Thursday, June 25, 2009

Long Live the King

Jeff and I watch the Oscars together pretty much every year, if we're able. Even though I wanted to murder him during this year's telecast (and still do, if truth be told), there's still nobody else I'd rather watch it with.

Well, there's that girl from the wiggle-cam alien movie, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyhow, during the "In Memorium" segment, Jeff said something that didn't really strike me as profound until I'd heard that Michael Jackson died. He said, "I guess it's a sign I'm getting old, but every Oscars, I recognise more of the names of the dead than I did the year before."*

So, Farrah Fawcett passed away today, and it would be of more significance had she done so yesterday or the week before. I was at the electronics store, shopping for a television and she was on some of the TVs, and I thought, "When I get home, I'll write about how I was just too young to have truly appreciated Farrah's career and how my uncles probably were the perfect age for that famous poster. Maybe I'll tell the story about my dad and Elizabeth Taylor."

When I was a kid, I remember my dad talking about how beautiful Elizabeth Taylor was. I only knew Taylor as the fat lady with many, many husbands, being mocked by Carson and Dave on late night TV. I couldn't conceive of her as being someone to have a crush on, as apparently my old man did. And a couple of years back, when Britney Spears got knocked up and let herself go, I thought, "Well, there's my Liz Taylor, Dad, right there."

But while I was at the store, before I could comment on the Farrah Fawcett thing (or remember any more uninteresting anecdotes), the news interrupted their coverage to say that Michael Jackson had been rushed to the hospital. Another station said he was in a coma, but, chillingly, was talking about him in the past tense.

We went home, and Jackson was dead. I already had three emails from Merrill at FOX, telling me of the developments. Sadly, I was babysitting, eager to set up the new television, and was being told to come to Jeff's house every ten minutes or so (not to mention the fact that I did no work at all yesterday), so I haven't gotten to blog about it the way I wanted to.

But I will.

I said in my intro before that I was a big fan of the deceased (basically, I wrote that paragraph right after the Oscars had happened, leaving the name of the dead celebrity blank. I just had a feeling that someone I'm a big fan of would pass away soon, so I saved it until now). Now, while that's not necessarily true about Michael Jackson, I was a fan of his work, and he was a massive star, perhaps the kind of world-renowned celebrity there were in my grandparents' day. He was Elvis big.

That he's dead is noteworthy not because of who he was in the end, but who he was once, when he truly was the King of Pop.**I was in elementary school, already obsessed with monsters and horror movies, when "Thriller" was released. I was too young to have owned any records, but the song got radio play, and when that video came out, I was lucky enough to see it. I believe they showed it at my school (a teacher, Mr. Worthin, who was probably ten years younger than I am now), and we were going to do a talent show thing based on it, and one of the kids, Gary, thought we could learn the zombie choreography if we watched the video together. But then parents got wind of it, and Mister Worthin and poor Gary Jackson were publicly flogged.

Ultimately, they deemed that, because of its disturbing, occult nature, the video could not be shown during school hours, and those of us who were doing the talent show could only watch it after school let out. Funny, I remember that more than the actual performance on the stage.

So, I was a Jackson fan. Even as a kid, though, he was strange, and the rumours of his strangeness were pervasive. The glove, the high voice, the plastic surgery, the oxygen tank, McCauley Culkin, the Elephant Man's bones, the allegations, the skin lightening, the baby dangling, the odd statements, the hair straightening, the amusement park, the naming of a baby "Blanket," the wearing of masks . . . as the years went on, he alienated a heck of a lot of people. In the end, it was pretty brave to admit to being a Michael Jackson fan. Unless you were a shrieking Japanese schoolgirl, I suppose.

Beyond the childhood thing, I recall doing karaoke at a bar in Hollywood, where my pal Matthew and I dueted on "The Girl Is Mine." I was Paul McCartney and he was Michael Jackson, and we pretty much slaughtered the song, devolving into name calling and changing the lyrics to "the goddamn girl is mine."

But my strongest adult memory of Jackson was listening to those Martin Bashir interviews he did back in 2003. Those were confusing and enlightening, amusing and disturbing, and my coworkers and I talked about them for days. A couple of my friends were infuriated by the interview (my buddy Jeff the Chemist couldn't stop talking about the part where Jackson claimed to have never had plastic surgery), but in the end, I felt sorry for Michael. I don't know who he really was, and it's a shame that his eccentricities/psychoses often overshadowed his musical talents.He died on June 25th, being rushed to the UCLA hospital in a comatose state. They say it was congestive heart failure, but apparently that can mean many things. He was fifty years old.

It's hard to explain to someone like my niece just how big a star Michael Jackson was. It's hard to really remember it myself, and I lived through it. We live in such a media-centric society today, with celebrities coming and going at the rate of fireworks, that truly monumental stars become rarer and rarer.

I remember my film history professor trying to explain just how big a star Charlie Chaplin was back in the 1920's, and the only way he could make us Gen X'ers comprehend was by combining several of today's stars. It's possible that in the future, Michael Jackson's fame will have to be described in that same way.

Who's bad?

Rish Shamon Outfield

*Soon, as long as the Disney Channel stars don't start offing themselves, I'll recognise them all.

**I was in a play as a child, where my line was, "Who's the last person you'd expect to walk through that door?" to which the other actor said, "Ricky Ricardo?" Cue laughter. Well, the line was changed to Michael Jackson. That's all I have to say about that.

Ed McMahon

I wanted to say something about the death of Ed McMahon, since, strangely, just this week I said, "You are correct, sir," on our Dunesteef podcast, imitating him.

But it occurred to me that that line is from "Saturday Night Live," when they'd parody Johnny Carson and Ed, and it was actually Phil Hartman I was imitating. And he's been gone for a decade.

So, I guess I won't say anything about Ed since I have my hands full with other celebrity deaths.


P.S. It really seems that I only write in this thing when somebody dies. And even then, it's reluctant. I should just give up my dreams of being a writer altogether.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Both a little scared, neither one prepared

So, I took my eight year old niece to see "Beauty and the Beast" last night. It was at an an outdoor theatre in the park, and we went last Saturday, but due to heavy rains, they wrapped after the Gaston song and sent everybody home. But last night, the weather was perfect, warm, cloudless, starry, with a light breeze reminding me of how it must feel for the rest of you to be alive and have hope in your hearts and possibilities in your tomorrows.

Regardless, there were some brief moments of peaceful unmisery last night, and I had a feeling I could be someone, I could be someone.

The play is much, much longer than the film was, with virtually every character expanded, and the Beast given a couple of heartbreaking songs, and Belle practically singing rather than speaking lines. Was it too long? Hmmm, maybe. Certainly the extended "Human Again" and the uber-extended "Be Our Guest" went on and on, but then, I'm not one for lengthy dance numbers.

But the wolf attack and the fight sequences sort of evened that out.

It was so bloody magical and beautiful that it made me feel both special to be experiencing it, and unspecial in that I had no part of it, and that nothing I create could ever be of that calibre. But ah well.

After the show, the crowd (which was probably half children, a third teens, two percent Senior Citizens, and fifteen percent regular people) was invited to meet the cast, and my niece wanted to do so. Lumiere stayed in character (accent included), and my niece was afraid of Gaston (but not of Monsieur D'Arque, oddly enough).

The line for Belle was longer than all the others, and we ended up there last. I watched in skeptical wonder as a blind guy in a wheelchair spoke to her (and the Beast) for a moment, then reached out and felt their faces. That was a little surreal.*

Immediately before us in the line was a white woman with a little black daughter, and the child kept hugging Belle and wouldn't let go. That was pretty darn moving, and it reminded me of when my niece was tiny and would practically octopus onto Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny or Hanukkah Harry or whoever we'd take her to meet in the mall.

Watching the little black girl, I figure that that girl will adopt Tiana from PRINCESS & THE FROG as her new favorite Disney princess in a couple of years, but right now, color means nothing to her.

The world is a cruel and ugly place most of the time, and I probably add to that. But going to see this production was nice, and I enjoyed myself easily as much as my eight year old niece. Maybe even as much as that blind guy.

Rish "Cogsworth" Outfield

*As long as he only asked to touch Belle's face, I guess I believe he really was blind. For a second, however . . .

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

writing stuff

So, I was talking with my friend Howard Anklevich the other day about how disappointed I am with my writing lately (mostly that I have been thinking about writing a lot, but doing very little), and he said, "Why don't you post on your blog that you've made a goal to write x number of pages, and I'll put on my blog that I've done the same?"

Well, I didn't think that would do us much good, since I really can only motivate myself nowadays (and not very well), and as for Big, you could threaten to put his kids in the wickerman, and he still wouldn't write enough to fill a fortune cookie.* But I figured I'd try, I'd put a goal in writing and see if I can't actually achieve it.

Right now, I'm about two-thirds done with my Danielle Spider story, the one I meant to have finished in time for Christmas. The friend who inspired the tale, who I was going to make the story a present for, has a July birthday, so maybe I can set the goal of having it finished by the 4th of July. That's doable, really. Heck, if I was driven/inspired, I could have it done today . . . but the problem is that I'm neither driven nor inspired.

Regardless, here is my written goal: finish the darn spider story by July 4th. I may even throw on one of those cute word meter things.

It would be cool to finish that story after all these years. Unfortunately, there's no penalty if I don't. Even sadder, there's no reward if I do.

Rish Smiletime Outfield

*What sucks is, he's still more talented than you are. The world just isn't fair.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Young Man Carradine

I still remember where I was when I heard Michael Hutchence had died. Some friends and I were working on a student film, and I had gone to my car to read a little bit in the then-current "Wizard and Glass" by Stephen King. The radio was on, and in between songs, the DJ (remember those?) announced that Hutchence was found dead in Sydney, Australia.

I thought, "Wow, I was a big INXS fan for a while, and now he's gone, like a couple other lead singers in bands I liked. That's too bad." It's strange, though, in the years that followed, it was the WAY Hutchins died that followed him around rather than the life he lived up to that point. I don't know about you, but I've heard countless in-laws, hopscotch players, and Sunday School teachers mention the auto-erotic asphyxiation thing, and they couldn't tell you the words to "Never Tear Us Apart."

I guess you know where I'm going with this.

David Carradine was found dead yesterday, in his Bankok Thailand hotel room.
Found hanging by hotel staff, the death was deemed a suicide. He was seventy-two.

But a few minutes later, the story was amended. Apparently, it hadn't been suicide, but something more noble and acceptable--an accident during auto-erotic asphyxiation. His manager confirms it, and the maid who found him described a rope around his neck and his, well, grasshopper.

I'll make no comments about how strange I find it that the latter cause of death is considered more acceptable (if not noble) than the former, except that when I die, I sure hope people know it indeed was a suicide, and not . . . well, something else.Bruce Lee fans hate David Carradine. Tarantino fans love him. I fell somewhere in the middle. My dad was a big fan of "Kung Fu," though I only vaguely remember it. He also talked on several occasions about "Old Man Carradine," David's father. I guess my dad was, in his own way, something of a fanboy.

My friend Jeff and I went to a presentation for KILL BILL at a convention one time, in which David Carradine was a panelist, and verbally attacked one of the geeky kids during the Q & A. I didn't talk to him myself, but I suppose that--besides his appearance at the end of the second KILL BILL--will be my memory of the man.

I hope that his work--and not the way he died--will be part of your memories too (unless, of course, you also saw him tell the dumb kid at the microphone to shut the fuck up).

Rish "Bung Fu" Outfield

P.S. Since typing the above, there have been new allegations that Carradine was murdered, either by enemies he's made throughout his life, by some kind of underground kung fu cult Carradine had gotten involved with, or by the same Bruce Lee fans who also killed the ENTER THE DRAGON bad guy this week. It's pretty bizarre, really, but doesn't change any of the points I was trying to make.