Wednesday, January 31, 2007

RIP TP?


I've been listening to this bootleg of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers recorded last year and I started wondering, when Tom Petty get so wimpy? I don't mind his lovely acoustic numbers that he's recorded (so many of) in the past decade. Hey, "Free Fallin'" worked, so why not continue with that magic. But, come on, TP, your show is a freakin' yawn fest.

Sadly, I attribute this to one factor: Stan Lynch. Without the founding member of the band pounding away in the rhythm section, the band feels lifeless. Don't me wrong; I think Steve Ferrone is a hell of a drummer. I've always loved the stuff he did with Average White Band and Clapton, but the guy is too polished for the Heartbreakers I came to love.

The thing about Lynch is that he seemed to approach every show as if he were playing the songs for the first time, still trying to figure out where to place the fills. It had a rough quality to it that made Petty's music so appealing. With Lynch gone, the Heartbreakers seem to have about as much soul as, well... Eric Clapton's most recent stuff (don't get me started on EC). I'll be the first to admit that I don't think Max Weinberg has the chops he used to (playing behind Bruce, that is. His work on Conan's show is top notch), but at least he's not a human metronome. There's life back there, people!

Used to be, I'd defend my beloved acts to the hilt. But life is short and there's so much more music to discover. Perhaps this is why I have come to admire Robert Plant so much. He continually challenges himself musically and when things begin to get stale, he shakes things up with new blood. But Petty is so loyal (God bless him) and he'd never ask Ferrone to leave. Maybe Tom should make a collection of songs like "Down South" (from his latest) and begin to release simple, beautiful songs all of the time. Maybe the guy just doesn't have the rock in him anymore. Which would be sad because he used to kick ass on stage with the best of them.

Age mellows everyone, I guess.

Except, that is, Bruce. But you knew I'd say that, didn't you.

Aloha

Monday, January 29, 2007

It's been a long couple of months, working through a lot of emotional crap. December is always a tough month for us. It was in December that Jake was diagnosed and that month carries a sad anniversary each year. It's not that I want to be moody or weepy. Quite the contrary. I love the Christmas holidays and would love to be happy for 30 consecutive days. It just isn't so.

The only thing that gets me through those times is the love and affection of my wife and children. No matter how many tears fall (and believe me, I cried a lot between December and just a couple of weeks ago), a simple hug from Sophie or Jake or that morning kiss as I leave the house for work is enough to boost my spirits.

For the new year, I hope to write much more on this blog. I began with such confidence last year, and then quickly lost my spark. I believe some of that had to do with the script I have been struggling with since last June. I am accustomed to working through my first drafts at a quick pace. When I get in a groove, the pages will fly out of me in a flurry. Writing 10-20 pages in one sitting is not uncommon for me. But I have been working with a manager who has me writing in a different method. 20 pages at a time. My rhythm is off and each time he comes back with criticisms of the work, my confidence goes down another notch.

I have been timid about discussing this project and its progress for some reason. I guess I thought some executive might come across my comments and I could possible burn a bridge. Who am I kidding? I wager to say that if I had been openly writing about my fears and doubts concerning this script, I would have freed myself of a great deal of writers block and stress. Add to the mix that our family is stretched pretty thin financially and you can see where the spiral downward begins. "I'm not good enough." "If I'm not good enough, that means I'll never sell another script." "If I never sell another script, we are screwed."

My family depends on me. Am I being selfish continuing to pursue my dream? Has my dream been realized? I mean, I wrote and directed a feature (albeit, one that hasn't sold) and I sold a script that was produced (and eventually sold to Lifetime television). By many accounts, I have succeeded in my pursuits.

But it's not good enough. I'm not living as a full time writer.

Aloha

Thursday, January 11, 2007

My Girl

Sophie's birthday was last week and I recalled this piece I wrote several years back when we were still living in North Hollywood (before Jake was born). Julie, Sophie and I used to go to the Burbank mall where she would ride the merry go round. She loved it. This piece kind of describes what happened the night Sophie was born. Some people might say we've had some rough luck with childbirth. I'd say we've been blessed.

Aloha


Each time the merry-go-round passes by, playing its cheery melodies, tears well up in my eyes. My beautiful daughter is laughing and waving at me, so full of life. It’s December and we’re shopping at the mall and I know I’m supposed to be full of holiday cheer, but I can’t help but reflect on what might have been. We almost lost her.

In the night Sophie was born, after our family had left the hospital and Julie and I were getting ready to try and sleep, I happened to look down in her cradle and notice she was having difficulty breathing. Earlier hat day, the same thing had occurred and our nurse instructed me on how to help her cough up some of the saliva she’d swallowed. After several attempts, she wasn’t getting any better. Like the hand of God was there with us, our nurse happened to check in before she left for the night. She took over for me, and after two attempts, she ran out of our room calling out “I
I‘m taking this baby to the ICU.”

After a moment to let this sink in, I wandered away from my bedridden wife to find the ICU. I remember walking blindly down the long white, sterile hallways and an eternity passing before I found the secured doors for that room. You have to buzz into this room and when I spoke through the intercom my voice sounded like someone else’s. This wasn’t happening to me. She was just born. The doors swooshed open and a nurse intercepted me, leading me into a small waiting area. However, I caught a glimpse of the doctor and nurses gathered around my tiny infant, working furiously to revive her. What must have been five minutes felt like five hours. A television was on in the background. I sat there staring at it, not knowing what to do; not knowing how to act. One thing that never entered my mind, though, was whether she’d live or die. She couldn’t die. I wouldn’t let her.

Finally, the doctor came in and was very pleasant. “She gave us quite a scare”, he told me, with a slight smile on his face. He must have been happy to save a life. He led me to Sophie, who was now on monitors and in a special, Plexiglas case. This wasn’t real. Those baby classes never brought up this scenario. I looked down at her helpless little body and was numb.

I returned to Julie’s side and we prayed together. I prayed all night. Was it a heart defect? Were her lungs all right? At exactly midnight, the clock in our room stopped. We both froze. I raced back to the ICU to make sure all was well. Sophie was still fine. It didn’t sink in until I called my brother to tell him what happened. As soon as he heard my voice he excitedly asked, “What’s happened”. I lost it, just like I lose it in the mall overtime she rides that merry-go-round.

I used to think I was the luckiest man in the world because Julie took me as her husband. I didn’t think you could be so lucky twice in life. Throughout it all, I never gave up hope for Sophie. And I guess that’s what I enjoy most about this time of the year. There is a feeling of hope that resonates every turn of the year. I don’t know if many of you understand what I’m talking about, but I hope that someday you do.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

War Movie suggestions

With Clint Eastwood's double punch of "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima" garnering praise this winter, I thought I'd offer up three alternate war movies for anyone interested.

I saw "Flags of Our Fathers" and wasn't blown away. It was trying to do too many things structurally and I felt that Mr. Eastwood just didn't pull it off this time. That said, Adam Beach, portraying Ira Hayes, was astounding. If he doesn't receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actor in this years's Oscar race, it will be a great shame.

Anyway, here are three other war (related) films:

Stanley Kubrick's WW I feature, "Paths of Glory" (1959), may be one of the most powerful antiwar movies ever. In it, three soldiers are made an example when they refuse to continue with an impossible attack. They are brought up on charges of treason and Kirk Douglas must defend their lives. Not only was it marvelously acted (one of Mr. Douglas' finest performances) but the cinematography is innovative and awe inspiring.

Edward Zwick's "Glory" (1989) movie about the first all black regiment during the Civil War is, perhaps, one of the most heartbreaking war movies ever made. Inspiring to the end, when those soldier charge to their deaths, you are crying your eyes out. Denzel Washington won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role, but the rest of the cast, including Morgan Freeman, Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes and a then unknown Andre Braugher, are all stellar.

Finally, one can't forget William Wyler's "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946). Coming just a year after the end of WW II, the film pulls no punches in showing the difficulties veterans had returning home and adjusting to domesticity. Although "Flags of Our Fathers" attempted (and did not succeed) in treading the same ground, this film is far more effective and still very powerful.

Aloha

Songs of the week 1.10.07




Like many Clevelanders my age, I was introduced to the sounds of earl rock and roll via the Sunday morning radio show on WMMS that ran for years.  Soon after WMJI became Magic 105 and exclusively played "oldies", that radio show stopped.

But while it lasted, it gave me a weekly history lesson in the birth of rock and roll (ironically, after church).  While I was supposed to be finding salvation and awakening my spiritual side through Christ and his teachings, I was instead becoming a disciple of guitars, bass and drums.  A servant of soul music.

Those Sunday mornings from years ago made introduced me to the early music of the Beatles, Kinks, Donovan, Dave Clark 5, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry.  Coupled with my adoration of "Animal House" (which made me a fan of Sam Cooke) and "The Blues Brothers" (which inspired me to look into the music of Ray Charles, Aretha and my favorite, Otis Redding), I came to appreciate the music from those early years, even if they weren't as musically intricate of the bands I liked back then, like Rush.

Of course, another of the artists I came to know and love was James Brown.  With his passing over the holidays, there have been so many accolades for his music and what he meant to America and the Civil Rights movement.  I doubt I can add anything new to what has been said.  His music meant so much to so many people, be they politicians, blue collar workers, or the countless number of recording artists, alive and dead.  His hard working ethic can be seen in artists ranging from Sam & Dave to Bruce Springsteen (who, I guess, now becomes the hardest working man in show business).

While so many of JB's songs are classics, I like this one, "Out of Sight" from 1964.  I'm not sure what "high heel sneakers" are, but they sound dangerous.

Another artist heavily influenced by Brown (and other R & B singers) was a lad named Robert Plant.  As The Honeydrippers attested, he loved the music and sang every song he performed with Zeppelin and as a solo artist with the same soulfulness and conviction as his idols.  Zeppelin were one of the many bands brought to Atlantic records by legendary executive, Ahmet Ertegun, who also passed away late last year.    Ertegun and his brother, Neshui, immigrated from Turkey and forged a company to record, distribute and publicize the sounds of Black America, which at that time were largely going ignored.  They helped popularize jazz, soul, and in the 60's and 70's some of the most influential rock music, including Zeppelin.  Zeppelin recorded their own tribute to JB in 1973 called "The Crunge".  Throughout the song, Plant riffs on the words of Otis Redding and James Brown, while Page and Bonham create JB sounding guitar and drums.  Meanwhile, John Paul Jones creates both an ultimate bass line and comes up with some horn sounding riffs on his keyboards.  It's a fun, stupid song that the guys obviously did as a tribute to one of their heroes.

Just like I discovered so many "oldies" artists on Sunday mornings, it was those long, hazy Saturday nights driving around that I discovered artists like, Zeppelin, Cream and Yes.  Once again, WMMS was what gave me my lessons in rock.  And the DJ who happened to run both of those blocks of programming was the gravely voiced Len "Boom" Goldberg.  Before he became a sidekick on the most annoying morning show ever (i.e Jeff and Flash), Goldberg was a decent DJ.  Like Kid Leo before him, Boom spoke with authority about the music he was playing ans came off as a regular guy.  By the time he was drafter into the Morning Zoo, the Sunday morning oldies show was gone and Classic Rock Saturday Night was soon to be ditched, too (thanks to the "new" classic rock format adopted by WNCX).

Len Goldberg also died over the holidays.  Many Clevelanders probably don't know who he was.  But for those of us, he taught us about what was decent music and what was crap.  

So, adios, JB, Mr. Ertegun and Boom.  You effected my life and so many others.  You will all be missed.