I have tried to explain to myself and to others over the years what it means to be an artist and more specifically a performing artist. In my moments of despair and rantings I have said, “A performing artist has to be discovered in his time.” There is no Van Gogh in acting or singing, or stand-up. A great painting can be found in an attic and the artist gets his due posthumously, but not so for the performer. Yes there are recordings and videos, but to be in the same space and time as the performer has to be present tense.
As a Springsteen fan, who awaits a new tour, like some wait for the Pope, it dawns on me that Springsteen has never known the joy of being a fan at a Springsteen concert. He knows the joy of being the instrument of that celebration of life, but not what we get form the exchange.
Robin Williams was one such talent. He didn’t know the joy of seeing himself rock a stage with Herculean ability, across genres and media. Smarter people will discuss the less smart take that the burden of delivering joy to others can leave the performer empty. And maybe that is the main reason there is sorrow for the artist.
The uniquely human experience of watching or performing for others, is about as analogue as it gets. Technology can’t do what Robin Williams did. The random, human, manic and otherworldly energy are never to be duplicated, or pixelated or regurgitated; they can only be absorbed in a molecular way.
We can be entertained by a video of a cat struggling with a ball of yarn, but that doesn’t in and of itself constitute art. Seeing a true spirit cannot be condensed into little bits and bytes. This is not a technophobe rant mixed in with eulogy. It is a life affirming rant to remind us the power the human possesses. We created the machine (unless the Matrix is real) and we need to remember how connected we are.
We don’t mourn the loss of someone’s success or power, what they were able to amass — it wasn’t enough to keep that person happy. We mourn life. Because living means dying and we mourn a true genius because they made us feel special to be human. At least that’s the way it feels to me, at this moment, mourning someone I never met, who, personal tastes aside, was unquestionably gifted and in a rare percentile.
It’s tough to be human, tough to be alive sometimes, but I don’t know what else to do about it. I think it’s to try to be a communicator, to create, to connect, to.., I don’t know. I think I’m gonna call a friend.
It is hard not to jump on the bandwagon on a day that celebrates Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in Major League Baseball. I feel like it is overdone to comment, but then it dawns on me that it is more likely under stated, and more people need to see it as a major moment in our history.
Sports worship is way out of control, it is anesthesia, and over produced. It takes up more time than a part time job. Fandom is bordering on gangsterism and the live event has lost the joy that once was shared with children. That’s at the pro level. The tennis parent may have lost ground to the baseball parent, or to the grooming of a 12 year old quarterback, who now has more in common with a figure skating brat than an aspiring Joe Montana. It is hard to defend sports to the bullied alternative kids in high schools across the country, when the Friday Night Lighters are still ruling the roost. And, yet, I still can’t take the con side of the argument of the value of sports in our society, as it relates to race. It’s power to traverse hatred of generations is at a light speed compared what a mumbling politician pokes at, or a battering ram to the staunch racist codger who ran on a platform of continued oppression.
Baseball put racism on blast seventeen years before it was the law of the land. While that is an appalling statistic it is why credence to the power of teamwork and the shared conditions of team sports, forces us to see each other’s humanity. Similar to the color lines being broken on factory lines with the Great Migration and union brothers forced to unite for common goals, sports and Jackie Robinson stepped first into the dawn that was too long in coming.
The nature of fandom also slid the scale, did you bleed Dodger Blue or only “all white” Dodger Blue, did you use a different color pencil to fill in a run scored by Jackie? Did you begin to see the smooth turn of a double play as good for your squad, or would you give the “out” back because the black guy got the assist? Putting these silly questions to the test illuminated the absurdity of racism and the notions of inferiority and superiority.
The edges have been taken off the story for Hollywood, it seems too long to wait for the story to go before the lens. Yet, the power of the story still moves. It’s the story of love. Love that was dormant for a nation, love that is, perhaps, ebbing in this society, and needs to be mentioned in both large and small print.
I played baseball as poorly as most and maybe a bit worse than that. As a kid, I injured my knee and missed a season that ended with a championship. I sat in the dugout in my knee brace and clapped and supported. We were given championship jackets and I got one. I commented to no one in particular that I didn’t really do anything to deserve the jacket. Our best player, an older, alpha dog, who wasn’t long on sensitivity overheard my lament. He said, “fuck that, you’re part of the team, you were here, you deserve that jacket.” I was and still am grateful for the sentiment. My teammate showed me love. That Jackie Robinson had to wait for that kind of minimal support from his teammates is heartbreaking. As the love began to take over, and humanity stepped in, mirroring itself over the rest of the team, they became champions.
People who carry love as their strength are seldom as vocal as those who carry hate. Days like these have to be force fed, not to sway the haters, but to wake up the lovers. Love isn’t soft, it’s tough and needs equal time with the foul wind that spit at Jackie, or threw at his head, or hurled slurs. Reasonable people need to get loud and start taking unreasonable amount of real estate in the national discourse. That’s what Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey, the Dodgers, and the sport of baseball did on this day in 1947.
If there is an over-used character trait of the artist, it would be the tortured soul aspect of the personalities that endeavor to write, paint, compose, act, or market brilliant ideas. This makes for compelling narratives — severing an ear, drinking absinthe to the point of early senility, or speedboating into a pier, make the artist and his process seem like a seductively lonely and arduous task, fraught with the crescendos of the best mix tapes ever made.
Stoking fictional embers is necessary to tell a story worth watching or reading, a story has to have a plot, but the creative process is very much an interior experience. One has to manifest the process with some kind of arcing outward event or flow chart. I struggle to concoct a way to explain my lack of productivity because it is a constant thought, without the constant churning of words on the page. In fact when you are not writing, you think about writing more. I still jot ideas in a notebook, or on a memo pad (on my phone), or even date a journal entry, but I have not kept my deal with myself to put up a post a week. I toy with the idea that a picture has to accompany a story, and so without a picture I have nothing to write, I have photo block, as well.
I’ve heard writers say that writer’s block doesn’t mean they don’t write, it’s that what they write isn’t any good. I don’t know if that is modesty or boasting. In my experience the instrument stays in the case, when the road blocks are up in my psyche. Even when you’re in a prolific period there can be varying degrees of quality.
Writer’s block is also an over-used premise to discuss, and posting this may be an exercise to jump-start my dormancy, but so what, part of the anatomy that shuts me down is the self-defeating talk in my head saying, “no one reads this shit, so why fret over a topic,” even if that is true, writing is a self-generated current and the presence of eyes on your words shouldn’t be why you torture yourself in the first place. At least that’s the mentally healthy way to look at it.
So as I force words, and force feed coffee, I think of the eyes out there that might be reading, that might have wondered where I’ve been, that hope I will return, who may have had a block of their own, and even if it’s four eyes, or six, or ten, or twelve, there is an exchange that has halted, and needs to flow again. If it’s all a tree falling in the forest (another over-used concept), ah well, at least I sat up and put something down on paper. All of you guys out there should too.
In an attempt to get my year started right, I tried to book more stand-up shows to get some momentum going. My good friend Ryan Sickler was kind enough to throw me on his line-up, at Flappers in Burbank, where he was headlining. Four shows over 2 nights was a good way to pile up some numbers for my resolution attempt, and it was in town.
The Crabfeast is a super funny podcast, hosted by Sickler and Jay Larson, and the line-up was billed as comics who have appeared on the show. Their following is loyal and it’s a real fun thing to be associated with.
The first night of the show was preceded by precipitation, heavy rain is a cause for alarm in Los Angeles and it was not the best omen for a show. I white knuckled my steering wheel, and showed up at the club in pretty good shape. There was an audience and they were warm and responsive.
In the lobby, which doubles as a green room, a fellow comic and friend, Patrick Keane (pictured, left), was hanging out to support; and Sickler, graciously, threw him some stage time. I hadn’t seen Keane in a while, but we picked up where we left off and it was a great way to loosen up before the show. Another comic on the bill, Mick Betancourt, arrived and we wondered how we didn’t know each other yet, and within ten minutes we were chopping it up like we had 10 years under our belt. Matt Fulchiron had car pooled with Mick, and Matt and I go way back, it was a mini-reunion and it was bound to be a good show. It was.
More importantly, the camaraderie of the green room/lobby was a comfort and a pleasure. In my days as an actor, it was a rare dressing room that had this kind of feeling. Comics are a notoriously catty group, but in some cases, with some crews, and on some nights, we get along like a championship team, about to crack champagne. It says a lot about the guy who brought us together, but I’m not sure how much I can continue to flatter him, without sounding odd.
During one of the better jags of the night, we quoted a favorite comic’s jokes and all recalled different lines, cracking ourselves up over the absent friend’s brilliant material. “I forgot about that one”, “I never heard that one.” “Is that new?” It is high praise and true talent that can entertain in absentia. It is what we all aspire to.
The second show was about to start and we all had to reset our pre-show ritual, which for me involves pacing, shadow boxing, and high anxiety, which is partly affected and better than it used to be. Matt Fulchiron was on-deck. He put his beer down, cut short a topic, and had the line of the night, as the host told him he was next, “This is the part of the job I hate.” We all laughed and knew what he was talking about. Of course it’s funny because it’s true, partly; we all love the stage, particularly when it goes well, but when it goes badly, we all spiral into doubt and fall back to position one, wondering how it went south. What he meant, I think, is hanging with a crew who knows you’re funny, and know what you go through to get through, is a great place to be and hard place to leave, even as a paying audience awaits.
I may be reading too much into the night, but I was feeling reflective, and on my way to feeling grateful for this life I’ve carved out. I want to thank all you guys for reminding me.
So psyched to get back with my boys Ryan Sickler and Jay Larson on their big time podcast The Crabfeast. Always a good time.
Check us out:
Nobody cares, so why should you?
That’s a sentiment I have shared with my girlfriend when I playfully bemoan my outcast state. Sometimes, when something doesn’t go my way, I’m able to have a sense of humor about it. Most of the time, I am not. When I am not self-pitying I will pretend I am, my girl will ask, “Why didn’t you go out tonight?” and I’ll reply, “Nobody cares what happens to me,” and we laugh.
Over time I have joked that Nobody Cares, So Why Should You, would be a great title for a self-help book. These days we say things online before they are fully fleshed-out, essentially time stamping a thought that years ago would stay in a notebook, or on a post-it, or on bar napkin. I suppose I am doing that right now. I have struggled to write, as of late, and it is this tenuous theme that I cling to.
Nobody cares, can be a mantra of the negative, but there is also a liberating message. If nobody gives a shit, then you are free from boundaries and judgement. Sure, I can say through the gauze of my writer’s block, that nobody reads this shit, so why bother. I’d be right, but I also would be free to rant, and rave, and have “a take” on anything that came to mind. I would be free from scrutiny, and comments, and I would have purged my thoughts.
Nobody cares, so why should you, is the kind of sloganeering that makes teens slam doors and pout with ferocity. That zit of yore on my nose becomes meaningless, when I think about nobody caring. I live in Los Angeles, a town of self-involvement. If nobody cares, because they only care about themselves, then what is holding you back. If I’m doing comedy in a dive bar and worried about my career, I am doing myself a disservice. Just go for it. I am free to do as I please.
The only time this little jingle of a phrase takes on a sinister sound, is when you think about the bad shit that goes down in every corner of the world. The indifference to people in need and the time wasted watching cats duel with yarn can make you worry if we’ll last a week as a species.
So maybe nobody cares, and why should you, but maybe we can improve on the word, care, and start showing some concern. Or we could just scrap it. It’s up to us.
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