November 17th, 2006

Far From Seven

The sights and sounds of Sesame Street evoke complex feelings in me. I watched it from the show's 1969 debut, more or less, though my earliest memories of it -- and they are early memories -- date from a year or two later. Like my daughter, though, who used to be bored or disturbed by the program, but is presently enjoying today's episode greatly, I found it a lot more interesting once I'd reached school age than I did as a pre-schooler.

In my case, though, that belated interest was also bound up with memories of watching it as a toddler. They were still recycling original segments in the mid-1970s, when my younger sister was in pre-school and watched the program as I had before her, and I often found myself confronted with a specific type of déja-vu in which I would suddenly feel like I'd seen something before, even though I couldn't specifically recall having done so. As I think I've noted here before, I've long been fascinated by the status of early experiences that exist somewhere in the memory but cannot be accessed directly because of the wall that drops at some point in the pre-school years between the first few years of childhood and everything that comes after. Sesame Street had already alerted me to that divide, though I couldn't put it clearly into words, when I was six or seven.

Anyway, one of the perceptions I remember from watching the show in elementary school is that much of the humor on the show which made sense to me then had actually confused or disturbed me as a toddler. I was reminded of this a few minutes ago when, during the Count's portion of today's episode, in which seven was the featured number, I suddenly found myself looking at Julianne Moore and a cardigan-wearing Count against a backdrop of autumn leaves, performing a skit called Far From Seven. Moore was even wearing a close approximation of the purple scarf from Todd Haynes's 2002 tribute to Douglas Sirk's Eisenhower-Era melodramas, Far From Heaven. It was clever to me, but also unsettling.

I stopped what I was doing to pay close attention. At the beginning of the skit, Moore is asking the Count why he seems distracted. He says he's fine, but keeps finding things to count that add up to, you guessed it, seven. Eventually, she asks him whether there's "someone else." The Count looks down and, manifesting an impression of inner turmoil as clearly as a befanged muppet can, confesses that, yes, there is someone else: the number seven. At this point, a blue number seven with eyes, nose, and mouth rises up between the Count and Moore and he directs his attention downward. This is where I thought the skit would end. To my surprise, though, Moore starts to stroke the number seven and confesses that she, too, is in love with it. The skit closes with the the three of them, the Count, the number seven, and Moore, in a happy embrace. I suppose my draw had dropped open, because Skylar looked at me in her penetrating fashion and said, "What, dad? What are you thinking about?"

I replied that the skit we'd just seen made reference to a movie that her mom and I both liked a lot. And that's true, of course. But what I was really thinking or, to be more precise, what I was on the way to thinking as I headed in here to write this entry, is that A) the skit promotes the very sort of free living that right-wing critics of PBS and the "liberal media" point do when they question whether the government should spend tax dollars on biased programming; B) I am absolutely delighted, as an adult who supports both free living and the idea that the government should fund culture that isn't afraid to take a stand, that the skit is doing that; C) it is surprising to me that Sesame Street has gone so far down the path paved by the neo-animation of the past decade in presenting content expressly designed to appeal to adults, with all that this move towards a generational dramatic irony -- hey, I think I just coined a term and the concept to go with it! -- entails; D) I wonder whether this skit falls into the category of the sort that made me uneasy when I was in pre-school; and E) I'm also curious how it registered with my eight-year-old daughter, who is both extremely innocent for her age and knowing beyond her years.

Bad Karma?

All week -- all month, really -- the focus of the sporting world here in the States has been on tomorrow's Ohio State-Michigan football game, in which the top and second-ranked teams in the nation meet to decide which one will play in the BCS national championship game in January. A good deal of human interest coverage has been directed at the Columbus, Ohio rock band The Dead Schembechlers, which dresses like Ohio State's legendary coach Woody Hayes and makes, in naming Hayes's protegé and later Michigan coaching rival, all things Wolverine its nemesis. Well, folks, after taping his television show this morning, the seriously ill Schembechler collapsed at the station and died -- the older Hayes passed away many years ago -- making that band's name a whole lot less ironically witty and no doubt striking fear into the hearts of Buckeye fans everywhere. Tune in tomorrow afternoon to find out what happens. Oh, and the Cal-USC game is on later the same day, if you need a further football fix.

Three To Make Two

Stephen Malkmus is coming to Arizona in January and with Sleater-Kinney and Quasi's Janet Weiss on drums. Considering how sharp the solo acoustic show of his I saw in Portland two months ago was, I'm betting that these concerts will be memorable affairs for Pavement-obsessed people like me.

Here's the dilemma, though. He's playing here in Tucson on the 9th at Plush and then in Tempe at the Marquee on the 10th and in Flagstaff at the Orpheum on the 11th. I'll be at Plush, obviously. I think I'm going to try to see one of those other shows too. Tempe would be easier and I like the Marquee well enough. But I've heard great things about the Orpheum and think it would be a blast to experience actual winter cold.

Plus, I've already seen Malkmus perform in San Francisco, Mountain View and Sacramento with Pavement and in San Francisco, Portland and Tucson as a solo artist. I've seen him more places than anyone else a this point. Adding Flagstaff to the list would make for a point of pride. And driving to Flagstaff and back is no more crazy than driving from Seattle to Portland and back in one night, as I did in September or from Mendocino to the Fillmore and back, as I did in the spring of 2001. Maybe one of you will give me the advice I require to make up my mind.