This is a book review, in case you wondered where it was going.
I just got done reading The Imaginers of War: The Untold Story of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency That Changed the World, by Sharon Weinberger. This essay has nothing to do with that book. I’m just trying to warm up. That said, and in case you wondered, DARPA is the agency that was working on producing an exploding cigar that would kill Fidel Castro, the development of mechanical elephants that would assist our ground forces in the jungle during the Viet Nam war, and the inventors of the Internet. OK, so, one point for them anyway.
While I didn’t read the whole thing (hey, it’s a book about the people who work in the Pentagon, not People Magazine), I did appreciate Ms. Weinberger’s writing style (anybody who entitles one of their chapters “The Bunny, The Witch, and The War Room” is my kind of historian). I read from the point of DARPA’s inception around 1958 to where the book got to 1980. Already familiar with Ronald Regan’s belief that we could produce a system that would shoot down Soviet missiles (“Star Wars” as it was called, despite the head of DARPA telling him, “Yeah, we can’t do that.”), I felt no need to continue much further, having been aware of all the stuff that has come forth from them in the last forty years (Stealth B2 bomber, F117 Nighthawk stealth something or other—you know, the things that look like they were designed by Bruce Wayne, and the invisible microwave jungle muffin toaster). One thing I wasn’t aware of, though, was the “Phraselator.” This was provided to our troops in Afghanistan so as to communicate with the locals. It only sent verbal text out—it couldn’t actually translate any sort of response, so our guys (or gals) would punch in a phrase in English, like, “I’m going to ask you a question. Raise one hand if your answer is yes, and two hands if your answer is no.” Then they would punch in another more important question, like,
“Are there any enemy combatants in the area?”
The local person—wondering who this other person was—would raise both hands for no, though, it was later determined that they didn’t understand the first question and were simply raising both hands because they thought the person asking the question was requesting their surrender, and the other person had a gun.
“Have you seen any enemy combatants in the area recently?”
No (stated with already raised hands now pushed up higher—again, later determined to be, “I surrender already.”).
“Do you or any of your family members know of any nocturnes or square grapes?”
So it went. Anyway, as much as I enjoyed this book (well, enjoyed is a subjective term. Like I said, it’s about people who work in the Pentagon, not the Beatles), I did really want to know more about the exploding cigar and the mechanical elephants. Unfortunately, Ms. Weinberger felt it beneath her to go on in any length about anything so stupid. But I would have been quite entertained by learning how the exploding cigar to kill Castro worked, how far it got from the drawing board, and how much of my parent’s tax money was spent on its development. Also, how does one present this to Fidel Castro? Do you wait till his wife gets pregnant and is in the hospital ready to give birth, and you’re observing Fidel anxiously pacing the waiting room—you being cleverly disguised as the guy who fills up the vending machine with Coke and Fritos—and then a nurse comes out and yells, “It’s a communist!” and at that time you give him a big pat on the back and offer him one of your cigars?
Also, what’s the plan for escape here? What do you do to avoid being killed by cigar shrapnel? I mean, after you give him the cigar, he’s going to ask if you have a light. I’m guessing the plan was for the cigar giver to provide a match as requested, then suddenly cry out, “Oh! I think my penis fell off! Excuse me.” And then reasonably flee without arousing suspicion. Here I’m reminded of Claus von Stauffenberg (as I bet you are too). This is the guy that Tom Cruise portrayed in the movie Valkyrie. This was about the plot to kill Hitler. Stauffenberg went into the meeting with Hitler, where others were at the table—including the stenographer, set his bomb briefcase down on the floor, and—while we’re not one hundred percent positive this came next—I’m pretty sure he at that point said, “I really gotta’ take a leak. Sorry.” And left. What a hero. Given the fact that he was a military officer and would have been carrying a GUN, I think the moral thing to do—for the sake of not killing some innocent person (like the stenographer—though, who Stauffenberg later claimed during court proceedings, it having been revealed to him via his Quija board the night before, was in reality Pottsylvanian spy Natasha Fatale), would be to pull his pistol out, put it against Hitler’s head, say “B’bye”, and pull the trigger. Then let the chips fall where they may. You’re done, but a planet has been saved. Not an unreasonable deal.
OK, well, I got that all out of my system and I think I’m warmed up now. On to my actual book review.
Light My Fire, by Ray Manzarek.
Being a music kind of person and always feeling kind of pissed that I wasn’t born in 1940 where I could appreciate living through the sixties as an adult as opposed to an eight-year-old who was at least twelve years younger than all the new ironed-hair females I saw on TV and wanted to ask out on a date, I’ve always been interested in the music, culture, and stuff of that era. I randomly came upon Ray Manzarek’s autobiography (he being the keyboard player for the Doors—is that opening of his on the song “Light My Fire” cool beans or what?). I was never too interested in Jim Morrison as I always saw him as little beyond an ambulatory id. Ray, I thought, was the musical brilliance here which brought the band to fame (actually guitarist Robby Krieger wrote all their hit songs including “Light My Fire,” but that’s a different essay).
I came upon this book and felt like I just had to have it (it would go nicely with Grace Slick’s Somebody To Love? which is also on my shelf, along with Paul McCartney’s Just Do It The Way I’m Telling You To Do It). I told Carra I wanted this as a Christmas present. She said (wisely), “Why don’t I just get it from the library for you?” I countered saying it was something I must have.
And so I do. And so I started reading it yesterday. This is awful. I was able to get through more pages of Moby Dick when I chose to prove I was a superior human being in comparison to other ten-year-olds in 1966 (by reading all of Moby Dick) than I got through Ray Manzarek’s memoir/autobiography trope-athon thing: Moby Dick—five pages at age ten; Light My Fire—three pages, age adult. (Note: I did try reading Moby Dick again within the last year. Got through most of page two this time, then gave up and just ordered the Gregory Peck movie off Netflix).
I think I can convey the sense of Manzarek’s book best by including below a fifty-one-second clip of Peter Fonda from The Wild Angels than I can by going on at length about what I don’t like with this book. Assuming a book takes about ten hours to read, imagine having to review this clip over and over again, non-stop, seven-hundred and five times (equitable to ten hours reading time):
Ah, you’re back. That was painful, wasn’t it. Ray Manzarek aside, in regard to the expression “The acorn never falls far from the tree,” I think in the case of Peter Fonda, it fell pretty far from the Fonda tree. That said, Jane was great but pretty much of a ditz (how do you marry Roger Vadim, Tom Hayden, and Ted Turner all in the same life? Pick a lane, Jane). Henry was great too, but a really crappy father. Peter, on the other hand, I’m pretty sure found his niche in being a well-rounded normal person. At least I’d like to assume that, given other artistic things.
My problem with Manzarek is his propensity to type the first thing that comes to his mind, which is three parts stream of consciousness and one part maybe possible fact. I did skip over the first chapter and move onto his youth (which I was interested in). But, unfortunately, he was the only nine-year old in Chicago who experienced youth by a daily channeling of Muddy Waters on acid. So far the only interesting thing I found about him was that he was born at 34th and Bell, and I actually know where that is (a few miles from where I grew up). Google maps let me locate this, and I did spend an hour reminiscing as it looked like a street and neighborhood I was so familiar with but is long-since gone from my life.
OK, screw that. In summation, I would say one of my problems with Manzarek is that he called Oliver Stone a Nazi (note adroit thematic tie between parts one and two of this essay), and—speaking directly to Oliver—said Oliver didn’t understand what Nietzsche was trying to say. I don’t like Oliver Stone, so the fact that I’m taking his side should speak volumes. Also, I don’t know what Nietzsche was trying to say either, so, I don’t really give a shit if Oliver didn’t get it, whatever it was. In short, I always thought Jim Morrison was kind of nothing. I was interested in the person in the band who appeared to be a something. I was wrong. Manzarek was best of friends with Jim the Id, and he’s kind of an ass. I had no idea. He also says rude things about Door’s drummer John Densmore. I’m not clear why. (I also had a drummer named John. We had nothing in common. He was great. We’d go out and get drunk together).
All this said, t’is perhaps a cautionary tale for we writers (granted, I will be putting this book in a new section of my home library, it being the first entry onto the “Bad Books” shelf). But when I say writers, I mean me too. Where’s the line between witty and unctuously hip and self-absorbed? I might not be entirely sure. So, I need to take this under consideration. While I might sum up Ray as being an ass, I could also be seen as judgmental. I am confident of at least one thing, however: I know that whatever negative judgment or opinion I have about Manzarek, given that he’s dead, he can’t sue me. On that note, I’ll be giving my opinions on Lady Gaga sometime in the future, but it may be a while.
In conclusion, while I asked for this book for a Christmas present and Carra provided it, she had the foresight to give me something of her own choice that’s music related and actually good: three CD’s by the Mona Lisa Twins doing Beatles’ covers! Yea! Yea! Yea! Buy them. They’re great.