Thursday, May 03, 2007

Lullabye Of Oddway

I distinctly remember, as my consciousness began to dawn and I slowly started to realize that the world had been here longer than I had, being under the impression that my parents’ childhood (if it could be scientifically proven that they’d had one) must have taken place in caves or some other prehistoric circumstance.

From the stories I heard from them and my grandparents, it seemed as if many of the modern conveniences we took for granted (like, for instance, electricity or the concept of exchanging payment for goods and services) had only recently been invented. In fact, to hear my father tell it, his old comic collection (legendary but now long gone, and which supposedly contained the first issues of Superman, Batman, and Captain America) fairly fell off of the first Gutenberg press.

It was easy to believe this after paying one of our periodic visits to my grandmother. She had this old metal washtub that hung up on the wall that we were expected to bathe in. My god, I thought, when faced with this remnant of our antediluvian past. Did they make my father hunt for his own food, too? I pictured him in a loincloth, his valuable comic collection strapped to his back, as he beat the bushes in search of nuts, berries, and the first issue of The Flash.

Of course, it didn’t take me reaching my half-century mark to eventually realize that this is the experience of every generation and that, as my world started to become overrun with mp3’s and iPods, the circumstances of my childhood, a gilded age that provided access to 3 television channels (4 if you counted the public television station) and allowed music to become easily portable through the invention of the cassette tape, must have appeared equally primitive to my nieces and nephews.

How could I possibly explain to this cable-ready generation the excitement we felt upon the appearance of UHF (a handful of additional television channels broadcast on another waveband) or the anguish of waiting another year before we could witness The Wizard Of Oz again? How to express how modern it felt to have access to color television or FM radio, which actually provided music in 2-channel stereo? And, in a world where every kind of information is instantly available, what it was like to stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning in order to watch a rock video or a movie musical?

It must sound to them as if I was rubbing two sticks together. And yet, we felt at the time as if we had a surfeit of entertainment available to us.

It was television that really provided our education in the movies. Between The Early Show, The Late Show and The Late, Late Show, the whole spectrum of American cinema seemed to be running 24 hours a day. I logged many an hour staying up well past my bedtime while gorging upon hour after hour of old movies, even the worst of them providing some weird kind of window on the world that had come before. We learned that every Bogart movie was not necessarily The Maltese Falcon, nor was every film with Orson Welles in it Citizen Kane.

But it was UHF, those freshly-scrubbed channels of emptiness desperate for programming, that really seemed to pump the classics out at a frantic pace. You could while away entire weekends just planted in front of the screen as you absorbed decades of comedy and melodrama. And it was UHF that really seemed to go for the old musicals in a big way, brittle, old black and white prints with scratchy soundtracks that seemed to come from beyond the dawn of time. No one had really given much thought to digital restoration yet.

But they were wondrous and magical, a world of endless white staircases and inspired symmetry.

Next: Cranky Doodle Dandy


Post a Comment

<< Home