Tag Archives: vicki lucas

[November 8, 1962] Late Night with the Journey (Johnny Carson, Merv Griffin… and Steve Allen!)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Victoria Lucas

When I got back from Stanford in June, I was ready for a little TV.  I didn’t take one to school and didn’t have time to watch it anyway.  I worked most of the time I wasn’t in class or doing homework so I could stay in school.  I got a student loan, and paying off that and paying the mortgage on my mother’s house where I lived is difficult, so I type papers and theses here. 

I’m often also at work evenings—my salary includes coming to work on weekends so I can run the box office for the Drama Department where I’m the secretary—and if I’m not doing that I often work on community productions, like the ones for Playbox or the dinner theatre, or act as a “clacker” for the Drama Department productions or others (clapping and laughing loudly).  And I go to concerts.

About the only time I have to watch TV is late at night — after I can’t type any more, the rehearsals are over, the concerts done with, the occasional parties over, the box office closed and plays over.  I used to watch Jack Paar on “The Tonight Show,” but I understand he walked out, and his last show was March 29.  I don’t know, I guess I tried some of the guest-hosts (Merv Griffin, Arlene Francis, et al.) they had on in his place, but none I watched caught my fancy.  (Griffin went into daytime TV, interviewing people.)

I understand Johnny Carson finally replaced Paar October 1.  But he didn’t catch my fancy either.  I think only of seeing him in “Who Do You Trust?” his daytime show I would see when sick at home with the TV for company, and I don’t like the way he mocks housewives.

So I twiddled the dial and into my room at the back of the house walked Steve Allen, laughing.  He used to be the host for “The Tonight Show.” In fact, he started the thing.  But now he has the theatre where the show is taped named after him and can do pretty much anything he wants.  Carson wears tailored suits that look expensive and his humor—what there is of it—is deadpan.  That’s OK, but by the time I turn on the TV at night I want laughter, lots of it.  I want Steve Allen yelling “SMOCK SMOCK” back at the audience when they make bird noises at him.  I don’t mind if he dives into a pool full of Jello or his other opening stunts.  (It gives me time to get settled until the screaming dies down.) I want Steve Allen leaving the studio to accost some unsuspecting passers by on the streets outside or at the very least making fun of the people at Hollywood and Vine. 

OK, there’s an occasional guest, but between guests and his piano music, he laughs and does crazy stuff and breaks himself up laughing when he sees himself on a monitor.  And I love it when he has his wife Jayne Meadows on.  One word that has been applied to him explains why I like to watch Allen: unpredictable.  I like music that surprises me, theatre/movies with endings I can’t foretell, jokes with punchlines I can’t anticipate.  Wrap all that up with intelligence, eloquence, musicianship, and a sense of humor that won’t quit, and you’ve got Steve Allen.  If you aren’t watching him already, I suggest you start.

Incidentally, Lionel Van Deerlin won his seat in the California election for the 37th District Tuesday.  I didn’t stay up eating a pomegranate while waiting for election results the way I used to when I was younger, but kept an ear out for the results.  Remember, he’s the guy who was newscaster and news director for local television after an unsuccessful run for Congress 4 years ago.  It’ll be interesting to see what a Democrat from the usually Republican San Diego will do for a change.

[Sadly, but expectedly, the unincorporated community of Vista will be represented henceforth by James B. Utt, who is somewhere to the right of Atilla the Hun.  At least Governor Brown trounced Tricky Dick! (Ed.)]




[October 7, 1962] …like a Man.  (the surprising true identity of sf author Lee Chaytor)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Victoria Lucas

OK, that’s neat.  Mostly when I look at the covers of science-fiction magazines, I see silly bug-eyed monsters and rocket ships that look like they’re out of early movies, and I don’t know who those men or boys are who wrote those stories or why, but I suspect the stories are for other men or boys.

But now I see “Lee Chaytor’s” name on an sf magazine cover and I feel like giggling — for Lee is no he!  A friend going to San Diego State College sent me word that she’s a lecturer in English, name of Elizabeth Chater, and she is writing science fiction (and advocating that it be taught as literature, of all things!) while she works on her Master’s degree there.

Chater/Chaytor has a story in the May 1958 Fantastic Universe Science Fiction magazine that I happened to see when I was in that dusty bookstore I mentioned last time.  On this visit the cat got down from the desk near the door and accompanied me as I fumbled around, trying to remember where I’d seen it.  Ah, there, with bug-eyed monsters, a flying saucer, and a rocket ship, with an eagle harassing an alien.  And “featuring their BAIT FOR THE TIGER A New Novel by Lee Chaytor.” So I gathered my pennies and, after considering leaving them with the cat since the owner was elsewhere, I found him, showed him the magazine, gave him my handful of change, and walked out reading it.

Wow!  She doesn’t stint on the monsters, but these sound close to human in their description.  Lots of suspense after the story opens with men locked into a corner of a lower floor of the Pentagon, secret government workers affiliated with the FBI.  There is a flying ball of green light, a master race (the aliens) and a subservient one (the aliens again), and what’s left of a town cringing in fear as the aliens take over a piece of Oregon.

Oh, and of course there has to be a buxom blonde (is she blond?), Valentine, 6 feet tall, an exotic dancer with a “magnificent body” who uses a robot snake in her performances, and who is described in florid terms.  The wife of a missing agent, she falls in with a scheme to try to find out if the aliens have her husband.  Other characters include a sad and terse bodyguard for the telepath running the operation, an argumentative type who tries to keep an eye on the telepath; and a domestic agent who makes breakfast and does the dishes, the most sympathetic of the men to me.  The telepath is a little man who knows all and is predictably headstrong and obnoxious.  The men spout British poetry.

Complications enter the plot in the form of a dying agent who heard a human consorting with the aliens, said to be golden and godlike (as well as conceited), nothing like the green monsters on the cover of the magazine.

I don’t know if I like the piece.  It’s a fast-moving story; you want to find out what happens!  But at this pace in a magazine novella, there is no time for character development.  There are no other women in the narrative, and I can’t identify with the one introduced so far, with those full lips and young, lissome beauty one expects to see in a science fiction tale (at least from looking at other covers).  I guess it’s always been the covers that have alienated me and often deterred me out of science fiction books and magazines.  Scantily clad women, bug-eyed monsters, weird-looking space ships and flying saucers: what’s for me to like?  Adventure?  I consider music and poetry and history and art and architecture to be adventure.  I guess that just sounds pompous, but those media constitute my adventurousness.

Oh, well, back to “Lee Chaytor.” Valentine is up to the task.  The suspense continues.  We hear how nasty the aliens are, how ruthless.  Will she survive?  The team of three men and a telepath stays as close to her as possible as she pursues her mission, but they cannot get too close.  Not yet.  At this point, I had the suspicion that Valentine, “Val,” now referred to as a “girl,” would still be a “girl” at the end of the narrative, and might never become a “woman,” even though much of the narrative is through her eyes.

The ending could be considered to be a happy one, less so inside the circle of characters we know.  I won’t tell you what happens because you have a right to see for yourself.  I’ll just say this: Valentine lives and is unhurt, but, as so often happens with women, her interests come last and are hardly considered.  We have instead clichés about male bonding and jealousy. 

I haven’t learned much from this tale about aliens and secret US government departments, but I did learn this: that a woman can write like a man when she chooses — take that as compliment or damn.  But it does make me wonder: how many other woman authors (and English Professors!) lurk behind androgynous pseudonyms?




[Sep. 6, 1962] Unfunny Papers (The Second Coming and San Diego Politics)

[if you’re new to the Journey, read this to see what we’re all about!]


by Victoria Lucas

Erudition enshrined

Well, here’s something I hadn’t run into before.  I don’t spend much time in bookstores or newsstands because I can’t afford to go wild in them as I’d like.  Better to step away than to spend a mortgage-payment worth of money for a few books and/or magazines.

However, I couldn’t resist this one.  Drawn by a bookish magnet into a little cubbyhole crowded with books from floor to ceiling and overseen by a disheveled person near the front door with a cat on his desk, I stumbled onto a literary magazine I hadn’t seen before, apparently created while I was busy with school in 1961.  The Second Coming (not of Christ, of American intellectualism) is now on its third issue, or at least it was in June. 

On the June cover is an image of an American flag with hinges and on the first page is a photograph of MY typewriter, a Smith-Corona electric.  After another ad it flaunts its authors and artists, among whom are the following:  Herbert Blau, one of the founders and directors of The Actor’s Workshop of San Francisco, whose work I saw when I was at Stanford, film critic Pauline Kael, writer James O’Connor, fiction writer Isaac Bachevis Singer’s (in translation), and Susan Sontag, who teaches “in the Department of Religion at Columbia University.”  It is a literary magazine in the tradition of the Paris Review and the Evergreen Review.

Glancing at back issues (reading copies only under the watchful eye of the man with the cat), I saw that Issue Number 2 in 1961 was the most exciting so far, with prose, not poetry, from Allen Ginsberg, poetry not prose from Frank O’Hara, and works by Kenneth Koch and Gunther Schuller.  That issue also sported drawings (not paintings) by Robert Rauschenberg, and a critique of reproductions of art by Jasper Johns, Ad Reinhardt, and Mark Rothko.  At the very back are (sigh!) advertisements for The Modern Jazz Quartet and WBAI FM Radio in New York.  (I learned to like Pacifica Foundation radio while at Stanford and heard programs from WBAI.)  The issue also reproduced letters from Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins, Jacques Barzun, and (my favorite literary lion) John Simon, congratulating the editor on the first issue of the journal.

The one I went out the door with, though, having paid my mite and feeling dizzy from the intellectual heights (and perhaps the dust), was the March 1962 issue, with a cultural piece by Roland Barthes, fiction by William S. Burroughs, and articles on “The Eichmann Trial and the rule of law” and “Bankrupt Myth of a Free Economy.” 

I love little magazines, especially clever little magazines.  Perhaps someday, I shall have to try more of the ones the Traveller is always reviewing…

From doing the papers to being in the papers

Just a word about an upcoming San Diego, California election.  As part of the continuing reorganization and creation of California’s electoral districts, a 37th Congressional District has been formed.  Keep your eye on Democratic candidate Lionel Van Deerlin, who lost his last attempt at getting into the House of Representatives in 1958.  It’s rare to see a Democrat win in this area, which is heavily populated by members of and retirees from the military, as well as other retirees.
 
Van Deerlin does have the advantage of being a newsman.  He knows the angles; he knows the reporters; and he knows the politicians.  Whether this will give him enough of a boost to win will be interesting to watch.  


 
A native of Oceanside (just north of San Diego), Van Deerlin received his Bachelor’s in journalism from USC (University of Southern California) in 1937, and when in the Army in World War II he became a writer for Stars and Stripes.  He was city editor for the San Diego Daily Journal from 1946 to 1950, and was KFSD-TV news director until last year.  
 
He married Mary Jo Smith in 1940, and Mrs. Van Deerlin and their children were pictured in publicity shots for earlier campaigns and articles about his career in journalism, looking all very American family.
 
A friend in San Diego is keeping me posted, so more about this later!

[The district of the Traveller and family (the 35th) is also new, though we should be so lucky to have a Democrat as a contender.  Instead, the Republican, James B. Utt, is a shoo-in.  His politics are somewhere to the right of Ghengis Khan, so he fits in perfectly with North County’s sentiments.  Oh well.  As a grown-up, I shall not make derogatory comments about his thoroughly appropriate name…]




[August 10, 1962] Eyes on Oedipus (Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex)

[I am pleased to present an unusual piece from our fan-turned-columnist, Vicki Lucas. It covers one of the oldest fantasies, as presented by one of the newest musical artists. As we all have had a Classical education (do you remember your Latin declensions?) this review of a modern interpretation of Oedipus should be right up your alley…]


by Victoria Lucas

“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
Frederick Douglass 8/3/1857

Those of you who have read my previous columns may remember that I have strange tastes in music (hallucinating music as a tactile object when I heard a totally new form) and that I have a somewhat political slant on some things (my participation in a lie-in and my feminist musings last time).  The above remark of the former slave Frederick Douglass is relevant to some music I’ve been listening to—and its composer.

Last year I was surprised and delighted to hear relatively modern music on television and see Igor Stravinsky’s 1927 oratorio Oedipus Rex. So when I returned from Stanford, I checked out of the library the 1952 record of Stravinsky conducting, with Jean Cocteau as narrator. I’ve been listening to it over and over. Stravinsky is best known for Rite of Spring, a ballet with a throbbing beat that caused a riot at its premiere in 1913, but this music is very different.

And then I heard about Stravinsky’s return this year to Russia for the first time since 1914. On this same trip he conducted concerts in South Africa. I found out that Stravinsky appears also to have politics. He will not drink Russian vodka but asks for Polish, saying that Russia did terrible things to the Poles (a slant on Stalin, perhaps?). In South Africa in May he did not know that he had been scheduled to appear before whites only, and when asked if he would like to appear before a mixed audience he replied, “I would like to appear before human beings, that’s all.” He asked to give a free concert to those the South Africans call Bantu (blacks), and was allowed to do so.

So I started thinking about politics in Oedipus Rex. Not just by Stravinsky. The literary original was a play by Sophocles first performed about 430 BC. There was also a play by another ancient Greek playwright, Euripides (best known for Medea), but the script did not survive; there are fragments. Also, Stravinsky asked Jean Cocteau (best known for his film Beauty and the Beast) to write the libretto. That took three tries that may not survive, but which may have been reworked into Cocteau’s 1928 play. And there was the Catholic cardinal Jean Daniélou, a seminarian at the time, who translated Cocteau’s libretto (with Stravinsky’s corrections) into Latin, Stravinsky’s chosen language.

Everyone knows about Oedipus: Freud’s Oedipus Complex presented as Everyman’s desire to kill his father and marry his mother.  However, the real story is ancient. Sophocles’ original Greek title of his play was “Oedipus Tyrannos,” but it is commonly known by its Latin title. The word “tyrant” is more accurate when it comes to Oedipus — an unconstitutional monarch accepted by popular acclamation.

You also probably know the story, but briefly it is this: Oedipus was born to a king and his wife but under a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. The royal couple gave the baby away to kill it, but it was given to and adopted by another couple. When Oedipus is old enough, he consults the oracle, who tells him the same prophecy, whereupon he leaves his adoptive home, unwittingly encounters his father and kills him. On his way he finds the Sphinx, whose riddle he solves, thereby saving a city from starvation. He is acclaimed king and by custom marries the old king’s widow. The dramatic works start at the point where a new crisis forces Oedipus to consider his past, revealing that the prophecy was true and making it necessary for him to leave his throne.

Stravinsky’s piece was written as a short opera.  The library recording is an oratorio–music with minimal staging and costumes.  As in the premiere in Paris, the narration on this recording is in French and the libretto in Latin.

The idea of using Latin was something that captured Stravinsky’s imagination because, in 1925, his native “Russian, the exiled language of my heart, had become musically impracticable, and French, German, and Italian were temperamentally alien.” Stravinsky felt uprooted (“déraciné”) from his native Russia because war and revolution had made his return impossible by destroying his family home and fortune. Thinking about Latin, he realized he could probably use its “monumental character” to create the “still life” he wanted. He also found it compatible in “scansion” (rhythm) with his music.

So he wrote to Jean Cocteau, whose remake of the Sophocles play Antigone he admired. But when Stravinsky finally felt he could use the third draft he also entrusted the Latin translation to Cocteau, who knew a 20-year-old seminarian. So someone my age translated Cocteau’s work into “Ciceronian Latin” (not medieval in pronunciation). And he apparently did it with the original Greek in hand or in mind, because the Latin approximates Sophocles rather well, at least where I could see the Greek compared with English.

What are the differences between Stravinsky’s oratorio, Cocteau’s play, Sophocles’ play, and fragments of a play by Euripides? Stravinsky’s and Cocteau’s work is based on Sophocles’ play, so there are more subtle differences among those three. Euripides is another matter entirely.

For one thing, in Euripides’ play there is no plague. In Sophocles’, Thebes is under siege by a plague. As it happens, there was a plague in Athens (Sophocles’ home theater) at the time Sophocles wrote. Was this the first time that a play was set somewhere else to avoid accusations of political criticism? If so, it certainly wasn’t the last. (Shakespeare used the device a number of times in the sensitive Elizabethan political climate in which one could easily find oneself beheaded.) Apart from the plague, Athens was under siege by Sparta in this second year of the Peloponnesian War.

The plague and the siege by the Sphinx (rather than Sparta) figure largely in both Sophocles and Stravinsky. The current (430 BC) head of Athens was also a tyrant, Cleon. He was described by contemporaries as a “demagogue,” and three years later (427 BC) his opinion of what should happen to a city in the Athenian empire whose people had revolted and were put down was to kill all the men and enslave all the women and children. Fortunately, at the last moment someone rescinded that order.

The fictional plague of Thebes figures large in Stravinsky’s work as motivation. Early on the chorus repeats “serva nos” (save us), three notes forming a tritone, which, along with descending and ascending thirds, create a repeating musical theme of threes in the oratorio. It was at a particular type of crossroads that Sophocles has Oedipus kill his father King Laius–a trivium (three roads coming together). Stravinsky was taken with the concept of the trivium and won’t let us forget it while those thirds and tritones are played.

Stravinsky’s Oedipus is less affected by the pleas of the chorus than Sophocles’ tyrant. Instead of telling the chorus he feels their pain (as in Sophocles), he says, “I, the brightest Oedipus, will save you.” He promises to search for the killer of Laius after his brother-in-law Creon brings news that an oracle has decreed that the plague will not leave the city until the death of Laius is “avenged.” He tells Creon that it is unlikely they will find the perpetrator of such an old crime and, once again calling himself “the brightest,” boasts of solving the riddle of the Sphinx and says he will solve this too. The Latin for what he promises to do is “eruam,” which has three syllables and is an uncommon word for “search,” but it matches the Greek word Sophocles used, which is more like “root out,” and Stravinsky repeats those three syllables.

Cocteau’s introduction to his own play states: “It is not a piece of theater that you are going to see. It is a torture, a famous cause, a trial.” This is particularly true of Cocteau’s version of the tale, in which Oedipus is on trial but doesn’t see it that way.

Oedipus’ behavior is consistent in the three scripts:

  • Oedipus won’t take advice and sabotages every effort to spare him the fate he pursues and finally faces. If he had followed Jocasta or Creon inside and had private conversations, perhaps that would have led to his leaving the city and never being exposed. Perhaps this would have placated the gods, given that leaving office and living as a pauper would have been punishment, maybe even punishment enough given his sense of entitlement. But it wouldn’t have satisfied his sense of drama.
  • He attacks Tiresias when that prophet is trying to save him. Oedipus threatens Tiresias instead of taking his advice, unnecessarily provoking him into a public disclosure.
  • He attacks his brother-in-law when that worthy tries to calm him down, accusing him of being in a plot with Tiresias.
  • He even dismisses Jocasta’s increasingly desperate efforts to get him to shut up and go inside. When he learns that he was picked up by a shepherd who delivered him to a childless couple who raised him, he chooses to believe that he might be the son of mythical creatures or gods. When Jocasta gives up and “flees” (Cocteau’s version), he opines that she is ashamed of the possibility that he was the son of a slave.
  • Finally he interviews the shepherd who took him to his adoptive father. He says (Cocteau) “I order you to tell me everything. If you are stubborn, I will have you tortured.” When the shepherd pleads with him, Oedipus calls out, “Bind him!”

At every turn, Oedipus refuses to see the truth. Then he blinds himself when he does see it, still not wanting to see what is plainly before him—that he has been the ruin of his wife and children as well as himself. (At least this is true in the three scripts we have; Euripides has Jocasta accompany him to exile, and in that version he does not blind himself. Sophocles and then Stravinsky are harder on him, and Cocteau hardest of all.)

Why did Oedipus attack his father and his father’s retinue in the first place? This is never settled in the Stravinsky script. In both Sophocles’ and Cocteau’s version it happens because: (Sophocles) “They ordered me out of the way”; (Sophocles and Cocteau, Cocteau’s words translated by me) “They jostled me, I hit … I killed!” What a temper this man has! He threatens everyone around him but his wife, and even her he accuses of being haughty and unmotherly.

The chorus’ reaction to Oedipus’ downfall is interesting: they see him off, no longer pleading with him to save them, but telling him they loved him (a Latin past tense that indicates the action went on for a time but is now over). They have no regrets for making him their tyrant, but of course now he has to go. This is all matter of fact, lacking Oedipus’ flair for drama.

So what did Sophocles mean to say about the politics of Athens in the time of plague and the tyrant Cleon? We may never know unless we unearth more documents from that time, but were there those who believed that a solution to Athens’ plague might lie in a change of leadership? Or were there those who thought that the government was as bad as the plague that had killed its last lawful leader? I look forward to more archeological findings, but in the meantime we can speculate about whether Stravinsky (and perhaps Cocteau) was saying something about Stalin and other dictators of their youth, and further about the similarities between Sophocles’ demagogue and living men today.

[July 6, 1962] Enjoy Being A Girl? (Gender and Possibilities in the 1960s)

[The rush of modern technologies has created whole new industries, one result of which has been the breaking down of traditional barriers, as Ms. Lucas will illustrate…]


by Victoria Lucas

As a child I learned that there were expectations.  Not so much rules.  I don’t remember being taught rules except for rules of grammar or other school subjects, including physical education class.  Those Expectations determined What You Did, Who You Were, and other facets of one’s life including Who You Know.

My encounters with Expectations came to a head on two occasions that I remember in my childhood, one when I was somewhere between 6 and 8, and one when I was 12.  When I was 6, maybe 7, I remember sliding out of bed on the way to getting up and, with my head touching the floor but my legs still on the bed, having the epiphany that I was responsible for my own actions–not my parents or anyone else.  Obviously it took me some time to work out the ramifications of this, but I had the basic concept, anyway.

When I was 12, I discovered that I was A Girl. 

This hit me like a heavy blow.  Suddenly lots of things were excluded from my future.  Girls didn’t do science or compose music.  Girls were nurses, assistants, secretaries, and so on, but not generally People of Importance unless they were actresses.  Even then they were inferior to Actors, and people didn’t really take them seriously.  I had never heard of Hedy Lamarr, and I don’t remember knowing anything about Eleanor Roosevelt or any of the women who have been resurrected from European
culture as having had something to do with their own futures.

As a teenager I ran into the Girl thing again when my high-school counselor specifically delimited my career choices: secretary, wife and mother, waitress, teacher, or nurse.  That was it.  I had to choose among those.  Since I had no boy friends, couldn’t remember a food order even after I myself had made it, and was squeamish about blood, that left secretary and teacher.  I kind of held onto “teacher” for awhile since there was nothing I could do about it till I finished college.  So I took secretarial courses, sacrificing a third year of my beloved Latin to be sure I could get a Job after high school.  A Career?  Now that was something totally unknown.  Mostly those were Men things.  I haven’t got the hang of those yet.

I was never given the results of the intelligence test I took when I was in school.  I don’t think anyone paid any attention to it (possibly the Girl thing, but it never occurred to me it might be a “Spic” thing too, given my name.) I tended to be a Teacher’s Pet, but that wasn’t an advantage.  Socially it was a bad disadvantage, and it took getting through a few grades to latch onto that concept.  So I accepted my father’s preference of a nickname (“Vicki” for “Victoria”), learned to be very vague about answers to any question like “So how’d you do on that test?” and was careful to be ready to expound on anything we had to have read before class. 

This gave me the reputation in high school for being happy to explain anything to anybody in the minutes before class started so they could rush it onto paper and onto the teacher’s desk, making homework out of it.  And the further nickname “Encyclopedia.”  Classmates would tackle me on the way to class, and I would move slowly to the classroom door followed by people asking me to regurgitate the day’s book report or lesson.  So I was trying to avoid other peoples’ Expectations – for instance, being smart made one Stuck Up. 

I tried to go to parties, but my Expectations that these would be rational and enjoyable events were ruined the first time someone drove me to a drunken high school shindig.  I think I went to two parties
during high school and regretted going to both of them, not because anything bad happened, but because I realized I didn’t know what Fun was, and I was terrified of the driving my rides exhibited.

My idea of Fun, as it turns out, has a lot to do with foreign movies (including British “Carry On” comedies) and some few American ones, along with reading, writing, research, and intellectual company.  Also with interesting music, and my idea of “interesting music” turns out to be very strange.  Last summer at Stanford I took an Introduction to Music course to round out my summer units. 

Sitting at the back of the practice theater in the basement of Dinkelspiel, I would nod off to the strains of Beethoven or others of the (to me) boring 20th-Century Canon—which was mainly what was being taught.  I should explain, since like as not the “20th-Century Canon” will not be a term with which most people are familiar.  It refers to the works in Western culture that are considered to be worth teaching.  In music it refers to what people call “Classical Music”– the “three Bs,” Bach, Beethoven & Brahms, but also the rest of the “important” male composers who made European music from about 1600.  From the time I began to occupy my own piece of the house (built for my uncle and aunt before they left) I played records, starting with my mother’s 78s and finishing with all the ones in the public library—over and over.  I knew all the stuff in the course.  I just was having it organized and analyzed for me.

But, as the last thing he did in the class, the instructor introduced “tape music” to us by telling us that it was the latest thing, putting a tape recorder on a chair in the middle of the stage, starting it up, and walking off.  Now, I know what a tape recorder is.  Here’s the little portable number I used to do sound for Bob Hammond’s “Solitaire” and “Bon Voyage” and Robinson Jeffers’s “Cretan Woman” at the Playbox Theatre.  It only weighs 25 lb.

My friend and mentor Barney Childs wrote the incidental music for those.  But this …

As I sat listening, the music spilled out of the machine and over the apron, into the orchestra pit.  Since music has no gravity, only levity, it went UP the aisle stairs all the way to me in the back and swirled around my ankles before it receded.

I haven’t been the same since.  Neither have my Expectations.  This time, the only thing that being A Girl has to do with it is that I don’t even remember whether the composer was male or female.  It didn’t matter.  Whoever it was spent perhaps hundreds of hours recording, rerecording, treating recorded sounds, whether music or any sound, as material to be distorted, slowed down, twanged and edited with the same little razor-blade kit that I use, then rerecorded onto a final reel of tape that would bear all the machinations of the composer.  This was new. 

It was a hallucinatory hopestorm that drove that music up the aisle.  There is still room for the new, even if it’s female.  Even if it’s me.

[June 16, 1962] Picking Up Charles Finney (The Circus of Dr. Lao)


by Victoria Lucas

I am so honored to be taking up space here!  The Traveler thought enough of my letters to the editor that he asked me to become a regular contributor.  In my letters I mentioned how I’ve just graduated from Stanford and am going back to my old job in the Drama Department at the University of Arizona, and my mother’s home, where I’m typing on an old portable Smith-Corona that has seen far too many papers, dissertations, theses, and so on as I’ve struggled to work my way through college. 

Last fall I tacked up on my bulletin board (unfortunately in the sun) a short column of news about somebody with whom I sometimes work in Tucson little theatre–Bob Hammond, a French professor at the University of Arizona who once won a Fulbright to Paris and never recovered.  He writes his plays in French and English and translates from each language into the other.  The blurb introduced Hammond as one of four playwrights who formed a producing group for their work.  One of the other playwrights was a fellow by the name of Charles Finney who was supposed to produce a play of his this year. 

The article reminded me that I may have met Finney as I house-managed and assistant-directed Bob’s plays.  Or I might have seen him in his workplace, the newspaper building downtown, where he has been editor of the Arizona Daily Star for 32 years (I spent my Saturdays at the Tucson Daily Citizen my senior year in high school helping to put out the “Teen Citizen,” a section of the paper.) So when I ran across The Circus of Dr. Lao and Other Improbable Stories I picked it up.  It’s edited by Ray Bradbury and published by Bantam Books, first out 1956.

In the very first sentence of his introduction to this book of short and long stories, Bradbury asserts that the works in this book “are fantasies, not science-fiction.” He goes on to list some adjectives and statements that contrast science fiction and fantasy as genres (or at least his idea of the genres).  Then, in two short, strident paragraphs, like trochees in a poem, he argues:

“Science-fiction balances you on the cliff.

Fantasy shoves you off.”

This book of short stories (and one long one) conforms to that opinion.  At least the shoving-off-cliffs part.

Charles Finney’s novella The Circus of Dr. Lao is on the cover and first in the book.  Finney uses figures of mythical people and animals to produce what seems like an almost metaphorical story of Abalone, Arizona, which apparently is what Charles Finney calls Tucson.  He began the story while he was in the US Army in China in 1929, and it has seen numerous editions since it was first in print in 1935. 

Lao Tzu (or Laozi, or Lao Tse or …) is a mythical/historical figure who is said to be the author of the Tao Te Ching, a book of philosophy, and the founder of Taoism (Daoism), variously a religion and a philosophy.  The presence of this part man part myth as the owner of a circus is better understood when you see who and what the circus animals and people are: a medusa, a sea serpent, Apollonius of Tyana (15 to 100 AD, a Christ-like figure who incongruously wears and uses a cross), a satyr, a Roc chick, Sphinx, Chimera, and so on.  The real venerable philosopher (Dr.) Lao did not preach withdrawal from the world but discernment and enjoyment of what is in it, apparently here containing the inventions of the human imagination that might include himself (does that tangle your nervous system?)

These animals and humanlike entities do not mix well, and they look strange marching through the town of Abalone as circuses used to do.  They are so bizarre that the people of Abalone do not know what to make of them, and they argue incessantly about whether one of the circus figures is a bear, a “Russian,” or a man.  Finney doesn’t even settle the matter in his ending “Catalogue” of characters, questions, and other matters at the end.

I cannot recommend this story enough.  Although Bradbury calls it fantasy, it fits in no genre, has no particular moral, steps in no one else’s shoes.  I am only familiar with one other book of Finney’s, The Unholy City, which seems to me again to be without identifiable genre, one that calls out human foibles but does not condemn them.  Both books are funny but not laugh-out-loud funny.  Their humor emanates quietly from human (and mythic) limitations and self-aggrandizement.

What I find most amusing is the way the good (or not-so-good) doctor can change in an instant back and forth from a stereotype of an ignorant and hysterical “heathen Chinee,” misplaced letters “L” and all, to a calm, philosophical global traveller speaking perfect English. 

In one scene, he “came dashing up, ‘Whatsah mattah Glod damn college punks come this place?’ …’You no savvee nothing here.  Glet to hell out!  This my show, by Glod!'” Eventually he “glets” them out by shouting, “Hey, Lube!  (instead of the circus/carnival rallying cry, “Hey, Rube!”).

A little later he expounds on his Hound of the Hedges (supposedly a living dog made out of vegetable matter).  He begins with “Epitomizing the fragrance of grassplots, lawns, and hedgy, thickset places, this behemoth of hounds stands unique in the mysterious lexicon of life.”  Elsewhere he maintains his innocence of fraud by saying “You see: I no fool you.  This place no catchum fake.” 

(In my experience, some clever people conceived in foreign lands or looking still foreign in this one use this ability to believably imitate their stereotypes in order to maintain their privacy and ward off unwelcome demands.)

As the show goes on, there are casualties, mainly from the Medusa’s ability to turn people to stone, but Dr. Lao is almost killed himself.  He survives, though, and just as he came to town by no visible means (not by truck or train), he leaves with his menagerie the same way.

“I am a calm, intelligent girl.” Miss Agnes Birdsong reassures herself.  “I am a calm, intelligent girl, and I have not seen Pan on Main Street.” Circus of Dr. Lao

“When I let go of who I am, I become what I might be.” Lao Tzu

The rest of the book consists of short stories of varying length.  The first, Nigel Kneale’s story The Pond, seems to me to have congealed around a particular idea the way the white of a boiled egg encircles the yolk.  Anything I say about it will probably spoil the ending of this extremely short story, so I will just state that it is of frogs and men.

The Hour of Letdown by E. B. White pits men against an artificial brain.  One that likes to get drunk after a hard job well done.

So far humans aren’t doing very well.  Let’s see how things go with Roald Dahl’s The Wish.  Hmmm.  Imagination 3, human beings 0. 

And “The Summer People”?  Well, I know Shirley Jackson’s work, and her imagination tends to the … let’s just say she’s well known for The Haunting of Hill House, a ghost story.  A couple lucky enough to have a summer home decide to stay there after Labor Day, something they’ve never done before.  Be prepared for unending suspense.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of the next story, is taught in school as one of America’s first, most celebrated authors.  He is probably best known for his book The Scarlet Letter (1850), about fictional events 200 years earlier in Puritan Boston, where an adulteress is forced to wear a red letter “A” on her dress.  This story, Earth’s Holocaust, dates from 1844 and is strongly reminiscent of Jonathan Swift, whose work Hawthorne probably would have read.  Its moral: beware of reforms, because evil will spring forth anew.

Loren Eiseley is an anthropologist, not a writer of fiction, but this story (essay?) was published in 1948 in Harper’s Magazine, when he was head of the Anthropology Department at the University of Pennsylvania.  “Bone hunters,” he writes, “are listeners.  They have to be.”  He hears about Buzby’s Petrified Woman (the story title) while hunting for fossils, and he has to find out if it’s “a bone.”  Because it’s in this collection I would think it’s fantasy.  Because it’s Eiseley I’m inclined to believe it’s a memory.  You judge.

Oliver La Farge is also an anthropologist, but he wrote recognized fiction.  This story, The Resting Place, also became part of his collection A Pause in the Desert (1957) (Oh, I wish they hadn’t misspelled “Chinle”–with an extra “e.”  It’s one of my favorite spots.) So I do understand “the old man’s” obsession with Navajo country.  Its beauty is formidable, its mystery eternal.  This story does not challenge that view.

Threshold is by Henry Kuttner – an author with more pseudonyms than anyone else I know.  His most frequent one was Lewis Padgett, a name he used when he wrote with his wife C. L. Moore, but apparently Kuttner attributed this story to himself.  Kuttner is notable for his correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft, the inventor of the world of Cthulu.  If you have read or read about Lovecraft’s work, you can guess the atmosphere and maybe one of the few characters in this story, which has been described elsewhere as “horror.”  Apparently the husband-and-wife team of Kuttner and Moore did not have two egotists on it, because Kuttner writes here, “egotists cannot live together.”  Beware: this is the second time a devil has appeared in this book.  Third time’s a charm.

In James H. Schmitz’s Greenface a barking dog begins to “churn up the night” as the owner of a fishing camp tries to decide how to deal with a green horror that has driven away his campers–and his girlfriend. 

The Limits of Walter Horton features this quote by author John Seymour Sharnik: “Even if one accepted Horton’s rare talent as the purest sort of inspiration, that didn’t explain what was happening.” 

What if, while you are woolgathering, you are really not all there?  What if part of you is truly in the place and time you are thinking about, and the you in the present has somehow diminished?  Maybe this story, The Man Who Vanished by Robert M. Coates, would be the result.

For me, the stories in this book are uneven in quality and interest, but however you can get it, I absolutely recommend The Circus of Dr. Lao.  If you like Galactic Journey, you’ll like Finney.

[May 02, 1962] A Good Lie (Letter Column #2)

[Our penpal is back, this time with a highly topical story…]

Dear Editor:

How nice that you’ve published my letter, with Barney’s picture!  Geez, I shouldn’t have sent my picture–just wanted you to know which one I was of all the people I’m sure you talked to.  Anyway, I thought of something I didn’t write about in my first letter to you.  (Thanks for sending some back issues of your publication.) I see that you are aware that there is something going on in Indochina that involves the US (March 31, 1961), but now, a year later, yes, it is clear that we as a nation are involved in war, but are just being sort of secretive about it. 

Last summer I participated in my first demonstration.  It was a “lie-in.”

I wouldn’t have gotten involved, but I heard through my boyfriend Leon that it was happening and he invited me.  He has been keeping me up to date on Indochina, and when I can listen to the radio (public radio) I know that he is right.  The US is this year pouring in “advisers” and maybe even regular troops.  The Christian Science Monitor is keeping tabs on what is going on over there, and it isn’t pretty.

So I decided to go demonstrate against sending US troops, with Leon, and we arrived after classes with blankets, his sleeping bag, and warm clothing (even summer nights can be cold here.) There weren’t many of us, and I didn’t know the others, but everybody was friendly.  There was plenty of room on the Administration lawn, even though it is small, for us all to lie down without getting into anyone else’s space.  I was surprised to see that someone had invented a new symbol.  They had painted it on cardboard and it occupied a place on the lawn close to the walkway for passersby, who were vocally invited to join us.


from David McReynolds

It’s an anti-war sign that consists of two semaphore signals, one for “N,” and one for “D,” standing for “Nuclear” and “Disarmament,” with a circle around them.  So “nuclear disarmament” is broadened to all weapons and war.  Funny looking sign, but I think you’ll see more of it.

I think Leon and I shared his sleeping bag, since the only blanket I had wasn’t adequate.  (Of course nothing could happen between us with everybody around us awake for much of the night.  It was too cold, anyway.) In the morning, we were covered with dew.

Thanks for your forum.  Please keep an ear or eye out for this Indochina War stuff.  I’m sure I’m missing something.

Vicki

[The government won’t tell how many troops are in South Vietnam since the Geneva Accords that ended the French-Indochinese War restrict the US to 685 troops.  Estimates have the number at 6000, climbing to 9000 by the end of summer.  We are involved in what the papers describe as a “hot war.” 

This is bigger than Lebanon, could be as big as Korea before it’s over.]

[April 5, 1962] Pen Pals (Letter Column #1)

[The great debate of any magazine (fan or professional) is whether or not to include a letter column.  Obviously, I append reader comments to the article which they reference, but sometimes I get letters of a more general nature.  Since I imagine my readers would like to know their fellow fen, I’m publishing a recently received postcard, this from a charming young lady I met at Condor]

Dear Mr. Marcus:

It was great to see you in San Diego.  The convention was an eye-opener as, to date, I have had little experience with science fiction.  I’m grateful to have the Journey to curate suggested material for me to dive into!

I thought I’d bring you up to date on where I’ve been since the con. I’m mostly stuck here at Stanford, where I’m about to get my BA (in English Literature, class of… ’62?) – if I ever get done with all these papers & exams & work for the soil mechanics & foundation engineering firm I do evenings & weekends.

Of course, to pay the tuition and room & board, I also take in ironing, do tutoring, deliver newspapers, etc., and they helped me get a student loan. It’s been a real eye-opener to go to school here. Now I know what “scholarship” means. At the University of Arizona, from which I transferred last year, I did have some great learning experiences, but nothing as rich as this.

Not that I didn’t have some great experiences at UA, meeting an English Professor who is an avante-garde composer (Barney Childs), and since I worked in the Fine Arts College I went to most concerts & saw the harpsichord played for the first time (double keyboard!) & heard Barney’s music played. (I admit, I have a crush on him — see the enclosed photo.) And then I’ve been to San Francisco & seen jazz trumpeter Miles Davis & a lot of other stuff.


Barney Childs

I’ll be returning, as promised, to Tucson this summer. My mother can’t afford to come to commencement here, so I’ll just be going home as soon as possible, and back to work in the Drama Department shortly after that. I will miss Stanford, but I look forward to seeing folks in Tucson again. I’ve been lucky to transfer to Stanford. Fortunately they have a need-blind policy & helped me get the loan and jobs.

I don’t usually get to San Diego since I have to drive through Bakersfield, by a convoluted path, to your Highway 80 at El Centro — a long trip!  But I might have to make an exception in the event of another great convention.

Best wishes and thanks to you & your family for a lovely column full of good stuff.

Vicki


(my “Activity Ticket” from the University of Arizona in 1960)

[I’d love to hear from the rest of you out in this gloriously modern year of 1962.  Please feel free to send me your letters.  Tell me about the sf you love, the TV you’re watching, your struggles at school or in the workplace.  Your words just might find their way to the Galactic Journey lettercol (especially if your initials are JBK…)]