Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday Weekly: "What Tyrone Slothrop has to do with Gravity's Head."

The 13th edition of Gravity Head begins on Friday morning. This year’s theme is “A Stacked Deck is Gravity’s Rainbow,” and I’ve been asked to explain what it means.

This will not be easy. After undertaking an explanation last evening at the Bank Street Brewhouse bar, I was told that my tale is a fiesta of non sequiturs, a description that is quite flattering.

For one thing, coming up with graphic designs and accompanying wordplay is getting harder as the years pass by. Late in 2010, as what passes for a brain trust at NABC convened to brainstorm, our brainlessness became evident. The initial thought was to look for ideas connected to the number 13, semi-universally regarded as unlucky.

Web searches yielded the first clue: Tarot cards; specifically the card for 13, marked DEATH, and featuring a medieval-looking robed skeleton atop a horse. In fact, the archaic appearance of these commonly accepted images is a ruse of sorts. Those tarot cards in widest circulation, which most of us have seen, actually were designed around 1900 by a woman in England; oddly, the original plates are said to have been destroyed in the Blitz during WW II.

I suggested substituting the word “GRAVITY” for “DEATH,” and NABC’s graphics wizard Tony Beard said he’d get to work on it. Calendar pages commenced turning, the usual pre-Gravity Head preparations continued, but we were without a coherent, overarching theme.

At some point therein, I was asked by my bride if I really ever understood the concepts of Tarot, or the meanings of the cards, and I had no response save for an admission of negligence. In fact, the only aspects of Tarot that appealed to me were the images. In this instance, I like to watch. She graciously referred me to a handful of sources, one of which resonated.

"(It) does not mean physical death. Rather, the Death card portrays symbolic death-a change or transformation. Often, it heralds the end of a familiar or more comfortable mode. It conveys a release which is necessary for growth and expansion. Perhaps it even brings a whole new set of principles which will guide you spiritually, emotionally, psychologically or financially."

Now, there’s a genuine coincidence. For months, I’ve been boring the cast and crew with recitations of epiphanies pertaining to the beer program at the Public House & Pizzeria, and imagining this great upheaval, a profound leap forward, the future of American craft beer … and here are perfect visual and philosophical metaphors, as embodied by a genre I’d always ignored.

Meanwhile, Tony was thinking about Slim Pickens – not the late character actor’s memorable scene in Blazing Saddles, in which he sent riders back to get a shitload of dimes for the desert toll booth, but Pickens’ single greatest achievement: Riding the atom bomb to oblivion near the conclusion of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Hence, the Gravity Head rider atop the barrel, apocalyptic imagery grafted onto a Tarot card, toasting the existence of the earth’s inexorable law, and following on the heels of our claim last year that while Newton discovered gravity, NABC perfected it. Tony added the mysterious mixed touch of XIII.5, because if there can be no 13th floor, there can’t be a 13th Gravity Head, either.

But what about a tag phrase?

Most card-playing clichés are applicable to games of chance, as opposed to the ritual of Tarot. You can deal from the bottom of the deck, misdeal, re-deal, mark the cards … or you can stack the deck. Indeed, as it pertains to the vicissitudes of life – the chosen domain of Tarot – we often say that the deck is stacked against us, so “stacked deck” seemed appropriate for the Gravity Head symbolism in 2011.

Now we come full circle to the Blitz.


Having originated the quest for Gravity Head identity with a deathly Tarot card image that perished with Al Bowly in the Blitz, Tony duly incorporated cinematic history spiced with common numerical superstition, and I saw the design for the first time. My first reaction upon glimpsing this gumbo of influences was two words: Thomas Pynchon.

His infamous novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, cannot be briefly described. Some would say it barely can be read, although I’ve managed to do it with a little help from my friends and a reader's guide, of which many exist. Following is one fan's view of Gravity’s Rainbow.

It is a Jeremiad, an encyclopaedia of cultural minutiae, an historical novel, a catalogue of operas, an anatomy of illicit perversions and mindless pleasures, a book in which you are as likely to read an equation describing the gyroscopic stabilizers of a V-2 rocket as you are to find a Porky Pig cartoon. Coprophilia and rooftop Banana gardens exist in a singularly bizarre harmony, repelling and enticing in equal measure.
Suffice to say that among these elements (and non sequiturs) are matters of content vaguely reminiscent of the lunacy prefacing the concept of Gravity Head’s XIII.5th edition. Oddly, it all makes sense to me. It may make even more sense to you midway through Friday’s opening day festivities.

See you at breakfast.


johnking said...

Now it all makes sense, I never made the Strangelove connection. Good work men (and women)

Rick500 said...

I *only* made the Strangelove connection and didn't pick out any of that other stuff until it was explained. Agreed, good stuff.

Rob said...

"Fiesta of Non Sequiturs" would make a good album name.