Posts Tagged ‘Spencer Tracy’


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.



November 2, 2008


Pick Your Part

Pick Your Part


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.”


November 2, 2008

“Colours, sounds, temperatures, pressures, spaces, times, and so forth, are connected with one another in manifold ways; and with them are associated dispositions of mind, feelings, and volitions.” – Ernst Mach, THE ANALYSIS OF SENSATIONS (1886)

As night enters its own rapid eye movement, Danny Jo lay back at the Fly Ranch and closes his eyes. Why a blind man closes his eyes to sleep is a mystery, but he does. And he gets lost in thought…

Due to his preternatural and extraordinary sensory awareness, Danny Jo the Blind Hippie now serves as an auxiliary participant in the quest for breaking the sound barrier in an automobile. Danny Jo volunteered his services to the SSC team as a sort of data analyst for the Mach 1 Land Speed Record attempts at Black Rock. His mission as he saw it would be to provide analysis to complement other data gathering designed to prove the existence of a true, physical barrier – an invisible, longitudinal wall created by the energy generated by any entity attempting to travel faster than thunder.

Danny Jo would be working without any of the modern accoutrements desired by contemporary systems analysts. His method of telemetry is completely primeval and organic… For the sensors used are his fingers, toes and bottom. He receives the sound waves generated by a jet-driven motorcar as it reaches speeds of almost 800 mph, analyzes the shape of the waveform and its pitch as it enters and massages the nerve endings in his body and then plots the reaction of the wave’s characteristics as it attempted to punch through this much hypothesized invisible brick wall.

He is a human punch card.

This sound barrier has never been penetrated by a motorcar and the blind hippie is well aware of the significance of his assignment. The slightest miscalculation on any of the data recorders and the results could prove fatal to the driver… As the stars shift and the earth continues its rotation, Danny Jo contemplates the ramifications of dealing with a concealed phenomenon and its ability to capsize any vehicle loaded with the chutzpah to penetrate its hidden threshold… He reasons that his offer to monitor data was accepted because it takes a blind man to see and hear both into and beyond the invisible…

As his earth momma woman sleeps beside him, the blind hippie continues to meditate in the black. He remembers a free verse poem he had composed and began to recite it to himself, sotto voce. “Sound occurs within spaces. Like natives, vibrations interact in a circle.” He repeats it to himself, this mantra interrupted only by the infrequent doppler of a military plane or satellite – it sounds like a detuned pedal steel guitar slithering out of a trucker’s jukebox in Reno – and the accompanying ultraviolet tones emanating from the blinking lights. He also hears a train, just like the Spencer Tracy movie. These sensations make the blind hippie smile…

The blind hippie tunes out the psychic waves that beep and click from the satellites like Morse Code from the dead; waveforms Teutonic in origin are what he needs to focus on; he is here to witness and interpret a high white noise generated by a space age, supersonic motorcar; any signal that was not of a technological nature is to be rejected…

But on a metaphysical level, he knows he is to do more than encode and decode raw data. Although not in the job description, part of the gig is to diagnose and analyze the distant echo of the white sound most men never hear. To monitor such phenomena, a detector must be as sensitive as possible. The trade off, unfortunately, is that a detector that sensitive is also subjected to noise, in this instance being the poltergeists of genocide as well as an extraterrestrial force that seems to congregate at sites where spy planes and black projects frolic and dogfight in maneuvers above the desert lake beds; indeed, there are still shell casings as well as undetonated carpet bombs on the desert floor, more flotsam and jetsam from war games and simulated battles dating back to WW II.

(The dormant ammunition gives off its own weird and twisted energy, more information that crept into the mind of the hippie mystic…)

He attempts to summon the sound of an oncoming train, but his efforts are continually hampered by the strength of the signals from the Pauite Injun’ burial grounds. The sounds of the locomotive are drowned out. The blind hippie relaxes, slips into a trance, and communes with the soul of ol’ Chief Winnemucca himself, a Pauite Tribal Leader summoned to the Father Land over 100 years ago.

And so the supernatural powwow begins. The Chief says that back in the day he was enthralled and fascinated by the technology of the white man – weapons that made a great noise like thunder and lightning, houses that moved, big houses that go on a mighty ocean and travel faster than any horse. In those days, he considered the white man his brother.

The Injun’ speaks to Danny Jo of the beginning and how there were four children of the Good Father in the Spirit Land: A white brother and sister and a red brother and sister. Their bickering was divided upon color lines and the Good Father segregated the siblings along those lines. The great paleface emigration of manifest destiny was seen by Captain Truckee née Chief Winnemucca as an opportunity to heal the wounds… to reunite the red man with his white brothers and sisters, an opportunity which had turned to shit and utter dysfunctionality when two wily sons of jackals/fur traders kidnapped two young Pauite squaws and hid their nubile quarry in a trap door – technology that was beyond the kin and comprehension of the redskins.

(What is a door to an Indian?)

Before the squaw’s abduction, the Pauites were on copacetic and neighborly terms with the paleface emigrants and squatters. But the Injun’s demanded justice in the form of the sons of jackals’ blood, which led to the merciless bloodshed in the shadows of the mountains to the East, the Great War of 1860. Kit Carson, enjoined by the Forked Tongue Power Structure to whoop up on some redskin ass, led the attacks. The fallout from those battles was self-evident to anybody en route to Gerlach. And suffice it to say, ol’ Captain Truckee was not quite enamored with the new technology of his white brothers and sisters after the smoke had cleared off of Pyramid Lake…

As the Chief finishes this tale, the telepathic tête-à-tête is interrupted by another spirit, not unlike a lurker in a chat room. The blind hippie tunes into these new vibrations and deduces that its origins were much further away, hundreds of miles east on I-80; indeed, the source was as far away as the abandoned air strips at Wendover, Utah or perhaps its adjunct, the Salt Flats of Bonneville where a few moons back Land Speed warriors plied their trade with jet-engined automobiles until the potash mining had finally fucked up the Salt’s water table so badly that high speed record attempts were fruitless. Captain Truckee reckoned that the voice was that of a white brother, although not one of the white brothers whom had plundered the mesa.

The signal is weak at first, but when he rolls his eyes, they act as a rotary dial on a ham radio or the swiveling of a pair of rabbit ears and the reception improves; still, the transmission has to penetrate entire mountain ranges – Cortez, Sulphur Spring, Shoshone, etc. The blind hippie admires the channelers’ tenacity and likens the signal itself to those seemingly massless subatomic particles that could penetrate and pass through the earth, a handful of which were captured in a detector in Japan.

Once dialed in, the voice from beyond the mountains tells of his experiences with a great noise like thunder and lightning and houses that moved; indeed, the voice from beyond the mountain range actually used the thunder and lightning itself to move the house, a notion that Winnemucca found amusing as he was fascinated by the white brother’s technology but wondered at what point does this technology become a coyote with two heads? The blind hippie deciphers what the voice from beyond the mountain was actually referring to, an automobile powered by jet engines on the Salt Flats of Utah. Exactly, said the voice from beyond the mountains. Oh yes, I have seen those from the Spirit Land, says Captain Truckee.

Did you not use the weapons of thunder and lightning to further the expansion of the white nation? Not exactly, the voice from beyond the mountains answers. We borrowed the thunder and lightning for another purpose: not just to travel faster than any horse, but to travel faster than the sound of the thunder itself. We were attempting to get closer to what you call the Spirit Land. The only warriors who died were ones who allowed themselves to be sacrificed by the thunder and lightning itself. Captain Truckee says he understands the desires of the new white brother warriors to use the thunder and lightning to enter the Spirit Land. He then told of a high white noise above most folks’ hearing range. It is, to most, an unheard music. Danny Jo interrupts, saying that this music is only for those who are tuned in to the ethereal, the existential absolutes. Yes, acknowledges Captain Truckee: It is a noise for those who are unafraid to die – and it is as loud as the thunder when the warrior is closest to his own death. The Injun’ muses that even though the first white brother had given me a new name that meant “very well,” perhaps those were not the white brothers that the Good Father in the Spirit Land had meant at all. Captain Truckee reasons that perhaps you were the correct white brother as you are a fallen warrior whom in death has joined me in the Spirit Land. The Good Father talks of koyaanisqatsi, the world out of balance; until we as brothers reconnect, the universe will not be whole. The blind hippie marvels at the bookends of this cosmic situation and nods his head.