Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Interview with Jack Kerouac on The Ben Hecht Show, October 1958

by G. Jack Urso

Ben Hecht:          Who is it you love in the world?

Jack Kerouac:    My mother.

Ben Hecht:         You love your mother. Thank you Jack for talking about the Beats I’m going to send in my dues as soon as I can get enough money.

Jack Kerouac and friend
Veteran Hollywood screenwriter Ben Hecht interviewed Beat author Jack Kerouac on The Ben Hecht Show in October 1958. Hecht, while a witty raconteur, nonetheless comes off as a bit condescending with Kerouac, treating him as little more than a social oddity booked to get ratings, rather than as a fellow writer. Still, one gets the sense from Hecht that there is a real fascination with Kerouac’s life, if not a little bit of envy.

Hecht covers religion, politics, sex, and drugs with Kerouac, but just when the conversation is about to get interesting, Hecht’s jaded cynicism cuts loose with a smart-ass wisecrack and he shifts to another topic. Though, in all fairness to Hecht, the need to cover as many topics as quickly as possible is a limitation of the format.

Despite being a writer himself, Hecht shows little interest in Kerouac as an author and, beyond a few references, barely discusses the Beat author’s works. Instead, Hecht treats Kerouac more as an object of curiosity rather than a literary colleague. While one gets the feeling Hecht and Kerouac probably have a lot in common, whatever the Beat Generation is about Hecht just does not seem to get it – and one can almost hear the generation gap widen with every question.

It is when the conversation turns to sex that Hecht presses Kerouac on such topics as orgies and homosexuality – controversial coffee table talk for the 1950s – but Kerouac gamely banters with Hecht, willing to take the conversation as far as Hecht wants to push it.
                                                                                                                   Ben Hecht
Hecht’s interest with sex for this interview is odd; however, I recall with some amusement an account by actor Patrick Macnee, John Steed of The Avengers fame, who noted in his 1989 autobiography Blind in One Ear, that during the 1950s when he was living in Southern California he was hired to work as a chauffeur for Ben Hecht, with whom Macnee was also working with on a play. During their travels, Hecht had Macnee stop at every girl’s school they passed so he could check out the students. Macnee, ever the English gentleman, chastised Hecht for his behavior. One wonders if Kerouac was suppressing the same urge in this interview.

“Interview with Jack Kerouac” is included on volume three of the three-disc set The Beat Generation released in 1992 by Rhino Records. It is presented below from my personal archives:




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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Defense Media Review Commentary: At Least He’s Our Bastard

by G. Jack Urso

Commentary produced for the Defense Media Review.

According to a survey conducted by the University of Washington in Seattle and an international research team, approximately 500,000 Iraqis died during the U.S.-led invasion and occupation between 2003 and 2011.

The military advances by ISIS forces have been facilitated by the power vacuum created by the end of Saddam Hussein’s reign and the failure to establish a strong Iraqi national government. Many leaders are now privately asking themselves whether the cost has been worth the resulting chaos.

The “He may be a bastard, but at least he’s our bastard” line of thought was a central tenant to US foreign policy during the Cold War, as displayed in our support of corrupt so-called “democratic” governments, such as those in South Vietnam or various Central and South American nations. This polarized America politically, with conservatives supporting such an approach to foreign policy, and the countercultural left who opposed it.

I freely admit, opposition to the “He’s our bastard” approach to foreign policy formed a basis of my personal political philosophy for much of my life; however, the events since 9/11 have caused many to reconsider their positions – including myself.

First, I hasten to point out that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Iraq wasn’t involved, nor did it harbor or train any of the terrorists. In fact, the invasion was actually an expression of decades long liberal desires to move the US away from the “At least he’s our bastard” approach to one where we plant the seeds of democracy and use the military to fight tyranny, not support it – so, the invasion was ultimately given birth by both factions of American politics.

However, in the nearly 15 years following 9/11, after the excesses of the terrorist actions against civilians by Al Qaida, the Taliban, and now ISIS, we must ask ourselves the question, “Would this have happened if Saddam had remained in power?” It's the sort of question that must be asked, but at the same time leaves us a little queasy.

I propose that in these bleeding border regions between violently opposing cultural, political, and religious groups, sometimes bastards are needed.

The Arab Spring brought mixed results. There are chances for real democratic successes in some of those nations, but others, Syria in particular, have resulted in a civil war that has led the way to the rise of ISIS, which also rose to power due to the political chaos of what is at least an incompetent and at worst a corrupt government in the now liberated Iraq.

What the Arab Spring experience has shown us is that true democratic reforms can only come from the people themselves, it cannot be thrust upon them by force of arms, no matter how sincere our intentions.

However, this also begs the question, “Are a few thousand deaths a year in Iraq under Saddam Hussein worth the over half a million deaths that resulted because of the invasion?”

The simple fact of the matter may be that democracy sometimes needs a bastard.

Recall the 15th Century prince of legend, Vlad Dracula who traded the Ottoman’s atrocity for atrocity in a desperate attempt to hold the land-hungry Muslim empire at bay. Was he a bastard? Yes, and while he did not halt their advance for long, Dracula bought Europe time to unite by keeping the Muslim Ottoman Army away from Central Europe at a time when they were divided.

Western Civilization actually owes some measure of debt to the Impaler Prince for keeping the wolf at bay, so to speak, when we were quite vulnerable. In retrospect, considering all the chaos and death that followed our attempt to rewrite Middle Eastern politics by invading Iraq, we must now consider for ourselves the same cold calculus our leaders must make – was the invasion of Iraq worth the chaos and death that followed?

I don’t mean to sound as though I am condoning Saddam Hussein or his regime – I’m not – but is a war without end worth the price to stand on top the pedestal of democracy and proclaim our moral superiority?

Ultimately, it’s not about one person’s conservative or liberal political beliefs. It’s about how many people are worth dying for what we believe as nation.

In the end, we may find democracy needs a few bastards in the bleeding border regions between East and West the alternative is sometimes a price too high to pay. 

 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

In Search of . . . The Easter Island Massacre

by G. Jack Urso
 

Imagine you live on a planet of water and the only land is a small island on which you and about 10,000 to 15,000 others live. That’s all. No distant lands to discover. No other people with whom to communicate. You are completely and utterly alone in the universe.

That is how the people of Easter Island viewed their universe before their first European contact. Indeed, Easter Island is so remote that there was no contact with other Polynesian cultures, perhaps the most able seafaring peoples in the world at the time.

“In Search of . . . The Easter Island Massacre,” is a first season episode of the classic In Search of . . . series, hosted by Leonard Nimoy, which ran from 1977 to 1982. The original air date of this episode is June 15, 1977. While one can find more up-to-date documentaries about Easter Island, this episode highlights some core theories and myths about the islanders and their giant statues, called moai. The episode is presented below in its entirety from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel:
The Easter Island moai are thought to represent the islanders’ ancestors whose spiritual energy, called mana, was channeled through the statues’ eyes to bless the people. This explains why the statues, once erected, faced inwards towards the land, rather than out to sea.

The massacre referred to in the title of the episode refers to the wide-scale toppling of the statues off their ahu (stone platforms), presumably after a time of famine when the statues were no longer seen to fulfill their purpose to ensure good fortune. The collapse of the cult of the moai led to the rise of the birdman cult, which is also touched upon in the episode. Currently, it is not clear that the toppling of the moai can be attributed to any single cause. In addition to religious factors, inter-tribal warfare, earthquakes, and simple neglect may have contributed to the fall of the statues off their platforms.
Ahu Tongariki, the largest collection of Moai on Easter Island.
The ecosystem of Easter Island (indigenously referred to as Rapanui) reportedly collapsed due to overuse of its resources, which has been used as a metaphor for planet Earth and as a warning we should more carefully guard our own natural resources. While that may partially explain some of the troubles that befell Easter Island, recent scholarship suggests that the islanders had been adapting to their changing ecosystem and that the unique culture of Easter Island could have survived intact had it not been for European slavery, the spread of European diseases, and the theft of their land.

Peter Tyson, former Editor-in-Chief of NOVA Online, in the article “The Fate of Easter Island” quotes Jo Anne Van Tilburg, a noted archeologist who has worked extensively on Easter Island, calls assertions that Easter Island is a metaphor for planet Earth "a projection of Western values which emphasizes the self-destruction of the Rapanui culture over the actual, near-annihilation of it by contact with the West."

Be that as it may, one can also assert attempts to exonerate the ancient islanders from all culpability in the mismanagement of their resources a projection of Western-guilt. The truth may lie, as it often does, somewhere between the two extremes. Certainly, however, one cannot argue that the West is primarily and almost solely responsible for the near-extinction of the Rapanui. Were it not for our involvement, the culture would not have been decimated nor the secrets to its written language lost to time.

Only time will tell whether drawing an analogy between the fate of Easter Island and that of the planet Earth ultimately stands up to the evidence; however, one can certainly agree that we do hold a couple things in common with the pre-European Rapanui we have both mismanaged our resources due to over-population and we both think ourselves the only sentient life in the universe. 
 
 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jonny Quest: Music From The Original Television Series

by G. Jack Urso



My love of jazz can be traced to one influential piece of music the theme for Jonny Quest, the ground-breaking Hanna-Barbara animated TV show that ran from 1964 to 1965, followed by two revival series and a couple full-length TV movies. Breaking away from the steady diet of anthropomorphic animals and stone-age families that populated Saturday morning television in the early 1960s, Jonny Quest featured a realistic animation style and was designed to look and sound as though it was a live-action, prime time program. In fact, the show ran in an early prime time slot on Friday nights during its original run. The show is an iconic portrayal of the era in which it was made and remains an animated classic to this day. The complete soundtrack, including themes and incidental music, can be found on the 2-CD set, Jonny Quest: Music From The Original Television Series (see below for the complete recording streamed from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel).

For the space-age baby-boomer generation living in the immediate post-Kennedy era Jonny Quest modeled our highest aspirations at the time: science and technology, a global community, and rugged individualism. The enemies ranged from primitive fire-god worshippers and organized criminal syndicates to mad scientists and monsters. The show was also arguably ahead of its time in that the name of Jonny's constant companion Hadji suggests the boy is Muslim, though his faith is never explicitly discussed. Then again, Jonny's faith, other than in science and adventure, is also never discussed.

What got me hooked though was that music that glorious, pulse-pounding opening theme kicks in with the steady beat of tom-toms, followed by the by a tight brass ensemble to create  a sense of action and  adventure with just a hint of danger and mystery. Ok, so it was a highly polished, commercial big-band brass sound, but the piece perfectly captures the action-adventure theme music that typified the 1960s sound, which also includes such themes as those from the TV shows Hawaii Five-O, Mission: Impossible, and The Mod Squad.

Composer Hoyt Curtin created the opening title music for many of the Hanna-Barbera TV shows that baby boomers grew up with, including The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Superfriends, and many more. The Jonny Quest theme proved so popular that it was recycled by ever thrifty Hanna-Barbara in other shows for decades to come, including the incidental music.

Indeed, it is the incidental music from Jonny Quest where Curtin’s real genius shines. Rather than being thematically unrelated pieces of music serving as forgettable background noise, the incidental music here establishes mood and pacing using memorable note progressions and minor themes some of which could well be expanded into full-length compositions. By repeating these themes throughout the series, the incidental music becomes part of the narrative. In this sense, one is reminded how the multimedia aspects of video can provide a more fully immersive story-telling experience. With the 2-CD set running nearly 1 hour 49 minutes, we can see that the incidental music played a larger role in the series than the more memorable opening and closing themes.

Curtin revealed some secrets behind the production of the music in a 1999 interview with ClassicJonnyQuest.com. The band used for the sessions was a jazz ensemble consisting of four trumpets, six trombones, five woodwind doublers, and a five-man rhythm section including percussion. Two of the drummers were Alvin Stohler and Frankie Capp. According to Curtain, the opening theme took about an hour to produce; however, the shorter “cues” were usually done in one take after a quick rehearsal. The titles of the cues themselves were not named by Curtin, but rather by the sound editors. At the time, Curtin, who died in 2000, thought that most of the cues one can hear on this recording had been lost, so we can only wonder what his response would be to these rare CDs!

It was while perusing the racks at the New York Comic Book Convention a couple years ago that, to my delight, that I happened to find Jonny Quest: Music From The Original Television Series. The origin of this recording remains unknown as there is no publisher listed. Longtime Jonny Quest fans will recognize images from the CD cover art included above as having come from the DvD collection, Jonny Quest: The Complete First Season (2006). A gift from secret JQ fans from inside Hanna Barbara? Perhaps, but, regardless, here we can hear not just the classic opening and closing themes, but also all the incidental music, including cues and dialog tracks. To date, this is the most complete collection. The full recording is provided below from the Aeolus 13 Umbra YouTube channel:


Track List (Click for larger image)

Jonny Quest: Music From The Original Television Series Track List

Disc One Disc Two
1
JONNY QUEST MT v. 1
1:54
1
JONNY QUEST MT v. 2
1:55
2
Our Man Race Bannon*
0:23
2
How Did You Learn English*
0:19
3
Enroute to Adventure
0:45
3
Intro in India
0:20
4
It's Dad Calling…*
0:19
4
Flute/Horn Intro
1:00
5
Ski-Foil Ride
1:05
5
A Drive In the Country
2:03
6
Light Jazzy Music
0:55
6
Quest for Adventure
1:20
7
Quest Jet Takes Off
1:00
7
Bandit at Play
1:13
8
Bandit's Misadventures #1
0:31
8
Light Chase Action
1:33
9
Romance Into Mystery
0:40
9
Finale Cue #4
1:06
10
Something Suspicious
0:50
10
Bandit's Misadventures #3
0:55
11
Driving to Danger #1
0:56
11
Unused Trumpet Cue
1:47
12
You Are Intruders!
0:37
12
The Venerable Pasha*
0:24
13
Escape
0:36
13
Bandit's Curiosity
1:06
14
Triumphant Finish
0:26
14
Bandit Makes A Friend
1:24
15
More Light Jazzy Music
0:52
15
I Want That Formula*
0:25
16
Stalking in the Jungle
0:49
16
Evil Villain Cue #1
1:22
17
Adders Go Home
0:42
17
Cry Of The Yeti
0:46
18
Bandit's Misadventures #2
0:44
18
Yeti Ambush
0:37
19
Sending An S.O.S.
1:03
19
Attack Of The Yeti/Yeti's Castle
1:29
20
Intrigue in India
1:20
20
Chased By The Yeti
1:26
21
Military March Finale
0:56
21
Hadji Hypnotizes Guard
1:45
22
Finale #2
0:28
22
Action/Chase Cue #1
0:57
23
Feed The Facts To EUNICE*
0:16
23
Action/Chase Cue #2
1:10
24
Underwater Mystery
0:45
24
Look What Happened To Him!*
0:09
25
Captured By The Villains
0:46
25
Lighthearted Into Mysterious
1:21
26
Anubis Walks
0:33
26
Unused Light Action Cue
1:05
27
Tense Struggle
1:13
27
Meeting Dr. Ashida
0:53
28
What The… An Eye!!*
0:08
28
Dragons On The Hunt
1:36
29
Creepy and Mysterious
0:54
29
Is Everything Ready?*
0:21
30
Danger Cue #1
1:03
30
Dark Mystery Cue
1:24
31
Bannon, Race Bannon
0:52
31
Monster Stalks
0:52
32
Jazzy Trumpet Cue
0:59
32
Eluding the Villains
1:20
33
Driving To Danger #2
1:47
33
Creepy and Mysterious #1
1:21
34
Escape #2
1:02
34
Creepy and Mysterious #2
1:08
35
The Villains Attack
0:52
35
Action/Chase Cue #3
0:50
36
Dr. Zin's Plan
0:35
36
Action/Chase Cue #4
1:28
37
Does It Hurt, Race?*
0:11
37
Watching The Clock
0:34
38
Midnight Escape
1:35
38
Oriental Mystery
1:21
39
Mysterioso into Piccolo
1:35
39
Speedboat Chase
1:22
40
Discovering A Clue
0:37
40
The Para-Power Ray Gun
1:04
41
What Do You Make Of it?*
0:09
41
You're Not Very Complimentary*
0:27
42
Jungle Drumbeats #1
0:53
42
Race and Jade
1:25
43
Stalking - Fast Version
0:36
43
Race and Jade #2
1:08
44
Drumbeats #2
0:49
44
Sneaking Around
1:43
45
Downhill Chase
1:05
45
Finale Cue #5
1:22
46
Tense Brass and Strings
0:38
46
Villains In The Submarine
1:22
47
Jungle Drumbeats #3
0:19
47
In The Snowspeeder
0:54
48
Jungle Drumbeats #4
0:32
48
Boys In The Snow
1:09
49
To The Rescue
0:55
49
Unused Action Cue
2:14
50
Quest Action Theme
0:59
50
Action/Chase Cue #5
1:03
51
Light Parade Cue
0:37
51
Drumbeats #3
0:31
52
Our Heroes Triumphant
0:32
52
Driving To Danger #3
0:33
53
Finale Cue #3
1:00
53
Driving To Danger #4
1:01
54
JONNY QUEST End Credit
0:54
54
Action/Chase Cue #6
1:02
55
Flintstone Harmony
0:47
55
Finale Cue #6
0:23
56
Christmas Snow
1:10
56
Finale Cue #7
0:31
57
We Will Meet Again!*
0:47
57
JONNY QUEST End Credit v. 2
0:52
58
Wait Til You Get My Bill*
0:10
*
Dialogue Track
*
Dialogue Track

Note: There are a few very minor differences between the order of the tracks provided with the liner notes of the recording and the actual tracks on the CDs. The list above reflects the correct order. Very special thanks to Aeolus 13 Umbra reader Cathy S. for her help in compiling this list!


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