Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy - Peace and Long Life

A couple of minutes ago I got a mysterious text from my cousin.

"The ship out of danger?"

Most people would be puzzled by this (or maybe they wouldn't, since most people text a lot more than I do; perhaps they'd just think it had auto-corrected wrong, or like the texts I sometimes get from Marshal Latham that are actually intended for his wife, that it was a mistake), but I'm a Lieutenant Commander in Geekdom, and I instantly got the reference.  At the end of WRATH OF KHAN, Spock's first question to Kirk is that.

I was to text back, "Yes, Spock, you saved us all."  But before I could respond, my cousin texted:

"Long live Spock."

And I pondered that for a moment, trying to figure out if my cousin was at home, watching "Star Trek," or if . . .

And then I knew.

Turns out Leonard Nimoy died today, at the age of eighty-three.  He had been ill for a while now, suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (which he claimed was due to years of smoking).  He was taken to a Los Angeles hospital earlier this week, but allowed to die at home.  Despite the title of his first autobiography, he will forever be remembered as Mister Spock.

But he WILL be remembered.  I can't think of a more iconic actor to represent geekhood, and the millions of people "Star Trek," and specifically Spock touched, influenced, and inspired.

I met Nimoy several times, starting in 2000, and he was always serious, calm, and classy.  I highly doubt anyone will remember me that way.  I actually got to work with him once (on an Aleve commercial I got booked on because I fit their casting call for "dumpy, geeky, unattractive men").  Did you see the ad?  He is at a Sci-Fi convention (not specifically, a "Trek" show, so as to be license-free and way cheaper) and his arthritis is acting up, and he's worried he won't be able to do the Spock salute to his fans.  But he takes, like, eleven Aleves, and sure enough . . .


He was also on "Fringe," and hosted "In Search Of," and voiced Galvatron in TRANSFORMERS: THE MOVIE, and did a season of "Mission: Impossible," and directed THREE MEN & A BABY, and recorded that awful "Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" song, and was in the excellent remake of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.  But few are talking about that right now.  Why does Mister Spock mean so much to people?  Why did I pause and start blogging almost as soon as I  got that text?  Why was I so moved to hear Zachary Quinto's tribute to him, where he said, "I will miss you every day.  May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."?

I don't know, exactly.  That's probably an essay in and of itself.  It could be that Spock represents the ideal alien--a benevolent, wise, cultured alien--of an optimistic future.  It could be that he speaks to those who feel like outcasts, who feel they stand alone, even among a crowd of people.  It could be that he exemplifies Smart People, who are educated and understand math and science and have brilliant minds, especially in a society that devalues that sort of thing.  It could be that he is always so extremely competent and smarter, stronger, older, and more respectable than James Kirk, and yet it is Kirk who always get to score with hot mini-skirted women.

But maybe it was Spock's humanity that made us love him.  He kept emotion and humor and passion bottled up deep inside, but it would occasionally come out, much to our delight.  My fondest Spock moment is in my fondest "Star Trek," the second movie.  In WRATH OF KHAN, bombarded by a fatal dose of radiation, he says, "Do not grieve.  It is logical.  The needs of the many outweigh . . ." "The needs of the few."  "Or the one."  I particularly love the moment right before that where Spock, blinded  and dying, pauses to straighten his uniform top before addressing Admiral Kirk.  "I am," he says, "and always shall be . . . your friend."

In his book, Star Trek Movie Memories, William Shatner talks about the Paramount test screenings of that film, before they added "Remember" and the coda on the Genesis world.  He describes the fans weeping in stunned abandon at the death of Mister Spock, prompting reshoots to put at least the POSSIBILITY of Spock's return in there.  I wish I could see the movie that way, just once.  It couldn't possibly make WRATH OF KHAN any better, but it would feel so very different.

But now he really IS gone.  And he lived a long, long time (well, eighty-three seems old to me), ask me again in twenty years--though you may have to do so via ouija board--and I may have changed my mind), but it's still sad when somebody admirable, famous, and/or great passes away.

This is a photo I took the last time I saw him, at San Diego Comic Con.  We spoke briefly about the reboot movie (I asked him if it surprised him that it made so much money, and why, he supposed, it had done so well) and even though there was a line (and he had been doing it for forty years), he was patient and friendly.

My cousin gave me a copy of "These Are the Voyages" recently, a three-volume examination of the making of the original "Trek" series, and I found it (and the other two books) fascinating, for lack of a less-Spocklike word.  I became much more fixated on "Star Trek" and its lore this year, and my appreciation for (and frustration on behalf of) the Original Series only grew.  So, the death of Spock came at a pivotal moment for me, with it on my mind and heart.

Midway through writing this post, my cousin asked if I wanted to go to lunch, and we got together and spoke of Spock and "Star Trek," and though I'm sure it was baffling and/or irritating for the diners around us, I quite enjoyed our conversation.*  I hope many, many other fans like me took some time to remember Leonard Nimoy today, and the contribution to our psyches and entertainments and passions.

Here is an image from my favorite episode of "Star Trek," "Amok Time:"
You may recall that as the episode when Spock undergoes the Pon Farr, the burning of the blood when a Vulcan must mate . . .  or die.  Spock defies Starfleet orders (and those of his captain), taking the ship to his homeworld to meet his would-be mate (who desires another man), and coldly pits her paramour Spock against Captain Kirk in order to win her affections.  Unable to control himself, it appears Spock has murdered Kirk, and must go back to the Enterprise, where he will resign his commission and submit to being court-martialed.  The Vulcan leader, T'Pau, gives him the standard farewell greeting ("Live long and prosper"), to which Spock says, "I shall do neither, for I have killed my captain and my friend."

But when Spock returns to the ship, he discovers that Doctor McCoy gave Kirk an injection that would make him only appear to be dead.  At this revelation, Spock expresses a rare moment of happiness at the discovery that his friend, Jim, is still alive.

Well, there you go (I have to head to work now, having already made myself late).  Leonard Nimoy.  He has been, and always shall be, our friend.

Rish Tiberius Outfield

*I came up with a concept for another Abramsverse STAR TREK movie, in which the Enterprise encounters a doorway into the Mirror Universe, where the Romulan Nero never disrupted the timeline, and not only does the planet Vulcan still exist (albeit as a subjugated nation of the Terran Empire), but Christopher Pike is still alive and captain of the I.S.S Enterprise.  I know you can write and sell some fanfiction on Amazon nowadays, and I wonder if it would be worth it to try.

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