Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Facebook Follies & Xmas Weekend 2010

Below is something I typed in response to a lot of very nice people at Facebook that wished me a happy birthday. I admit it up front ... I'm a Facebook novice, not at all familiar in the quirks and oddball behavior that may operate there, but nowhere else in the civilized world.

See, the piece that I wrote is fairly lengthy by Facebookian standards. As such, I used my typical format, which features the radical concept of paragraph breaks. You know ... a double-space between each paragraph to indicate a change of thought or location or perhaps underwear.

As every writer worth his salt once learned (probably in early elementary school), paragraphs are important. I've tried to live by that rule ever since the 3rd Grade, when Miss Ishioka complimented me on my sentences and especially the paragraph structure. My structure was solid, man! (Thus revealing the source of my long-standing crush on Miss Ishioka). Point is, the text and its format were no exception to the most rudimentary rules of basic grammar.

Except, it seems, at Facebook. Double-spacing to indicate a paragraph break doesn't exist (or so I found). Every attempt I made to post resulted in an extra unrequested blank line (and sometimes a bonus of two!) to be inserted. The only other option was to have it all run together without any breaks at all That is inconceivable to me. So, with so much excess barren space between paragraphs, the piece looks like, if you pardon the word, shit. It's ugly and I don't like it one little bit.

Yeah, call me Mr. Fussypants if you want. It won't change my mind one iota. It's basic. I expect whatever you, I or anyone posts to make its appearance in the exact same form the well-meaning poster intended. Am I right or am I wrong?

Some people have asked me why I don't spend more time with Facebook. This is a prime example why not. *snort*


Anyway, now that THAT'S over with, here's what I wanted to say in reply to everyone that noted the inauspicious occasion of my dropping some 61 years ago:

To those who took the time to come by and throw nice words at me, I humbly say thank you. Be ye a friend, a family member and/or someone I've come to know in the world of pro rez or anywhere else, I am truly pleased that you did.

Quickly, I'll pass along that I greatly enjoyed this past Saturday and Monday in Powell River, spending time with Li'l Cindi's parents and younger brother. (Yes, Li'l Cindi was there, too. What are ya, a wiseguy or sumpin')? I won't place Sunday in quite the same sphere of enjoyment, having downed a bad piece of something or other I really shouldn't have eaten during Saturday night's Bacchanalia.

Hoo boy ... It's been 20 years minimum since I last had to assume so many anatomically absurd positions whilst desperately clinging to the throne. Which pretty much sums up Sunday, from about 1 a.m. and all through the day. Sorry, there are no photos available.

Still, that failed to dampen the fun of hangin' 'round with the Family Augustine, no matter what minor setbacks befell this innocent. Mom and Dad Augustine are the youngest "older people" that I know, both in appearance and attitude. And 99-year-old Grandma is every bit the same. That means they all need careful watching.

And younger brother John is one of the bravest people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. The guy is 40 (or close to it), and has been fighting (and overcoming) a mountain of what most would call disabilities. Yet, he can still keep up and fire off one-liners with the best of 'em. I know for a fact that I'd never have been able to withstand that which is routine to him. I'll get the opportunity to see him again late in March, when the Augustine Three come to Vancouver to visit.

Really, the whole bunch (including aunts and uncles, their children and their animals) are so full of life and good cheer that you can't help feeling much the same way, too. (My team of investigators assure me that it comes naturally to them, which for no reason within my grasp, troubles me).

And so, like it or not, I can proudly proclaim that I managed to survive Christmas 2010. However, do you not agree that it's just a wee bit odd that the only one to have had an adverse reaction of any kind was the Jew? I'm only sayin' ... don't that seem jest a little strange to you? (insert forced laugh here)

Otherwise, I hope everyone that reads this had themselves a fun-filled and joyous holiday with one more bash to go (if you're into that sort of thing). But let's all make a point of treating ourselves and others with both the respect and humor we all deserve. After all, it's a proven fact: if you smile at everyone you meet, before long you'll find people saying, "What's so damn funny?"

With hugs for one and all (for the guys, of the manly variety only ... in most cases),

= Richard =

P.S. Oh, yeah. About my birthday. Spent the day doing housework, which is unusual behavior for me any time of the year. I have no idea what inspired it, and I'm sure this form of illness will be long gone by morning.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Movie/DVD Review: Ironweed

About a month ago, I saw Ironweed on DVD for the first time. My introduction to the film was at least twelve years ago in a movie theater. Right away, I was reminded of the great performances by Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Tom Waits and Carroll Baker. That and the poetic but sobering atmosphere is why it’s stayed with me since that initial viewing.

There's no getting around the fact that Ironweed is a very sad movie, as well as a beautifully realized character study. As such, the pace is moderately slow but not languid. Jack Nicholson's performance is wonderfully understated. I so much prefer an understated Nicholson. Because when he cuts loose (and he does here, more than once), it hits so much harder. The contrast is stark.

Meryl Streep is her usual brilliant self, infusing her down-in-the-dumps character with several different personalities (she effortlessly glides between friendliness and hostility, usually in very small steps). It all depends on the situation and whoever else might be involved. She's borderline, but she can be solid, too.

So, Jack and Meryl (as Francis Phelan and Helen Archer) more-or-less hang out together, living on the streets of Albany, N.Y, as a freezing cold winter approaches. Francis has been on the bum for some 17 years as he moves around the country. Now he's come back home, which means he'll have to decide how to go about visiting the family he deserted.

While that aspect takes its time to build, Francis has another problem: he's an alcoholic haunted by ghosts from his past. Too frequently for his liking, they appear as a group, all of them accusing Francis of being the instigator of their individual deaths.

These tragic mistakes in his life replay themselves irregularly. His errors weren’t made with deadly intent, but they overwhelm him none-the-less. Francis Phelan lives with an inhuman amount of guilt. He sees these victims in their shiny white state and indulges in accusatory "conversations," filled with rancor, indictment and denial. It's a performance not to be missed.

If you're willing to take the time to become involved with the story at this emotional level, it will get to you ... guaranteed. The best part is that Ironweed is free of heavy-handed manipulation and false sentimentality. These people aren’t angels by any means, but poor choices in combination with the collapse of the economy and just plain bad luck are what led them to their current state. By the time the movie is over, most viewers will feel a genuine and sincere sadness for these people to one degree or another. This is the real deal, folks.

In almost all of her earlier films in the '50s and '60s, Carroll Baker played beautiful, sexy, kittenish and highly desirable characters (they always had an aura of intelligence, too). Here, she’s no different, fitting in very comfortably as the wife Francis left. (She is also definitely older, meaning the sexy bit is out. It wouldn’t have worked in the context of the film, anyway).

Through all of the pain she and the kids suffered due to her husband’s self-banishment, she has every reason to be bitter, resentful and perhaps even furious to know he’s still alive. She’d been badly damaged, to be sure; but by the time of his return all these years later, she’d reached a stage of understanding that takes her (and us) well beyond those raw emotions.

The biggest surprise in the film is a great performance by Tom Waits, in the role of Francis's best buddy. Waits is endearingly likable, sometimes pitiable, as a homeless hobo with a heart; he also happens to be an alcoholic and a junkie.

The director is Hector Babenco, who also directed Pixote and Kiss of the Spider Woman. With that kind of résumé, it should come as no surprise that Ironweed has poignancy by the barrel. With occasional lighter moments (Meryl Streep singing her heart out to a small number of patrons in a bar/lounge is a delight), it succeeds in preventing the audience from becoming morose.

It’s too bad that more people didn’t take the chance to go and see Ironweed when it was first released. As we know, the motion picture business is a slave to box office receipts, and even with such an outstanding cast and director, this one just didn’t make the cut.

The haunting theme stays with you long after the movie runs its course. During the closing credits, those still alert will recognize Meryl Streep, as Helen Archer, is humming along to the moving melody, her slightly off-key yet pleasant voice just barely audible. It is the perfect coda for the film.

For guys who may think this movie isn't for them, ask yourself this question: are you man enough to handle genuine emotions? If the answer is yes, then don't let anyone tell you that Ironweed is a woman's film. To be succinct, it's for anybody who knows himself a little bit and can understand his feelings, both the happy and the sad. This is a people's film.

Word of Advice: Play it safe! Before settling in to watch Ironweed, be sure the phone and other external disturbances are shut down. You won’t want a lot of interruptions as the story plays out. Also, be sure to have a couple of boxes of Kleenex within reach (you may or may not need them). The film is wholly satisfying but you should be prepared; so long as you invest yourself in what you're seeing and feeling, it’ll grab you in places you may not have been grabbed in a long, long time.

Ironweed is highly recommended either in a theater or on a DVD near you.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Memories of Rock Music ... Opus Two

To carry on the rock music theme from my previous column, the following reminiscence is the flip side of the coin. (To view Opus One, see the June 6, 2010 entry). Without any doubt, this qualifies as my worst rock concert experience, hands down. I've yet to receive the apology I still think The Rolling Stones and their management owe me.

It was, I believe, the year 1969, and The Rolling Stones were appearing on a Saturday night at the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles. The L.A. Kings hockey game, originally scheduled for that same evening, was moved back earlier to a 1 p.m. start. In theory, that would give the staff a couple of hours to make the change from a hockey rink configuration to that of a stage show.

Tickets for the concert sold so quickly that the promoters couldn't avoid succumbing to the demand for more. (I'm sure the profit incentive had nothing to do with it. Riiight). So, less than a week before the event, a second Stones concert was added. The building was therefore going to be used for three separate events within a 12-hour period; hockey at 1 p.m., first Stones concert at 7 and the newly added Stones concert at 11.

I managed to get ahold of a couple of tickets for the 11 p.m. show, and scored a date with a young lady I knew from the college I attended. Although I was in the early stages of getting to know her, she was someone I liked quite a lot. We arrived in Inglewood around 10 p.m., an hour before the second show was due to get underway.

Parking was a nightmare. I wound up paying a local homeowner $10.00 to leave my car in his driveway. (This was an outrageous sum to pay for parking in those days. I believe the tickets to the concert were under $8.00 each for seats halfway up). For the record, the temporary car-park was better than a mile away from the venue, so we had to hoof it from there. My dainty young date was less than pleased. She was wearing shoes not meant for a lot of walking, and groused about it all the way. It made me feel kinda lousy.

When we finally arrived at the venue, there were thousands upon thousands of people milling around in front of the building and in the adjacent parking lot. As it turned out, the first Stones concert didn't actually get underway until 10:30 ... half-an-hour before the later one was scheduled to begin! All of the opening acts were name performers. (I recall them as being James Taylor, Electric Light Orchestra and The Ike and Tina Turner Revue). I later heard that they weren't too agreeable about cutting their performances short.

The unforeseen late start meant that everybody that had arrived for the 11 p.m. show had nowhere to go. What with thousands of people forced to wait outside for hours feeling more and more antsy and irritable, drinking, toking and partaking in other consumables quickly became the preferred method of time management. Here and there, the odd fight started. Inglewood police and the Forum security boys tried to calm things down, but only succeeded in making matters worse. Several of the more violent and obstinate individuals were arrested. For a time, it appeared a riot was in the offing.

At 2 a.m., the doors finally opened and the first show crowd came out. Certain still-impatient and irritated members of the by-now stumbling drunk/stoned second-show-mob began jeering and throwing objects at them. A few more fights broke out.

My date and I finally got seated and chit-chatted until 4 a.m., when the show began. And at that very moment, she casually informed me that she hoped it wouldn't run too long, for she didn't want to be late getting to the airport. This came as an unexpected news flash to me. Until then, she had said nothing. Now, I found out she had a ticket to catch an early morning flight to Phoenix. Assuming the show ended around 7 a.m., she'd have to rush like hell to make her 8 a.m. flight. What with my car being more than a mile away, I felt even worse as I empathized with her plight.

When I inquired, she casually mentioned that she was heading to Arizona to visit HER BOYFRIEND, who apparently had a temporary job there. Now, THERE was a bit of information I really wanted to hear.

For me, that was the last straw. In a tone that probably displayed more hurt and anger than I intended, I told her that if the show wasn't over in time, I'd give her the money and she could call a cab. It may not have been terribly gallant of me, but by then I was angry and didn't give a damn.

She sulked and refused to say anything more to me for the rest of that night/morning. Boo hoo.

The crowning moment came when the guy sitting next to me doubled over and impolitely vomited on the floor, with a portion of his dinner splashing onto my shoes. Thinking back, that was probably the highlight of the night.

I'm not sure, but I suspect the above explains why I occasionally wake up in a cold sweat with a strong desire to scream long and loud while frantically flailing and wiping away at my feet.

Oh, wait ... one last thing. My erstwhile date had indeed departed to go to the airport early on in the Stones' set. As I had promised, I stayed and went back to my car when the show was over, a little after 7 a.m. When I arrived at the house where my car was parked, I saw something that almost made me cry. There were some three or four cars also parked there, locking me in until their owners arrived. Had to wait for almost an hour before I could get the hell out.

It was at that time when I began to feel my concert-going days were nearing the end. Funny, I've yet to repeat anything close to this when attending a symphony concert every now and again...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Memories of Rock Music ... Opus One

Hello again to all wandering eyeballs. Delighted you decided to drop by (or ended up here through a grievous computer error)...

Not long ago, I was over at a favorite hangout, AKA the Wrestling Classics Message Board
While scanning the topics, I chanced upon an active discussion taking place: who do you think is the greatest live performer in music history? That broad expanse was immediately narrowed down to the best onstage musician (or band) over the past 40 years. (After all, despite the claim of "having seen and heard him myself!" from one mischief-maker, how can we really know that Mozart wasn't the hands-down winner?)

Bruce Springsteen, James Brown, Michael Jackson and Queen were among the names most frequently mentioned. And since it was the middle-of-the-night and I was done working on another project, I decided to jump in and offer my $.02. So, for better or worse, the following is the response I posted. I'd like to think it brings back fond memories for some and gives a moderately sharp image for those too young to have "been there."

I appreciate your e-mail messages, so don't feel too shy to send along your thoughts about this column.

Thanks for taking the time to read!

= Richard =

I saw Jimi Hendrix perform on five different occasions (maybe six). Arguments can be made that he could be sloppy as hell if he didn't especially feel creative during any given performance. But when he was on and improvising with inspiration...

The single most amazing Hendrix show that I attended took place around 1968 at Bill Graham's Filmore in San Francisco. The energy throughout the place, even before Jimi took the stage, was unlike any I'd known before. Basically, it was an overexcited, upbeat, happy and stoned crowd. Somehow, it felt more "pure" than other concerts I'd attended.

Halfway through his set and between songs, Hendrix took ahold of the mic stand and said something like, "Hope you don't mind if a friend of mine comes out to join us."

The great guitarist Jeff Beck (don't know if he remains so nowadays) came out stage left, waving once or twice at the stunned but ecstatic audience; and along with the band, launched into Jimi's "Stone Free." Watching, we saw how the musicians were actually feeding off the crowd's passions and giving it right back. Before long, the two guitar legends began exchanging licks back and forth, both frequently smiling and sometimes laughing as they each made an effort to top the other while staying true to the song itself.

And don't kid yourself ... while a lot of them were loud and joyfully delirious, certain passages were somewhat muted and not at all frenetic. What this meant was that our anticipation of what was just over the horizon built back up. (Wrestling Psychology 101). Hendrix and Beck threw the lead to one another more and more frequently, each playing his part one notch louder than what had preceded him. (This goes to 11!)

And finally, when the drums and bass slammed their way back in simultaneously with the guitars hitting a chord that was both ringing and pure, the crowd couldn't help but explode. The music became utterly deafening as it continued soaring higher and higher, proving that drugs alone still couldn't take you to THIS place. Even though "Stone Free" continued on a little while longer, we'd reached the apex.

Possibly as much due to a circulating shared substance, at that moment I felt lightheaded as a flash of colors went off in my head. Never again have I felt that same thing. It was nothing but a real live genuine Jimi Hendrix Experience.

As I said, I've no idea how long that version of the song lasted, but it didn't matter. We bystanders were overwhelmed with what we were witnessing.

Should Alzheimer's come along one day to claim my brain, I'm betting I'll still remember that concert...