Monday, June 29, 2009

#7 More Dead Icons--Farrah Fawcett

Though not close to the posthumous status of Michael Jackson, for whom the mourning around the world is approaching insanity, Farrah Fawcett, at the very least, had the most "iconic" HAIRDO of the late 70's and 80's. Almost every co-ed in my classes mimicked it for years, along with every other pre-teen on the planet.

Here is Botticelli's famed version of the "wind-blown" look in "Birth Of Venus," where the elaborate coiffure serves to cover at least one naughty bit. The right hand though, while coyly covering the right breast, deliberately directs the eye to the exposed left one. And notice that the west-wind Zephyrs are blowing the goddess and her elaborate "do" to the shore so that the goddess of Spring will cloak Venus more modestly ... too late. But that's the erotic point, isn't it? Not enough, not quite in time.

Farrah was a sex-goddess too, and her Botticellian poster of more than 30 years ago (you've seen it--it's all over the internet right now) surpassed even Betty Grable as the best-selling pin-up of all time. All the naughty bits are covered ... but not enough, not quite. The pubescent eye is deliberately directed to the very center of the poster where the skin-tight whatever-it-is reveals the right-nipple-outline underneath (Ahh ... the bra-less era.) Same erotic effect as the more demure but more naked Venus above. Accessible only maybe. But in contrast to the goddess's sidelong glance and subdued grin, Farrah looks at us directly with an unashamed toothy smile of unprecedented dimensions--still Ultrabrite wholesome but with the randy undercurrents.

In the very early 70's when I first noticed her in those toothpaste commercials, I remember pointing out to my sons that this "unknown" was destined to become a star. Later, sure enough, my sons would never miss an episode of her "Charlie's Angels" heyday. (Okay, me neither.) She had made it as a genuine "sex-symbol"--to use the term in the old-fashioned Marilyn Monroe sort of way. Unlike Marilyn though, she didn't progress much beyond that, and her later years were much of a muddle. But by all accounts she was a sweet and caring person, and remained lovable and semi-"famous" to the end. Her rare cancer was of continued media concern for the last two years. But still beautiful and slowly dead at a youthful 62? ... a cosmic injustice.

She lives up to the "icon" epithet in an ironic way ... literally. Her IMAGE has become more famous than she has. That pin-up poster IS somehow transcendent. Almost sacred, in an Eastern Orthodox kind of way. I don't think Ms. Fawcett would be ashamed to achieve that little bit of immortality.

Friday, June 26, 2009

#6 Dead "Icons"--Michael Jackson et alia

Three in a week! Two on the same day! One of them, Michael Jackson, even had an impact on Wimbledon Tennis, a subject that this blog can't seem to shake. Yes, the London press had as much about the Jacko as Brit tennis-star Andy Murray. Serena Williams considered herself a personal friend of the "King of Pop," and his subjects filled the stands at Wimbledon, reflecting all of the royalty-obsessed United "King"-dom, where he was within days of opening in 50 different venues for his huge fan-base. Bigger there, than here.

Already the media have hauled out the tired and flatulent epithet, ICON, to characterize not only MJ, but the other two celebrity casualties of the week: Farrah Fawcett (the name itself is outre'), and even the poor, overshadowed Ed McMahon, whose posthumous fame was cut short in a matter of days. The term is grossly overused, and while its Greek root, eikon, simply meant "image" or "representation" (strictly so for our computer screens), the borrowing has lost in general usage the connotation of "sacred" or "sanctified"--an object worthy of adoration and even worship (strictly so in the Eastern Orthodox church). Too often today its just a tongue-tied and lazy-hip way of saying, "Gosh, he was the greatest."

Peeve over ... I DO believe the guy deserves the "pop-icon" epithet more than anybody ever has lately, notwithstanding--nay, even because of--his wayward last years and early death. A flawed hero, after all, inspires the most fervent kind of worship. Take Elvis or ... Jesus. In his day, and even after, MJ certainly enjoyed that kind of wild adoration. He deserved it, and Gosh, the "Thriller" album and videos were the greatest, and haven't lost their luster even today. It was for me the best executed combination of the pop-rock idioms of music/dance/visuals and so on, up to that time. Man-on-the-street test of iconic status: "Who was the greatest figure on the pop-music scene of the 80s and 90s?" Would the response, "Michael Jackson" get less than 99% even before his death? Not.

But his time (sangfroid alert) ran out, long before he did. Not to rehash the troubled last years--despite his highly touted comeback-attempt-to-come in England, he really had way too much unseemly "baggage" to carry with him. Perhaps, like Elvis did, it was best to "leave the building." Still ... it's very, very sad.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

#5 Summer Solstice 2009 (and Tennis Update)

Bad News! Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from Wimbledon. After all too much hype right here on these pages about a Nadal-Federer rematch, and the latter going for the all time number of Grand Slam victories. He'll no doubt make it now, if he can hold up under the "pressure" of NOT having to face Nadal, if you know what I mean. But say, a rematch between Roger and Robin the Scary Swede wouldn't be half-bad.

Meanwhile, here's a shot of Stonehenge, in celebration of the Summer Solstice tomorrow. It's less than an hour west of Wimbledon on the Salisbury Plain. You are looking at it from the perspective of adult eye-level with the hills in the background horizon, whose line is exactly even with the top plane of the "Heel Stone" in the middle of the photo. Notice that the sun has risen on this morning exactly over and in the middle of the Heel Stone, aligned with the summer sun outside the circle of triliths. It's June 21rst, and so the sun has risen thus every Summer Solstice for almost 5000 years. Such was the precision of these ancient astronomer-architects, who would then party down for the remainder of the longest day of the year.

Ever since, "midsummer" festivals have always been big in England, no matter the cultural or religious orientation of the peoples settled there, even unto the neo-pagans who will have special permission to celebrate at Stonehenge tomorrow. When I visited (twice) right around this time of year in the early-seventies, you could actually climb on the old rocks and give them a votive hug-and-a-kiss or a friendly kick or two. No longer. Now the monument must be viewed from a perimeter fence about 50 feet outside, I understand. Pity.

But tomorrow is also Father's Day. For a present I guess I'll wish for a miniature Stonehenge like the one the rock-band got stuck with in "This Is Spinal Tap."

Friday, June 19, 2009

#4 More Tennis Footnotes

Sorry ... just a couple more:
  • The most attractive (but unproven) etymology for "love" as a substitute for zero/naught/nothing is that on the score-board the oblong zero-symbol would resemble an egg, and of course we use Eng. slang "goose-egg" to represent just that idea. "Egg" in French is oef, or "the egg" syntactically, le oef, and with ellision l'oef--hence misconstrued/folk-etymologized as "love" in English. Problem is ... at Roland Garros you'll hear "quinze-ZERO," "trente-ZERO," etc. because the inventors of the sport of (Old Fr.) "Tenez" don't use "love," ironically. (Wouldn't "quinze-AMOUR" be just precious?) It's entirely English usage. My answer (because I haven't seen it anywhere else) is that tennis probably wasn't invented at the Parisian "court" until after the 1066 Norman (French) invasion of England (and even if it were before, the half-barbarian, recently-converted "Northmen" wouldn't have been invited to play anyway). However, once it too crossed the Channel, the game would have been adopted by the English nobility, but who stubbornly spoke Norman French well into Chaucer's time. You get the picture. The "courtly" l'oef, as a little spoof on "zero" the goose-egg, originated in England among the French-speaking aristocracy, but was "anglicized" to love as finally all classes of English society began to speak exclusively English.
  • To muddle about further in tennis terminology, here's a little "real" life event. What is "real" tennis? My students and I got the answer while on one of my overseas courses. That particular day included a touristy stop at Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII's favorite, and famous for, among other things like the World's Oldest Grapevine, that king's indoor tennis court--one of the first. I asked the uniformed attendant what kind of tennis was played there, pausing before getting more specific about nets (or not), racquets yet (or still by "palme"), etc. But he quickly answered with what he presumed would explain it all: "It was real tennis." Nice conversation-stopper, I thought. He could now get along on his rounds. Only later did I discover that he was speaking the anglicized version of Fr. re'all or "royal" tennis--attesting again to ancient roots across the channel. Hahaha on me. It's called Court Tennis in this country, where there are 4 or5 courts scattered about on the model of Henry's. (One of which is in Aiken SC, coincidentally, which my lawyer-son has actually played on.) I won't go into it, but the rules vary from modern tennis, considering you have to take into account balls bouncing off walls and turrets and what not. But that's real tennis for you.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

#3 Tennis Footnotes

Some addenda to last post:
  • Tune in to the Roger and Raffa show at Wimbledon also by all means because they are so much FUN to watch ... Federer especially, who plays the prettiest game since Ken Rosewall (who got upset for the championship at Wimbledon by a young slash-and-burn upstart named Jimmy Connors in one of the first I saw televised). Roger fairly wafts across the court--fuzz up your eyes a little bit, and you can't see his feet when he's in motion. I'd swear that the very first time I saw a sweat-spot on the back of his shirt was against Nadal last year. Of course the latter has his own visual appeal as well ... very different and much like Connors of old Not only is he a cutie-pie (facial close-ups of Roger don't flatter), but he is the sweating, digging, swirling, raging beast of a player every moment of the match. On the other hand, Roger makes it look so easy, especially in past years, that it can get a little boring. Nadal will keep him literally on his toes, I hope.
  • I'll have to confess that my competitive tennis will be mostly confined to the vicarious from now on. Except perhaps pitty-pat with the grandkids. A contorted, out-of-shape first-serve seems to have done me in while playing in a Tennis-League (.com, if your interested) match a couple of years ago. And maybe condemned me to a bit of chronic neck-and-back neuritis/neuralgia for the foreseeable future. Pity, please.
  • But playing or watching, Tennis is such gentleman-and-lady sport! (The gender draws are still referred to in that way, though I notice they no longer post "Mr." and "Miss" next to their names. I think "Ms." threw them off their game.) No real physical contact, and the harshest (official) words spoken are "Fault" and "Quiet, please." You've got "love" and "service," "deuce" and "advantage," "set" and "match"--very pleasant and quaint. And when you win a point, you score not one, but FIFTEEN. Ah, those romantic Frenchmen, who invented the game, after all, way back in the Age of Chivalry. The "Faux!" and "Silence, s'il vous plait" that you heard at Roland Garros are thus quite ancient, though the stadium itself is named (more chivalry and romance) after a fallen WWI fighter pilot, not a tennis "ace."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

#2 French Open Tennis

Before this news gets very old, Roger Federer has proved himself to be the greatest tennis player of all time ... almost. In winning the French Open a couple of weeks ago, he passed a major milestone: he won the French Open. Rafael Nadal had denied Roger this, the only Grand Slam event he hadn't won, in the last four finals. Now the Majorcan Madman wasn't there, having been knocked out in the quarter-finals (!) by the truly-crazed Swede, Robin Soderling. A great match, and it looked like he might restore the Viking dynasty of old: Borg (in-the-stands), Edburg, Willander, etc., especially after he took apart his next opponent in the semis. But, no. Straight sets for the Roger of old.

The French made Federer a "career" Grand Slammer, in the company of only five others (incl. Laver and Agassi) who have won Wimbledon, U.S and Austalian Open too. And he's won those and others a bunch of times already, accounting for his record five years at #1 in the world. He's tied now with Pete Sampras for MOST Slams at 14. If he wins at Wimbledon next week or the U.S Open (defending champion) later in the summer--one of which, I have no doubt--he will have won the most of all time. I'm hoping for a re-match with Nadal at the All England Croquet and Racquet Club--Fededer's hard-fought 5-set defeat last year was one of the greatest matches I have ever seen. (see DM #22 from last year)

So ... fair warning ... tune in if you can to "Wim-blee-dawn"-- as the wonderful Bjorn Borg always pronounced it.