the diary thing 
TUNED INTO THE FIRST NEW "Saturday Night Live" of the season, with more than a bit of trepidation. I knew there'd be precious little political satire -- Will Ferrell's George W. Bush impression, only slightly less perfect than Darryl Hammond's much-missed Clinton, will probably remain fallow for at least this season, if not until the next elections. 

I wasn't prepared for the relentlessly solemn tone of the opener, with Rudy Giuliani and a mass of NYC firefighters and police facing the audience, seguing into Paul Simon singing "The Boxer" like it was written last week, as a gesture of defiance to the Taliban. As he sang, the camera played across the faces of the burly men onstage, facing down the camera with a mix of pride and defiance. There's no reason for anyone to hate firefighters, but a year ago, after Abner Louima, I seem to recall a lot of New Yorkers hating their cops, or at least being happy to be seen hating them with signs at rallies, or in soundbites for the networks. 

As for the Paul Simon, I suppose I should never be surprised by the New Yorker's sometimes mawkish sentimentality. If I lived in a city so harsh, an exhilarating but pitiless place where both rich and poor always seem to be hanging on by their fingernails, I'd probably embrace the same inauthentic mix of sticky, shopworn nostalgia and defiant but questionable workingman humility, as present in Simon as it is in everyone from Woody Allen to Sonic Youth.

Worst of all was watching Lorne Michaels sidle onstage and ask Guiliani if it was okay to be funny. It might have been a redeemed gesture if anything in the show that followed crossed over the line from tame to testing, but it didn't. The funniest sketch of the night involved a belching, farting baby; the next funniest lampooned the already ridiculous Donatella Versace.

"All lies and jest / Till a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."
- Paul Simon
"The Boxer"

A short one. I suspect that I'm already being insufficiently reverent.

By the way, my friend Alan (director of the cult documentary Vinyl) has just put up his own online diary. I can recommend it without hesitation. He's -- how can I put it? -- a bit more candid about his life than I generally am. Look for the occasional crossover action.

Oddest of all was a memory, burned deeply if imprecisely in my mind, of watching "SNL" over twenty years ago, a memory that came back sharply within hours of the Sept. 11th attacks. It was a Christmas show, at the end of 1979, and I can't remember the guest host, but the musical guests included the Whiffenpoofs, the Yale men's choir whose appearance probably foreshadowed the "preppie" revival to come in the new decade.

At the end of the show, after the Yalies, in white ties and tuxes, had sung a medley of Christmas songs, one of the cast members -- was it Dan Ackroyd or Billy Murray, or maybe Chevy Chase? -- came out and announced the breaking news that the Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan. There was an audible gasp from the crowd, mostly Boomers at that point, all of whom had vivid childhood memories of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was only six years, really, since the U.S. pullout from Vietnam, a fresher memory then than the Gulf War is for us, now. They had every reason to gasp; I know I felt a cold clutch on my fifteen-year old heart. Where, though, was Afghanistan? I wondered to myself.

"Hey, you think you're scared," quipped Ackroyd/Murray/Chase/whomever, nodding his head behind him to the Whiffenpoofs. "These guys back here are probably gonna be drafted!"

Well, it didn't work out quite that way. The Yalies were probably unlikely to be drafted, whatever happened, and in any case the U.S. carried out their part of the Afghan war by proxy, with weapons and support that have come back to haunt us, as much of the past usually does. This is the past as it really is, without a trace of comforting nostalgia, something it's hard to get sentimental about, even in New York.

writing ©2001
Rick McGinnis
...the past
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