Saturday, November 14, 2015


I was getting so depressed with twitter & the Paris news so I started to listen to music instead. Walking the dogs I just put on some Beatles. Their early stuff actually came up on random. Twist & Shout, then some great songs from Rubber Soul. No matter what mood I'm in or what I'm going through the sounds those four people made during that one decade never ceases to amaze me. Those recordings are the closest this atheist will come to considering something sacred.
Like everything I love I then tried to decipher what it was that always got to me about them. The best I could come up with was that the only true magic in the world was when people shared something creative with another person. These four men shared their creative core with each other, their love actually, every time they played. I truly believe you can hear that in each performance. I think it's the key to their long lasting success.
What does this have to do with Paris & the horrible attack by those broken theocrats? Nothing really. But think about what they attacked. Restaurants, a sporting event, and most horribly a music hall. A place where performers share that creative core, that love, with other people almost every night. Here in the west we sometimes take that magic for granted.
Much of the world is under brutal theocratic & dictatorial rule where that creative sharing impulse is simply crushed by everything from economic short comings to the truly evil fundamentalist lies that they're taught from birth. But the actual people unfortunate enough to be born in those places are the same as you & me. Everyone is born with a creative core. For all the west's ills, and there are many, one of our crowning achievements as a society is that freedom we have to share creatively with each other through books, movies, plays, paintings & songs.
We're all going to die. It all gets taken away. Whatever the cause, Isis & groups like that are simply diseases. The 129 people they killed may have died of something else soon after. I'm not trying to be callous, I'm just pointing out that Isis didn't really do anything but shorten their lives a bit. The victims still have what Isis doesn't. They got to see live music, or root for their team or order a coffee at least one last time. Isis has nothing but hate. A useless emotion.
One of the attackers was 15. I'm not unhappy he's dead, but I do pity him. I pity people who don't get to experience the joy we all know so deeply when we're moved by a piece of art. It's truly the best thing we have to offer to this mortal world. It's really the only thing I know of that actually feels eternal & universal.
I got back from walking the dogs and gave in to my news & twitter addiction almost immediately I'm afraid. But luckily someone tweeted a song instead of just more bad news. This truly broke me down. In a good way. It isn't the Beatles, but it's a song that's almost as overplayed as Yesterday. It's Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley, although I'd never heard this version.
Recorded live at the ill fated Bataclan in Paris no less. He's a solo artist but the history of this song is fascinating. (There's a book about it that I recommend). The song was written by Leonard Cohen, later covered by someone else that Buckley then heard, not knowing who wrote it, Buckley put his own spin on it and the rest is history. So like the Beatles it's a creative piece of work that comes from sharing. Passing creativity from one person to another. Now from me to you. It won't save your life. But it might make it worth living while we're all still here. And Isis is powerless over that. Completely powerless.

Monday, June 22, 2015


Hi, we're with one of the opening acts."

"Which band?"

"Miller Miller Miller & Sloan"

Blank stare.  Skinny guy for a backstage doorman.  I think he had a British accent but my memory might be embellishing that.  I know that he wore a blazer, which seemed vaguely "new wave" to me in 1981.

He checked his clipboard.

"Okay.  Where's your van?"

"It's a Toyota Corolla & it's not here yet."

That's really the bulk of my recollections for that evening.  I don't recall to much of the actual gig itself, but almost everything else that day is still pretty clear.  Earlier that afternoon I was with our bass player Blake.  (Sloan).  We were at the Regency movie theatre on the upper west side watching Hitchcock's Vertigo I believe.  I'd seen it before.

I was a senior in high school. Not socially inactive but I liked to be alone a lot.  No real girlfriend at the time.  The revival film houses of New York was where I spent the weekends usually.  The Thalia & the Regency uptown.  Film Forum wasn't around yet but downtown there was the 8th Street Playhouse screening everything from Mr Mike's Mondo Video to midnight showings of David Lynch's Earserhead.  They also showed The Rocky Horror Picture show.  But that was like Facebook.  Super social.  You had to dress up.  I knew kids who went but it wasn't me.

The only real "social" activity I did that was a normal teen thing was playing with my band.  My two brothers & Blake.  We had just opened for Robin Lane & the Chartbusters at the Ritz on 11th Street the night before.  A Friday I think.  It was our biggest gig yet & went quite well.  I told Blake I was going to see movies the next day.  He decided to join me which was rare, but nice.

We knew about The Clash playing at Bonds of course.  Every band in New York knew about it.  And we all knew that a two night show had turned into a two week show due to some fire code violations.  They'd oversold it.  So the Clash decided to extend the nights rather than let the fans down.  An honest move for such a big act.

My brothers & I weren't punk by any stretch.  We were an R&B/funk band.   Or that's what we claimed.  I was more into rock, new wave & punk than the others. I'd gone through a Sex Pistols phase, but none of us cared for the Ramones or the Dead Boys.  Even though we were regulars at CBGB's ourselves by now.

In fact, that's how we knew The Clash were extending their shows and having a different act open every night.  The booker at CB's was a guy named Charlie.  Right hand man to Hilly Krystal, the owner.  Somehow Charlie was also in charge of securing the opening acts for Bonds while The Clash were playing there.

Other bands we knew already had gotten Clash opening gigs during the two week stretch.  Like our friends the Nitcaps who we played with at CB's a lot.  They also did blue eyed R&B but less poppy than us.  More rock.  With a horn section.  Plus Jahn, the singer, had real downtown cred having played bass for Richard Hell.

We had given Charlie a demo tape for the Clash, just like everyone else, but we'd never heard back so we thought we just hadn't made the cut.  To this day I don't know if there was a band cancelation or just a communication mishap, but we didn't know we were scheduled to play until the day of.

A flashlight was shinning down the aisle towards Blake & I.  The movie was still playing.  "Barney! Blake!"  It was my little brother Mike, our drummer & show stopping prodigy standing there with the theatre manager.  I thought maybe someone had died.

In the lobby Mike told Blake & I why he had to interrupt our movie date.  We hopped on the 2 train to Times Square.  My older brother Dan & our good friend Neil Ross were getting the equipment from Neil's dad's office in the Bronx where we rehearsed.  (The Toyota.  Neil was the only New Yorker we knew who was our age with a drivers license.)

The rest of the night is a blur.  I remember setting up my amp in front of the pre-set Clash equipment.  I want to say I remember the mic smelling awful but that may be just a CBGB's memory.  (At CB's everything smelled awful.)  I remember staring at the crowd, the biggest we'd played for even though Bonds was barely half full at that point.

I do remember the encore.  Our usual routine.  I put down my guitar and get on the drums while Mike comes out front, 14 years old but looking 12, to sing our version of Aretha Franklin's "Respect".  It went over very well.  It always did.

I remember meeting a Bush Tetra. (The other opening act).  I also recall falling asleep up in a balcony, on a silver painted couch, waiting for The Clash to finally go on. I woke up to the sounds of Train In Vain.  (Honestly the only Clash song I knew well or really liked.)

Dan met the Clash bass player Paul Simonon briefly.  That memory is in my head too. On the backstage stairs at the end of the night.  His Fender bass case in hand.  His Elvis hairdo shining in the neon light.  One cool looking mother fucker.

That's it.  That's all I got.  On Monday at school my friend Josh Milder, also a musician, made me feel good by saying something like, "The Ritz & The Clash back to back!  Crazy rock n' roll weekend!"

We thought this was our first step.  Turns out it was our peak.  We knew how big the show was, but not how big the moment was.  That whole time period is so nostalgia-ized now it almost feels embarrassing to say I was a small part of it.  Aside from admitting I'm that old, I'd have trouble believing this yarn if I read it somewhere myself.  But it's all true. We fucking did it.  I was there.

We opened for The Clash.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


I'm not a patient man.  Those who know me well won't be surprised by this.  I've actually been known to growl at my building's elevator when it has the audacity to not be waiting in the lobby for me like an obedient puppy dog.

Knowing this raises a question.  If I'm so often in a rush then why am I attracted pop culture art that doesn't just take it's time, some of it actually ruminates & stares off into the distance before making it's point.  Like that mafia guy who use to wander around the village in his bathrobe.  I love stuff movies & TV like that!  Keep in mind I'm not talking about anything too highbrow.  Kubrick, Mad Men, Mr Show, Louis CK, David Lynch, The Cohen Brothers, PT Anderson.  All pretty mainstream stuff by any art school standards.  And We can talk about The Bicycle Thief & Kurasowa at some point.  (Also great). But it's the more contemporary creative people who consciously decide not to follow the frenetic pace of modern media that fascinates me.  And the fascination I have for these artists confounds me, knowing myself as I do.  Or as I think I do.

I'm discovering a thread in a lot of the current movies & TV that I love & hold dear.  The word I keep coming back to is patience.  To be clear, I'm also capable of enjoying a fast cut, to the point, piece of film or comedy.  As an editor I'm more known for my MTV generation montage style editing more than any Barry Lyndon like lingering shots. (Although I can do that too, in case any potential clients are reading this.  Ha!)  It's partly cause I work in the short form world.  (Commercials & Music videos.  Proudly I might add.)  I actually think lots of short form, graphic based work doesn't need to "tell a story" in a traditional sense.  I'm a proponent of 2 frame edits & subliminal action that hits the viewer in a more visceral, almost musical way.  Film, especially non full length stuff, doesn't have to be as plot & story driven as a novel or even a short story.  It's more like pop music.  Rhythmic, flowing, beautiful.  I sincerely feel most short motion work is at it's best when it's doing what a hit song does.  Just making you like & remember it wether you want to or not.

Longer form has a different goal in my opinion.  Obviously of it's a narrative piece it needs a plot & characters.  The usual trappings of drama.  But here's where my tastes get interesting.  Wether it's long or short, I don't think plot or story is what attracts me.  Maybe that's why I like longer pieces that leave time for contemplation.

Take sketch comedy like Mr Show & compare it to something like 30 Rock.  Both hysterical.  But for example Mr Show had skit called "The Audition".  When you first see it you don't even know what the fuck is going on for the first couple of minutes.  And there's never a punch line.  It just gets more & more absurd, but by the end you're laughing so hard you literally start to pass out.  At least I do.

Kubrick & PT Anderson have the same awkward long parts to their films.  Sometimes to a comic effect, inended or not.  Matt Wiener has this with many scenes in Mad Men too.  But even when it's not comedic it effects me in a deep way when it's done right.  It's mystifying.  In a good way.

I'm rewatching Mad Men right now.  (Natch).   There's a scene in season 2 where Don lies to Betty about going to work, then he just goes home & drinks some milk straight from the bottle & stares out the window.  It serves the plot nominally, (showing that Don lied), but it's this elaborate dolly shot where he walks in, goes to the fridge, grabs the milk & stares for what seems like 2 full minutes.  What other TV show would dare do that??!  Is he just brooding?  Thinking about how lonely he really is?  Who the fuck knows!

All I know is that I personally LIVE for moments like this in film.   I just love it.  And I don't know why.  But I want to.  Guess I'll have to be patient.

Monday, May 18, 2015


In addition to the usual spoiler warnings I'll have to add:  I'm gonna' spoil more than just the last ever episode of Mad Men, "Person to Person".  I'm also gonna' be spoiling my memoirs, which I don't really plan on writing.  Why?  Because the fact is that the connection I feel to Mad Men doesn't just bring up family stuff for me.  It feels like it practically IS family.

I'm sure I'm not the only who feels that way, but ever since I first started watching the show in season one, I felt such a strong connection to the characters that it literally scared me.  But I'll get to that later. Let's start at the end of the Carousel & work backwards.  The way it should be done.

I didn't enjoy watching this episode 'till the second viewing.  I thought I had prepared myself for the final episode not meeting my expectations, but from the speeding car at the open.  (Is this Mad Men or Mad Max?) to the trek up the Californian coast to a pre-new age crunchy granola retreat, I just felt like these were more than curve balls.  They felt more like knuckleballs.  Yes, I wanted Don to change.  No, I didn't want him to go back to horrible McCann.  But I also didn't want him meditating on a God Damn hill actually humming "Oooommmmm!"  Are you fucking kidding me?  I was mad at myself for being so mad about it.

I'm not proud of this reaction.   But then, after all that, the cut to the Coca-cola spot, (which had been predicted), made it even worse.  He becomes a new-age phony AND returns to McCann where he whores out that phony enlightenment to sell soda pop?  Double phony!  Don & Dick!!  Coke or Pepsi!!  It's all the same!

Some internet reports say that this was Matt Weiner's cynical "it's all a con, baby" routine, well that didn't wash either.  I wasn't buying any of it.   So I said good night to my fading wife who shuffled off to bed.  Gave my dog a final late night walk.  Came back, watched it again and really thought it all through.  Here's where I netted out:

This was the best show ending ever.

Okay, now to back that up.  Here's my take.  Matt was clearly playing with us.  But when you really pay attention it becomes clear, as it does with most Mad Men episodes.  It's about love.  Again. (As Don would say).  It's really that simple.  Putting the ad at the end was a bit cynical but it hammered home the main theme of the episode and maybe of the whole show.  Person to person.  That's all that really matters.  At the end of the day, assuming you have no inside information on what really happens to us after death, it's all any human really has.  How we treat each other.  Person to person.  On the phone or face to face or in an "encounter" group.  What you or I do or say to the next person we see might actually be the last human interaction we ever have.  So you might as well be honest about it.  Whatever your name is.  However guilty you feel about whatever you've done.  Just be honest.  Especially with yourself.

After hearing about his first wife's pending death it all comes tumbling down for Don finally.  Both the Don image (walls falling away like the show open) AND the Dick Whitman "riding the rails", Kerouc, race car driving bullshit too.  It was ALL bullshit.  All just a pose.  The whole show the premise was "He's not Don Draper, he's Dick Whitman!"  But when the shit hits the fan, it doesn't matter what your name is or wether you were born in a mansion or a whorehouse.  What matters is the relationships you've had and have.  The people you spend time with. Wether you treated them well or not.  Those bonds, those person to person connections are really all that defines you.  If you separate from those then you're not only a shell.  You're even less than that.

The scene of Don not being able to to even move after his last life-line call to Peggy.  He had thrown away his job, his money & severed most of his ties except  a tangental one to his daughter.  With that one call to her, learning about Betty's illness, makes him realize that none of the ties were really severed.  Sally, Betty, Peggy.  Even his boys and maybe Pete & Roger even though he didn't call them.  (Maybe even Meredith!!) They're all connected.  He loves each and everyone of those people. And he's so ashamed that he's let them all down. That he can't come in and save the day.  He really thought the ties were completely cut for good.  Until Peggy says "Come home".  He doesn't right away.  But Peggy may have saved his life.  Without that call Don most likely flies into the Pacific from those glorious Big Sur cliffs.   And Don may have made Peggy & Stan realize how much they loved each other.  Love again indeed.

Don is bullshit. Dick is bullshit.  Advertising is bullshit.  Money is bullshit.  "Honest" therapy where suburban housewifes make teen mothers feel horrible is bullshit.  It's ALL bullshit.  Except those connections.  All those connections we all have with all the people we see every day.  At home, at work.  Lovers, ex-lovers, friends, even rivals.  These connections are what matters.

Don does the meditation thing.  Maybe he sticks with it later, maybe he doesn't.  (Note: like any era, there's good & bad.  My 9 year old does "mindfulness" at school now.  I try to do it when I can.  I think it's one of the less bullshit things to come from that time period.)  Maybe Don wrote the Coke campaign just to make money to support his kids.  Or maybe he finally just told Peggy how much the meditation actually helped him deal with the grief of Betty dying & all the guilt & shame he feels about how he's treated everyone.  All while poking fun at what his new hippy friends dress like. And maybe Peggy took that conversation & turned it into a soda jingle.  (Some theories on the internet suggest that there's lots of suitcase references in this final episode. "The Suitcase" was an episode from Season 4 where Don has a dream that he tells Peggy about that turns into one of her first successful pitches.)

I'm drifting again.  (Sorry.  It's late).  But my point, and I think Matt's point is that it doesn't matter!  Who cares if he wrote the Coke ad!  That's just a job. There's more to life than work as Stan says. What does matter is the real real thing.  Not self help retreats, not McCann, not race cars.  But just learning to treat other humans with love & respect.  It's a good message wether it's from the hippies or Madison Avenue.  Those connections, person to person, are the real thing.  Or as Bono said in the 90's, even better than the real thing.

End note:  I didn't get into all the other stuff I wanted to talk about.  The fact that my Dad looked like Don Draper & Pete Campbell's love child.  The fact that I actually met Robert Morse (Cooper) as a kid in my living room.  I didn't grow up in the suburbs, but being born in the mid-sixties, I still remember those times.  I was the kid at those parties.

There's so much in this show that speaks to both the nostalgia of my childhood as well as to current day things I was going through.  I was selling my own company & having a horrible fight with a business partner durning season 3 when that English company was trying to buy Sterling Cooper.  Those episodes actually gave me strength & inspiration.

Or the fact that I actually went to a new-agey retreat like the one in this episode.  A song-writers 2 week intensive.  Sitting cross legged playing acoustic guitar for two weeks. But guess what?  I had a total breakthrough about the grief I was still feeling about my dad who had died 15 years early.  It was this memory of breaking down in tears at the Omega Institute in 1997 that made me accept Don Draper basically doing the same thing 1970.  Getting away from your day to day grind really does bring up honest feelings.  I think about my Dad every day.  Don will probably think about Betty every day.  Or the half brother he drove to suicide.  Or maybe he'll start concentrating on the happy times to come with his daughter & two sons.  Maybe he'll become really present in the moment.  Maybe that centeredness is what really saves him.  Who knows.  But if anything saves him it won't be a commercial pitch, wether he goes back to work or not.  It'll be a person.  A real live person. And for Don, that's progress.

A wonderful show.  A wonderful message.  Thank you Matt Weiner.

Long live Mad Men!!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

I want to say that this is a review of the movie "Amour", the critically acclaimed art house hit from France that is up for 5 Oscars this year, (2013).  But this isn't really a review.  It's more of a question.  And I'd like anyone who reads this to help me answer that question.  Which is this:

Why didn't I like this film?

At all!  I mean I really did not like it.  I could just chalk it up to "not my cup of tea", etc.  and call it a day, but I'm not that kind of person.  The fact is that this movie, and more specifically everyone's reaction to it, is a mystery to me.  The type of mystery that this picture is desperately lacking.

I came home searching in vain on the internet for someone who agreed with me.  I kept coming across reviews of Amour that usually started with words like "masterpiece" and "brilliant" and "unflinching genius".  If nothing else, it was indeed an unflinching piece of work.  But "genius"?  Wow.  I had such a different experience.

Finally I found one review that at first glance seemed to share my opinion.  Alex Billington of screamed "I can't stand it!" in the first paragraph no less.  "A kindred spirit!", I told myself.  "Alex is a real life film critic", I thought.  "He'll give me the ammo I need when I'm stuck at some dinner party and have to intelligently explain why I didn't like the most celebrated film in years."

Unfortunately my heart sank as I read Alex's review.   At least he knows why he didn't like it.  Because he was raised on "spectacle films and cinematic entertainment that whisks you away to another world".  This can't be why I didn't like it.  I was raised on Kubrick, Bergman & Truffaut.  I loved entertainment films too, like classic Hitchcock and even some early Spielberg.  But I'm not an escapist fan.  I fancy myself as someone who champions "serious" film making and will give even the most pretentious piece of digital celluloid a fighting chance to win me over.   I loved The Master this past year, and Tree of Life the year before.  I even enjoyed Barry Lyndon, which some Kubrick fans even find boring.

So it's not the "super slowness" or the "rub reality in your face" aspect of the film that bugged me.  I got all that and even enjoyed the film's "technique".  I just felt it didn't engage me.  I know it was a conscience decision to let things linger longer than conventional movies.  I know that director Michael Haneke obviously has film making chops despite the utter simplicity of this piece.  He shows a flash of that talent in a brilliant little dream sequence where George, played by Jean-Louis Trinignant, has a metaphorical premonition of his wife's ultimate demise. 

Let me take a moment to accentuate other positive points.  Emmanuelle Riva, as Georges dying wife Jeanne, is absolutely wonderful and deserves the oscar nomination that she got for it.  Her transformation from a confidant, self reliant senior citizen who is  respected and even feared by people like her daughter (the always competent Isabelle Huppert), into a literally speechless and helpless invalid is nothing short of transformative.

Other good moments include Georges mercilessly firing a horribly incompetent nurse and Jeanne flipping through an old photo album talking about how simply wonderful life was.  Done without the usual sentimental pap that you see in Hollywood films.  

There's also not a spot of music in the entire film.  Another brilliant choice in my opinion.  The way most major studio films use music to command emotional responses from viewers is an abomination as far as I'm concerned.

So there are many reasons to applaud this bold film.  There are many reasons to praise the actors and some of the choices of film makers.  What I found lacking was any reason to like it. 

There are many slow cut films, like The Master, 2001, Tree of Life, that also have bold choices and refuse to pander to the expectations of the audience.  Why do I want to see those films over and over again?  And why do I doubt that I'd watch Amour ever film again if you paid me?  I think it comes down to one word.


There was absolutely no mystery in the movie.  In fact when Georges (spoiler alert) finally succumbs to agony of taking care of the suffering love of his life and he puts her out of her misery, not only is it not a surprise.  It's not even a relief!  It's just more agony poured on top or more agony!  After that we have to suffer through another half hour or so of Georges demise.  Chasing pigeons around his house and cutting off the tips of flowers.  Every tip!  Of every flower!!!  Stop, please!!  You're killing me!!!

Seriously, we're all going to die.  That's no mystery.  We've all seen, or are going to see, loved ones get sick and suffer.  Again, not a mystery.  There doesn't seem to be an easy way around the tough choices most people have to make towards the end of a life.  This movie presents those choices starkly and bravely.  I commend them for the effort.  I don't mind that it lacks a message or a real point of view, which bigger commercial films often overdo in the worst way.  What I mind is that it doesn't really raise questions either, or show us any unique way to look at this suffering.  I'm not asking for a pat way to "deal" with it or "put it in perspective".  What I'm asking for is better questions.  Something to make me think more.  More mystery.  Less "pure" suffering.

Why rub our faces in the horrors that await us at the end of life if we're all gonna' get our faces rubbed in it eventually anyway?  I really don't see the point.  No matter how tastefully it's done.

Hollywood likes to separate films into "entertainment" or "serious art".  I think that's a horrible distinction that doesn't exist in the work of people  I consider the world's best film makers ever.  Bergman, Truffaut, Malick, Scorsese, Welles, The Cohen Brothers, PT Anderson, Wes Anderson and of course Kubrick.  

In fact, Stanley Kubrick put it best when he famously said to Matthew Modine on the set of Full Metal Jacket, after a take that Matthew thought was "good".  Stanley simply responded to him by saying "Real is good.  Interesting is Better."

Amour was very real.  I just didn't find it very interesting.