Updated: Jun 29
George W. S. Trow, the public intellectual, humorist, essayist, screenwriter, journalist and many other things, closes his last book which was in the 90s, My Pilgrim's Progress , with a discussion of the nature of love in particular his love for, of all people, Ike aka Dwight Eisenhower:
"I said to myself, 'well, George you can't help who you love'." The phrase came back to me at the moment when I was looking at two portraits-and I'm laughing at myself now because they're not very good portraits, it's Ike in uniform, and Mamie, his beloved lady, and they're just not very good portraits. At the age of fifteen I would have known what to say about them-and cruelly. And I looked at those portraits-yes, at Mamie, but then finally at Ike, and I laughed as I thought to myself, 'Well, you can't help who you love'."
Now I simply do not love Ike.
Mind you, I don't hate him either and will concede that he was a great general in the Second World War and was an ok or at least inoffensive president, a quality that might matter now more than it did then to be sure, which makes it really irrelevant regarding Ike.
Somewhat inexplicably, given Eisenhower's establishment conservatism, (and putting to the side that conservatism was slightly different then than now, but only slightly) his star has brightened among some on the Left mainly due to his now (in)famous speech against the military industrial complex. But it takes a lot for me to love rather than simply like something just as it takes a lot for me to hate.
But I take a lot more from Trow's passage that can apply to most of life and not simply past - or present - world leaders. It is found in his clause that "we can't help".
Our sentiments are a final argument and any logic, justifications, defenses or simply explanations for our feelings and evaluations are after the fact.
This doesn't mean that there isn't an art and a necessity to the giving of good reasons: these are always necessary if we want to try to show others that something is valuable. But I feel that such depth doesn't really change anything. In the fullness of time all of us have to take most seriously the likes and dislikes of others (and of course ourselves) as I discussed when I spoke of the theory of psychologist Steven Reiss in another post.
One reason is that what a person likes or dislikes will give you a good prediction of what they will spend their time doing, thinking and feelings and also what things in the future will attract and repel them. In short, it is an excellent insight into future behavior. It has become very fashionable to interrogate or be skeptical of human preferences, not the fact of their existence of course, but as to their importance and wider meaning.
But my entire life as a musician and student of the arts has made it always a consideration as to the likes and dislikes of the general public. And of course there is a journey, much like the journey of our podcast title, wherein I have adjusted my evaluations of all sorts of art.
This is nowhere more clear than in my ongoing 70s book.
Here is a passage I wrote for it concerning The Last Detail by Hal Ashby
I reprint it here because it seemed to get a positive response when I posted it on other media.
"The Last Detail is a film that was created in 1974 and reflects a time in filmmaking art where the heavier cameras would be placed in the thick of real experience, in this case documenting the actual locations in which the figures would have travelled were they in life rather than in art. We are forced to witness the not always pleasant physical institutions that were created to contain large numbers of people: military bases, city train stations and bus terminals, drab diners and banal bars, public bathrooms, cheap sandwich and pretzel stands, skating rinks, whorehouses housed in the greater Boston area, student/hippie apartments, the cheapest motel - with barely functional cots for beds, and finally, a woodsy park area in the snowy cold Winter, with no people except the three principals - all three of whom seem ill clad for such Winter, shivering in their military issue pea coats and open necked sailor’s uniforms. All of these environments are photographed in the most direct fashion possible, head on, so as to emphasize the brutalist designs of the era.
This is a utilitarian and austere presentation, with just enough light needed to make everything out and no more, and the full force of the characters’ behaviors - their souls really - exposed to take center and stand out in relief."
Now I wrote that passage when I had an awakening about a change in my approach to this book. I realized that it had to have at least in part a personal, even idiosyncratic quality, and have the style of a prose poem rather than a work of academic criticism.
This change came late.
But one thing that can be found abundantly in that passage and on which I have remarked on at least one livestream is the power of feeling, not only for other people and the natural world but the so-called artificial, built world: our environments and our architecture, our streets and highways.
Another change was the realization that I had to expand the book to include the work of network television in that era: partly inspired by the two time guest on our show, Amanda Reyes, and partly inspired by where the material organically led me.
Now there were thousands of t.v. movies, and out of the fifty to hundred that I consider valuable I am including only several: to name but one example the extraordinary Young Love, First Love, unavailable in any form except some old VHS but continuing to be found on youtube (at least until I convince the powers that be to give it a proper blu ray or digital release).
I decided to devote a lot of time to this film, not necessarily for its plot per se or even the fine acting but the aesthetic and textual qualities that were utterly unique to the era in which it was made (and which are in certain respects inextricable from pst and character).
Now as to an explanation of why any of this is worth liking or loving, I can only offer some evidence and nothing more. i can go deep into the work (The TEXT" as we used to say all the time in the 80s and 90s, and I still do) and say, "look at this" which is what this book will be. But none of this is any final or definitive objective statement about anything.
This book is an appropriate medium for these ideas.
The 70s themselves were all about, as the phrase went, "getting in touch with your feelings." They were not about proposals for action or about intellect or understanding. And I think that is what all art is ultimately about, no matter how intellectual it might be at the same time.
That is, I can say to you listen how Valerie Bertinelli sings this old fashioned, very soft song over the opening credits (an irony given her subsequent life choices as to musical style) and her voice is so ethereal and sweet and this is the kind of thing you would only find in a movie of that era and never since.
And I can tell you that I really like this theme song and that is was written by the most famous songwriter in this style in Hollywood and television at the time, Artie Kane, really a king of television songwriting, And you would be perfectly fine to say Artie who?
Or that it is weird or not good singing or that movies don't have things like that in them anymore for good reason and good riddance. (There is plenty of rock and hip hop song in film today which may have taken the other kind of song's place). And I could never convince you that this was a good thing in this t.v. movie. I can't really prove it. I can play it for you. I can show it to you. ( Jean Luc Godard called this "bringing in the evidence" in his incredible debate with Pauline Kael.)
But you will feel it or you won't and what you will feel will be positive or negative. And art is one of the precious few things in life you can sort of say that about and which takes as its subject feeling as the very precondition of its possibility.