Harvey Weinstein & His Millions of Accomplices

I really hate entertainment news. When I was younger, it was the only place you could get those behind the scenes and sneak previews of movies and television shows. It was worth sitting through the story-within-the stories of personalities and celebrities, their mating habits and shopping agendas.

The job of the Hollywood “fixer” has changed much over the decades. Back in the golden age, each studio had a few people on hand to protect their image from entertainment reporters. Actors and executives would engage in “scandalous” behaviors of all types and the fixer would make the story go away somehow.

The idea was that the stars of Hollywood were just as much a fiction as the characters they played. Stars were marketed with a certain mystique and character designed to appeal to the masses. They were larger than life, glamorous, handsome, and articulate. They were sexy, brilliant, and ultimately either relate-able or to be worshiped.  If you love the actor, you’ll spend money on the movie or tune in to their new show. You’ll buy a magazine to read their story and follow their fairy tale wedding in the papers. So long as the studio protected that image from real life bleeding through in reports of drunken fights, rape allegations, or unpopular sympathies, the revenue stream will flow.

These days, publicists and managers work with entertainment media to control stories and make deals to protect the higher-level stakeholders by throwing them tasty stories about drunken debauchery, infidelity, or perversion among the lesser-ranks. The principle is the same, except we come to expect a level of “scandal” from our celebrities. Divorces are terrible, sad affairs (but still sell papers). We have celebrities who are famous because they are rich and beautiful, exhibiting the perfect blend of style and stupidity that makes them the subject of public debate. As moral and decent as we want to seem as a culture, we revel in their antics. We tune in for every “housewives” restaurant throw-down. We’ll forgive a star’s drunk driving record if her Q-Score sustains its entertainment value and profitability.

Even TMZ.com, a company that prides itself on showing celebrities as they “really are” with an emphasis on scandal and schadenfreude, knows its limits. It won’t risk its access to studios over a Harvey Weinstein, but will happily take out Weinstein’s trash when a celebrity runs afoul of him.

When these powerful players are “discovered” the Entertainment Media frames the story as new and shocking revelations. This is a lie. A story like Weinstein’s wasn’t just discovered. Someone shifted the power structure in the industry to make it less of a risk to take on Weinstein than continue hiding the truth in the interest of self-preservation.
For how many years was Bill Cosby an alleged sexual predator? So many he was still wearing those god-awful sweaters and sucking on pudding pops. But for many of those years, Cosby was a gate-keeper to success, especially for African-Americans. He was a profit machine and a powerful partner to have. Associating with one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful in Hollywood” was currency in the realm of entertainment. Quashing rumors and paying off victims was profitable. However, once the stories came out and the lawsuits were filed, all those loyal business partners began to “discover” the truth. Suddenly the machine that kept Cosby safe and his image clean began destroying him and anyone who dared support him or deny his behavior.
Cosby is an old man who will likely not outlive this shame. But other celebrities will. And have.

When the Entertainment News machine declares a celebrity dead, they’re usually just in celebrity rehab. If they are rich enough and retain just enough power or public support, they can make a comeback regardless of how horrible their sins may be. It all comes down to what’s profitable. If the public is willing to overlook terrible, criminal behavior, a monster can again become a hero.

Mel Gibson was “ruined’ years ago over a vile, racist and anti-Semitic outburst during a traffic stop. After a few years, he sits among the A-Listers in Hollywood and plays a supporting role in this Christmas’ feel-good comedy film.

Mike Tyson is a convicted rapist but also a wife abuser, and bit off a man’s ear on pay-per-view. He has a cartoon show and was a big part of the original “Hangover” film.

Actors continue to work with Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. Proudly.

Donald Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tape was a proud endorsement of rape culture by a man who is now the leader of the free god-damned world.

The fact that there are those among you who will defend the people I mentioned is proof that there is no sin, no atrocity that cannot be excused if the public can be persuaded that being entertained or otherwise distracted is possible and profitable.

Here’s the part we don’t think about.
None of these monsters acted alone. The only way they could act with impunity is by having willing accomplices who are either working directly to quiet accusers or intimidate witnesses or those associates who know but choose to remain silent.

Do you really think that Harvey Weinstein’s closest friends and associates didn’t know? Why aren’t they sharing in this shame? Do they really get a pass when they tweet how “shocked” they are at the revelations? Perhaps they do because we can stomach destroying one monster but destroying the mechanism that kept it preying on people is too hard for us. Or perhaps it’s the Entertainment News machine’s choice to frame the story as a lone wolf predator so that other valuable stars and players can continue generating profits?

And then there is “entertainment journalism” with its legions of insiders and informants.  These are the people who clue the paparazzi on where to catch Kanye and Kim having dinner but also when the right celebrity punched a guy but didn’t pay enough to keep everybody quiet about it.

This is what makes me angry about Entertainment News. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a beast. So long as you’re a profitable beast and your professional success feeds enough others, your sins are not news. You are protected. The talking heads and the career journalists know who they are protecting right now and they will cover the charity functions and ask who the stars are wearing and what it means to them to support such amazing causes, all the while knowing that when the cameras stop rolling the predator’s hunt will resume.

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Epix series “Get Shorty” doesn’t “get” Leonard, but that’s okay.

[SPOILERS THROUGH EPISODE 8]

I’ve been watching the Epix series “Get Shorty” which claims to be based on Elmore Leonard’s book and the Barry Sonnenfeld film adaptation.  While there’s enough overlap in the basic story about an underworld figure who wants to go legit in the film business, it capitalizes more on the title and the brand recognition than the flavor of the book or movie.

It is a compelling drama with just enough crossover with the original plot to make it seem derivative if the show didn’t cop to the title, but there is so much difference that it makes the connection to the source material distracting and prevents a great story from standing entirely on its own.

“Get Shorty” doesn’t feel like an Elmore Leonard book.  It does not look like a Barry Sonnenfeld film.   It is something new and fresh and worthy of its own identity as a well-crafted hardboiled crime series.

As a parody of Hollywood, it succeeds on some levels and is genuinely funny.  When Miles Daly literally fumbles his way into the business, his success can only be attributed to dumb luck and weak opposition.  While Miles comes from a sinister and dangerous underworld, I cannot believe that the film business is so virginal and clueless that its power players wouldn’t be prepared for the kind of threats and coercion he attempts.  Nothing Miles achieves is the result of being a shrewd manipulator and much of the conflict derives from the risk of his precarious construct of lies imploding at any moment.

Here is a scene that comes close to the Sonnenfeld style and it defines the hero’s struggle even though the man pitching it had no idea he’s actually talking about himself.

From here, the idealism and the fantasy make way for a different kind of show.

The film (which I distinguish from its sequel “Be Cool”) is a stylish, energetic, and funny mob story that flips a lot of noir and thriller tropes.  Travolta actually connects with this character and is entirely engaging as Chili Palmer.  The rest of the cast carries the story along with a skillful balance of serious conflict and almost cartoonish violence.

Example:

The book follows this pattern and style.

Very little of this visual style, musical foundation or storytelling is evident in the Epix version.  Chili Palmer is a smart, self-motivated enforcer for a Miami loan syndicate.  He is largely an independent operator, applying his own moral code to situations.  He doesn’t have a problem with violence, but he isn’t a killer.  He has a job to do and reconciles this with the fact that people have failed to uphold their contract with his employers and are aware of the consequences.  Nonetheless, he uses his skills to negotiate and collect on his accounts – he isn’t a killer.

Miles Daly is an Irish mob enforcer working for a drug lord.  He and his partner execute rivals, collect debts and payments, and “clean” crime scenes.  Daly is good at his job and loyal to his employer, Amara – the drug queenpin of Arizona.  He despises the people he works with, not because he questions the nature of their work or is in some existential crisis about being in his job, but because they are all assholes and he’s in a dead-end position.  There is no humanity glossing over the gritty and bloody reality of their work.  Despite a pleasant Irish brogue and an everyman charm, Miles is a career killer and unrepentant criminal.  He may well be a high-functioning sociopath.

Example:

The thing about Chili Palmer is that he sees that a lot of his skills lend themselves to success in the film industry.  Sure, he uses threats and intimidation, but more often sees a way to mutually beneficial outcomes.   He’s a deal-maker and someone who builds coalitions.  He protects secrets and has a very practical outlook on how to succeed, long term, in a greedy, power-driven industry.  We root for him to win and find a sort of redemption in a legitimate business.

A problem for this series and its protagonist is that Miles Daly commits horrible acts to achieve his goals.  He remains amoral and selfish in his goals.  He doesn’t realize that his one path out of crime brings the criminal world along with him and he stands aghast at how these worlds collide with complications at every turn.  None of this represents an arc toward redemption because his coercion of people is temporary.  Even if their shared goal of making “The Admiral’s Mistress” a blockbuster film is achieved, it doesn’t mean that the people he has harmed won’t turn on him to protect themselves in the future.

Chili Palmer uses charm and persuasion to win over enemies and build relationships.  Miles literally steals a script from a delinquent client he helps murder and dispose of before blackmailing a Hollywood producer into making his movie, physically assaulting and threatening a line producer to approve its budget, and beat the hell out of an acting teacher who dared tell his precious daughter she wasn’t Hollywood material.

Miles Daly is charming, no more so when dealing with his family. His estranged wife and daughter are improbably suburban and blissfully ignorant of Miles’ “work” for Amara’s crime family.  Given how battered and bloody Miles gets in the first few episodes, Miles would have had to tell his wife he’s an underground fighter to explain the occupational hazards of his line.  Miles’ entire motivation is to keep his family together.  This is supposed to be his struggle as he creates this new life for himself.  However, rather than seeing this as his real self struggling through a lifetime of doing bad things, his relationship with his family feels like a powerful illusion he has created for himself, a mirage of happiness and stability the he needs to make him feel superior to his contemporaries among Amara’s gang.

Miles brings his equally amoral partner, Louis, along to Hollywood as an accomplice.  Louis poses as the author of the screenplay that becomes the center of the action despite the fact that Louis can barely read much less write a period romance script.  Louis is quickly relegated to Miles’ enforcer, tying up the threads that inevitably unravel as a result of stealing the script.  Louis is an interesting character who professes a strict Mormon faith (no drinking, no premarital sex) but many of his scenes are shot looking up from the grave he is digging for one of his victims.  He has a clear life-work firewall that begins to fail as Louis meets an agent at church and begins to demand more for himself out of the con.  In an ideal structure, Louis would represent the life that Miles is trying to escape and perhaps the final obstacle to that freedom.  Here, Miles and Louis are indistinguishable and the latter enables Miles to achieve his goals by doing the dirty work Miles no longer wants to do (but would no doubt do to achieve his ends).

All this to say that – if you tune in expecting to hear a snappy soundtrack or crisp dialogue driving a story about a well-intentioned thug with a heart of gold – you’re in for a disappointment.  However, this is a great show.

This may seem like much ado about an author or a filmmaker, but that source material is essential to the both artist’s singular expression.  Sonnenfeld’s approach was certainly brighter and less cynical than Leonard’s original, but there is none of the wit or “cool” that made the material fun.  It is as if someone took a great loose bio-pic about John Wayne Gacey and decided to call it “Stephen King’s ‘IT’”.

This is a gritty, sometimes sad tale of flawed characters in a hardboiled noir style with an excellent cast and fantastic storytelling.  By itself, this is compelling television storytelling.  Even the minor characters are memorable but not because they come from Leonard’s imagination.

Like the director Rick Moreweather (a passing nod to original schlock director Harry Zimm from the book) the series lives in the shadow of its better-known progenitor and will struggle harder to establish its own voice as a result.  Moreweather’s story of finding success and its cost on him as a son and a father is fascinating.  The young actor Lyle who sells body as a way into the movie business is a pathetic, but still captivating story to follow as his fate seems linked to Louis and Miles.  Amara’s right-hand and nephew Yago presents a wild card of impulsive irresponsibility and a desperate need for his aunt’s affection and his mood swings could upset the entire plot at any moment.  Even the characters without developed stories light up scenes, making it shocking when you expect them to play important roles in the plot only to end up on the wrong side of Miles or Louis’ needs.

Amara and her cartel are depicted as complex characters who have a reason to be in the world they’ve built.  Amara’s romantic core is explored to some degree and we have to wonder what kind of life she might have lived if her parents hadn’t sold her to a husband for livestock.

In all, there are elements that recall Chandler, Lansdale, and even Tarantino’s writing.  Visually, there is a lack of flash or style that marks Sonnenfeld’s films.  Visually, it is relatively uninspired.  Compare some of the slick camera work in 1995’s film to the standard three-shot set-ups in any given episode, barring the occasional action shot and Dutch angle.  There’s little in the way of visual symbolism in the camera, though the locations and sets seem to put some effort into setting the tone of a scene.

I’m pleased to know there will be a second season to this show.  It needs time to find its own voice. Through the meta-drama of “The Admiral’s Mistress” I hope its success or failure help those characters – and the show – learn to stand on their own.

Health Care versus iPhone? Seriously?

That’s an over-simplification for simple-minded fools, credit-shackled middle class residents who think they are somehow superior to the poor because they can be in debt for houses and assets worth ten times their annual income or more.

This isn’t a sob story.  This is real life.  I own all of it and acknowledge that MY situation was better than a lot of other people struggling day to day and paycheck to paycheck.

In the 1990s, I worked a full time job that had shitty health insurance options. This was because it targeted employment to young, single people who cared more about money in pocket than their health. I know this because I was a manager and lost good, mature workers for that specific reason. They were mortified that they paid a large percentage of their wages on insurance and STILL had a high co-pay and limited options.

This is called “ACCESS” to health case. Technically, you have the ability to be covered but the company that controls those decisions has done such a cheap and poor job that major illnesses and injuries may as well not be covered.  It’s the kind of half-assed truth that Congress uses to claim that they’ve done something while the reality proves otherwise.  I can have “access” to a water fountain, but if I have to swipe a credit card to run the water for ten seconds,  how many people will go without?

Many years later, my stepson would have an accident that required the negotiation of FOUR insurance companies which battled over who would pay for what in a bill that ultimately crossed into seven figures.  Without insurance (or multiple coverage) the question asked of us wouldn’t be so simple as “health care or cell phone” but “how much is his life worth to you?  How much is his brain function? Ability to walk?”

Are those options available on the iPhone 8?

But back to my younger life:

I was content with my employment because I needed a paycheck more than great health insurance and because my son was covered by other plans. It was more important for me to make rent, day care, child support, utilities, student loan payments, car maintenance and insurance, and food which were real bills at the time. I didn’t choose between health care and an iPhone. I still had to juggle bills. I still had to make payment arrangements with utilities to avoid shut-offs. I STILL had to buy cheap, processed food instead of fresh. I couldn’t afford reliable transportation to get to work, much less a decent set of wheels.

Hell, at one point my co-pay was $50 and Amoxicillin set me back $25. Bronchitis also cost me three days work for a total of $350, give or take.

And if you think a work site accident and worker’s comp is just an ATM transaction to complete, you’re sadly mistaken.

When the only vehicle you can afford is ten years old, inspection time can be a financial nightmare.  A blown tire is bad enough.  But a simple fix to a problem “deep inside the engine” can cost more than the car’s value and put you on a bus schedule for an extended period.  That’s fine if you don’t need to get your kids to day care on one side of town before heading to work on the other.

While the rich and poor pay the same for a loaf of bread and a gallon of gas, the more expensive operating expenses of life cost more to the poor than the rich. Per square foot, it is more expensive to rent than own a home. It is more expensive to finance a car, maintain it, or manage a credit account.  Check out those small car dealers downtown.  Sometimes they don’t advertise the price of the car, they advertise that their 10 year-old Chevy is ONLY $2,500 DOWN on a $5,000 ride worth just south of $3,000.

I spent more on things because of bad credit. (A $600 couch retail is $1100 rent-to-own) I was denied access to better, cheaper housing because of my payment history. When I finally rebuild my credit to qualify for an unsecured card IN THIS CENTURY I paid loan shark interest rates just to prove myself worthy of having a credit life raft for future emergencies. For a long time I resented being punished for “harming” billion dollar corporations while trying to do the right thing for myself and my family — ALL WHILE BEING EMPLOYED FULL TIME.

Oh, the day I deposited a five-figure 401K payout (six years invested) I took to cover my unemployment was the only day I ever had a bank manager smile and welcome me to their institution. She was unaware that she already knew me as a very angry customer who – months earlier – practically begged her to restore $750 stolen from my checking account before rent and day care checks hit and not make me ask my family for loans to cover the week it would take them to restore the funds to my account.

A lot of people in this country are broke on the same day they’re paid, not because of their digital addictions, but because the system takes as much as it can based on what higher, two income families can afford. I fought my way out of it with the help of generous friends and family. But there were bad times in the past ten years that had nothing to do with making bad decisions between necessities and luxuries.

Take it from someone who stood on the outside of a young man’s battle with a catastrophic, yet all-too-common injury that cost more than a million dollars to treat. There is no “monthly payment arrangement” that works in such a situation. Where insurance doesn’t cover the weeks of surgery, ICU care, and rehabilitation, there is only debt. Where insurance stops, so too does the “cosmetic” and “elective” treatments designed to make a person whole again. Without insurance you’ll lose a metric shit-ton more than just a god damned cell phone. You can lose your life, the life of a loved one, and/or destroy your financial future.

Anyone who thinks the choice between a NEED and a WANT is why the poor are poor has a crippling lack of understanding about the realities of living in America where life is based on the acquisition of STUFF and feeding the all-powerful corporations that make it.

Available as an eBook February 28th!

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He didn’t think he could win his fight against cancer.  He did.

But the victory only returned him to a world of boredom, obligation, and betrayal; a suburban drone at another point in a connect-the-dots life having left behind his passions and dreams.  His oldest, dearest friend dead and his wife a distant echo of the woman he married, Winston Casey looks for some way to escape and make his second chance a meaningful one.

Unknown to Winston, his old friend set in motion a great adventure – not just a game, but a quest with real world consequences and real people in need of rescue from a dark power secluded in a dark realm of excess and greed — The Realm Aeternus.

Charged with this quest, Winston travels to Las Vegas and a role-playing resort for gamers in a MMORPG who have grown rich in the real world from their ventures and who enjoy pleasures that seem outside the jurisdiction of reality.  Aided by an enslaved barbarian queen, a troubled woman from his past, and a bad-ass detective, Winston embraces his charge – to avenge his friend’s death and complete his quest to expose and destroy the global conspiracy of billionaire entertainer Alan Horus.

With Russian gangsters, exotic locations, virtual worlds of peril and a real world of danger, The Resurrection Pact is the first installment of a trilogy pitting the gamer geek James Bond against the Stavro Blofeld of the gaming industry.

http://www.jaysmithaudio.com

Preview: The Resurrection Pact

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Chapter One

The resort concierge was a tiny, bald Frenchman in his sixties, but he towered over me in the hallway. The air of dignity and propriety he carried with him just made me feel worse. From my position, prone on the floor of the hotel hallway, I felt like a stain on his lush, forest green carpet. My own blood caked my chin and dress shirt as someone else’s vomit congealed down my back and across my lap. Cherry lipstick left a streak across my cheeks and my swollen bottom lip. As this wasn’t sufficient humiliation, I was drenched head to foot and smelled like chlorine, baked chicken, sparkling wine with a hint of cat food.

I was at the ugly end of a weird day.

But at that moment the details of that day were still hazy.

I appreciated the complete absence of judgment in his expression as the man with the Louis Renault mustache spoke.

“Mr. Casey, is it?” The man in the tailored suit planted his fists into his hips and waited for me to acknowledge him. When the palm trees behind him came into focus, I offered a little wave.

“Yes,” I replied, assuming he knew what he was talking about.

It was coming back to me as the hallway settled down to choose one compass bearing. I remembered the name of the island: Ebetha. Someone had called it the “New Orleans of the Caribbean.”

“I’m Jean-Paul Gautreaux: head resort concierge. You telephoned me earlier.”

Concierge. Resort. Telephone. Check. “Yes, hi.”

“Do you require medical attention?”

“No. Give me a moment to find my breath and I’ll collect the bits of my dignity I spilled all over your nice floor.” Continue reading

The Reaper Year.

“Like a wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we were, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.”

– Harlan Ellison.

2016 was that year when our childhood really started to die.  Those of us in the “Generation X” range, in particular.  Their names were instantly recognizable and often tied to strong and important memories from our youth.

As the year wore on and more celebrities died, a meme was born which led to the creation of the Year-as-Serial-Killer.  2016 came alive and was stalking our idols.  I read posts about older celebrities where people demanded 2016 leave him or her alone.  I found it poor taste.  I found what I considered an unfunny bit of gallows humor to be old and tired by March.

At some point, like a lot of people, I pointed out that it isn’t a massacre or a celebrity plaque but the passage of time.  These were not young celebrities.  Late sixties…seventies…into the nineties we acted like it was unfair or unreasonable that people would die so young.  It was sad but – hey!  Let’s pay sympathy and respect for their loved ones and not turn their deaths into the latest iteration of an internet fad, okay?

Well, someone I respect as an artist and thinker went off saying people like me “get no points” for pointing out the reality and (somehow) denying people the right to grieve in their own way.  After all, we lost these people from our lives and we FEEL things, damn it.

That made me angry.   I saw his point.  No one should be made to feel bad about their method of grieving.  On the other hand, I was being made to feel bad about my method of grieving.  My point, buried in the “reality” that people eventually die, was that we don’t celebrate people enough in life.

In my anger I wrote a long reply that I never sent.  I mean, for fuck sake, people.  My social media was never ripe with discussions about Patty Duke’s filmography or her on-screen chemistry with William Schallert.  Sure, we all loved the Willy Wonka memes featuring Gene Wilder’s face, but until 2016 he was otherwise absent from my discussions until her died or when someone wanted to point out how vacant he was during his last public interview.

Yes, the rest of the dish was as horrible as that sample is.  I am glad I didn’t send it.  No one would have benefited from my anger.  Once I wrote it, however, I understood why I needed to.

In the early weeks of 2016 I lost my mother.  She made it to her 90th birthday and passed quietly in a nursing home surrounded by her family.  Unfortunately, I was not there.

When I think of most of the notables who died in 2016, I can load an MP3 or watch one of their movies or TV shows.  I can google their art and there it is to remind me of my life now and back when I first experienced it.  All those memories are intact there.  They are non-transferable, however. My children will never understand that relationship.  No one inside my mind will feel that connection in the same way.

But that experience is just a click away for me.

When my mother died, it was at the end of a long battle with Alzheimer’s and dementia.  She had lived to be about my age now before I was born.  My father had lived half a century before I was conceived.  I have the memories of surviving relatives and siblings born in the late forties-early 50s to share their memories about them.

I cannot just fucking google those memories.  I cannot download those faded experiences.  If not for the foresight of my brother to record their memories to VHS in the 90s, I would have nothing of them but paper and photos.  I am lost in their deaths because they only left tokens behind representing all the moments of our lives, all the things that made me who I am (better or worse) and all those small details.  And all those years before I was born – lifetimes lost before I became that impudent child who didn’t feel the strict, conservative views of their obsolete age were worth committing to memory.

You want to talk grief? 

I love Carrie Fisher and I am sad that she died. It does hurt because of this phantom connection I have with a human being I never met.  There’s an ache rooted in my own mortality.  But she wasn’t someone I’d call late at night in my darkest moments.  She wasn’t someone whose absence from my life would prevent me from feeling like a whole human being.  She was never someone who kept me awake at night worrying about where she was or if she was using drugs again.  I didn’t call off work to fish her out of jail.  She never mentioned me at an award ceremony or even answered the fan letter I sent in 1978.

Carrie Fisher didn’t tell me I could do anything I set my mind to.  Prince and I never drove 99 miles per hour tailgating an asshole for ten miles just because he pissed us off.  Alan Rickman did not stand in his seat at the end of my performance of Young Patrick in “Mame” (1979) when I thought I’d blown it and was terrible.  Gene Wilder didn’t run off the bullies and offer me a hand off the asphalt and a tissue for my bloody nose.  Leonard Cohen didn’t sing me to sleep when I had chicken pox and felt so bad I couldn’t move without pain.  Florence Henderson wasn’t my mom who sang “I love you/a bushel and a peck/a bushel and a peck/and a hug around the neck” to my infant son the same way she did me when I was little.

But I still get chills thinking about the time I accidentally triggered an answering machine message from my father a few days after he died.  I remember the unreasonable anger I felt at the men from the funeral home who tossed my father’s bagged corpse onto a cart like a sack of lumber or garbage.  I still remember the smile on my mother’s face the last time I ever saw her and a lucid moment when she looked so proud of me and pleased to see me; that look of pure love from someone I will never see again.  I remember the permission to cry upon seeing my siblings, people who I’ve known to be more in control and restrained than most people in my life, breaking down.

And I remember sobbing and screaming over a young man far, far too young to die who seemed to be very close to leaving us forever…days wondering if a good and decent kid wasn’t going to come back from smashing a car into a tree at high speed.

So.  I’ll grieve how I want, thanks.  There is nothing strange about 2016.  “2017” has already claimed a few high profile people.  We’re getting old and our archive of media is vast.  At LEAST we are left with that body of work.  When your closest friends and family are gone, will you add them to the meme?  Or will you genuinely grieve?  More importantly, how has the lesson of 2016 changed how you treasure those who the big bad year left behind?

A Rare Political Apology

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January 19th, 2017 –
On the eve of inaugurating our 45th President of the United States I want to offer my sincere apologies to those visionary patriots who made this revolutionary event in American history possible. I admit I doubted that the American people could rise and take back their government by turning conventional wisdom on its head.
So, when Gary Johnson puts his hand on the Bible and swears his oath tomorrow, please know that I will support your – OUR – President with a renewed humility and faith in the American people.
I was wrong. When you threw your support behind Johnson early in the election cycle and began the hard journey of getting Libertarians on the ballot in all fifty states, I thought you had an insurmountable, perhaps even impossible challenge. While totally unknown in a field of dozens of primary candidates, you stood up and cheered for Johnson and broke through the noise, shifting the millions of dollars that might have gone to long-forgotten Republicans and Democrats to a man who needed those funds desperately to compete on the national stage. You demanded his participation in the national discussion. You put him on planes across the country, started rallies of hope and fellowship in purple states hungry for a new choice of leader. You supported the Libertarians in your state and local elections and urged them to support Johnson and make the world take him seriously.
You inspired the great thinkers and statesmen of our country to prepare Johnson for the tough questions, developed policies that just made sense. When his poll numbers spiked over ten percent months before the Big Two conventions, I had a feeling I might have been wrong thinking you were throwing your votes away. I still had my doubts, though. Ross Perot started strong in a period of great political discord, but one slip could prove disastrous.
But you had what a lot of us said you didn’t: A Plan.
Still, you endured the sleepless nights and the long dangerous walks through strange neighborhoods bringing the Gospel of Gary door to door, fostering good will through community activism, and promoting self-reliance and support within neighborhoods in need of strong, Libertarian values. Your made the Gary Johnson brand one of inclusion and fun, turned an empty canvas into America’s dad passing football in the yard with America’s future, smiling and giving straight talk to a world that has problems, but not without great solutions.
For months upon months you spearheaded the greatest political assault in American history. 
Johnson outshone so many also-rans, pushing them out of the spotlight and their primary debates. Their support shifted to Johnson by the tens of thousands. Here was a guy that even made friends among bitter political Facebook rivals. I should have known then that the tide was turning.
When you put your boy in the debates against Trump and Clinton there was finally a third choice for the undecideds who were sick and tired of bad options. The message resonated with almost the same feeling of excitement that Sanders had early on. When the polls jumped into the high twenties after his third strong debate performance (where he stunned even the former Secretary of State on his foreign policy knowledge), I finally began to see what you saw all those months ago: real Presidential material.
If you had started later (like after the conventions) or thrown in with the anti-Trump surge or just didn’t want history to judge you for electing Donald Trump, he may not be standing in front of the Capitol tomorrow. It might be Clinton II or – worse – the oozing gangrenous twat rocket of a reality show host.
But YOU, the visionary patriots, didn’t care about the odds or the ended relationships or the scorn you received for your choice – you DID THE WORK and MADE IT HAPPEN. You are the change we needed to see in the world.
And the rest of us owe you our thanks, if not for a great president (that remains to be seen) but doing something that hasn’t been done in this country since the death of the Whigs.
And I, personally, owe you an apology for saying you were throwing away your vote, for endorsing an ignorant and unprepared candidate with no political support, or just pretending you didn’t want a WOMAN as President. Tomorrow will be Gary Johnson’s first day as the FIRST Libertarian President of the United States and the FIRST step toward overturning our corrupt and broken government. Well done. Well-friggin-done.
Author’s Note: I wrote this in the event the world turned upside down and the people who personally attacked me were right. Guess I can delete this from my hard drive along with their friendships, now, huh?

2016 began killing a long time ago…

There are stories that circulate about a legendary SNL 40th anniversary party.  The best one is told by Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show where he lays out a fever dream of celebrity and comedic walk-ons and performances only the elite would ever experience. Listening to that recap on YouTube reminded me of the photos I saw and stories I read growing up of the more infamous of parties surrounding the rock-and-roll era of comedy in the 1970s, when epic or infamous parties didn’t wait for anniversaries or fits of nostalgia.

In the history of comedy, the period between 1975 and 1980 (with some wiggle room before and after) is important for shifting comedy from its prime time, “laughing at love” cultural anesthetic to a more subversive, satirical, and dark humor that matched the mood of the Nixon-Vietnam era.  It wasn’t new.  Second City in Chicago, National Lampoon in New York, and the Footlights at Cambridge produced a generation of darker comic talents.  The movement was already growing and gaining strength.  Once Monty Python reached America and Saturday Night Live went on the air, American culture shifted from denying the darkest parts of itself to embracing and challenging them.

That force possessed a gravitational pull. It had power.  It was sexy and dangerous and dark in a way that excited a generation of people who watched the Aquarian movement die under Nixon’s boot and Nixon himself exposed as a corrupt thug; that generation living in the aftermath of the lost war against “Old and Evil” found new partisans, new champions.

Comedians.

Like the cavalry to the last great generation of “classic” rock music, they infused a disconnected and angry generation with a cause and a message.  Perhaps the movement wasn’t as notable or critical as the boomer’s summer of love with its darker overtones and bleaker message, but it gave the generation its identity.

Comedy and Rock music became equal partners in subversion and counter-culture.  In a time when the music of the sixties was transformed into harmless Muzak for elevator riders and department store shoppers, the culture of comedy – inspired by pioneers like Lenny Bruce and George Carlin and Richard Pryor – was organizing and aligning with the youthful outrage of punk rock and the hardened survivors and statesmen of sixties idealism.  Their meetings and their interactions – like the killer parties of Hollywood’s golden age – were epic.  Part bar crawl, part company picnic, part family reunion, they were settings for unique collaborations that will never happen again.

Putting together the images and the stories, I’ve often imagined the scene at some private club owned by a friend-of-a-friend; the place they’d go where cameras didn’t follow and the stopover point before Aykroyd would drag Belushi to the blues club they would later buy together.  The after-dinner afterparties where superstars could just be themselves and rock legends could unwind.

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I imagine Keith Richards with a lit joint hanging from his lips, sitting on a stool beside David Bowie on piano and Debbie Harry humming along.  Whatever they’re composing together will never be heard again.  Because it has the same time sig and structure as another song he knows, Aykroyd (in his moustache and Ray-Bans) steps in to sing Willie Dixon’s “My Babe” and somehow it works, especially when Aykroyd switches to harmonica.  It is the centerpiece to two floors of a party closing in on two in the morning.

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Shelly Duvall wants to sing with them, but she chooses to sit in a corner with a napping Buck Henry while sipping wine and watching the room soften into blurry, gentle lines.  She wonders where her date got to, not knowing he dropped acid with Doug Kenney an hour earlier and just left the building pursued by ghostly Nazghul on horseback.

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Harry Nilsson WAS going to sing and play with the jam, but Aykroyd and Keith Moon had pushed him to the back of the club and to have a “talk” about “restraint” after he groped one of the hostesses.  Nilsson will spend the rest of the evening drinking whiskey with a stranger he’ll eventually take out back into the alley.

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Keith Moon is busy harassing the kitchen staff while waiting by the service entrance for a man delivering party supplies in a brown paper bag.  He’ll eventually have to beat that man with a chair for attempting to short him on the delivery and the unconscious body left in the alley will permanently ruin Nilsson’s moment later on that night.

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Graham Chapman, intent on impressing the handsome bartender with the heavy gin hand, offers Liza Minnelli “all of Eric [Idle]’s cocaine” to swap clothes.  Slender Liza is rocking a sequined, satin gown that would never fit Graham, but he insists it would look lovely with his complexion and recent haircut. She laughs, but is intrigued by the offer of cocaine and so continues flirting.   Graham will eventually rise from behind the bar wearing Liza’s dress like a hospital gown and lip stick.  He and the bartender will disappear for into a stockroom.  Liza will return wearing Graham’s Russian trapper hat, flannel shirt and belt as a dress and looking far more stylish than newly arrived David Geffen thought possible.

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For his part, Eric Idle is relatively subdued, comparing banjo fingering techniques back near the kitchen with Steve Martin.  It will develop into “Dueling Banjos” soon after Bowie stops for a drink, attracting Belushi and Peter Boyle into improvising what would eventually become “Dueling Brandos.”

Terry Jones corners George Harrison and Paul Shaffer to pitch a great idea for a movie the Pythons are working on about the life of Jesus.  George jokingly asks if there might be a part for Ringo in it.

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Gilda Radner sits on the upstairs bar asking questions in the voice of Judy Miller while Bill Murray teaches her to make random drinks with random ingredients.  He gives them names like “Soggy Dance Belt,” “Rusty Trumpet,” and “Raging Boner” adding “don’t swallow more than four Raging Boners in one session unless you are a trained professional in adult entertainment.” Several of Belushi’s throwaway groupies delight to the disgusting (but free) concoctions.

Tom Davis, on his fifth mystery beverage of the evening, asks Richard Pryor if he wants to share a cab to Studio 54.  Pryor explains that ain’t his scene and asks where they hid all the good drugs.  Davis answers that they are all in the basement “under a pile of dead mobsters” to which Pryor replies by walking away quietly.

Al Franken (in a Disco Sucks t-shirt and canvas running shorts) is still arguing with Anne Beats about the script changes to his sketch after dress. It’s no longer about who authorized it but “the principle of the thing” as Beats wants to punch Franken in the face and go to sleep.  Or get laid.  Whatever doesn’t involve Franken droning on.

John Cleese made an appearance earlier, Terry Gilliam tells a group of Brooklyn girls totally uninterested in him.  He says John spent fifteen minutes pretending to be offended by everything and everyone and interrupting Patti Hansen making out with Lou Reed on a sofa to give kissing tips before leaving with Connie Booth for “more civilized environs.”  Most realize this is a parody of Andy Warhol and his entourage who did the exact same thing, un-ironically, the weekend before.

Jane Curtain, checking her watch every few minutes, drags out a conversation about feminism with Candace Bergen from their circle of chairs near the front of the club.  She’s waiting on a ride that’s late and is tired of the party.  Candace mentions Lorne told her that McCartney might be stopping by but Curtain laughs, pointing to Harrison as she says “not so long as he’s here.”

Jagger and Lorne Michaels discuss the politics of television with George Carlin, digressing briefly to talk about the upcoming Eagles release party at L’Ermitage and if they were all booked through their agency and if they’d upgraded the food service since the lousy Fleetwood Mac party.  Carlin admits never getting an invitation and tells Jagger he’ll probably be too busy getting a rim job from Alice B Toklas that weekend to make it anyway.  Lorne mentions staying with Paul Simon at his chateaux in Long Beach and wanting to book Warren Zevon or Jackson Browne for the following season of SNL.

Belushi and Stephen Tyler compare cocaine lines in the upstairs men’s room, explaining to a completely dumbfounded Carrie Fisher and Amy Irving (in matching painter hats and beatnik attire) how to tell the quality of the cut by the texture of the powder.  Robin Williams, already through his third line, prepares to charge out of the bathroom pretending to be a wild orangutan in heat. Doug Kenney is hiding from the reptile Nazis inside a nearby stall.  His attempts to reach Michael O’Donohue uptown by telepathy have so-far failed.

Later in the night Belushi will want to cook Albanian dishes in the kitchen and only talked down by Aykroyd and Shaeffer setting up a set of Joe Cocker songs by the piano.  Bowie will “literally” disappear in a puff of smoke, or at least that how the story will be told.  Michael Palin will show up, ask about Cleese, and leave immediately as though he’d been summoned to an audience.  John and Yoko arrive as a vase of white flowers displayed on the downstairs bar congratulating the NRFPT Players on another show and regretting they have to be up for a flight to London in the morning.  Williams will lead a flock of groupies into a town car as Peter Pan, escorting the car to the end of the block by skipping and dancing alongside them and then convince a couple of NYPD officers to drive him back to his hotel.  Buck Henry will quietly call the staff’s attention to the hooker passed out in the upstairs men’s room in a stall next to Doug Kenney.

The night will end after Murray tells a slightly racist and heavily intoxicated story of tiger lost in Harlem and when the owner of the club presents Lorne with a bill for the night’s damages which he tucks into his coat and considers how to describe on the show’s expense report.  Belushi and Aykroyd mount their cycles.  Limos queue up at the back of the club.  Cabs line up at the front.  It’s three in the morning and the song is over.  Nobody bothered to press RECORD.

These things never happened as I described.  They could have and certainly similar things did.  They won’t happen again.  Those relationships which fueled their comedy, their writing, and their music, was the result of being those people in that place at a special time in history.  What’s happened since?

A lot of them are dead.

They weren’t killed by a year.  They were picked off over time by drugs, alcohol, heart failure, suicide, cancer, Parkinson’s, or violence.  The years changed them and the world changed as a result of their work pulling away from them toward the gravitational pull of new and different ideas, through the end of a Cold War and into a War on Terror.  When they go, they leave behind a unique body of work that cannot be replicated – nor should it.

But they left their mark.  And I mourn the end of that era rather than hate the years that took them.  I choose to mourn by remembering what might and could have been, celebrating those still creating, inspired by those lives that touched theirs.

Watch: Don’t Look Back at Anger

Giving Power to the Lie.

Let’s talk about this video.

Now that the video has gone viral, the Internet has another convenient villain to mock and despise and racists have a new champion to admire. Six million views, according to some news outlets (not sure if that was the original Facebook post by witness Renee Buckner or subsequent YouTube posts) generates a lot of opinion.  Some people are actually defending the woman while a vast majority of viewers found her to be obnoxious, racist, and ignorant.  The mall, the store, and the local government have taken swift action tweeting their horror and disgust in the form of carefully worded statements.  Despite not knowing the identities of anyone involved, the mall has banned the racist and Penney’s is willing to refund the victims’ purchase.

But she’s not the real villain of the video.

This is a woman who speaks for many Americans. She knows nothing but several pre-fabricated talking points that are really just the delivery vehicles for her hatred.  She feels empowered to assault these women in the only way she knows how.  Her personal ignorance and fear are evident.  She is a weak American; a member of the dregs lurking in a Republic built to withstand the opinion of one woman exercising her right to be a racist dumbass.

The villains are all those people in line who said NOTHING as insults and accusations continued to pour from this sad woman’s mouth. The silence of the mob as two innocent women were verbally assaulted is more offensive to me than one weak-minded fool holding court in a Kentucky department store.

In this Republic, we live (and sometimes die) by the open exchange of ideas. It is the duty of citizens to bring light to the darkness and knowledge to the ignorant, facts to the fantasy – in such a nation silence is acquiescence and acquiescence is all that a lie needs to flourish.

No one stood up to her. Not the cashier.  Not the person recording it.  Not the white woman in red shown rolling her eyes and smiling like it was just one of those things.  Everyone in earshot on and off camera remained silent and, by extension, is complicit in allowing racism to go unanswered.  And JC Penney, which stated “We absolutely do not tolerate this behavior in our stores” clearly has no policy to this effect because the cashier took no action to stop it and tried his best to keep his head down to do his job.  While I leave it to each of us to decide what we might have done in that situation, I can promise you that I would not have been silent.