Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Return to the Past

Above, you will see the opening match of WWE's Smackdown World Tour's visit to the Westchester County Center in White Plains, NY. What you see here is a 12 man, Over-the -Top-Rope Battle Royal. The winner of this endeavor (who happened to be a gentleman named, Heat Slayer) got to fight Ezekiel Jackson for the WWE Intercontinental Championship.

I don't know how familiar you are with the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment). I don't even know if anyone actually reads Slimbo's Shelf. I tend to think no one does, but if I do net a reader or two, I imagine him to be a beleaguered graduate student in the wee small hours, lusting after my pointless pontifications on unloved literature to complete some seemingly pointless assignment. (Well, I don't know if that's always the case, but for all you bastards in Warwickshire, UK who had to write about Heinrich Boll, you're welcome!).

So here I am: Slimbo - the lonely voice amid America's saturated fat of ignorance - the man all five of you have pinned your intellectual hopes upon. Now he has created a post on Vince McMahon's evil empire of gratuitous violence.

Well, not exactly. The truth is, my father took me to see wrestling (then called the 'WWF') at the Westchester County Center in 1983. I saw Jimmy 'Superfly' Snuka fight Don "Magnificent' Muroco and at that point, it was the highlight of my existence.

I'm entirely okay with my son watching wrestling. There is, ingrained in every boy's DNA, a need for superhero mythology. Wrestling takes comic books into three dimensional entities, offering a world where there are clear-cut good guys and villains who all battle out scripted bloodless bouts. If I had any complaint with today's incarnation of the WWE, it is that is that there are too many drama side stories and far too much pyrotechnics.

So our recent evening at the Westchester County Center offered a fantastic surprise. I should preface this by saying that the County Center is an ancient building holding only a few thousand seats. In light of the enormity of the WWE, I didn't expect they'd send any wrestlers of note for such a small venue. To my surprise, almost all their main headliners were there - Wade Barrett, Shamus, Ezekiel Jackson, Mark Henry, Heat Slayer and Ted DiBiassi Jr. The evening was capped off with a fantastically scripted match between WWE Heavyweight Champion Christian and the viscerally entertaining Randy Orton (Christian retained the title via disqualification).

But the greatest element of the evening was the simplicity of the setting. There were no excessive video screens and fireworks and the smallness of the venue forced the performers onto the audience. This was most satisfying with the villains whose sneers and shouts of 'shut up!' could be clearly felt by all. Mark Henry even ripped up a sign a small child had made while delivering a glare that could turn blood into ice. It was wonderful. I could close my eyes, and if only the air could have been filled with cigarette smoke, I'd have said it was 1983 all over again.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mike Gibson's Bluegrass Gospel Hour

In our digital world, it makes no sense to listen to shortwave radio. But listening to WBCQ's broadcast of the Mike Gibson Bluegrass Gospel Hour, broadcast from Bessemer, Alabama is precisely why I listen to shortwave.

Gibson's voice is akin to Garland Bunting's (of Bull Durham fame) and his calm, folksy delivery is a welcome change from the usual voices of Biblical shortwave radio, consumed with righteous venom and lusting for armageddon. Gibson speaks very little and is there to present the music, not to preach.

His selections feel right out of the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou. This is sublime, beautiful and pure Americana. These broadcasts are transportive and listening to them delivers the sense that you've stepped back in time. I wouldn't want to listen to these broadcasts on any digital or streaming device. My receiver, pulling in at 5050 kHz from a thousand miles away, with all it's atmospheric static, is the best way to listen to Mike Gibson.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Overwhelming and Collective Murder

If you've never seen a German having a bad day, I'd invite you now to watch this video of director Werner Herzog describing the jungles of South America. Granted, if you were stuck in the jungle with Klaus Kinski, you'd be pretty grumpy too.

I love just about everything Herzog does and could listen to him speak for hours. This clip was taken while Herzog was shooting Fitzcaraldo, an endeavor beset by every kind of mayhem you might imagine. Herzog's main point is that we have over-idealized nature and made it cute, denying its essential texture which, if truly understood, would horrify us from our suburban perspective. My favorite bits:

"...the birds are in misery. I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain."

"A land that God, if he exists, has created in anger."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

My friend Kafka

Lately, I haven't been writing at all. The Shelf has been woefully neglected. I'm not sure if this neglect has brought any real static to any one's life. Either way, I am now skulking back to you. There has been a tapestry of consternation that has kept me from you dear reader, and I can only describe as 'Kafka-esque'.

Some weeks ago, I went to my magnificent, taxpayer-supported public library and picked up Kafka's Dairies 1914-1923. My only lament was that I had to return this book which I have now decided is an essential text for me as I continue with you all on this planet, trudging through our collective mortal coil. Again and again, Kafka's inner thoughts echo my own: I can't do it, I can't do it, there's just no way...

Kafka's diaries absolutely and beautifully articulate a pain, doubt, ennui and anger that keeps any artist from executing a consistent and constructive product. Kafka was a beautiful spirit, burdened by his inability to escape life's banalities and dark spots. Yet somehow, through some blessed intervention, his voice has been heard.

A note on this copy - bought off of Amazon for $.01 plus $3.99 shipping. It's old and smelly. Just as it should be.