Shoot the piano player…

“You better think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me
Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free…”

Aretha Franklin, Think

I have held off on this topic for reasons of my own sanity. It has not been easy. It concerns a subject that I hold dear to my heart, and it makes me, quite literally, froth at the mouth like a rabid dog, when I start discussing it. And I don’t want to be that guy, the guy that rants on about something in his blog, just because he has a blog to display his rants. Too many people beat me to that punch already…

But, today, I saw something that just… well… it put me over the edge. I sat stunned in my chair for what seemed like an hour, just thinking about it. I found my head shaking, and I was just muttering the word, “Why….” over and over.

Someone wants to remake Escape From New York.

Check that… Breck Eisner, whose daddy, Michael Eisner, did his very damnedest to rip the roots out of the Walt Disney empire (which in and of itself is a rant for another time…), wants to remake the John Carpenter classic film Escape From New York.


A question has been locked in my head for about six years now, and I am finally going to say it out loud. The question is this – Does NO ONE in Hollywood have a damn OUNCE of originality anymore???

I can feel the foam starting at the corners of my mouth already…

Oh, to hell with it…

I remember sitting in a movie theatre in October of 1994, in a packed audience, watching Pulp Fiction. The audience was stunned. For two hours, we all sat there, not really believing what we were seeing. It was like seeing the face of the future. Tight, crisp, edgy dialogue… a storyline that broke into different time frames, only to come back full circle, twice over, in fact… a cast including two actors that many thought were easing their way out, and one who had, for all purposes, faded into the sunset… situations that you found yourself laughing at that you just KNEW you were not supposed to be laughing at, but you could not help it… a soundtrack that went from classic R&B to California Beach to Chuck friggin’ Berry… I felt like I was losing my mind!

For months after, all film eyes were on this “new wave” of directors and writers. The Old School was done!!! The New Wave was here!!!!  People like Tarantino, Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufman, and Robert Rodriguez were going to pave the way to a new level of movie-making that promised to be nothing but incredible!!!

Now… jump cut to 2011…

What the hell has happened? Where the hell did the originality go? First guess? Right out the damn window?

Do you guys have any idea how damn hard it is to be a movie fan these days???

Aside from the outrageous ticket prices, I mean…

Honestly, I just want to meet the people who actually thought it would be a good idea to make a film version of The Dukes of Hazzard. For that matter, who approved a film version of The Beverly Hillbillies? Is Hollywood just flat out of ideas? I mean, look at what we, the moviegoers, have had heaped on us in the past three or four years? Why are we remaking movies that do not need remaking? It got announced a couple of months ago that the “hot movie” coming up was the remake of Dirty Dancing.

Let me repeat that.

The REMAKE of Dirty Dancing.

The remake of a movie I all but had to bolt myself into the seat to get through the FIRST TIME I had to sit through it… this is a “hot movie” coming to theatres soon?

Oh, it gets better, too. In about a month, we get a Footloose remake. A frigging Footloose remake. I am supposed to be giddy over that? Are you kidding me? Howard Stern, that bastion of logic and taste, wants to remake Porky’s. Oh yeah, because there were so many unanswered questions in the first THREE Porky’s movies????

Case in point? I accepted the idea of a remake of Arthur. I did not like it, but I accepted it. And what happened? In this lovely world of political correctness, Arthur Bach could not be a loveable drunk playboy, played so brilliantly in the original by Dudley Moore. But, see, now, “loveable drunk” is translated as “sad, pitiful alcoholic,” and that doesn’t play well, so, in the NEW version, Arthur is just, well, a jackass. He had no charm to balance out the drunken silliness. Therefore, why was this made? To try to cash in on a title that had millions of fans. Plain and simple…

I am not going to say that the idea does not pay off now and then. I almost choked to death when I heard that the Coen Brothers were remaking True Grit. Someone had the temerity to try to remake the quintessential John Wayne movie? The movie that defined John Wayne’s later years? The movie so associated with The Duke that a single image of him in the character of Rooster Cogburn is almost a definition of his career?

But, and this is a big “but,” the Coen Brothers did not remake the MOVIE… they made a film of the book as it was written by Charles Portis. Major difference. The Duke’s version was tailored to his already-existing mythos, and catered to it in every scene. This version was (forgive me) grittier, meaner, more hardened. Cogburn was not just a drunken cowboy with a mean streak towards lawbreakers. LaBoeuf is not a good-looking charmer with eyes on young Mattie. It worked because it played against the original movie rather than trying to copy it.

What is the old adage? “Even a blind squirrel can find a nut now and then…”

There are currently plans to remake Death Wish, Mad Max, and Judge Dredd. Judge Dredd, a movie that Stallone managed to destroy a comic book hero with. Stallone, by the way, is slated to be the star of the Death Wish remake. Yippee. Poltergeist, American Werewolf in London, The Howling, and Hitchcock’s The Birds are also ready to remake. Why do I bet each of these will be in that headache-inducing 3-D? We got Conan (as in the Barbarian, not the talk show ginger boy) coming up soon. Release the doves…

Look at this list for  what we have waiting for us in 2012…

There is not one on that list that remotely intrigues me on any level. Others may think differently, and more power to them. To be quite honest, there are several that just make me want to throw things at the wall until I can see the wiring behind the sheetrock.

Why does the Escape From New York remake bother me so much? Simple answer. It was one hell of an original idea. John Carpenter and Nick Castle, the screenwriters, turned the city of New York into a prison, then crashed the President’s plane in it, and sent one of the most badass characters in screen history into the city to rescue the President. Carpenter cast Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken, the aforementioned badass, which was against every type of character Russell had ever played. He casts soul music legend Isaac Hayes as the evil overlord of the prison that is now New York City. And he made the movie for a $6 million budget. Six million dollars wouldn’t even hire a lead actor any more.

Remaking movies is a cop-out. The original screenwriters and directors may give their blessing, but all it truly amounts to is a lazy way to make movies. I will not go as far as to call it outright theft, but it is damn close. The new director may be putting a “new spin” on the script, or whatever catchphrase suits their press agents. My grandfather used to say, “Pouring perfume on a pig and putting ribbons on its neck don’t make it anything but a pretty pig.”

Is there no imagination left in Hollywood? Do filmmakers have to swipe ideas from old copies of TV Guide and Starlog in order to make their bones? You hear about some new director at the Sundance Film Festival, whose movie, made on a shoestring budget, made the audiences stand up and applaud for 20 minutes, and what happens to him? His first major job is Hollywood is directing the remake of Bill Murray’s Meatballs??? How is this recognizing his talent? Some screenwriter, whose script for a movie that had the Venice Film Festival weeping until they passed out, gets a contract to write a major motion picture, and gets assigned the sequel to the film version of The A-Team? Are you insane???

And, before someone throws James Cameron and Avatar at me, let me put this out there… Avatar is a remake of Dances With Wolves. Substitute giant blue people for Lakota Sioux Indians, and tell me I am wrong…

Stop it, Hollywood. Get all this ridiculous crap out of your system, and spend some money finding the filmmakers and screenwriters that work their wares at places like Sundance, like Telluride, like Tribeca. Go to the film festivals and sign these films and actually market them to a wide audience and see what happens. You may not get a billion-dollar Lord of the Rings package, but you may find yourself being applauded for finding the next genius who has been buried by the studio execs that think remaking Sixteen Candles and going forward with Gilligan’s Island: The Movie are box office magic.

In a nutshell, Hollywood, get a brain and grow some balls. Especially if you want us to pay $15 to see another remake of Clash Of The Titans.

Really… did we need a remake of a Harry Hamlin movie?

… morons…


Won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise…

“… be my guest, you got nothing to lose, won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise”

Frankie Ford, Sea Cruise

It was a sweltering day today, so, tonight, on my internet radio show, I decided to play “music to chill with.” Nothing heavy, nothing to blow the doors off, just some tunes to bring the temperature down. As is my usual set-up for my show, I had the television on, the channel set to Turner Classic Movies and the volume set to just one notch above mute. My mind functions better when I have about three things to focus on at once, don’t ask me why…

Well, I had found a nice groove with my music, the listeners were enjoying the tunes, and the night was winding down nicely. Then I looked up at the television screen. The movie on Turner Classic Movies had ended, and they were running some filler to kill time before the next one started. And there, suddenly, was Robert Osborne, the longtime host of TCM, and he was doing a promo for the first-ever TCM Classic Cruise. Yes, folks, a cruise. An entire boatful of movie fanatics like me, on a four-day trip to Key West and Cozumel, with a film festival all through it!!! Film screenings, panel discussions, theme parties, trivia contests, on a CRUISE SHIP!!! ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

I hit the website ( ) and started checking out the details, and I was a bit disappointed that they had not posted much in the way of details as to the films to be shown, but the cruise is not until December, so they have time. I have a lot of faith in Turner Classic Movies, and they know how to do things right, for the most part.

Then, it happened…

What can I say, my devious nature does tend to peek out now and then…

So, as I sat here, thinking about this cruise, this classic film festival at sea, sure enough, it peeked out. If I had the job of programming this cruise, setting up the events, picking out the films to  be screened, organizing the discussions… heh heh heh…

First thing on the agenda would be the film screenings for the opening night. We’re at sea, right? The first night’s screenings would be a secret. Get everyone into the screening room and dim the lights for… The Poseidon Adventure. What better way to kick things off than with a movie about a disaster at sea? Let everyone squirm a few minutes, wondering if this is a joke or not. I know, I know, it might not be the BEST way to kick things off from an aesthetic standpoint, but, honestly, it is a great movie. The whole ship turned upside down by a tidal wave, fire and explosions, that one guy doing the Nestea Plunge into the skylight-thing? COME ON!!!

Then, just for kicks, let’s put Hitchcock’s Lifeboat on as a second feature. Let folks go back to their staterooms thinking, “Uh, just what have we signed on for?”

The next day, we can begin the panel discussions and activities. Get Tom Hanks to be one of the guest presenters, and he can teach people how to make fire, just in case we, well, you know. Perhaps we could rig up a special mast with sailcloth so there could be lessons on how to ride a dagger down from the rigging to the deck. Everyone should have their chance to be Errol Flynn, right? A seminar on how to run the perfect mutiny might be nice, if you can keep things civil, of course. Maybe we could have a fishing tournament while we are in Key West, dedicated to Spencer Tracy. Each fisherman goes out in a wooden boat with a dead marlin tied to it. Then, the contestants have to make their way back to port, fighting off sharks with a stick. Whomever gets the biggest piece of the marlin back to port wins!

The meals would be an important part of the cruise, of course. The food would be gourmet, except for one meal. A lunch, perhaps after the seminar on running a good mutiny, with the menu being hard tack, salt pork, and maybe breadfruit, with one cup of water per person. Hey, if you want a good mutiny, you should know why the things get started, right? I mean, you can’t get away with lashing people or keelhauling them. Just let them have a taste of the yummy grub that they used to enjoy, and you might see why folks were none too thrilled to spend six months at sea.

We could have a Disney night and show 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Swiss Family Robinson! That would make the classes in giant squid fighting a little more popular. Lessons in building the perfect treehouse, complete with pipe organ and flowing water, would also have some extra chairs. End that evening with Pirates of the Caribbean, and have a midnight buffet be a costume affair, just to see how many Jack Sparrows you can get in one place. The people from the Guinness Book might want to witness that, who knows?

I know everyone thinks I am going to suggest showing Titanic on this cruise. Not a chance. A Night To Remember, sure. Great movie. But, if you want James Cameron’s version of the story, you skip the first 90 minutes and start about the time it starts getting icy outside. When that one lookout says, “Good Lord, hard to starboard!!”, the good part of the movie starts.

I understand that there is a casino on board the ship. WHOOO HOOOO!!! There must be some compromises made, though, for the true movie fanatics. The roulette table must be rigged to hit 22 at least once every five spins, so the Casablanca fans can do that slow push with their chips and feel all Moroccan. At the blackjack tables, there will be one player with an odd look on his face, betting one for bad, two for good (If you don’t get that, shame on you). The poker tables can function as normal, but the dealer must play one hand of “spit in the ocean” every half hour. (Okay, that one was easy, I admit that…)

There are several bars and lounges onboard this ship. One of the MUST be redecorated to look like Rick’s Café American from Casablanca. This will require a good piano player, a sweet Russian gentleman to be the maitre’d, at least two people picking pockets and selling cheap jewelry, and one man trying desperately to hide from the police. He will be arrested and shot twice a night for the entertainment of the masses.

Just for kicks, and because I would love to spend the evening there, another bar should be made to be a smaller version of Jack Rabbit Slim’s from Pulp Fiction. And yes, we will have those damn good milkshakes and a twist contest.

They do have a martini bar on the ship. It would be a crime if this was not dedicated to The Rat Pack. Lookalikes of Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr. would walk around in tuxedos, their bow ties undone and top collar button open, and they would have to perform a few tunes, with a nice level of smoke covering the ceiling. We will not discuss the “no smoking” rule for this one bar. It will, instead, be mandatory for each customer to be given a pack of Camels and a silver Zippo.

For the last night on the ship, I think it only right to have a showing of Jaws outside, around the pool. We could set up a nice seafood buffet out there, and watch how many folks run to the ‘facilities” when that kid on the raft gets munched like a Cheeto at a barbecue. An added bonus would be to run Moby Dick as a second feature, just to see how many fat guys get out of the pool before someone starts sticking them with cocktail toothpicks.

I like to think that the good people at Turner Classic Movies would heed at least one of these suggestions, but I will not hold my breath on it. But be assured, if I can scrounge up the cost of a ticket, though, you can bet I am keeping a close eye on what the programmers will come up with. But, gentle readers, if anything on the plans looks a little TOO familiar, I may have to give them a call…

Till the lights go on…

“.. till the lights go on and the stage is set, and the song hits home and you feel that sweat…

It’s my job to be different than the rest, and that’s enough reason to go for me… it’s my job to be better than the best and that makes the day for me….”

“It’s My Job,” by Mac McAnally, as performed by Jimmy Buffett

As I write this, it is approximately four hours from my “call time” to get to the theatre, and the tingles of nervous twitches are starting. This is something I have known for many years now, this antsy feeling as the time nears for me to put on whatever costume I am supposed to wear and perform in front of an audience. Some people say things get easier with time… some people are wrong…

My first official stage time came with a play called “George Washington Slept Here,” a comedy written by the incomparable Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. The local community theatre group was presenting it, and they needed a “precocious 11-year old kid,” as called for by the script. In essence, they needed a smart-ass kid who could toss lines with adults. For some strange reason, a friend of my parents thought of me. Go figure…

Little did they know that, when I got that first laugh, that first audience reaction, a monster awakened.

I was too young to even think about really being nervous, but, even then, waiting for that first curtain to rise, I was unable to sit still. I started wandering around backstage, talking to myself, singing to myself, doing anything to keep myself moving. I had never been on stage, outside of those silly pageants we did in school, but I knew this was different entirely. Folks had paid money to see us do this show. This wasn’t the “How Arbor Day Began” thing, with paper bag costumes and the “awwwwws” of everyone’s mom and dad. This was a major deal, and I could feel that difference.

These days, I have so many shows under my belt, it’s hard to really count the exact number. I did shows through high school. One of my majors in college was Speech Communication and Theatre, so I did shows all through college. I went from college back into community theatre, and, in those first two years, I did almost every show the company put on. Real life jumped into vogue, and I was out of it for a while. But I missed it like one would miss an old friend who moves away.

When real life decided to knock me to my knees, I was in a dark and very scary place in my head. But, that old friend who moved away decided to come back to visit. Some very good friends literally dragged me into audition for our community theatre production of Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.” I was on the fence about auditioning until I had that script in my hand and felt those house lights blaring down on me. I knew the show, and knew it well. One of my professors in college had once told me that, while I was a talented actor, I was never going to be able to “hold a lead role,” because I “just wasn’t a leading man-type.” But “The Odd Couple” has a lead role that not only was my type, it was practically written for someone like me! For those who do not know the show, the lead roles are Felix Unger, a fussy, anal-retentive control freak, and Oscar Madison, a sloppy, carefree, unkempt soul who only lives to make himself comfortable in his own sloppiness. Yeah, Oscar Madison was written FOR me.

I had so much going on in my life in the year or so prior to this show, I was in dire need of therapy, and being able to rant like a madman, carry on, yell, threaten, and throw tantrums for 8 weeks of rehearsal was the best medicine I could have received. And, once again, I was hooked.

I went back into my old routines. My superstitions about pre-show, my rituals, spending time getting into my zone, they all came back to me, and, damn, it felt good. I felt alive again. And in those moments, I knew that, whatever life may bring me from that point on, I was not turning my back on the theatre again. It was not a question of whether or not I liked it. It was a part of my life that I had let slip away, and with its vanishing, a part of me had gone as well.

And now, I am in yet another show. The first week of performances was a blast, and we kicked the hell out of the show. I did the last two shows of the week with what I now know to have been a low-grade sinus infection, complete with a nice 101-degree fever, and had a ball doing it. I just thought the buckets of sweat I was draining was extreme nervous energy. Then I got home after the last show and realized that I had not stopped sweating yet. Oh, well…

It’s about three hours now to my “call time.” The nerves are tingling a bit more, and I have one of George Romero’s zombie movies on the TV (don’t scoff… it helps me think… sue me…). I have my mp3 player on, ear buds in, and a nice mix of high-energy rock and easy trop rock is making a groovy roller-coaster ride in my head. I am entering my “zone.”

The folks in the cast with me may think I am a little crazy, all my rituals and superstitions and such, but that’s okay with me. I have never been known as one to do things in a “normal” fashion. I have my ways of focusing, my ways of finding my mindset, and they work for me. Some people just sit and think. I have to move. I spend a couple of hours watching a good horror movie, or a WWE DVD, anything I can follow without really hearing it, and I keep my music flowing. I start powering the caffeine about two hours before show time. I get to the theatre as early as I can and get in costume quickly. Then I put the mp3 player back on, crank up the tunes, and start walking back and forth in front of the stage. I sing to myself, I walk with the rhythm of the music, and I prime myself up for the audience response.

And when that first laugh hits from the crowd, damn, but it feels good. It sends lightning through your soul and makes you feel alive like nothing else can. You radiate on that stage like a turbine, pumping out the energy and letting that crowd feed on it.

And when the show is over, your energy is gone, but the applause as you bow, well, it’s like a cold drink in the desert. It makes that hot, arid run all worthwhile…

Until the next day, when you start it all over again…

Love like the movies…

“…so you want to be in love like the movies
But in the movies they’re not in love at all
And with a twinkle in their eyes
They’re just saying their lines
So we can’t be in love like the movies…”

The Avett Brothers, “Love Like The Movies”


It’s ten minutes to three in the morning and I just got through answering the thirty-something e-mails I got after the Oscars went off the air last night. Ahhh, the curse of being a movie fanatic… folks need answers to their movie questions, they come to the one person they know will know. And they know that if I don’t know the answer, it will drive me crazy until I figure out what the answer actually IS. I mean, you are talking to someone who has spent many a sleepless night trying to figure out where I had heard a particular line from a movie.

One memorable occasion, for whatever reason, a scene popped into my head, a woman entering a room and yelling “WHAT the HELL is happening?” It was a throwaway scene, and it meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. Discovering the source was not going to unlock the Secret of the Pyramids, or solve the national debt, or anything monumental like that. But it bugged the crap out of me. I could see the scene in my head, I could hear the woman’s voice, but I could not, for the life of me, figure out WHERE I had seen it. And for a year (yes, gentle readers, a YEAR…), it gnawed at me like a beaver on a spruce tree. But, by cracky, I figured it out. Not through Google, not through any website or book of movie quotations, but by sheer repetition, repeating that little film clip over and over in my head when I had some down time, the light bulb FINALLY pinged on and I placed the evil film clip. For the record, it is from one of the true funniest movies of all time, My Favorite Year, starring Peter O’Toole and Mark Linn Baker, and the line, well, I will allow you to find it for yourself in the movie….

But I digress…

For many years, I worked on a website that allowed me to review movies, offer my opinions on the industry, and I had a ball doing it. And one of my favorite columns I used to write was my annual “reaction” essay to the Oscar telecast. My readers then would flock to the site the day after the show to see what I liked and what I hated about the show, my reactions to the winners, and so on. Well, the site still exists ( , should you feel like perusing), but we have not done new content in many moons. It became a victim of time management, lack of sponsorship, and, truthfully, frustration because we were apparently ahead of our time as far as being amateur movie critics. Every now and then, though, someone will pop onto it and I will get a vicious email because of my comments about Dirty Dancing (which has to be one of the stupidest movies of all time), or blast me because I thought then, and still do, that The English Patient was as boring as a mayonnaise and white bread sandwich with a glass of water as a chaser. And I still get the emails about the Oscars telecast.

So, to save me having to spend another late night hitting “reply” over and over again on my email, I offer to you now, gentle readers, my official reaction to the Oscars of 2011, from the point of view of a true fan of motion pictures…

First and foremost, let me get this off my chest. An open note to whomever it was who had the grand idea to put James Franco and Anne Hathaway up for hosting – walk to the nearest gas station and buy a gallon of gas. Then walk to the nearest cliff. Pour said gasoline over your head. Pop your Zippo lighter and touch the flame to your chest. When you feel the skin melting off your face, jump in a glorious swan dive…

Was James Franco hitting the Pineapple Express through the whole show? And who kept feeding Anne Mountain Dew Amp??? “Appeal to a younger demographic”? You chose THESE two??? They may, and I am being very gracious by saying “may,” have reached “mildly watchable” twice. When a 91-year old stroke victim can steal the show from you, you are officially “epic fail.”

As to the show itself, I still stand in awe as to how, year end and year out, they manage to make the show so insufferably boring for the middle ninety minutes. The first 45 minutes or so are usually okay, and the last 45 are interesting because that’s when they do the awards the causal movie fan wants to see. But that whole middle section moves like an opossum that didn’t quite make it across the road in time.

Yet, in order to SAVE time this year, they cut the montages. The montages are the stuff we might actually HAVE FUN watching, people!!! We don’t need the interpretive dance crap, we don’t need the labored little sketch humor you throw at the hosts to do while they change the set, and we CERTAINLY do not need song and dance numbers (unless it’s Billy Crystal as the host, which I will get to in a second…).

And let’s go back a second to that theory of appealing to a “younger demographic.” The “In Memorium” montage, the one montage you keep in the show, you frame it with Celine Dion? CELINE DION??? The most overrated singer on the planet??? The woman whose voice made the love theme from Titanic sound like she was saying “…my hot dogs go on forever…”?? And before you even THINK about commenting on that, readers, listen to the first chorus of that song and TELL me she is not saying the hot dog line… I swear to you that is what she is saying!

Now, for my last word on the whole issue of hosts… I don’t care what it costs, I don’t care if he is harder to work with than The Rolling Stones, I don’t care how many writers he wants. Hire Billy Crystal to be the permanent host of The Academy Awards. He is the only man who has made these shows consistently fun to watch for the whole 4-plus hours of the telecast. End of discussion.

As to the winners and losers, this was not the biggest mystery of all time, folks. Natalie Portman had that thing wrapped up when she put on that tutu. Colin Firth or Jeff Bridges were the two in line to win the Best Actor gold, and nothing was going to change that. That kid in The Social Network, the one that everyone thinks was in Superbad but wasn’t, was not going to win that award. He has three emotions in his acting repertoire, and two of them are “slightly confused but likeable.” I was pleasantly surprised that the Best Director winner, Tom Hooper, won over David Fincher. I was honestly shocked that Hailee Steinfeld lost to Melissa Leo, but the Best Supporting Actress category has always been the one where you get the shocks. Marisa Tomei, anyone?

I do wish they had kept the Lifetime Achievement Award a part of the main broadcast, because, well, the winners usually deserve the accolade. Same for the Hersholt Humanitarian Award. Do they slow down the pace of the show any more than the Cirque Du Soliel “interpreting” the Best Original Score nominees while dressed as insects?

All that being said, I thought the show was mediocre. The best moment of the night, honestly, was when Billy Crystal came onstage, and for a fleeting moment, I thought they had fired Franco and Hathaway mid-telecast and he was coming in from the bullpen to save the show. But the reaction he got from the audience may have signaled to someone in charge that he really needed to be the one to save the show, so we can hope.

For now, I am going to sit back, watch this year’s movies, and see what The Academy can do to make me want to watch next year’s show. Oh, who am I kidding… I will watch it… I may not like it, but I’ll watch it… I’m a movie fanatic… what can I say?


Waiting in Vain…

“So we keep waiting, waiting on the world to change…”  John Mayer

The new year is upon us… I think I can honestly say that I have no regret that 2010 is over. It seems like I spent the whole year in a state of waiting, and I hate waiting…

I have spent a lot of time in my life waiting… for almost eight years, I found myself walking on eggshells, waiting for doctors and lab reports. There is no easy way to bide your time, waiting for results to come in from CAT scans, PET scans, blood work, biopsies, and the like. And not being the patient directly involved with the results only made things worse. The sense of helplessness and dread stays in the forefront of your mind every moment. Time seems to pass slower, yet, as it does pass, the tension builds and becomes oppressive. And, in my case, the revelations at the end of each period of waiting were never rewarding. It was only a resetting of the clock to the next waiting period.

I do not mean to be depressing; I am merely stating facts. Anyone that knows me can testify to the fact that my level of patience is, shall we say, thin.  Part of my long-term fight with insomnia is due to the fact that sleeping is just a form of waiting. It’s a time where you have to force yourself to shut down your mind and wait for it to recharge, and I find it much more interesting to keep the machine running while it is plugged in, so to speak.

That being said, most of 2010, for me, has been like staring at a clock. I am not at liberty to discuss the exact details of what I am currently waiting for, so my agent has told me, but it involves what could be, and what I hope will be, a life-changing moment, the realization of a dream I have had since I was old enough to think about it. And it is driving me nuts, to put it quite frankly, because, once again, there is nothing to do but wait.

My solace for many years has always been putting words on paper. In times of stress, in times of sorrow, I write. But, for the last few months, it just was not working. Words flowed, but they made no sense. Any attempts to create turned into amazing streams-of-consciousness diatribes. Before  you gentle readers panic, I did save every word, because, as any creative person will tell you, you never know where you will get inspiration from. But, there was no way I was willing to share any of that stuff with you as it was written. Shades of Jesse Ventura’s vast conspiracy library mixed with angry rants against, well, virtually anything and anyone that came to mind were the main stars of these marathon writing sessions. I read through them a few minutes ago, and I found myself shaking my head and muttering, “Burn these pages and never speak of them again…”

What I realized, though, was that I was waiting to put anything out there. My waiting was making me wait! I had become my own Marty McFly paradox, and Biff Tannen was knocking me on the head, trying to wake me up to the fact. Dear Lord, I had become a movie cliché…

I never make New Year’s resolutions because they are generally ridiculous and involve some half-hearted promise that you know you will never stick to. It harkens to swearing to all that is good and pure that you will never drink again while you are lying face down in the bathroom trying to crawl across the bathmat to rid yourself of the three gallons of peppermint schnapps you drank the night before. It’s a good idea, but it will never stick. An old superstition, though, grabbed me by the neck and dragged me to a new place. Many people believe that, whatever you do on New Year’s Day is how you will spend the next year. People will not do laundry, for example, on January 1 because they don’t want to spend their year doing laundry all the time. Something in that idea rang a bell with me, so I spent most of the day writing. I worked my way through one of my many notebooks, picking out details, notions, etc., and just playing with them. Anything to keep myself focused on putting words on paper and following them wherever they led me.

I am a superstitious person by nature, as well, but that’s a story for another posting. For now, let’s just leave it at the fact that this is one superstition I sincerely hope is true, and I will be writing solidly for the year 2011. So far, it is looking very good.

Meanwhile, I am still waiting on that one particular thing to occur. And when it does, gentle readers, be assured you will know when it happens. That explosion you hear will be me. That light in the sky will be the dream becoming a fire that will change everything.

Dammit… I hate waiting…

Dare to be a rebel . . .

If there is anything I admire, it’s irony…

My last post was about the magic and power of books. Tonight, gentle readers, I come to you on the eve of Banned Books Week. Yes… Banned Books Week…

It never ceases to amaze me. It seems that, at least ten times a year, I hear some story about a book being “challenged” by some group. They want the book taken from the shelves of their libraries, their school media centers, or even from the shelves of local book stores. I realize, of course, that this is no new idea. I am sure that there were people that wanted Gutenberg’s Bible taken away and burned as heresy because it was not written by monks with quill pens but actually (gasp!) printed by a machine. Every society has felt the need to censor the printed word, usually because the work in question would somehow be “hazardous to the fiber of society” if it were available to the general public.

What tickles me, though, is this – nobody ever seems to think about the one point that I find absolutely hysterical. The point is this – if you absolutely, positively want to guarantee that everyone will want to read a book, try banning it and see what happens. It is a textbook example of reverse psychology. Go to Best Buy and buy a top-of-the-line Blu-Ray player and a beautiful new 54″ plasma-screen television. Now, set it up all beautifully in your home theater area. Fine-tune it to absolute perfection. Then turn to your children and make a terrific scene about how this electronic equipment is not to be touched, fooled with, or breathed on in any way, shape, or form. Then tell me how long it is before you are futilely trying to get a grilled-cheese sandwich out of that same Blu-Ray player. I can wait…

All that psychological theory aside, though, the fascination for me comes not in the fact that people still think they need to try to have books banned, but in the books they choose to attack.

My immediate thought goes to the long-running feud some people have with the Harry Potter books. Call me silly, but the Potter books don’t bother me. I enjoyed reading them. Was I “seduced by the lure of wizardry and witchcraft” after reading them? Nope. But, it is true, I was an adult when I read them. That being said, though, I was fully well aware of the fact that book stores around the world were being mobbed by readers under the age of 15, clamoring to get the books as each new one hit the shelves. Bookstores were having midnight parties and receptions, welcoming children in, having refreshments and readings, in preparation to sell each and every child a new book. Read back over those last words, my friends. Children. Clamoring. To buy a BOOK. Not a new video game or a CD or a DVD. A BOOK. And, especially with the last three or four of Rowling’s works, HUGE BOOKS!!! We are not talking 100-page Encyclopedia Brown books. We are talking volumes the size of Gone With The Wind and War and Peace. Am I the only one that was warmed to my very soul by the thought of kids rediscovering the love of the written word? Encouraged at the thought that those kids might actually take the written word to heart and perhaps think about writing stories themselves one day?

Yet, as always, some people decided that the books had to be evil, if they were attracting children like that. The books were anti-Christian, some said. Others claimed they were trying to attract children to wizardry, Wicca, and, I would suppose, dragon-riding and using banks run by goblins . . .

I also find it mildly laughable that one of the books on the American Library Association’s “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books 2000-2009” is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. A book about a  futuristic society that has declared the written word to be illegal is one of the most banned books in the country. Anyone out there know why Bradbury chose that unusual title? It’s the temperature that paper will ignite and burn. . . As I said before, the irony is too perfect to be fictional . . .

Feel free to look at the list I mention –

Normally, when one thinks of “banned books” or “book burning,” the mind immediately goes to Nazi Germany, when bonfires of books were held in the middle of Berlin. Books by Hemingway, Jack London, and John Steinbeck were among the titles the Nazi party deemed “unsuitable” and/or evil. The censorship was deemed necessary to “maintain the control of the minds and spirits of the citizens of the Third Reich,” so wrote Joseph Goebbels, on the evening before he delivered a speech to the masses in the Opernplatz in Berlin. He said in that speech that “. . . the future German man will not just be a man of books, but a man of character. It is to this end that we want to educate you. As a young person, to already have the courage to face the pitiless glare, to overcome the fear of death, and to regain respect for death – this is the task of this young generation. And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. . .”

I know each and every one of you out there have busy schedules. I know you have families and meetings and fall ball games and a hundred other things that keep you on the run. I have only one thing to ask of you.

Hit that above link again, and pick one book off the list. Take an hour and just read a little of it. You might find yourself enthralled by the first few chapters of A Farewell to Arms, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or Of Mice and Men. You might find a new affection for wonderful books like Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five or Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars.

But look at that list carefully, and count how many books you might already have read, without realizing just how subversive you were . . .

Kinda fun being a rebel, huh?

Turn the page…

I consider myself a technologically sound person. My DVD/VCR does not blink “12:00 AM” all day and night. I can find my way around a computer without studying manuals thicker than the Atlanta phone book. I can load tunes onto my mp3 player without screaming and throwing things around the room. I confess, though, that last thing is amazingly simple if you don’t have to fight with iTunes . . .

Recently, I have had several people tell me that it is time I bought myself some sort of e-reader. “You need a Kindle,” they tell me. “You need to buy a Nook!” I freely admit I like the notion of an e-reader. I like the idea that I could have some sort of device that has 3500 books stored on it, just waiting patiently for me to flip it on, tap a key or two, and start reading. I love the idea that you can get classic pieces of literature that are no longer in copyright for free. The notion of having a gadget in my hand, loaded with a library of Verne, Shakespeare, Poe, Wells, and the like, makes me smile to even dream about.

But there is one fatal flaw in the plan. I love books.

I love the way a book feels in my hands. I love the aroma of paper and ink that comes up from the pages when you open a book for the first time. I cannot imagine getting the same feeling from turning on a “Nintendo Book Boy” and settling into a comfortable chair for a few hours. The power and majesty of the printed word on paper is just a unique thing.

There are books I treasure. I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” at least four times a year. Every time I read the first line of the book, “When he was nearly thirteen my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow,”  I find myself smiling. Harper Lee starts her classic story with a statement that, on the surface, seems to be just that, a statement. The entire story, as we find out, leads to that one simple statement. From there to the last words of the book, “Atticus would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning…”, every line is like a lyric in a song about the South. The song is not always a pretty one, but it is a beautiful one.

I keep a paperback copy of “Mockingbird” tucked into a pocket of every travel bag I own. I have a fear of being stuck somewhere and having nothing to read. Call it my “security blanket,” but I feel better knowing that, for whatever reason, if I need a calming, quieting hour or two, I can dig out that book and lose myself in the story of Scout, Jem, Atticus, and Tom Robinson.

As I think about my love of books, so many things jump out in my mind. I am a voracious reader and a self-taught speed reader, but I came onto certain books in odd ways. I did not find Tolkien and “The Lord of the Rings” until college. A good friend of mine, David Broshar, started talking about the book during a conversation about Stephen King’s “The Stand.” I mentioned that “The Stand” fascinated me because King, in essence, creates a world, destroys it, and rebuilds it. David leaned back in his chair, pulled out his trusty can of Copenhagen, and said, “You should read ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ Tolkien created a universe, not just a world.” A professional bass fisherman could not have set a hook better.

I stumbled onto Pat Conroy in high school, because someone told me that there was a copy of “The Lords of Discipline” in the library but they were “not allowed to put it out on the shelf” because it was too “controversial.” Well, that settled that quickly enough. I had to read that book. I did not expect to be shocked by anything in the plot. Any book that some school system feels needs to be “banned” is usually better in style and substance than the ones they have no problem offering up on the shelves. What I did find, though, was an author that inspired me to learn how to write myself. The story he told was impressive, but his sentences, his fluidity and descriptive style, they took me to the streets of Charleston, South Carolina, to the frightening nights suffered by a plebe cadet at a Southern military institute, to the salt marshes of the Lowcountry. Again, I was hooked.

My love of movies took me to “Moby Dick” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.” I found Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ernest Hemingway because of Bogart movies. Lon Chaney, Sr. took me to Leroux and Hugo. I was pleasantly surprised to find how much the film version of “Gone With The Wind” had cut out of the book.

And, in every case, I found the pleasure of holding the book in my hand, feeling the slightly-yellowed pages in my fingers as I turned each one, diving deeper into the story. The aroma of aged paper and glue was like perfume, and, like any male, I followed the perfume until I found the beauty wearing it.

I just glanced over at the book I keep, and have kept, at my bedside for years now. It’s a leatherbound volume of the collected works of Jules Verne. I found it in an antique book store almost twenty years ago. Verne had been another fascination of mine since I had first seen the movie version of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” The idea that one man, through the power of the pen, had basically invented what is now known as “science fiction” grabbed me and it has never let go. One man’s mind had the forethought to predict such things as traveling to the moon in a rocket fired from Earth, an “atomic” submarine, diving equipment, underwater eco-farming, and countless other ideas that are now accepted as reality. His “The Mysterious Island” was one of the first books to create a microcosm of society and show it thriving through non-prejudicial teamwork. His work has inspired writers, scientists, filmmakers, and explorers for over a century. And this happened through books, not a hand-held video screen with a few buttons on it and a nice little carrying case. It happened through the ink touching the page, and the page being bound to another.

I write now because I like the feeling of creating worlds. I can put words into the mouths of characters I create, and have them say things I want them to say. I can tell stories the way I have always wanted to. And other people can read them, think about them, and maybe those words will, in some way, let someone else find the desire to do the same thing with their words.

I write because I love books. I love books because I write. But I also love books because they are permanent. They are testimony that other people create, and offer their creations to the world. They inspire, they calm, and they take the reader wherever they want to go. They let people dream. They let people escape. And they let people return to them time and time again, to relive those dreams, to find that same escape.

You cannot get the same experience, reading from the bits and bytes of the sterile cyber-library stored on some device or gadget. There is something magical about opening a book, hearing the binding pop quietly as it is first spread wide enough to hold. The weight of the story resting in the right hand, the left hand waiting to take on the load of the pages as the story unfolds. And, again, that perfume . . . that aroma of paper and ink wafts up from the pages, beckoning to the reader to stick around a while and enjoy what is in store. The sound of the page rustling as it is turned, and the gentle shift of the fingers as the reader tucks the last page away and starts on the next one.

When the book is finished, there is a satisfaction in closing that book, that gentle slam as the last page is finished and the cover is closed. And, if you’re like me, you take a moment to let the last words repeat in your mind, savoring them one last time before you put the book on the shelf, the bedside table, or the side table next to your chair. And you sigh and say a silent thank you to the author for allowing you to share in that story.

There is no device, no machine, that can capture that magic…