Posts Tagged ‘bad day at black rock’

INFINITY AND THE NOTES WITHIN THE NOTES (Black Rock, 1997)

November 3, 2008

Four hippies are traveling east out of Grass Valley, CA in a beaten ‘89 Ford Taurus station wagon, brownish yellow as sun-beaten adobe and trimmed with a personalized California license plate that reads “EIEIOM.” Like a perpetual motion machine powered by cough syrup, the Taurus chugs up and over the Donner Summit, gathers downhill momentum and coasts across a state line that gradually smears into the funky, gaudy Babylon of Reno. After exiting the interstate at Fernley, the Ford heads north on a ghostly two lane highway snaking towards a dry lake bed some ninety miles up the road, burning the proverbial midnight oil in a grimy crankcase.

With an eggshell of a summer moon as their beacon and a hissy, unbiased cassette tape of Schoenberg compositions as their soundtrack on a factory stereo with no noise reduction, this ragtag new age entourage journeys past the ramshackle shanties that serve as suburbs of the nearby Indian Reservations. It is a menagerie of adobe shacks, satellite dishes aimed at the heavens, rusted Chevy Vegas and sandblasted pickup trucks with weathered bumper stickers that read “SURE YOU CAN TRUST THE GOVERNMENT JUST ASK AN INDIAN,” and sundry forsaken hardware (washing machines, refrigerators, teevee sets) whose sole practical application is that of lawn sculptures. This scene is supplemented by a lunar-lit landscape of buttes, mesas, the placid veneer of Pyramid Lake, and lava rock that had been spit up 150 million years ago out of the parched and ancient Lake Lahontan. As it climbs into the thin air of the high desert, the dingy Ford is conspicuous as the only object in one hundred square miles to exhibit any motion, a reality punctuated by its dull, low octane ping.

To these travelers, this pinging was another intermittent, syncopated rhythmic element that accompanied the cassette tape of Schoenberg.

Among the four hippies is Danny Jo, a blind visionary riding shotgun and meta-grokking to the sounds of Schoenberg, as his exceptional sense of hearing was piqued by the minor detonations inside the combustion chambers of the engine. (The sound of vehicles in motion always spoke to him, as did twelve tone compositions by German cars with umlauted names.)

Schoenberg used every note in the Western scale – all twelve tones (the black keys and the white keys) that was his modus operandi and his signature as a composer. His critics considered this technique busy and gratuitous. To the blind hippie, however, these compositions were not busy enough (!) and when the low octane pinging subsided, to compensate the blind hippie would begin riffing on the notes within the notes.

The notes within the notes. It is interesting how the mind travels. The notes within the notes reminded Danny Jo of the Ancient Greeks and their conundrum about infinity – and the infinities within the infinity. Between 0 and 1 were an infinite amount of fractions (1/2, 1/10, 1/100, 1/100,000,000, ad infinitum).

The higher the denominator, the lower the value. The higher the denominator, the closer you are to zero. But you can never get to zero. That’s the paradox of Infinity.

The knowledge warms him with glee. He begins to meditate with “In-fin-uhh-tee” as his mantra.

As the Taurus passes by the shells and hulls that dot the Reservation town of Little Nixon, the blind clairvoyant’s meditation is interrupted by a flaming telepathy, as Danny Jo begins to involuntarily decode spiritual overtones of massacred Injuns. Furthermore, he is enveloped by sound patterns of what he considered an extraterrestrial presence. He feels both death and… the presence of spaceships in the desert.

Despite the exotic and transcendental nature of these telepathic interruptions, the blind man considers both signals not only superfluous to his purposes but even ultimately distracting to his mission, and he begins to filter out these pulsations by dialing in the sound of a freight train as it chugga-chugga’d down some lonesome railroad tracks. And from listening to a videotape of Bad Day at Black Rock, that old Spencer Tracy flick, he knew that Gerlach was nothing more than the intersection of railroad tracks, the highway, a gypsum mine and a prehistoric lake bed. This must be the source of the sound of the train.

A train is the perfect construct to drown out the other psychic noise. The blind hippie remembers to back when times were bad, when he lived near the railroad tracks in Olathe, Kansas before he had found himself a good woman with a gold station wagon, and how he had to create a way to tune out the extraneous din that clouded his head and his being. Once, in the midst of a particularly vicious and dark argument with his woman, he had heard a railroad engine off in the distance. As it moved closer, the freight train began to drown all of the infernal hollerin’. And when both the train and the domestic situation had passed, the blind hippie unchained his relationship with that harridan shrew – not unlike a boxcar at the station – and moved out west to find him a peaceful woman with good karma. So from that day forward, in order to create a device that would reject the negative vibrations and that would streamline the metaphysical signal-to-noise ratio to an acceptable level, he had fabricated a sort of post hypnotic suggestion for himself in the guise of an oncoming train steaming its way down the tracks, whose sound suggested to the blind hippie that good tidings were coming. His heart was filled with glee. An oncoming train. A Juggernaut of Positive Vibrations. And by extrapolation, A Glorious Portent for the Millennium.

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INFINITY OVER ZERO by Cole Coonce, PART THREE: PUSHING THE ENVELOPE

November 2, 2008

PART THREE: PUSHING THE ENVELOPE

Pick Your Part

Pick Your Part

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1997)

November 2, 2008

On the eve of the press conferences in Reno heralding the Mach 1 attempts, I arrive at the Reno Airport after spending the flight engaging in heavy and heated discourse with a geeky film buff about the aforementioned Spencer Tracy movie. I am heavily mythologizing not only the flick, but the actual location of Black Rock itself. He’s not buying it.

“Yeah,” I said with authority, “there is a coffee shop called ‘Bruno’s’ that is right across the street from the train station used in Bad Day at Black Rock. It has to be the same diner coffee shop where Spencer Tracy – with his only good arm – karate chopped Ernest Borgnine in the throat.”

“Well that can’t be,” the geek in the seat next to me sniffs, as he ramps his bifocals up the bridge of his nose. “I have the laserdisc in my library and on one of the Second Audio Programs the director, John Sturges, explains at length how they used these abandoned railroad tracks they found in Bishop, California for the train scenes. That fictitious coffee shop was actually a set on a back lot in Burbank.”

“I’m telling you they shot this film in Gerlach, Nevada. I’ve been there AND I’ve seen the movie. Spencer Tracy gets off the friggin’ train in Gerlach.”

“That sir is empirically impossible,” the geek bleats. “The production never set foot in Nevada. Rent the laserdisc.”

“Laserdiscs are Satanic.”

When the plane lands, en route to scoring a rent-a-car I go to the Information Booth in hopes of procuring a map of the Gerlach area – I’ve been there before, but this is the kind of terrain where you just don’t want to get lost. There is a kindly, slightly senilitic Chamber of Commerce croater behind the counter who asks me where I am headed. I tell him, “Black Rock,” so he says, “Lovelock, it’s right here, ” and he points to the town of Lovelock on the map.

“No,” I say, “ummm, Black Rock, out by Gerlach.”

“Ohhh; Tomahawk, it’s right here, just take I-80 east past…”

“No, no, no,” I interrupt and point to my destination on his map, crinkling it a little bit. “Black Rock, out by Gerlach.”

“O-h-h-h, Black Rock. That’s easy: Just take I-80 east to Fernley and take 447 north to Gerlach. It’ll take you right to the station where Spencer Tracy got off the train.”

“Actually,” I pipe up, “that movie was shot in Bishop, California and on a back lot in Burbank.”
“You have a nice drive, sir.”