Imaginary Voyages

The Austin airport is pretty darned cool, with some little touches that bored travelers who are walking around while waiting for their flights will appreciate–like this mock “Interimaginary Departures” board found at Gate 14. It changes just like your standard departures board, only the destinations are fictional locations from literature, film, TV, comic books, video games, and other elements of popular culture. The airlines are fictional too, of course, but very cleverly named. And all flights leave from Gate Infinity.

For example, you could catch a flight to Gotham City on DystopiAir, or head to Hogwarts on Spellbound Airlines, or visit the Hundred-Acre Wood on Wistful. I’d avoid the flight to Isla Nublar on GossAmerica, myself. On the other hand, I admit to being tempted by the chance to experience the most wretched hive of scum and villainy in the known universe, so I would probably grab a seat on the 11:07 to Tattoine in order to check out the Mos Eisley spaceport.

I’ve included photos of two of the many boards with this post. Somebody obviously had a lot of fun with this great idea.

The destinations on the “Interimaginary Departures” board are a kind of litmus test of your awareness of different elements of popular culture, and I am sad to say that I am not aware of many of them. How many of the references do you recognize? And, like me, if you see a destination you haven’t experienced through books or movies or comics, are you motivated to check them out?

Big Boats

Oranjestad is the Aruban port where the big cruise ships dock. As we ate our dinner last night I marveled, once again, at just how huge some of the cruise ships are. This passing cruise liner was colossal, but it was dwarfed by an even bigger ship that left the port about a half hour earlier. I’ve never been on a ship of that size, but I imagine it carries thousands of passengers.

Whenever I see a cruise ship of that size, I think about what it would be like if The Poseidon Adventure were filmed on one of these modern, titanic vessels. Shelley Winters would have to do a lot more swimming, Gene Hackman would have even more perils to overcome, and it was take Ernest Borgnine a lot longer to get everyone to the propeller shaft.

The Buckeyes And The Bars

Today we joined a loyal slice of Buckeye Nation at JT’s Pizza and Pub to watch the Buckeyes come back strong in the fourth quarter to top Penn State in Happy Valley. We cheered lustily, did “OH-IO” chants, marveled at the talent of Marvin Harrison, Jr., and tried to learn how to correctly pronounce the last name of the newest Buckeye hero, J.T. Tuimoloau. (It’s easier to just call him “number 44.”) it was a great game, a great win, and a lot of fun watching the game with a raucous crowd.

Bar owners in Columbus love the football season because they know people will turn out to root for the Bucks, eat, and down a few beers. Today’s noon start isn’t the preferred time slot, however. Pubs like the 3:30 slot best because people come early, enjoy the game, and then roll right into the slate of night games. When the Buckeyes play at noon, however, the crowd tends to head out after the game rather than making a full day of football and feeling guilty about it. Today, a full bar had emptied out about a half hour after the game ended and excited debriefing had occurred.

No worries, though—I’m betting another shift of Buckeye fans will fill the seats tonight, to see if Michigan State can knock Michigan out of the ranks of the unbeaten.

Hike Ohio: Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve

Yesterday, on a cool and lovely fall morning, we drove to the Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve near Lancaster. It’s about a 45-minute drive from downtown Columbus that takes you on country roads that wind through the heart of some of the beautiful, rolling farmland found throughout the rural areas of central Ohio. The GPS finally deposits you at a small parking lot near the entrance to Oil Mill Road, which you follow back to the entrance to the preserve.

We were in the mood for a peaceful trek through the woods–and at Christmas Rocks that is exactly what we got. It was just over 50 degrees and dry when we started our ramble, which made for ideal hiking weather. We took the orange trail to the blue trail, which will give you several good miles of moderate hiking through very pretty woodland–although there were several uphill and downhill sections where we wished we hadn’t forgotten our walking sticks. (In our experience, at least, walking sticks are seemingly designed to be left behind and forgotten until you see another hiker using them and kick yourself for the oversight.)

There are a few interesting rock formations on the blue trail, like the one above, but for the most part Christmas Rocks is all about trees, glimpses of shimmering sunlight, blue sky, whispering green leaves, and the kind of refreshing, highly oxygenated air that you only get in a forested area. It’s a good place to amble slowly, quietly take in the scenery, cross a mossy wooden bridge over a small stream, and remember what it was like to go into the woods when you were a kid and wonder what you might find there.

We saw the first signs of the fall colors to come, with some leaves already down on the trail and a few sugar maples displaying their trademark scarlet autumnal finery. For the most part, though, the leaves were green on the towering trees. We heard some birdsong as we moved along, following switchbacks up and down and a winding trail that takes you through several gorges.

The blue trail at Christmas Rocks is a loop, and at one point you come to a juncture with Armey Run, a small brook that cuts through the bottom of one of the ravines. You can walk out onto the rocks in the middle of the stream and enjoy that gurgling sound of slowly moving water, which makes for a change from the silence that swallows you up on the rest of the trail. From that point, the trail moves upward, with Armey Run falling away to your left, as you complete the loop.

As we emerged from the tree cover and left the Christmas Rocks property, we were dazzled by the cloudless azure skies, the sparkling sunshine, and the bright green lawn surrounding an old barn positioned close to the entrance to the nature preserve. We agreed that, once again, a Saturday morning hike was a great way to kick off the weekend.

Mr. Loudmouth Comes To The Horseshoe

We went to the Ohio State-Notre Dame game last night. It was a great, hard-fought game between two of the most storied programs in college football. The Fighting Irish lived up to their name and put up a tough battle, leaving the game in doubt until the Ohio State offense finally found its footing in the second half, the Buckeye offensive line asserted itself, and the running game helped the team grind out a clutch, 90-yard drive that finally put the game away, leading to a 21-10 win. I’m an old school football fan, and any game where good defense and the rushing attack make the difference is just fine with me.

But, speaking of old school, this fan who went to his first Ohio State home game more than 50 years ago was struck by the atmosphere and the hoopla surrounding the game itself. If you haven’t been to a game at the Old Horseshoe recently, you might be surprised by the in-game experience. Some might call it a feast for the senses; others would say it has become a cluttered confusion geared for people with short attention spans, where the new stuff is threatening to crowd out the traditional elements of a college football game.

Don’t get me wrong, some of it was cool. Last night’s game began with a pinpoint Navy parachuting exhibition, where the parachutists dropped into Ohio Stadium at high speeds and landed flawlessly on the field to the cheers of a huge crowd. I particularly liked the member of the parachute squad who swept into the stadium and onto the field trailing an Ohio State flag, as shown in the first two photos above. I also liked the concept of the drone formations that accompanied the band’s halftime show–although we couldn’t see most of the drone stuff, from our seat in B Deck, which made me wonder how many of the fans outside of the closed end had an unobstructed view–and also the mass cellphone flashlight waving, which made the ‘Shoe look like it had been invaded by a million lightning bugs. The South Stands, in particular, embraced the flashlight waving with gusto, as shown in the bottom photo of this post.

I was also happy to see that some of the traditional elements of a home Buckeye football game remain. The band’s ramp entrance, seen above, remains a central focus, and it never fails to get the fans amped. Script Ohio and a Sousaphone player high-stepping and dotting the i will never get old. The team’s rush onto the field has been jazzed up, with fire blasts, billowing smoke, and fireworks, but at least the band and cheerleaders are still part of it. I like that they continue to use at least some of the breaks during the game to trot people out onto the field for recognition; yesterday’s game honored a 100-year-old World War II vet, the OSU women’s hockey national championship team, and Coach Jim Tressel and the 2002 Buckeye national championship football team, among others. And singing Carmen Ohio with the team and the band at the end of the game is a sweet way to celebrate a win.

But there are other things that this old codger found annoying. Ohio State has hired some loudmouth guy with a microphone who presumed to instruct those of us in the crowd about what to do–like barking out commands for fans to “show their Buckeye spirit” or trying to start O-H-I-O chants as t-shirts are hurled into the stands–as if we really need to be told to cheer and get loud during an exciting football game. Couple Mr. Loudmouth with blasting rock and rap music during some breaks in the action and a few dumb on-field activities, like a relay race between teams encased in large inflatable balls, and you feel like some master planner believes that the fans will become hopelessly bored unless something really loud is happening at every second. And, if you haven’t been at Ohio Stadium since beer sales became part of the experience, be ready to stand up constantly for the beer drinkers in your row to pass by for repeated replenishment and depletion. Some of the guzzlers in our section went by so often we wanted to install a turnstile and charge a fee to let them pass.

I don’t think an Ohio State home game, in one of the most storied venues in college football, needs all of this sideshow stuff. It crowds out the opportunities for the band to play and for the cheerleaders to do some of their routines in front of the fans–which are two of the key things that distinguish a college sporting event from the pros. All of the noise also interferes with another nice part of the Ohio State football experience, which is to talk to surrounding fans, who are typically pretty knowledgeable about football, about the game itself. What a novel concept: football fans wanting to talk about football during the game without being prompted to do something by a loud guy with a microphone! I’d vote to give Mr. Loudmouth his walking papers, ditch the inflatable ball races, and let the band play.

The Shakespeare Project: The Authorship Dispute

After an enjoyable, travel-related respite, I am back at work on the Shakespeare Project. In part one of the Project, where I’m reading the history plays, I’ve reached Henry VI, Part I in the chronological sequence It’s a play that squarely raises one of the questions that scholars have quarreled about for centuries: which parts, if any, of that play (and, for that matter, which parts of Henry VI, Parts II and III) did Shakespeare write?

It’s weird to think that there is a dispute about what the greatest writer in the history of the English language actually wrote, but the sketchy, incomplete nature of the historical record during Elizabethan times leaves lots of room for argument. My copy of The Yale Shakespeare, which provides an introduction and scholarly notes for each play, carefully lays out the competing views. They range from the theory that Shakespeare had nothing to do with the play, to Shakespeare revising an existing play, to Shakespeare working with collaborators to come up with the play, to Shakespeare writing the entire play. That’s a ridiculously broad spectrum that covers just about every possible reality.

The authors of The Yale Shakespeare come down in favor of the theory that there was an existing play called Henry the Sixth that Shakespeare revised. Why do they reach that conclusion? They, and other Shakespearean scholars that hold a similar opinion, point to parts of the play that they deem to be “master-strokes . . . which incontestably betray the workmanship of Shakespeare” while there are other parts of the play that are of a more pedestrian style. The scholars identify several scenes that feature “bold use of transferred adjectives” and “fanciful metaphors and similes” that are considered to be a kind of Shakespearean trademark, and emphasize that such brilliant flourishes are notably absent in other scenes in the play.

In short, Shakespeare is very much given the benefit of the doubt here. The scholars can’t accept the possibility that Shakespeare may have had days where he was just doing some basic playwriting, untouched by genius, to meet a deadline, so he gets credit for the great scenes while the less compelling, unremarkable parts get attributed to some anonymous hack (and the scholars dispute who that might have been, too).

I guess if you are the greatest writer in the history of the English language, you’re entitled to some deference. I’ll be sensitive to the authorship issue as I wade into Henry VI, Part I.

Cool Cocktail Coasters

Friday night we paid a visit to the Citizens Trust cocktail lounge. Located in a refurbished bank lobby less than a block from High Street in the heart of downtown Columbus, it’s an old school place, with vaulted ceilings, plenty of different seating areas, a little gold-trimmed booklet of its standard high end cocktail offerings, and a corps of experienced mixologists ready to prepare whatever concoction you care to name. It’s the kind of place you’d come to with a visitor to our fair city, to help communicate that Columbus is pretty cool.

One of the coolest features of the Citizens Trust, in my book, is the little vinyl records used as coasters. They’re eye-catching, and remind those of us of a certain age of our 45s and albums. (Of course, you’d never put a cocktail or wine glass on one of your treasured platters!)

Quality places typically have these kinds of little features that add to the overall ambiance. They aren’t essential, of course, and simple coasters would perform the same function just fine. But they send the unmistakable message that somebody paid attention to detail and went the extra mile. When you see those kinds of signs, you can order that artisanal cocktail with confidence.

Cool Cocktail Coasters

Friday night we paid a visit to the Citizens Trust cocktail lounge. Located in a refurbished bank lobby less than a block from High Street in the heart of downtown Columbus, it’s an old school place, with vaulted ceilings, plenty of different seating areas, a little gold-trimmed booklet of its standard high end cocktail offerings, and a corps of experienced mixologists ready to prepare whatever concoction you care to name. It’s the kind of place you’d come to with a visitor to our fair city, to help communicate that Columbus is pretty cool.

One of the coolest features of the Citizens Trust, in my book, is the little vinyl records used as coasters. They’re eye-catching, and remind those of us of a certain age of our 45s and albums. (Of course, you’d never put a cocktail or wine glass on one of your treasured platters!)

Quality places typically have these kinds of little features that add to the overall ambiance. They aren’t essential, of course, and simple coasters would perform the same function just fine. But they send the unmistakable message that somebody paid attention to detail and went the extra mile. When you see those kinds of signs, you can order that artisanal cocktail with confidence.

Pride Of The Yankees

Yesterday we went to the Baker Museum in Naples to check out an exhibit of New York Yankees memorabilia focused on Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Derek Jeter. It was a great exhibit, and as a Cleveland sports fan it left me shaking my head on how one franchise could have so many championships and so many truly legendary players.

Although all of the exhibit was interesting, I like the part about Babe Ruth best. The Bambino changed the game forever, and every pro athlete who is getting paid huge sums owes him a debt of gratitude, too. it was pretty cool to see his uniform, spikes, glove, and ball cap. The Babe part of the exhibit showed that the Sultan of Swat had impeccable penmanship. In fact, all of the featured Yankees did. Their grade school teachers would be proud.

Richard II

I’ve finished Richard II, the first step in my Shakespeare Project, in which I aim to read all of the Bard of Avon’s plays, sonnets, and poems. The Tragedy of King Richard the Second was the fifth of Shakespeare’s history plays and was written in or before 1597, as he was rising to prominence in the London theater scene. The play also is the first of a series of historical plays, written by Shakespeare at different times, that tell the turbulent story of British kings and can be read in historical chronological order from Richard II, through Henry IV, V, and VI, to Richard III. That’s why I’ve chosen Richard II as my starting point.

I had not read Richard II or seen it performed before. It’s an interesting and emotionally compelling play that shows why Shakespeare was becoming the master of the British stage, both in terms of its dramatic structure and its otherworldly writing. The play begins with scenes showing a haughty and greedy King Richard acting with absolute authority as he banishes Henry Bullingbroke in the wake of his dispute with another British nobleman. But Richard was feared to be running England into bankruptcy and ruin, and when the king rashly decides to go to Ireland at a time when Bullingbroke’s father dies and Bullingbroke returns to England to claim his inheritance, the British gentry rally to Bullingbroke’s cause. When Richard returns from his Irish adventure–one which left him seasick as well as devoid of significant support back in England–he learns that he has effectively lost the monarchy and is forced to abdicate, imprisoned, and eventually murdered.

During the course of these events, Richard starts as a money-grubbing and ungrateful tyrant, but ends as a sympathetic (and indeed, pathetic) character. As Richard laments his unhappy fate, we learn that there is more to his character–including the fact that he loves his queen, and she loves him–than we initially understood. Eventually Richard seems to discover the graciousness of spirit and understanding that would have helped him to be a better king when he wielded absolute power . . . but of course it is too late.

And Richard is not the only character of interest in the play. Henry Bullingbroke, who eventually is crowned Henry IV, is presented ambiguously, leaving the actor playing the great latitude to interpret the character. Bullingbroke could be presented as a schemer with designs on the crown from the outset, as a loyal subject who is wronged by the banishment and returns upon his father’s death to be buffeted by events beyond his control to the throne, or as something in between. While Richard’s character stands center state and is sketched in great detail, Bullingbroke is kept in the shadows, and shaded. One of Bullingbroke’s few human moments comes when he seeks to advise his son of events and instructs his aides to look in London taverns for the young man–presaging the plot of Henry IV, Part I, the next play in the chronology that is dominated by the antics of Prince Hal and his foil, Falstaff.

There are lots of passages in the play that attest to Shakespeare’s genius. One favorite for me is this familiar passage about England:

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

What’s interesting is that this beautiful, ringing language is not spoken by a proud and boastful man, but instead by the sad, dying John of Gaunt (Bullingbroke’s father) who laments that, thanks to Richard’s unwise and profligate spending, Gaunt’s “dear, dear land” is “now leas’d out–I die pronouncing it–like to a tenement or a pelting farm.” The plot could have been served by a much simpler statement by Gaunt, but part of Shakespeare’s unique brilliance is his ability to convert a passage conveying a basic plot development and turn it into the stuff of art and legend, forever to be known as some of the greatest words ever written about England. How long, I wonder, did it take Shakespeare to write that passage, and did he labor to construct it, or did the words simply flow from his pen?

The same effort to reach for poetic heights rather than settling for easier wording is shown throughout the play, and even in the more explanatory, context-setting, and transitional scenes. A good example comes at the end of a scene where two of the King’s few remaining supporters are discussing the Duke of York, who is charging with maintaining the order in the face of popular unrest while the king is in Ireland. One of the characters says: “Alas, poor duke! The task as he undertakes is numb’ring sands and drinking oceans dry. Where one on his side fights, thousands will fly.”

Another favorite scene occurs when the despondent Queen learns that Richard has been deposed by overhearing a gardener talk to a servant. In Shakespeare’s hands, the garden becomes a metaphor for England itself, and the gardener ruefully recognizes that Richard has missed his chance:

Go, bind thou up yon dangling apricocks,
Which, like unruly children, make their sire
Stoop with oppression of their prodigal weight:
Give some supportance to the bending twigs.
Go thou, and like an executioner,
Cut off the heads of too fast growing sprays,
That look too lofty in our commonwealth:
All must be even in our government.
You thus employ’d, I will go root away
The noisome weeds, which without profit suck
The soil’s fertility from wholesome flowers.

The servant responds:

Why should we in the compass of a pale
Keep law and form and due proportion,
Showing, as in a model, our firm estate,
When our sea-walled garden, the whole land,
Is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up,
Her fruit-trees all upturned, her hedges ruin’d,
Her knots disorder’d and her wholesome herbs
Swarming with caterpillars?

The wise gardener responds:

Hold thy peace:
He that hath suffer’d this disorder’d spring
Hath now himself met with the fall of leaf:
The weeds which his broad-spreading leaves did shelter,
That seem’d in eating him to hold him up,
Are pluck’d up root and all by Bolingbroke,
I mean the Earl of Wiltshire, Bushy, Green.

When the servant asks if those supporters of the king are dead, the gardener responds:

They are; and Bolingbroke
Hath seized the wasteful king. O, what pity is it
That he had not so trimm’d and dress’d his land
As we this garden! We at time of year
Do wound the bark, the skin of our fruit-trees,
Lest, being over-proud in sap and blood,
With too much riches it confound itself:
Had he done so to great and growing men,
They might have lived to bear and he to taste
Their fruits of duty: superfluous branches
We lop away, that bearing boughs may live:
Had he done so, himself had borne the crown,
Which waste of idle hours hath quite thrown down.

Richard II is full of great stuff like this, and well worth a read–especially for the gardeners among us. Now, it’s time to return to more familiar territory: Henry IV, Part I.

Coming Soon To A Sky Near You

Over the weekend, 400 drones came together to form a giant purple QR code floating over the city of Austin, Texas. The QR code formed by the fleet of drones, which was hundreds of feet high, apparently was scannable and was part of a promotion of the upcoming release of the sci-fi series Halo on the Paramount+ network. It occurred during Austin’s annual SXSW (South by Southwest) music, film, and interactive media festivals.

According to a report in the Hollywood Reporter, people in Austin were variously “freaked out,” annoyed, or impressed by the marketing stunt. Having been to Austin several times, I seriously doubt that many of the young, uber-cool Austinites were “freaked out” by the display, unless they were already under the influence of some powerful mind-altering substance or were part of the fringe group that believes that we all really live in a computer simulation, as in The Matrix, and saw this as a giant, revealing glitch in the programming. I’d be surprised if most of the residents in Austin’s capital city did anything other than take a selfie with a comical expression on their faces and the giant QR code in the background, post it on all of their social media accounts, and then return to drinking their butter coffee or one of the many Austin area craft beers and riding their scooters around town.

What this really means is that soon the skies everywhere will soon be cluttered with drone QR code ads. Now that the Halo marketers have shown the way, copycat displays cannot be far behind. Drones are cheap and easy to program, and QR Code formations should not be hard to design. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some QR code floating above Columbus on the day of the Ohio State-Notre Dame football game this coming September, or during next year’s Arnold Festival. And ultimately the skies will be filled with competing QR codes and other ads, as seen in many dystopian sci-fi movies about grim and overcrowded futures.

In a way, this development was inevitable. Given the prevalence of marketing in the modern world, we can expect that eventually ads will be everywhere you look, coating every surface and floating in the skies above. The world will be like the internet, and the only issue will be where the next pop-up ad will appear as you walk down the street.

The Shakespeare Project

Years ago I bought the Yale Shakespeare from Barnes & Noble, back in the days when people actually went to bookstores. Published in 1993, the book is a colossal, oversized, 1517-page, agate-typed tome that features every play, poem, and sonnet penned by the Bard (in whole or in part, with acknowledgement of disputed provenance), along with historical notes, footnotes, and short biography.

For years, I’ve been intending to read the book from beginning to end, but I’ve never quite gotten around to doing it. Now, armed with new glasses to help with the tiny typeface, equipped with a bright, well-lighted spot that is well-suited to careful reading, and bringing to bear the experience of additional years and some post-pandemic perspective, I’m ready to launch my own personal Shakespeare Project.

The Yale Shakespeare organizes the Bard’s awesome output into sections on “The Comedies,” “The Histories,” and “The Tragedies and the Poems.” Being a history buff, I’m going to start with “The Histories,” and read them in their historical sequence, rather than in the order in which Shakespearean scholars think they were written. I’ll start with Richard II and follow the story of British monarchs through to Henry VI, Part III, and then tackle King John and Henry VIII, which are basically standalone pieces, at the end. When I’m done with the histories I’ll decide whether to turn next to the comedies or the tragedies and the poems.

I’ll report on my progress and reactions as I go. Some of the plays will be familiar, from reading them in classes or seeing them performed, but most will be new to me. And I know very little about the sonnets and poems, so reading them will be a voyage of discovery, too.

A Baker’s Reward

I think holiday baking is a lot of fun. You have to follow the recipes, and pay attention to time in the oven to make your cookies don’t get burned, but even a failure means you can just start over without terrible consequences. In the meantime, it’s a great time to listen to your favorite holiday music. And baking requires enough attention that it inevitably takes your mind off of your “work work,” and you get to do fun stuff like rolling out cookie dough and cutting it into shapes and then decorating what comes out of the oven.

In a lot of ways, baking Christmas cookies is kind of like an updated kindergarten class for adults. To be sure, you’re working with cookie dough, not Playdoh, but you’re still cutting stuff out, using rudimentary tools, and adding color to things. The main difference is that, at some point in the process, you don’t have a teacher instructing you to roll out your towel onto the floor and take a nap with the rest of the class–although that’s not a bad idea, come to think of it.

But for me the best thing about holiday baking is the aftermath, after you’ve cleaned up the kitchen and boxed your cookies and sent them off. It’s when you start to hear from your family and friends who received the cookies, telling you how much they enjoyed the cookies or–even better–asking for the recipes of their favorites. Knowing that you helped to make someone’s holiday season a bit more tasty and festive and merry is a baker’s best reward.

Down To The Last Monkee

One of the tough things about getting older is seeing your childhood heroes fall by the wayside. For example, it was hard to read that Michael Nesmith, one of the Monkees, died yesterday at age 78. Michael Nesmith was the “smart Monkee” who always wore a stocking cap with the ball on top; he was the favorite of the cerebral kids. Davy Jones and Peter Tork have already gone to the great beyond, so Nesmith’s death means that Mickey Dolenz, who was my favorite Monkee, is the only surviving member of the group. That just doesn’t seem possible. After all, the Monkees’ theme song said they they were the young generation, and they had something to say. So how can they be dying of old age causes like heart failure?

The Monkees were an interesting phenomenon, and in some ways a precursor for a lot of what has happened in popular culture. They were the original “fake group”–put together to be on a Beatles-knockoff TV show and also serve as the faux front band for music produced by studio musicians. As a kid, I didn’t understand how weird and groundbreaking this was: the Monkees had a TV show that I thought was funny, they drove around in a cool car, and I liked their records. (We faithfully bought all of them.) And the first record said on the back that each of the Monkees played specific instruments and sang, and you could hear their voices on the records. That had to be true, right?

Later I realized that the Monkees were in fact different from groups like the Beatles, because the Beatles actually wrote their own songs and played their own instruments and were accomplished musicians. But the realization that the Monkees were faking it didn’t change my appreciation of the Monkees’ records. We played their songs when I was in college, and I still listen to them. In fact, in recognition of Michael Nesmith’s passing, we listened to some of the Monkees’ songs last night at a gathering with friends and enjoyed them.

The difference between the Monkees and the other fakes that followed was that the creators of the Monkees didn’t scrimp; they got real songwriters (like Neil Diamond, who wrote the classic Monkees’ hit I’m A Believer) and real musicians to play the instruments, and also experimented with some cutting edge sounds that fit right in with where popular music was going at the time. My all-time favorite Monkees tune, Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day, is a good example of how bringing all of that together created something really good.

After the Monkees heyday ended, Michael Nesmith went on to have an interesting career and helped to usher in the era of MTV and music videos, but of course he was always identified with the Monkees, as his New York Times obituary linked above reflects. He seemed to be at peace with his role in the popular culture of the ’60s. Those of us who enjoyed the Monkees TV show and still love the music wish him well.

At The Midpoint

Well, we’re at the midpoint of our three-day Labor Day weekend. And with a beautiful sunrise this morning to spur us on, we are at the moment of decision. What should we do today, knowing that tomorrow is also a day off? Hiking? A long walk? Yard work? Grilling out? Reading? Watching football and savoring a cold beer?

That sounds a lot like exactly what we did yesterday—and it also sound like exactly what we should do today, too. That’s the beauty of the Labor Day weekend.