Sixties Survivors #8: Anna Karina

Could we just forget for a moment that we are all going to have to build driftwood huts on the beach or live in abandoned boxcars on the plains or find a high branch in the forest…could we just forget the financial meltdown for a minute?  I’d rather think about that Danish kid Anna Karina — 68 years old today.

Her face was an icon of sixties beauty and is still an icon to the characters in my novel who regularly reference her.  And still an icon to me.  Look at Anna play this scene from the Jean-Luc Godard’s essential film from the urban proto-hippie canon, Vivre Sa Vie (1962).  If you weren’t there to see it for yourself, it might help you understand the sixties aren’t quite what you thought they were. Or maybe not.

Happy birthday, you groovy Danish French chick.

So Whaddaya Think? A Legal Question

Here’s a legal question for you.  Say you buy an old house once owned by a famous artist.  While remodeling you discover an original painting behind a rack in the wine cellar.  It is signed and dated by the artist and is unknown to the art world.  It’s clearly worth a lot of money and you are thrilled to be the new owner.  But then the grandchildren of the artist learn about it and sue you.  They say they inherited all the artist’s unsold paintings and even though this one was stored in your new home, by the terms of the will it belongs to them.  Does their claim hold water?  What do you think?

I’m asking because the characters in my novel-in-progress ate faced with a similar predicament and I don’t have a handy judge or lawyer around.  Your opinion could influence the entire course of fictional history!

Kurt Cobain Starring as Walrus Pemmican

I’ve been perfectly content here in my little pigpen in the north, gazing out the window at the little robinses pulling their worms and typing away at chapter 38 of the Longest Novel Ever Written, The Syndicate of Eternal Friendship. Trouble is my no good pals from the Twelfth Street Gang keep throwing pebbles at my window. They want me to come out and show them card tricks.

So, in an effort to quench their card trick ardor, I’ve agreed to post a post. And since I can’t think of anything much beyond the Syndicate of Eternal Friendship, here is a bit of casting for the movie version of the novel:

Kurt Cobain as Walrus

Walrus Pemmican (not his real name, of course) is an All-American kid, except he’s Canadian, from Salt Spring Island off the coast of Vancouver. His folks run a little resort up there, and he grew up teaching sailing and sea kayacking to the guests and lifeguarding for them during the summers. Gulf Islands Consolidated High School won the provincial basketball title both years Walrus played forward for them. When he was sixteen, he rebuilt a 1950 500cc Norton and roared up and down the logging roads of the island for something to do. After graduation, his folks sent him to his Dad’s alma mater, Reed College in Portland. He lasted two years before dropping out to thumb back and forth across America seeking the meaning of life. In November of 1964, he landed in San Francisco’s burgeoning Haight-Ashbury district, where he has lived for the last four months with a group of friends known to local freaks as The Syndicate of Eternal Friendship. When you’re 22, four months is plenty long enough to form eternal friendships.

How To Write A Novel Set In The 1920s

1) First, get in the mood by watching this terrific video by Aaron 12

2) Now listen to a 1920s pop singer like the fabulous Ruth Etting, (she’s the clam’s garters) or the endearing, sweet and lovable Annette Hanshaw until you start to Get Hot!

Lovable and Sweet by Annette Hanshaw

When the music stops sounding quaint and you’re thinking “Hey, I want to go Leona Wilderson’s house party and dance the Charleston (Charleston?) all night with a red hot hopper!” then you’re getting there. You’re almost ready to write.

3) Memorize stories about how much fun your ancestors had in those glory days. Like here’s my Dad in 1924 with a few intimate friends…

and here he is on the way to a costume ball with his incomparable cousin, the reigning princess of Haight-Ashbury radio…the unforgettable…Miss Margaret Hancock.

Now, when your hot tamale is ridin’ the trolley, when your goose is on the loose, your cherry smashes have strawberry rashes and your cuddling cutie’s shouting Rootie Kazootie, start typing! You can’t miss.

The Syndicate of Eternal Friendship

After what seems like ages, I’ve started on the novel again. It wasn’t easy building up the required head of steam. As regular readers know, the discovery of the Leslie Van Gelder letters led me into a fairly long digression — attempting to recreate the evening we spent together in December, 1961 that led to our epistolary friendship.

So it was quite wonderful to open my mental door to the story again and find my characters waiting patiently for more fun to begin.

Writing the novel is really the most entertaining thing I do. I sit down at my desk and pretty soon it turns out I’m in New York City in 1923, waiting for Eddie Cantor to breeze through the speakeasy’s door with his entourage of flashy furcoat diamond girls and suffering sycophantic toadies. In the world of the Syndicate of Eternal Friendship anything can happen at any moment as long as it hangs together and is fun to read at the end.

The novel’s plot swirls around the colliding fortunes of three young freaks living in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in the mid-1960s, and a family who live around the corner from them in 1927, nearly forty years before. It features a radio that may change the course of history; hippies sneaking around an old dark house on a wet and rainy night; the Girl In The Yellow Suede Coat, who some believe to be the most beautiful girl who ever lived, but whose looks disguise a brilliant mind, and Wilson C. Cooke, the ruthless millionaire determined to wrest his glittering prize from fate, no matter at what cost. It features Golden Gate Park on a glorious Sunday afternoon; the Jersey Palisades in freezing November rain, Union Square and Times Square. It stars Walrus Pemmican, Paulie Ratskiwatsky and Sylvie Potemkin, three young freaks destined for greatness in spite of themselves, and co-stars Cal Hancock, a brilliant engineer from Post Falls, Idaho trying to make it in a city that chews up farm kid idealists. And leave us never forget Cal’s irrepressible, irreplaceable, daughter Margaret, the teenaged reigning princess of Haight-Ashbury radio.

John Le Carre the Pondering Pig is not. He’s more like P.G. Wodehouse on acid.

I should stop talking about the novel and start writing the novel. Just wanted you all to know what I’m up to.

Walrus Pemmican and La Vie En Rose

I’m thinking about changing the name of my Walrus character. It’s starting not to feel right to me any more. What if later on the guy falls in love with a beautiful hippie chick? Can you imagine his girl friend saying , “Oh Walrus, I love you!” I can’t. It sounds silly.

Still, he should have a street name, not a real name. Something fitting for a guy who doesn’t want it to get around that his real name is Chauncey. Who is trying to build a little romance and drama into his young life.

Anybody got any ideas?

On a completely different subject, Patrushka and I saw La Vie En Rose last night, a biopic about the life of French singer Edith Piaf. It’s really quite an amazing movie, an onslaught of power and emotion that captures and reflects the star’s truly melodramatic life, — complex, innovative, yet totally appropriate film editing, a sound track that electrified my nervous system, and art direction – the film is played out in a succession of perfectly realized pictures of Paris in the twenties and thirties, New York in the forties, and Hollywood in the fifties – that’s a sumptuous visual treat.

Marion Cotillard’s performance as the Little Sparrow is astounding. I have really never seen anything on film to match her breadth and range – she portrays Edith from sixteen-year old street singer to a terminally weary middle-aged invalid dying of cancer. And she captures each phase of that unhappy life with such passion – it’s like Piaf herself is alive again. If she doesn’t win an Oscar for her performance, then there is no justice.

We walked out of the theater afterwards like we’d just seen Romeo and Juliet for the first time. I stopped to thank the manager of our little art house for bringing it to little Spokane – but I found my voice breaking. I was overwhelmed.

It will probably be good on DVD too – but seeing it on the big screen was — wow! If La Vie En Rose playing anywhere near you, don’t miss it.

Just The Facts, Please

Research for my novel-in progress The Syndicate of Eternal Friendship takes too long. You’re probably thinking I make up all this stuff, but I don’t. Even though I was there, it’s still a historical novel, and I have no idea what program came on after Beverly Hillbillies, what pre-hippie girls thought were hot styles in the spring of 1965, or how much hashish could fit in a carved-out book. I have to look it up.

When Paulie takes apart that old radio he’d better sound like he recognizes the gear inside and knows what it does, so I have to learn enough about old radios to snow you, gentle reader.

Research. Why bother? This is a story about three friends, not a documentary about the Sixties. But it has a few fantasy elements mixed in too, so I want the rest of the story to feel pretty realistic. Besides, it’s interesting and I think it gives a story more flavor.

So I just signed up for a course offered by my local community college called ‘Research For Writers’. I want learn some tricks to find this trivia faster. It’s an on-line course. I will never see the instructor or my fellow students. But it’s still pretty good. I’m learning already.

For instance, I found out that facts change. Funny, but I always figured a fact is a fact is a fact. If it can change then it isn’t really a fact. The composition of a water molecule is two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. That’s a fact. Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. Nothing can ever change it because that’s a fact.

But on the pre-course quiz – I got that answer wrong. The teacher says facts change. What is with this lady? Then I woke up thinking about it and I could see she was right.

I started making a list of facts that used to be true but are no longer:

You can get arrested in this country for drinking whiskey.
The Beatles are the number one pop group in the world.
Yugoslavia is a country in Europe.
Meet my girl friend, Martha Gobblesteen.

You get the picture. They all used to be true, except for the part about Martha. Interesting, huh? Or maybe you already knew that.