and there’s no telling what come next. Possibly the Pax Americana is coming to an end as well. For some Americans, the wound to the pride has been too much.

Politics is driven by resentment. Long festering problems of economic insecurity and environmental degradation may have grown to the point of insolubility. It might seem that the only way out at this point is cataclysmic and violent change. To cut the Gordian Knot you need the sharp edge of a sword. Or a zombie apocalypse.

But remember it is the cycle that is coming to an end, not the world. Zombies are a fantasy. War, plague, climate change – those are real but of course we can survive them all. As we have before. History is inexorable and will take us into the next cycle whether we’re ready for it or not. We don’t get an escape hatch in the form of utter destruction. This craving for the end of the world is a cop out.

Consider the Greek roots of the word apocalypse: apo- ‘un-’ + kaluptein ‘to cover’. To uncover, to reveal. As in Revelations. The apocalypse is not a violent end, it is a moment of truth. It is the moment when the facade is swept away and the stark reality underneath is exposed, and we have to finally face the problems we have been putting off. It is happening now, shaking up and realigning our politics, pitting group against group.

Generation X can help lead us through this conflict. It won’t be the sci-fi extravaganza we have spent our lives fantasizing about. It will be a messy, mundane effort to reconstruct our teetering old political institutions to deal with life in the new century. And I hope that what prevails is a community built on the principles of one of the good groups from The Walking Dead – one that is fair and kind and inclusive. One that taps into, to quote Abraham Lincoln, “the better angels of our nature.”

But we can’t avoid the reckoning. We can’t avoid getting involved, hoping that it’s all just going to end. Not my generation, not any generation alive today can escape the future. We must face, without fear, the world that is bound to come.