Sunday, April 21, 2019

More about "There There," by Tommy Orange

In a March post, I cited a passage from the 2018 novel There There, by Tommy Orange.  I wanted to say a bit more about the novel.

The book, Orange's first novel, is a beautiful, rich, grim, deeply moving work of literature.  

(On April 15th, the 2019 Pulitzer Prizes were announced. The fiction award was given to The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Two additional books were listed as finalists; one was There There.)

Orange grew up in Oakland, California. As his biography notes, he is an "enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma." The novel takes place for the most part in Oakland, and its central characters are Native Americans--"Urban Indians," as Orange writes.

One of the (many) facets of the novel  I am drawn to is the following (granted, it is perhaps not the most important aspect of the novel, yet it is, to me, striking and compelling nonetheless):  it is a periodic, particular kind of locution--poetic, repetitive, echo-like.

The prologue to the book, for example, has this epigraph, from Bertolt Brecht:  "In the dark times/Will there also be singing?/Yes, there will also be singing./About the dark times."

Orange writes this, in a chapter about the character Dene Oxendene, who is seated on a train: "Dene only realizes he's been stuck underground between stations for ten minutes after ten minutes of being stuck underground between stations."

From There There's "Interlude," mid-book: "We get used to everything to the point that we even get used to getting used to everything."

From the character Edwin Black:  "The trouble with believing is you have to believe that believing will work, you have to believe in belief."

Of the character Orvil Red Feather, Orange writes: "He doesn't want to know what he knows but he knows."

About the character Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield:  "That's what Opal had been doing. Closing her eyes and ears to the closing of her eyes and ears."

(This past week I was reading the book A Zen Harvest: Japanese Folk Zen Sayings, compiled and translated by Sōiku Shigematsu [North Point Press, 1988].  I came upon the following saying, in the book, which put me in mind of the above phrasings by Orange:  "Given it up, you say?/But what have you given up?/Very well, you've given up/The idea of giving up.")  

There is also, of course (regarding echoes, repetitions), the novel's title itselfThe title (as noted in the book) comes from an often-quoted remark by Gertrude Stein, who spent much of her childhood in Oakland: "There is no there there," Stein said, of Oakland.  Orange writes, of his character Dene Oxendene, that Oxendene  had "looked up the quote in its original context, in [Stein's] Everybody's Autobiography, and found that she was talking about how the place where she'd grown up in Oakland had changed so much, that so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there anymore."   

Dene Oxendene finds broader meaning in Stein's phrase, regarding Native American life, and history. Writes Orange: "The quote is important to Dene. This there there. He hadn't read Gertrude Stein beyond the quote. But for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it's been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there."

Here is the link, on, to Orange's extraordinary novel; in May, the book will be released in paperback.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Copies available

Copies of the Revised Edition of my book about early television are now available at my website.

Please see the information at this link:

Saturday, April 6, 2019

"Radio Collectors of America" conversation, and fifteen-minute television programs

It was a great pleasure being interviewed by Mel Simons, on March 28th (by phone), during the monthly meeting, in Quincy, Mass., of the "Radio Collectors of America," the New England Old-Time Radio and nostalgia group (see prior post).  We spoke about the revised edition of my book.

Mel, the group's Vice President, asked terrific questions.  I also had a brief, but enjoyable, conversation with Bob Forrest, the group's President.  Forrest was a longtime Boston radio personality; he retired from radio several years ago, after having been on the air for more than thirty years at stations WEZE-AM and WROL-AM.

My thanks to the Radio Collectors members, for having me as their guest, and for their hospitality.

One of the subjects I spoke about with Mel, during the interview, was the routine presence, in early television, of fifteen-minute programs (often music-oriented).  The fifteen-minute program was a popular early TV format; singers Roberta Quinlan, Perry Como, Dinah Shore, Jack Leonard, and many others starred in such shows.  In 1951, my mother sang regularly on singer and actor John Conte's twice-weekly fifteen-minute musical program on NBC, Van Camp's Little Show (also known as John Conte's Little Show).  For several months, in 1949, she sang weeknights (with The Alan Logan Trio) on the fifteen-minute DuMont Network program Teen Time Tunes.  In 1954 and 1955, her network career behind her, she had her own weekly fifteen-minute musical show on Boston station WBZ-TV, The Sue Bennett Show.

In the brief question & answer period which followed the interview, Bob Forrest addressed, further, the subject of fifteen-minute programs. While I had emphasized the musical focus of the fifteen-minute shows, Forrest noted, importantly, that early TV's prominent news programs also employed the fifteen-minute format. CBS's nightly newscasts, anchored by Douglas Edwards, were fifteen minutes long--as were NBC's telecasts, with John Cameron Swayze. (The CBS and NBC fifteen-minute newscasts continued, indeed, until the early 1960s.)

In early television,  hosts, guests, and programmers were able to achieve much within the time span of the fifteen-minute telecast. The fifteen-minute shows I have seen--I am again thinking, here, of the musical programs of the time--did not seem hurried (as one might assume, given the short time frame). To the contrary:  the programs I've watched (preserved via kinescope) were relaxed, easygoing.  The stars of the shows, perhaps, sang a handful of songs, introduced a guest performer, or highlighted permanent cast members (such as a vocal group). The shows I've seen had, about them, a sense of fullness.

Attention spans, in our time, have of course become notably diminished.  One wonders if the fifteen-minute format could, as a result, make a return--in both the news and entertainment spheres. Perhaps one of the networks could cordon off thirty minutes--somewhere, for example, in the overnight hours. The half hour, perhaps, could start off with a fifteen-minute news roundup. This could then, say, be followed (considering the late-night time period) by a low-key fifteen minutes of music--perhaps featuring a singer and a small musical ensemble (or even just a singer and a pianist). I would think the brevity of these kinds of programs might, today, be an appealing addition to a network schedule. I'd enjoy seeing attempts made at such programming.