If You Never Answered X

From Daniel McKee: “‘if you never answered x’ explores themes of communication, connectivity and loss in the 21st century through the prism of notifications appearing on a phone screen. ”

This short work brings to mind some thoughts.

It seems to me the immediate connectivity brought about through mobile smart phones and social media platforms has been fairly slow to be reflected in either film or most especially literature. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is a generational thing. Maybe it is because its inclusion requires new story-telling conventions; these would require invention and education for both the artist and the audience. How does one make interesting the vacant stare of someone following a feed or the nervous tic of someone obsessively checking for notifications? Maybe it is because this connectivity subverts some of the old story-telling techniques that depend on suspense (travel, incomplete information, etc.) for maintaining tension in the drama. If you never answered explores this territory. I’m not hip enough to judge just how original this work is but I haven’t seen too much like it.

Despite subgenres like “cyber punk”, science fiction hasn’t done particularly well dealing with connectivity to knowledge and community either. Before the turn of the century, you can find examples of work that gets part of the picture, rather like the proverbial blind person groping an elephant. The original Star Trek had communicators that seemed to work more like a miniature walkie-talkie than a phone, never mind the web. Arthur C. Clarke’s Imperial Earth (1976) had Personal Digital Assistants that didn’t quite get the phone part right or the web for that matter… something like Gopher space maybe, for those old enough to remember that.

Finally, the combination of smart phones and social media platforms has, I think, created something of a generation gap. Like all such “gaps”, it’s easy to exaggerate its size. It’s also easy to turn the observation into bullshit mostly; a lot of what is being said about young adults and adolescents today is not radically different from what was being said about them for the past fifty years. And if you include accusations of congenital idiocy and foolishness (“the kids these days!”),  you could probably stretch it back millennia. That said, people have changed even as we retain much more in common. I’m too lazy to investigate this myself, but I’ll be happy to see what research by others reveals.

Oh yeah… I never answer the phone, but I’m not yet missing…



Okay, I agree that Valentines Day tends to make me rather… cynical? Too negative, in any case. So as a day after offering, may I present to you this musical item whose lyrics have everything except “happily ever after”: agape, sex and death, ecstasy, and the dissolving of boundaries:


Divers asleep
Dream of the deep
Closing over their heads
Lost comrades gather
By their beds
“Her voice in the drowned bells
Was tolling
In rapture we died
Waves o’er us rolling”
Pilots beware
The perilous air
Streaming under your wings
She will betray you
As she sings
Her voice in the hot sun
Is calling
In rapture you die
Flying and falling
Lovers who lie
Beneath the night sky
Neither speak nor hear
In the perfect stillness
She is near
Her voice in the heart’s blood
Comes roaring
In rapture they die
Diving and soaring.

— Lyrics by Judy Henske
— Music by Jerry Yester

from the album Farewell Aldebaran.

Farewell Aldebaran is among my favorite psychedelic albums and “Rapture” is my favorite cut off that album. The album was issued in 1969 on Frank Zappa’s “Straight” label. Musically and most especially lyrically, it is a remarkable bit of work, even if a few of the cuts only skim the top of mundane. Some of the cuts feature a Mellotron, an analog means of sampling sounds and playing them with a keyboard.

Judy Henske is originally from Wisconsin (or maybe the old Riverview amusement park in Chicago, if you wish to believe Jack Nitzsche’s liner notes elsewhere). She eventually got into folk music on the west coast, becoming known as “the Queen of the Beatniks”. Jerry Yester’s main claim to fame is as a member of  The New Christy Minstrels and later The Lovin’ Spoonful. At the time Farewell Aldebaran was issued, Henske and Yester were married but separated not long after.

I only have one other album by Henske in my collection, The Death-Defying Judy Henske. It is a live concert recording and it immediately precedes Farewell Aldebaran in her discography (liner notes by Nitzsche). It was a junk store find and seemed to be in near-unplayable condition. Then a few years later I replaced the needle on my turntable and what a remarkable difference! Apparently the new needle played a different, less eroded part of the groove.

Judy Henske is still in the music business. You can get a CD reissue of Farewell Aldebaran at her web site; possibly it’s available for download through iTunes though you’ll need to check that yourself. I’m running Linux / Ubuntu so checking iTunes is a bit hard for me to do.

Yester seems to have come to a sorry end, and I’ll say no more about it.

Courtship Politics

Well, it’s Valentines Day, a holiday that has happily evolved into yet another sentimentalized incentive for gluttony: huzzah for capitalism and corn syrup. That said, it might be fun to look backwards to the old Louis Jordan song “Beware, Brother, Beware”. It’s a male view, ladies, okay? Now, brothers, listen up:

David Bromberg’s 1970s cover of the song is also great fun, and I prefer it, though the dogmatically judgemental among us will probably mutter something about cultural appropriation (especially since Louis Jordan is sometimes counted as the inventor of rock n’ roll)…

The song belongs to a different world, I think. But keep in mind that “breach of promise to marry” is still a basis for a law suit in roughly half the States in the Union though most of them limit what money can be recovered (in Illinois, “documented wedding expenses” only according to Wikipedia). It was right before (1930s) this song was written (1946) that “breach of promise to marry” started becoming a civil matter rather than a potential criminal prosecution. I recall reading that “breach of promise to marry” was a leading sex crime in the U.S. during the 1920s. I can’t find a cite for that but, yes, men — it was usually men — could go to jail for breaking an engagement. Even after a revolution, people continue reading from the old scripts.

I’ve been out of circulation for a long time… Dating got really weird back in middle age, too weird really, and not much fun. At times the experience felt like something scripted, except the director (and who, pray tell, was that?) had neglected to provide me with my copy of the script. At other times it felt like I was on a job interview. This is not meant to be shade over any of the women; they all could have been worthwhile people to have as a friend. That “friend” was not an apparent option was the one of the strange aspects of the time.

Other things also moved me to the shelf. Often I hadn’t the money to take myself on a date never mind anyone else and, when I had money, I generally hadn’t much time. No complaints, mind you. Had I felt all that strongly about it, I would have found a way of doing something about it. After all, isn’t that an eternal trope of popular entertainment? Love, or possibly lust, will find a way.

The last date I was on, years ago, was unexpected and involuntary on my part, but I’ll save that story for another time. Maybe.


This being Chicago, the first thought is of guns: Chiraq, after all. But that is not at all what this short video is about. What is it about? It repeats, sometimes comically, sometimes existentially, sometimes grossly, but with any resolution? I really don’t know the meaning of this. One commentator (“weehunk”) opined:

“I think this is one of those movies you have to see. I’m not sure why. Something just tells me that after you watch this you can go on with the rest of your life.”

That about sums it up.

Etch A Sketch

Some months ago, The New Yorker (I think) posted a cartoon that was entitled something like: Etch A Sketch gallery wiped out by earthquake. Fast forward to February, 2019, and I encountered an exhibition of Etch A Sketch artwork by “Princess Etch” (Jane Labowitch) at the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State in Chicago. It’s up on the 8th floor and it runs through March 2, 2019. It’s pretty cool… amazing, actually. Here’s a sample: