Saturday, January 18, 2020

Listening and the Algonquin

In one of life's odd coincidences, I started reading You're Not Listening by Kate Murphy on the very same weekend that many a friend and acquaintance is enjoying the Baker Street Irregulars functions in New York. The coincidence was not because nobody wasn't listening, but because in the very first chapter, "The Lost Art of Listening," Kate Murphy writes about the Algonquin Round Table.

The Algonquin Round Table, for those not familiar, was a particular table at the Algonquin Hotel off Times Square, where various writers gathered in the 1920s for bouts of wordplay and wit. The Algonquin Hotel, being home base for the Baker Street Irregulars for many years, gave that bit of literary lore one of its Sherlockian ties, and even though it was always reserved for the editor of The New Yorker in the 1980s, one could sneak in during the wee hours for a photo.

A Sneaked Photo

The Algonquin Round Table, with writers like Alexander Woollcott and Dorothy Parker tied to it, is used by Kate Murphy to illustrate how even a lively and entertaining group who met every single day could still be "profoundly lonely and depressed people." She quotes Parker saying, "The Round Table was just a lot of people telling jokes and telling each other how good they were. Just a bunch of loudmouths showing off, saving their gags for days, waiting for the chance to spring them . . . There was no truth in anything they said. It was the terrible day of the wisecrack, so there didn't have to be any truth." The parallels to Twitter and the chase for clever tweets that garner likes makes for an easy comparison.

Coming upon that part of the book was one more reminder of those pilgrimages to New York that I did make for Sherlockian purposes, before tuxedos overtook suits and disposable income became less disposable. Looking back across the years at this point, it's interesting to see which conversations and fresh new acquaintances stuck in my memory . . . which must have been those I did listen actually to, for my memory to hold on to them so firmly. There are the faces which finally got attached to names, of course, one of the big benefits of the yearly gathering, but it's the conversations that I wish I could remember more of.

I should be finished with You're Not Listening well before April's 221B Con, which is a place I spend most of my time listening anyway, as the con is always a wellspring of Sherlockian ideas and varied points of view that one can't help but want to absorb every last bit of it. The airport Marriott may not have any historic tables to sneak a photo at, but I think the notorious Floor Bacon fills that role quite nicely. For this particular weekend, though, I just get to be envious of those who are willing to do NYC in January, and keep on reading.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Did Holmes and Watson set the buddy cop trend?

So many things will set the Sherlockian mind pondering some angle of our favorite detective. Today, for example, I was pondering my trip to see Bad Boys for Life, the third movie in the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence buddy cop franchise. I started the day considering Martin Lawrence's character, Marcus Burnett, as the Watson of the piece.

And Marcus Burnett is a Watson, of sorts. His principle purpose in the movies is to be the ordinary guy to Will Smith's super-slick action hero, Mike Lowery. And while Marcus doesn't chronicle the adventures of his partner, if you ever remeber the name of any movie character, you'll remember "Mike Lowery" just because Marcus enunciates it so well, so often in the first film. Marcus is also a little bit of the comic relief Watson, as many have been over the years.

But considering Lowery and Burnett as a Holmes and Watson pair, I had to start considering other action movie buddy cop combos, and how they might have a Holmes and Watson dynamic, the cool eccentric and the regular everyman. Remember the Letheal Weapon series, Riggs the outside-the-box detective, and Murtaugh, the family man that just wants to retire? Do they fit a basic Holmes-Watson pair dynamic?

There a certain cliche in such movies of the old veteran teamed with the young rule-breaker, and in a lot of classic Holmes films, Watson is seen as the elder of the pair, with Holmes as the fresh idea guy. In official police situation, the elder partner is usually the dominant one due to the experience factor, so you're more likely to see a Holmes/Watson dynamic in a non-official team-up -- the cop being a Watson paired up with the special-talents consultant, whether it's mystery writier Nick Castle in Castle or Satan himself in Lucifer. (The oddball consultant always gets the name in the title, it seems.)

But sometimes, the non-Holmes-and-Watson buddy cops give us a new light on Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Take Marcus Burnett, who I started this article with. He's the talker of the pair, always rambling in stressful situations, always worrying aloud. The John H. Watson we see in the Sherlockian Canon seems like a quiet guy, "You have the grand gift of silence," and all that. But remember that we are seeing Watson through the filter of Watson's pen.

What if Watson was really a extremely non-stop talker, and Holmes's quip about his "grand gift of silence" was completely sarcastic? What if Watson edited his own chatter down to near non-existence It wouldn't be lying exactly, so as not to offend a certain writer who titled his book and blog Watson Does Not Lie. It's possible.

Seeing Holmes and Watson everywhere has its perks.

Monday, January 13, 2020

The first annual Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards!

This weekend, in addition to all of the other Sherlockian festivities which kick off the new year, we will also be seeing the live recording of the first annual Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards. Since more podcasts are recorded live and by the living, adding that word might be just to fancy things up a bit, but isn't that what awards are all about? Fancying things up a bit?

Now, the thing about awards is that they glorify the giver as much as the receiver, as awarding bodies rarely have the stature of those they are handing the awards to. And that's why we want to give all you Watsonians out there the chance to not only nominate, but pick a winner. Here are the rules:

1. The categories for all Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards (a.k.a. "the Watties") must have something somehow related to John H. Watson.

2. All Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards must have four nominees, and one winner chosen from those four.

3. All Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards should have a positive spirit or at least be good-natured enough to not bum out any listeners.

4. You can give a Watty to any person, place, thing, or other form of anything, just stay within the other rules. Just try to hit a category that no one else will think of, to avoid ties.

5. All Watsonian Weekly Watson Awards and nominations should be sent to or DMed to @bradkeefauver on Twitter to be included on the awards podcast. There might even be another way to award one this weekend, but announcing it to the Watsonian world will require sending it my way, either in text or audio form. All nominations and awards must be in by midnight, on Friday, January 17th.

Okay, that's basically it. It's awards season, so let's celebrate our favorite doctor/chronicler/best friend/love interest/partner/slashfic character with some awards! Why let those silly Oscars have all the fun? (And, come on . . . that movie got a best picture nomination? Sheesh.)

"England is England yet?" Well, Sherlock is Sherlock yet.

As an over-sixty guy raised in Sherlock Holmes from another era, I always get a lot from the arrary of viewpoints every month on The Three Patch Podcast. And, as of this month, that super-team of podcasters hit their hundredth episode with some retrospective bits that really make one think. And this time there was one point that really struck me straight-away.

Coming up in the eighties, one quickly noticed that a lot of Sherlockians in America were, very naturally, Anglophiles. Patriotic citizens of the U.S. of A., of course, but also with a strong bias in favor of the mother country. Even our most beloved Sherlockian poem and its line "England is England yet, for all our fears," played that chord so well over time, even though it was written referring to the destruction of war the country had endured through, and would again.

But now we're in a different time, when Brexit has torn England apart from the inside, just as America has had its own struggles, and some very questionable choices paired with some quite evil movements have made one wonder if a newly minted young Sherlockian is going to feel the same about old Mother England. Victorian times, may have their attraction, until one starts really considering the damage colonialism and class systems were doing. Great place to base a steampunk alternate universe on, but the real history, which we're getting better awareness of all the time . . . well, problematic.

The classic line about Mycroft Holmes, "You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he is the British govenrment," does not come off as complimentary for poor Mycroft in a modern setting. (Though, lord knows an American counterpart would look pretty damned terrible as well, and probably something of a Nazi. Stephen Miller's younger brother is probably out there pretending to be Sherlock these days.) Ay-yi-yi. And with even one of Britain's princes bailing, things just aren't what they were.

But lest I sully the sacred ground of Sherlock with too much political discourse, now when I see England in my head, I'm as apt to envision BBC's Shameless as I am the London of Holmes or Bond. Time shifts things a bit . . . is Nero Wolfe's brownstone in a posh neighborhood these days? Or would he never leave the house for other reasons that just eccentricity? As much as we like to believe in things that last forever, time gets us all, and all our loves, in the end. Which is basically why the best stuff is adaptable.

When we got a massive Sherlock surge thanks to the BBC ten years ago, it wasn't because they tried to recreate a faithful Granada adaptation of Victorian lit. No, they swung for the fences with a brand new version of Sherlock Holmes, G. Lestrade, Irene Adler, Milverton, etc., etc., etc. They added new folks to the legend, Molly, Anderson, Eurus. New tricks with text messages and blog posts. And for better or worse, our major motion pictures have gone with new angles as well. It's how legends survive.

Every country has its mythic version, and undoubtedly England's will survive the realities of the everyday as it always has. King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table haven't been around for a very long time, and yet that vision remains. A vision of a dream that failed, perhaps, and maybe that's what we get now. But the hope of that better thing persists. Just as a London where the greatest detective mankind has ever known is ready to solve the unsolveable, and give its citizens one last chance for clarity and answers.

One has to have some hopes on a Monday. Onward.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Vocation, Avocation, and the New Detective

Having just come off a very heavy work week, which drained all the good Sherlockian time, my thoughts quite naturally turned to that whole "doing what makes money" versus "doing what you love" question we all face. Some rosey-gazed folk always preach "do what you love to earn a living," but in practical terms, that falls into the "crystals with healing properties" category of something that just doesn't seem to work for anyone but the rare few.

Sherlock Holmes did what he loved, of course. Young Sherlock seems to have been something of a "murderino" to put it in terms of a current podcast hit. He also worked out his own skillset and created his own occupation from scratch, based upon his avocation. Yet, one gets the feeling that, like so many who turn hobby into career, he started with some family money backing him up. It wasn't a lot, and he still had to share rooms to get a good address, but he sure didn't pay Mrs. Hudson by laying around the flat so often and solving puzzles for match-girls, governesses, and lost-and-found items brought in by neighbors.

When Sherlock Holmes says "I am a poor man" and pats that nice check at the end of "Priory School," he's not doing it as a joke, even though he probably isn't that poor at that particular moment. (Did his hiatus in Asia and Europe drain his funds?) He's probably just reminiscing about the start of his career when the cash flow wasn't so good.

Still, Sherlock did well enough that he was able to retire and leave London at a relatively young age and buy a place in Sussex. And, as we oft forget, he did have an ability to find other work when he needed it. While he used his disguise as a groom to get information in "A Scandal in Bohemia," he slid into that role very easily and made a few coins at it. And that Irish-American named Altamont surely had to have some visible means of support during his American stint. Holmes surely had to hold down a whole lot of short-term jobs during his wide-rambling life.

Lucky for him, doing what he loved included being able to do and understand other jobs besides that of the detective. Other opportunities were available. For most of us, though, a vocation and an avocation are two decidedly different things. And if we're lucky enough, the joy of the latter actually makes the doing of the former worthwhile, and the balance of the two makes for a pretty fair life.

Careers can by puzzling things, especially for the free-lancer like Holmes. And we don't even want to get into the work-life of a John H. Watson . . . "hanging out with your buddy" for long periods isn't really something that looks good on the resume. But that's a consideration for another time.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Sherlock Holmes and . . . sigh . . . Dracula

I have long contended that t'were Sherlock Holmes ever to actually cross over with Dracula, he would expose that legendary monster as big a fraud as the hellhound of the Baskervilles. "No ghosts need apply," and all that. Sherlock Holmes is about the really real world, and not that silly imaginary overlay we like to hold in front of our eyes like a piece of stained glass.

Yet, like Holmes and the Ripper, those two products of the Victorian era, Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula, always line up. They are more perfect opposites than Holmes and Moriarty, reason versus superstition, a much more serious battle than good versus evil ever fought. In any book or movie where Holmes and Dracula cross paths, Dracula has already won just by existing. In Holmes's world, Dracula simply does not exist.

And yet, for tellers of tales like the now-notorious Moffat and Gatiss to slide from a Sherlock series to a Dracula series, the act feels quite natural. All those tricksy bits used in Jekyll, Doctor Who, and Sherlock can come back to play, and with a fine cast, including at least one notable holdover, there's a lot of fun to be had there, for those not nursing a grudge from past sins.

Dracula, like Sherlock, is one of those classic tales that some will always wish were told as always, like ritual. And then this, and then that, and oh, didn't they just capture that perfectly. I am not one of those. I delight in Dr. Watson thinking Sir Henry Baskerville owns Stonehenge, just to alleviate my boredom with a touch of the new, no matter how ridiculous. Perhaps that's why I love Holmes and Watson so much more than many of my fellows, as a lovely romp that captured something of Holmes and Watson without boring me with the rituals. So when Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss start playing with the toys of our culture, I rather enjoy their jerking the chains of the ritual.

Still, I fear that it might lead to more bringing the master vampire into the world of the master detective . . . and it's still a place he just doesn't quite belong, as tempting as crossovers always are. But, as the saying goes, "for those who like that sort of thing, that will be a thing that they like."

At least one hopes so. If we have to cross the streams, at least it best get us the desired result, whether we're Ghostbusters or not.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Seasons of Sherlock

It's a very fertile time for surveying the Sherlock Holmes landscape.

No major Sherlock is currently holding the field. Cumberbatch seems to have faded a bit from absence and that season four collateral damage. Miller is heard spoken of even less. Brett seems to be rising just because the fans who never left him are more audible in the lull. And Downey? Those movie release flashes of popularity are hard to factor in, as he's both in the far past and the far future.

When no one Sherlock is dominating, all of the Sherlocks pop in and out of the Sherlockian landscape. It's a little like very slow moving weather patterns, looking at the ebb and flow of popular Sherlocks. We each carry our own microclimates with us, of course, as we may take to a given Sherlock more or less than our compatriots.

One sees this comment or that pop up as some moment summons a callback to a given Sherlock. Sherlocks are defined in their best or worst moments, depending upon our particular leanings. The truth of the matter is that we probably need ALL the Sherlocks right now. Whether one goes by the motto "No Holmes Barred" or "All Holmes Is Good Holmes," there is a basic need that Sherlock Holmes satisfies that might be needed more than ever right now. What need?

That people will actually listen to a clear-eyed smart person, maybe?

That someone out there can see through all the "There's a hell-hound on the moor!" stories concocted by some evil shit for their own purposes, perhaps?

That justice exists, even if it's via ships mysteriously sinking with all aboard?

Yeah. All of those. Maybe it's good that no one Sherlock dominates the landscape right now, because we probably do need ALL of the Sherlocks.  The phrase "seasons of Sherlock Holmes" can mean a lot more than years of a TV show, and the one we're in right now might just be the one we need.