Monthly Archives: August 2006

ladies first

8/16/06

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A word about “Free to Be… You and Me.” I loved this album more than almost anything in my life; I liked it so much I didn’t even ask my parents for it because somehow owning it was too much responsibility. The verse of the title song:

There’s a land that I see

where the children are free

And I say it ain’t far

to this land from where we are

…featured a chord progression that was so intrinsically beautiful to me that I would wait breathlessly every year for Mr. Feuerhelm, our music teacher at Grant Wood Elementary School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to cue it up. I have to say that one chord progression is the building block of everything I’ve enjoyed since.

FTBYAM, however, was not a simple relationship for me, and it hasn’t aged well. If you click on any of the links from yesterday’s blog, you’ll see how unbelievably dated it looks, and the sentiments almost single-handedly define the wussyism of post-1960s Sensitive America. Some of the ideas, like Parents are People, seem bizarrely self-obvious, and others, like Circle of Friends, are so obviously quaalude-infested that it’s a miracle Kris Kristofferson could get a lyric off.

At the time, it was brilliant casting to have football star Rosey Grier sing It’s Alright to Cry, but it sure didn’t sway any of my classmates in fifth grade. In fact, FTBYAM became a bittersweet curse. At the time, it was considered faggoty for the kids to call other boys by their first name, so I was called “Williams” for years. It wasn’t until prep school that I actually heard my first name used.

Of course, the song every 3rd grader loved from the album was William Wants A Doll, which was easily switched by the entire class to “Williams Wants a Doll,” sung in unison as I died a million deaths. It was truly devastating to hear that “s” after “William” every time, looking around, and noticing that even the biggest losers in our grade were in on the joke, relishing their turn to flog the one person that was even lower than they were.

A few weeks later, I mustered the courage to take “Free to Be” at its word. We were required to do book reports in front of the whole class each month, and frankly, I had already read all of the books that were sanctioned by the cool boys: football stories, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, Encyclopedia Brown – I was sick of them. By chance, I found myself reading one of the girl books – something from the Betsy-Tacy series – and I was stunned to find out they were pretty fucking good. Why were the Betsy books girls-only?

So the day of the book report came, and the same jock fuckwads kept “reviewing” the same book of football stories, and it dawned on me I was screwed. I fumbled for another book to fake, but couldn’t think of one. When I got up in front of the class, I pulled out Betsy and Joe – and the screams of derision were so loud you could hear them outside on the street. I flew into hysterics, started to cry, and because I was a basket case, the teacher sent my ass to the principal.

I don’t know if the irony dawned on any of my teachers that “Free to Be,” the late-20th century tome on tolerance, was being used to ridicule me, or that it had doled out criminally terrible advice. But lesson learned. It’s actually NOT “Okay to Cry” and it’s NOT COOL that “Williams Wants a Doll” and as for being “Free to Be,” you can go fuck yourself.

I hear that schools are better now, that they don’t tolerate that shit as much. I hope so. Because if not, I’m saving pennies to make sure Lucy goes to the most tolerant Quaker Friends school this side of 1974.

now you parlez-vous francais

8/15/06

Hey Lucy!

You may want to know why I listen to the stuff I listen to. If I’d known the exact recordings my dad or mom heard in their youth that formed their tastes, I might make a mix tape of them as well, just to understand what brought them here. I’ll make this short as not to bore or overwhelm you.

1. My first Fisher-Price record player, 1970-1975. The following records were on heavy rotation. Heavy enough to induce blood coming out of my family’s ears:

Love is Blue by Paul Mauriat (45 single)

Sunny by Bobby Hebb (45 single)

Free to Be… You and Me – Marlo Thomas and Friends (entire frickin’ album, esp William Wants a Doll and this unintentionally sad song from Michael Jackson)

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2. Kent gives me the Beatles’ “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” in 1978. I spend the next five years learning every guitar lick, lyric, and random bit of trivia about the Beatles that ever existed.

3. I get an allowance to buy my own records in 1980. My first purchases:

Glass Houses by Billy Joel

Xanadu by ONJ and ELO (watch the video and you’ll understand)

4. Dad gets us the first Walkman in 1981. It is the size of a winter boot, weighs 15 pounds, and we LOVE IT. Recorded the following albums onto tape and wore them out:

Freeze Frame by J. Geils Band

Beauty and the Beat by the Go-Gos

Duran Duran’s first album

Ghost in the Machine – by the Police, followed by Synchronicity

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XTC circa 1980

5. In 1983, Kent buys me English Settlement by XTC and I buy Mummer on a 10th grade school trip to New York City. Like I did with the Beatles, I promptly learn every chord of every song Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding ever write, culminating in the unthinkably brilliant Skylarking album, and later I use a variant of their band name for my email address, and eventually, the name of my blog.

6. Still addicted to pop even when I get to college in 1985-86, I listen to these albums walking to class:

Hunting High and Low – by A-ha

Songs From the Big Chair – Tears For Fears

The Head on the Door – The Cure

Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti – Squeeze

Temple of Low Men – Crowded House

7. Jon Vaden’s girlfriend from high school Betsy Levin makes him a tape for his 18th birthday, including William , It Was Really Nothing and What Difference Does it Make? by the Smiths. I fall in love with Morrissey in the way a very gay man should and play Hatful of Hollow and “The Queen is Dead” until There is a Light That Never Goes Out becomes the first dance at my wedding (to a girl).

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The Cocteau Twins

8. While attending Mardi Gras in 1992 and finding myself abandoned in a shotgun shack with a bunch of CDs, I discover the Cocteau Twins and listen to nothing but them for three years.

9. By then, I was in my mid-twenties and no longer able to obsess over bands; whether this was a case of bands getting crappier or my rock ‘n’ roll heart getting more rigid, I don’t know. I still managed to overplay a number of albums leading up to the Millennium, however:

Spilt Milk – Jellyfish

The La’s only album

World Clique – Deee-Lite

Kite – Kirsty MacColl

Whatever – Aimee Mann

10. Oh, I could go on, but you get it. Throw in the entire catalog of Steely Dan, Self, Komeda, Kate Bush, The Sneetches, They Might Be Giants, a few nights with Greg and Dillon Fence, and every insane soft yacht-rock AM hit from the ’70s, and you will have the DNA of my current pop mindset.

Did 23 years of classical piano and violin training screw me up? Is there a reason there aren’t any African-American artists above, other than I’m just a racist? Could any list of music be POSSIBLY MORE TWEE?

I don’t know. I’m your dad and I like what I like. Never apologize for your tastes; like masturbation, it’s sex with someone you love.

red fish, blue fish

8/14/06

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Hey Lucy!

I need to tell you something. You are very, very small. The Pacific Ocean, on the other hand, is very big. It covers about a third of the planet, roughly 69.4 million square miles.

You are about 21 pounds. The Pacific Ocean is 161 million cubic miles in volume. And let me say that I am SO PROUD of your fearlessness. We go to the ocean every evening, and you run into it, clothed or naked, only looking back twice. But I am a little worried that you’re not taking the largest body of water in the Solar System particularly seriously.

You even got hit by a big wave last week that knocked you over and filled your sinuses with salt water. This didn’t daunt your courage, as you were back the next day giggling at the mouth of the ocean.

In all honesty, perhaps it’s not a bad idea. Maybe humanity itself, faced with such inconsequentiality that they turn to religion or cosmology or existential philosophy to make sense of their place in the universe, should follow your lead.

So I’ll hold your hand very tightly in the waves, but I’ll laugh at them too. I’ll try that philosophy no matter where we are. Okay, my sweet?

tropic of leo

8/13/06

It’s Flotsam Monday!

1. First off, a happy birthday to my older brother Kent, whom I’ve lionized here and various other times on the blog. Many of you don’t get to meet him because he usually only comes to NY for Christmas, and he always misses the Jartacular because of Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival. When Kent comes to Manhattan, however, he always makes it more interesting. We once took him and his family to the long-lost, late, lamented coffee joint Big Cup in Chelsea and watching him in there amongst The Gays was probably the most fun I had in 2002.

2. It has been a few weeks, so I’m assuming all of you who read this have done your one thing, yes? I know I’m not supposed to be doling out marching orders, but if you’re not going to take even the simplest steps, feel free to move on to someone else’s blog, preferably one where a girl shows her breasts. If you’re going to stay, remember we have a gentleman’s agreement, okay?

3. Have you bought your tickets to see AIR GUITAR and my 24-HOUR PLAY yet? It’s the awesome doubleheader on August 26, less than two weeks away, and it’s going to rock your socks off. Here are the ticket links:

Air Guitar at 1pm 8/26

The 24-Hour Plays at 8:45pm 8/26

I’m all ears as to a place to meet afterwards. You’re all coming, right? Salem? Annie? Peter Rukavina on Prince Edward Island?

4. Hey, the Frappr map for this blog is sooo much nicer now:

Add yourself if you haven’t yet!

5. It’s a busy week for our careers; wish us godspeed, won’t you?

tea, scones and groans

8/10/06

Two days ago, Tessa and I bought cross-Atlantic plane tickets to London! And back, even! Maybe our timing could have been better given yesterday’s news that the British had foiled a plot to take down ten of those airliners, but I have to tell you, I just don’t worry about that shit anymore, thanks to Celexa and a good sense of the odds. Besides, her Aunt Loraine is getting married to a Lord, you know, in the House of Lords, and like hell if we’re going to miss it.

Yes, we’re going to be carbon-offsetting this trip so don’t give me any shit.

The Lord from the House of Lords is putting us up in a castle in Scotland for the weekend reception after the wedding, and we can’t wait. I only wish Lucy were a bit older so she’ll know what the fuss was all about. The big drag, of course, will be getting there, since they’ve banned all carry-ons regardless of liquid. We’re not going until October, so hopefully the restrictions will be a bit more realistic, but have you ever put a 16-month-old on a plane with NOTHING TO PLAY WITH, NOTHING TO READ AND NOTHING TO EAT FOR NINE HOURS?

Seriously, I hope she screams the whole way there.

The Bush Administration, fresh off the humiliation of seeing Lieberman getting his ass handed to him courtesy the residents of Connecticut, was quick to play politics with the potential harm of their fellow countrymen. God, those motherfuckers make me so sick. First, they knew full well the terror plot announcement was coming before their opponents did, so they hammered Democrats on their so-called War on Terror to provide maximum political benefit from today’s news.

Oh, go look for yourself, for chrissake. It’s easy to find. May I quote?

“Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big,” said another White House official, who also spoke on condition of not being named, adding that some Democratic candidates won’t “look as appealing” under the circumstances.

Gee, you’d almost think Bush had something to do with the bust. To quote the AmericaBlog, “The Republicans never did meet a threat of mortal injury to thousands of American lives that they didn’t welcome as a political windfall.” I agree wholeheartedly. Please, America, see these fuck-alls for what they really are. Nothing is beneath them except your constant contempt.

static in my attic from channel z

8/9/06

I know I’m making you guys do all the work this August, but it relates to career things: today’s CODE WORD is…

What kind of TV do you love, and what is lacking from the current schedule?

You can be as lugubrious and as profane as you like.

next time: french onion soup

8/8/06

The way Tessa and I work as writing partners is quite different from that couple in “Friends With Money” – generally, one of us will have an idea, we’ll break the story beats together, and then the progenitor will be sent off on sabbatical to write the first draft with little intrusion from the other party.

When that first draft gets done, the other person gets it, says what’s brilliant and what needs work, and writes the second draft. This will continue until the changes get smaller and more rapid until we’re actually together at the computer fixing periods and semicolons.

The whole idea of writing partners sitting across from each other in a room writing dialogue? I mean, maybe two or three exchanges of that sort will end up in a final draft, but frankly, I don’t know how anybody works that way. I’m interested to know how other collaborators (especially married ones, like Sean and Jordana) work, but for us, as long as the basic structure is agreed upon, we work best when we keep a little distance.

I can’t say 99% of the juicy stuff we know in Hollywood on this blog, and I don’t like representing much about our work life because our careers are collaborative and this blog is not, but I can say this last weekend was quite a doozy for a number of reasons.

A few weeks ago I woke up from a nightmare, walked straight into Tessa’s office and said “how do you like THIS for a beginning” and pitched my nightmare to her while wearing boxers with my hair standing straight up. She was captivated (by the pitch, that is) and we spent the next few weeks finding a logical, haunting and surprising end to the pilot – and thus mapping out a whole series.

Since she had first-drafted our last big script (and this was my nightmare), it was my turn to tackle the beastie. At the same time, some people on the local Writer’s Guild internet bulletin board posted about a 24-hour writing marathon: show up to the WGA lounge with coffee and snacks and pull an all-nighter to finish your project. First I thought “hell no” and then “that’s intriguing” and finally “I absolutely must.” I do well in those stunt-writing situations and wanted to get my ass back on track.

Sadly, that WGA event ended up being canceled, but I was still jonesing for the experience. So Tessa graciously and generously took the reins of Lucy for most of the weekend while I booked a hotel room at a nondescript joint in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. I brought my Powerbook, my drugz, and a dry-erase board. My lofty goal: to write an entire 54-page first draft of a one-hour pilot in one sitting. My fallback goal: get to the third of five acts. My worry: getting the teaser and the first act done and then collapsing.

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So I checked into this place, made sure they had some sort of room service, and closed the window, as there is something merciless about the Los Angeles sun that can cook away ideas. At 11am Saturday morning, I started. The teaser and first act of the pilot flew by because I was basically recounting the dream. It went so well that I told myself if I could finish the second act, then I could get a late lunch at 4pm.

By the time 6pm rolled around, it looked like my goal of getting the third act done wasn’t so insane. There was, of course, the constant pull to read email and obsessively visit all of my favorite sites on the internet, but I managed to control them: I only checked email three times the whole weekend. There were also a ton of movies I wanted to watch on the hotel’s cable service, and I was longing to go out and explore downtown, but two seconds of “shuddup about that” and I was back to work.

Tessa called twice, and every time she calls from home, a picture of four-month-old Lucy flashes on my phone. It’s so goofy and cute that… well, hell, I’ll find it and just show you:

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Anyway, when she called around 7pm for Lucy’s bedtime, tears welled in my eyes I missed those two girls so much. It made getting back to the task at hand much easier. And thus the third act was done by 8:30pm.

There comes that time during any large project where you start to wonder if you’re totally full of shit. In a musical, it happens about a three weeks in; during a novel, maybe two months. Here on a screenwriting stunt, it happened when the sun set. I began to wonder if any of these people were making sense. Tessa and I had mapped out a good beat sheet, but there’s always room for paralyzing self-doubt.

The fourth act was grueling and took until midnight. I wondered if I could go home without a final act, and decided that I could not. Since the endings of things are always the hardest, I ordered a shrimp quesadilla from the all-night room service and got to work. Sensing the climax, it got easier. In every pilot ending, there should be a big “reveal” and a huge mindfuck that gets everyone to do a spit-take and reassess their relationship to all the characters and leave you wanting more. We already knew what that was, so it was a nice downhill, fresh powder slide all the way there. It was 3:45am, and I had finished the first draft of the script.

The idea was this: check out of the hotel the next morning and return home victoriously, grab my daughter and hand the pages to my adoring wife. Things did not work out that way.

Since I am a total weenie, I need some white noise in order to sleep; having forgot my little gadget, I downloaded an album of Ambient White Noise from iTunes. I played it over the computer speakers and it was fantastic – got to sleep in minutes. However, I’d fucked up the “repeat” button, and after exactly one hour into deep sleep, my iTunes Library automatically started playing the next alphabetical song at full blast. Which was, of course, Ambrosia’s “How Much I Feel.”

It took me five minutes to figure out how my dreams had been infiltrated by eardrum-splitting AM Soft Rock, and by then, something bad was happening to my body. Indescribable, yet chronic. The rest of the night was fitful, and when I woke up on Sunday for real, I knew I was sick.

It took five years of dime-store Buddhism for me to drive back to Venice from downtown LA without barfing in the Prius. When I got home, instead of being victorious, I ran into the bathroom, collapsed, and spent three days there and in bed. Only today, as I write these words, do I feel like I’ve begun to mend. The culprit? You never know with these things, but a glaring choice would be the shrimp quesadilla, two words I can barely string together without horffing.

But you know what? At some point on Sunday, I hobbled into Tessa’s office, printed out a copy of the script, and handed it to her. It may be full of mistakes, have a couple of plot holes and some confusing twists, but by god, I got it in her hands.

And she is worthy of my undying affection for so much, but the way she took care of Lucy all weekend and then took care of me for days afterward… she is my heroin and heroine. On a special day like tomorrow, she needs to know that most of all.

it’s gonna be a drag… misery

8/7/06

I have been utterly felled by food poisoning and can barely type, so no good word from me today. I’ll leave it to someone in the comments to ask a pertinent question… LFMD, how about you?

Please send thoughts of feverlessness and strong tummies my way. This thing is intense, a completely different brand of awful. Take it away…

bank holidays

8/6/06

Because traffic is down, heat is up and exhaustion sets in August, I’m going to be posting only 2-3 times a week until Labor Day. I’ve also got a backlog of scripts I’m excited to tackle, and since human beings rarely have more than a thousand good words in them a day (with notable exceptions) a lot of those are going to be spilling into Final Draft. Or another program, as soon as someone makes a better one.

It’s not that I don’t love each and every one of you. You know that, right?

when the hurly-burly’s done

8/3/06

These rolling blackouts and natural disasters have got me thinking: have you stopped to notice how incredibly thin our comfort zones have become? The diameter of our comfort zone reminds of those pictures of Earth’s atmosphere from space: it seems big when you’re in it, but step back a bit and it’s as gossamer as skin on a bubble.

Your entire world can suddenly cease to exist in its present form, with the flick of a switch (or, in 2003, by the existence of some trees in Ohio). Once the power goes out, that’s your refrigerator and freezer, not to mention internet, air conditioning or any sort of entertainment that doesn’t involve cards or dice. The only thing left working is your landline phone (cell phones always fuck up during any outage) and your water, as long as there’s no pump. In essence, you and your family are one power line away from being back in the 1890s.

I mention this because Tessa just told me about an episode of “Wife Swap.” Apparently a Carmelo Soprano-ish Italian mother of the Stallone family swapped places with a New Agey, slightly granola mom in a beautiful mixed-race family (like GFWD’s), and hilarity ensued. The Stallone kids – a prima donna teen daughter and a fat little brother addicted to TV and video games – were asked to meditate, go vegetarian, read books, and turn off the TV for a week.

For their part, the new agey kids had to adopt the Stallone policy of a strictly clean house, television after school, and being on time to everything (which wasn’t a big priority for their actual mother). These kids took it in stride, basically liked the experience, and were glad to have their own mother back at the end.

The Stallones, however, had a FULL SCALE MELTDOWN. Without television, with the “forced reading of books” and meditation, they went apeshit. Even the Stallone’s mother-in-law tore the New Age mom apart. I’m leaving out tons of great details (of a show I never even saw) but the point is fascinating.

The only real difference between the New Age family and the Stallones was the relative diameter of their comfort level. The Stallones probably sound more like the rest of us than the other family, and I can certainly empathize, but let’s not mince words – they were addicts. Addicted to meat, to television, to video games, pop culture, and worse, to a regimented routine. They had been taken over by The Corporation™, whose vested interest is always to reduce a human’s comfort level to almost zero, where Their Product can offer the only salve.

I’m not saying my family is any better, either the one I grew up in, or the one I helped create. God knows when the internet or the satellite goes down, my righteous indignation, fury, and eventual jonesing approaches a methadone level. But I would like to widen my comfort level to a plush strip where anything could be possible.

In “My Dinner With Andre,” a movie I actually saw, Andre Gregory talks about the professor who decided to walk a different way to class every day for twenty years so he wouldn’t fall into a torpor; he would always be conscious and never the “walking dead.” I wonder if there’s any way my family can do that, even in small doses: no coffee for a week, TV only in Spanish for a week, fully immerse oneself in the ocean every day for a week, eat no meat for a month.

There is a problem. You can decide “I’m not starting my car for a week” or something fairly revolutionary, but it’s just not feasible if you have a job. Almost none of it is. A job exhausts the mind and spirit to the point where one’s comfort level not only becomes thin and inflexible, it’s comforting how thin and inflexible it really is. The less pejorative phrase would be your “simple pleasures,” a beer, a scotch, a crappy TV show, a delivered pizza.

The only questions I have begun to ask are these: are your simple pleasures killing you? And, god forbid, if the month-long power outage comes, can you survive it? Would you even know where to start?

Certain friends of mine would be fine, even excel, in the new world order: Bud, Lars and Annie spring to mind. I would hope my little family is flexible enough to expand our comfort level to something outrageous, and though I’m not sure what exercise we can do in the meantime (no hot water for a week? no internet? suggestions?), it’d be captivating to see what happens.

I still have peccadilloes. I will never do Vonage (or any VoIP) because it means when the cable goes, the phone goes. I keep our cable modem and satellite TV separate, so one always works. I’m planning a camp-in-home setup in case LA gets hit with the dreaded 8.5. And I have a stash of painkillers, creams, Afrin, and my beloved Celexa. I’m fine with a wide comfort zone, but my drugs are NON-NEGOTIABLE. Just point me in the direction of the home dook game, and I’ll walk there.