Saturday, April 08, 2000

20th Century go to sleep...

I was listening to "The Boy in the Bubble" last night from Paul Simon's Graceland. (Click on the preceding link to go to and listen to a clip. Click here to read the lyrics.) To me, the song is a beautiful distillation of the essential contradiction of the 20th century (whew, am I getting pretentious?) -- how so much progress could be accompanied by so much brutality?

As the century draws to a close (I refuse to get into arguments about when it really ends), I'm often jolted by its characterization as the most violent century in the history of humanity. Of course, that's true, but is that how we define the 20th century? Is it the century of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Franco? Is it defined by the Katyn Forest, Hiroshima, Armenian genocide, Kosovo, and above all the Holocaust? Or is it the century of FDR, Churchill, Thurgood Marshall, Albert Einstein and Mandela? Is this the time of the rise of democracy, the defeat of polio and smallpox, suffrage, the birth of numerous art forms (cinema, jazz, rock, the weblog...) and the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem? "The bomb in the baby carriage" or "lasers in the jungle"?

Maybe I'm an optimist, but I think we come out of the 20th century better than the way we entered it. For example, look at Paul Simon's Graceland album. When it came out, his use of South African artists drew attention because of the issue of apartheid. Today, apartheid is...well, a memory. The situation that replaced it -- the crime and uncertainty -- is not ideal, but it is hard to argue that good has not been done. I think history will judge the 20th century as one where humanity took important steps in fundamental rights, revolutionized our technology, and started to use that technology in ways that underscored those rights.

But don't cry, baby, don't cry.

Thursday, April 06, 2000

Back in the USSR

Going through my old e-mail last night was an interesting experience. One that particularly struck me was an e-mail from Moscow I received in 1991. It really made me feel the passage of time. First of all, it was from the Soviet Union. Maybe you heard about that one in school, kiddies. Secondly, I loved the "non-commercial nets like Internet" part.

I remember that the request for information was disconcerting enough that I reported it to our security officer at work, who I think just filed it away. Anyway, these days when every speck of land on the globe seems to be wired makes it hard to believe that my co-workers thought that this was a fake, because "the Soviet Union isn't on the Internet."

An Innocent Abroad

I was going through some old files tonight, and I came across a series of letters I sent to my friend Melissa during my first real trip overseas -- to visit my parents in England in December 1993. The letters were purposefully more of a trip journal than personal communications. I cleaned it up, converted it HTML, added a few links and
put it on my web site. It's kind of funny to look back at the 21-year-old kid who wrote that stuff. I'd sure love to have an entire month in the UK again, though...


Sunday, April 02, 2000

Poor Old Johnnie Ray...

Poor old Johnny Ray
Sounded sad upon the radio
He moved a million hearts in mono
Our mothers cried and sang along and who'd blame them

I was watching the Come On Eileen video the other day and started to get a little choked up. (Now don't laugh.) It's not '80s nostalgia that got to me, it's '50s nostalgia, in a sense. The video showed footage of girls going crazy for the singer Johnnie Ray. Until that point, I thought "Johnny Ray" was a made-up name, but he's very real. And I had never heard of him. His song "Cry" spent 11 weeks at Number 1, but now...poof, he's gone, likely unremembered by many under 50. As far as I can tell, he was either very, very early rock-n-roll, or just pre-rock, and his popularity never survived into the late '50s. The one notable thing about him is that he wore a hearing aid (although that's apparently not the motivation for "moved a million hearts in mono"). As with everything else on the Internet, there's a web site devoted to him -- So listen to Dexy's Midnight Runners sing "Come On Eileen" or the Save Ferris version, and remember poor old Johnnie Ray...