Friday, February 26, 2010

. . . and Effie.

Although Oliver is supposed to be the hero of the series, I'm beginning to suspect that I have more fun writing Effie Strongitharm, his police-officer girlfriend; and as a male writer, I'm particularly pleased when female readers find her complex and credible. Effie's most salient physical characteristic -- apart from a degree of attractiveness that leads critics to wonder what on earth she sees in Oliver -- is her remarkably curly hair. Here's a picture of actress Kate Beckinsale, where she seems to have temporarily adopted the look that Effie, like Frieda in Peanuts, achieves naturally.

But there's no secret about the origin of Effie's curls. They belonged (also naturally) to Julia, my girlfriend of the late teenage years -- hair so remarkable that sooner or later it had to be preserved in fiction. (Although Julia's resemblance to Crystal Tipps, the heroine of an animated TV series for kids, was well noted at the time.)

When I contacted Julia many years later to sheepishly report that I had borrowed her appearance and some other characteristics for Effie, she graciously agreed to be flattered by the portrayal and not sue me for copyright infringement or defamation of character. And she also sent me this picture of us both from 1975 that not only gives a fuzzy indication of those amazing tresses, but also shows that, at that time, I could give her a run for her money. They say that if you can remember the sixties, you weren't there. The problem with the seventies is that you do remember them, even if you don't want to. Especially the hairstyles.


  1. Thanks. I think. But as I said, it was the 70s. Hey, Kathi, what do you think of my theory that music and movies repel? The 60s was a great decade for music, but the 70s basically sucked (all disco and stadium rock). But on the other hand, the 70s was an outstanding decade for movies -- Godfather, Star Wars, Jaws, etc. Does it work for the other decades? Does it go good, bad, good, bad, like Star Trek movies?

    (Disclosure -- I seem to be in the minority for liking 80s music.)

  2. And I'm in the minority for liking a lot of the 70's stuff- The Eagles, Carole King, Carly Simon, and my all-time favorite, James Taylor. I even admit a liking for ABBA (in small doses).

    As for movies- unless I want to see a 4th run showing at the drive-in theater up at the end of my driveway, it's a 100mile round trip to see a movie, so I maybe go twice a year. We did see Shutter Island last week and liked it. And if Oliver ever makes it to the Big Screen, we'll make that trek on opening night.

  3. Thanks. I once heard Robert Barnard talking about Agatha Christie, and he said that despite the criticism for her restricted style and lack of characterization, she wrote extremely well for what she was trying to achieve.

    I feel the same way about ABBA. Strip away the 70s hair and the silver platform boots and the hot pants and the primitive synthesizers and the clunky English lyrics for what are probably elegant Swedish sentiments, and you've got masterful pop songs. Perfect for what they were trying to do, in the time they were trying to do it.

    Okay, boring bit coming, but I like this example of their skill as song-writers. ABBA's international success came literally overnight, when they won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with a live performance of "Waterloo." The song is written in D major, and starts with a couple of bars of the root chord, with a strong bass line emphatically stating the beat and the tonality. In the first bar of the verse, the women sing "My, My" in unison on the first beat, and the instrumentation echoes the rhythm -- the note of the melody is A, which being the dominant, sits firmly on top of the uninverted D-major triad, still rumbling along in the accompaniment.

    So your brain is totally unprepared for the second measure of the verse " . . . at | Waterloo . . ." when the melody line drops a semitone to G-sharp -- an accidental that's tritone from the tonal root of the song and a lapse into the Lydian mode. (In other words, it doesn't belong in D major.) The harmony scoops up to an E-major chord, which accommodates that renegade G-sharp. But that insistent, pedal bassline keeps thumping away on the D, as if nothing had happened.

    Thus, simultaneously, you get the melody shifting downwards, the harmony shifting upwards, and the bass staying where it was, the straight road unexpectedly forking in three directions. It's like the sudden burst of a firework. And it all happens on the first syllable of the song's title, a word specifically chosen to be familiar to European viewers and listeners even if they didn't know English. (The original title was "Honey Pie"!)

    Whether that was calculated or purely intuitive, I think it's pretty close to genius.