Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Bob Dylan: The Bard of Branding

“Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception.”

-         -  Joni Mitchell

Bob...before he became 'Dylan', man
The irony was apparent to those who chose to see the rickety, stove-piped legs that supported the façade. Here was a middle-class mid-western Baby Boomer folky transmuting Woody Guthrie Depression-era socialism into 1960s societal angst. Anti-government. Anti-corporation. Anti-status quo.

However, few entertainers ever had such an intuitive gasp of personal branding as Bob Dylan. In this pursuit, he is a genius. The untamed hair, the defiantly off-key singing, the poison pen lyrics, the confrontational attitude, the up-all-night pallor – Dylan created a powerful, pliable persona that was as original as Old Glory itself, and just as American.

He made it ok for teenagers to be thoughtful, intellectual, and skeptical. Goodbye Frankie and Annette, hello Mr. Jones and our Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.
Pre-lingerie commercial

When he tried to shift his brand - he lost exposure. Finally, he stopped trying. If he couldn’t grow outward, then inward it would be. The angry teen became a millionaire hobo, the squatter’s camp fire now a cluster of stage lights, the rail car a stretch limo with women he would immortalize and forget.

He did a lingerie commercial as it would strengthen, with back-handed condescension, his personal brand. He was right.

We never knew Bob because Bob  didn't exist. The most talented poseur of them all – laconic, jaded, detached, trailing in the wake of his own myth with no direction home, like a rolling stone.
The Bard of Branding

In the end a beautiful trickster, the Tambourine Man, one who sang the spell as a generation danced around him thrice and drank the milk of paradise.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Richard Burton: The Voice cleaved from a coal face

Buffalo Bill’s
Chronicles of wasted time
he was a handsome man
and what i want to know is
how do you like your blue-eyed boy
Mister Death
-              - e.e. cummings

“I was merely the medium through which the words went.”Richard Burton

Listen Yorick: The love, beauty, fame. and death
The Voice was cleaved from a coal face deep beneath Welsh meadows always rich as the grass is green. It was born to be heard, that played language as an errant storm god racing the wind in pursuit of love, beauty, fame and death.

Richard Burton
The Voice....the voice
Absolve him of the drinking, the carousing, the nightclubs, the women, the reckless embrace of a mythic gift, and listen just as Shakespeare completes Hamlet’s soliloquy and hands the paper, still wet with ink, to Burton, to the one who can force the green fuse of life up through the roiling blood of his lungs and out into the world forever breathing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Marcello Mastroianni and energetic ennui

"In the name of the Father, the Son..."
In his best roles, Marcello Mastroianni offered us a unique kind of detachment, call it energetic ennui. It's a tricky combination, light but brooding, gothic but with an appetite for fresh pasta.

An acceptance in the eyes
He was an actor unafraid of emotional extremes. Indeed, in La Dolce Vita, he is slapped about by existential ghosts, neutered in his quest for meaning, never knowing where to even begin the search. He plays a writer named Marcello (ah Fellini and his scattershot against the fourth wall) who must choose between evil (journalism) and good (fiction). The fact that this film gave us the term ‘paparazzi’ is a rather powerful clue of Fellini’s mind.

A unique kind of detachment
Marcello’s erotic baptism in the Trevi Fountain, with high priestess Anita Ekberg, is iconic, speaking a truth we are sadly too sophisticated to believe.

There was a resigned acceptance in his eyes that blessed humanity on its own terms, forever rendering him an ineffective villain. A love of life, and a playful, droll, gentle frolic with death. A leader who only wanted to follow. A passionate man who couldn’t stay mad. A devoted lover who left at dawn.

When he died the Trevi Fountain was turned off and draped in black. That says something. A baptismal font rarely offers an exit. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Jean Seberg and what's hidden in her face

“On every subsequent anniversary of her daughter Nina's death, Jean Seberg attempted suicide. In 1978, she somehow survived an attempt, throwing herself under a train on the Paris Metro.” – imdb

The eyes belonged to somebody else
The face was wholesome and healthy and feminine, the haircut boyish. Maybe that's what pulled you in. This seductive contrast. Not for her an Audrey Hepburn-type gamin. She didn’t eat breakfast, let alone at Tiffany’s. You sensed something darker, less playful than she herself suggested. 

There was intelligence in the eyes yet they often seemed distracted, in dispute with the face. The two were inharmonious. But that was her odd appeal. At those moments she has you.

To play Saint Joan, it helps to have resolve. And ambiguity. She set the tone for female roles in the la nouvelle vague. They are slim and smart and quote Camus and know all the answers but can’t tolerate questions.

All that's hidden behind her face
If she'd had a cinematic soul mate, it might have been Greta Garbo, emanating the inexplicable cool that comes from those who overheat. Too clever for their own good. (Small wonder she worshipped Brando). But Garbo knew to cut out before the Big Fear set in. And Marlon grew corpulent with rage. Jean Seberg never made it.

“It's sad to fall asleep. It separates people. Even when you're sleeping together, you're all alone.” She spoke that line in À bout de souffle, her most famous role, with such benign conviction that you sense she'd already made a final decision about life, though it was to be hidden behind her strange eyes and in her beautiful face, right to the end

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ted Kennedy Part II: Pale, Slim Hands

A Political Par-tee!
He was called the last and the least, an attitude firmly grounded on the morbid deification of his brothers. Perhaps it’s hard to appraise his value. Few people have had to perform publicly with as many ghosts as Ted Kennedy.

Ted never really escaped
The White House was his, until he abandoned a young girl to drown in his overturned, submerged car.  And then OJ'd his way out of it. After that, the only thing they would trust him with was an incumbent-for-life senatorial position. Massachusetts loved him.  Everyone felt so lousy about his murdered brothers, what else could you do?

Surprisingly, he performed well – which is either a testament to Kennedy’s innate political savoir faire, or evidence of what kind of job it really is.

O them ghosts
Ted had a hard-earned reputation for womanizing and boozing – not exactly a career-killer, but one that keeps you off Pennsylvania Avenue. It was impossible to tell whether he cared, or was just going through the motions ... Something, unprincipled and painful, kept pushing him on.

He had everything and, in a way, very little, choke-collared by historical expectations, and perhaps, when alone, subject to late-night Deliverance-type  nightmares of slim, pale hands rising from the deep.

‘In our sleep, pain that cannot forget' - Aeschylus


Friday, July 31, 2015

Get Ourselves Back to the Garden: Marilyn Monroe plays Woodstock

Marilyn Monroe at Woodstock
Among the strangest, most informative on-stage appearance of all time would have been Marilyn Monroe at the Woodstock music festival.

Few imaginations can deep-dive to such dark, intriguing fathoms.

She doesn't belong on that stage. She doesn't belong to the 1960s. But why? Your responses are keys to the Kingdom of appraising popular culture.

But there she is, 1950s America’s undulating, glittering gift to 1960s America’s mud-and drug-soaked denizens of the forests and trees.

Maybe she’d begin her set with ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’, because the song’s playful mockery of materialism would hang well with anti-establishment hippies. Or perhaps she’d just kick it with ‘Heatwave’, as the raw, unbridled sensuality of the lyrics could only lubricate the gears of sexual revolution.

Who knows. A monologue would have been appropriate, in which she discussed her foster homes, sexual abuse and mental illness – issues sure to rile a socially sensitive crowd.

Marilyn would have been okay. Unaccompanied and alone, she’d appear petite on Woodstock’s massive stage, ghost-like in the spotlight, swaying on heels, already beginning to blur at the edges, losing her grip. 

The crowd would grow quiet, straining to hear her whisper, witnessing the moment when the torch-bearer of one generation, exhausted and lost, releases the thin green Gatsby light to the next. And it can only happen with a torch song. So she remembers ‘After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want It’  to say au revoir.

“And tho' I sit upon your knee
You'll grow tired of me
'Cause after you get what you want
You don't want what you wanted at all”

More a confession than a song, less an epilogue than an epitaph. She would look up, confused to hear an owl in Westwood Village Memorial Park gardens.

Joni Mitchell, watching from the other side of the room, would try to make sense of a different garden:

“Well maybe it is just the time of year
Or maybe it's the time of man
I don't know who l am
But you know life is for learning
We are stardust
We are golden
And we've got to get ourselves
Back to the garden”

"Walk toward the Green Light"

Thursday, May 28, 2015

1164 Morning Glory Circle: Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered

I'm wild again
Beguiled again
A simpering, whimpering child again
Bewitched, bothered and bewildered am I...

 Lorenz Hart

1164 Morning Glory Circle
Bewitched. 1164 Morning Glory Circle... It was Darrin and Samantha Stevens' pad. Their crib. Love den. The central set and you never saw the ceiling because there were no clouds so they didn't need a sky.

A shelter/suburb against the storm though Darrin, stressed to the point of perforated ulcers, rarely smiled. He was the 'square', neutered, non-threatening, shivering with tension. Samantha, protected from mortality, had an existential marriage at best.

"Hi'ya neighbor"
Set in 1960s Westport, Connecticut but looking a whole lot like Beach Boys southern California. You have a successful – if not harried – ad executive and his blonde, button-nose wife. Lots of space. Variety of high-performance North American cars in the driveway. Beautiful lawn. Everything clean, protected, bright and very White. No

They were Peter Lawford-esque Swingers. Some booze, some magic, some love. Sports jackets and slacks. No drugs or disease. No funerals. Possibly no gravity. No sex. There was never a reference to the outside.

Bewitched. 1964-72. Eight seasons. A childlike world full of grown-ups behaving like neurotic children. Every night TV news told us about Vietnam — so who the hell needed grown-ups?

Sam getting mail at 1164
It’s still there. 1164 Morning Glory Circle. Half façade. Empty. Samantha and Darrin? Long gone baby gone. 
Darrin, always a Mad Mad Man

And even when 1164 Morning Glory Circle itself heaves to the ground, choking under Warner's back-lot sand and pounded to dust by a million lost acolytes, it will still be around, kind of.

Because Samantha knew all about nose candy. The magic was bleached in her eyes, her smiles, and in her hair.

1164—deceptive and alluring with no need of time or place, but like Tinkerbell, shows up when called, sprinkling pixie dust in your eyes.

"Hey, we know the score at 1164"

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hey Hey The Monkees and the Unbearable Lightness of Being

“The Monkees really becoming a band was like the equivalent of Leonard Nimoy really becoming a Vulcan.” – Mickey Dolenz

Mike Nesmith. Mickey Dolenz. Davy Jones. Peter Tork. 

The Monkees took a lot of heat.

Just crazy kids
The hippies’ blissed-out quest for authenticity was itself muddled with conflicting definitions of ‘authenticity’. The Monkees bugged them because the group was assembled by TV producers, not tie-dyed, flower-slinging record producers or concert/nightclub promoters or other really authentic types. 

(Elvis was promoted by a former carnival barker and the Beatles achieved planetary grooviness through the tireless dedication of a troubled furniturestore salesman. But man, keep it on the low).

They were entertainers, not rock guys. They mostly  sang songs written by professional songwriters, not by singer-songwriters (Which makes James Taylor a lot more authentic than Frank Sinatra). But other musicians didn’t seem to mind. Ask Stephen Stills, Peter Tork’s buddy. Or ask Jimi Hendrix, Mickey Dolenz’ pal. Go ahead. Ask.

The 1960s had a tough time dealing with big bad commercialism. The Establishment was commercial. Those who worked the land or sold sea-shell trinkets were uncommercial. The intent was well intended though the logic was weak.

They called them ‘The Pre-Fab Four’. Their music was ‘bubblegum’. They were an insubstantial
The Monkees find a litterbox
vapor given form by klieg lights and back-lot set designers. Ah, the unbearable lightness of being.

So now, 50 years later, with the hippies long buried under Altamont Speedway, the Monkees continue to sing unauthentic music for monopoly money to phony people who deliver insincere applause and fake smiles. Crazy world, eh?

What? No concert t-shirts? Sell outs!
The charm of entertainment is that it is as unauthentic and manipulative as the Beatles’ matching Pierre Cardin suits. But don’t be too harsh on the hippies. They sometimes died in taking action against what they saw to be corrupt and toxic. We don’t do that much anymore. There’s no money in it. Gotta stay authentic baby.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Laurence Harvey and the Art of Ennui

"Someone once asked me, 'Why is it so many people hate you?' and I said, 'Do they? How super! I'm really quite pleased about it."
-           Laurence Harvey

Laurence gives a neck rub
He was born in Lithuania but everybody thought him British. At birth his name was Laruschka Mischa Skikne. His Hebrew names were Zvi Mosheh. In South Africia, where he moved as a young boy, he was called Harry Skikne. ‘Laurence Harvey’ was just made up. He was married a few times but rumored to have other inclinations.

See the pattern? The swirling brocade he dutifully followed from cradle to grave? And so perfect with the 1960s demimonde passion for detachment and ennui.

Laurence Harvey was posh and pedestrian at exactly the same time. He was equally at home in Room at the Top as in Of Human Bondage. In fact, regardless of the part he played, his hair rarely changed. Always parted and combed, longish in a 60s mod way. And his face rarely changed too. Wooden, flat, ideal for the hypnotized zombie of The Manchurian Candidate, his most famous role.

And a lot of people did hate Harvey. Some actors and directors refused to work with him, even though he was popular and had box office appeal.
The Sound of Silencer

Laurence Harvey didn’t seem to like anyone or anything, even himself. His deep-rooted misanthropy empowered his performances with mystery and violence, an existential angst that was never supposed to be there but somehow worked. You got the feeling that Harvey couldn't be trusted by anyone, not even himself…and he was okay with that.

Playing the character Miles Brand in Darling (1965), Harvey has this exchange:

Diana Scott: I asked you to go. Why haven't you?

Miles Brand: Because I've stayed.

People don't like me?

More Beckett than Pinter? Few could speak a Waiting-for-Godot haiku with such conviction as Laurence Harvey.

He once said, “To bare your soul to the world, I find unutterably boring.”

So goodbye Zvi Mosheh and all others who know the fleeting power of not belonging.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

JB: James Bourne/Jason Bond

James Bond always was a parody, we just didn’t see it.

A parody you say?
That’s why the ‘In Like Flint’ films and ‘Casino Royale (1967)’ are weak. You can’t parody a parody. It’s too diluted.

Although a creation of the Cold War 50s, it was Bond’s rapacious and indiscriminate sexual proclivities that embedded him in 1960s culture — and made him appear somewhat unwholesome and predatory throughout the 80s and 90s.

Giving women names like ‘Pussy Galore’ and ‘Plenty O’Toole’ was hardly clever, let alone alluring. Nobody has ever figured out author Ian Fleming’s penchant for misogyny (doubtful), lack of humour (probable), parody (likely). Whatever the roots, women in the 1960s Bond films actually do further the plots. Most are aggressive and rarely stupid.  

Ian Fleming: Details are in the smoke
There is a strong undertow of existentialism across all the novels: Bond’s death wish is likely Fleming’s own, who would be granted his desire at age 56, leaving his creation to toil on, experiencing Dr. Who-like regeneration across more than six actors…and counting.

Today, it is difficult to appreciate the impact James Bond had on 1960s pop culture. He became a swingin’ totem for the Rat Pack-like guys who laughed at hippies. Bond legitimized lone-wolf, anti-establishment behaviour and promiscuity, performing both in the defence of Queen and country.

Deadly Siren anyone?
Much later the Bond franchise was reinvented, adopting/adapting the persona of another famous ‘JB’, Jason Bourne –with a twist of British, shaken and stirred. Here comes Bond, wounded and panting, the hunter is now the hunted.

Very New Millennium. 

Still he lives on. An action hero whose place in pop culture we
follow down long winding stairs, descending to the 1960s, down past neon lava lamps to that timeless lounge of dry martinis and beautiful women in tight dresses who sway against the bar like undersea flora.
It has to do with The Look of Love

Friday, January 9, 2015

Richard Nixon: King Lear on the Helipad

"Remember, always give your best. Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you. But those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself." - Richard Nixon


If ever a man — if not a politician — was in the wrong job/wrong place/wrong time, it was Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th President of the United States.

Sweat it out baby
Today, he could be Bill-O’Reillied as a brilliant right-wing strategist, destroying reputations, dispersing dirty cash, ignoring some basic statutes of a democratically-elected government. Not to say that liberals might be a little more wholesome — but none of them would be in Nixon’s league. He was a burnished pro with dark ambition hardened by self-pity, towering intelligence strangely devoid of conscience, and a deep cynicism for the system he was elected to serve.

Nixon needed draft-dodging hippies as much as they needed him. Bereft of an enemy, both sides would lose direction and purpose.

To think  Richard Nixon was president at the time of Woodstock helps put the inevitability of his demise into an understandable perspective. He became increasingly irrelevant, an opinion strengthened by the surprise election of Jimmy Carter, a man diametrically different than his predecessor (yes, let's overlook G. Ford, a passive Nixon appointee).

Oddly, it was never clear why Nixon wanted the job, who he was striving to impress, or the validity of his vision. For the smartest guy in the room, he made some terrible errors in judgment. Some of his friends were terrifying.

His core contribution to popular culture comes to us through Greek-drama fueled fatalism. His career is a dire, cloaked warning.

King Lear on the Helipad/Heath
Nixon was born to be disgraced and ridiculed; his prodigious gifts splintered under character deficits so aggressive and persistent that any chance of redemption has been ceded to deities. How else could he have left the White House — except hunched and wounded and on the run? Fate.

Nixon had  qualities that prevented him from being a decent man. He knew that, so carefully constructed his image. At one
Nixon on the Beach
point, early on, he believed a wife and a daughter and a dog would help do the trick, but by the end he was half drunk and sick, King Lear confused on the helipad, blaming all on others. Watch his forced smile, his distracted demeanor…the restlessness of a fugitive, the cold sweat of a liar. Certainly, those he trusted betrayed him, but the co-dependence was unwholesome and deranged.

His favorite writer was Leo Tolstoy, who believed, "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."

Heraclitus, a Greek who also knew something about people, believed "character is destiny."

Few fools have ever been as brilliant as Richard Nixon.