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Philip K. Dick on sex between humans and androids
08:22 am


Philip K. Dick
Blade Runner

In 1981, Philip K. Dick discussed the ideas and themes behind his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in an interview with author Paul M. Sammon. Dick’s novel about a hired assassin (Rick Deckard) paid to eliminate escaped androids formed the basis for Ridley Scott’s classic science-fiction film Blade Runner. The story had its genesis in research for his novel The Man in the High Castle. Dick studied psychological studies on the mentality of the Germans who became Nazis and read how these Germans were often highly intelligent but emotionally “so defective that the word human could not properly be applied” to them.

This led Dick to a philosophical investigation into “the problem of differentiating the authentic human being from the reflex machine I call an android.” 

For me the word ‘android’ is a metaphor for people who are physiologically human but psychologically behaving in a non-human way.

This was a subject Dick discussed in a lecture on “The Android and the Human” in 1972: android means, as I said, to allow oneself to become a means, or to be pounded down, manipulated, made into a means without one’s consent—the results are the same. But you cannot turn a human into an android if that human is going to break laws every chance he gets. Androidization requires obedience. And, most of all, predictability. It is precisely when a given person’s response to any given situation can be predicted with scientific accuracy that the gates are open for the wholesale production of the android life form.

Philip K. Dick.
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick developed the idea of “androidization” further when he considered what would happen in a war between humans and androids—would humans become more android-like if they won?

This emotional interplay between humans and androids was also examined in the relationship between Deckard and the android Rachael Rosen, which Dick discussed in “Notes on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (1968):

And this brings up the whole underlying subject: sexual relations between humans and androids. What is it like? What does it mean? Is it, for instance, like going to bed with a real woman? Or is it an awful, nightmarish, bad trip, where what is dead and inert seems alive and warm and capable of the most acute intimacy known to living creatures? Isn’t this, this sexual union between Rick Deckard and Rachael Rosen—isn’t it the summa of falsity and mechanical motions carried out minus any real feeling, as we understand the word? Feeling on each of their parts. Does in fact her mental—and physical—coldness numb the male, the human man, into an echo of it?

...[Deckard’s] relationship, by having intercourse with her, has melded him to—not an individual, human or android—but to a whole type or model, of which theoretically, there could be tens of thousands. To whom, then, has he really given his erotic libido?

...Here, I think, the crucial questions of What is reality? and What is illusion? come up strongly….The more Rick strives to force her to become a woman—or, more accurately, to play the role of a woman—the more he encounters the core of the unlife within her…his attempt to make love to her as a woman for him is defeated by the tireless core of her electronic being.

Dick postulates that the failure of their lovemaking “may be vital in his determination—and success—in destroying the last of these andys.”

In this interview, Dick discusses some of these key questions about what is reality? what is human?

Thomas M. Disch once said that his friend Philip K. Dick liked to play-up the image of the hard-done-to artist, struggling in the garret, living off ground-up horse meat (which supposedly led Dick to translate his name into “Horselover Fat”—Philip Greek for horse lover, Dick German for fat), but things were never really that bad. However, he agreed America gave short-shrift to speculative science-fiction writers, and was grateful for the adulation and serious critical appraisal both received in Europe.

In 1977, Philip K. Dick was interviewed for French television where he discussed the problems of being a speculative science-fiction writer in America, as well as many of the philosophical ideas behind his works.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
The Replacements censored on live awards show (but get the last laugh), 1989
05:46 am


The Replacements

The Replacements
The collective hearts of Replacements fans everywhere have been aflutter since the announcement that the reunited band would be returning to the small screen, as they are due to appear on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon September 9th. Naturally, there’s been much talk of their infamous Saturday Night Live performance in 1986, when they got drunk, stumbled around, and generally behaved like one would expect the Replacements to have behaved. Singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg even committed the ultimate TV sin, shouting the F-word during “Bastards of Young.” It was awesome. SNL producer Lorne Michaels was, of course, not amused, and reportedly banned the group for life from 30 Rock (The Tonight Show is filmed at the same address and Michaels is the executive producer).

The Replacements only performed in front of television cameras a handful of times, and while there’s no topping the SNL gig, their appearance on a long-forgotten awards show in 1989 is a close second.

ABC aired the International Rock Awards live on May 31st, 1989. Lou Reed, Living Colour (who took home the “Newcomer of the Year” prize), Keith Richards (there to be presented with a “Living Legend” award), and David Bowie’s ill-fated super-group, Tin Machine, all performed at the event. Winners were handed a bronze “Elvis” award.

The reason I was plopped in front of the family television that night was to see my favorite band, the Replacements. I had watched a crappy videotaped copy of the SNL show hundreds of times and was ready for anything. I was excited, to say the least.

The lights lower and an announcer says, “We apologize; here the are: The Replacements.” Wow, a more hilarious (and ultimately fortuitous) opening couldn’t have been imagined. It’s already a classic clip and the band hasn’t played a note! But then “Talent Show” begins and Westerberg walks up to the mic and manages to one up their introduction: “What the hell are we doing here?” And they’re off!

“Talent Show,” from their then most recent album Don’t Tell a Soul, couldn’t have been a better choice for this event. The song—about feeling vulnerable and scared to get up on stage only to be judged by and against your peers—suddenly becomes more literal than intended. The band were booked on a silly awards show with hip young acts and rock royalty, and the Replacements, a group of outsiders and punks at heart, perversely thrived on these sorts of moments. Instead of rising to the occasion and doing their best to “win,” they instead become the little engine that won’t.

But that’s not to say what transpired wasn’t great. Heck, any Replacements fan knows that half the fun is watching the band gleefully launch themselves off the stage ledge, flipping the bird to showbiz protocol. Bassist Tommy Stinson can barely keep from laughing throughout the performance and Westerberg is at least a couple of sheets to the wind—it’s rough and raucous for sure, but isn’t that’s the way its supposed to be?

Before the show, they were told they needed to change the line, “We’re feeling good from the pills we took.” Well, fittingly, Westerberg did no such thing, and the censors were obviously ready for it, as the tape goes silent during that section of the song. What the censors at ABC didn’t anticipate was this: Near the conclusion of “Talent Show” the lyrics address the time when the band hits the stage and there’s no retreating: “It’s too late to turn back, here we go” is repeated twice on the album version, but here Westerberg has changed the line to “It’s too late to take pills, here we go”—ha! The censors missed it and they’ve pissed everyone off again! To add insult, the line is sung three times.

Paul Westerberg
The clip ends with a shot of movie star (and big ‘Mats fan) Matt Dillon enthusiastically whistling and clapping in the audience. Perfect.

I imagine the Tonight Show appearance will be a more orderly affair. Heck, it’s been 25 years since the International Rock Awards, the last time they were seen by a national television audience. People mature. Another famous admirer of the group, Keith Richards, will also be on hand (to promote his children’s book!), so the Replacements will surely be on their best behavior. Or not.

Mr. Michaels just might have to institute another lifetime ban. Fingers-crossed!

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
‘Symbiopsychotaxiplasm’: Mind-boggling, multilayered 1971 film is an experimental masterwork
05:29 am


William Greaves

“Are we making a movie, or are we not?” (William Greaves in Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One)

Filmmaker William Greaves recently passed away at the age 87. Greaves, an African-American, left behind a respected body of work, including award-winning documentaries that tackled issues of race. But he is perhaps known best for a movie that doesn’t address race directly. In fact, lack of direction is one of the fundamental elements of the film.

Shot in Central Park in the spring of 1968, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One at first glance appears to be a documentary about the making of a film. But what’s with the clichéd dialogue, and why are multiple actors playing the same characters? Are they shooting a film or is it a screen test? Or is the finished product going to be something else entirely? Does the director even know what he is doing? Cast, crew, and audience alike ask these questions and are left to wonder: What kind of film is this?

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One is a film within a film within a film. One camera recorded the drama Greaves was directing, while another documented the making of the movie, and a third recorded all of the action on set. A fourth camera was handled by Greaves, on occasion. All of these viewpoints are incorporated into the film at various times. If it all sounds like a formula for total chaos, it is anything but. Greaves had a master plan—he just didn’t let anyone else know about it.

Greaves went out on many a limb during the filming of Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One, including the way he chose to depict his own character, which was a fictionalized version of his true self. Early on, he makes an overtly sexist comment, and then proceeds to act as a bumbling, indecisive director, one who is constantly asking others for their opinions. Greaves was surreptitiously pushing buttons, testing the concepts of power and collaboration in art and elsewhere, but his race was also a factor. In 1968, there were relatively few African-American film directors, and Greaves, by playing the fool, was baiting the cast, crew—and the audience—into making judgments based on the color of his skin.

Of the many fascinating sequences in Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One are those that show the crew meeting to theorize about the nature of the production, speculating on Greaves’ mind-set and his competence (or lack thereof) as a writer and director. There is much confusion as to what exactly is going on, yet one crewmember has a prescient view of what is happening in that moment—that their on-camera discussion concerning Greaves and his movie—is, in fact, their “function” in the film.
William Greaves creates a diversion
William Greaves creates a diversion.

To ponder too many specifics is akin to getting sucked into the rabbit hole Greaves has created, and, frankly, spoils some of the fun for a first-time viewer. The director, in notes he jotted down before cameras rolled, acknowledged the fruitlessness in outlining the project in great detail, which is also part of his modus operandi for Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One:

Refuse to give total explanation of the film! First of all, it is impossible due to its complexity. Give only as much of an explanation as will satisfy the performers and film crew. To give more will kill the truth and spontaneity of everyone.

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One was first screened in 1971, but for decades was only shown sporadically. It would take the support of two high-profile fans, Steve Buscemi and Steven Soderbergh, to finally bring the film into wide release in 2005, when it at last earned the attention and acclaim it deserves.

At one point, while filming in Central Park, Greaves is asked for the name of the movie they are making: “Over the Cliff,” he says. “We’re going over a cliff.” A director with less ability (and nerve) couldn’t have pulled-off the experiment that became Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One, but William Greaves had the confidence and skill to not only take his cast and crew, but also the audience—and the director, himself—right over that cliff.

Check out the trailer:

Then watch the entire film:

Criterion’s definitive two-disc DVD set of Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One (which includes Greaves’ 2003 sequel, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take Two) is still available.

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Discussion
Say Yes to the astonishing guitar solo from ‘Starship Trooper’
04:31 am


Steve Howe

If you’re “of a certain age”—say early-50s on up—then progrock was most likely part of the musical background of your existence. You might not have exactly requested it specifically—was there anyone who could have anticipated, say, Jethro Tull?—but inescapably songs like “Aqualung,” Emerson Lake and Palmer’s “Lucky Man” and “Roundabout” by Yes were part of the soundtrack to your young life, even if it was just through osmosis. These days you can avoid the mainstream, back then it’s all there was and prog was the big thing for a while…

However, if you’re around my age (I’m 48) progrock groups were seen as the enemy. Budding young rock snob that I was, I can recall picking up Uriah Heep, ELP, Robin Trower and Nektar albums at garage sales when I was in the 5th grade and being fairly perplexed that people actually liked this kind of stuff, or that I myself might be expected to like such crappy music to “fit in” or something. It was confusing when I first started buying records—an album by The Who, The Stones or The Kinks from the 60s would be great, whereas one from 1976 would be just… fucking terrible. In any case, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols came out two days after my 11th birthday and that confusion ended. Instantly. If you were all “punk rock,” then you had no time for progrock bands. You hated them. They were all totally unredeemably shit. (All of them, except for maybe King Crimson. Robert Fripp, now he was cool.)

Things being the way they are, eventually the record industry, or at least a few heroic indie labels, began to sell the again MOJO-reading public on the notion of opening their ears up to music they’d have shunned in the past. Admittedly, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve personally been willing to consider the prog rock genre seriously, and not be reflexively close-minded about it. I’ve simply exhausted most other sections at the record store, and I’ve got an insatiable appetite for finding new music, so why not prog? Much of what I’ve been picking up on are the surround sound editions that Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson has been working on, revamping classic prog albums for 5.1 audio. If Wilson is involved in it, I definitely want to hear it and as a result I’m discovering some great “new” music, like, you know… Jethro Tull.

Good times!

So yeah... um… Yes? “Roundabout” aside, I never liked Yes and never really had the time for them. I didn’t hate them, but they wore capes and seemed very “Middle Earth” to me which had pretty much no appeal to me whatsoever when I could listen to Kraftwerk, David Bowie, The Residents or Public Image Ltd. (Ironically PiL’s Keith Levene was a roadie for Yes in 1974). It was earlier this year when my wife admitted that she was a “closet” Yes fan that I decided to bring Wilson’s Close to the Edge 5.1 surround mix home from the record store for both of us to listen to (I’m always accused of monopolizing the stereo, so this was a sop to that criticism.) I quickly got pretty obsessed with that album—ultimately annoying her with it in the process, I’ sure—but the thing that that just knocked down any resistance to the glory that is Yes, for me, was hearing Steven Wilson’s surround treatment of “Würm,” the third movement of The Yes Album‘s “Starship Trooper.”

Sublime. Glorious. It’s a soaring electric guitar symphony. Playing it loud—I mean really loud—it gets to the point where you feel like you’re standing on the tarmac as a jet takes off. It’s a crazy good. Even if you hate progrock in general, or Yes in particular, you can make an exception for this amazing song. Once you do, you’ll get why Yes was such a huge act in the 70s and beyond. It—they—suddenly clicked for me. Now I love them, or at least I love some of their albums.

But here’s the thing, “Würm” and its memorable, hypnotic riff and blistering guitar solo, was actually taken from a song called “Nether Street” that had been recorded by Howe’s post Tomorrow and pre Yes band, Bodast, in 1968 or 69. It came to naught for them although Howe was loyal enough to the group to stick with them in the face of recruitment attempts from both Jethro Tull and Keith Emerson’s band The Nice before packing it in. Howe revived “Nether Street” for “Starship Trooper” in 1971, but it wasn’t until 1981 that the original recording saw the light of day.

Steve Howe told Music Radar:

The song wasn’t rehearsed; it was constructed in the studio from various pieces. I had the Wurm part from another band I used to be in called Bodast. It was in a song called “The Ghost Of Nether Street.” We’d recorded an album, but the label closed down, and so the record never came out.

I always loved the section as a whole piece of music, so I decided to carry it over to Yes. I like the way it goes from G to E-flat to C, but different things happen on the roots. Although it repeats endlessly, it sometimes has the fifth below roots on the chords. It sounds like a lot going on, and of course, it’s flanged.

The build-up of it is very impressive. It splits into two guitar tracks, one side taking a solo. Somehow, we did a bunch of takes, and so we’d pick the best of each. They were all done as complete takes. I remember thinking that I was sort of jamming with myself.

The “Disillusion” section came from another old song: “For Everyone” was a Yes number written by bassist Chris Squire that was played in concert back in the Peter Banks days but never recorded.

Our guest editors Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd pay tribute to the mighty “Würm” with the name of their new Electric Würms project. The Würm is also a river in Bavaria which gave its name to the Würm glaciation ice age when Scandinavia and much of Britain were under ice. Wurm (sans the umlaut) is an Olde English word for “dragon.”

Here’s “Starship Trooper” as heard on The Yes Album. If you’re one of those people—like I was—resistant to progrock, turn this sucker up good and loud and let it wash all the fuck over you. It’s over nine minutes long, but the build-up is crucial.

Here’s the original Bodast recording of “Nether Street.” Almost as amazing as “Würm” itself for—ahem—damned obvious reasons!

A fan-made video of “Starship Trooper” as it was heard on the live Yessongs album (In the concert film only the final part of the song is used, so the earlier shots are from other numbers. It works.)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
John Cheever vs. Burt Lancaster and the making of ‘The Swimmer’
05:15 am


John Cheever
Burt Lancaster

Author John Cheever made a fleeting appearance in the film adaptation of his story The Swimmer during the summer of 1966. He played John Estabrook, a party guest at one of the homes Burt Lancaster’s character Ned Merrill visited on his journey to swim pool to pool across the county. In a letter to a friend, Cheever described his day’s filming:

What I was supposed to do was to shake hands with Lancaster and say “You’ve got a great tan there, Neddy.” Things like that. I was supposed to improvise…

So we rehearsed about a dozen times and then we got ready for the first take but when this dish [actress Janet Landgard] came on instead of shaking hands with her I gave her a big kiss. So then when the take was over Lancaster began to shout: “That son of a bitch is padding his part” and I said I was supposed to improvise and [director] Frank [Perry] said it was all right. I asked the girl if she minded being kissed and she said no, she said I had more spark than anybody else on the set…

Lancaster heard her. Anyhow on the second take I bussed her but when I reached out to shake Lancaster’s hand the bastard was standing with his hands behind his back. So after the take I said that he was supposed to shake hands with me and he said he was just improvising. So on the third take I kissed her but when I made a grab for Lancaster all I got was a good look at his surgical incision in the neighborhood of his kidneys. We made about six takes in all but our friendship is definitely on the rocks.

John Cheever was an established writer by the time the movie was made. He sold his first short story “Expelled From Prep School”  in 1930 when he was eighteen years old. He sold his first story to the New Yorker two years later and went on to publish 120 stories with the magazine.  His first novel The Wapshot Chronicle was published in 1957. Cheever originally intended his story “The Swimmer” as a full-length novel, with each chapter set in one of the 30 neighboring pools Ned swims across on his way home to his wife and family. He had been “kicking around” an idea of retelling the Greek myth of Narcisus which, according to his biographer Blake Bailey, was loosely inspired by his meeting Ned Rorem, with whom he had a brief sexual relationship, at an artist’s community in Saratoga Springs:

...[Cheever] had in mind a fellow Yaddo guest whom his meeting for the first time that September, composer Ned Rorem, who’d just broken his ankle and was hobbling about with a little plaster cast. As a reader of Freud, Cheever tended to equate homosexuality with narcissism, and in this respect the (almost) forty-year-old Rorem struck him as a kind of wistful, aging boy: “[H]e seems, in halflights, to represent the pure impetuousness of youth, the first flush of manhood, Cheever wrote. “He intends to be compared to a summer’s day, particularly its last hours and yet I think he is none of this.”

But the idea of retelling the Narcissus myth for modern day seemed slight, as Cheever noted in his journal for 1963:

I would like not to do the Swimmer as Narcissus. The possibility of a man’s becoming infatuated with his own image is there, dramatized by a certain odor of abnormality, but this is like picking out an unsound apple for celebration when the orchard is full of fine specimens.

Moving the story away from Narcissus gave Cheever greater freedom with his narrative, but he soon realized the main difficulty in writing the story as a novel was the impossibility of convincingly maintaining Ned Merrill’s delusions about his life over a long period of time:

The Swimmer might go through the seasons; I don’t know, but I know it is not Narcissus. Might the seasons change? Might the leaves turn and begin to fall? Might it grow cold? Might there be snow? But what is the meaning of this? One does not grow old in the space of an afternoon.

He further explained the struggle of writing “The Swimmer” in Conversations with John Cheever:

It was growing cold and quiet. It was turning into winter. Involuntarily. It was a terrible experience, writing that story. I was very unhappy. Not only I the narrator, but I John Cheever was crushed.

He edited his text down from 150 pages to about twelve, which meant the story moved seamlessly from one season to another within the space of a sentence.  “The Swimmer” was published in the New Yorker on July 18, 1964, and became Cheever’s most famous story.
More after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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