August 2, 2010

Farewell to Kodachrome

Filed under: Guest Comment — Tags: , , , , — Bob Patterson @ 4:03 pm

On the last Saturday in July of 2010, this columnist stumbled on a yard sale in Berkeley CA, that provided a chance to purchase cassette tapes at the incredibly low, low price of a quarter each and since there were a good many tracks from artists who were synonymous with the sixties, we glommed on to almost three dozen. That evening, while listening to the music, we thought of the fact that the last place in the United States that offers development for Kodachrome film will cease that service at the end of this year. That, in turn, prompted this columnist to realize that an old way of looking at the world would soon be shut down. Hmm. We started to wonder if the commencement speaker at our college graduation ceremony had warned us about how grim things were going to be forty-five years later. The class of 1965 had every reason to believe and expect that the era of unlimited growth and prosperity was at hand and that we could record the spectacle on Kodachrome for posterity. With the death of Kodachrome, it seems that people will have to adopt (both literally and figuratively) a new way of seeing the world. In May of 1965, the uber-optimistic commencement speaker sure didn’t lay it on about “no more Vietnams” because it wasn’t until the start of the following month that LBJ decided to send some Marine Divisions there to straighten up the mess.

The British Invasion back then meant Herman’s Hermits, the Dave Clark Five (how many members of that group can you name?), and Petula Clark, and not oily tar balls and dispersants.

The marvel of Kodachrome was that it used dyes and not an emulsion that produced grain which was a primitive chemical based form of pixilation. The difference between Kodachrome and Tri-X was similar to the difference between analogue (no pixels) and digital (grainy) music.

If the commencement speaker had told the class of ’65 that the United States was going to suffer a metaphorical Dien Bien Phu in the next ten years, he would have been laughed off the stage. If he has told this columnist, that within six months he would walk the streets of Casablanca, the young man would (most likely) have said: “Of all the gin joints in all the world . . . .”and had a good laugh.

One member of that particular class had been killed in a car wreck that happened between the end of final exams and the Sunday ceremony. At least one more was killed in Vietnam before the class of 1966 got to hear their commencement speech. Another fellow from the class of 1965 came back from Vietnam, used some of the money he had earned there to buy a high performance Corvette and learned it was more car than he could handle. Over the ensuing years, one recurring though has been to wonder (if time travel were possible) what it would be like to travel back in time to Berlin for the Christmas of 1938 and warn the German’s what lay ahead.

As July of 2010 became August, we read a piece by Ted Rall grumbling about how he is having a difficult time getting editors interested in stories relating to their audiences, just how things are going in Afghanistan. We realized that any time travel trip back to Berlin for the 1938 Christmas season would be an exercise in futility. “I’d sing out danger, I sing out warning . . .” and get the Sounds of Silence.

If you search diligently into the history of television, you will find that in Germany from 1936 to (approximately) 1943, there was a nightly newscast featuring officially state sanctioned information available to the few owners of TV sets in that city. The US has Fox News and they had lies from Wolfschanze.

One of the items we picked up was a copy of a Roy Orbison album titled King of Hearts. If we like Orbison so much how could we have missed a whole album? We wondered what else may have slipped under our cultural radar in the last forty-five years.

In college, we had used a 4X5 Speed Graphic to get photos for the 64 and 65 yearbooks. We had spent some time making extreme enlargements from small (about the size of a 35mm negative) portion of the image on the piece of sheet film (remember the notches code?) and so when we now say that carrying a Nikon Coolpix around in our pocket makes us feel like we have a portable studio with us at all times, we realize it sounds like hyperbole. Obviously the newer bigger more expensive digital Nikons would be commensurately better than the Coolpix, but the basis for this comparison is a very heavy and bulky fifty year old state of the art piece of camera equipment.

Listening to the pure voices of Joan Baez, Mama Cass, and Patsy Cline, counter pointed by the raw raspy sound of Janice Joplin, we got to wondering if the young DJ’s on KALX and KLXU could assert that artists like this Lady Gaga person (to the best of our knowledge, we’ve never heard her sing) has a voice that can deliver a song on key let alone has perfect pitch. Perfect pitch? Isn’t that what a baseball team gets when they deal with only 27 batters from the opposing team?

The famous Philadelphia curmudgeon W. C. Fields has been quoted as saying: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again . . . then quit because there’s no use looking like a damn fool.”

Is that all there is to say after a weekend soaked in musical nostalgia? Oh, no, my faithful readers, let’s break out the travel brochures and apply to the Gonzo Journalism Foundation (AKA my bank account) for a grant to subsidize a summer of 2011 trip to Berlin and let the roster of younger bloggers write about reviving the draft, a possible war with one of Iraq’s neighboring countries, and/or the possible existence of a pesky foreign student loan application from the past.

In May of 1965, all graduating classes were (I assume) promised a big wide wonderful world full of appealing possibilities unlimited opportunities and now forty-five years later, after attending the Academy Awards twice, having a Seven Up in Hemingway’s favorite bar in Paris and a diet Pepsi in Skimpy’s Saloon in Kalgoorlie, having a ride in the Goodyear blimp, chatting with a former co-worker at the Playboy West Coast Mansion (which gives us a chance to slip in a plug for Hugh Hefner’s new work-safe website called “The Smoking Jacket” here), giving my autograph to Paul Newman, asking John Wayne for his, and having Twilight Zone writer George Clayton Johnson ask if he could use a story line I had brought into the conversation, it might seem like there’s nothing left to anticipate but the impeachment proceedings that the Republicans are anxious to initiate in January.

Oh, no, my faithful readers, after a weekend of discovering never-before-heard songs by Patsy Cline, the Mamas and the Papas, and Sonny and Cher, it’s obvious that even though there were no guarantees given to the class of 1965, there might be (just might mind you) be some additional new thrills in this old world left to discover. Thrills? What if there are some unheard Janis Joplin tracks left to find? Are we sure that we have heard every Doors song in existence?

Look out, Isle de Levant, I’m on my way! Well, next summer, if I live that long. Is there any chance of bumping into any fellow members of the class of 1965, in a hostel in Prague, or Munich, or . . . Amsterdam? Most of my classmates went the family and house with a white picket fence route so they should be wealthy and retired now. What’s to stop them from going? Don’t think twice; it’s all right. Retirement’s just another word for nothing left to lose . . . by going on the road just one more time.

[Note from the Marvelous Co-inky-dink Department: at the same time this columnist was buying cassette tapes, Bard Pitt and Angelina Jolie were (according to the Berkeleyside website) also enjoying a relaxing day in Berkeley CA.]

Berlin on Christmas Day of 1938? Graduation Day 1965? January 2011? Janis Joplin summed it all up: “. . . because, as a matter of fact . . . as we learned on the train, ma-a-a-n, tomorrow never happens. It’s all the sa-a-a-me fu-u-u-cking da-a-ay, ma-a-a-an!”

Now the disk jockey will play Roy Orbison’s “Heartbreak Radio,” Sonny and Cher’s “Sing C’est la vie,” and Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome.” We have to go look for a copy of “Europe on $5 a day.” Have a “U. S. out of Vietnam now!” type week.

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