Tuesday, September 29, 2009

All Tomorrow's Parties

What happens if a bunch of humans are stripped of their rationality and critical thinking abilities, electrified beyond the point of recovery with high-voltage music (and non-music), and let loose en masse to collide into one another for several days in a village?

I think I just caught a glimpse of that unsettling scenario tonight at a Milwaukee Film Festival offering. All Tomorrow's Parties, a feature-length documentary, captures the annual U.K. rock festival of the same name, for which various leading bands "curate" each year's acts. Named for a Velvet Underground lyric, the ATP festival was conceived as a counterreaction to the creeping corporate control of youth culture and music -- so sayeth the painfully inarticulate kid interviewed in one clip -- and by the usual metaphoric extension, as a critique of all society, man.

Staging a festival without overbearing corporate sponsorship is laudable. When you do that, however, the best act you can get just might be Iggy and the Stooges. That's okay; the real action in ATP is in and around the decrepit resort dormitories, which look like the worst two-level, exterior-entrance motels that you've ever stayed in. Here, beyond the obligatory Intermittent Spontaneous Musical Occurrences, we're treated to clips of drunken post-partiers wandering around aimlessly, peering into other people's rooms, and falling through cheaply constructed second-floor balconies. Before you can attend tomorrow's parties, it would seem, you have to survive today's first.

Anarchic and chaotic as the music festival itself, the documentary cobbles together miscellaneous film clips gathered from numerous attendees and participants over the years. Like the festival, the film seems not so much curated as thrown together. The only concession to the left-brain that craves information and a semblance of order is the briefly displayed band names, with curator and festival year, for a number of leading acts. The director overuses a multiple-windows technique for concert footage; somebody must have thought it looked really cool back in film school.

I didn't like many of the bands, but so what; it's no longer my generation's turn. Choppy editing aside, All Tomorrow's Parties is a fair depiction of a significant youth music gathering, now sprouting offshoots around the globe. A cultural time capsule, I suggest it be suitably buried for posterity. Perhaps in velvet. Definitely underground.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Corner Kick

It's 1967; I'm eight years old. My dad takes me with him to RPI, the college where he teaches, to see a home football game. The well-kept athletic field is nestled on campus amongst the classrooms, labs, and dorms. Admission is free, or perhaps a buck or two, and we find seats in the bleachers. The play moves up and down the field. Assorted parents, kids, students, and football fans cheer on the home team. Down two rows from us, a student holds forth loudly, holding the tallest can of beer I've ever seen. A penalty flag is thrown, and the drums of the student pep band beat a military tattoo. I hear certain words I've never heard before. Dad buys me a hot dog or a hot chocolate, or both. It's the sunniest of sunny autumn days.

It's 2009; I'm fifty years old. By now, I've heard all the words. I drive over to the UW-Milwaukee campus on the East Side for a Friday afternoon soccer double-header, part of an early-season weekend tournament. The well-kept athletic field is nestled on campus amongst the classrooms, labs, and dorms. Admission is five dollars, and I find a seat in the bleachers. The play moves up and down the field. Assorted parents, kids, students, and soccer fans cheer on the two Wisconsin-based teams. Down two rows from me, the public address announcer reads an ad for the local sandwich franchise. "It's a Pepsi Panther corner kick!" he exclaims, followed by a Panther roar -- the same cheesy sound effect from the last UWM game that I'd watched, four years earlier. Several members of the nationally-ranked team from that era, now part of a local club team that won a championship, are introduced to the appreciative crowd at halftime. I munch on a bratwurst. It's a warm autumn evening under the lights.

This week, we heard of the passing of NCAA President Myles Brand. An RPI philosophy major and former President of Indiana University, Dr. Brand was most well-known in the sports world for firing Indiana's revered hoops coach Bobby Knight, who had clashed once too often with the concept of civilized behavior. My dad once served on a committee with Dr. Brand and verifies that his overriding mission was to promote the importance of academics in the lives of college athletes.

The soccer players and small crowd of onlookers honor Dr. Brand with a moment of silence before Friday night's game. Then the whistle blows, and the two teams of scholar-athletes, none of whom will get rich from their playing abilities, compete fiercely for position and possession of the ball.


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