Sunday, August 28, 2016

Hand Over Heart



San Francisco 49er QB Colin Kaepernick refuses to stand for the national anthem, protesting state violence against people of color. I wrote about something similar in AMERICAN FAN. As social events unfold, expect to see more of this.

"During the 1995-96 NBA season, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (slave name: Chris Jackson) led the Denver Nuggets in scoring and was regarded as one of the better point guards in the league. As the season progressed, members of the press noticed that he was absent during the national anthem. Abdul-Rauf, whose name means 'Elegant and Praiseworthy, Servant of the Most Kind,' felt it was his Muslim duty to not honor a symbol of, in his words, 'oppression and tyranny.' He would either come late to the court or sit on the bench until the song's end. He did this quietly, made no proclamations.

"He didn't need to: the press was happy to shatter his silence.

"The NBA placed Abdul-Rauf on indefinite suspension. He was not allowed to return until he praised Old Glory in full view of the league and its paying customers. Abdul-Rauf held out for three days, missed one game, then finally acquiesced.

"But the real patriotic fun took place on March 15, 1996, the night he returned to his team. The Nuggets were in Chicago to play the Bulls. With the opening notes of the anthem, the fan barrage began. An oversized American flag was held just to Abdul-Rauf's left; placards were waved, insults shouted. It was a lesson in mob behavior hopefully absorbed by the children present. What better way to honor freedom than to harass someone who has a minority opinion and no power to enforce it?"

Friday, March 25, 2016

It's Garry Shandling's Life



If Garry Shandling did nothing else, THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW would be his perfect comedy statement. Anyone who's written for or been around talk show hosts immediately recognized Larry Sanders. Vain, insecure, petty, funny, and cocksure, reliant upon an unseen backstage army, constantly worried about his place in the food chain. Who would want to live like that? Well, Larry Sanders, for one.

Showbiz is a generally awful place, filled with genuinely awful people. Shandling made this his centerpiece, and there were more than a few cringe-inducing moments on LARRY SANDERS. Yet, despite the shallowness of his character, Shandling made him funny and compelling. As bad as Larry could be, he was often outpaced by his celebrity guests. You almost felt sorry for him.

Like Roseanne and Seinfeld, Shandling surrounded himself with first-rate character actors. Rip Torn as Larry's producer and Jeffrey Tambor as his announcer gave the show its kick. Penny Johnson, as Larry's personal assistant Beverly, convincingly showed how frustrating and maddening that job would be. The rest of the revolving cast -- Janeane Garofalo, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jeremy Piven, Scott Thompson, Wallace Langham, Sarah Silverman, Bob Odenkirk, among others -- added texture to Larry's tortured world.

I don't know if Shandling was looking to influence the likes of Tina Fey and Larry David, but their respective shows bear the LARRY SANDERS mark. Shandling simply did his best work about a world he intimately understood. And while he was considered cutting edge for his time, Shandling owed much to the comedy before him.

IT'S GARRY SHANDLING'S SHOW, his first series, is often lauded as being meta -- breaking the fourth wall, acknowledging the medium, playing with form. But as I'm sure Shandling knew, this was done at television's dawn.

THE BURNS AND ALLEN SHOW offered the same conceit, though at a time when most Americans didn't own a TV. George Burns, as himself, talked to the audience, set up subsequent scenes, even watched his own show on a monitor in his office, commenting on the characters. As contemporary as Shandling was, he also honored the classics (Jack Benny, too).

In an age of interchangeable, frenzied comedy, Shandling seems almost sedate and measured. Not many comics find that quiet voice. Rest in that peace, Garry Shandling.

Friday, February 12, 2016

And A One, And A Two . . .



(From SAVAGE MULES. I keep reading how Bernie Sanders is George McGovern. Maybe he is.)

ANTIWAR MULE CAMEO

As the Nixon era commenced, larger sections of the public turned against the war, with increasing numbers of Democrats joining them. While the language remained polite in most political mouths, Senator George McGovern of South Dakota provided spicier rebukes to the war-makers. At the Chicago convention, disaffected McCarthy and RFK supporters turned to McGovern as their antiwar symbol, none more passionate than Abe Ribicoff, a senator from Connecticut, who blasted Richard Daley's mini-police state by saying on national television, "And if George McGovern were president, we wouldn't have these Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago!"

McGovern wasn't president, but he stood in stark relief not only to Nixon, but also to pro-war figures in his Party like Henry "Scoop" Jackson, the "Senator from Boeing" (and often-cited godfather to the neocons).

Abe Ribicoff's wish for a McGovern presidency moved a bit closer to reality in 1972, as McGovern upset Party fixtures Edmund Muskie and Hubert Humphrey to grab the Dem nomination. But a seemingly chaotic convention, followed with VP choice Thomas Eagleton's admission that he had suffered depression and received electroshock treatments, sank McGovern's campaign before it took off. His attempt to unseat Nixon was probably quixotic at best, given that many mules were wary of McGovern. And the lack of presidential debates, in which McGovern would doubtless have gained strength, didn't help either. Still, in the face of these and other obstacles, McGovern ran an inspired campaign, and was the last Democratic nominee to take such an open antiwar stance. One of his commercials, where a Vietnamese mother carries her dead child down a deserted road, remains one of the strongest ads in American history.

Of course, Nixon buried him. With McGovern's loss, antiwar Dems were cast adrift both in their Party and in the national culture -- the term "McGovernite" seen as the political kiss of death. The Democrats never again dared to reach so far.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Oh! You Pretty Thing



"Can you do Bowie for my 5th period class?"

Paris Goodrum, my high school drama teacher, loved my David Bowie. It emerged from a class assignment in lip syncing. Paris stressed that he wanted something more than just mouthing lyrics. He wanted performance, and this I took seriously.

This was 1975, Lawrence, Indiana, as far from Swinging London as you could get. The majority of students were pretty conservative. Theatricality was fine if you were Robert Plant or Ted Nugent. Bowie was entirely a different flavor.

I rehearsed endlessly in my basement bedroom. Since my hair was long, I went with the Ziggy Stardust look. My father made fun of me when he wasn't rolling his eyes. (And he was a rock club owner! Oh, Dad.) I forged ahead regardless.

Just before drama class, I prepped in the men's room. Applied rouge, lipstick, and eye shadow. Covered my face in glitter. Wore a frilly blue shirt with bright red suspenders and denim shorts. Yellow knee socks and platform shoes. Feather necklace and hoop bracelets. Naturally, there were stares on my walk back to class. But I felt empowered.

My classmates laughed and hooted when I stood before them. Paris told them to zip it. I began to lip sync to "Future Legend," standing still, eyes unblinking. Then I tore into "Diamond Dogs," affecting Bowie's moves while improvising a few of my own. The class loved it, Paris especially.

I did my Bowie for a couple of Paris' classes. He'd turn to his students and say, "Now THAT'S how you do it!" This gave me a weird, brief popularity, as well as feeding rumors about my sexuality.

A few months later, the drama department put on a revue for the entire school. Paris requested my Bowie. I accepted, but instead of reprising Ziggy/Dogs, I cut my hair short, as Bowie had done, and eschewed the glitter and flash. I dressed in a blue denim jumpsuit, slicked back my hair, and synced to "Young Americans."

It was a subtler performance, which the students didn't like. They wanted early, wilder Bowie. Paris felt a bit let down, but years later when I bumped into him, he mentioned my Bowie with a smile.

David Bowie wasn't a rock star or a celebrity -- he was a cultural force. His work inspired countless people, even rednecks like me. He gave hope to gay teens at a truly closeted time; he played with gender before it became a sociological category.

His music and style changed and evolved, not always successfully. He made music videos years before MTV. He collaborated with greats from rock, soul, and techno. He was the shit.

Goodbye, David, and thank you.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Supposedly Fun Things



David Foster Wallace never meant much to me. When his opus INFINITE JEST was critically acclaimed as the Great New Thing, curiosity led me to read the first fifty or so pages, chip on my shoulder, skeptical eyes. While it was clear that DFW had talent and a gift for unexpected sentences, his approach left me cold. It felt too academic, too writerly. (I did enjoy some of his reportage, particularly his piece on David Lynch.) I expected more pow from this reported genius.

After seeing THE END OF THE TOUR, my assessment of DFW softened. Part of this is age (I'm not as combative as I was 20 years ago), but mostly I was moved by Wallace's inner-struggle, at least as it was depicted in the film. Jason Segel does an excellent job conveying what it must have been like to go from literary obscurity to fawning profiles in Time magazine.

DFW appeared to be painfully shy, tormented by self-doubt, haunted by depression. His intellect provided little balm. He sought whatever peace he could find through attempts at normalcy, being an average guy aware of his limitations.

Fame, to the degree that American writers are famous anymore, did Wallace in. He was too perceptive to ignore the trappings. In this, he reminds me a bit of Jack Kerouac, who faced the fame machine when its blades were newly-sharpened. Instead of hanging himself, Kerouac drowned his liver in booze. (The distance between Kerouac's fame and his desire to live was captured in BIG SUR, perhaps the best of the Beat movies.) Not many people can handle being legends, not in this culture, anyway.

While he had early bouts with the bottle, DFW preferred fast food, candy, soda, cigarettes, and whatever TV he could watch. Segel's Wallace embraces this with adolescent joy, much like his love of reading books on rainy days. Again, seeking comfort through normalcy, however illusory. American commercial culture offers numerous, limited comforts; Pop Tarts and action films provide only so much relief.

DFW groupies probably hate THE END OF THE TOUR, which, I suppose, is understandable. But I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, and if nothing else, it's nice to hear intelligent people converse. It also inspired me to re-engage INFINITE JEST. We'll see how far I make it this time.

Monday, April 27, 2015

This Thing On?

I'm thinking about returning to this space on a more regular basis. Any interest here? Let me know -- dennis_perrin@yahoo.com.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Censored SNL 40 Moment




When Chevy Chase hosted the second show of SNL's 1985-86 season, Michael O'Donoghue penned a monologue that, for some reason, wasn't used, despite Chevy's desire to deliver it.

"Right after I stopped doing cocaine, I turned into a giant garden slug and, for the life of me, I don’t know why.

"Hi, I’m Chevy Chase. Have you noticed that, in the years since I left Saturday Night Live, my eyes have actually gotten smaller and closer together so they now look like little pig eyes? Why? Again, I don’t have a clue. As I was saying to Alan King the other day at the Alan King Celebrity Tennis Tournament, ‘Alan, I need more money. What I can’t fit in my wallet, I’ll eat or I’ll shove up my ass, but I must have more!’ And when I looked in the mirror, my eyes were the size of Roosevelt dimes and had moved another inch closer to my nose. ‘What is going on here?!?’ I exclaimed to my new wife, who looks like my old wife except she’s new.

"Still, the fans showed up for my last movie – The Giant Garden Slug’s European Vacation – a movie any man would be proud of, particularly if that man was Cantinflas. There’s much more I can say but I have a twenty lodged in my lower colon and it’s just driving me crazy. My next film is called The Giant Garden Slug Blows Eddie Murphy While John Candy Watches and it opens tomorrow at Red Carpet Theaters everywhere. Don’t miss it."