Make sure we get the details right for the 2000 Austin Chronicle Music Poll by voting. Also, an introduction to the Politics staff and memories of watching 2001 for the first time.
Over the past couple of months I've received a number of compliments on the Politics section. The bottom line is stories like this week's cover effort on Eastside activist Rev. Sterling Lands ("Sterling Lands' New Mission," p. 24). Politics is not just personal; it's people. The story of Austin is not just an imploding economy and a small town still caught in the ugly transition to big city. It is people and the events that occur in their wake. Lands represents an important constituency in helping to determine Austin's future.
The paper has committed even more resources to our Politics coverage. This week's cover story ideally illustrates this team, led by new Politics Editor Louis Dubose. Writers Amy Smith, Robert Bryce, Mike Clark-Madison, and Kevin Fullerton are all still offering excellent coverage and in-depth reporting. Associate editor Erica C. Barnett's editing responsibilities have expanded, though we're hoping to shift things a little so we can publish some more of her excellent writing. The cover story was written by Jordan Smith, who returns to us after a stay in California working for a daily. The story was supervised by Dubose but carefully edited by associate editor Michael King, who worked closely with Smith on this story. King joins us from The Texas Observer (as did Dubose). In both cases, we had long admired their talents, but we don't simply poach from the Observer, a journal we respect and admire. When they left on their own, we were happy to grab them. King is working primarily in Politics right now, but I've long thought some of his cultural coverage in the Observer was to be envied.
The other night I was with a group, and everyone was talking about 2001: A Space Odyssey. I thought about the first time I saw the film.
Sometime in 1966 or '67 I met screenwriter Arthur C. Clarke at Lunacon, a New York science fiction convention. At the time, I was lucky enough to be spending a lot of time hanging out with Otto O. Binder. Otto was a legendary comic book writer who authored hundreds of scripts, including most of Captain Marvel (the original Fawcett character) and a little of everything else (Superman, Young Allies, Bulletman, Supergirl, Spy Smasher, etc.). Starting in the early Thirties and through the very early Forties, writing as Eando Binder, Otto established himself as an important pulp science fiction author. His brother Earl co-wrote the first half-dozen stories with him, thus the name Eando (E and O), but most of the stories he wrote on his own. His stuff was pulp, but great pulp. He wrote several memorable series. Notable are two that presaged science fiction classics. One series was about a thinking, feeling robot, and one of the stories was titled I, Robot. A few years later, Isaac Asimov would gain even more fame with I, Robot, a book featuring a thinking, feeling robot. Another of Otto's series was about the discovery of mysterious pyramids on other planets. I should point out that Binder was not in the same league as Asimov and Clarke, so I'm not going for any dramatic effect. He had the same skeleton of an idea but the fleshing-out was completely different. Influences are everywhere, and what matters is the final product. Almost certainly Clarke and Asimov had read Otto Binder. The writers then were mostly devoted fans who read everything on which they could lay their hands, including most everything published in the genre.
At Lunacon, both Clarke and Asimov came over and warmly greeted Otto. If you mention Clarke's name now, everyone thinks of 2001 -- but back then, the first title to come to any reader's mind would have been his book Childhood's End. It was fun meeting Clarke; he was very warm and jovial. I liked reading him but thought his novels were a little wooden (if you're thinking what the hell did I know, I'm sure you're right). Distracted as always, I was more interested in staring across the room at Samuel Delaney (then part of my personal trinity along with Roger Zelazny and Michael Moorcock) as Clarke and Binder talked about space stuff (they both did a lot of nonfiction writing on space).
During the summer of 1968, I was working at Madison-Felicia, a camp for underprivileged kids in Peekskill, N.Y. (the town where the famous anti-Paul Robeson riot took place over a decade earlier; it hadn't changed much). One day, the senior counselors took our group to the city in a van. We parked and walked over to the old Cinerama theatre. So much of what was happening that volatile summer we were missing in the relative isolation of the camp. 2001 had opened earlier in the spring and had created a big critical hoopla. It was one of those films that some critics who hadn't liked it came around on on subsequent viewings. But weeks at the camp faded our memories of what we had heard about it. The theatre was relatively empty (it was the middle of the afternoon), and our counselors suggested we sit in the fourth row center. Nothing prepared us for the experience of watching this movie, especially the ending, which just ripped our heads off.
We had never seen anything like that, a pure non-narrative cinematic assault. I had seen the short works of Jordan Benson and Ed Emshwiller (aka Ed Emsh), so I had experienced some of the visual ideas, but that in no way prepared me for this assault. As it did for a generation, 2001 expanded the possibilities of film for me.
We got back to camp and in a group therapy-type session (very common at the time), we talked about the film for hours. I found it excruciating. Only years later did I realize my problem was that we were talking about the ideas in a film that completely exploded film language. The power of the film was such that I wanted to relish it almost physically before I dissected its parts. I didn't really have that opportunity. Although it was never really about a year, 2001 will be ubiquitous this year. Unfortunately most of the homages will be about the title design and "Thus Spake Zarathustra," rather than the ideas or that amazing visceral experience.