Sunday, December 21, 2008

happy holidays!

The greatest Chistmas laughter ever? A few years ago, my brother johnny and i were visiting bob and jan in the Poconos. They were singing in the Christmas Eve choir at church, so we went to hear them. We sat in the front row of the balcony. Well into the heart of the service, a group-sung hymn came up. We held our hymnal, and as the song was progressing, realized that the lyrics had a very bizarre grammatical structure. Every line of the chorus started with the verb. I casually leaned over to john, and on the next chorus whispered in a yoda voice, "Praise him, we do...worship him, we will."
It is only a mild exaggeration to say that two heathens nearly fell out of the balcony with suppressed laughter.
Happy holidays to all.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Soap"

1977-1981
In the discussion of the greatest TV shows of all time, one gem gets overlooked more than any other. SOAP gets neglected because it doesn't fit into the established categories. Hysterical and half an hour, but not a sitcom, SOAP spoofed the ridiculous banality of soap operas. And obviously it's had a lasting effect on the genre, as modern soap operas are bastions of credible situations and believable characters.
Or not.
Created by Susan Harris, SOAP was as barrier-breaking as it was funny. It had one of TV's first openly gay major characters. It showed us a high school teenager having an affair with his female teacher (i admit, i thought "oh those silly, over-imaginative writers" when i first watched it). And happily, it was the first show to use the word "boffed".
Richard Mulligan's Burt is one of the most towering physical comedy performances ever. Catherine Helmond and Cathryn Damon were the emotional center of the lunacy. Robert Gillaume took all kinds of flak for signing on to play a black servant, but in Benson he created an iconic character of dignity and humor. Billy Crystal gave a stereotype a heart. Arthur Peterson's portrayal of the Major is purely priceless. Jay Johnson as Chuck and Bob made us believe a doll was as real as any human. Robert Urich was there (which of course is pretty much a given if you're discussing american TV from the 70s to 90s). Ted Wass and Lynne Moody played a loving interracial couple, something i'd never seen. Harold Gould's monologue to the suicidal Jodie is one of the most heart-rending moments in TV history.
Part of the fun of watching Soap today is the parade of actors and bit actors who went on to greater fame. We've got Boss Hogg, Col. Flagg, Johnny Fever and Arthur Carlson, Norm, Mona, Miracle Max, K.I.T.T., Marie Barone, Red, the new Galactica doc...plus Robert Englund, Jack Gilford, and Joe Montegna. A "greatest episodes" list is pretty pointless, because the level of silly wonderfulness never dropped off. Here's to one of TV's landmark shows, and one of the greatest comedic ensembles ever.

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip"

2006-2007
Ah, here we are, reveling in the joy that is season three of STUDIO 60! It's December, so we may be treated to yet another amazing Christmas episo-

Oh yeah. I forgot.

STUDIO 60 was cancelled after one season.
You know, that 30 ROCK FROM THE SUN may be brilliant. Any show that taps into Alec Baldwin's comic side is on the right track. I wouldn't know anything about it though, as i've never seen 30 ROCK, and have no plans to do so. I realize that's a tiny bit unfair, but at some point in these shows' concurrent initial seasons, someone decided that two programs about the backstage goings-on of an SNL-style show were one too many. When the dust cleared, STUDIO 60 was gone.
It was going to be one of the best ever, maybe as good as its Aaron Sorkin predecessor THE WEST WING.
Oh, to be sure, they were still finding their first-season feet a bit...but actually less so than WEST WING and any number of other legendary shows. You know how i know? Because i wouldn't have watched the complete series five times in a row on my home dvd player if the show had been only about potential. Five times in a row, plus when it aired the year before. I'd never done anything like that before.
The writing was intelligent, funny, and socially relevant, and the number of shows in TV history which have been all three of those can be counted on one hand, i'm sure. The directing was laser-precise, and the production values were silly good...few casts have ever had so amazing a set. The acting was across-the-board unimpeachable. Bradley Whitford was a rock. Matthew Perry was up to the task of changing the minds of Friends-haters everywhere. Amanda Peet was all over the place and thoroughly believable. Steven Weber brought great sympathy and humor to his oft-antagonistic role. Sarah Paulson is an absolute treasure. Timothy Busfield was beautiful, and never got to the story lines which would have involved him more in following seasons. D.L. Hughley didn't miss a step. If Nate Corddry isn't getting more work, somebody's not paying attention. Merritt Wever was going to be the next Janel Moloney. Ed Asner, Ayda Field, Lucy Kenwright, and Mark McKinney played their roles so well you hoped that they would appear each episode.
HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
Episode 1: Sharp, airtight, and made luminous by the Emmy-winning (i may be making that up) performance of Judd Hirsch as Wes Mendell, the patriarch who loses his job for telling the truth on-air. The exquisite Donna Murphy also appears, but never again.
Episode 2: The "Model of a Modern Network TV Show" number is probably several times funnier than most production numbers on any real sketch comedy show.
Episode 3: Rob Reiner's Schlomo appearance is classic. Science schmience.
Episode 5: Achingly beautiful music by Sting.
Episode 6: Another guest actor Emmy, for Eli Wallach (although they dropped the ball in trying to have us believe that Cal wouldn't have known the Hollywood Ten).
Episode 7-8: Yet another Emmy, for the irrepressible John Goodman as Judge Bebe. Also notable for getting the Zhang Tao storyline rolling, which featured the saucy Julia Ling, and the not-so-saucy Raymond Ma.
Episode 11: "The Christmas Show", the best of the series, with the most moving musical moment i've ever witnessed on serial TV.
Episode 15: "The Friday Night Slaughter", the worst of the series, a clankety-clunker.
Episode 17: Busfield's biggest episode, made more sweet by the appearance of Allison Janney, the two of whom created WEST WING's most memorable couple. Such fast-paced fun that i watched it five times without realizing that the show's two biggest stars aren't even in the episode.
Episode 19-22: Despite shining guest performances by James Lesure and J.D. Walsh, the final four-episode arc struggles. But to say that they were too heavy is too easy an out. If WEST WING showed us anything, it's that the heavy episodes were very often the best. Perhaps it was too much sustained heaviness, but i prefer to think of these as grandly ambitious stories which nearly came together.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

george's greatest

GEORGE HARRISON'S GREATEST SONGS
1) All Things Must Pass
2) Let It Down (2001 demo version)
3) Free as a Bird
4) Someplace Else
5) Handle with Care
6) Isn't It a Pity
7) End of the Line
8) All Those Years Ago
9) When We Was Fab
10) While My Guitar Gently Weeps
11) Blow Away
12) Here Comes the Sun
13) Here Comes the Moon
14) Any Road
15) Something
16) Crackerbox Palace
17) I Me Mine
18) Soft-Hearted Hana
19) Pure Smokey
20) Within You Without You
21) Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)
22) Taxman
23) Cockamie Business
24) What Is Life
25) P2 Vatican Blues (Last Saturday Night)
GEORGE'S ALBUMS (RANKED)
1) ALL THINGS MUST PASS
His years of constipation burst forth in this 3-disc album. Even under the weight of phil spector's overproduction, the songs just roll you away. With the title song, it was the "quiet one" who turned the passing of the Beatles into an artistic expression of universal beauty and breadth.
2) TRAVELING WILBURYS VOLUME 1
I include Wilbury albums, because george was the driving force.
3) BRAINWASHED
His final album, a scintillating gem from start to finish, it reveals something (like warren zevon's last album) about the power of motivation in brilliance, as george had to know it would be his last.
4) GEORGE HARRISON
The mark of a great album is one in which you look forward to the lesser-known songs as much as the singles.
5) THE BEST OF DARK HORSE
Absent the hits from his early solo career (perhaps becase he didn't want to enrich his old record label), this is nonetheless one of the most satisfying hit collections around. The three new songs are a delight, one and all.
6) CONCERT FOR GEORGE
A benefit organized by clapton, and almost indescribably wonderful. The indian music is fantastic, and the lineup of george's friends performing his music is almost perfect. Particularly wonderful are ringo's "Photograph", billy preston's "Isn't It a Pity", paul's "All Things Must Pass", joe brown's "I'll See You in My Dreams", and paul and eric doing a ukelele version of "Something" (the best recording of that song ever).
7) THE CONCERT FOR BANGLA DESH
Synergy is real. Head and shoulders above most benefit albums.
8) THIRTY-THREE & 1/3
There are forgettable tracks, but wonderful songs fall like ripe fruit.
9) TRAVELING WILBURYS VOLUME 3
The brilliance rolls along...
10) LIVE IN JAPAN
The only tour in which a number of george solo songs were ever performed, this is a joyous event, supported by clapton and his band.
11) CLOUD NINE
Well-deserving of its status as one of george's best, and home to his most unappreciated song, "Someplace Else".
12) GONE TROPPO
His happiest album. If this is what living in the tropics does for everyone, we should all pack our bags. "Mystical One", a tribute to clapton, is a particular delight.
13) THE BEST OF GEORGE HARRISON
The only new studio track is the lovely "Bangla Desh". A fine collection of Beatle tracks and early solo work, one must subtract points for inclusion of the abysmal "You". Now that i think about it, george may be unique in the music business, where fans are usually subjected to endless hit collections with unending song overlap, plus that one new song which requires us to go out and buy the damn things. George released two hit collections, with no overlap between them. Eternal thanks, george.
14) LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD
A well-crafted album of good songs and two very good ones, the title track and "Give Me Love".
15) DARK HORSE
The first five songs are forgettable, "Ding Dong" is an annoyance of monumental proportions, and the final three songs are a delight.
16) SOMEWHERE IN ENGLAND
A burp of an album, redeemed only by "Life Itself", and "All Those Years Ago", written in the wake of john's murder.
17) EXTRA TEXTURE
His most listless and uninspired work, rescued from the rubbish tip only by "Tired of Midnight Blue". "Ooh Baby" is interesting, a primitive version of what would become "Pure Smokey".

HIV Chin Chin Niggah

STAGE/SCREEN 78 & 80
-fall 2007, 2008
I'm black and blue, and have a pimple where my skin hasn't been able to breathe.
Either i spent the weekend in a gimp costume, or i've been in a movie.
Koh Yamamoto's new film HIV NIGGAH required two days of shooting. This is the second Koh film i've been in. The first, CHIN CHIN CHAN, was filmed a year and a half ago, and even now is only almost completed (a clip is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4bGPfSSn9c). CHIN CHIN is about an underground NY rock star murdered by an obsessed fan, but the show goes on. I played the brother of the fan, a good ol' Texas boy who gets taken out by sis's shotgun too. It was the first time i had ever been squibbed (that's when they strap gunpowder and blood onto you, and explode it remotely). The shoot was an absolute hoot. We filmed part of it in a Manhattan S&M dungeon. It was a great and goofy time.
NIGGAH is about racism and safe sex. We shot part of it in the very same dungeon, and this time there were clients on the premises, and the background shouts of "Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow...." lent the set a surreal element. I play Mark, a Christian Scientist holy roller pimping out my HIV-infected wife in NY nightclubs. Once again, the shooting was just silly fun. I was one of five actors who have been in both films. I was supposed to have a softcore sex scene with Tatiana, a real-life adult film star, but the scene was dropped due to time constraints. I'm bruised from the fight scene i was in...the Jagger pants i was wearing allowed for no pads, so my knees took a beating.
Film acting is a curious beast, one i'm still working on. Some great stage actors are never able to do film well. We're trained to project vocally across distance, and it can be hard to make the vocal shift to the intimacy of film. I felt like my vocals were projected and forced during this shoot, but that was because i was trying to use a "nightclub" voice, where people talk loudly to overcome the music. I had to imagine the music while we were shooting our close-ups, and i can only hope that the performance i delivered is more natural than it felt. Film acting is more an exercise in multi-tasking than stage acting. Sometimes you only get a few minutes of rehearsal, and then have to do take after take of the same scene, while a big chunk of your mind is focused on simple continuity, making sure that you deliver each take in exactly the same way...the way you grip your bottle, where you grab your partner's arm....maybe you only feel really good about one or two of the takes, but often those takes end up on the cutting room floor, for technical reasons. Actors create stage plays. Editors create movies.
Some of the actors asked me what people are going to think of the film, as it seems a non-stop shockfest of racism, sex, and violence. I'm told them i'm pretty sure Koh's films are comedies, actually. I think Koh (a sweet fellow who acts and produces, in addition to directing) is a bit of a modern day Anton Chekov, writing comedies everyone thinks are tragedies. How else do you explain the fact that the funniest scene i saw was a rape? Actors are the toughest audiences to impress, particularly ones whom you are working with. We know what's coming, so after the first take or two we seldom giggle. But that rape scene, i'm still smiling at the silliness of it days later.
Another beautiful week in the big city.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

why, johnny ringo!

Michael biehn came onto the scene in 1984, starring opposite an austrian bodybuilder in THE TERMINATOR. In the decades since, one of those actors has married a kennedy, had a parade of blockbuster films created around his talent, and become governor of the most auspicious state in the union.
The other has had a quieter career filled with consistent work, but the price of that consistency has been lower-budget films, of which many have been average, and a few awful.
Yet the well-budgeted austrian has appeared in more appallingly bad films, and both actors have been in the exact same number of brilliant movies - four each.
So it's time to celebrate mr. biehn.
No amount of money or talent can guarantee that a film will be good. The process is too scattered and complex. Compared to stage actors, a film actor is helpless in creating brilliance. Of course, it helps if james cameron loves you - three of michael's four have been cameron-helmed. And three (but not the same three) have had bill paxton in the cast, so make of that what you will. Michael is possibly unique in film history, in that his greatest roles have been perfectly balanced between good and bad guys (Hollywood rarely offers categories beyond these two). The essential filmography:
COACH - A fascinating curiosity. Far from brilliant, it is nonetheless sincere and charming and could never ever EVER get produced in today's politically correct world:
http://nakedmeadow.blogspot.com/2011/10/coach.html
THE TERMINATOR - Arnold's performance made the film, but try to picture some other actor as reese.
HILL STREET BLUES - Just weeks after TERMINATOR opened, michael had a memorable three-episode run as amoral rookie officer randall buttman.
ALIENS - Again, sigourney centers the film beautifully, but imagine someone else as hicks and it just feels wrong.
THE ABYSS - Lt. coffey is so creepily dislikable, you just want him to...not be there. Yet the core of his creepiness is the horrible certainty that there are people like him out there. If this film didn't knock you out, you may have only seen the original release. More than any movie i know, the added minutes of footage in the special edition elevate it to unqualified brilliance.
TOMBSTONE - In creating johnny ringo, michael drops the pretense of goodness which coffey carried. The result is deliciously horrible. One of those rare films which gets better with each viewing.
---
A part of me wanted to wait an indeterminate number of years before writing this article, because i have the feeling that it's not complete, that when all is said and done there will be one more transcendent film on michael's resume. How many would wager the same about the governator?
Reese. Hicks. Coffey. Ringo. He's no daisy.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

she-pigments of imagination

During my twenties, i made the realization that a staggeringly high percentage of my favorite writers and musicians were white men. This troubled me. I knew that our thoughts are a product of what we pour into our brains, and that subconscious attitudes are passed on more readily than hand-me-downs in a family of eleven. I had to face the reality that my patterns of thought predominantly reflected white male ideologies and perspectives. If this seems an obvious realization, it's just that gender and race issues had been important to me even as a child. I kicked myself a little for not making more non-white and female reading/music choices in my youth. While this self-assessment had validity, i eased up on myself when i realized that all this was largely inevitable, because for millennia girls had been taught to be quiet and unintelligent, while boys were taught that boldness was their birthright. How could it be otherwise then, that history's achievers would be overwhelmingly male? As for skin color, this reality had limited parallels there as well.
But still in all, when one makes such a realization, consciously seeking out more female and non-white creativity is a most excellent and goodly response. Which i did.
Of course, a little piece of me was also kicking myself for partitioning the creative universe into color and gender at all. As a writer, it is often my fervent hope that people might take no notice of my skin or my sex (posting pictures of myself on this blog was a choice that took some pondering...eventually the desire to be naked outweighed the desire for albino androgyny). I am sometimes unhappy that my name alone invokes assumptions of ethnicity and gender. I've always loved tomboys and androgynous names. I did change my last name once, and a part of me thought about going even further, but that desire clashed with the part of me that finds name-changing contrived and past-denying.
No one ever said being an evolving human in a complex world would be simple.
More than a decade later, white males still occupy the lion's share of my musical/literary favorites, but not quite so thoroughly.
I now have Keb' Mo' and Buddy Guy in my life. I have Cassandra Wilson, Paula Cole, Joni, Annie Lennox, Alanis, and Tori.
Michael Harper and Sandy Boucher have joined King and Malcolm X. Judith Levine and Carol Tavris have joined Simone de Beauvoir.
The greater dream is that these and all people be defined not by pigment or genitals at all.
We're getting there.
I hug you all.

Friday, November 14, 2008

games GAMES GaMeS

Games are fun. I like fun. I like games.
You can learn about a person from the games they like. Or don't like. I don't care for chess, it's always felt too earnestly militaristic. Maybe i also sensed how much commitment was involved in being good at it, and decided it wasn't worth the time investment. Plus everyone playing it always seemed so serious.
And although i was the perfect age and demographic for the video game explosion, i never got into them like my peers did. There have been rare exceptions, but i clearly remember being around fifteen and deciding that video games were too sedate and voyeuristic.
Here are the games i've loved (a "*" denotes one which i still play).
The earliest memories are card games. There was a vegetable-themed version of Old Maid, with characters like Col. Corn and Star Rock Broccoli. There was Last Card*, a complex version of Crazy 8s. Two versions of solitaire*, and double solitaire with my big sister and younger brothers (your fingers have to be quick in double sol). For a while, i loved War. There was Blitz* (Scat, to some), a trade-in game where you try to reach 31. This was the first money game i learned. We played for coins (or pretzel rods, or whatever). Hearts* can be fun...he's shootin'. When i was old enough there was Milles Bornes*, a French automotive travel game, and Pit*, the crazy shouting stock market game. And above all, Upsy Downsy* (also known as Up the River, Down the River), a game of bidding, tricks, and trump. Games can be as long or short as you want, and as many as ten can play. A good game lasts over an hour. Over the years, my brothers and i have added new rules, refining and experimenting. Upsy is king. I think i like it so much because it involves a certain amount of skill, but the human interactions are the best part. A few years ago, my aunt discovered a store-bought variation called Wizard*. I love it, although some purists in my family resist its charm.
The childhood board and box games i loved were Don't Break the Ice, Don't Spill the Beans, and Whirlaway. The Mickey Mouse Rickety Bridge game was great, saving monkeys and all. Mom had a game from her childhood about going to the outhouse, called Gotta Go. Aggravation was great fun, a marble dice game where you try to get home. My sister and i played this one regularly for a year or so, and i remember the day i was finally going to win. I was one die roll away, and she suddenly flipped the board so high that the pieces hit the ceiling. So i've never beaten her. Husker du was an awesome memory game. Breaker 1-9 was a cool trucker game. Skirmish was a Revolutionary war game. We played Monopoly, Life, and Go To the Head of the Class. The Star Wars Battle of the Sarlacc Pit was a great 3D board game, with little players that fell into the mouth. Battleship was cool. Clue was very cool, both the original and Master Detective versions. Coolest of all was Creature Features*, a monopoly game of horror movies. My brothers and i couldn't get enough. We dove into Risk* with a passion, too.
Poker* is my other favorite card game. Love it love it love it. I play low stakes, usually nickel-dime-quarter (i've never felt the allure of real-money gambling). The most i've ever lost in one night is about $15. I'll sometimes play poker solitaire, playing all six hands of draw. I've never played strip poker, and i can't wait. Poker and nakediditity together, holy cow. I've also loved Euchre*, both the two, three, and four-player versions. Push and Shove*, a rummy game, is fine.
During pre-adolescence, my next-door best friend Dave Bent and i played games ardently. Stratego was great. Titanic was so cool. It had a multi-layered board, with a big ship that spun into the ocean, turn by turn. You had to run around collecting passengers and food, then continue in a lifeboat. It's the one game i've never seen another copy of, and would most like to find again. The biggest game Dave and i played was War at Sea/Victory in the Pacific, two store-bought games i combined and modified extensively. I was hugely into naval military history in those years, particularly WWII. I added dozens of ships they had left out, and totally restructured the rules. I always played the Axis powers...not sure exactly why that was, but that was the way it had to be. A full playing of the game would take several weeks, a couple hours at a time. I haven't played it since those years, but a little part of me hopes that one day i will.
College added two games to my favorites. Questions is a party game in which every response must be a question. Celebrity* is a partner game in which every person writes celebrity names on strips of paper, then all names go into a bowl, and on your turn you must describe a person to your partner until they say the name. You try to get as many names as you can before your turn ends.
I'm old enough that i remember the first video game, Pong. Good stuff. Boop, boop. I played Coleco's Cosmic Avenger and Smurf and Ladybug before i gave up video games...i remember my brothers being awed by my Ladybug talents. The only video game i've played regularly since those teen years is Lode Runner with my second cousin John, for one year in my twenties. It was silly fun, with evil monks and goofy juice.
I got into Mancala, the African stone game, a few years back. I acted in one play where it was the backstage obsession, and i beat most everyone. I also had it in my briefcase the year i was a high school substitute teacher, and would reward worthy students with a game or two against me.
Trivial Pursuit* is lovely. The best version of it i've ever played combines Star Wars Trivial Pursuit with Star Wars Monopoly: if you can answer a question correctly, you avoid paying rent...but if you miss and the owner answers one right, you pay double. I couldn't get my brothers to play again after i schooled them the first time. Apples to Apples* is a great game my nephews love. The coolest board game i've learned as an adult is Balderdash*. You make up definitions for words no one knows, and try to fool others into believing your definition is correct, while guessing the correct definition yourself. This game nicely exemplifies my view on winning. I usually neglect to move my piece if i've won points, and am happier playing without the board altogether. Usually Balderdash deteriorates into who can write the funniest fake definition. So one of the quirks of the game is that the memorable definitions are rarely the correct ones.
Games games games. Let's play.

greatest story never told

The most important book which as far as i know has not yet been written is a comprehensive sociological study addressing the question of whether there is a measurable moral and ethical difference between religious people and non-religious. In essense, a scientific answer to the question of whether believers in god are "better" or "worse" people than athiests/agnostics. The study would measure characteristics such as honesty, generosity, courage, patience, kindness, and corresponding negative characteristics. The essential difference between religious and non-religious people is acknowledgement of a higher authority. The non-religious assume full accountability for their actions, while the religious give authority for their actions to some outside agent. Does one of these paths create a "better" person?
Of course, any such study would be mired in a ridiculously relativistic moral quagmire. The religious and non-religious have such fundamentally different moral codes that concepts of good and bad often have little crossover meaning. The results of the study would be debated ad nauseum. There are also those who will be concerned about making a distinction between religion and spirituality. I am sympathetic to that point.
As a person who has long been subject to condescension by religious folk, i have my biases in this matter. I've always been gently certain that a very large percentage of the "believers" who've looked down on me were nowhere near as "good" a person as i. So deflating the moral pretense of religion motivates me, as does the evolution of humanity out of the darkness of ignorance and superstition. I've had good friends with deeply-held religious beliefs who have been among the better people i've known. And might the research perhaps yield results which defy easy conclusions? Whatever the case, i just very much want to know what the study would reveal. If any of you know an ambitious disciple of sociology looking to make their mark, one of the seminal works in the history of moral evolution is waiting to be written...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

ZAZ!

David zucker, jim abrahams, and jerry zucker, we salute thee. Hm, given their predilection for exclamation points, i probably should have used one in that first sentence.
No matter!
There are two realizations that blindsided me while researching this article, which almost made me dump the whole idea - ZAZ were responsible for one of the most unfunny comedies ever, and one of their funniest films was actually made by someone else.
Nonetheless, the comedic eruptions created by this three-headed directing monster were so cinematically nonpareil, that tribute must be made. It is said that drama is far easier than comedy. A towering testament to that is the number of unfunny films these three were associated with when they went their (more or less) separate ways. Someone i was once trying to impress called the films shallow. I was deeply troubled by that suggestion. But i believe that humor is the most underrated indicator of intelligence, and that people who don't "get" ZAZ are missing something.
A curious feature of ZAZ films is that sometimes the versions they air on television are slightly different than the product released on video. Was andy a rock, or was it howie? What does geronimo yell when he leaps out of an airplane?
I was a bit stumped on how to structure this tribute, as focusing solely on the movies they created together left out films i wished to honor, yet the bulk of their solo work i wished to ignore. I ultimately highlighted all their collective efforts, plus a few solo shots - a sloppy approach that's the only satisfying way to point a ZAZ neophyte in the right direction. In order of funny...
AIRPLANE!
The first film they directed, it tapped into the need for a certain kind of mass cathartic laughter which had never before been accessed in such a fully-realized, completely unapologetic way. This film is nothing less than a culture laughing at itself.
THE NAKED GUN
So comedically perfect that, in the european release of this article, this goes to the top of the list.
AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL
Not created by ZAZ! Not at all! I'm in shock, as for years i've toyed with the idea that this might be one of the few sequels to ever top the original. How'd ya do it, writer and first-time director ken finkelman? If that's not shocking enough, i've just discovered that that very same year, ken penned...GREASE 2! Aaaaaaaaaahh!!!
POLICE SQUAD!
The only television they ever did, and such a smash it lasted four whole episodes. Naturally, one of the most over-the-top brilliant shows ever. The original files from which the NAKED GUN films were based, they were too brilliant for the airwaves. As the ZAZ boys say, too much audience attentiveness was required, because the jokes never let up. Leslie nielsen and ed williams (mr. olsen) are the only actors who leapt from small screen to big. Alan north (ed) and peter lupus' (nordberg) big-screen replacements were fine, but 'tweren't broke, so they aughtn't've fixed it. And one of the most brilliant characters ever, johnny the bootblack (william duell), never made the big screen at all. But i quibble.
TOP SECRET!
Val kilmer's debut, and the talent he displays is seamless. Yet this kind of role would never be Oscar-nominated, which is another reason why i haven't given attention to the Academy since 1985. Listening to the directors' commentary was the trigger for this article, as i simply must disagree with their moaning over how this inexpensive film suffers from a lack of plot. What the hell are you babbling about, boys? Only one or two films per decade come anywhere near this kind of funny. The underwater fight scene alone is worth the price of admission.
THE NAKED GUN 2 1/2
The second-greatest shower scene ever. A round of black russians on me.
THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE
Their earliest film, before they directed their own material. It's wildly uneven, and we none of us are worthy to touch rex kramer's size 27 tennies.
THE NAKED GUN 33 1/3
There is a moment when one realizes the ZAZ alchemy is petering out - when they do the long pan across the feet of the showering prisoners, a moment of brilliant comedy...totally fails to materialize. Am i the only one to wonder where was the inmate who had one black and one white foot? Even a tired ZAZ production is funnier than a million imitators, though.
HOT SHOTS! & HOT SHOTS! PART DEUX
The only spoofs ever made by a solo ZAZman which (almost) deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with the originals, are these by jim abrahams and ZAZ regular writer pat proft.
RUTHLESS PEOPLEGaah! They made this turd? Well, we should all...uh, step outside our comfort zone.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

bad monkey 2: monkey love

I worked the 2008 NY Chocolate Show this week as baby Bananas, the lovablest loveball merry monkey mascot.
In earlier Bananas articles, i don't think i was able to communicate how much genuine love he inspires. I despair of ever really being able to do so, in words. The reaction to most mascots is "yes, you're a dude/girl in a chicken suit/big doughnut, and you can go now". For anyone not aged 2-5, the best one can hope for, even with mascots which aren't overtly annoying, is a "that's cute" reaction which is relatively quickly forgotten, but hopefully remembered subconsciously.
With Bananas, the average reaction is on a different level, to say nothing of the more profound reactions. I'm not saying that Bananas is the first mascot to transcend the genre. The Phillie Phanatic has been making adults forget there's a man inside there, for years. That chicken does it, too. So it's safe to assume that others have done it.
But the kind of love Bananas engenders is just more personal than anything i've ever heard of. For a significant percentage of the thousands who saw Bananas this week, he was the cutest and most unexpected thing they experienced at the show, and he stayed in their consciousness throughout the day. For a smaller percentage who had a more personal interaction, he'll be a part of their consciousness for a good deal longer. And for a few...
The best way i can describe the profound interactions is by telling you of one child and one adult. The common thread was that they simply could not get enough. Please believe that hyperbole is not my style. The child was around two, and this non-verbal lad convinced his parents to return to me three or four times. I'm sure some of those times he just bolted from their presence when he spotted me again. He would have stood there, waving and dancing and hypnotized, for hours. This interaction was on the last day, when i was a bit wrecked. Most mascot gigs are over in three hours, but i was doing more than twice that for almost four days. By the last day, the pain in my upper back torso was pretty well torturous within a few minutes of putting the helmet on. In that state, you grab at extra moments of relief that come with leaning your heavily-helmeted head back. But even when you're cheating, you try to do it in character, so on that last day, someone watching long enough might have wondered why Bananas was so curious about the ceiling. If our booth had a massage therapist on-call, or i had a live-in therapist of my own, i'd have endured better. I'm not holding my breath on the former, and accepting applications for the latter. But this child came on the last day, and i gutted out the pain needed to give him a little window of magic which will very possibly only come once in his life.
The adult mirror of this child was a girl in her late teens. She was with a friend, and as happens in cases like these, i could tell right away that she was feeling something very strange and personal, something which affected her whole being. The first time she hugged me, i felt her urge to not let go. There's no way this reaction could have been so profound if it was a one-way thing. Something in her presence touched me deeply, and we created a circuit. Like the child, she and her friend came back to me three or four times (and i found her once too). There was just no way she could get enough of what she was feeling, as she looked into the screens of my eyes while i cradled and stroked her hand. If i had left the building with her, she wouldn't have even analyzed it. I mean, you know, at some point reality kicks in with adults, and within a few blocks, she would have analyzed it. But think about how amazing that proposition is, that it might have taken that long. When i'm in that rare zone, which occurs about once per show, i'm certain the woman just wants nothing more in the world than to take Bananas home. Again, no hyperbole. I would call it likely that years from now, she and her friend will suddenly recall that monkey moment in time.
For the first time ever, i saw video images of Bananas this year. I've always been objectively aware of his cuteness, but i now know that i never comprehended it fully. The images almost startled me, and i'm the one in the suit! It seemed almost unfair that that amount of cuteness could exist in the world.
At the end of the show, Bananas gives a rose to his favorite worker from another vendor's booth. I began this tradition last year, and this year delivered one to the Chocolove stand.
And this year i experienced one other thing i'd never felt. I gave a monkey hug to a beaming woman, and after a second or three, through at least five layers of costume and clothing, i felt her heart. It was so strong and i was so surprised that i pulled back a bit, and as i did, she exclaimed to her friends in amazement that she could feel my heartbeat.
Just like that.
Monkey love.

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Pittsburgh"

2006
-directed by Bradley & LaBrache

The movie PITTSBURGH is almost wonderful.
The dvd of PITTSBURGH is indeed wonderful.
This mockumentary chronicles Jeff Goldblum's return to live theater and his hometown, to play Harold Hill in a regional production of "The Music Man". Being a huge fan of Christopher Guest films (plus liking Jeff, and seeing Guest regular Ed Begley in the cast), i was drawn to this film, though i'd never heard anyone speak of it. Though it was enjoyable, i had to conclude that its lack of word of mouth was deserved.
Calling it a mockumentary isn't even entirely accurate. It's a mockumentary/practical joke, though that's not right either. Much of the supporting cast is unaware that a mockumentary is being filmed, they are simply real people honestly interacting with the leads, under the impression that the cameras are filming a documentary about Jeff's return to theater.
It's when you watch the deleted scenes and listen to the directors' commentary track however, that this dvd takes off. You have to watch the movie to appreciate the extras. The deleted scenes have more laugh-out-loud moments than the movie, but they didn't fit into the narrative restraints of a feature-length film. And it's only when you listen to the commentary that you appreciate the "performances" which turn out to not be performances at all. It's not even clear watching the film that the play-within-the-movie is real, and that Jeff and the others did indeed play these parts on this prestigious Pittsburgh stage. But real it was, a performance which existed independently of the filmmakers' cameras, and had been scheduled long before the film itself. The directors didn't know how much of Jeff's anxiety was sincere, and how much was acting. The silence about the mockumentary extended to real talk show appearances, wherein Jeff talked about the play, rather than his most recent movie (which ties in to his manager's ongoing distress that Jeff's choices are jeopardizing his career). There are delightful cameos. A subplot is Jeff's real-life engagement to the actress playing opposite him in the stage play, and the reactions (both fake and real) of the people around him to this whirlwind romance with a woman 30 years his junior. The movie ends with the city of Pittsburgh naming an official "Jeff Goldblum Day", another event which you don't realize is happening in real life.
Decent film, and delightful dvd. Hmm, that sounds like a brand new cinematic category.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

fragile insecurity

I have repetitive stress injuries in my knees. This is a self-diagnosis, as i haven't had medical insurance since my last regular job fifteen years ago. When my knees are rested they're fine, but prolonged hard use (like climbing a mountain) makes them tender and tight. It's a little worse in the right one. I'm guessing the damage is in the cartilage or ligaments. I still get around the boroughs by bike, so my legs won't get soft, and one of those arthroscopic surgeries may fix me up as good as new. But i don't have $25,000 lying around (my current fortune is closer to $250).
I'm not sure how i got these injuries. It may be a combination of factors. I've been a NY mover, requiring the moving of heavy loads up and down flights of stairs, sometimes for hours on end. But you know what the real culprit may be?
Vanity and insecurity.
I love my legs. I've always been able to run and climb and jump better than most everyone. But all my life, i've gotten "skinny leg" comments, especially from the males in my family. No amount of exercise has ever made my legs bigger. I've biked as much as 500 miles a month, and they stay just the same. They've always been well-toned, but from time to time those ol' skinny comments come my way. Why, when my legs are functionally better than almost everyone's, would these comments possibly bother me?
Because people suck. Because dragging someone else down is the easiest way to bolster our own status. Because we're stunningly good at dragging others down even when we don't consciously intend to. Because there's a little place inside all of us where we dream about being the most desirable person in the world. If there are people who've never been affected by body image issues, i haven't met 'em. My own self-love and confidence have been admired, even envied. Rightly so. There are perhaps some who would be stunned to know i was ever bothered by insecurity at all.
A couple years ago, i decided i finally wanted to make my legs "big". I lived on a long, steep hill, and i decided to sprint down and up this hill every day or two. It was beautiful exercise, one that i had to work at for a couple of months before i could sprint all the way up without slowing.
Except...i was running up and down a concrete sidewalk. It may just be coincidence, but it was about a year after i began my hill running that i first felt knee tenderness. In retrospect, it may have been the downhill which did the damage. If i had just walked down...
Such are the thoughts that play in one's mind.
Mind you, there was more going on psychologically than just that one motivation. I ran the hill partly for the joy of pure physicality. But have i sabotaged two of the best legs around, in the name of insecurity? And the greater question...if i can fall prey to insecurity, where does that leave the six billion or so whose self-worth is more fragile than my own?
We live in the land that created anorexia. We live in a world where thousands will have plastic surgery tomorrow, while babies go without the cleft palate surgery they need. Look at all the faces you pass tomorrow, feel the damaged psyches, the parade of people who will live their whole lives craving an unconditional love and acceptance they will never find. Look at them, feel them, and hug just one stranger.
I love you all.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

cyberlovers 3

(this article is one of a series about online dating correspondences in which the couple never meet, despite conspicuous outlays of time or emotion)

To a large extent, i have no one but myself to blame for the prolonged wound-scrape that was my relationship with B. When we met online, i was looking for healing...for the truth of touch to salve my weary spirit. At the time, i was in love with a woman i couldn't be with, and battered by a lack of physical healing in any relationship i'd had in years. To be held with unconditional acceptance and love...it had been over a decade since i'd felt anything like that. And my experience with C had made me wary of any kind of online emotional involvement prior to meeting.
It took me the better part of a year to discover that B's needs were almost the polar opposite of mine. Her own path had been one of harshness in physical intimacy, and she needed spiritual love and acceptance more than she actually needed to meet someone. She did want to meet me eventually, for in time my resistance gave way and our spiritual love was secured. But ultimately she was so afraid of rejection, or of our love not measuring up to the intensity of the dream, that my year-long pleas for contact were an isolated howl into the winds of time.
It was one of my own ads that began our tale. I posted a poem of mine, and she was so taken with it that she responded, even though, as a devotee of makeup and heels and fashion, she wasn't the natural woman i had written about. Her intelligence and spirit touched me, and we were off. For a year, we wrote almost every day, and shared our poetry (one of my more resonant poems, "Sanctify", was inspired by her). She had lived through a loveless ten-year marriage, in which she had once been raped. She had been born in the Caribbean, and was taken with my light skin and long blonde hair. We sent each other very naked pictures...in most of her photos, her face was turned away, and i learned this was because she didn't like her eyes (and because i didn't like makeup). Sometimes she would pretend that a picture she had sent wasn't her, just some island girl for me to dream about. This was a little cute, but eventually honesty became a problem for her. In most ways though, she was possibly more open with me than she'd ever been with anyone.
The profoundness of her growing love for me was intense. I tried to hold back, but with limited success. Even at a distance, we affected each other physically. She affected my breath, and made my chest tighten. We would have long back and forth conversations. A few times, i became spontaneously erect while writing with her. She would sit on her bed to write, and one night she was stunned when she experienced a spontaneous orgasm under her warm laptop. My insistence that it was unhealthy to not hold a woman who just came because of you, fell on deaf ears.
After about a year, she told me that she had to leave New York for Texas, and we made one real attempt to get together. Strangely, i had a little rush of uncertainty at the last minute. I asked to re-schedule for the following day, but it never happened. She left, and i asked to break off contact. In the year or two that followed, we were intermittently successful at this. Occasionally we would write, and once there was even a strained phone call. Throughout, she did a number of things to destroy her credibility and be less than gentle. She threatened to hook up with blonde men she met. Once she answered another ad of mine, and carried on a conversation with me for several days, pretending to be someone else. There were other untruths, but my self-preservation has blocked the memory of them.
She also revealed at one point that she was dying. I told her it didn't matter, and that i didn't understand how dying wouldn't make her more willing to meet. In meeting, the only promise i made was that she would be held. Perhaps she needed the "ever after" part so much that any less would be too much to bear. She did finally visit me on a trip to NY. Unfortunately, she didn't tell me in advance, and went to my old address.
I know that perhaps i've been a tiny bit ungenerous, and that her version of the tale might leave you feeling more sympathy for her. During our Texas time, she accused me of cruelty for sometimes refusing to acknowledge her letters. But in the years we wrote, i still searched in vain for the simple physical healing i'd been needing...so that colors my story, to be sure.
I do love her.

Friday, October 24, 2008

cyberlovers 2

(this article is one of a series about online dating correspondences in which the couple never meet, despite conspicuous outlays of time or emotion)

I responded to a forgotten online ad by F, and when she wrote back i was quickly taken by her assertive energy and bright intelligence. Adorably, her name rhymed with the African country she had been born in. The picture she sent pressed almost every visual button i had...she stood alone under a palm tree next to a volleyball court, her dark skin and hair the picture of natural beauty, her physique a complement of my own. She was looking for more than a hook-up, but she was all about freedom and multiple lovers. Although we shared some wonderful letters for a week or so, she decided that i was too monogamously-oriented to risk pursuing. The fact that i both agreed and disagreed was moot.
A month later, we resumed our letters. She opened up her life to me. She had been raised in Germany, and shared the most beautiful tale of sexual awakening with the German girl she had lived with. She had known many lovers. She was a painter, and her paintings were beautiful and moving. She told me about the two great loves of her life, a Brooklyn artist and a French businessman. The artist had been her first, and he had promised her she would never find another love as physically satisfying. She and he were still occasional lovers, and she was on friendly terms with his live-in mate. The businessman and she had been involved for a year or two, whenever he came to town. She explored submission with him, and related tales of degradation that were quite stunning (one of them either made him a freak of nature, or on viagra). I myself had never indulged in dominance/submission, but a part of me was so taken with her spirit that i closed no doors. When i told her about my taoist training, and separating orgasm from ejaculation, she was unhappy. Ejaculation was such a huge part of her enjoyment of sex, that this was almost a deal-breaker for her. I eventually told her that if i loved someone, i would never fully deny something so precious to them. For all her libertine ways, she had never had multi-partner sex. She told me there was something psychologically fearful about it. A lifelong devotee of fear-facing, i fantasized about making love to her with other men. There was something intoxicating about the kind of lover she wanted in me. She liked to devote entire days to making love (her "fourteen hours", she called it). During the months we wrote, the specificity and intensity of the fantasies i had about her were profound...the things i would do for her which i had never done, and the things she would do for me...
She told me all about her childhood, and sent pictures of her African home, where her family still lived, and with whom she was close. She told me about the ways her home life had damaged her spirit. Abandonment issues. She continued to send pictures of herself, and a couple of them literally took my breath away. She occasionally wore makeup and heels, but i felt that this wouldn't bother me like it would with other women.
She shared poems she had written, and one of them was among the most beautiful, heart-rending things i've ever read, and ultimately the straw that broke our back. It was a poem that ripped past all her surface strength, and revealed, in a tiny voice, her profound fear of never being loved. All along i had been dancing around the idea of being with her without having access to ALL of her...but when i read her poem, i knew that i needed to love her, without walls, beyond time. Even though i held on to the idea of meeting her (i suggested we could hold each other from time to time, in simple asexual love), she was ultimately too afraid of the self she had revealed to me. She wrote that in another time i might be the fulfillment of her most sacred dreams, but that she couldn't reconcile me with her present world. She asked me to walk away. I knew that to do that, i would have to wipe out every physical connection...delete every poem, trash every picture, take her e-mail address out of my computer...else i would never be able to let go.
I did all this.
A couple of times in the years since, i've had a moment of weakness in which i've sent a tiny e-mail to the address time won't let me forget.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

cyberlovers

For the past six years, i've dabbled in online love connections. Prior to that, i had always thought personal ads were a touch pathetic, but when i began using craigslist for job purposes, i discovered the "platonic only" personal section. This seemed an admirable evolvement in the genre, and i browsed. I occasionally answered an ad, and made some new friends. I realized after a year or less that i was only answering ads by females, and that whenever i met a woman, it almost invariably became romantic. I embraced the obvious and began browsing the romance section. In the years since, i've answered many ads and posted some of my own (being a male and off the beaten path, i've met almost no one from my own ads). I often answer the ads which seek opinions, or offer questionnaires. I try to keep an attitude of fun. Craigslist is the only site i use, as paying money for a dating service invokes a level of neediness that's not me.
I rarely look at ads which don't have a picture, as i believe pictures do tell a thousand words, particularly for someone off that aforementioned path. In a similar vein, most men don't need the words of an ad to know whether they're interested in a woman. Which is not to say that men don't care about personality, but sex is sex...or stated a little more generously, the average male can glean enough of a woman's personality from a picture to know whether he wants to meet.
I would estimate that at least half of my NY love life has come through the online world.
This article isn't about that.
This article (and the following two) is about online lovers who never meet...and three women whose lives became a part of mine, but never in the material world.
Being fond of the written word, most of the online connections i make are with atypically literate women. I can be game for flurries of back and forth letters. In general though, if there's a connection, i prefer to meet sooner rather than later. C was one of my early connections. I suspect we met in the "platonic only" section. For a while we wrote increasingly tender and revealing letters, sharing our poetry and lives. She wrote beautifully. She and her lesbian partner lived outside the city. She had only ever been with a man sexually once, when as an adolescent her father or step-father raped her. To this day, one of my cherished possessions is a poem she wrote about that experience, and i will sadly ever keep my word to not share it with the world. Over the months we wrote ever-increasingly intimate letters. She finally became convinced that she had found in me the first male lover of her life, and that making physical love with me would be the most important step in her long journey of healing. I felt the same...her words affected me viscerally, and i was sure that i was who she believed me to be. I honestly can't remember whether we ever shared pictures of each other.
Strangely, considering that she is the lead woman in this memoir, C doesn't fit into the parameters, for we did meet. After about four months, we met at a Manhattan Starbucks. It was faintly surreal, as we sipped and talked. After an hour, she headed back to the station. As we said goodbye, i think we both knew that something we had been so sure of, was not to be. Our physical connection was gentle and friendly, but the spark that would have made real all those months of build-up, just wasn't there. I think it was so obvious to both of us, that we didn't even speak of it. We just smiled and hugged each other goodbye.
We exchanged one or two more notes, and faded out of each other's lives.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

economy burn Burn

The single most important feature of the current economic crisis is a reality most people don't grasp.
There is no economic crisis.
Ask any one of the millions who are running about in fear of the sky falling, a very simple question. In real terms, how is the world different from one month ago? You'll get a million babbling priceindexfidiciarynasdaqpurplepeopleeater answers, but very few will look you in the eye and say, "The world is no different, actually".
The world of shared ideas and social constructs has changed, but those things have no tangible reality. Tangible reality is this: how many life forms are on the planet, what resources do we have, and what is the state of our environment. Those three things pretty much cover reality. And they're statistically identical to what they were a month ago. Weevils didn't destroy the planet's wheat supply. A volcanic cloud didn't shroud North America. An overanxious mother in Maryland with way too much access to fertility pills didn't suddenly drop a billion babies into our laps.
All that has changed are human perceptions. I'm not saying that human perceptions don't have consequences...human perceptions are responsible for genocide, The Great Depression, and "Project Runway". But the choices we face in how to distribute our resources and care for our world, these choices are just as they were a month ago.
In more pressing matters...some time ago, one of my brothers stumbled across the question, "Did you burn Burn?" He was referring to cd copying and a Deep Purple album, as i recall. "Did you burn Burn" is a funny sentence, and it quickly became one of our favorites. We tried to think of similar grammatical constructions.
We were stumped.
This morning, over a year later, biking home from Manhattan, a similar grammatical construction finally hit me. I offer up this new sentence, for your edification and enjoyment: "Did you burn Burn while you saw Saw?"
Thank you...thank you. No no, you're too kind. Thank you.
And, good reader, i now include you in our quest. Can we top this sentence? Is there a third such grammatical construction waiting for us out there? If any of you deliver up such a beast, an impressive prize packet of soup mix awaits you.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"It's a Very Muppet Christmas Movie"

2002
-directed by Kirk R. Thatcher
What am i doing here again?
I thought my Muppet movie musings were gone, gone, gone. The small handful i hadn't seen were of the straight-to-video ilk. "It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie", a love nod to "It's a Wonderful Life", was supposed to be unwatchable. The post-Henson/Oz years had prepared us for nothing less. But for the first half, this film was very nearly Muppet perfection. Somewhere in the creative team of Tom Martin, Jim Lewis, and Thatcher, is a childhood fan who forgot that this movie was supposed to suck. What's missing is as auspicious as what's here. Missing is the overdose of Gonzo/Rizzo. Missing are the newer characters who fall flat. And yet in the sweeping away of the new, Pepe the Prawn is somehow exempted. And well, Pepe kicks ass.
Returned are all the old-timers, including for the first time since forever, Rowlf and Scooter. They don't go overboard with them, just have them happily present. In a nod to the magic of Oz, Yoda makes a fun cameo. Fozzie is adorable as an accidental Grinch. And more stunningly, the human actors are wonderful. Even those who are often annoying even in non-Muppet productions (David Arquette, Matthew Lillard, Joan Cusack) manage to hit the right notes. Triumph the Insult Dog's skewering of the post-Henson era is cathartic perfection. Yes, the music is tepid, and Statler and Waldorf sound like nobody you've ever heard, but at least they're reading good lines.
That said, the second half of the movie is, in Alzheimer's parlance, a very long goodbye. The final forty-five minutes runs about two hours. It's so soporific i debated whether to write this article at all, and whether to now keep the film in my collection. My best guess is that Thatcher had an obligation to make the movie a certain number of minutes, and simply ran out of quality ones. And the sad reality for this TV film is that a "director's cut" will never come to be.
But come Christmas, watch the first half.
And be happy.
3 stars.
POSTSCRIPT: I just watched 1987's "A Muppet Family Christmas", and "Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas". The former isn't overly inspired, but it's sweet. It's most striking feature is bringing together three universes: virtually every puppet from Sesame Street, the Muppets, and the Fraggles (with Doc, too) are here. I don't know whether that ever happened before, or after. The sweetest moment is at the end, when we see Jim in the kitchen cleaning dishes as 500 puppets in the next room sing the closing song. "Emmet" is also sweet. A 3-star effort that pushes the boundaries of 4, it is most striking for Paul Williams' songs, which come closer to capturing the musical magic of "The Muppet Movie" than any other post-Muppet Show effort.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

boobies?

Last night i read a bedtime story for Tarlik, the semi-verbal tot with whom i live. After the story, i held him while he played with a new Barbie-type doll. She wore a gold, one-shouldered shirt and bell bottoms. Tarlik was completely focused, and the nature of his curiosity was quickly apparent as his nimble fingers searched for a way to take off her top. The velcro soon gave way, and the object of his desire lay before him - boobies. He touched them for a minute or two, looking up at me once or twice as though inviting me to partake of his joy. I smiled, and said affirming but noncommittal words. Finally, he kissed the boobies. For a few seconds i wondered whether his fascination had to do with breast-feeding (i'm pretty sure he's already been weaned).
His fascination did not have to do with breast-feeding.
He began to single-mindedly work and tug at the pants. They resisted his efforts far more than the shirt. After a couple of minutes, he turned to me for help. I told him it didn't look like they were coming off. He kept at his efforts, then asked for help again, handing her to me. That he was seeking male bonding seemed an inescapable conclusion. I faked an effort to get her pants off, and handed her back. He continued to try. After succeeding in revealing only the top third of her hiney, he finally gave up.
Fascinating.
I couldn't help thinking that this scenario would be acted out by Tarlik someday with a real, live, "lucky" girl...and frankly, i'm not sure whether i want him to call me when he has trouble with the pants. At the very least, i hope for the girl's sake that the time units involved are a little more generous.
A semi-verbal almost-three year-old.
And all the groundwork has already been laid for a large part of his perceptions of, and interactions with, females.
Where did he learn his behavior? From the unspoken gender attitudes of all the people in his life. And from TV, as i know he has seen grownup shows. His fascination has also been shaped by our attitude toward the body in general...if we were a society at all comfortable with our naked selves, i doubt whether he would have been so thoroughly entranced. I remember being a child and disrobing a female doll in almost the same exact way...i may have been a little or a lot older than Tarlik, but that seems hardly relevant.
Is there also an element of instinct in his actions? Possibly, but the more we learn about genetics, the more we learn that the "purity" of genetics is a fallacy...that our genetic expressions are not set at birth, but that they shape and are shaped by our ongoing life experience.
Though raising a child takes years, don't ever doubt that by the time we're three, most of our general behavior patterns (and many of the specific ones) are well-set. Get to know a child of three, and you will surely be watching the thirty year-old he or she will one day be.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

no mirrors!

I have a pimple.
A rather impressive one. Perhaps not quite classically "visible from across the room", but impossible to miss in close quarters. It's between my mid-nose and my right cheekbone, a location that's high on, but not at the top of, the conspicuous scale. It's a deep pimple, one with a life cycle of at least a week...it started out four days ago as a subcutaneous entity to be ignored. By yesterday, a yellowishness had surfaced, necessitating a decision: lance and squeeze, or not. I chose the former. The first draining was sadly not the last; hopefully that will be tonight or tomorrow. No regrets, let's move ahead. Fortunately, today and yesterday have been hermit days. Tomorrow however, i must do a P.R. event for my peanut butter job. Ah well, the pageant of life. It will be a character-tweaking reminder of the nonsensical miseries we all face.
Pimples struck in my teens. The low point was when i returned to school after having mono. One of my concert band friends asked whether i had chicken pox. I tried one of those little makeup sticks, and i allowed my folks to take my stoic self to a dermatologist, bless them. The biggest point that the dermatologist made was to leave pimples alone, when at all possible. Good advice, but yellow pimples simply must be dealt with (there was a girl on the subway the other day so in need, it killed me to not take her home and take care of her). Once a dermatologist has maintenanced you, you pick up on the technique of pricking the skin before squeezing, to reduce collateral damage.
I would occasionally get pimples elsewhere, but mostly on my face. If you've ever had a grand nose pimple, you know a special kind of misery. The only unforgettable pimple of my life was at my side forehead hairline; its placement made it inconspicuous, but it was so large and deep that the pressure of it actually hurt, and when i squeezed it, a string of yellow goo came out that was measurable in inches.
As an adult, pimple frequency has gone down enough that i've been complimented on my great skin. This is nice, but personality scars can last longer than the blemishes themselves. Pimples didn't dominate my adolescent psyche, but they tried, how they tried. Staring at the mirror, longing for the day when they would be gone...oh my god, i would tear up the world when that day came, talking to any girl, free of fear! Free! On particularly bad days, i did my turtly best to hide from society.
When i did finally pass the prime pimple years, i found that the path to freedom from social fear was something i still had to work at. The human psyche in this damaged society is usually far better at creating obstacles than overcoming them.
Around the age of thirty, pimples began to frequent my derriere, but that's not so bad.
In a perfectly healthy world, mirrors would be rare. In our world they are like clocks, everywhere. In a perfect world, we would all just unself-consciously be who we are. In our world, almost all of us finds a source of misery in the images that stare back at us...pimples, freckles, unwanted hair, fat face, yellow teeth, wrinkles, a scar, big nose, kinky hair, eye bags, thin lips, skin color...most of these sources of misery are pure silliness, and none of them have anything to do with our true beauty.
Imagine a world, a world of no mirrors...

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

15:3:1

Dear Flower,
I love the Vonnegut quote.
I've told you most of the reasons for the giant thumb pinning my head. Remember those daily kicks? For the past fifteen years, my little daily kick has been "you will lie down tonight unheld". Not that i haven't had moments...i once slept with four different women in the space of five nights (mostly asexually, i'm a cuddler). But in the big picture, i've been held maybe 1-2% of the past fifteen years. For the past fourteen years, i laughed off this almost-daily kick. You'll be hard-pressed to find someone possessed of more perspectives than myself, when it comes to what's important and the singular joy of being alive. However, imagine a light kick that lands in the same spot every day. It eventually becomes tender. After more than a decade it's a pain you're begging to land somewhere else, anywhere else.
I'm dying from being untouched and unrubbed, Flow. If that sounds overly dramatic, remember that lambs who are unlicked often die. I understand the healing power of touch...it gets inside our being in ways we're only beginning to understand, including the correlation between touch and anti-social behavior. In studying people who are inflictors of pain, you will uncover a profound dearth of touch.
I've been a champion of touch all my adult life (which has been a source of heartbreak in this non-tactile society, which has become increasingly moreso due to the heinous, baseless pedophile witch hunt). Having worked with children and the mentally retarded, i've at times been one of the most hugged people on the planet. And the thousands of massages i've given...yet due to my too-giving nature, i've received only the tiniest fraction in return.
I'm so far beyond the catharsis of talk. Your endorphin exercise advice is the choir talking to the preacher. I bike close to two hours a day 3-6 days a week, and do an hour of yoga calisthenics every other day. I eat very well. I do everything right for amazing health, except be held.
A sadness equation popped into my mind this week, 15:3:1. 15 years since i've been really held. 3 years ago i fell in love with a woman i couldn't be with, and only now can i feel myself emerging on the other side. 1 is the turbulent past year, in part because of a relationship with a woman who will be amazing years from now, when she's worked through her neuroses and self-love issues. We broke up for about twice as long as we dated, and my head was exposed to a new kind of almost-daily kick. This in a year when i know that all i need is the simplest of physical healing.
hugs and hugs,
wrob

Thursday, September 25, 2008

"Harmful to Minors"

(The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex)
-by judith levine
2002
Possibly the most socially important book since peter mcwilliam's "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do". A few quotes, since it's doubtful i could speak as eloquently for her as she can for herself:
"Trying to fortify the nuclear family by fomenting suspicion of strangers fractures the community of adults and children...Projecting sexual menace onto a cardboard monster and pouring money and energy into vanquishing him distracts adults from teaching children the subtle skills of loving with both trust and discrimination. Ultimately, children are rendered more vulnerable both at home and in the world...
There is no distinct moment at which a person is ready to take on adult responsibilities...people do not grow up at sixteen, eighteen, or twenty-one, if they ever do. A three-decade study of adolescents and adults concluded that, cognitively and emotionally, both groups operated at an average developmental age of sixteen...
Legally designating a class of people categorically unable to consent to sexual relations is not the best way to protect children...the Dutch parliament made sexual intercourse for people between twelve and sixteen legal but let them employ a statutory consent age of sixteen if they felt they were being coerced or exploited. Parents can overrule the wishes of a child under sixteen, but only if they make a convincing case...
Comprehensive, nonabstinence sex education works. And abstinence education does not. In many European countries, where teens have as much sex as in America, sex ed starts in the earliest grades. It is informed by a no-nonsense, even enthusiastic attitude toward the sexual; it is explicit; and it doesn't teach abstinence. Rates of unwanted teen pregnancy, abortion, and AIDS in every western European country are a fraction of our own; the average age of first intercourse is about the same as in the United States."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

tooter

Let me tell you about the love of my life. Her name is Tooter.
She has a crook at the end of her tail, perhaps the result of an infancy accident. She's a bit clumsy, has grey tiger colorings, and her white whiskers are so short they look snipped. I met her when she was four weeks old, and she's now four months. Her litter was abandoned by their mother, and the family i live with took her in two weeks before i arrived. Her official name is Suzie, but at some point she became Tooter...to me, anyway. At first, she could sit on my palm. I realized that being separated from feline companionship at such a tender age could be damaging to her, so i vowed to give her as much loving as i could.
I've never had my own cat...indeed, i've not really had any pet since childhood. It's said that pet-owners live longer lives, and for the first time in my adult life i'm tapping into that reality. When i'm home, she seeks me out. She naps on me, crawls into my lap as i write, sleeps with me when she can, and is always there with a rub or nuzzle. I give her kisses and cuddles. She gets in trouble a little, but how could it be otherwise?
It's been fifteen years since i've had this kind of regular physical intimacy. Back then it was a girl named Meghan. I must say it's been a bit of a revelation. I can feel how the daily intimacy is...healing, i can feel a difference, an effect i can't give a name to. I suspect that most human relationships, even loving ones, never quite achieve that same effect, as human relationships almost always have layers of condition and complication. Maybe the biggest reason we never receive pure love is because we never succeed in purely loving ourselves.
Someday i'll be moving to a new home, and leaving a little kitty behind.
My little Tooter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

my 50

We all carry a group of people inside our heads. This group changes throughout our lifetimes, but by adulthood is significantly in place. These people are who we look to, to measure our lives by. They are forever "watching" our actions. We live our lives trying to please them, surpass them, or escape them. They define us, even though we're often unaware of their presence. They are from our present, our past, or are thousands of years gone.
I call these people my 50. I plucked that number out of the air, as the size and makeup of each person's group is as unique as each person. Some are virtual prisoners to their group, others less so. I've suspected that i am less bound to mine than the average person. A tiny handful (pyschopaths, geniuses?) might have no such group at all. Fictional characters and non-humans might even belong, though i won't include any here. I've never before attempted to enumerate my 50. Such an undertaking is fraught with pitfalls, as there is a staggering level of self-awareness and honesty required. My attempt:
1) my grandfather Morty
2) Martin Luther King, Jr.
3) Kurt Vonnegut
4) Henry David Thoreau
5) George Carlin
6) George Bernard Shaw
7) Edgar Rice Burroughs
8) Harry Chapin
9) Gandhi
10) Amanda Parke
11) Eugene O'Neill
12) my grandmother Shirley
13) George Bradley
14) Tom Stoppard
15) Aunt Joyce
16) Jack Lemmon
17) William Shatner
18) my brother John
19) Melissa Gilbert
20) my sister Jaymie
21) Aaron Lacombe
22) Isaac Lacombe
23) Linda Rossi
24) Jean-Paul Sartre
25) Jeff Kulie
26) my brother Dave
27) Clint Barrett
28) John Lennon
29) Shelly Skolfield
30) Tia Tiemens
31) Lady Godiva
32) Roger Waters
33) Uncle Cork
34) Elisabeth Schreiber
35) Renee Morton
36) Randie Brotman
37) Tony Mallous
38) Simone de Beauvoir
39) Sting
40) Meghan Gerhardt
41) Judi Lehrhaupt
42) Charles Nelson Reilly
43) Bruce Hornsby
44) Chris Capp
45) my father
46) Sarah Packard
47) Ging Steinberg
48) Dr. Seuss
49) my mother
50) Carol Giles
That was...hard. Harder than i expected. It's possible i may have failed miserably. Not an exercise for the faint of heart. At first i despaired of coming up with so many names, but when i finally stopped i had around eighty. Sixteen are in my life today, fourteen are from my past, and twenty i've never met. One of my doubts concerns the relatively low positions of my parents, but they were originally even lower. Let's let it stand.
Who's in your 50?

Trek's female beauty

GREATEST FEMALE BEAUTY IN THE STAR TREK UNIVERSE
1) anij, INSURRECTION
2) t'pol, "The Xindi" ENT
3) leeta, "Let He Who is Without Sin" DS9
4) "In a Mirror, Darkly" ENT
5) andrea, "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" TOS
6) tasha, "The Naked Now" TNG
7) t'mir, "Carbon Creek" ENT
8) persis, "The Augments" ENT
9) seven of nine, "Tsunkatse" VOY
10) ensign sito, "Lower Decks" TNG
11) "Mirror, Mirror" TOS
12) leeta, "Dr. Bashir, I Presume?" DS9
13) t'pol, "Broken Bow" ENT
14) jennifer, "Emissary" DS9
15) rain, "Future's End" VOY
16) brenna, "Up the Long Ladder" TNG
17) ilia, THE MOTION PICTURE
18) "Harbinger" ENT
19) vixis, THE FINAL FRONTIER
20) marta, "Whom Gods Destroy" TOS
21) "Captain's Holiday" TNG
22) kristin, "Conundrum" TNG
23) jadzia, "Change of Heart" DS9
24) ezri dax, DS9
25) "Inside Man" VOY
26) ventu girl, "Natural Law" VOY
27) ardra, "Devil's Due" TNG

Thursday, September 11, 2008

sports

I grew up in a sports household. Perhaps not as "rabid" as some, as neither my siblings nor i played high school sports...although i suspect we enjoyed our backyard volleyball as much anyone ever enjoyed any game. Inside, it was spectator sports. We followed our teams, enjoying inter-house rivalries. It was a big part of the life of my father, brothers, and i (but of course not Mom and sis). Dad exposed us early and often - i have wonderful memories of trips to Veterans Stadium to see the Phillies (i'm sure there's never been a better mascot than the Phanatic). Sometimes Dad had fancy seats, but we preferred the nosebleed sections - you could jump around. On TV, it was football, basketball, and baseball (Dad loved hockey, but the goonishness rubbed me the wrong way). Hardly any of us shared a favorite team in any sport. This was in part because of contentiousness. Dad rooted for Philadelphia teams, and because of the nature of our relationship, it was a given that i wouldn't.
In baseball i followed the Reds because i lived in Ohio from five to ten, and was exposed to the excitement of the Big Red Machine. I remember schoolyard debates over who the best Reds player was. For me, it was always Pete Rose. Charlie Hustle. The five years he was a Phillie (and his one season in Montreal) are the only years of my youth i wasn't a Reds fan. Reading the sports section was a big part of my passion, moreso than my brothers. In baseball particularly, it was always about my favorite player. I cared about the team, but was more concerned with how Pete did. After Pete it was Eric Davis, then Barry Larkin, then Ken Griffey, Jr. Reading my Dad's weekly Sports Illustrated was a beloved part of those years. I loved Frank Deford. Whenever one of our teams made the cover, it would go up on the wall of the Pit, our sports-themed TV room.
In football, i chose my team based upon what would annoy my Eagle-loving father the most: the Cowboys. Tom Landry was possibly the most dignified human ever. My favorites were Dorsett, Staubach, Randy and Danny White, Bill Bates, Too Tall Jones, Herschel Walker...and later, though i loathed Jerry Jones and initially Jimmy Johnson too, i reveled in the teams of Aikman, Smith, and Irvin. The Cowboys were so well-covered that most weekends their game was televised. We would all get decked out in our team's shirts...i think for one big game i had on no less than seven articles of Cowboy paraphenalia. Once or twice we even hung scorecard banners over our garage. Dad would let us stay up to watch Monday Night Football, and the magic of Cosell and Meredith was a joyous thing. On Thanksgiving, we would leave the dinner table to watch the game (a gesture which separated the men and women, and one which i felt increasingly ambivalent about as i got older).
I felt my first excitement for basketball when Magic joined the Lakers in 1980. Those showtime teams, and the rivalry with Boston, inspired loyalty which has lasted to this day. I knew those 80s squads inside and out.
I remember the moment of epiphany when my love for spectator sports began to wane. In my first year of college, i had put up posters in my dorm room of my favorite players, and one day i looked up and said "why"? Why did i have huge pictures of people i'd never met, most of whom were overindulged and overpaid, if not steroid-takers or cokeheads? All they did was play a game, something i could do myself anytime i wished. By sophomore year, the posters were gone. I still followed my teams, but less and less every year. A large part of my apathy stemmed from my dislike for voyeurism. And as i grew up, i felt ever-increasing identification with those who were alienated by the male sports culture. Men who were uncomfortable with real emotional intimacy, seeking an outlet. So much passion going into non-participatory mindlessness. If we ever get as excited about Nobel and Pulitzer as we did about Namath and Pele, what wonders will we accomplish?
If i'm reading a newspaper these days, i'll skim the sports section, and i still read Dad's Sports Illustrateds when i visit. Reilly is every bit as wonderful as Deford was, but fewer articles are likely to interest me. Griffey's joined the White Sox, and that's the box score i now seek out...which makes me suspect that when he retires, my baseball devotion may as well. These days i pretty much only watch sports if i'm in the company of somebody who is doing so. It can be nice to re-visit my old teams, but i haven't seen an entire Reds game in many years, and it's by no means a given that i'll see an entire Cowboys or Lakers game each season. If i'm at a Super Bowl party (and that's a big if), i usually end up doing something more social, away from the TV. I was a bit excited that the Lakers had returned to the finals this year, against the Celtics no less, but i think i only saw part of one game. I suspect the lure of sports will never completely die for me...i got sucked into one event this decade, when the Red Sox beat the Yankees to lift the Curse of the Bambino. Schillings' bloody foot, the Yankees payroll an affront to the very concept of fair play, the ridiculously improbable and dramatic games, it was all just...magnificent.
Ambivalence about cherished pieces of one's youth...the price of being born male in the twentieth century.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Korea, Taiwan, and Korea

This past year i lived with three Asian women. One was a partying, makeup and heel-wearing fashion designer, another was a green-conscious, secular, political theater artist, and the third was a devout minister's daughter and fashion design student.
Guess which one i desired? Come on, you know how i feel about drinking, religion, and fashion design (a profession that actively retards the human race's growth).
Well done to those who chose (D) all of the above!
No, not all at once. What do you think i am, an animal?
Oh wait, i am an animal. Never mind, carry on.
Desired them all, and got none. I can't be too sad about that, as rejection is a healthy part of the pageant of life, yes? My feelings contributed to my going a step or two beyond "model housemate"...to buying more than my share of household products, doing more than my share of cleaning, and never asking or expecting them to be there for me to the extent that i was there for them.
I suppose i've declared on occasion that Asian women kill me. I've also once or twice tossed out the intuition that the greatest love of my life will be Asian. I won't stand by these affirmations, nor will i disavow them.
1) K was the one for whom i felt the most instantaneous desire. Just a zing into at least two of my energy centers. Her English was rough, but she had a decent vocabulary, and was smart and sweet. I sensed quickly that she had a lot of work to do in terms of self-acceptance and love, but that she had wonderful potential to be a loving force in the world. Of the three, she was the one who ultimately let me closest to her heart. After a few months, she wrote me a note in which she admitted that my intuitions of her were very accurate, and that she sometimes cried alone in her room. Sadness may always be a significant part of her spirit. For the first couple months we would share hugs that rank as some of the most wonderful of my life. Eventually i could feel it getting harder to let go, so i put a hold on the hugs (she did have a sort-of boyfriend, and i got no definite sense of attraction to me). I edited essays for her (she was finishing her degree and getting her first internship), and was always there when she needed me.
Through her i experienced one of the most unforgettable visions of my life. One morning i passed her door, noticing that it was open an inch or so, and that she was asleep. I stopped in my tracks, realizing she was naked. The next few seconds of my life hung for an eternity. The image is burned into my brainpan and may well be remembered on my deathbed. My heart and chest went into some sort of arrest. For a little fraction of eternity, i felt that i must walk in, take her, and love her. I slowly tore myself away and kept on walking.
On a handful of occasions she again opened her lonely soul to me. We kept in occasional touch after she moved out, and when i finally revealed the depth of my feelings, she told me she didn't feel the same way.
2) T (and please don't think that i identify these women in any essential way with their ethnicity) was perhaps the brightest of the three, and certainly the most engaged in the world. I lived in greater proximity to her than the others, as i had to walk through her bedroom to get to my own. This was maybe the greatest enticement in my choice to live there in the first place. I love human intimacy; throw a wonderful Asian woman into the mix, and i'll be first in line.
Her chief activity was running a small theater company which performed peace plays. It was clear that we were in synch on many levels, from religion to tolerance to living simply. She had been in the U.S. for years, and had an adolescent daughter in Michigan who visited a few times a year.
I was a huge help to her, mostly with writing theater reviews. She would look to me to give her articles a going-over before submission. Despite our similarities, our friendship never took off like i thought it would. It became apparent early on that she was a terrible listener, at least with me (she also wasn't a hugger). Any time i would start to talk about anything deep and personal, she would start chattering. While we always got along, eventually some of her little habits (and the smell of the fish she cooked) began to grate on me.
One of the first times i was home alone and passing through her room, i leaned over and took in a deep breath from her sheets. Living with her was largely asexual, as she was not overly relaxed about the human body. I saw her semi-naked only once, when i was helping her hang a picture, and her low-cut shirt revealed the beauty within. I felt a quick rush to my heart. Eventually she revealed that she sensed my attraction early on (which took me by surprise, as i didn't think i had left any clues), but that she avoided the subject so as not to risk any house drama.
3) K2 was quite the coincidence, having arrived from Korea just a week or two before taking K's room, and attending the same fashion school K was graduating from. My initial helpfulness with her wasn't at all self-serving, as i knew how intimidating her situation was. On the surface, with her religious and fashional devotions, i didn't see any strong connections between us, but she was sweet with a silly side, and i held out hope that maybe her minister's daughter faith was of the rebellious variety. I helped her a great deal with most everything, from the day she moved in until the day i helped her move into her next home. She wanted a small TV to hear English more often, and i found a perfectly cheap one in a thrift store, which i carried home on my bike (if you think that's at all easy, try it some time). Eventually i knew how happy i would be to kiss her for days and days and days. She had a big frame, and i found that very sexy too (though i'm realizing now that calling her K2 carries an unfortunate coincidence). She and T were both out of shape, and we had fun on those few occasions when they (or just K2) would join me in my yoga calisthenics.
I so very much wanted to hold her.
MORAL: Living with a someone who has an unrequited crush on you can be a brilliant life choice...and while they all got the lion's share of the perks, i'd do it over again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"25"

2006
-by george michael
An interesting question has been popping around my head. If Americans were to be polled on whom they consider more depraved, George Michael or Michael Jackson, how do you think those numbers would go? I wonder whether they might be very revealing of how bizarre our values are.
I've been a fan of George in a way that's contrary to popular trends. I was a mild fan when he made it big, and as his popularity has waned, my appreciation has steadily waxed. Moreso than any pop star i can think of, he has experienced profound artistic growth as his star dims. His lush, intricate melodies and arrangements...the humor and honesty in his lyrics...he is often both brilliant and inspired.
Our society's views on homosexuality have had an interesting affect on his career. What do you suppose his career might look like had he started out a self-acclaimed homosexual, and then one fateful day was busted in a heterosexual police sting? Scandalous! And if he then proceeded to deal ever more openly in his music with his long-hidden lust for women?
"Brilliant and inspired" are words true of almost all the new songs on his new collection, 25. I was a little put out that he was releasing a new "best of" at all, as it wasn't so long ago that the last one came out. There should be a far more strict statute of limitations on hits packages in the music industry. Or any statute at all. But there were holes in LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, so i was game to see what George had to offer. Well, he addressed some holes, and created new ones. Big yabbity-hoos for leaving out his most annoying song, "Monkey", and also "Hard Day". Bully for giving more play to Wham! selections (though we didn't need the original "Freedom"). But how he could have a retrospective without "I Want Your Sex" is mind-boggling, and "Star People '97" and "The Edge of Heaven" are also sadly absent. In fact, the entire "I Want Your Sex" suite would have been a shining choice. As i'm veering close to nit-picking, just one more comment. How on earth was it decided to have every track from his most recent album included in this collection? This is so unprecedentedly bizarre that one has to speculate about a drunken wager. Or maybe he wanted to be the only artist who has ever put every track of an album on an anthology? But even for THRILLER that would be a strange choice, and after the five or so brilliant tracks from PATIENCE, it ain't no THRILLER. He even uses "Through" as the final cut on this collection. George, it seems just the tiniest bit insincere to end two consecutive releases with the very same declaration of being done with the music business. Couldn't you have at least done the re-mix "Really Through"?
But i kvetch. It's a lovely collection, and the new stuff is as good as anything he's ever done.

climax blues band

I found a little memory this month. A little piece of me.
A recording. A song that played on the radio during my youth. A song that faded from public consciousness as soon as it left its modest place on the charts. A song none of you remember, by a band none of you know.
"I Love You", by the Climax Blues Band.
Why do certain songs touch us, while a million others do not? Why did this song burrow into my spirit, and make me happy every time i heard it? When the song was on the radio, and for many years after, I couldn't have told you the first thing about the band, nor name a single album or other song. Was it their only hit single? I still don't know.
I was too young to buy music back then. But in the years that followed, i would always keep the song title and band name stored in a little corner of my mind as i wandered through discount bins in countless music stores, or searched the music offerings in countless garage sales. Oh, once i was all grown up, i could have used my adult resources to find it of course, but i'm patient about these things. Some things shouldn't come too easily. A decade ago my search came to fruition, when i found the vinyl single. But then i traded in my record player, and the search resumed. I found a Climax Blues Band cd a year or two ago, but the music store wanted an exhorbitant price, so again i waited. And finally, in a $2.99 bin, i found the song again.
Why does it make me happy? Why is every beat, every phrase, every harmony ingrained in my being? I don't know.
The song is a little tiny piece of who i am.
It makes me smile.
That's enough for me.

just me

While we're on the subject of poems i haven't been able to write, here's another: "Just Me" (and if i may interject a reflection, i'm fairly convinced that most poetry collections by a single author should be entitled "I Wrote One Great Thing, and Now You Jerkholes Get To Read This Other Shit").
"Just Me" is to be about how i wish to be loved for myself. It has been said that men care about a woman's looks, and women care about a man's potential as a provider. In a qualified, non-essential way, there is truth in that. One of the several reasons i've always been happy to be relatively pauperish is because that's the condition i want to be in if someone falls in love with me. If someone were to fall in love with me after i became well-off, it would be harder to trust that person's motives. I'd rather not have to deal with that. This is particularly resonant lately, because i can feel a part of me moving toward a life path that involves more money (Father or Mother, if you say a word you'll get smacked in the kisser).
I'm stripped down to the bones. Who can hang?
So get jumping, women of the world. The truest man you'll ever know is here, emotionally wide open. Perfect and poor. Loving and loyal. Steadfast and sunny. Flatulent and funny.
Hello, women?
Hello?
Is this thing on?

Friday, August 8, 2008

M.H.K.P.F.E.

MOST HILARIOUSLY KICKASS PARTY FLICKS EVER
---
SENIORS
(the spanish version)
-1978
By "party movie", i don't mean a movie which a group of partiers collectively watch. I mean the most bizarrely outrageous and silly movie to play as background noise and visuals at a gathering of people who are focused on other good-time interactions. The beauty of this one is the total irrelevance, nay absence, of plot (unless you're fluent in spanish, and even then i suspect that "dramatic structure" can only be applied to this film in the loosest of terms). It's about the college highjinks of a group of buddies, starring a young Dennis Quaid, and Priscilla Barnes of THREE'S COMPANY. Add to the general campiness the complete silliness and off-ness of the dubbed dialogue, and you have a formula for perfect non-interactive eye and ear candy. Let your mind and limbs wander to the naked Twister, the eight-player ping pong, or the discussion on Taoism and existentialism, and anytime your focus strays back to the screen, indulge in another two seconds or two minutes of laughter. Classic, just classic.

hero

How do you know a hero?
How will you be able to tell?
The David Crosby song "Hero" is an amazing song, one that touches me very deeply. David wrote it upon his release from jail after serving a prison drug sentence. The song is about shades of grey in concepts of right and wrong. It's about a human locked in a cage for behavior that hurt no one. The cover art for the single is an abstract painting of a valiant knight, shield and sword in hand. The knight's head is disproportionately teeny, however. The message is that many "heroes" must be blessed with limited intelligence. To be a hero, to fight the good fight, to commit yourself thoroughly to a sacred cause...often requires the ability to not see all sides of an issue.
The idea of being a hero has always been sacred to me. Of being and doing good, of championing truth, and the weak...to be and do these things, not for glory, but quietly...for me a hero simply does what must be done.
I'm a bit of a romantic. The idea of a brave soul doing a good deed which no one witnesses (or perhaps it only seemed unseen, but years later a single stray witness returns to save the life of the doomed hero...), such romantic notions are a huge part of who i am.
But being a hero of intelligence in a world as complex as the one we share...to have a far-reaching mind that strives to see all truths...and to have a mind that races ahead, dreaming of a better world, a better day...to be this kind of hero is sometimes to be no "hero" at all, in many people's eyes. For each of us can only process what a hero is through the limitations of our own tiny experience. And most minds are not far-reaching.
Will you have the eyes to know a hero when she or he walks across your path?
Will you have the courage and understanding to be a hero yourself, even if to do so opens you to ridicule or scorn from those you would help and lift up?
It was one of those great stories, that you can't put down at night...