BOOK CLUB: 'STREET GANG'

(BlackBerry blogging – please allow the typos)

This year’s reading matter, bar magazines, because they don’t count for some reason – mainly because most are a lingering glance at a phone-book style grot (Purple being the best example) that I’m compelled to pick up, but rarely inclined to read for more than half an hour. Vanity Fair and Wired get full attention. The rest don’t. A lengthy commute can’t even be livened by Bruce Dickinson and company alone, and it’s rapidly become a one-man book club. Mild Asperger’s means I need to be updating this blog twice a week or the world will end, and a book has to be consumed every week. Too much non-fiction? That causes concern and indicates I’ve lost my imagination. The end result is consumption of something borderline impenetrable while on the move, making me pull vinegar faces of concentration while reading, maybe even mouthing longer words or unfamiliar names as I turn the pages. That’s why I read between carriages, offering as they do, an illusory sense of privacy beyond rush hour.

Reading prevents an enter sandman on the train, waking up gawping at the wrong stop to the amusement of co-passengers. In this zone, any book goes. Though with less personal space, the folk who looked over my shoulder while I was ploughing through ‘The End of Alice’ and ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ at the wrong times might have me pegged as a sex offender and racist (dis)respectively. I may be the only person that didn’t enjoy Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ but I sure enjoyed ‘Street Gang – The Complete History of Sesame Street.’ Having only managed a paltry eight real reads in 2010, I’m slipping. All book recommendations are welcome. In the absence of the Palace Wayward’s Book Club (good to see the Palace site launch), I’m drifting this month – literary discipline is all that separates me from the Front readers sharing air with me as I write this, numbing the thumb. Those crowing about how much they read are largely, elitist scum who deserve to be dismantled in debate by real intellectuals. That wasn’t the intent with this opening paragraphs here. Honestly. It was lead-in padding to talk ‘Sesame Street’ with immunity.

‘Street Gang’ is nothing new – it’s been out in the States for a minute, but I haven’t been so gripped by a non-fiction tome since I marveled at the stealthy ways to evade announcing country-of-manufacture and the talk of Hermes in Dana Thomas’s ‘Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster’ (recommended to all you luxury goods fanboys and girls). On spotting it in an NYC Borders, it was swiftly copped and duly shouted about via Twitter. Reading like a dream feature article that just keeps on going, onetime ‘TV Guide editor Michael Davis’s does an immaculate job of maintaining the grit without so much as a scratch on the wide-eyed wonder the Children’s Television Workshop continues to spread. Of course, over a 40+ lifespan, much of the supporting cast and crew passes on, and as a grown up, it’s easier to accept than Big Bird’s faintly disturbing feathery meltdown at Mr. Hooper’s passing, but as a respectable-looking redneck wrestling fan once wept, “It’s still real to me, dammit.”

While the focus is on a marvelous social experiment of  a kid’s show, to hear that Jim Henson suffered a deep depression at the relative commercial failure of ‘The Dark Crystal’ – hopefully, before he died in 1990, he got an inkling of how heavily that flick struck a chord with so many generations down the line. Sesame Street taught me how to read, alongside the rear side of Palitoy Star Wars action figures, UK children’s TV was all static cuddly toys with names, and wild-eyed primetime TV desperados. Henson’s realm was altogether more relaxed, yet with its bin-dwelling misanthropes, buffoonish waiters and those Pointer Sister led counting lessons, there was anarchy, substance and a bonafide funk on the block. It only seemed right to learn a little more. Pop culture weirdos, nostalgics and anyone who feels they may have taken an epic  undertaking for granted needs to take a look. Why ‘Street Gang’ has, at present, not had an official UK release makes no sense.

From a book littered with tragedy alongside a hefty triumph, the fate of Northern Calloway who played David for the duration of my childhood is the most disturbing. David was that guy – the coolest cast member – everyone else seemed a little more uptight than him. This wasn’t some jive-talking tokenism – David seemed approachable provider of less-mechanical life advice. He also seemed like the right boyfriend for Maria too. Calloway’s tale is hardly a revelation – his decline has been oft-discussed but in a macabre way, I’d love to see a biopic. Incredibly talented but tormented by notions of being sidelined for his skin colour, malcontent gave way to a full bi-polar induced mental collapse, that included a crazed rampage in 1980 that he couldn’t recall engaging in. Drugs may or may not have played a part in Northern’s illness (that we still need a soap opera style cautionary device to explain a common affliction is regressive) but the warm treatment from his colleagues and oddly downplayed press coverage was notable.

Biting a co-worker, proposing to a young Street newcomer at her high school and hefty mood swings continued through the decade, and he stayed on the show until 1989. David ultimately exited to “run a farm” but Calloway’s real-life demons consumed him. While rumours of stomach cancer drifted around, Michael Davis checks the paperwork and verifies that Northern died being restrained during a psychotic episode on January 9th, 1990 at Stony Lodge Hospital. The cause of death was excited delirium syndrome, and there were no illegal drugs in his bloodstream at time of death.

Here’s Northern disco-skating in Central Park. He seems so free and easy here that a frivolous fad segment takes on a certain poignancy. Having just watched the documentary ‘8 Wheels and Some Soul Brotha Music‘ I’ve got skates on the brain. Kenny Dixon would approve.

If I killed your buzz, allow me to restore it via William Wegman’s Weimaraners baking some bread.

Hastily written (but not uploaded) using BlackBerry® from Orange