I am the middle class.

Do you know how I know this? I am broke.

I realize it’s trite to be prattling on about income disparity and the 1% versus the 99%. Incidentally, a more than viable term that has somehow sadly devolved into a punchline. As trite as it may be, it is still relevant. And no matter how exhausted we become of the discussion, it is not one that should disappear.

To be honest, I am a capitalist so I believe that there will always be, and should be, certain class distinctive markers. It’s the way capitalism works…when it works as it should. Because it is not working as it should and thanks to the deified Ronald Reagan and his aggressive push towards privatization and “trickle down” economics, those class markers are more like chasms. The type Nik Wallenda may be prone to walk across.

Look, it’s also not just Reagan. Virtually every President since then, REGARDLESS OF PARTY AFFILIATION, has had a steady and firm hand in the manipulation and eradication of the middle class. Even Obama is turning into just as much of a stooge as those that came before him (and I’m a left leaning democrat).

Those of us who grew up in the middle class remember it differently. Or at least I do. I don’t recall the middle class being the whore to the upper classes and patron to the lower classes. It seems that we have gotten the short end of the stick.
Stuck up you know where.
Repeatedly. 06agenda-chart2-blog480

I sometimes wonder what it will take for Americans, and ever increasingly, citizens around the world, to realize exactly how hard that stick is being jammed up into us. The chart above shows very clearly how little the middle class has been able to accomplish since 1980 (11% growth verses almost 200%?!). The password is disparity.

Adding insult to injury, according to the AFL-CIO, in 1982, the CEO to worker to pay ratio was 42:1. OK, high. But I understand that. I’m honestly OK with that. In 2012 the CEO to worker pay ratio was 354:1! I am not OK with that.

It seems to me that when we look at CEO pay we should be using some of the same practices couples use in establishing what they are willing to do in the boudoir. “OK, yes I will do that, but I won’t do that!” Why can’t we have a say in what a CEO makes? Could the same be applied to corporate pay “OK, yes, I will pay that, but I won’t pay that!”  Do we go one step further and institute a corporate “safe word” when things get outta hand? My safe word is Nickelback.

Look, CEO’s, typically have to answer to people that I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire (Wall Street pricks). And the good ones juggle multiple tasks, have a distinctive vision for their organization(s) and work hard. I have no illusions about them being the best people in the world, but they do deserve to be paid.

My issue is not with most CEO’s being deserving of the money. My issue is that why does anyone in any leadership role feel that it is OK to take a 13-15% annual increase in pay when the front line workers are only getting a 2.5% – 5% increase?

Is it “leadership” to take more than your workers get? It would seem to me that a true leader, one being remunerated in both salary AND stock, would forgo ANY salary increase as long as their front line workers had to feel the pinch. Maybe a “leader” finds a way to issue stock in place of an annual increase? Maybe a “leader” offers another week of vacation? Maybe a “leader” LEADS.

Or is the new model of corporate leadership “take what you can get and fluck the rest”? If that is the case, I am storming the supply closet for post-it’s, pens and highlighters.

Shouldn’t I just be thankful I have a job? Yes. On most days I am. I’m thankful to have a mind numbing job that keeps me so far removed from interacting and networking with anyone who could perhaps help me achieve my professional goals. On second thought, let me restate that, I am thankful for a paycheck. What I would like to be thankful for is a career.

Of course, that then begs the question, are careers rapidly being replaced by jobs?

When my living expenses are increasing at an aggregate of 17% year over year and my cost of living increase (cleverly disguised as a merit increase) is a fraction of that, how am I to reconcile that sort of inequality? Am I just supposed to take it on the chin and say to myself “That’s just the way it is buckaroo”? Am I just supposed to numb myself? Turn on the latest marathon of whatever Real Housewives of blah blah is on? Log onto Facebook and get engrossed in peoples petty lives and issues that have absolutely no bearing on me in any way? Down a bottle of wine and pretend I am being cultured when I am really just masking my own sadness? No, I don’t think that is the answer.

All of those escapes are privileges. Being able to earn a liveable wage to sustain a decent life is a right. I should be able to save some money, pay my bills and go home to have a spirited and lively discussion about my day. Instead of going home constantly juggling and moving money around to pay bills and walking home beaten and broken, praying there is enough hot water to wash away the misery of the day.

Of course some of this is my fault. I didn’t have to go to college. OK, I didn’t HAVE to go to TEN of them (it’s true, I went to ten colleges…I was a little rudderless as a youth). I didn’t HAVE to get my Masters Degree. I don’t HAVE to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. And believe me when I say, I am one of the lucky ones! I’m aware of this. But does luck always come at such a cost?

Honestly though, I’ve never been one to discount my own role as being a broke middle classer. I definitely am accountable for some of it. If I can stand in front of the mirror and say to myself “Dude, you’re partly responsible for this” why can’t the “leadership” of companies do the same? Why are we in the middle class constantly being asked to bear the brunt of the tomfoolery and shenanigans of the pricks on Wall Street and their idiot cousins in the corner office?

NICKELBACK!

Some people may read this and say “Yea, you’re right but what can we do? It’s the way it is, ya know?” Bullsh*t! I have some thoughts but if I had all the answers I wouldn’t be banging things out on this keyboard. I can say for certain what we can NOT do. We can’t let this go on. And whether it is in the next five years or fifty, it’s gonna change and it is not going to be pretty.

As a guy working for a Fortune 500 company with a Masters degree, I really shouldn’t be contemplating a second job tending bar just to squeak by. I’m not saying I am entitled to more, I don’t believe that. I am saying we are all entitled to opportunities that can lead us to a comfortable existence, one of OUR choosing. That is a right. In fact, it is a defining principle of both capitalism AND democracy (both of which are on life support here in the states). As the middle class continues to be hacked away at and beaten into non-existence, we accept less and less of the rights we are entitled to because “It’s just the way it is”.

When can we all say it together?

NICKELBACK!

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Until I’m One With You

You might recall Ryan Bingham as the guy who seemingly came out of nowhere with the award winnng song “The Weary Kind” from the 2009 movie Crazy Heart.

After his win, Bingham continued his journeyman career and currently provides the title song for the FX show The Bridge (based on the Swedish original). Unless you are into glacially paced, brilliantly written and well acted crime drama’s, you’re probably not watching it. Luckily for me, I like that stuff, so I tune in to FX every Wednesday at 10pm.

The Bridge is in the same vein as AMC’s Swedish crime import, The Killing. In other words, it’s often been frustratingly amazing with minor dips into excellence. So the show is really great but for the past 12 weeks I’ve watched the opening sequence to The Bridge and have been annoyed, intrigued, and eventually beguiled by the theme song.

Initially, I was just pissed. In my head, I wanted something powerful and punchy that announced a new crime show. I was excited for this show because I was unable to find the Swedish version anywhere and wanted a theme song to match my excitement. When the opening sequence began with this sparse guitar and gravelly voice, I was irked. By the fourth episode, I had settled into the show, and the opening, and had softened my thinking about the opening song. In fact, I started playing this game with myself to see if I could figure out who the artist was without looking it up or at watching the end credits. By episode eight, I was affixed to both the show and how well the opening song worked. Everything was nothing short of brilliant.

But I still couldn’t figure out who performed the opening song. Obviously, by the tenth episode I was adamant about figuring it out myself and was confident I would eventually get it. This past week as the opening began I serendipitously recalled how much I liked the songs from Crazy Heart but when I heard the raspy voiced Ryan Bingham sing them, they didn’t work for me. There it was, that voice!

The opening song was Ryan Bingham.

Immediately, I double checked myself on them Internets and sho’nuff, it was Ryan Bingham and the song was called “Until I’m One With You”. I hopped on iTunes and splurged on the 1.29. I’ve listened to the song exclusively for the past two 36 hours.

“Until I’m One With You” completely ignores any sort of traditional song structure or pedantic rhyming scheme. It’s lonely and haunting guitar accompanying Bingham’s raspy voice and plaintive lyrics makes for one of the most affecting songs in recent memory. It’s the beautiful simplicity of the vocals and the lyrics that seemingly wants to tell us what love should be but it’s the tone of the song and a closer listen to the lyrics that reminds us of the complexity that love always is. As a stand alone song, it’s jaw dropping in its condensed intricacy.

As a theme song for a television show, it’s perfect. Not since the Jonathan Wolff jazz riffs for Seinfeld has a song worked so well in tandem with a shows theme. Wolff’s bass bits helped frame the tonality of comically punchy Seinfeld while Bingham’s song frames the tragedy of The Bridge. Both worm their way into your head so that you are enraptured from the first note and first frame.

Ryan Bingham seems to be channeling the lyrical prowess of Greg Brown and the restraint that guitarist Bo Ramsy uses. Which are both really good things. What is “Until I’m One With You” about ? I dunno. It reveals very little lyrically and you are left to interpret what you can from the songs pacing, Bingham’s singing and a closer reading of the lyrics. My gut tells me it’s not about unrequited love or a break up, as I initially thought. I think it’s about something much more tragic.

I want to believe that the show is smart enough that the song will fit snugly with the arc of this first series. But I will have to wait and see. Even if it doesn’t, it’s still a helluva song.

You’re never going to see anyone twerking to Ryan Bingham’s “Until I’m One With You” because, well, it’s not that type of song. It’s never going to be a hit and it will probably never receive an award. The recording industry doesn’t typically give awards to this type of stuff.

This is the type of song that MacArthur Genius Awards are given for. Yea, it’s that good.

Dick Doblin: Privateye

PUBLISHED ON THE WG NEWS+ ARTS

Web series are a dime a dozen. Every flunky with an idea, an iPhone or digital camera now feels they’re qualified to shoot a web series. “Technical prowess and the syntax of English be damned,” they scream as they upload their dreck to the web. And with powerful distribution tools like YouTube and Vimeo making it as simple as an upload and click to reach an audience…God, or whatever, help us.

But before I spiral down that rabbit hole and I receive a tersely worded email from my editor accompanying a heavily redacted version of this article, I want tell you about one of the better web series, Tyler G. Hall’s Dick Doblin: Privateye.

Hall, a North Carolina native living in East Williamsburg (that’s Bushwick to us old timers), created Dick Doblin: Privateye with his roommate, and lead, Lucas Whitehead. The character came about as Whitehead donned the private dicks signature brown old timey fedora. Said Hall, “Lucas immediately looked like an old fashioned PI with his brier patch mustache and classic good looks.”  The two started riffing at home and soon took Dick Doblin: Privateye to the people capitalizing on their Upright Citizens Brigade improvisational skills on the streets of East BushWilliburg.

Tyler and Whitehead pitched the idea to producer, Ross Brunetti (who also handled sound, editing and camera). Brunetti helped them hone the idea and thus Dick Doblin: Privateye, the web series, was born!

After catching wind of the Dick Doblin: Privateye’s successful screening at Nite Hawk Cinema of all five webisodes (yes, it’s a word now) cut together for a 25 minute Directors Cut, I decided to sit down and watch both that and each of the five “pro tip” episodes separately.

Filmed primarily in Park Slope and Williamsburg, Dick Doblin: Privateye is a sort of local road web series that centers around transplanted Pittsburgh PI Dick Doblin and his “pro tip videos on how to become a professional private eye.” The only problem is that his camera is stolen during the first episode, while he is shooting his first “pro-tip”.

The always thinking Dick Doblin: Privateye enlists the help of his old Pittsburgh buddy, Randy, played by writer/director Hall, to put his “pro tip series” into action, and production. Randy films each of the five tips as Dick Doblin: Privateye utilizes them to catch this “punk kid with a hooligan haircut and a drop out attitude” who stole his camera.

Taken as a long form 25-minute show, the premise and jokes in Dick Doblin: Privateye wear thin and fall flat pretty quickly. It seems as though this long form version was an after thought and the webisodes were cut together to meet a standard sitcom format. For me, it didn’t work. Fortunately, the editing works well enough that it’s coherent and it flows evenly enough so one doesn’t loose interest.

As a web series, it truly shines. It’s in these shorter versions where the jokes seem stronger and less one-dimensional. The writing and cinema vérité filmmaking have more impact when the webisodes are screened individually. I won’t spoil some of the funnier parts, but the saxophone shout out in episode 5 was a particular favorite. It genuinely left me wanting more. As a web series, it’s very effective and seriously funny.

What holds both the long and short form versions of Dick Doblin: Privateye is the sincerity of Lucas Whitehead. His Dick Doblin: Privateye comes across as an unfrozen film noir private dick crossed with the looks of “Bass-o-Matic” era SNL Dan Akroyd and the lanky cluelessness of Whitest Kid U’ Know Trevor Moore. The bonus music video on the Dick Doblin: Privatey web site of Whitehead’s Trick Trodlin character singing an absolutely aborted and ridiculous version of “Old Man River” solidifies his connection to Moore and Akroyd.

When I reached out to Hall for a couple of follow up questions, it would seem that Dick Doblin: Privateye was still around. Commandeering Hall’s computer he fired off what can only be described as “whiskey soaked tips from a private dick”. Among them:

  • You can never be sure if food in Brooklyn will be “vegan” so bring some bacon bits just in case.
  • Look both ways before crossing Dick Doblin.
  • Did you know it’s illegal to smell bad on the subway? Oh it isn’t? Well it should be.
  • A good Privateye never reveals his clients…unless that client is Steve Buscemi and he still owes you money.
  • Being a Privateye isn’t all meeting women next to steamy sewer grates on dark nights. But sometimes it is and sometimes that woman is named Lucille Marlow and she’ll break your heart because she doesn’t know what’s good for– I’m sorry, what was your question?

Luckily, Hall was eventually able to subdue the intoxicated Doblin and reply to my questions. He told me that Dick Doblin: Privateye, while taking a needed rest, will be back for a more polished second series. He also told me that he and Whitehead have kicked around a spin-off show for Trick Trodlin and that both he and Whitehead will remain active with their improv team, Power Nap.

Dick Doblin: Privateye reminds me of what is good about both the web and web series. The web is the home where developing artists can explore their creativity and receive quantifiable feedback by views, comments and likes. Much like CBGB’s was home to a burgeoning punk rock movement and bands could receive quantifiable feedback by filling the place. And web series like Dick Doblin: Privateye represent the artists of that scene, like the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie.

Over the years, hundreds of thousands of bands played at CBGB’s and yet we still only talk about 20 artists, give or take, from those golden years of CBGB. Similarly, here we are in the golden era of web video where millions of videos and web series are uploaded and watched every day on the web. That’s a lot of noise to overcome for the Dick Doblin: Privateye crew of Tyler G. Hall, Lucas Whitehead and Ross Brunetti.

One thing is for certain, I’d like to see some more Dick Doblin: Privateye. So should you.

CLICK HERE TO SEE DICK IN ACTION

Why The Replacements Matter

Yesterday I saw a glimmer of hope for future generations. I was perusing the stationary/book store, in the bowels of Rockefeller Plaza, on the prowl for unneeded reading material. I found nothing…came close, but decided against the Peter Criss autobiography. I settled on purchasing a few unneeded Moleskin booklets, a package of three for 8.95, how could I go wrong? As I went up to pay I heard an all too familiar tune. A song that caused my heart to almost stop. Could it be really playing here? Was I in some way to hip independent film? Did I break the time space continuum? As I walked up, playing just loud enough for those who knew to know was “I’m In Trouble” by The Replacements, from their first album Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash.

Trying to deconstruct why The Replacements are one of the most important bands in rock and roll is an exercise in futility. If you don’t understand them by now, you never will. That’s not an indictment against you or your taste (OK, maybe against your taste). It’s not that their music or lyrics are in the same esoteric zip code of Frank Zappa or The Grateful Dead. They’re not like that at all. In fact, the ‘mats are as welcoming a band as you could hope for…as long as you can stomach alienation, sarcasm, snark, love and rebellion.

I chuckled and said to the clerk “It’s not every day I get to hear the ‘mats in a store.” Truth is, even when they were a full time working band you seldom heard them…anywhere. I used to get in trouble for playing the piss out of Don’t Tell A Soul when I worked in a record store during my Rob Gordon days. Since their break up almost 22 years ago, you hear them even less than seldom…if that is possible.

Nonetheless, hear they were playing a live version of “I’m In Trouble”…in 2013…in some tiny paper product store in Rockefeller Plaza. The kid, barely 25 if I had to guess, and I looked at each other and smiled. He said “Yea, this is from this weekends show in Toronto.”
“Oh, yea, that’s right they are doing those three festival dates this year.”

To a Replacements fan, a reunion seemed almost always likely to happen, but we just never knew when. They had reunited for a couple new tracks for a Best Of album a few years ago. And the new songs were pretty disposable. They weren’t bad, they just didn’t seem into it. But then they reunited last year to record some material for their former guitar player Slim Dunlap who suffered a serious stroke awhile back. Songs for Slim is an ongoing project where artists cover some of Slims songs and release special packages to help pay for his care. The first in that series was a reunited Replacements. And on this EP they sounded reinvigorated.

I said to my new found kindred ‘mats friend “I wanted to go to the show in Chicago, but it didn’t work out. I guess I will have to hope for a full fledged tour.” He handed me my change smiling and without gloating said “Yea, I’m going to the Chicago show.” I about fell to my shoes. The lineup for the upcoming Riot Fest in Chicago is a Gen X’ers wet dream: Bob Mould, Public Enemy, The Pixies, Mission of Burma, et. al.
“You bastard” I replied jokingly. I took my changed, shook my head and smiled, “Enjoy the show.”

The Replacements are more than just the folklore of drunken debauchery. They’re more than Tommy Stinson playing bass for the current incarnation of Genu-n-Roses. They’re more than Paul Westerberg’s self imposed exhile in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. They’re more than Chris Mars paintings and art work. They’re more than Bob Stinson’s death. They’re more than Slim Dunlaps stroke. They’re more than their history, real or embellished, and they’re more than their music.

Purists might argue that it is not the Replacements without Chris Mars and there is some legitimacy to that. Purists might also argue that they were never the same after they kicked Bob Stinson out. To that I would say, with all respect to the memory of Bob Stinson, that’s probably a good thing. The soul of the band has always been Tommy and Paul. So as long as it’s them, it is really the ‘mats. Is it perfect? No, absolutely not, but The Replacements were absolutely never ever about being perfect.

Obviously what makes The Replacements significant is the music. The names of bands they have influenced is ridiculously long and ever growing, thankfully. Listening to Paul Westerberg grow from wise ass punk to pure songsmith is one of the greatest rewards in music. Seriously. From the start, their songs straddle the fence of brilliant and tragic. Their songs, their music and their career are probably best summed up by Westerberg’s own song “I Don’t Know”, off Please to Meet Me, “One foot in the door, the other on in the gutter”.

What makes The Replacements matter is their connection with the fans. I mean, the fans. When you find someone listening to The Replacements you know, you just know it’s a kindred spirit. Whatever walls you may have up immediately come crumbling down. There is a calmness that comes over you when you run across someone listening to them, it’s like an auditory Xanax. For some reason, and it’s hard to truly explain in a blog post, when you meet a fan you just know you have a connection that will transcend the music.

I’m not entirely convinced this is something the band set out to do, but it’s what they did. I’m not even sure it is something that could be done by design. They accomplished what every band dies to do. they connected with their audience. And they still do. Sure, they embraced the beer swilling jocks, the angry punks but longed to talk to the kid in the back shouting out to hear “Skyway”. Those where they people they played to.

No, they never got the huge record sales they deserved, but somehow, that seems fitting. It’s not like they didn’t try, they did. In their own way. A video of just a speaker playing your song as your first video, for your first single off your major label debut at the height of MTV (they really did play videos once) and at the dawn of the college rock movement in the early to mid 80’s was probably not the smartest career move. But it was uniquely, purely and brilliantly The Replacements.

Watching that video you can almost hear the record company snarling, pissing and moaning because they knew what they had. They had a band,  the band, that could have defined a generation. You can almost hear the band sitting off to the side drinking their Mickey’s saying “Flcuk you fellas, we’re doing it our way.” The Replacements were the epitome of rebellion when we needed rebels the most. And maybe they didn’t define a generation, they influenced generations.

So, why do The Replacements matter? They’re not good looking, they have a reputation for being prickly, they’re not a perfect live act (Westerberg always forgets lyrics), they’re not super stars, they’ve never shied away from their foibles and missteps and often times, embraced them.

What makes them matter?
The Replacements are me.
They’re you.
They’re real.
They’re honest.
They’re human.
They’re not Gods.

They’re just The Replacements.

_____________________________________________

If you have never heard The Replacements, start with Please to Meet Me, then work backwards, then go forwards. PTMM is just brilliant. Some may say start with Tim, but I find the production on that album a little too tinny for me. Great album, but for my money PTMM captures them perfectly.

Below is a video from some crap ass awards show (the statue was actually and Elvis) where they perform “Talent Show” off Don’t Tell A Soul. While the introduction is certainly tongue in cheek, it about sums up the industries attitude towards them.

They bleep out this line “We’re feelin’ good from the pills we took” because the band wouldn’t change the lyric for the live telecast. So what did they do? They changed this line “It’s too late to turn back, here we go” to “It’s too late to take pills here we go“. God bless them.

Where Were You When Elvis Died?

I’ll always equate the death of Elvis with staying at HoJo’s and going back to school. Despite that, I still like a lot of his music and recognize his influence.

Elvis Aaron Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, died on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42. My family was moving back from Canada and we were squirreled away in some Howard Johnson’s off some highway in the Twin Cities.

At the time, my music tastes ran from KISS to Elton John to Hall and Oates, so the impact or historical significance didn’t quite register. I don’t even recall anyone in my family being too upset. Of course, in later years my mother would profess to have been deeply impacted by his death. My father maintained a steadfast commitment to ambivalence when it came to all things pop culture related so the passing of the King of Rock and Roll was nothing more than a brief segment on the nightly news. Dad likes rock and roll about as much as a prostate exam.

Anyway, I ran across the late great Lester Bangs homage to the Kings death in the Village Voice form 1977 and pinched it. I got it from here, but I suspect that it was also pinched. Nonetheless, it is a great story written in Lester’s truly unique voice. Love it or hate it, it was his voice. Bangs was a true wordsmith par excellence and his love of rock music was unparalleled. Frankly, there was probably no greater rock critic during the 1970’s than Lester Bangs.

It’s along because it was written at a time when journalism still had some gravitas and journalists still had opinions. They weren’t just ivy league puppets crafting corporate message disguised as news. So if you have a short attention span or don’t understand the concept of journalism, best to move on. You won’t like this.

For those that choose to muscle through, enjoy!
(psst Dad, you can probably avoid this one. Not sure you’ll like the writing and I know you won’t like the content.)

Where Were You When Elvis Died?
by Lester Bangs
The Village Voice, 29 August 1977

Where were you when Elvis died? What were you doing and what did it give you an excuse to do with the rest of your day? That’s what we’ll be talking about in the future when we remember this grand occasion. Like Pearl Harbor or JFK’s assassination, it boiled down to individual reminiscences, which is perhaps as it should be, because in spite of his greatness, etc., etc., Elvis had left us each alone as he was; I mean, he wasn’t exactly a Man of the People anymore, if you get my drift. If you don’t I will drift even further, away from Elvis into contemplation of why all our public heroes seem to reinforce our own solitude.

The ultimate sin of any performer is contempt for the audience. Those who indulge in it will ultimately reap the scorn of those they’ve dumped on, whether they live forever like Andy Paleface Warhol or die fashionably early like Lenny Bruce, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday. The two things that distinguish those deaths from Elvis’s (he and they having drug habits vaguely in common) were that all of them died on the outside looking in and none of them took their audience for granted. Which is why it’s just a little bit harder for me to see Elvis as a tragic figure; I see him as being more like the Pentagon, a giant armored institution nobody knows anything about except that its power is legendary.

Obviously we all liked Elvis better than the Pentagon, but look at what a paltry statement that is. In the end, Elvis’s scorn for his fans as manifested in “new” albums full of previously released material and one new song to make sure all us suckers would buy it was mirrored in the scorn we all secretly or not so secretly felt for a man who came closer to godhood than Carlos Castaneda until military conscription tamed and revealed him for the dumb lackey he always was in the first place. And ever since, for almost two decades now, we’ve been waiting for him to get wild again, fools that we are, and he probably knew better than any of us in his heart of hearts that it was never gonna happen again, his heart of hearts so obviously not being our collective heart of hearts, he being so obviously just some poor dumb Southern boy with a Big Daddy manager to screen the world for him and filter out anything which might erode his status as big strapping baby bringing home the bucks, and finally being sort of perversely celebrated at least by rock critics for his utter contempt for whoever cared about him.

And Elvis was perverse; only a true pervert could put out something like “Having Fun with Elvis On Stage”, that album released three or so years back which consisted entirely of between-song onstage patter so redundant it would make both Willy Burroughs and Gert Stein blush. Elvis was into marketing boredom when Andy Warhol was still doing shoe ads, but Elvis’s sin was his failure to realize that his fans were not perverse – they loved him without qualification, no matter what he dumped on them they loyally lapped it up, and that’s why I feel a hell of a lot sorrier for all those poor jerks than for Elvis himself. I mean, who’s left they can stand all night in the rain for? Nobody, and the true tragedy is the tragedy of an entire generation which refuses to give up its adolescence even as it feels its menopausal paunch begin to blossom and its hair recede over the horizon – along with Elvis and everything else they once thought they believed in. Will they care in five years what he’s been doing for the last twenty?

Sure, Elvis’s death is a relatively minor ironic variant on the future-shock mazurka, and perhaps the most significant thing about Elvis’s exit is that the entire history of the seventies has been retreads and brutal demystification; three of Elvis’s ex-bodyguards recently got together with this hacker from the New York Post and whipped up a book which dosed us with all the dirt we’d yearned for for so long. Elvis was the last of our sacred cows to be publicly mutilated; everybody knows Keith Richard likes his junk, but when Elvis went onstage in a stupor nobody breathed a hint of “Quaalude….” In a way, this was both good and bad, good because Elvis wasn’t encouraging other people to think it was cool to be a walking Physicians’ Desk Reference, bad because Elvis stood for that Nixonian Secrecy-as-Virtue which was passed off as the essence of Americanism for a few years there. In a sense he could be seen not only as a phenomenon that exploded in the fifties to help shape the psychic jailbreak of the sixties but ultimately as a perfect cultural expression of what the Nixon years were all about. Not that he prospered more then, but that his passion for the privacy of potentates allowed him to get away with almost literal murder, certainly with the symbolic rape of his fans, meaning that we might all do better to think about waving good-bye with one upraised finger.

I got the news of Elvis’s death while drinking beer with a friend and fellow music journalist on his fire escape on 21st Street in Chelsea. Chelsea is a good neighborhood; in spite of the fact that the insane woman who lives upstairs keeps him awake all night every night with her rants at no one, my friend stays there because he likes the sense of community within diversity in that neighborhood: old-time card-carrying Communists live in his building alongside people of every persuasion popularly lumped as “ethnic.” When we heard about Elvis we knew a wake was in order, so I went out to the deli for a case of beer. As I left the building I passed some Latin guys hanging out by the front door. “Heard the news? Elvis is dead!” I told them. They looked at me with contemptuous indifference. So What. Maybe if I had told them Donna Summer was dead I might have gotten a reaction; I do recall walking in this neighborhood wearing a T-shirt that said “Disco Sucks” with a vast unamused muttering in my wake, which only goes to show that not for everyone was Elvis the still-reigning King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, in fact not for everyone is rock ‘n’ roll the still-reigning music. By now, each citizen has found his own little obsessive corner to blast his brain in: as the sixties were supremely narcissistic, solipsism’s what the seventies have been about, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the world of “pop” music. And Elvis may have been the greatest solipsist of all.

I asked for two six-packs at the deli and told the guy behind the counter the news. He looked fifty years old, greying, big belly, life still in his eyes, and he said: “Shit, that’s too bad. I guess our only hope now is if the Beatles get back together.”

Fifty years old.

I told him I thought that would be the biggest anticlimax in history and that the best thing the Stones could do now would be to break up and spare us all further embarrassments.

He laughed, and gave me directions to a meat market down the street. There I asked the counterman the same question I had been asking everyone. He was in his fifties too, and he said, “You know what? I don’t care that bastard’s dead. I took my wife to see him in Vegas in ’73, we paid fourteen dollars a ticket, and he came out and sang for twenty minutes. Then he fell down. Then he stood up and sang a couple more songs, then he fell down again. Finally he said, ‘well, shit, I might as well sing sitting as standing.’ So he squatted on the stage and asked the band what song they wanted to do next, but before they could answer he was complaining about the lights. ‘They’re too bright,’ he says. ‘They hurt my eyes. Put ’em out or I don’t sing a note.’ So they do. So me and my wife are sitting in total blackness listening to this guy sing songs we knew and loved, and I ain’t just talking about his old goddam songs, but he totally butchered all of ’em. Fuck him. I’m not saying I’m glad he’s dead, but I know one thing: I got taken when I went to see Elvis Presley.”

I got taken too the one time I saw Elvis, but in a totally different way. It was the autumn of 1971, and two tickets to an Elvis show turned up at the offices of Creem magazine, where I was then employed. It was decided that those staff members who had never had the privilege of witnessing Elvis should get the tickets, which was how me and art director Charlie Auringer ended up in nearly the front row of the biggest arena in Detroit. Earlier Charlie had said, “Do you realize how much we could get if we sold these fucking things?” I didn’t, but how precious they were became totally clear the instant Elvis sauntered onto the stage. He was the only male performer I have ever seen to whom I responded sexually; it wasn’t real arousal, rather an erection of the heart, when I looked at him I went mad with desire and envy and worship and self-projection. I mean, Mick Jagger, whom I saw as far back as 1964 and twice in ’65, never even came close.

There was Elvis, dressed up in this ridiculous white suit which looked like some studded Arthurian castle, and he was too fat, and the buckle on his belt was as big as your head except that your head is not made of solid gold, and any lesser man would have been the spittin’ image of a Neil Diamond damfool in such a getup, but on Elvis it fit. What didn’t? No matter how lousy his records ever got, no matter how intently he pursued mediocrity, there was still some hint, some flash left over from the days when…well, I wasn’t there, so I won’t presume to comment. But I will say this: Elvis Presley was the man who brought overt blatant vulgar sexual frenzy to the popular arts in America (and thereby to the nation itself, since putting “popular arts” and “America” in the same sentence seems almost redundant). It has been said that he was the first white to sing like a black person, which is untrue in terms of hard facts but totally true in terms of cultural impact. But what’s more crucial is that when Elvis started wiggling his hips and Ed Sullivan refused to show it, the entire country went into a paroxysm of sexual frustration leading to abiding discontent which culminated in the explosion of psychedelic-militant folklore which was the sixties.

I mean, don’t tell me about Lenny Bruce, man – Lenny Bruce said dirty words in public and obtained a kind of consensual martyrdom. Plus which Lenny Bruce was hip, too goddam hip if you ask me, which was his undoing, whereas Elvis was not hip at all, Elvis was a goddam truck driver who worshipped his mother and would never say shit or fuck around her, and Elvis alerted America to the fact that it had a groin with imperatives that had been stifled. Lenny Bruce demonstrated how far you could push a society as repressed as ours and how much you could get away with, but Elvis kicked “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” out the window and replaced it with “Let’s fuck.” The rest of us are still reeling from the impact. Sexual chaos reigns currently, but out of chaos may flow true understanding and harmony, and either way Elvis almost singlehandedly opened the floodgates. That night in Detroit, a night I will never forget, he had but to ever so slightly move one shoulder muscle, not even a shrug, and the girls in the gallery hit by its ray screamed, fainted, howled in heat. Literally, every time this man moved any part of his body the slightest centimeter, tens or tens of thousands of people went berserk. Not Sinatra, not Jagger, not the Beatles, nobody you can come up with ever elicited such hysteria among so many. And this after a decade and a half of crappy records, of making a point of not trying.

If love truly is going out of fashion forever, which I do not believe, then along with our nurtured indifference to each other will be an even more contemptuous indifference to each others’ objects of reverence. I thought it was Iggy Stooge, you thought it was Joni Mitchell or whoever else seemed to speak for your own private, entirely circumscribed situation’s many pains and few ecstasies. We will continue to fragment in this manner, because solipsism holds all the cards at present; it is a king whose domain engulfs even Elvis’s. But I can guarantee you one thing: we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.

Our Shadows Taller Than Our Souls

For the umpteenth time, I was watching Heart perform Led Zeppelin’s classic “Stairway to Heaven” from this years Kennedy Center Awards ceremony the other day. And again I was blown away, simply astounding. Apparently, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant thought it was pretty good too with all three at some point exchanging smiles and nods. At about 3:35 you even see Robert Plant mouth the words “Not bad” to Jimmy Page. The big finish with the choir wearing Zep’s late drummer John Bonham’s signature bowler hat was enough just enough to bring tears to both Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

I got to thinking that when Led Zeppelin was at the peak of their power, this was a band that was not only known for their music but also for their epic drinking and drug use, strong attraction to underage girls (most notably guitarist Jimmy Page), alleged ties to the occult and folklore about the misappropriation of a Mudshark in Seattle (NSFW).

The mighty Zep set the gold standard for what would become the era of sex, drugs and rock & roll. I suspect if one could hop in a time machine and go back to 1974 and tell them that in 28 years they would be receiving a Kennedy Center Award, I have no doubt I would have received a right good ass kicking from either Peter Grant or Richard Cole, probably both.

You see, in the 1970’s Led Zeppelin was the biggest act on the planet and accordingly, they were public enemy number one among the “establishment”. In Ohio, where I grew up, it was believed they were just one step away from the dark lord himself, Satan. In fact, I recall my 11th grade English teacher, Mr. Grueber, echoing the fanaticism of fundamentalists and telling us that if you were to play “Stairway to Heaven” backwards, you would hear a message from the devil.

Unless Satan sounds like a warbly Robert Plant being spun backwards, there is no message. I ruined my version of Led Zeppelin IV trying.

The band dissolved after the untimely death of drummer John Bonham. While they considered hiring a replacement, ultimately they realized that Bonham, and what he contributed, was irreplaceable. Over the years they have reunited periodically for different events and with the passing of time they’ve proven that maybe, just maybe, all that hype was just that, hype and that Led Zeppelin was really just a killer rock band. Albeit one  with healthy predilection for drug and alcohol abuse and underage girls.

Time grants forgiveness for past transgressions…for most things. If any band or artist proves that it is certainly Led Zeppelin.

Band drummers like John Bonham are, without question, irreplaceable. But there is a difference between a band drummer and a studio drummer. A studio drummer must be infinitely more flexible stylistically and mustn’t be afraid to be assertive in their contribution to the song.

When one thinks about modern studio drummers who helped shape the sound of modern day rock music, in my mind it can be narrowed down to three, Hal Blaine, Jim Gordon and Jeff Pocaro. All three transcended the role of sideman or hired hand. Hiring any of them was like recruiting a band member for the term of the session, not just a guy who could keep time.

All three helped shape the vibe and sound of every song they contributed to. Blaine is most famously known as a member of the Wrecking Crew, studio wizards who helped Phil Spector create his “Wall of Sound”. Jeff Porcaro was most notably the drummer for the band Toto, but is considered to be “one of the most recorded drummers in history” until his untimely death in 1992.

Sandwiched between Blaine and Porcaro is Jim Gordon. Gordon earned his chops as a session drummer in Los Angeles, playing the gigs that Hal Blaine couldn’t make. Gordon played on anything and everything and right after graduation from high school, he took a job touring Europe as The Everly Brothers drummer. Building a reputation as an inventive and reliable session drummer in the late 1960’s was no easy task and Jim Gordon did it, in spades.

After touring with Delany & Bonnie, he went off on Joe Cocker’s appropriately named Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. When that tour ended he lined up session work on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. While that music is not necessarily music of my era, I am enough of a student to recognize that is a trifecta of rock & roll awesome. Hell, just to have survived those three things would have been an accomplishment, let alone actively be a creative participant. Perhaps most importantly, the principle backing band on the Phil Spector produced All Things Must Pass ultimately became Derek and the Domino’s, led by God himself, Eric Clapton.

It’s hard to believe that the classic we now know as Derek and the Domino’s Laya and Assorted Other Love Songs was largely ignored when it was released. Clapton refused to market it as an Eric Clapton album so record companies did what record companies did (and still do) best, acted like petulant children and retaliated by not marketing it. Funny thing though, fans of music are far smarter than record honchos give use credit for, and even though the album was not heavily marketed, Laya and Assorted Other Love Songs quickly became one of the most definitive albums of the early 1970’s. The band’s signature song “Layla” was written by Clapton and Gordon is still a rock & roll staple. Besides the brilliant and instantly recognizable guitar intro and Clapton’s anguished pleas, it is Gordon’s piano coda that haunts this song and makes it one of the most sorrowful pieces of music in rock &roll.

Jim Gordon was not just a drummer, he was a genius. Maybe not by MENSA standards, but when it came to rock music in the late 1960’s through the mid 1970’s there was no one better. Even after Derek and the Domino’s imploded, Eric Clapton considered him “The best drummer in rock and roll” and used him on every solo album through Slowhand.

While Jeff Pacaro may have the title of “the most recorded drummer” there can be no doubt that Jim Gordon was arguably first in quality. The list of albums Jim Gordon contributed to is as long as it is varied. He effortlessly floated from genre to genre, from Mel Torme’ to Merle Haggard to Linda Rondstadt to Steely Dan to Carly Simon to John Lennon to Harry Nilsson to commercial jingles to Muzak and everywhere in between. Jim Gordon set a platinum standard for what it meant to be not just a session drummer, but a drummer as musician. Gordon’s ability to jump from genre to genre so aptly and impact each song so perfectly was almost schizophrenic. There’s a reason for that.

Jim Gordon is schizophrenic.

And on June 3, 1983 Jim Gordon’s illness overcame him and he killed his mother.

He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to 16 years to life and has been incarcerated in California since 1984.

However, Jim Gordon’s story is more than just his illness and his crime and his music. It’s a cautionary tale of drug abuse as well as an indictment of the medical establishment at the time, Los Angeles authorities and the permissive nature permeating the entertainment industry. To dismiss Jim Gordon off as “crazy” is simple minded and negates both his illness and egregiously undermines his creative contributions.

Has enough time lapsed that we can re-examine Jim Gordon independent of his crime? In no way I am suggesting ignore his crime. It happened and it can never be understood, condoned or forgotten.

In our society, mental illness of any kind makes people nervous. Mental illness is a kind of societal leprosy. To acknowledge it in any fashion is to immediately become ostracized. Something as complicated and messy as schizophrenia is exponentially worse than depression or bi-polar disorder. There have certainly been advances in comprehending mental health issues and as permissive as the entertainment industry is, it generally still ignores mental illness and certainly doesn’t tolerate murder. It’s not surprising that many of Gordon’s colleagues and friends turned away from him after he was arrested and convicted.

Gordon is currently in prison and considering he was just up for parole for the fourth time and denied it, I am not entirely sure he will be released from prison any time soon. And I’m in no way asking anyone to ignore or forgive his crime, but 30 years on, he is paying for it and, I hope, getting treatment for his illness.

The music that Jim Gordon created and contributed to literally built the foundation for an entire genre of music and came to define an entire generation. While it may be the drummers plight to remain in the background there are those that truly rise above and deserve a more critical examination than those who can simply play to a click track and keep 4/4 time.

Jim Gordon contributed too much to be so easily dismissed as “crazy” or forgotten so simply. What we know as fact is that he killed his mother, he is genuinely ill and he was without peer for the period of time he was a practicing musician. We also know that his story is tragically complicated and made even more tragic by slowly letting his creative contributions continue to slip away.

Has enough time gone by that we can look at his work independent of his crime?

I can’t make an argument for parole and in no way presuppose any sort of award or admittance into any “hall of fame”. I just think that maybe we can take another look at his work and see where it fits into the pantheon of rock & roll.

There will be those who may think I am comparing murder to whatever misbehavior Led Zeppelin may or may not have participated in.
I am not. The shenanigans of young spoiled rich and polluted rock stars hardly compares to a schizophrenic committing matricide.

There will be those who think that I don’t believe Led Zeppelin deserving of the Kennedy Center Award.
That is wrong. I love Led Zeppelin and think that they deserve all that they have received and continue to receive. For my money, second only to The Beatles in rock & roll significance.

There will be those who think I may be dismissive of the other surviving Gordon family members or want to forget his mother, Osa Marie Gordon.
I am not. What the entire Gordon family has experienced is something no family should ever have to experience.

There will be those who think I am a Jim Gordon apologist.
I am not. I have no illusions about what he did. He bludgeoned his mother with a hammer and stabbed her. That is fact. I also know schizophrenia wreaks havoc on not only an individual but also a family and ultimately, a society.

But isn’t Jim Gordon more than his crime? Isn’t he more than his illness?

A cursory look at the music Jim Gordon contributed to is simply jaw dropping. I think it’s time that the man get some critical analysis of his creative collaborations. As more years go by both he and his legacy continue to be marginalized.

And that is just another tragic layer to an already epically tragic tale.

Further Study:

You’re So Vain – Carly Simon
Yep, that is Jim Gordon on drums. For my money, after the lyrics and Carly, the third most important part of that song.

Jump Into the Fire – Harry Nilsson
Find a better groove, I dare you.

What is Life – George Harrison
Proving that he was Hal Blaine’s equal, Gordon plays drums on George Harrison’s first solo album, produced by Phil Spector.

Layla – Derek and the Dominos
Easily one of the most pained love songs in rock history. if you don’t want to hear Eric Clapton’s incessant whining, you can go to 3:10. Gordon also earned a Grammy in 1992 for Clapton’s shuffle re-do on his Unplugged album (Gordon was in prison and unable to attend).

Doctor My Eyes – Jackson Browne
Jim Gordon played on the original from Jackson’s debut album. This video is from 1978 and that is Jim Gordon playing drums. By all accounts this is the last complete tour a healthy Gordon was part of.

I will try to post a better version of this article when I can find one. But this is sort of the definitive Jim Gordon article written by Barry Rehfeld for Rolling Stone magazine…in 1985.

Flux Fest 2013 Review

Published in The WG News + Arts
July 29, 2013

Flux Fest 2013, equal parts short film festival, creative gathering and party, took place last night (Sunday July 28) at Sandbox Studios in Bushwick. The festival theme was time travel and Flux Fest is the third in the ongoing “fest” series. Flux Fest follows Spooky Fest and Love Fest. The goal of each “fest” is to challenge a group of young filmmaking collectives to create short films inspired by creative prompts chosen at random. Flux Fest yielded ten interesting shorts created by ten different creative teams.

Technological advances have blown the doors open on visual storytelling and made the technology and distribution more accessible to the proletariat (how’s that for an SAT word). This is a good thing. Last nights Flux Fest merged the concepts of “film” and “festival” quite well. This is also a good thing because I am not convinced that we need another high brow film festival in the area.

Flux Fest sponsors Mythic Bridge, Big Vision Empty Wallet, Royal Wine Corp and Sandbox Studios created an excellent creative and fun vibe last night. With doors opening at 6pm and the promise of a six hour open bar, I had some reservations about what to expect. In my head, I had envisioned a drunken cinematic hootenanny.

It was nothing like that. Sure, the lighting may have been an epileptic’s nightmare and the DJ certainly gave it that true “festival” vibe but by the time I arrived at Sandbox Studios, I had little time to mingle. I grabbed a soda and made my way back to the screening room to try and secure a good seat.

Now, my cynicism can sometimes overshadow my objectivity when it comes to covering things like this (a favorite game of mine is count the beards, starting with mine). And admittedly, I can tend to be hyper critical of some of the changes our neighborhood has seen over the past few years, but one thing I am never too critical of is the amount of creativity that thrives and continues to grow in our community. Last night’s Flux Fest is further proof of a pulsating creative hive.

Important to note is what Flux Fest filmmakers accomplished. Each filmmaking collective had eight weeks, from concept to completion, to create a compelling short form narrative based on time travel and randomly chosen creative prompts. The fact that all ten did so with such aplomb is a testament to their skills and certainly highlights the best of what our community offers.

While the Flux Fest vibe at Sandbox Studios was certainly cool enough, I’m not entirely sure this is the best venue to screen shorts. The acoustics are awful and made more awful by the incessant chatting of a lubricated crowd which bounced around the room like a rubber ball in a prison cell.

Acoustics aside, the projection of the shorts was spot on, aside from the absolute failure of The Misadventures of Incredible Dr. Wonderfoot. If you were seated anywhere behind the first six rows, you were completely blind to the subtitles and missed the short entirely. Which is a drag because based on the laughter of the first few rows, I suspect it was quite good. Sandbox Studios works for the DJ’ing and festival vibe, I’m just not sure it is best for the film part. Fortunately, the Flux Fest shorts usurped some of those challenges and ultimately, it is about the work.

And the work was good, really good. All ten shorts had something about them that resonated with me and I thought they all showed the best things about this hive of creativity that is Williamsburg/Grenpoint/Bushwick.

As is the nature of these things, there can only be a few “winners” and here are the Flux Fest 2013 winners:

Best in Show: The Misadventures of Incredible Dr. Wonderfoot, Tiny Baby Bad Boys

Runner Up: Hippocampus, Jarrod and Tessa Productions

Big Vision Award: Primogenesis, Present Day Productions

Audience Choice Award: Russell Curtis, Pocket Storm Productions

Congratulations!

I am not surprised that The Misadventures of Incredible Dr. Wonderfoot got Best in Show because from what I saw, it looked great. Apparently, I really did miss out on the whole Wonderfoot experience by not being able to read the subtitles.

For the record, my audience vote went for Old Timers which I thought nailed the comedic parts perfectly and it was just clever enough without being too clever. It was really a perfect short. Very well done Prash NYC!

Big ups to the founders, organizers, sponsors and creative partners of Flux Fest 2013, it appeared to be a huge success. It was the perfect coupling of quality visual storytelling and a festival environment. I’m not sure what “Fest” is around the corner but I look forward to what it is.

Jumping the Shark – Part 2

“Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of ‘gimmick’ in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.”(1)

The phrase comes from an episode of the television show Happy Days when the Cunningham family, along with Potsie, Ralph Malph and, of course Arthur Fonzerelli (aka The Fonz), flew from Wisconsin to Southern California for a vacation. While the exact plot escapes me and I really don’t wanna go down an IMDB rabbit hole trying to find it, I can tell you it was a two part episode where The Fonz ended up having to water ski and jump over a shark (in his leather jacket of course), ergo the phrase.

For better or for worse, but mostly better, the phrase has entered the vernacular of American culture.

Just last month I posited a thesis that crowdfunding had officially jumped the shark when actor James Franco created an Indie Gogo campaign in order to raise $500,000 for three films based on his short stories. While incredibly narcissistic, Franco’s campaign can now play second fiddle to Spike Lee, everyone’s favorite conduit of vitriol. Franco and Lee join the already funded Zach Braff as the reason the cow that is crowdfunding has officially been tipped. Combined these three people have an estimated worth of 80 million dollars (40 for Lee, 20 each for Franco and Braff) and while I doubt those numbers are 100% accurate, I suspect they are in the relative ballpark.

The reason for the re-visit to this post is that I want to address something that is absolutely beyond reproach. You see, Spike Lee is getting shite for starting a Kickstater campaign to raise 1.25 million dollars to fund his next film. Whatever you think of his politics, his sports teams or him as an individual or artist, he is what a good artist should be, challenging. So why does Lee starting a Kickstarter campaign upset so many people? Is it the dollar amount? Nah, can’t be, Braff was asking for 1 million and Franco asked for 500k. What could it be? I mean, nobody blinked when Zach Braff and James Franco started theirs. In fact, they were almost applauded.So I am left wondering, how is Spike Lee any different?

Oh wait, that’s right, he’s black. THAT’S the difference! It’s absolutely tragic but I think the only reason people are up in arms is that Spike Lee is a talented, outspoken, opinionated black artist. Look, I am in NO way a Spike Lee apologist. However, I do think he is one of the most intriguing cinematic artists working today and I think the criticism he is receiving about his Kickstarter campaign is racially biased.

And because race seems to matter, I’m a white guy.

Nobody blinks an eye when the two white guys do it and then the talented loud black man does it and he’s an asshole? Bullshit, all three of them are assholes and none of them should get a pass. What they are doing is wrong and I am vehemently opposed to name brand celebrities abusing the crowdfunding platform to finance their projects when they have more than enough money themselves!

John Cassavetes financed his movies through his acting and re-mortgaging his house time and time again. In the process, Cassavetes created some of the most compelling cinema in history, and blazed the trail for American independent cinema. The very same trail all three of these knuckleheads plod down on. Zach Braff, James Franco and Spike Lee are deeply indebted to Cassavetes in ways I doubt they even know (except maybe Lee, he was a true student of film).

Francis Ford Coppola personally financed Apocalypse Now and nearly went broke, and crazy, doing it. If two of America’s premier directors weren’t afraid to put their money where their mouth his, why are these three guys trying to get get funding? Let me reiterate, they are all millionaires many times over.

Of course, this type of fundraising wasn’t around when Cassavetes was alive or Coppola was in his prime, but that’s not the point. The fact of the matter is that they put their money to work for them creatively so they could maintain the control and vision.

Crowdfunding, at its core, was created to provide people access to funds so they can pursue their dreams, whether it’s a tech start up or a short film. Additionally, it allowed people who wanted to participate in the creation of something the ability to contribute what they could. Both kickstarter and Indie GoGo highlight what makes the Internet so incredibly egalitarian.

When you get the likes of Lee, Braff and Franco coming in shilling for money, it ruins the whole idea! In what should come as no great shock, the majority of the people using the crowdfunding platform do NOT have access to a major film studio, or venture capital or come from a wealthy family. This doesn’t make them any less talented or less creative; but prior to Kickstarter and Indie GoGo it just made them more frustrated (I am deliberately ignoring Donald Trump’s foray into crowdfunding ).

Earlier this year, the creators of the television show Veronica Mars created a Kickstarter and raised well over 1 million dollars to fund a feature length movie of the TV show. And while I was a bit taken aback, it made sense because despite a rabid fan base Veronica Mars had no potential of ever being brought back to television. And no studio, in this day and age, would ever back a movie of a show like that..that’s been off the air for six years. So the creators decided to do it on their own. Kudos to them, THAT makes sense.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I used Kickstarter a year ago to fund a web series I created. And through the kindness of many supportive people, I was able to reach my goal and realize my vision. Even despite what I raised, I still contributed more than half of the overall budget, so crowdfunding is a resource, not a solution.

It’s also not a bank!

Look, I understand the desire and need to have artistic control over your projects. I get it, but these three yo-yo’s have more than enough money to fund this stuff themselves! And even if they don’t want to do that, am I truly to believe that they don’t have access to people who do have the money and who would willingly fund them? Come on!

What they are doing strikes me as extremely predatory. They are tapping into their fan base and I am guessing most of their fans sit smack in the middle class, or lower. And asking them to pony up their hard earned dollars just seems wrong to me. Are these three guys that arrogant or clueless about the struggles of the very people they are asking to contribute? If they are truly that disconnected from society, I would seriously question their artistry and integrity.

Again, let me be clear, these guys are MILLIONAIRES!

Oh, come on Keith! It’s not that much money to contribute.” You’re right, it’s not and it is yours to do with as you feel. But they have enough money to pay for it! Why should you?

Oh come on, you’re being hyper critical of this.” I am being critical, yes. I’m also being honest and realistic, which I don’t think the three of them are being to themselves or the people funding their projects.

Well, aren’t they raising awareness to crowdfunding?” Sort of. They are, but what they are also doing is diminishing it’s impact on the struggling artists and creators who truly need it to realize their own vision. I mean, can’t you just hear the cynicism of the next guy looking to raise money for his feature length film? “Pfft, who does this guy think he is, Spike Lee?” Also, the people they are bringing to the site are not likely to go poking around to find other projects to fund. They will be in and out. So yea, they are sort of raising the awareness but I don’t think they are benefiting the community. Ultimately, isn’t it the community that matters?

How would you feel if GE started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for research and development on a new airplane engine? Would you contribute to that? Oh, no, you wouldn’t? Why? IT’S THE SAME DAMN THING HERE!

And I’m not saying all celebrity crowdfunding campaigns are bad or unnecessary. The Veronica Mars campaign was a good thing. Personally, I’d like to see some more Whitest Kids U’ Know stuff so they should start a crowdfunding campaign. I think this is a great avenue for someone like Terry Gilliam, who has a horrendous time getting financing for his films. The fact is there are tons of artists, both known and unknown, with whom I would have less of an issue with. But these three knuckleheads? Nope, not buying it.

But even more than that, I disagree more with the blatant racial bias against Spike Lee. The two white guys, Braff and Franco, did it before him and escaped unscathed and Spike Lee is being vilified? Again, I have to call bullshit.

While I remain vehemently opposed to any of them doing this, I can say that of the three, Lee is the only one with the true depth of talent that only comes with experience. And of the three, his project seems less like a pet project.

I’m not entirely sure what the answer is. You can’t shut guys like this out because that goes against the nature of the whole idea. But maybe they could do a better job of explaining why I should give my money to a millionaire to fund their project? Maybe they take some of the funds they raise to support a smaller short film for a struggling artist? Maybe they promise to crew up with other film makers who have used Kickstarter? I honestly don’t know the answer but I think there absolutely has got to be a conversation around what to do when millionaires come asking for money.

What’s next Michael Bay on Kickstarter braying for 200 million dollars for another crappy Transformers movie?

Crowdfunding has officially jumped the shark…again.

Sources

1 – http://tinyurl.com/82qca

Somedays You’re the Bird. Somedays You’re the Statue.

My last post was about the exquisitely awful SyFy Original movie Sharknado (be sure to catch the re-broadcast on SyFy this Thursday at 7pm eastern). And then I got to thinking that maybe, just maybe, Sharknado is more than just a movie, more than just an event. Perhaps it is a metaphor for what’s been happening to America. Think about it.

Unless you are completely tuned out you know by now that George Zimmerman was acquitted of the senseless slaughter of teenager Treyvon Martin. While the acquittal came as no surprise to me it seems that the rest of the country has forgotten that Florida has a law in place that is all but state sponsored murder (to be fair, more than half the country has some semblance of the stand your ground law). Frankly, I was surprised it actually made it to trial.

Now look, there is no physical evidence to suggest that Zimmerman’s life was truly in danger, so the rational mind can only conclude that this was murder. Unfortunately, rationality and jurisprudence seldom go hand in hand.

Realistically,  Zimmerman could have said Treyvon Martin was a shape shifter and had arms made of machine guns. Since he took the liberty of shooting Martin dead, we don’t have any evidence to prove or disprove Zimmerman’s theoretical claim. If Martin were indeed a shape shifter he would have shifted back when he died.

I think we can safely presume Treyvon Martin was not a shape shifter.

So, does Zimmerman’s act mean he is a racist? It certainly is a big old giant flag that he might be. And maybe we can’t say concretely he is a racist,  we can say he is a big giant idiot. George Zimmerman is the very reason we should have stricter gun control laws, but that is a different argument. From where I sit, this isn’t, and shouldn’t be, about race. There are racial components to it, yes, but this whole thing is about a law that needs serious reconsideration. The stand your ground law.

Since the acquittal, people are crying for the federal government to step in and seek justice for Teyvon by putting Zimmerman on trial at a federal level. NO NO NO! Convicting Zimmerman is NOT the answer. Outside of jail he’ll spend the rest of his days as a social pariah and living with the fact that everyone knows that he shot a kid in cold blood. Inside of jail, the Aryan Brotherhood will protect him and treat him like a hero.

Do not look for justice through the legal system. Seek justice for Treyvon Martin by challenging the federal government to force each state to overthrow the god damn law. It’s a horrible law. Wouldn’t the memory of Treyvon Martin be better served by being the catalyst for changing a law? I certainly think it would be. Of course, such a move by the fed’s would challenge each states sovereignty, but maybe it’s time for the federal government to grow a set of balls and start doing something other than lining their pockets and those of their corporate sponsors and the 1%’ers. No?

It should come as no shock this Zimmerman pig fluck took place in Florida. The state has a long and storied history of being…well, of being Florida, the skid mark of America.

In my lifetime I may not have seen anything quite as apocalyptic as a Sharknado but I’ve seen some truly messed up stuff:

  • Horrible miscarriages of justice. The Rodney King  and OJ Simpson acquittals immediately come to mind.
  • Snot nosed Ivy League Wall Street twats making billions by all but puncturing a whole in the global financial world and then crying to the Federal Reserve Bank (a convoluted corporate structure that is a FOR PROFIT institution) saying that they needed about one trillion dollars of taxpayers money. Periodically returning to the teet of the Fed when they needed more money.
  • Student loan debt is now a larger part of American’s debt structure than commercial debt.
  • We’ve all but created an entire generation of indentured servants. Shouldn’t education be a right and not a privilege?
  • Our government has experienced a corporate coup d’etat as corporate lobbyists outnumber elected officials by +/- 30 to 1. Make no mistake, we live in a corporatocracy, NOT a democracy.
  • Kids and young adults have gone into grade schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges and senselessly slaughtered innocent people.
  • We’ve heard this time and time again, but the rich keep getting richer. And not little by little, we are talking about double digit percentage increases in personal wealth.
  • The middle and lower classes have experienced no growth and any wage increase parsed out is offset by tax increases or service rate increases.
  • We had the largest period of economic expansion only to be obliterated by a blue blooded man child who stole the election (once again, thanks Florida) and then got us entrenched in two wars. One we are still mired in. Any expansion we experienced had the air sucked right out of it after 9/11. Yes, 9/11 did change everything.
  • The same man watched as a city under water screamed for help, turning New Orleans into his own personal LARP (live action role play) game of the TV show Survivor.
  • We continue to be the worlds leading jailer. Why are our prison rates growing when crime rates are going down? Why do we feel the need to spend money on prisons, but cut education and care for the middle and lower classes?

I could continue this list for days and still not come close to having a thorough list of offenses that have rained down on America over the past 30 years. Are any of them as cataclysmic as a Sharknado? No, absolutely not. But there is a difference, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest a Sharknado could ever occur outside of a SyFy Original Movie.

Sadly, if you look around you, you will see nothing but evidence of a 30+ year metaphorical Sharknado.

Religion and blind patriotism are the opiate of the masses(1) and part of being an American is having some sort of blind flag waving pride in our country. But I’m not blind and I don’t have that same sense of pride. Perhaps being an American is less about patriotism and more about optimism. Maybe being an American is about believing we can do better.

Maybe being an American is more about seeking justice for Treyvon Martin not by prosecuting George Zimmerman, but by coming together to change a law to insure that there will never be another Treyvon Martin.

Maybe being an American is believing that we can create a technology that allows us to accurately forecast a Sharknado and make any necessary adjustments so that should such an atrocity occur, we can respond accordingly.

I dunno, I’m just sayin…

1 – Karl Marx

Jumping the Shark

“It’s discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.”
– Noel Coward

“Jumping the shark is an idiom created by Jon Hein that is used to describe the moment in the evolution of a television show when it begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery, which is usually a particular scene, episode, or aspect of a show in which the writers use some type of “gimmick” in a desperate attempt to keep viewers’ interest.”(1)

The phrase comes from an episode of the television show “Happy Days” when the Cunningham family, along with Potsie, Ralph Malph and, of course Arthur Fonzerelli (aka The Fonz), flew from Wisconsin to Southern California for a vacation. While the exact plot escapes me and I really don’t wanna go down an IMDB rabbit hole, I can tell you it was a two part episode where The Fonz ended up having to water ski and jump over a shark (in his leather jacket of course), ergo the phrase.

For better or for worse, but mostly better, the phrase has entered the vernacular of American culture.

Well, I am here to say officially that crowdfunding has officially jumped the shark. Yesterday it was announced that actor James Franco has created an Indie Gogo campaign to raise $500,000 to fund three films based on his short stories. While incredibly selfish, Franco’s campaign only highlights the true nature of this actors narcissism. According to celebrity net worth, Franco has an estimated net worth of $20 million dollars. While I doubt that figure is completely accurate, it certainly is in the ballpark. Nonetheless, fluck you James Franco.

Crowdfunding, or microfinancing for the nonprofits, was created for a variety of reasons, but at its core was the principle of  leveling the playing field to provide people access to funds so they can pursue their dreams, whether it was a tech start up or a short film. In what will come as no great shock, the majority of the world doesn’t have access to a major studio, or venture capital or come from a wealthy tailored pedigree. This certainly doesn’t make them any less talented or creative. So, Kickstarter and Indie Gogo were born (and I am deliberately ignoring Donald Trump’s foray into it).

And they both highlighted what makes the Internet so incredibly egalitarian!

Earlier this year, the creators of the television show “Veronica Mars” created a Kickstarter and raised over 1 million dollars to fund a feature length movie. And while I was a bit taken aback, it made a little sense because the show was cancelled and despite a rabid fan base had no potential of ever being brought back. And no studio, in this day and age, would ever back a movie. So the creators decided to do it on their own. Kudos to them. It seemed to make sense.

Then Zach Braff (net worth 22 million dollars) started a KickStarter campaign to raise capital for a feature film he wrote. To date, he has raised in excess of 3 million dollars.

And now James Franco? Come on!

I used Kickstarter a year ago to fund a web series I created. And through the kindness of so many supportive people, I was able to reach my goal and realize my vision. These guys have a combined net worth of 40+million dollars and you are telling me that they don’t believe enough in their ideas to pony up their own money?! And even if they don’t have enough money, they don’t have the access to people who do have the money? Come on!

Crowdfunding is not a bank.

I don’t know these guys but what they are doing strikes me as extremely predatory. They are tapping into their fan base asking them to pony up their hard earned dollars when they themselves are sitting on enough dough to fund their projects. And what happens should they sell their films and then they go on to make a handsome profit? Is whatever reward you got really going to pacify you? To me, what Franco and Braff are doing is extremely uncool.

They may be perfectly nice guys who are simply looking for alternative ways to fund their creativity. That is what Kickstarter and Indie Gogo are there for, but how egalitarian is this? How would you feel if GE started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for research and development on a new airplane engine? Sure, not as flashy as some movie star, but its the same God damn principle!

It’s pretty manipulative and disingenuous when you have the money to fund your project yourself and yet you are asking your fan base, whom I am guessing are not millionaires, to cough up a portion of their hard earned money.

One could argue that they are bringing attention to the crowdfunding cause by starting their own campaign. And to that I have to call bullsh*t.

There are certainly mid to lower level celebs who could easily use Kickstarter and Indie Gogo to fund their own endeavors  who would be less irritating. The Whitest Kids U’ Know* come to mind because their fan base is rabid and I suspect mainstream access to funds for them would be pretty challenging. Even the “Veronica Mars” thing I get. But two wealthy actors using it to fund their own pet projects? Nope, sorry. It just seems like a crappy thing to do.

From where I sit, if their projects were really worth funding, they should finance it themselves! And if they don’t want to, I get that too, but these guys have access to resources to help them fund it! Why is it incumbent upon their fans finance their pet projects? It’s not.

Crowdfunding has officially jumped the shark.

Sources

1 – http://tinyurl.com/82qca

* – I know these guys and would like to see them do more stuff.

Art imitates art when Barry Zuckerhorn, the Henry Winkler character on “Arrested Development”, physically jumped over a shark in an episode of AD as a nod to the phrase.

In an interesting display of irony, Hein sold his company Jump the Shark, Inc to Gemstar (the owners of TV Guide).

I Stopped Smoking

“They can because they think they can.”
– Virgil

I can’t completely say I quit smoking because the truth is, I don’t know that I quit. To borrow a saying from the 12 Step posse, I can only say I am not smoking today.

The most frequent thing said to me when I mention that I have stopped is not “Good for you!” it’s been “Why now?” Uhh, I suppose, first and foremost, because smoking is bad for you. We can certainly add that it is expensive. I suppose you can also throw in the fact that society views you as some sort of leper.

When I lived in San Francisco, I would be outside smoking and people would circumvent me as though I were evil incarnate. One might think that would have a negative effect on me but it didn’t. It just made me want to run up next to them and make sure my Marlboro exhales wafted in their direction. But being a smoker, I didn’t have the lung capacity.

I lived in Florida for a little over a year and quit while I was there. Even though cigarettes were infinitely cheaper in the sunshine state, it’s too damn hot there to smoke. If you went outside to smoke you’d inhale so much humidity it made cigarette smoke redundant.

When I moved back to New York City ten years ago, I took up smoking again. You see New Yorkers, its citizens, for the most part, don’t seem to care (politicians on the other hand…). I’ve always felt the attitude here was “You wanna smoke, fine…just do it over there and stay the hell out of my way, I got somewhere to be.” I also think living in New York City means your mind is on so many other things and the city is filled with so many other irritants that being irritated by smokers just doesn’t chart very high. It’s usually the tourists who bitch about it. Obviously, these are tourists who have never been outside of North America, where smoking is not a habit so much as a sporting event.

Stopping smoking is not simple, but I certainly was never one of those smokers who lived to smoke or had to smoke. While I enjoyed it, I was fine not smoking, it was just my preference to smoke.

So, how am I doing it? Cold turkey. There simply is no other way. Yes, I am using a patch to help aid in the chemical withdraw. While science and intelligence tells me there was most certainly a chemical addiction, I never felt addicted. For me, it was mostly a psychological thing. I smoked when I was bored, when I needed to kill time and mostly when I was stressed. Boredom is always going to be kicking around, I’ll just have to find other ways to kill time. And the stress? Well, that’s why the good lord created Dr. X, Xanax.

I don’t suppose I am ever going to loose the desire to smoke, the trick will be re-adjusting my response of smoking to the psychological triggers. That’s gonna be the bitch of it all. Re-wiring. Blargh,

One legitimate fear of being a non-smoker is that I will become one. You know the type of non-smoker who randomly fake coughs around smokers or scrunches up their face while frantically waving their hand in front of themselves. Or even the extreme non-smoker who has the gumption to ask “Do you HAVE to smoke here?” I always wanted to be asked that question so I could simply reply “No, but I’m going to.”

Man, I just don’t wanna become that guy. The late comedian Bill Hicks used to joke “I’d quit smoking if I wasn’t so afraid of becoming a non-smoker.”

I’ll be damned if that 12 step thought process doesn’t apply here too. I mean if a drug addict or alcoholic is always a drug addict or alcoholic, I guess I will just have to think of myself as a smoker who doesn’t smoke.

So, why now? Because 30 years of smoking is a long mother f’ing time to be smoking! I’d also started getting a little smokers cough and, truth be told, I know better. Smoking is bad for you. I’ve known that for years. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say the anti-smoking commercials with people talking about losing extremities or showing them shaving around one of those talk holes or watching some devastated mother about to tell her children she has cancer didn’t have an effect on me.

While I can’t say definitively that this is forever, it is certainly for right now.

That doesn’t make me a non-smoker though, it simply means I am not smoking.

Honest

“As you age naturally, your family shows more and more on your face. If you deny that, you deny your heritage.”
– Frances Conroy

Today is my birthday. I don’t say that looking for birthday wishes, I say that as entry into what follows.

You see, I am smack dab in the middle of my life. I mean right in the middle. And with that comes a fair amount of reflection. It’s not necessarily a crisis, I’m not going to drop everything and get a sports car, I can’t afford it. I’m also not going to grow a mustache or become a reclusive Luddite. I’m going to do what I’ve always done, keep plowing ahead doing the things I want to and doing the things that I feel are right for me and those I care about.

What’s interesting as you get older is how you begin to wonder where you came from. Not necessarily the locale so much as the ingredients that make you, you. Of course, I am able to recognize many of my parents traits in myself, both good and bad, but for the past 15-20 years I have often wondered where some of this other stuff that is hard wired into me comes from.

Growing up we moved around and never really spent any time around our relatives. I never had the opportunity to know my maternal or paternal grandfathers and only saw my grandmothers but once a year. When they would visit, for reasons I can’t fully understand, I always sensed a fair amount of weirdness. That’s hard to comprehend as an adult and even harder to understand as a child. But, truth be told, I was too much of a selfish little kid to actually ask either of my grandmothers about my heritage. Sadly, I’m pretty sure I just didn’t care. And because I had very few interactions with my extended family, I was never privy to the stories and folklore.

My fathers’ oldest sister, my Aunt Alice, passed away recently and with her went some of the stories that provided some history and understanding about my family. On the few occasions my family would visit my Aunt and Uncle and the cousins, I would get to hear some of the stories and they would always shed light onto our family’s gestalt; our love of a good story, our tenacity, our tempers (both good and bad), our love of a good drink and our deep love of laughter.

Yea, we were predominantly Irish.

Certainly, there are some Irish stereotypes that I can accept and am apparently hardwired for, like rebellion. And not in the “I’m a rebel, no one understands me!” James Dean kind of way or the tattooed, motorcycle riding, hard living kind of way (I have tattoos and I’ve owned a motorcycle). For me, rebellion isn’t a look or an attitude; it’s a philosophical belief that stands against any injustice, real or imagined. It’s about having as much knowledge as you can and then believing there is a better way. I’m more rebellious now than I was as a kid, if only because I know more now.

It’s been argued I have a problem with authority (I really don’t as long as the authority figure is smart, reasonable and not an arrogant, power hungry jack ass). I’m pretty resolute when I want to accomplish something (or don’t want to do something), some have argued stubborn. Certainly I have other character traits, but as those have been the most repeated, they quickly popped into my head. I’ve also been made aware over the last 10 years that it’s these traits that are not something that today’s Corporatocracy views as admirable.

Obviously, I’ve had these attributes my whole life and I’ve never seen fit to adjust them and I’ve certainly pushed against any outside effort to change them. They’re part of what makes me, me.

While my Aunt Alice served as our clan’s seanchai when we would gather, it was my fathers’ cousin, Cousin Bill, who took to being the family scribe. I recently received some of what he has written about our family history and while I’m still making my way through it all I’ve had more than one or two “A-Ha” moments so far.

My paternal great grandfather, Denis Murphy, was from County Cork Ireland and came to America in 1892. Like his siblings before him, he made his way to New York City. After a couple of different career choices he became a gardener to wealthy families. Over the course of his career, he worked for three families.

The first family he worked for was Jabez Bostwick family. He was the New York distribution agent for Standard Oil and one of its major shareholders. From there, he went to work for Theodore Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill, with his wife Mary Ann Coakley. Finally, he worked for Clarence Day, a financial guy on Wall Street and the father of the man who wrote “Life With Father”.

According to Cousin Bill, his recollection of Grandpa Murphy, who was affectionately referred to as “Pop” or “Boss”, was that he was “very strong, very hard working with a quick temper but also a wonderful sense of humor…who brought a welcome element of humor and irreverence to serve as a counterpoint to the strictness of Grandma Murphy”. That certainly struck a chord with me.

Cousin Bill points out that Rye, New York then, much like today, was a very wealthy community and populated by the rich and powerful and the people who worked for them. The Murphy clan fell into the latter, but no less prideful. And being Irish meant they were Catholic and pretty pious.

As such, Sunday mass was Sunday mass and all the Catholics, regardless of social status, worshiped at the Church of the Resurrection in Rye. While my great grandfather was a working class Irish gardener for the Day estate, during Sunday mass it’s quite likely he would have been sharing a pew with some of the era’s wealthiest financiers and tycoons. Well, those that were Catholic anyway.

“Pop” apparently loved to chew tobacco, and he particularly liked the brand Honest. Cousin Bill recounts one story that makes me beam with pride. He recalls attending mass one Sunday with “Pop” where he “deposited a wad of well chewed Honest tobacco on the church floor between the kneeler and the pew…prompted by his awareness of the affluence that surrounded him in the pews.” Obviously, I never knew “Pop”, but something tells me we have much in common.

Perhaps church isn’t the best place to dispose of chewing tobacco, but really, who among the dandy Westchester financiers and business tycoons would have had the intestinal fortitude to say something to the man known around Rye as “Mr. Murphy” or “Boss” and was known to be one helluva hurling player?

So today, I celebrate my birthday knowing a little more about my great-grandfather, Denis Murphy, and a little more about myself.

The Wild One, Forever

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN AND POSTED MAY 2011.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

The hours that were yours, echo like empty rooms
The thoughts we used to share, I now keep alone
I woke last night and spoke to you,
not thinking you were gone
It felt so strange to lie awake, alone
No Regrets
Tom Rush

So, here I find myself banging on the keyboard with the one woman who won’t leave me (mother’s don’t count), my cat Lulu. I am not saying she may not split if I let her out the front door, but she’d probably just go far enough to chase birds. Lulu and I share that in common, we both chase birds and both seem to end up in the same chair, alone, listening to all kinds of sad bastard music. Currently spinning on the digital Wurlitzer is the master of romantic verisimilitude, Tom Petty and his appropriately named Heartbreakers.

The X is still gone. She said she would think about what she wanted. I foolishly believe she may actually be doing it. Those of you who think I am a cynic or negative, I defy you to find someone with my degree of optimism. What cynic would really get back together with the woman who pounded on his  heart once before?

Here the Lu and I sit, listening and thinking. Sure, I hope she is thinking about the relationship and just how foolish her reasoning was for leaving, but the reality is in what she said and not in the tears she held back. “You’ll never be what I want you to be” followed by “I love you.” Seems conflicting doesn’t it? It’s not. I know she loved me. And this time around I felt it. But, I do think she sold the whole relationship short. Sometimes when you short the market you win (see Goldman Sachs) and sometimes you lose (see everybody else).

The truth is I never will be what she wants. Not out of malice or stubbornness, it’s just that the ideal person for her, or for anyone, does not exist. You love the whole person or you don’t. Love is all encompassing and not selective. You can’t pick what you love about someone any more than you can pick who you love. She doesn’t understand that…yet. She will. Yes, there is behavior I could have modified and changed. Most of it I probably would have over time. Could she say the same thing?

“They call you the wild one, said stay ‘way from her
Said she could love no one if she tried”
The Wild One, Forever
-Tom Petty

I met her four years ago at a friends birthday party. The funny thing about the party is that I knew no one. They were all up and coming comedians and I wasn’t. I had been drinking…a lot, and had forgone dinner in exchange for one more pint of Guinness.

It was about midnight when we finally met. I had spent most of the night talking to one girl thinking I could sweet talk her into coming home with me, but she flatly told me she would never date a white guy. She looked pretty irritated when I said “Who said anything about dating?” Furthermore, who says six hours of drinking removes any charm?

Now, I recall talking to her, but I have no recollection of any formal introduction and certainly had no idea what the hell I said. After meeting her, I remember three things. The first was when I was talking to her, my buddy who’s birthday it was called me over and literally said “be careful with that one dude”. I had no idea what he meant. The second thing I recall was drinking scotch on his roof and smoking a cigarette. And the third was going to a bar and closing it out. I remember not having any idea where I was and her offering for me to stay with her. OK, so that’s four things.

We’re all adults here, I think we can surmise what happened next, even if no one can recall it. In the morning, I tried to sneak out because I had a writing workshop to get to, but she convinced me to stay…well into the afternoon. As I was leaving, I got her phone number, wrote in on my hand because I had not yet grasped the idea of putting someone’s phone number DIRECTLY into my cell phone. I was on the fence as to whether I would call her.

I knew we worked for the same company, so I checked her work stuff out. Did the requisite Google searching and the like. I did a little internet recon (myspace, etc) and decided to email her at her work because, in what will come as no shock, the phone number got all mucked up with sweat and grease and was illegible by the time I got home. I emailed, she replied and we agreed to have dinner. Although she would come to admit later she almost bailed on that date.

Blah blah blah, we fall in love, we move in together, we fight, it goes poorly, she asks me to leave (it was her place), I leave but stay in the neighborhood because I naively think she will come to her senses. All of that happened in the span of about 14-15 months.

We broke up and I began acting out, like ya do. Mostly just drinking too much and going into some very dark places emotionally. Fortunately, I have good friends who pulled me out when it looked too dark. I eventually righted myself and moved on. It’s the only option. Well, it’s the only option I considered.

About 14-15 months go by and she initiates contact with me again after seeing a photo of me on my web site with my then girlfriend. You see, while she may not have wanted me, God forbid someone else want me. I was with someone, it was a fine relationship and I just wasn’t terribly interested in moving backwards in my life. She doggedly pursued me. “Let’s get coffee.” “What time are you taking the train in the morning?” , etc. In no great surprise, the relationship I was in spiraled downwards and I ended it…poorly.

“Baby, time meant nothing, anything seemed real
Yeah, you could kiss like fire and you made me feel
Like every word you said was meant to be
No, it couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me.”
Even the Losers
-Tom Petty

For the longest time, I read that song that HE was the loser and today for the first time it dawned on me that SHE was the loser. “No, it couldn’t have been that easy to forget about me”, for years that line never registered. And you know what? Today it sounded clearer than it ever had in the past 30 years.

So the X and I reconvened and do you care to guess how long Act II lasted? If you guessed 14-15 months, you would be correct.

The X attacked this second round of the relationship with a ferocity I had never known she had. She wanted me, me. She wanted a future with me. I, because I am an optimist, bought it hook line and sinker and am a sap. I believe in the power of love (damn you Huey Lewis and your News). I made it a little difficult at first because I had never gotten back together with someone after that amount of time and there was some blood under the bridge. Wrong girl at the right time, I suppose that about sums it up. But I was dumb enough to think she was the right girl at the right time.

I had said the only way that it would work is if we were honest…and we were. We talked openly and honestly about everything. I don’t think she withheld too much from me. It was good and more often than not it was great. We talked about kids, we talked about places we would go, things we would do. We made love, we had sex, we fucked. We laughed, we cried, we sat in silence. We did things, we didn’t do things. We had a relationship. Apparently, we were having two different relationships.

I’d by lying if I said it was all great. It wasn’t. We fought, sometimes viciously, but we always righted the boat. It would take one of us (usually it was me) to clear the air by clearing the head and putting perspective on what the real problem was. Intelligent discourse is something I can get on board with, even when it comes to emotions. Yes, it may take a day or two to get there.

It’s funny to think about it. I have been in love a few times and I have loved some terrific women. And everyone has “the one that got away”. Well, all things being fair, there is a reason why everything ends and time taints your ability to see those reasons. So in some cases, what we see as “the one that got away” may, in fact, just be the one that ended before it got tragic and sad.

I’ll end up some story the X tells her kids. The one about the older guy she dated and who “got away”, how “he was maybe a little much too handle, but he was good and treated me well. He really loved me.” She’ll tell her girls to not make the same mistake. And they will, we all do. She’ll tell her sons to treat their girlfriends the way I treated her and they will…and then they won’t. The circle will never be broken, it’s the way of this sort of thing.

In a previous post I had mentioned that my parents represent a spirit of rock and roll because they have stuck it out for almost 50 fucking years now! And no, maybe their relationship is not perfect (whose really is though) but they made the commitment to one another and come hell or high water they have slogged through it. And THAT says more than a thing or two to someone like me.

Here we are, about 16 months after our reconciliation (is it just me or is this 14-16 month thing a trend) and it’s done…again. I love her. That will never change. I want her. I desire her. I want her to want that with me. But she feels there is someone else out there who is going to fulfill her in some way I don’t. And I suspect that is true. I also suspect it will last for less than two years. I’m not entirely convinced she will ever know the meaning and value of what it means to be in love.

Love is what it is, a word. It’s the emotion behind it that defines the word. And unless you can understand and wrap your head around that emotion, love is, and will always be, just a word. Love is also the easiest part of a relationship.

The government has the military industrial complex and those outside government have its romantic equivalent, a relationship. Both are expensive to maintain, contradictory, invariably involve some degree of deceit and covert activity and always end with people getting hurt.

“You better watch what you say
you better watch what you do to me
don’t get carried away
Girl if you can do better than me
go…yeah, go
But remember, good love is hard to find,
good love is hard to find,
you got lucky babe
you got lucky babe, when I found you.”
You Got Lucky
-Tom Petty

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, pop star for the broken hearted. I mean really, the songs are unending, “Stop Draggin My Heart Around”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, “Straight Into Darkness”, etc. Some broads really put their hearts through the ringer.

The Lu and I sit and write and listen to the sounds of the people who could put this sort of thing to music. The type of music that resonates with everyone. Rock and roll knows A LOT about a couple of things and one of them is love and lost love.

The X is still gone and I don’t anticipate her return. I anticipate a call when she sees me with another woman or in 14-16 months, whichever comes first. Life is about choices and you can’t always make the right one. And with love, you never know if it’s right. You only know when it’s wrong.

Maybe I am just wrong for her. I’m no saint and I sure as hell am not the easiest guy to get along with, but I am real. I am always me. I stopped trying to be someone I wasn’t in my early 30’s. I don’t want to hurt anyone and I don’t want to hurt and I find that the easiest way to do that is to be honest. Honest with myself and honest with those close to me.

She has an ideal in her head, don’t we all? The X owes it to herself to see if that person exists. I never said she was the right one for me, did I? No, I simply know I want her. Big, big, BIG difference. I never promised I’d spend the rest of my life with her, that would be a lie. I know I WANT to, but I can’t say for certain. If I made that promise, rest assured that is what I would strive for, but to make it now would be a lie.

Who knows, maybe that Hollywood ending of true love forever exists for her. But my experiences, my friends experiences, every artists experiences, every musicians experiences, every writers experiences, tells me that love has more to do with work, compromise, acceptance, understanding, hurt, empathy, respect, pain, tenderness, support, understanding, laughter and ultimately sacrifice and so much much more. And all of those can change on the drop of a dime.

When you fall in love, and I mean true love, you strap yourself in, put your helmet on and go for the ride.

Lulu and I both share a love/hate relationship with birds. Both are bipeds, but one has literal wings and the other has figurative wings. I pine for them out in the word while pines for them through the window. While our desires are similar, something tells me our motivations are different.

Nonetheless, I think perhaps I will join the Lu and just look at them through the window for awhile.

“Birds”
Neil Young

Lover, there will be another one
Who’ll hover over you beneath the sun
Tomorrow see the things that never come
Today

When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go

It’s over, it’s over.

Nestled
in your wings my little one
This special
morning brings another sun
Tomorrow
see the things
that never come

Today

When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go

It’s over, it’s over.

Brooklyn Film Festival Review #4

Dragon Girls

According to Inigo Westmeier’s bio, the director of Dragon Girls, he has some serious cinematic chops. He studied at the Film Academy in Moscow, did his graduate studies at Baden-Wuttemberg Film Academy and even had a scholarship to study at the UCLA Extension Entertainment Studies Department. That’s not too shabby of a background in film studies.

Dragon Girls is his first feature film. Here is the synopsis of Dragon Girls:

Dragon Girls’ tells the story of three Chinese Girls, training to become Kung Fu Fighters, far away from their families at the Shaolin Kung Fu School, located right next to the Shaolin Monastery in Central-China, place of origin of Kung Fu.Three girls in a crowd of 26.000 children, under pressure to conform to the norms and structures: they are turned into fighting robots and yet, if you look behind the curtain, you see children with dreams and aspirations.

OK, seems interesting enough. I mean, I like documentaries and the idea of 26,000 students studying Kung Fu was moderately interesting. Right?

Wrong. From a purely narrative point of view, the idea was the only interesting thing.

After 65 minutes of Dragon Girls, about 60 if you count the two times I nodded off, I had a critical decision to make. The Clash said it best, “Should I Stay or Should I Go”. I sat there for a good five minutes wrestling with that. Certainly, I have an obligation to acknowledge the work of Westmeier and be respectful of it. There’s a responsibility to readers to provide a fairly objective review of the film. What to do, what to do. I finally decided I had been respectful enough and had enough information and decided to walk out.

In full disclosure, I did not pay to see Dragon Girls, so I walked out of a free movie. However, I can assure if I had paid for it, the result would have been the same. And to put this into perspective, the last movie I walked out of was Yentl, in 1983.

Over the past 30 years, I have seen tens of thousands of films, some painfully horrible, but I’ve always managed to push through them to find something worth watching. Not so with Dragon Girls. Simply put, I just didn’t care about the girls or anything that was happening on screen.

Making a documentary about paint drying would have more narrative structure than Dragon Girls. Apply the paint, watch it dry, and see the results. BAM, three acts.

Now, I am not going to say everything is bad with this film because that is not true. Westmeier was both the director and cinematographer and there are some stunning images and some fantastic wide shots of the students practicing. There are some terrific choreographed shots of the students as well. And if I had to judge Dragon Girls solely on aesthetics, it is above average.

Unfortunately for Westmeier, I have to consider narrative and this movie doesn’t have one. I found none of the students that were interviewed engaging enough to stick around to find out what happened. In short, I didn’t care.

Documentaries, as a genre, are not supposed to provide a thrill a minute. But, by and large, there is always a structure and some sort of narrative. In documentaries, almost more than in a narrative film; you need to care about someone or something. The film maker has to engage the viewer somehow. Regrettably, Dragon Girls has a serious lack of engagement and nothing to care about.

Westmeier, and his crew, should be applauded for the accomplishment of Dragon Girls. I can’t begin to imagine the logistical and political headaches that accompanied the shoot. China’s reputation as a militantly insular country and extremely confrontational nature with foreigners could not have made this feat easy. In fact, I’d bet that story would be infinitely more interesting than what I saw in Dragon Girls.

Unlike most people, I hate being too critical of someone’s creative work. Aside from some nice shooting, I just couldn’t find anything interesting about the story. Well, I found no story.

Dragon Girls clocks in at 90 minutes and is about 75 minutes too long.

Dragon Girls completed its run at the Brooklyn Film Festival on Thursday.

Originally published 6.7 on The WG News+Arts site.

Brooklyn Film Festival Review #3

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes

Movies are about suspension of reality, well the best ones are. I can’t say that Francesca Gregorini’s film Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is one of the best ones but it is pretty damn good.

Here’s the synopsis:
Emanuel, a troubled girl, becomes preoccupied with her mysterious new neighbor, who bears a striking resemblance to her dead mother. In offering to babysit her neighbor’s newborn, Emanuel unwittingly enters a fragile, fictional world and becomes its gatekeeper.

Yep, it is your standard indie fare. Writer/Director Francesca Gregorini and Cinematographer Polly Morgan have created a deft ambiance that embraces the viewers like a well worm blanket. From the beginning, despite what happens, we know it’s going to eventually be OK.

The film is almost devoid of all modern appliances like smart phones, computers, and televisions. The only real signs of modernity are mass transit and one lone car, an old Volvo 240. Without the modern distractions, it lets us now that Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is about characters and story, there’s a novel idea.

One Sunday three or four years ago I went on a Netflix binge of the British drama “Skins” and was floored by all of the performances. As I poked around to find out who the hell this Kaya Scodelario, who plays Emanuel, was. I quickly discovered she was one of the leads on the British “Skins”. Turns out, the show was a breeding ground for extraordinary young talent, Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, the Mad Max reboot, the upcoming X-Men, and yes, the kid from About a Boy), Joe Dempsie (HBO’s Game of Thrones), Dev Patel (HBO’s The Newsroom, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) are some of that cast that have since made the transition to Hollywood. I suspect we will soon be adding Scoldelario to that list.

In Gregorini’s Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes, Kaya Scodelario delivers a simply stunning performance as the 17 year old Emanuel. Here the British actress dons an American accent to play the snarky teen who struggles with her life because her mother died during her birth. While we’re introduced to her in voice over and this is a little silly. However, once we get by that, we can’t help but immediately be taken in by Emanuel’s charm. The voice over simply lets us know that we’re about to encounter a brash and snarky lead character.

As Emanuel, Scodelario plays her with empathy well beyond the characters 17 years, but it works. Again, it’s a movie, so we must suspend reality. Some of her laser sharp one liners are unbelievable, but her delivery allows us to shrug that off. The fact that we can ignore some of Emanuel’s aplomb is a compliment to both the performance and direction. As the namesake of the movie, she is in almost every scene and carries the story flawlessly. A story driven movie like this demands an exceptional performance and Kaya Scodelario does just that.

Jessica Biel is in the throes of a Hollywood trajectory that, unless she manages it well, could very easily erase the talent she has. Earning her wings (pardon the pun), and tabloid star, on the extremely under appreciated WB series “7th Heaven” she has gone on to star in a number of big Hollywood movies; the types of which punch lines and car explosions are more important than dialog. Like Ulee’s Gold and Elizabethtown before, Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is the type of character driven movie where Jessica Biel shines. Her performance here as Linda, the neighbor with the secret, shows exactly why she is in that Hollywood trajectory (I just hope it doesn’t land her on “Dancing with the Stars”).

When Linda first shows up, before she even utters a line, you notice her wardrobe. Biel is attractive to begin with but here the loose, flowing, beautiful and bohemian (apparently, the one product placement is Free People clothing…that’s a joke) clothes add to her natural beauty and add an element of ethereal quality to the character of Linda. Biel plays Linda like she wears the clothes, loose, earthy, real and beautifully.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes also stars Alfred Molina as Dennis, Emanuel’s father. Alfred Molina is Alfred Molina, he could read YouTube comments and I would pay attention. He’s brilliant. Always.

Perpetual scene stealer and all around go to guy for any genre, Jimmi Simpson plays Arthur, Emanuel’s dorky friend at her medical supply/pharmacy job. Here Simpson has shed his Liam Mcpoyle robe (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and is wearing his big boy clothes and his drama cap, along with his Warby Parkers. As Arthur, it is his job to  play the lone “bad” guy in the movie. And he is anything but a “bad guy”.

Arthur eventually goes on a date with Linda. At the end of this date, with Emanuel downstairs listening to the baby monitor, it is Arthur who tasked with informing Linda of just how crazy she is.

It’s a scene that works so well you’ll get cranky about how it emotionally disrupts you. In just a short time, you’re emotions will be righted again. It’s that warm blanket that Gregorini sets up early in the film coming to cover you. That little emotional pinball game is not easy to pull off and is evidence that everyone involved in this film brought their A game.

So, what is the truth about fishes? I honestly do not know. I’m flummoxed as to the metaphorical significance of the title. I’ll leave that for the smarter folks.

So what makes Emanuel so protective over Linda’s craziness? I’m not telling.

I will tell you Emanuel refuses to bond with her stepmother but has such a longing for a mother figure that she embraces Linda, who resembles her own mother. I will tell you Linda’s crazy is revealed fairly early as Emanuel and she are developing their friendship. Emanuel first ignores the crazy and then teeters on embracing it, completely cognizant that she is jeopardizing her own sanity.

The ending is exceptionally beautiful as both Emanuel and Linda are able to bury their respective pain and crazy. Indeed, the scenes leading to that beautiful moment once again require that suspension of reality, but if you can do that, you will be rewarded.

There is a scene shortly after the “crazy” reveal, and before the ending, between Emanuel and Dennis where he firmly says to her “Emanuel, you don’t know what is in other people’s hearts!” She quickly replies “No I don’t but I know what is in mine.” I know it sounds cheesy and in lesser hands than Molina and Scodelario’s it wouldn’t work. But Emanuel’s simple retort is so truly moving. It makes you wonder if only more people stopped trying to think about what others may think and may do and were focused on, and motivated by, what is in their own hearts, how much better off we would be.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes is one of those films that no major studio would make. And that is sad. It’s one of those movies that movie buffs and saps, like me, tend to enjoy. It’s also one of those movies the re-charges me and makes me realize that there are really talented film makers like Francesca Gregorini out there creating. It’s one of those movies that force you to forget the dreck that some of these performers have been in and reminds you that they are where they are because they are talented (and not necessarily who they are married to). It’s one of those movies that, if you can, you should see.

Emanuel and the Truth About Fishes concluded its Brooklyn Film Festival run last night.

Published 6.5 on The WG News + Arts site.

Brooklyn Film Festival Review #2

A Series of Shorts: A different lens through which to see the world.

Now more than ever, we must look to artists to see the world through their eyes because it is often the artists who hold the mirror up to society and provide us with a different lens through which to see the world. And for those artists who choose to work in the short film or video genre, their vision is crucial for us to gain a better understanding of the human condition.

The short film genre gives artists a truly unencumbered opportunity to tell their story and sometimes, they even do. It may make viewers bored or even angry, or in some cases, both.

Sitting through ninety minutes of short films last night, I got seven very different perspectives and I was seldom bored or angry. I’m not sure they all hit the mark but more did than didn’t. Nonetheless, whatever my opinion is, or anyone else’s for that matter, one must recognize the determination and efforts of the seven artists whose films I saw last night.

So here are the seven films I saw last night in the order they were shown:

Superf*ckers: Burger Brothers
Director: Fran Krause

I have to say this was a huge disappointment for a variety of reasons. One, this is part of a funded YouTube Channel series. Two, it is egregiously unfunny. Three, excessive use of coarse language; as anyone who knows me can attest, I actually enjoy that kind of language…when it serves the story or plays to a joke. Here it does not. At all. Four, I’m not even sure what the f*ck Superf*ckers was all about…other than sucking 240,000 milliseconds from my life.

Crappy content aside, I’m a little unclear why a short that already has a distribution channel in place (a funded YouTube Channel) would be part of the festival. I had it in my head that film festivals, especially short films, were about recognizing talent and not building brands.

PlayPals
Director: Yianni Warnock

With hardly any dialog at all, this Australian short pokes fun at the vacuous nature and emotional immaturity that is often attributed to men. In just 11 minutes, we get pretty much the story of what men like to do: walk around without pants, masturbate, be bored, ignore dishes and hygiene, fight, watch TV and have a singing fish on a wall. The only thing missing was a picture of Dogs Playing Poker, but perhaps that isn’t as popular in Australia.

Of course, the two guys watching TV devolves into a slap fight and wrestling match, not in any sort of homoerotic sense, just two guys who punch each other to see who can hit the hardest. It’s silly, fun and completely pointless.

Aesthetically, this short was spot on. The look, the characters, the setting, the feel and almost complete lack of dialog reminded me of a Wes Anderson film, in all the best ways. The two actors, Shane Gregory Gardiner and Peter Flaherty, resembled a chubby bearded Jason Lee and Zach Galifianakus respectively, played the roles perfectly and without their girth, I don’t think this short would have been as effective.

PlayPals captures the loneliness that often accompanies such infantile behavior and it’s that loneliness that adds a much needed depth and overall sadness to the short.

Eat
Director: Moritz Krämer

Annnnnd, this is the German art house short of the group. This is to say it was kind of funny, looked brilliant but was pretty odd overall. Less narrative driven than the other films in the group but that actually works in favor of the film.

Skinny model gets a break from a photo shoot, retreats to her dressing room to find that everything in the room is edible, from the lipstick to the wall. Skinny model then pulls her lower lip over her entire body and retreats into some sort of cocoon.

Eat just left me scratching my head wondering what the point was. Admittedly, this is not the first time I’ve been left befuddled by a German film so I can’t say for certain whether my reaction would have been different if it was shown with a group of like minded shorts. It could easily just be German films in general.

The Places Where We Lived
Director: Bernardo Britto

Opening on a Japanese man reciting some sort of diary entry and then leading into a montage of demolition footage was certainly interesting. Once the animation took over and the actual narrative began to take shape, The Places Where We Lived really began to shine.

I just re-read the synopsis “A man wakes up with a terrible feeling. His parents are selling his childhood home”. I have to say that point was lost on me. Nonetheless, there were some laugh out loud moments here because it was so often awkward and funny. In both style and substance, it reminded me of the animated series “Dr. Katz”, and that is a good thing.

Are We Not Cats
Director: Xander Robin

Imagine if David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch decided to collaborate on a short film. I think you’d find they would create something like Are We Not Cats. You don’t believe me? Read the synopsis “A welder discovers his eccentric girlfriend eating his hair subconsciously as they take a truck drive to an abandoned resort.

Only it’s not so subconscious when, post coital, she coughs up a giant hair ball.

In the hands of writer/director Xander Robin (seriously, if Lynch and Jarmusch had a kid, I’ve no doubt it would be named Xander) actors, Michael Patrick and Kelsea Dakota shine in this quirky little story.

The Amateurs
Director: Kai Gero Lenke

For me, this was both a missed opportunity and a messy short. I think the subject matter, two adolescent boys who know sex only through internet porn, is one ripe for satire, drama or comedy but unfortunately, The Amateurs is none of those.

Writer/Director Kai Gero Lenke clearly has something to say, and reminds me of Todd Solondz, and it could be interesting. Unfortunately, the performances are so bad here that whatever the point is it is completely lost. Lenke, and cinematographer Markus Englmair, certainly capture the barren look Solondz has mastered, but sadly, it’s the actors that dragged this piece down.

I don’t want to say this short is appropriately titled, but it is.

Having said that, something tells me we will hear more from Kai Gero Lenke and I look forward to that.

Chaser
Director: Sal Bardo

In high school I got sick and was out of school for a month. My mother would drive me to the video store every few days to pick up movies to watch. On one of these trips I picked up William Friedkin’s 1980 thriller Cruising with Al Pacino. I had no idea what that movie was about until I started to watch it. It’s a pretty tough film to watch in many ways.

Sal Bardo’s Chaser is equally as tough to watch, and in the wrong hands, the subject matter would seem just gratuitous. Thankfully, writer/director Bardo and actor Max Rhyser, as Zach, are so incredibly talented it is anything but gratuitous.

Look, I could easily write an entire article on this film alone, but I won’t.

I will say this is the film in this series that holds that mirror up to society.

The synopsis reads “Alienated from his conservative Jewish family and culture, a promising, young, gay schoolteacher seeks solace in the barebacking community.” Now, that sense of alienation from his family came across, in this context, as sort of self imposed. Does Zach have a sense of self loathing? It would seem so.

In one telling scene Zach is teaching his class and engaging one of his students to explain to him why the character in his homework is a “cutter”. The student’s explanation foreshadows what Zach subjects himself to in that “barebacking community.”

OK, on that note, it seems absolutely unfathomable to me that in this day and age there would actually be such a thing as a “barebacking community”. But it is portrayed so incredibly benignly and believably that I have no doubt it exists. In less adept hands this portrayal of that community would have overshadowed the more powerful component. And that is what Zach subjects himself to.

Despite the brutal depiction of Zach’s self hatred, this short ends on an optimistic note. Which seems counter intuitive to what you just witnessed, but both Bardo and Rhyser have the skills to really make it believable.

Chaser is the best of what short films should be; thought provoking, eye opening and reflective of the community we live in.

Watching short films is a hit or miss endeavor and, for the most part, this particular line up hits more than it misses.

This line up screens again tomorrow Wednesday June 5 at 10:30pm at indieScreen.

I would encourage you to go. All of these film makers have something to say and a couple of them, notably Sal Bardo, are actually keeping the short film genre relevant.

Published 6.5 on The WG News+Arts site.

Brooklyn Film Festival Review #1

Three-pack screening of Bye, Freckle, and Hank and Asha at Windmill Studios

The Brooklyn Film Festival is in full swing at indieScreen Cinema and Windmill Studios, both on Kent Avenue. With over 106 films from 24 countries spanning every genre, you are certain to find something you will enjoy.

Saturday, I went to the three-pack screening of Bye, Freckle, and Hank and Asha at Windmill Studios.

Bye is a three-minute short from Canadian filmmaker Chris Muir that straddles the line between sketch and experimental film. Bye follows the arc of a relationship with only one camera set up and only one line of dialog, the word “Bye.”

It’s rare that three minutes and one word can pack such an emotional punch, but Muir manages to pull it off with the aid of actors Richard Charles and Celine LePage. Bye embodies the chief element needed for a good film, regardless of length, intelligence.

This short film is the perfect visualization of Longfellow’s famous saying: “In all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.”

Oakland based visual artist Mike Cantor is the creative force behind the experimental short, Freckle. The synopsis describes it as “19,000 velcro dots. 18 months. Two Velcro dot suits. 20 volunteer ‘Velcro pushers.’ A girl. A guy. Space. Skin. Atoms…Freckle!

Yea, I am not really sure what any of that means either.

A song by New Haven based musician, Brandon Patton, accompanies the experimental Freckle. The style of animation Cantor employs, paired with the music, appears to be a direct nod to Michel Gondry’s video for The White Stripes “Fell in Love with a Girl.” Unfortunately, in this case, neither the song nor the technique quite hit the mark. I found Freckle to be disjointed and difficult to follow and only marginally interesting.

Of the three, I was most apprehensive about the feature film Hank and Asha, by husband and wife directing and editing team James E. Duff and Julia Morrison. The synopsis sounded contrived: “In this modern love story, an Indian woman studying in Prague and a young New York filmmaker begin an unconventional correspondence—two strangers searching for human connection in a hyper-connected world.” UGH! I honestly did NOT want to like this film.

I didn’t either … I loved it.

Yes, the story is super hokey, but that fact is very quickly erased by the talents of everyone involved. In particular, director Duff, the cinematographer Bianca Buti, editor Morrison and the performers, this film is a true testament to the definition of collaboration.

Andrew Pastides plays Hank, a marginally privileged millennial living in New York, who receives a video message from Asha, played by Mahira Kakkar. She saw a film of his and they begin a back and forth courtship dance, via video messages.

Even though Asha is in Prague and Hank is in New York, their video courtship unfolds like any other, full of flirting and innocence. It reminded me of what that dance is like before the complexity of sex creeps in. Both Pastides and Kakkar completely embody their characters and truly shine.

Mahira Kakkar is a real gem to watch as Asha grows more and more interested in Hank. She plays cute and coy perfectly, as almost every girl does in those early stages of courting. Kakkar also has that truly rare acting gift of being able to express so much by saying so little.

Andrew Pastides quickly makes you realize that Hank is not just another marginally privileged millennial, he’s just another young guy trying to figure it all out. He’s exceptionally charming and particularly shines in a Bollywood tribute to Risky Business, it’s a moment in the film that every guy watching could easily picture himself doing.

Perhaps that is what makes the Hank and Asha so likable, the simple way it charms the viewer into so easily identifying with both characters.

Sadly though, cultural differences ultimately prevent the Hand and Asha from meeting up in Paris. And speaking of Paris, Hank and Asha is a wonderful millennial tribute to the Generation X story of unrequited love, Before Sunrise. As that movie begat a trilogy, is the same in store for Hank and Asha?

It’s the simplicity of Hank and Asha that makes it so damn delightful to watch. Making something appear that simple is a true testament to the entire creative team involved because making any film is never simple.

While I remain unclear where the cockles of any one person reside, Hank and Asha is sure to find them and warm them.

Bye, Freckle and Hank and Asha will be shown again Saturday June 8th at 8pm at indieScreen, 289 Kent Avenue.

You should go.

Published 6.4.13 on The WG News + Arts site.

Open Letter to Netflix Haters

May 29, 2013

Dear Netflix haters,

I’d like you all to step away from your keyboards and close your blog window. If you work for an outlet hating on Netflix, take a break and get some coffee or have a smoke. Breathe, relax.

Let me say right up front, I am not a Netflix apologist, employee or shareholder. So, I have no vested interest in what follows.

It seems to me that so many of you Netflix haters are hell bent on seeing their demise. Over the past year, Wall Street ANALyst’s and a huge chunk of traditional media coverage of the company has done nothing but take the piss out of what they are doing. One must obviously acknowledge the monolithic misstep last year of splitting the company and then the piss poor handling of the ensuing aftermath. They paid the price for that, literally. I think everyone can agree on that. We can also acknowledge that it may be best to keep Reed Hastings on a shorter leash than he may like, but I suspect he is smart enough to know this already.

OK, so why is everyone so hell bent on slamming Netflix?

  • Because they are doing things differently (no one likes a rebel)? No, not really.
  • Because they are bucking the system (no one likes a smart rebel)? Nahhhh.
  • Because they are doing it well AND they are winning (believe it or not, we as a society don’t like winners. We reward them, but seldom like them)? Getting closer.

If only it were that easy, but this being the world of multinational corporations, it’s not.

You see the way broadcast media works is, in a word or two, fucked up. We just finished the annual circle jerk (upfront) here in NYC where all the networks preview their fall schedules. “This is the time of year when the most powerful ad execs in the nation stand in line — line! — to get into Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center to hear the pitch…”(1) Even though traditional broadcast viewership continues to trend downward, this annual shit show continues to generate billions of dollars and all networks see year over year increases. (1) Seriously, it defies all logic.

In and of itself, that isn’t TOO horrible. That is presented like any convention, right? Sort of. It’s the lack of transparency that’s a slap in the face. You see, at a convention, you can bounce around and more or less see what everyone is charging, because it’s more or less universal. During the upfront, most advertisers are not aware of what their competitors, or ANYONE, is actually paying because it is all one big ass secret.

The core principle of a free market (which many of these CEO’s would claim to be advocates of) is to let the market decide what the rate would be…for everyone. Under the auspices of the free market, a 30 second unit for Ford in a popular show should, in essence, be in the ballpark of a 30 second unit for GM.

It’s not a free market if CBS says to Ford “I’ll charge you 10,000 for 30 seconds in ‘Two and a Half Men’ but you can’t tell anyone.”(these numbers are totally made up for simplistic reasons, I assure you they are INFINITELY more) and then goes to GM and says “I’ll charge you 100,000 for 30 seconds in ‘Two and a Half Men’ but don’t tell anyone.” The current foundation of media buying is anything but a free market, it is the very definition of dictatorial.

In all fairness, there have been more open systems tried (Google comes to mind) but they failed. They failed because they weren’t encouraged to succeed. There is much more money in the dictatorial model.

For a better understanding to the bullying or dictatorial market that is the upfront, read Jim Edwards article “A Secret Cartel Keeps The Dying Broadcast Industry Afloat“.

The price determined for these commercials is pure speculation and, from the pitch to purchase, the price is directly tied to the fictional rating system known as Nielsen. Simple facts, Nielsen has about 24,000 set top ratings boxes around the country. There are well over 115,000,000 television sets and well over 300,000,000 US citizens. Even for a non-math person or data analyst, I can tell works out to be a pretty small percentage. Furthermore, Nielsen does not factor into account colleges or universities, prisons, etc. where television viewing is tantamount to water.

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE! Nielsen, the networks and advertisers are still trying to tell us that the 18-49 demographic is the most important demo, or “key demo” (they even have the data to back it up..HA). First of all, that is a HUGE spread, 31 years! A generation is typically defined by 25 years. That 18-39 demo is like the FBI’s worst profiler “Well, he or she is a white, hispanic or black male, anywhere from 18-49 with long/short sandy brown hair or possibly not, anywhere from 5’0” to 7’0″ tall.” Secondly, millenials and Gen X’ers (that is the 18-49 demo) are not brand specific and our viewing habits are changing daily. They’re certainly not the same as the baby boomers. And thirdly, any half wit can tell you boomers are the “key demo”.

My generation and the generation below me are constantly being told we don’t save enough and we don’t spend enough. You know what? WE DON’T MAKE ENOUGH TO DO EITHER! The baby boomer generation is roughly 78 million strong and controls a big chunk of the wealth in the U.S. (2) so to argue that x’ers or millenials are the “key demo” is to deny that fact, and it’s both ignorant and severely short sighted.

Netflix is a subscription based model, so they are not beholden to Madison Avenue. And the subscription based model not only turns its back on the the ad supported model but also proves to advertisers and networks just how archaic their business model is. People are fine paying for content that excludes commercials. Hell, HBO taught us that eons ago…before it was snatched up by a multinational.

Netflix has been able to attract some a-list talent, which television has great difficulty doing, and they’ve created some pretty good original programming, which television is also having great difficulty doing. And nothing pisses networks off more than competitors success.

“Lilyhammer” was a nice introduction to the Netflix original programming sked, David Fincher’s “House of Cards” was just shy of brilliant, “Hemlock Grove” was a misfire for me, but apparently it did well. And now “Arrested Development”. I am halfway in and it’s a welcome reminder of just how smart the show was and is.

To expect “Arrested Development” to be GREAT would have been foolish. It’s very good and it’s still INFINITELY better than any of the dreck commercial networks try to jam down our gullet.

Netflix is not beholden to Nielsen. At all. They don’t even need to release the number of views for their shows with their quarterly statement, or at all. One could easily argue Netflix is not being transparent with that information. How dare someone not be transparent to the all might multinationals that own cable and broadcast networks! They would never do such a thing…oh wait, they already do.

Netlix releases their subscription information and right now it hovers just under 30 million, all paying on average 9 dollars a month. Now, even for a non-math guy, I can tell that is a pretty substantial revenue flow.

So why is everyone hating on Netflix?!

One, traditional broadcasting got caught with their pants down and they are not handling the transition to streaming very well. In fact, they’re acting like Lars Ulrich did with Napster. In other words, like rich little jack asses throwing tantrums because they thought they were impenetrable.

Two, Netflix’s success is a reminder that traditional broadcast media is being shown up by a young non-traditional upstart, or rebel. And they’re succeeding without their help. Soon, the networks will take their toys (aka programming) and go home. Instead of acting like petulant children, and they had half a brain, they would strike an alliance with Netflix.I mean a REAL alliance, not just an agreement for Netflix to broadcast the first three seasons of “Murder She Wrote”.

Thirdly, there are no less than three industries that Netflix is fucking with, Advertising, Media Buyers and broadcast networks. And those are some powerful players. Almost every major player in those industries is either owned by a publicly traded company or IS a publicly traded company.

This may come as a shock to you, despite the use of the word “public”, publicly traded companies don’t really have the public’s best interest in mind. And yes, that probably includes Netflix.  So, there is simply too much money, spread out over too many places, going into too many pockets for a simple streaming model like Netflix to be wildly successful. It won’t be allowed.

Lastly, Netflix won’t play by traditional rules and release viewership information. And boy does that make media companies and media watchers angry! You can almost see the steam coming out of their heads. I don’t personally believe Netflix to be deliberately withholding information to be jerks. I suspect they will provide that information in time, but in our instant gratification, narcissistic society where we must measure success IMMEDIATELY, any delay infuriates people.

The truth is, nothing Netflix is doing is traditional, so the archaic, or traditional, rules of broadcast television don’t apply. And instead of highlighting all Netflix is doing correctly like the programming, development, handling the bandwidth,  etc. pundits and spoil sports alike are focused on the crap that only matters to a few. And when the few get angry, they PUNISH people. The Netflix stock price has certainly seen its share of punishment over the past 18 months.

So to you Netflix haters, I say “Go ahead, hate away. I’m not gonna stop you.” All I ask is that you take a good look as to why you are hating them. Instead of acting like pouting prissies, explain your reasons logically. Because logically, Netflix is doing a much better job than most other media companies whose shit scraps you lap up as “genius” and “progress”, when more often than not, they are neither.

Sure, Netflix does some dumb shit and makes some wonky decisions, but as far as moving towards a definable future for broadcasting, they’re looking ahead versus trying to cram the old broadcast business model, and content, down our throat.

As a fan of quality, uninterrupted shows available when I want to watch them, there is no better provider than Netflix. I’ve tried a fair number of them and for my money and my time, Netflix does it best. I doubt it will last forever, media is a serious state of flux, but for now:

Rock on Netflix!

Links:

1 – Edwards Article – http://tinyurl.com/pjlxvww
2 – Boomer article – http://tinyurl.com/oujbbxy
3 – NYTimes article – http://tinyurl.com/oqg7hv7