Archive for December, 2006

Tilting

I want to build a windmill in Berkeley. Does anyone out there have expertise in this area? If so, I'd be grateful for your input!

More to come! ...

2 comments December 30th, 2006

Tom Says, “Get to Work!”

TomJust got back to the Bay Area from Washington D.C. -- but not before spending some quality time with Thomas Jefferson. It seemed as if he was kind of staring down his nose at me, in a sort of disapproving way. Sure enough, now that I'm back home I've found this quote from him (in the book Sins of the Parents, by my friend and former college classmate Brian A. Weiner): "Every constitution ... and every law naturally expires at the end of thirty-four years." What I take from this sentiment -- which Jefferson expressed in a letter to James Madison, after referring to mortality tables -- was that he felt each subsequent generation would have the responsibility to re-evaluate the Constitution, and if necessary to revise or even rewrite it.

Well, my generation first had to invent roller disco and then drive our nation's politics and economy into the sewer. But now that we have all that under our belt, have no fear, Tom -- we're all over the Constitution thing!

December 24th, 2006

All in the Family

Po Bronson is my guest on tonight's episode (rebroadcast from last season). He's a wonderful, passionate writer, and his latest book -- "Why Do I Love These People?" -- will be coming out in paperback next month. It was cool hanging out and talking with Po about his exploration of family dynamics, based on umpteen interviews he did with people from an astonishing variety of backgrounds. ...

Something quirky I just discovered as I was creating the link to Po's book: he, or his publisher, has been very promiscuous when it comes to subtitles. At the time of our interview, for example, the book was subtitled "Honest and Amazing Stories of Real Families." But now I see that the paperback will be subtitled "Understanding, Surviving, and Creating Your Own Family." (I guess they're targeting the how-to crowd.) Plus they've dropped the quote-marks from the title -- just the kind of thing to drive copy editors wild (believe me, I know). ... But it doesn't stop there! The U.K. edition, besides missing the quote-marks, is subtitled "the Families We Come From and the Families We Form." Yes, you read that right: apparently the British, whom we beat fair and square in 1776 and 1812, can't be bothered to capitalize the first letter of a subtitle. (One wonders whether they could muster any more energy to put into their families.) ...

Okay, I admit I got a little distracted there. Po's great. The book's swell. I hope you enjoy the interview -- which I am hereby subtitling "Hipster Authors and the Caffeine Addicts Who Talk to Them." Except in England, where it will be known as "Kippers, Colours & Crumpets," for no reason whatsoever. ...

2 comments December 18th, 2006

Everything?

I've been listening to it periodically for several years now, so I think I can say with confidence that Jane Siberry's performance of her song "Love Is Everything" on the DVD The Best of Sessions at West 54th, Volume 1 is one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. (Sinead O'Connor singing "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance" on the same DVD ain't shabby either.) ...

December 17th, 2006

Cleared!

All three of my Netflix DVD's arrived today: discs 2 through 4 of the final season of Six Feet Under. I was wrong to cast doubt. I apologize to my director, and to all directors everywhere -- except for Elia Kazan, who shouldn't have named names.

December 13th, 2006

[–AY IT FORWA–]

So I was just working out in the gym that's downstairs from the guest apartment where I'm staying in D.C. In front of every other treadmill, etc., they have little TV's on the wall, so you can watch while you tread. I got on an elliptical trainer and started blasting Sonic Youth's Rather Ripped album on my iPod, but I noticed that in front of the unoccupied treadmill next to me there was a movie playing on TBS.

It's hard for me not to keep glancing at a TV in my range of vision. Plus, the film was closed-captioned, which had the dual effect of giving me snippets of dialogue and also eliciting my own closed-captioned thoughts. Helen Hunt was in it.

[GIVEN A CHOICE OF AN EVENING WITH EITHER HELEN HUNT OR LINDA HUNT, I'D PICK LINDA HUNT. WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT ME?]

Her hair is all teased out and bleached, to indicate her stolid working-class-osity. She seems to be on a date with ... either Kevin Spacey or Jim Belushi. Further viewing indicates that it is, in fact, Kevin Spacey.

[IF I'M KEVIN SPACEY, AND I REALIZE THAT I COULD POSSIBLY BE MISTAKEN FOR JIM BELUSHI, I'M GETTING A NEW MAKE-UP ARTIST.]

Spacey is wearing a toupée that's meant to make him look like a fictional character, so that you forget it's actually Kevin Spacey, but he ends up looking like Kevin Spacey wearing a bad wig in an SNL sketch. There is an earnestness pervading the frame -- a Hollywoody earnestness, very professionally lit. ...

Holy cow! Now we have Haley Joel Osment! Or the infinitely superior Joel Haley Osment! Either way, he seems to be playing Helen Hunt's son -- and, apparently, a student of Spacey's character, who is a schoolteacher. The situation, as best as I can tell from my occasional catch of a closed caption, is this: Spacey's schoolteacher character has been dating Hunt's working-class-teased-hair character. Spacey is well-educated, Hunt not. This causes some friction -- do they really belong together?

Plus, they are both Haunted. Spacey had some horrible experience with (I think) his dad. Hunt has an abusive husband, or ex-husband, played by ... Is that Jon Bon Jovi??? I think it really is Jon Bon Jovi!! I contain multitudes, and nothing human is alien to me -- but, darn it all, this I cannot accept! Jon Bon Jovi as an abusive husband is too big a leap of faith -- bigger than Hunt's perfectly teased trailer-trash hair, bigger than the dead marmot on Spacey's head, bigger even than the sensitive saucer eyes of Haley Joel Haley Osment ...

... who is now saying to Spacey, [YOU HAVE TO DO IT.]

[DO WHAT?] Spacey asks.

[PAY IT FORWARD], Osment earnestly explains. And I do believe his eyes are tearing up.

But clearly, Spacey is not yet ready to Pay It Forward. For we are only about halfway through the Hollywood screenplay, and have many plot points to go before we sleep.

I vaguely remember reading reviews of Pay It Forward when it came out. As I recall, there was kind of a karmic vibe to the story: something like, someone has done a big favor for each of us, out of love, and it is our responsibility, in turn, to do the same. (Maybe I have this totally wrong -- it's just what I kind of remember.) I actually think that's a beautiful idea. I think it's true, pretty much. Moreover, it's the kind of earnest idea that people -- like, oh, say, me -- could find easy to casually mock and dismiss. ...

But the thing is, Hollywood movies tend to reduce all challenges and triumphs to the purely personal. Hunt and Spacey must slay their own, internal demons in order to receive their "payment," and to pay it forward. ...

[NOTE TO SELF: I'VE ALWAYS LOVED THAT THE YIDDISH-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER WAS CALLED "THE DAILY FORWARD." IS THAT IDIOSYNCRATIC USE OF THE WORD "FORWARD" CHARACTERISTIC OF YIDDISH SYNTAX? MUST ASK A "REAL" JEW SOMETIME.]

... And once they learn this lesson -- probably from the bizarrely adult-faced Haley-Joel-Haley, who has the wisdom that Hollywood (and Washington, for that matter) tends never to ascribe to adults -- they will finally be able to tearfully join each other as lovers. Brainac will merge with Working Stiff, Red will mix with Blue, and we'll all live Haley Ever After. ...

A man with a bigger potbelly than mine got on the treadmill next to me. "Are you watching this?" he mouthed, indicating the TV. (On my iPod I had finished the Sonic Youth album and was now blasting The Arcade Fire's Funeral into my rock-ravaged ears.) I indicated that I wasn't. As he started treading, he picked up a remote and flipped to another channel. PBS! Tavis Smiley was interviewing a young man about James Brown. The man was talking about how [JAMES BROWN HAD SHOWN HIM THAT HE, TOO, WAS A FULL CITIZEN OF THE WORLD].

I picked up my pace a bit. Things were getting better. To start with, people in gyms were watching interview shows on PBS! But I was still thinking about Paying It Forward -- well, at least my, closed-captioned version -- as well:

[THOSE OF US WHO ARE BORN INTO AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP -- OR ANY CITIZENSHIP, MAYBE -- FIND OURSELVES WITH A COMPLICATED INHERITANCE. ALL THE GLORIOUS, LOVING, BRAVE ACTS THAT HELPED TO FORM, AND PRESERVE, OUR REPUBLIC ARE, INDEED, OUR BIRTHRIGHT. BUT SO ARE ALL THE CRIMES, ALL THE ACTS OF COWARDICE AND CRUELTY AND GENOCIDE. THE "WE" IN "WE THE PEOPLE" MEANS THAT WE HOLD, WITHIN US, BOTH THE SLAVEHOLDER AND THE SLAVE. IF I TRY TO SEPARATE MYSELF FROM EITHER THE GOOD OR THE BAD -- PAST OR PRESENT -- I AM, WHETHER I KNOW IT OR NOT, TRYING TO SNEAK OUT OF THE "WE." ...]

I glanced back at the TV, for another comforting dose of Tavis. But my fellow exerciser had switched to the Weather Channel. A short time later, he turned off the TV and moved on to another machine. Apparently, that had only been the Preamble for him.

In my continuing, elliptical journey, I was back on my own.

December 13th, 2006

Suspicion

I don't have any proof yet, but I think my director may be hiding my incoming Netflix DVD's of the last season of Six Feet Under so I won't be distracted from working on our theater piece.

More on this as it develops. ...

December 13th, 2006

Chris Rocks

I've gotten lots of great feedback for this episode, which first ran earlier this season. It features a conversation with Chris Gardner and a visit to Glide Memorial Church. Gardner's raw memoir, The Pursuit of Happyness, is a great read -- and the man himself is a deeply compelling person to talk to. A movie of the same title, inspired by Gardner's experiences as a once-homeless single dad who achieved great success, is coming out in a few days. Will Smith plays Chris -- which, I guess, takes that fine actor out of the running to play me one day. I suppose we'll have to go with Paul Giamatti, or maybe Rhea Perlman under lots of prosthetics. ...

You can read my original blog posting about this episode here.

December 11th, 2006

Dirk Dirksen, R.I.P.

One of the great blessings of this gig is that, with the generous support of our viewers, I get to meet some of the cultural icons of my beloved Bay Area. Last season I had the pleasure of chatting with former punk impresario Dirk Dirksen, who -- to hear him (and others) tell it -- was one of the most perverse emcees in the history of American popular music. (You can watch that episode -- which also featured the great musician Penelope Houston, whose old band, the Avengers, used to headline for Dirk -- by going to our "Watch" page and searching for "Dirksen.") Dirk recently died in his sleep, at the age of 69.

Coming to the Bay Area in '87, I arrived too late to catch Dirk presiding over shows at his legendary club, the Mabuhay Gardens. Which was clearly my loss, based on the recollections of his many friends. Here's a little snippet from Joel Selvin's lovely appreciation in the Chronicle:

"He was a man in a penis nose telling us it was better to throw popcorn than beer bottles," said his friend Ron Jones. "Dirk knew everybody had a place on the stage of life -- as long as you went on and off on time. You had to remember there were other acts waiting, even if they suck."

I remember meeting Dirk when he came to our studios. Even though I'm a huge fan of punk, I still tend to have a nerdish nervousness around its practitioners. Leaping up from the greenroom couch and grasping my hand, Dirk -- a cheerful, elfin figure with a combover -- instantly put me at ease. Could this sweet guy really have once been the "pope of punk"? Yep -- and he had the war stories to prove it.

After the taping, Dirk and I talked some more about performers we both admired -- both musical and theatrical -- and he offered to send me a bunch of rare concert videos that his company had made. Sure enough, a pile of great tapes arrived a couple of days later.

We don't necessarily connect "punk" in our minds with such qualities as "grace" or "generosity of spirit." Spending some time with Dirk reminded me that we should. I'm sorry I missed the chance to throw popcorn at him at the Fab Mab, and I'm very sad to see him go.

Rock on, Dirk.

1 comment December 9th, 2006

En Route

I write to you from SFO, where I'm about to fly to Washington D.C. for three weeks to work on my upcoming theatrical monologue about democracy.

I know what you're thinking: "Well, Josh, if you're doing a piece about democracy, why go to D.C., of all places?" And my answer is: My director/collaborator, David Dower, just moved there from S.F., to work at the very cool Arena Stage theater. This is the only way we can work together right now.

I recently heard that airlines have relaxed their carry-on requirements, so I'm hoping that I can place in the overhead compartment my detached and bleeding heart, which ripped itself out of me as I waved goodbye to my wife and son this morning. Three weeks is a very, very long time to be away. Surreally, I'll be returning on Christmas Eve, perhaps wearing a bushy white beard and using my Frequent Sleigher miles. Not doing too much ho-ho-ho'ing right now, though; just trying to remind myself that if I do a good job these next few weeks, I can maybe come back with the rough shape of a touring piece that could help pay the bills for a while.

I'll tell you, though, we had a great day yesterday: bike-riding, tree-buying, Don Quixote-reading ... I'd have to say that, despite the down times, this whole life thing seems to be somewhat underrated. And I guess if it were the perfect dream of itself -- e.g., no separations -- it somehow wouldn't be so wonderful. Somehow.

I guess this is why God invented sighing.

December 3rd, 2006


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