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Time Travel: Back and Forward

Dr. David, Editor / Publisher

Back in my university days I became friends with an erudite, nihilist who was a connoisseur of many things, chief among them popular music. Andy was a disc jockey with two weekly college radio shows, one at the University of Hartford and one at Trinity College. He had a great voice and great taste. I'm sure he still does. Alternative radio, avant-garde, Andy was always well ahead of the curve. If you wanted to know what would soon be popular, you just had to tune in. You still can. He was in demand, DJing on Saturday night at the most popular club in western New England, Pearl Street in Northampton, Massachusetts. For all I know, he might still be there.

We stayed in touch for decades. I still remember his phone number, a landline; he never got a cell. The last time we met, bumping into each other at Whole Foods, he remarked, "You're the last of the old crew." Someday I'll call him up.

When CDs came out, Andy mentioned that he reviewed new music at an accelerated speed, listening in fast-forward mode. After a short while of that, he made the decision to slow it down or eject. He had a colossal music collection, encyclopedic.

For years now, following Andy's cue, I've been listening to most Youtube lectures at 1.25x, 1.5x or even 1.75x normal speed. I can't abide those pregnant pauses and slow deliveries. Recently, I started something similar with Netflix. I've begun making use of the button that allows you to jump ten seconds forward. When I know the effect the director is going for, and he's not going for it with any great artistry, I click and save my life in ten second increments. Who knows how much time we have left? Why waste it?

After a dozen or so clicks, I look for something else to watch. Yes, I am impatient, but it's a bad sign when the director is just passing time. Lingering is often the kiss of death. Back when you had to go to a theater and buy a ticket, I took pride in walking out on a bad movie. Knowing when it's not going to get any better is a valuable talent with movies and, come to think about it, every circumstance in life.

Aside from the occasional movie watched start to finish with Veronica, I am a serial viewer. I watch in bite-sized segments while I'm eating, breaking up movies into 20-30 minute dining increments, spread out over several meals, like reading a novel.

The other day, over a delicious curry, I jumped my way through the first few minutes of four movies, rejecting each in turn. Feeling pretty proud of my discernment, I had almost cleaned my plate when I started a fifth, the Andy Warhol Diaries.

Skipping along through that, I took in an unattributed phrase on the screen, "Andy Warhol was the greatest artist of the 20th century." That was enough for me. But before I could click the stop button, Julian Schnabel appeared and, followed by a string of other cultural icons doing the same, opined, much more moderately, about Warhol. Reaching the end of my dinner, I closed that browser tab and put my plate in the sink.

After Warhol's death, when the contents of his townhouse were being sold, it was revealed that there was not one piece of pop art among them. An antiquarian, Andy didn't like pop art; at least he didn't live with it. The film (yes, I've watched more) documents the interior design of the house, at least in part. Sumptuous is a word that comes to mind.

I'll leave it to others to judge what's art and what's not. Warhol called himself a "business artist." His business partners remember him as a great salesman and promoter. Whatever your opinion, Andy definitely captured, and helped create, the Zeitgeist, the spirit of that age. As Leonard Cohen sang of the moment, "Those were the reasons and that was New York, we were running for the money and the flesh."

Call me a prude, but I am fearfully repelled by the reckless decadence that characterized the counter-culture 60s. Warhol's "Factory," the ongoing party at his studio, was the epicenter of that chaotic culture. Warhol, who himself was at least sexually prudish, was much more careful after he was shot.

Sales and promotion almost necessarily involve hype. I very much doubt that Alan Ginsberg, another icon of that era, was acquainted with any of his generations' best minds when he wrote, as he did at the start of Howl:

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix..."

After that excellent curry, having left Warhol and his diaries to gather a little bit of dust, next meal time I picked up where I had left off in another movie, About Time. It's an English comedy, very well-acted in that understated British way. The main character is a socially awkward young man who can go back in time and then return to the present. He uses his magical talent mainly to repair certain situations for friends, family and self. We see him repeatedly reliving the loss of his virginity, each time acting more suavely as he gets into bed with the woman who would become his wife.

About Time is cute, and it works. It took me almost a week to get through it. I didn't fast-forward, never once jumping forward in a movie about jumping back.

My life has been far more problematic than the protagonist's of that time-travel movie. Fixing a moment of my life wouldn't do me much good. I'd have to redo years at a time. And if I had the chance, how would I know where to push and where to pull. It's all so interwoven.

No, I micromanage myself too much as it is. Second guessing is bad enough in hindsight. If I had the ability to remake earlier decisions, I would be immobilized by the weight and implications of all the possible choices. The past is where it belongs, safely out of reach.

That's what appeals about these light-hearted comedies; everything is so nearly ideal. It's just that one silly thing that is about to happen; "Oh, no. Don't do that!" That one, clear misstep makes it funny.

It makes for an entertaining movie, but in reality, such time travel would bring up a whole new set of problems. It would entirely alter one's psychology, the way one viewed life. One's attitude towards the world would become sloppy and careless. Things would lose their urgency and importance. We'd become bored and cynical. As with living forever, there would be no joy.

Boredom and cynicism are what accompanied the lack of constraint of Warhol's crowd. Andy himself stood at a distance from the sloppy, carelessness of his era. Businessman and promoter that he was, he documented, idealized, packaged and made money from the cultural dynamism (decline?) surrounding him.

Thanks to comedic scriptwriting, the young man in About Time is not subject to any of the dire psychological consequences incumbent on traveling through time. But even he decides that living each day only once is the preferred mode. I'll take my cue from the title of yet another film, Pennebaker's documentary of Bob Dylan in England, Don't Look Back. If I'm going to engage in any time travel, it will be forward, not back, and then only in very small increments, and mostly over dinner.


Dr David and his merry band believe that the new expanded Lokkal will make for a better planet; first we take San Miguel and then we take the world.

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