Friday, September 25, 2009

Lonely Are the Brave

This image is a still-frame from Lonely Are the Brave, a 1962 film starring Kirk Douglas, which was filmed in and around Albuquerque and the Sandia Mountains. (It's set in "Duke City, New Mexico," which of course is a thinly veiled reference to Albuquerque [a/k/a "the Duke City"], and is based on Edward Abbey's novel Brave Cowboy.) The film recently came out on DVD for the first time in the U.S., and of course I had to buy it. Douglas plays Jack Burns, one of the last of a dying breed of loner cowboys, someone who carries no ID, rides his horse cross-country to get from place to place, and has little regard for civil authority. Burns, after visiting with his good friend's wife (played by Gena Rowlands -- see photo), for whom he harbors a mutually felt, but unrealized romantic love, gets himself arrested (following a disturbing, unprovoked fight with a vicious one-armed man in a nearby cantina) so that he can visit with his friend in the county jail, hoping to convince him to escape. The friend has been sentenced to two years in the state pen for assisting and concealing illegal immigrants (whom the script unabashedly refers to as "wetbacks" -- the mere idea of anyone's serving that kind of time for such a mundane offense seems laughable these days); however, the friend, not wishing to jeopardize his freedom (and his family's financial situation) further, refuses to break out with Burns, leaving the latter to flee by himself. The rest of the movie concerns itself with Burns's efforts to escape up and over the Sandia Mountains and down into Mexico. (The geography is a little out of whack, since hiking up and over the Sandias from Albuquerque takes one east, not south -- not to mention the fact that a couple hundred miles of increasingly hot desert would still separate him from Mexico -- but, hey, it's Hollywood.)

Walter Matthau, playing the local sheriff, organizes a pursuit but seems privately to hope Burns escapes. Burns, refusing to abandon his horse as he scrambles up steep, rocky terrain, barely makes it to the rim of the Sandias and into the forest on the other side, receiving a bullet wound to the lower leg in the process. However, the movie ends abruptly and inconclusively when Carroll O'Connor (who later would become famous in his role as Archie Bunker in the 70s sitcom All In the Family), hauling a truckload of toilets to Duke City, hits Burns and his skittish horse as they attempt to cross Route 66. The horse is euthanized and Burns is hauled off to hospital; we don't know whether he survives or dies, but it doesn't seem to matter either way, inasmuch as his way of life dies symbolically with the horse.

The movie was shot in black and white, but the cinematography, with its clarity and wide variety of tones, is outstanding in any case. The camera work in the Sandias is generally limited to (a) the lower part of the mountain in the Juan Tabo Canyon area, and (b) the upper part of the mountain near Sandia Crest (and the upper terminus of the La Luz [i.e., Crest Spur] Trail);
however, the editing creates the effect that the mountain is alternately taller, and shorter, than it really is, which seems a little disorienting for someone who's familiar with the topography. It's fascinating to see what those areas looked like in 1962, when I was two or three years old. I do know that the crew constructed a trail for some of the lower-elevation shots, which is now known as the "Movie Trail" and has been extended up to a rock formation known as the "Prow," although that whole area is closed for much of the year, ostensibly to benefit nesting raptors.

Lonely Are the Brave was perhaps Kirk Douglas's favorite of the films he made, and I have to say that I like it a lot, too, if for slightly different reasons.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Albuquerque Youth Symphony Concert

The 2009-2010 Albuquerque Youth Symphony had its first concert on Sunday, September 20, in Popejoy Hall at the University of New Mexico. The kids played a very difficult program, which included The Sorcerer's Apprentice by Dukas, the Overture to Romeo and Juliet by Tchaikovsky, the world premiere of an orchestral arrangement of Kokopelli: His Flutesong by Michael Mauldin, and Aria in Classic Style by Grandjany. (The latter piece, a harp concerto, featured Bethany Roper, a member of our ward and Kiley's friend, as soloist.) I thought everything sounded great, although the reduced-in-size-but-still-loud orchestra backing Bethany in her concerto tended to drown her harp out a little. (A little amplification might have been in order, anathema though that concept may be to purists.) The photos above show (a) the entire group on stage, (b) Kiley with Bethany in the lobby following the concert, (c) Dorine, and (d) Kiley.

Kiley is in the last stages of selecting a new cello. It's essentially come down to either a Gaetano Colas or a Gunter Von Aue, although I think Kiley will settle on the Colas in the end. (The Von Aue is about 2/3 the price of the Colas -- and, in Kiley's words, it has "an amazing C string," which has kept it in the running -- but, within a certain limitation, price is not our overriding concern.) We've found, surprisingly and dismayingly for me, that the bow plays almost as big a role in the sound a stringed instrument makes as the instrument itself, so we may be upgrading there as well. We'll see.

[Update, October 12: Kiley eventually settled on a Jay Haide cello, which was more expensive than either the Colas or the Von Aue, but still in our price range. Kiley hadn't cared for the sound of the first couple of Haides that she tried out, but Robertson & Sons had two others when we went back down, both of which sounded much better to Kiley's ear. One, however, sounded more balanced in timbre and volume across all the strings, plus it seemed to suit Kiley's playing technique slightly better, so that's the one we bought. After Kiley took it to her first AYS rehearsal, I, perhaps feeling a little "proud" of the fact that we'd gotten her a better instrument, asked her if she'd received any comments from other kids in the orchestra. Instructively, her stand-mate (who, while not quite as accomplished musically as Kiley, obviously comes from a more-moneyed family) said that her 3/4 cello -- i.e., the cello she'd played as a young girl -- had been a Haide. Needless to say, that was a little deflating, but that's what I get for being smug; we simply don't swim in the same ocean as most AYS families.]

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tim Pierce, Guitarist Extraordinaire

I only recently became aware of the fact that Tim Pierce, a guitar player who grew up in Albuquerque and later played in Rick Springfield's band back in the 1980s, is still playing out in California and, in fact, is considered a studio legend. Pierce played lead guitar in Traveller, Albuquerque's finest bar band in the mid-to-late 1970s, which played at a lot of our church dances when I was in high school. (Even now, one of my favorite musical memories is Traveller playing Fleetwood Mac's "Tell Me All the Things You Do"; I remember approaching Pierce when he was on stage one time to ask which Mac album -- Kiln House, it turned out -- that song was from.) It really surprises me to know now that he and I are the same age, which means he must only have been 15 or 16 when he started playing with Traveller -- and he was good then. There are various videos on Youtube that show him playing guitar, either on stage or in his home studio (which, in the digital age, is where he does almost all of his session work). He isn't a master technician on the order of a John McLaughlin or an Eric Johnson, but his playing oozes a certain natural melodic genius; it's easy to see why he's known for being able to add the perfect guitar part to round out any tune.

[Update 9/18/09: I bought Pierce's 1994 solo album Guitarland on iTunes and now have it on my iPod. It's pretty amazing music -- understated in the main, flashy in places, and extremely tasteful throughout.]

[Update 2/13/10: I found this video on YouTube, which shows Pierce not only recording a few lead guitar parts but also talking about his career in music. It's very informative (note that he talks about liking Mutemath and Muse) -- and I guess he actually is a year older than I am, if he was twelve in 1970.]

Year-End at Work

Well, Fiscal Year 2009 is almost over at Sandia National Laboratories, and none too soon! I still have to wait until Monday to see what happens this week with the costs vs. recoveries on the "maintenance of capability" holding project that I now administer. I'm hoping to come in slightly over-recovered, so that I don't have to do much to "zero" the project out, but as my supervisor, John Brewer, says, it's like unwrapping a Christmas present and not having any idea what's inside. (Depending on which costs hit this week and who's gone on vacation, I could be $300K under-recovered, $300K over-recovered, or anywhere in between!)

I do look forward to the fall. Autumn has always been my favorite time of year -- spring without the allergies! -- and I look forward to having my "off" Fridays all to myself. (A couple of hikes and a trip to Vegas would be nice.) Dorine and I will have two new grandsons here in six weeks or so, as Heidi and Devery are both about to "undergo fission." We will have made what are, for us, significant purchases: (1) a 2001 Honda Accord, which our son-in-law Chris got for us at auction in July; (2) a new cello for Kiley (an investment that we hope will pay off in the form of a college music scholarship); and (3) passage on a Caribbean cruise in January to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

I'm teaching Sunday School at church, and I've been assigned to be a veil coordinator at the temple on the "odd" weeks. (I'm already almost half-way through my two-year temple calling, although I often wish I hadn't said I'd work every week!) After Darren got home, I arranged for him, Jordan Roper, and Steven Brewer to do some "initiatory" at the temple in Spanish; I don't know how they liked it, but I enjoyed it very much -- I felt like it was the fruition of all the effort I've made to learn the ordinances in Spanish.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Dark Side

Sometimes I can't help having very dark thoughts. I often wonder if I wasn't supposed to have died young (perhaps at my own hand), which in turn would suggest that I've been living on borrowed time for the last 30+ years. When I consider how messed-up I was in some ways as a young man -- lacking confidence or ambition -- it seems almost miraculous that I've achieved any kind of stability as an adult, in either career or marriage. Almost all of the people I knew as a teenager who had similar experiences to mine, growing up Mormon in Albuquerque, didn't stay active in the church, and, truth be told, I would have gone inactive years ago if I hadn't married Dorine. (Even now, due to my early experiences in the church, I feel incapable of achieving anything more than the Terrestrial Kingdom, regardless of my efforts or contributions. So what, really, is the point?) And if I were to choose, from scratch, a church to attend based solely on the people in it and their attitudes toward their fellow men, it's safe to say the LDS Church is possibly the last one I'd consider.

I've been pondering the idea of going to the gym and running on the treadmill to maintain some level of cardiac fitness; it's occurred to me to question just what I have to live, and stay healthy, for. In any case, I sense that my sleep disorder will cause me to die relatively young, probably due to the sort of heart issues that naturally arise from chronic insomnia. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to die while Darren was on his mission, and I think I owe it to my kids to stay alive at least long enough for all of them to find spouses and have means to live on their own. (I can remember thinking how devastating it would be for either of my parents to pass on before I had a wife and kids to live for.) I do love my wife, although I tend to wonder whether she might be happier with my life insurance proceeds and the chance to have a different kind of life. I don't even ponder the idea of retirement, simply because I don't think I'll make it that far.

So what would make life more worth living? It almost seems pointless to speculate, but.... More hiking. More camping. More physical love. More opportunities to go out of town on weekends (as so many other members of our ward do, regularly) and skip the unpleasantness of Sunday church meetings. It really wouldn't take much, but it appears happiness will always be a luxury that I can't afford.