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. . . Pants on Fire

9th Mar 2008 | 12:02 pm
location: Brooklyn, New York
disposition: relaxedrelaxed
diversion: "And General Robert E. Lee" by Elliott Murphy

Last week yet another memoirist was outed (this time by her sister no less!) as nothing more than a lowly fiction writer; once again begging the question: why didn't they just publish their works as fiction in the first place?

Ego and greed, probably.

Not discounting these writers' duplicity in dealing with their publishers, what's truly troubling when these contretemps raise their ugly little heads is the press's haughty shock and awe that any half-truths (or quarter- or third-truths) should have wormed their way into the sanctity of somebody's memoir. Literary and social critics alike thump their thesauri and behave as if, pre-James Frey coming along and embarrassing Oprah with his million little lies, every memoir published was letter-perfect when it came to factual matters--that no details were added or enhanced (or omitted), that no dialog was fabricated, that nothing was tweaked to make the piece better (or at least readable).

By its selective nature, a memoir is not journalism; it is subject to the tricks our memories play on us; how and why events took place are filtered, consciously or unconsciously, by our prejudices, belief systems, etc. Plus, let's face it, folks: life, by and large, is boring. Even fascinating people have plenty of downtime where nothing of much interest happens. Knowing what to emphasize and what to ignore, where a chapter--let alone the real story--begins and ends (in reality, most people's lives have very few--and very long--chapters), is the writer's job.

And while we're talking about it, the very journalists looking down their collective nose at these memoirists are prone to the same refractions they're pillorying; they shouldn't be, but they are. The truth is never more malleable than in the hands of a writer.


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What Ever Happened to John Lydon?

8th Mar 2008 | 12:56 pm
location: Brooklyn, New York
disposition: pleasedpleased
diversion: Paul Nelson Interviewing Leonard Cohen

Driving down Flatbush with Deb a few weeks ago, we discovered the answer . . .

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The Waiting Game, Part 2

1st Mar 2008 | 09:23 pm
location: on the couch
disposition: recumbentrecumbent
diversion: Crimes and Misdemeanors

A line from Woody Allen's masterful 1989 film Crimes and Misdemeanors, which is airing on TCM as I write this, reminded me that the subject of yesterday's post is nothing new:
Show business is dog-eat-dog. It's worse than dog-eat-dog: it's dog-doesn't-return-other-dog's-phone-calls.
The Internet has just taught an old dog new tricks.

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The Waiting Game

29th Feb 2008 | 10:04 am
location: Brooklyn, New York
diversion: The Modern Lovers

Yesterday morning an old friend called from Los Angeles and recounted how earlier this month he and his band had their first real meeting with a bona fide record label. By all indications, the encounter went well and ended on a positive note with the record executive saying all good things about their music and hinting toward a time when they, record company and band, would share in a relationship both symbiotic and copacetic. He said he'd be in touch. Two weeks down the road, however, there's been no word; nor is aforementioned executive returning any of my friend's phone messages or e-mails. Seemingly a case of "Don't call us, we won't call you."

I told my friend that things are not necessary what they seem.  

The thing is, he and I used to work in the service industry--transportation--where every aspect of our company's performance was measured daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly; this data was then shared with our customers so that they could better decide whether to use our services or our competition's. The idea of not returning a phone call or not replying to an e-mail is as unconscionable to him as it is to me. Except . . .

For the most part, that's not the way things work in entertainment--music, books, movies, whatever--where unreturned calls and unanswered e-mails are more the norm than the exception. Which is really ironic, if you think about it, given an industry whose ultimate goal is to please its customers.

But therein lies the answer: When we--musicians, writers, filmmakers, artists one and all--are doing our best to interest them in our wares, we're not their customers but rather their suppliers. Or at least we hope to be. Until they actually put a contract in front of us and we sign on the dotted line (which, come to think of it, is never dotted, at least not on the contracts I've seen and signed), we're nothing more than the unwanted call from the telephone company, the knock on the door from the missionaries, or the takeout menu left in our mailbox by the new sushi restaurant around the block.

What I told my friend was this: "Don't forget that right now, as we speak, there are probably hundreds, nay, thousands of guys around L.A. in bands who are wondering, What the hell's up with that guy at the record company? What you need to hang onto, in the midst of your completely understandable frustration, is that if the record executive were to reply to all of his phone calls and e-mails, he probably wouldn't have enough time left in his day to do what you're hoping he'll do in the first place: sign you and your band to a record contract."

Is it frustrating? Yes. Is it fair (to say nothing of good business or in the realms of politeness)? Of course not. I had a magazine editor tell me once, after expressing displeasure because I continued to follow up on a pitch after not having received a response in more than six months: "If we were interested, clearly we would have gotten back to you." "No," I wanted to reply, "if you weren't interested, clearly you should have told me so." Unfortunately, this is not uncommon; the delete button has become the answer to many a busy editor and agent's overburdened calendar and workload. Even enclosing an SASE with snail-mail queries no longer guarantees a response.

Could it be handled differently? Sure--and often it is. When I first submitted my short-story collection to the man who became my agent, he immediately e-mailed me to say that he'd received it and cautioned me that he was going to be out of the office for a while. "Therefore, if you don't hear from me for a week to ten days, it has nothing to do with my response to your writing."

But, then, he's a gentleman.

As for my friend, the days when a Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen can walk into John Hammond's office, play their songs, and almost literally walk out with a recording contract are sadly gone. Long gone. And so he waits.

It's how he's having to wait that's the problem.

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Once You Go BlackBerry . . .

26th Feb 2008 | 10:22 pm
location: the aforementioned couch
disposition: satisfiedwinding up a good day
diversion: The Office

An e-mail this morning from my nephew Tim, wildlife photographer and web-designer extraordinaire, got me thinking . . .

When I said goodbye to Corporate America back in 2005, among the many benefits I forsook were a company car (along with its requisite fuel and insurance), an expense account, a laptop, and wi-fi. Looking back, though, there was only one perk that I truly missed, that I found myself pining for and which, when I saw it in the hands of another, filled my heart with envy.

Which brings me back to Tim's e-mail. Boasting the kind of simple, declarative statement for which hand-held technology (and the Ramones) was made, it said: "I just got my blackberry."

As much as I wanted one of my own, I could never justify it. But last year my business grew, and I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, my desire to reestablish my BlackBerry connection had passed from a nagging extravagance to an honest-to-goodness need. And then Deborah gave me one for Christmas.

I love having my 771 contacts always within reach--with room enough to also accommodate hours upon hours of my favorite music, a variety of videos lifted (thanks to TubeSock) from YouTube. And did I mention the GPS?

Yes, I've heard the "CrackBerry" jokes and have read the headlines that proclaim "BlackBerry Addiction 'Similar to Drugs'" (talk about your declarative sentences!). Even Laura good-naturedly sent me a "Life has become a major distraction from my BlackBerry" bumper sticker on Facebook. But I'm not overly concerned.

My BlackBerry "addiction" is a good thing. When an opportunity for, or a question from, one of my clients arises, I can respond immediately--regardless of where I might be. If I'm stuck in a doctor's waiting room or I arrive early for a meeting, I can make use of the time reading a manuscript which I downloaded. Or if I'm out and about and can't remember the name of that short guy from Laugh-In who was in Magnolia (Henry Gibson), or I'm crashing on the couch reading Richard Ford's Independence Day and come across a word whose meaning I think I know but not exactly (tintinnabulation: the ringing or sounding of bells; or a jingling or tinkling sound as if of bells), the answers are all right at my fingertips. And if I'm in traffic and think of a line I want to use in the book, or an idea for a new story, I simply dictate it into the voice recorder and get it on paper later. No more coming home with pockets overflowing with scrap paper and Post-it Notes!

I never thought I'd find myself quoting Tom Clancy, but he really hit the nail on the head when he said:

There was a time when nails were high-tech. There was a time when people had to be told how to use a telephone. Technology is just a tool. People use tools to improve their lives.

My BlackBerry is like my own personal HAL 9000--sans the attitude.

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Cancel the Bigger Boat

11th Feb 2008 | 03:54 pm
location: Brooklyn, New York
disposition: tiredsleep-deprived
diversion: "Marilyn" by Dan Bern

Roy Scheider died yesterday. Damn. He was one of those actors who was often much better than the material he was given (a curse that followed him from his first screen credit: TV's The Edge of Night).

But all that's moot, because he appeared in one of the most entertaining films ever made (Jaws, where he ad-libbed the line "You're gonna need a bigger boat"), one of the most exciting (his reaction shots behind Gene Hackman lent humanity to the often cold and heartless French Connection), and two of the most daring (David Cronenberg's version of Naked Lunch and his narration for Paul Schrader's Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters). Most importantly, he starred in (and received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for) Bob Fosse's brilliant All that Jazz, which is just flat-out one of the best movies ever made.

Roy Scheider was a classic example of one of those actors, like Bogart, who always, regardless of circumstance, rose to the occasion; so that, in those those few-and-far-between instances when the occasions rose to him, he was ready.

He is already missed.


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17th Jan 2008 | 10:58 am
location: Brooklyn, New York
disposition: indifferenteh
diversion: "Just Like a Woman" by Bob Dylan & the Rolling Thunder Revue

[T]he only thing standing between me and greatness is me . . . . I've been given more opportunities than anybody. I've been given the money and freedom for thirty-five years now to make whatever I wanted: A musical? Okay. A detective story? Fine. A drama? Absolutely. Another drama, even though the first one failed? Go ahead. Whatever you want.
—WOODY ALLEN, Spring 2005
Eric Lax's new biography, Conversations with Woody Allen, reveals a Woody not unlike the one we've been assured (usually by the filmmaker himself) has been there all along: unpretentious, lazy, dismissive of the value of his work while at the same time passionate about the process itself ("the real fun was in doing it—the planning and the execution and the busywork"), an artist for whom the best choice isn't necessarily as much a matter of aesthetics as it is convenience.

Lax began interviewing Allen in 1971 and kept coming back—for 36 years. The result is a hefty document that focuses, as the book's subtitle promises, on "His films, the movies, and moviemaking," touching on Allen's personal life only as it pertains to his professional one. Neatly divvied up into eight chapters ("The Idea," "Writing It," "Casting, Actors, and Acting," "Shooting, Sets, Locations, "Directing," "Editing," "Scoring," and "The Career"), what emerges is the portrait of a writer/director whose talents are largely instinctual, who only waxes cerebral about his films after they're in the can, and for whom fame and posterity mean nothing.

"If you can't divorce yourself from hearing about yourself and your work," Allen says, "which is not all that hard to do, then I'd advise you not to believe the compliments and the good things said about you. A good portion of them are insincere, a good portion are wrong—which leaves a very small portion to get excited over. Most hype about your work is show business flattery."

If there's a complaint with the book, it occasionally suffers from presenting too much of the same information over and over again. Lax, or his editor, should have had more faith in his readers. Still, Conversations with Woody Allen provides a fascinating look at (despite what Allen himself thinks) one of our most important filmmakers.

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Sleep's Dark and Silent Gate

16th Jan 2008 | 03:17 pm

A week ago yesterday morning, while I was working on the introduction to Paul Nelson's essay about Jackson Browne's The Pretender, wherein Paul wrote with stark exquisiteness about the 1976 suicide of Browne's newlywed wife, I received a call from my best friend telling me that, the night before, he had come home from work to discover that his wife of only a few weeks had taken her own life.

Since then, I've made several passes at writing something here that would in some way express how I feel, acknowledging how this terrible event has forever changed the landscape of my friend's life. But the words just aren't there.

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Latest Life Lessons

1st Jan 2008 | 11:16 am
location: Brooklyn, New York
disposition: satisfiedhome

If we're fortunate, we return from every journey (each of which constitutes one more leg in the overall journey that is our life) knowing a little bit more than we did upon our departure. Such was the case with our week-long trip to Salt Lake City, which equipped me to enter the new year with the following knowledge—some of which I already knew but had forgotten:

  • Driving towards Manhattan on the BQE, there's a point where the Empire State Building appears to be balanced smack-dab in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge and, if you look off to your left, the Statue of Liberty beckons from New York Harbor. It's a breathtaking view, but it's no more magnificent than once again seeing the Salt Lake City skyline set against the Wasatch Mountains. (And you can't go snowmobiling in Manhattan [well, you could, but not without dodging taxis instead of quaking aspen]).
  • Sometimes you need to return from whence you came to realize that it's no longer home.
  • Driving in New York CityManhattan in particularmay be exhilarating, but it sadly lacks the endorphin-rush that comes from the God-given right to make a right turn on a red light.
  • Family + distance = appreciation.
  • There’s nothing like getting together with old friends and being reminded why they're your friends in the first place.
  • Forgiveness is not an eraser. Apparently it's a handy weapon to be used for whacking away any olive branches being proffered.
  • Nothing is forever. Deb and Laura wanted to go shopping, so I directed them downtown to the Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center mallsboth of which had, unbeknownst to me, been completely demolished many months before. Calling me on her cell phone, Deb said, "It looks like Ground Zero."
  • Just because some places aren't where you remember them as being doesn't mean that they've moved. The memory is not a good map.
  • Life is like getting onto I-80 West at 1300 East in SLC and discovering that, in a stroke of Cosmo Kramer-like genius, the white lines separating the lanes suddenly disappear: you use your best judgment and keep moving forward.
  • There’s nothing like coming homeyour real homebut there's really nothing like coming home in first class.

Happy New Year!

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1 + 1 = 2

19th Dec 2007 | 12:36 pm
location: Brooklyn, New York
disposition: hungryready for lunch
diversion: "Solitary Man" by Johnny Cash

It's been over three months since I last contributed anything to these pages and, what with my two-year anniversary in New York only two days away, it seems as good a time as any to return to the fold.

On the upside, the time away from here has been well spent--not just writing and working with my publicity clients, but enjoying family life and everything NYC has to offer. There was also a great trip to Long Beach, CA, a drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to San Francisco (with a Citizen Kane-inspired visit to San Simeon along the way), then over to Reno and Salt Lake before returning home. And my nephew Tim came to New York and visited us for a week, during which time he educated us as to the feather and fowl we'd been taking for granted.

Friday not only marks my first two years as a resident of this great city, it also commemorates my independence from Corporate America and the nine-to-five world (which, towards the end, was closer to the seven-to-six world) and my first two years living the life I'd always dreamed of: that of a writer.

On that front, I came across the following quote from Werner Herzog, which now finds itself pinned to the corkboard above my desk:
If I find one person who walks out of a cinema of 300 people after watching one of my films and does not feel alone any more, then I have achieved everything I have set out to achieve.
Because being creative is often a solitary act, both selfish and selfless at the same time, I can't think of a better reminder--especially this time of year--of why we write (or paint or compose or, in Herzog's case, make movies).

Happy holidays.

A California Gull, the Utah state bird, at home in New York City.

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