December 14, 2009

It's a Rough Shop Christmas

12.12.09 The 6th annual Rough Shop Christmas Show at The Focal Point was, once again, ultra magical. Actually, the entire journey was magical.

It started with recording the CD that became Just Because It Was Christmas.
You should buy it here.

There was a stop at the KDHX studios to record 4 of the songs from the instant classic album. Listen to them here.

And after a whirlwind week of rehearsing, the show went down with gusto and glee.
Here's photos from the event.

And thanks to Roy Kasten, there's excellent video of all the performances that night.

And here's some lesser-quality video shot by Steve Scariano on my crappy digital camera:

That's me in the red Liza dress, Kate Eddens with the red feathers and Anne Tkach on bass, which completes the Gift Trio.

That's Kate Eddens doing a Rough Shop original by Andy Ploof and John Wendland.

That's John Wendland singing the hell out of a Paul Kelly song! And my deep thanks to John and all of Rough Shop for the honor of being part of their Christmas music magic. They make it the reason for the season.

And Bonus footage:

September 22, 2009

Death to "Mr. Blue Sky"

Ricky Gervais is brilliant, and there's sweet promise around a new movie written and directed by him, The Invention of Lying. As part of advance PR for the movie, Gervais presents at the Emmy Awards and kills it, then it cuts to a commercial break which features an ad for his new movie. Sweet!

But sweet quickly turned sour, and I moaned and writhed on the couch during the entire ad because "Mr. Blue Sky" played over the entire advertisement. ANOTHER MOVIE USING THIS SONG?! I swear they're out to get me, and someone must pay for this unceasing lack of imagination and reatrded marketing.

I remember the "Mr. Blue Sky" plague beginning in 2004, with the release of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where it was used only in the trailers, but not on the soundtrack, and it worked very well in this context.

"Mr. Blue Sky" was not a big hit for the Electric Light Orchestra, reaching only #35 on the Billboard charts in 1978, bolstering the theory that really good songs usually don't chart that high because it takes a certain degree of water-down to reach an audience mass that makes Top 20 hits. But it was a fan favorite, and always elicited a positive response when someone ran across it in their musical travels. The song just makes you feel good!

And this is probably why they used it for Eternal Sunshine. But come the same year, at the start of the new fall television season, the short-lived NBC show LAX used it as the theme song. There was a short break until the flood gates broke open and the cinematic redundancy gushed out. Here's the short list of the over-use of "Mr. Blue Sky" in movies:

Martian Child
The Game Plan
Dan In Real Life (I swear this was the second Steve Carell movie to use this song, because upon seeing the trailer, I turned to a friend and asked, "Does Carell have it in his contract that this song must be used in all his movies?")

Role Models

Paul Blart: Mall Cop
The Invention of Lying

It was because of Role Models that I started asking around about why does this song get used so often. Someone in the entertainment field educated me on the basics of song rights for movies, and how the cheaper songs tend to get used more often because of budgets. So maybe "Mr. Blue Sky" sells real cheap, and because Jeff Lynne is a multi-millionaire, maybe he figures, "Why not? I can afford a little largesse." But doesn't he realize how the over-use of this song dilutes its impact? Jeff, where's your dignity?

Someone in the entertainment marketing field said that songs - especially when it comes to the marketing campaign - are used to evoke a mood and reach a specific demographic. So does this mean that each of these movies are targeting the subset of Gen Xers who were in grade school in the late 70s? And are we really that easy to manipulate?

The continual use of this song must serve some important purpose, or have some deeper meaning beyond crass movie studios shooting into a dead vein. So maybe there's a specific someone to blame for this hackery!

I plowed through everyone of these movie titles on IMDB, sifting through page after page of names and companies and credits, just trying to find a common link, and the only person who shows up twice is Peter Rotter, who was listed as music contractor for Martian Child and Role Models. But this is a guy who has worked on, literally, hundreds of movies, and a music contractor basically fills orders rather than gives them. So I feel bad about placing my anger on him, so I merely grumble quietly in his general direction.

But cramming this song down our throats has got to stop. Seriously, just knock it off, because hearing "Mr. Blue Sky" is now a potent form of aversion therapy, and the one I'm angry with now is...

Ricky wields a lot of power and exerts deep control, and he seems like the type who knows better than to go in for sloppy sevenths on the town whore song. Then again, maybe he's " 'avin' a laugh" at our expense, but he's not getting my box office dollars until the death of "Mr. Blue Sky."


September 07, 2009

Details magazine, September 1988

Before Details became a junior GQ, it was the the bible of New York City fashion, culture and party people. For 20-somethings in the Midwest wishing they were in Manhattan, $2 at the magazine stand was cheaper than a plane ticket, and we could be a part of the hip crowd without the threat of not measuring up. It picked up where Andy Warhol left off when he died in 1987.

The ads - like for Gaultier, above - seemed to speak a minimalistic NYC language that was decipherable after a couple of issues, and the cutting-edge designers tended to run different art in Details than they did in the mainstream fashion magazines like Vogue.

But unlike Vogue, they also ran ads from anyone who paid, so the hip was balanced with crap and that underscored the multiple layers of sublime to ridiculous that made the idea of NYC so enchanting.

The NYC clubs - like Odeon, above - or China Club were the destination, providing a shot at hanging in the same building as Matt Dillon or Dianne Brill. Most likely the NYC Club Kids would have blocked someone like me from entering, but I could avoid that embarrassment and still stay in the loop with...

...the best part of every issue, Stephen Saban's party-hopping column, lousy with photos and anecdotes about Cher's Bagel Boy, Rob Camilletti or Keith Richards hanging with 1980s supermodels. Saban knew everyone and dropped trivial facts learned about them while scarfing down free drinks at every cool place in the City. His was the ideal job.

Details had their own fashion issue every September, a decidedly low-rent affair of imperfectly laid-out black & white photos from the runways. This haste and nonchalance about haute couture from Marc Jacobs and Isaac Mizrahi was beyond cool and made this obtuse world much easier to understand. Which also pretty much sums up how Details ladled out NYC to those who couldn't be there.

July 12, 2009

The Michael Jackson Memorial: Tweet So Therefore You Are

OMG! Waiting to board my lane to the LA Michael Jackson memorial. They say my M.J. poster is too big for carry-on, but if I check it, it will get crumpled, I just know it!
5:41 AM Jul7th from Facebook

Just landed in LA for Michael Jackson memorial. Gotta find ride to the stadium.
7:50 AM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

Getting ride with actor/waiter who picked the 1984 model of Michael Jackson for his nose job.
8:00 AM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

Stuck in traffic 2 miles from Michael Jackson Staples. Vendor selling Jesus Juice. Little early to start drinking but what the heck!
8:32 Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

Getting closer to MJ's Staples. Lots of red leather jackets. Little warm for that, don't you think?
9:09 AM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

Just bought a white glove! But the spangles are coming off all over my clothes and floating in the Jesus Juice.
9:26 AM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

Signed the MJ memorial wall. Got black Sharpie all over my white glove. Reminds me of "black or white." Sigh...
9:53 AM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

Swear its Joe Jackson selling MJ's forks and spoons for $50 a pop. But he is still at Forest Lawn so must be an imposter. Will not buy.
10:05 AM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

Just saw my 12th MJ impersonator and had my 4th Jesus Juice. Is it OK to be having fun at this solemn event?
10:23 AM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

MJ body on way to Memorial. Crowd getting restless. Bought some souvenir loafers with white socks.
11:05 AM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

Guy who claims he was once MJ's doctor is passing out commemorative vicodin. In honor, I took 2.
11:32 AM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

Ticket holders being let in Staples. OK to be outside cos surely Mariah will be walking by.
11:39 AM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

Stomach rumbling, need food. MJ fan notes that he can't eat anymore so I can survive a few hours without food. Respect.
11:50 AM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

pills and jesus juice got me woozy. hope stay awake cos memorial is starting.
12:02 PM Jul 7th from Tiny Twitter

Back in StL from MJ's Memorial. Seems Corey Feldman found me passed out on sidewalk and eventually deposited me at LAX. Good times...
10:14 AM Jul 8th from web

July 05, 2009

Michael Jackson: Victory defeat or death; it's that walk!

There's lots of conflicting thoughts about Michael Jackson, but it takes a poet to distill the emotions.

Every time I listen to Jimi Hendrix, I now think of K. Curtis Lyle and his poem about him, "Electric Church." And Lyle has done it again, with his piece (or is that peace?) on Michael Jackson. This is a towering achievement. Thank you, K. Curtis Lyle.


Michael Jackson died today in internal exile;
His heart was put under house arrest
At a rented room in Holmby Hills;
Someone saw him fall out, put their
Mouth on his and then called 911;
Rushed to the UCLA Center for the
Medical Arts he was dead on arrival

"Once in awhile I like to be
Driven around town in a black hearse;
I sigh and ride past my old
Haunts and search for the faces of
Friends who started a joke by saying
They knew I'd end up on the
Front page of a check stand journal"

"With no place to be, I headed
Home for a reunion with my family;
I had lost contact with them maybe
10 or 15 years back, but I
Met them with my wit and they
Found me by rolling their lunches out
To the highway and wading through traffic"

"Do you ever wonder how a digit
Gets put to gether? How a life
Flies apart? I found some phone numbers
In my back pocket the other day;
None of them were praying; all were
Suspect; to find love and respect, you
Have to reach out and touch someone"

"I hadn't been around a lot lately;
I was out in the garage taking
Super secret notes on Duke's nuances in
East St. Louis Toodleoo, Rockin N Rhythm
And It don't Mean a Thing; from
My late teens til this after noon
he was my model and my man"

"I never stayed married after the wows
Because I felt glad and unhappy at
The same time; I put whiskey in
My shoes, laughed out loud twice at
The altar to make my feet move;
I feel that old and that young
Now, please, rip out my tongue"

The feather down knee pads remain, along
With the one jeweled glove; his hair
On fire during the filming of the
Pepsi scam; the magic screams of babies
At the opening of the best mother
Fuckin' video ever made; brother wore black
Shoes with snow white socks; so what!

Michael Jackson is a monster! Bubbles is
His real sweetie! Never Land is a
Coo Coo Nest! A scare crow jumps
Over the wall and buys up the
Beatles' memory as if it were a
Bottle of cheap British Schnapps; this totally
Pissed white folks off; say, so what!

He fucked Elvis's baby girl; true 'dat;
But then, Elvis fucked our baby girls,
Baby boys, mama, daddy, grandma, grandpa and
Such, til the black was stroked out
Of our blues; but, there is no
Such thing as fair trade in the
Bruised wars of culture; say, so what!

"I Moon Walk around Notre Dame calling
Out to Our Lady in ways that
Defy speech; the breach in the classic
World that I created can never be
Closed; from the mad Geto Boys of
South Houston to the sperm soaked streets
Of Lagos ruled by Fela Anikulapo Kuti"

"I cross myself in death with symbols
Of the Coming of Man; the right
Hand grabbing the crotch; the left waving
To my baby; maybe she's in the
Next room; the left knee and ankle
raised in eternal dispute with grave yards;
Ham strimg loose below the right thigh"

"Samson had all the muscle in the
World, but he couldn't move like me;
Whippet stray coal housed under white canary
James Brown Stevie Wonder Ray Charles Marvin
Gaye Jimi Hendrix made my way; I
Give them praise and thanks for showing
Me how to rob banks with music"

Steel carrot parlays as birds of Bahrain
Are almond stuffed in little holes of
Concrete and sand and left on the
Beach to preach in silence to the
Masters of oil wealth; their stealth and
Cunning in the art of running a
Game would not please the Prophet Muhammad

"Who will offer me cool leave; then
Who will grace me with station and
Fixed chords; care taker of earth air
Metal wood water and fire; I desire
Two things; a place to be and
The name of the archer who launched
Me from the pad of Cape Michael"

"When I come back as a jaguar
There will be throats torn out;
Knee caps will crack; shins and calves
Will be shred like wheat under the
Battle plan of a John Deere tractor;
Save your money and buy your tickets
'Cuz you know I will be BAD"

Rudy & the Valentinos Charlie & the
Lindberghs Jimmy & the Deans Marilyn &
The Monroes Elvis & the Presleys Johnny
& the Lennons Mikey & the Jacksons
Make the globe tremble; shave an iceberg
Out from its center; no doubt, this
is the Age bearing the Bozo Yuga

"This is not real opium you handed
Me, but a placebo drug with pizza
Flavor; I asked for a Georgia stomp,
An Alabama strut, a Carolina shout and
You hand me a stapler to shoot
Myself through the door and deflate the
Pain; I'm insane! I want the pain!"

For every Gabriel blowing a joyous horn
Through her mouth there is a drunken
Son House on Hollywood Blvd; crack slouch
Asleep in his red rocking chair wonders
Where when and why her prayers turned
Away from the power to reveal the
Rising sun and into genuine night mares

We come; press our Beijing ducks with
Time and hammer them into food; craven
Thin men remove the shake from nails
The rude whip from the back of
The body; a turtle strides into the
Camp ground: he brings a blue guitar
Back from Gary; Indiana of my youth

"I saw two men take down a
Third; lay him gently on the ground
And remove the rope from his neck;
As one man soothed the burned throat
The other reached inside the dead man's
Chest and pulled out his heart;
The art of healing is never lost"

O night of wax lament where we
Release the last record of your soul;
The people are not sad about what
Became of you; of elfin limb and
Papier mache, you are solid inside; in
Cloud sedate and funeral mount there is
Heard coming and going liquid lotus fire

What does the down button mean? In
The face of the panel of the
Ride, there are lines that explain the
Price of a stumble or a missed
Step; he wanted to go to the
13th floor; the door opened at #
9; what kind of sign is that?

God is the aim, but mostly the
Claim is one that only moves persona
From one solemn horizon to the next;
What if the motion was toward a
Black vertex that endured and out lasted
Time health illness rank grammar logic truth
Vision and being; beyond even inner seeing

The roan mare raised the rose stud
The rose stud went down town; down
Town was blank and gone all day;
So mare and stud down town became
Full and bold like warriors with the
Self control of women; to be a
True animal means to know your limit

Cool sugar beet crushed under mortar by
Cruel pestle is the prime meta phor
I'd use to light the plat form
Of my love; I need to just
Squeeze and ring your fleet frame until
Its thin as a wet rag drying
In the sweat lodge of plains summer

That walk is the walk of a
Killer; slow to deliver a motive, but
So brazen that the smell of terrain
The shift of wind the drift of
Sky has no choice but to choose
You over the victim; it's not about
Victory defeat or death; it's that walk!

When you sing in unison with any
Being you become one; beget their letters
And laws as long as the song
Endures; a cricket is a lonely woman;
Spike Lee hugs Madonna in the open;
Alms for kids wailing in Malawi compose
Psalms for those who weep in London

Gristle and carti lage and white bone
Poke through skin; this is after the
End of the world; history and mystery
Criss Cross one another a billion times
Before a new stage begins; every 50,000
Years Shiva rises in the wild west
To test the mettle of our DNA

To GO is the nature and the
Symbol of godhead; to stay is the
Nature and symbol of mankind; the smoothe
Middle path at first seems wise, then
Finally foolish; the holy man chews lemon
Drops to soothe his gut's deep burn;
At death he leaves a sweet tooth

"The beauty of causes and games is
Set in the same basket as assault
With intent to commit mayhem; I loved
Richard Pryor because he figured out how
To make the naivete of Leon Spinks
The power of Coltrane and the primal
Daring of Tupac into an elegant hustle"

The dark horse trims fat so that
He can get to ship shape; William
Butler Yeats sailed off to Byzantium when
His muse told him that he had arrived
In a country where there was no
Place for old men; degrade color romance
Sound then founder in your own phlegm

"A widow makes me kiss a Masonic
Stone; I am alone in the part
myself that can't stop the
Needle and scalpel from peeling all the
Flesh down from around my asshole;
I was once fierce in my loins;
My heat broke and the climate changed"

"The thought of being buried offends me;
Big hole fronted by a marble stump
They expect me to just jump in
And let them pile on until I
Rot and become an after thought; some
Ritual residue rehash urn; I didn't come
From dust; so why should I return?"


June 25, 2009

Scrapbook: Farrah Fawcett-Majors

The untimely (62 is too young) death of Farrah Fawcett is sad, but knowing in advance that she was dying was deeply distressing. Well before the airing of Farrah's Story, I was keeping track of her condition, awaiting the inevitable. She eventually chose to tell the full story of her cancer journey, and then we knew exactly what kind of living hell she bravely persevered through.

It made me think of Paul Newman, who surely went through the same kind of cancer hell, but he and his family worked hard to hide this from the public, who only had a few brief heads up that he was dying. Because of this privacy, the news of his death became a celebration of his life and accomplishments rather than a study of his terminal illness.

But Farrah made the decision to let us in on the illness phase, and it created a new level of empathy and connection with a lady who was, technically, a stranger. For anyone who has personally experienced family or friends dying of cancer, you know that their death comes as a relief - they are finally free of the pain. So, rather than sadness, I reacted to Farrah's death with a great sense of relief: relieved that she was released from the prison of her own body, and relieved that I could now give up this unusual form of extended grieving for someone I didn't really know.

Turns out millions of us feel like we did know her, as highlighted by the media comments and remembrances by us common folk. The one commentary that struck me the most came from Greg Archer on The Huffington Post because it so closely mirrors my experiences and reactions to those early days of Farrah Mania, especially the parts about getting a skateboard and the scrapbook. Archer had three of them! I only made one, and since it was never thrown away, I can now share some of the pages with you.

Leafing through this nearly-ancient and rotting 3-ring binder has been a touching way to remember Farrah and my 5th grade self, as well as a fascinating study of sudden stardom, media saturation and how the woman at the center of it spent the majority of her life trying to get out from under it.

Because I was a grade school TV junkie, I'd seen Farrah plenty of times. She was Lady Shick, and the Noxema girl, and the Mercury lady who cavorted with a cougar. Because I was a magazine junkie, I knew her as the gal hawking Wella Balsm, Winchester cigars and jewelry. Then she began showing up in magazines like Rona Barrett's Hollywood and Gossip because she was the wife of Lee Majors, which didn't mean all that much to me because I just wasn't a fan of bionic people.

Then in September of 1976, out of nowhere, came Charlie's Angels and BOOM - it was full-time Farrah. Oh sure, the other two Angels were crucially important (I even named my first cat Sabrina): little girls typically never played cops and robbers until the girl detectives burst into our lives, and there being 3 of them made group re-enactment a democratic form of make-believe. But re-creating Roller Derby Angels couldn't get under way until resolving long, intense debates over who got to be Jill.

Jill Munroe being the favorite angel among little girls was not all that mysterious or complicated. Kelly Garrett was impossibly beautiful and sneaky, procuring secret information and suddenly unleashing mad karate; she was dangerous. Sabrina Duncan was cute and brainy, plotting strategy and putting thugs in their place; she was authoritarian.

But Jill Munroe was physical - skating, skateboarding, diving, dancing, jumping and punching - and fearless and friendly and slightly silly. She also had the coolest car, the coolest clothes and would clearly be the most the most fun Angel to hang out with. Jill was like the ultimate big sister and/or the embodiment of what you hoped being an adult would be like.

But Jill was nothing in comparison to Farrah. Everything about her was fresh, abundant and slightly alien, starting with that very unusual name and ending with that hair.

Previous to Farrah, ladies' hair was either meticulously styled and glued into place or stick straight and parted down the middle. Then suddenly, there was bangs and layers and wings and movement; even when standing still, Farrah's hair seemed lifted in a constant breeze. It was a mesmerizing spectacle, compelling most every female of every age to layer their hair and attack it with curling irons and hot rollers to studiously achieve the care-free look.

Previous to Farrah, female sex symbols were curvy and stacked and presented like dolls in a display window. Then suddenly, an athletic build and a healthy glow was sexy and attainable. Farrah wasn't busty (it was more about nipples than cup size) so was unencumbered by a bra. She wasn't hourglass so wasn't confined by tight clothes exaggerating the obvious. Her physical presence conveyed movement, and freedom and fun. Whereas Raquel Welch's cartoonish sexiness elicited women's jealousy, it was easier to approximate and benefit from Farrah's new kind of sex appeal.

Farrah was not classically beautiful. This became apparent when she stood next to Jaclyn Smith, who had the traditionally exquisite kind of face that maybe only .1% of the female population possesses. Instead, Farrah had an energy and charisma that combined with that hair and that smile to project a a new and revolutionary personality.

I remember a Vogue magazine spread with Farrah, wherein the writer revealed that the photo shoot crew were first shocked and then relieved to see her legs were peppered with scrapes and bruises, the true hallmark of an active person. They realized she wasn't perfect and thus adored her even more. Farrah created a new standard of beauty and desirability, and healthy, casual and robust was something every female could realistically achieve. Previously rigid standards of beauty were finally buried.

Her allure was immediately apparent, but that is a job requirement of most Hollywood folk, and instant hit TV shows happen all the time. So what was the key to rapid fire Farrah Mania?

The Baby Boomers had Beatle Mania, and that flash flood cultural revolution was due, in part, to the deft media manipulation of their manager, Brian Epstein. For the Generation X version of Beatle Mania, Farrah's Epstein was Jay Bernstein. And just as most Beatle fanatics knew who Brian was, same went for Jay. I remember a TV Guide article that reported the floor of the pool at his mansion had a mural of the famous Farrah Fawcett poster. He was an important - and fascianting - character in the story of Farrah.

Bernstein had a rare flower and he deftly threw out the seeds, growing dolls, toys, posters, T-shirts, trading cards, lunch boxes and folders.

Books and special edition magazines sprung up like dandelions on the newsstands, and for a generation of young kids attuned to Tiger Beat and MAD, we plucked them with fervor.

For the older folks, Bernstein made sure Farrah was always on the cover of some magazine that reached precise demographics. And if she wasn't a cover feature, her lingering contract with Wella Balsm made sure she would still be somewhere inside every issue of Redbook and Cosmopolitan. Today, it is deeply touching that People magazine did such a wonderful job of documenting all the milestones of Farrah's life.

A key component of Beatle Mania was the distinct look and personality of each Beatle, which made it easy to emulate them by adopting a few key ingredients, like the mop top. Farrah had That Hair, and magazines endlessly shared diagrams of exactly how to get that look. Even though most of us failed spectacularly at achieving the precise Farrah Flip (they warned us that she had very thick hair), it did insert Feathered Hair into the eternal lexicon of hair styles. Even my thin and fine 5th grade hair received a boost from having layers, which is one of the reasons variations of the Farrah 'do will never completely die off.

Once millions of women had approximations of That Hair, what better way to celebrate this achievement than with Farrah Look Alike Contests! For the thousands of new suburban shopping malls springing up across America, there was no better way to bring in customers than to invite ladies' to competitively duplicate Farrah for cash prizes and shopping sprees, and bring along your family and friends.

In North County St. Louis, we had our Farrah Look Alike Contest at the freshly-opened Jamestown Mall. The mother of one of my school mates entered the competition because she felt that her tan, her frosted blond hair with banana curls and her blue eyes made her a sure bet. But as she paraded around the stage in a navy blue one-piece swimsuit smiling so wide her neck veins bulged, it became embarrassingly clear that she'd made a huge miscalculation. For several days afterward, it was difficult for her children to look her in the eye.

The winner of that contest actually did look awfully similar to Farrah, and this achievement earned her local celebrity status for several years afterward. Even better? I ran across this lady at a Famous-Barr department store in the mid-1990s, and she looked exactly the same! In the best possible Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? way, she had preserved every iota of that 1977 Farrah-ness, and considering that Farrah herself couldn't even do it if she wanted to, I about cried with happiness over this demented bit of physical nostalgia.

In August 1977, the overheated race car that was Farrah Mania hit a huge speed bump with the news that she was leaving Charlie's Angels. The emotional and fiscal impact this had would be equal to the absurd notion of The Beatles breaking up in 1965. I wasn't alone in my instant dislike for the newest Angel, Cheryl Ladd.

While the producers of the television show sued Farrah for breach of a non-existent contract (which ended in Farrah returning to the show for 6 episodes during Seasons 3 and 4), Jay Bernstein continued throwing logs into the fire.

The media was still cranking out Farrah magazines, posters and T-shirts.

And new variations of her hairdo were still worthy of cover story placement. See, Farrah was not going away, she just wouldn't be on TV once a week, so there's no need to panic or get angry.

The Farrah PR juggernaut worked all the angles: she left the show because her husband couldn't take it anymore (the Good Wife angle) and they wanted to start a family (the Good Mother angle), and she wanted a chance to become a real actress (the Movie Star angle). So, the focus shifted from her being a phenomenon to wanting to earn the right to be so damn famous by returning to films. A constant stream of news and photos from the set of her new movie mingled with the introduction of The Fawcett necklace.

Somebody Killed Her Husband opened September 1978, and we went on opening weekend to see it. My mother and I went to the movies constantly, and she had long ago stopped restricting me to kiddie films, so I had seen a large number of the movies for adult audiences, and had developed a good critical radar from constant exposure to and passion for movies.

That back story is required for my 7th grade opinion that Somebody Killed Her Husband was actually really good. Even my mother - who did a good job of pretty much ignoring Farrah - liked it. It had an engrossing murder mystery plot, Jeff Bridges was great as usual, and it was easy to overlook that it was "Farrah" because she did a solid job of being "Jenny." I was relieved that the movie worked, and that Farrah had not made a mistake in leaving Charlie's Angels.

Seems I'm the only one who thought that... or saw it. It eventually made its way to VHS (and I liked it even better many years later), but never to DVD. It's a case where bizarrely overblown stardom coupled with relative shock over her career choice created no chance to meet the unusually high expectations for such a small, unassuming film. Maybe her passing will bring about a reassessment of this time period of her work; there's nothing to be embarrassed about with this picture.

But her first flop was no big concern because Faberge unleashed a line of Farrah Fawcett hair care products!

So all the rabid Farrah fans that didn't see Somebody Killed Her Husband still saw her regularly in magazine ads and television commercials for the products. Here's the first commercial, and this is the second commercial.

I instantly noticed that "Majors" had been dropped from her name, and wondered what that was about. But I let it drop because the stuff was really great. I'm not the only Gen Xer who still vividly remembers the smell of the shampoo and conditioner; it was sweet with vanilla underscored by enticing spices.

Come the release of Farrah's second post-Angels film, Sunburn, in August 1979, Farrah Mania was truly past tense. Even I didn't bother to go see it, and have still yet to see it because it never merited much more than an illegal release on Japanese DVD.

And the same goes for Saturn 3, released February 1980, which for me personally wasn't worth the trip to a movie theater because it was a sci-fi flick (same reason I still haven't seen her 1976 film Logan's Run).

During this one-year time period, she separated from Lee Majors (thus the dropping of "Majors" from her name), took up with Ryan O'Neal, and parted ways with manager Jay Bernstein. In retrospect, these were neon signs of a woman forcefully excising oppressive features of her life (husband, manager and fame) in order to figure out what really mattered for her career and personal satisfaction.

In essence, she purposely walked away from it all at the height of crazy fame, making her trajectory not unlike J.D. Salinger or Greta Garbo, but actually more akin to Leonardo DeCaprio recoiling in fear after Titanic, some 20 years later. Yes, she continued to work, but only under her own terms.

Over the years, Farrah has addressed how insane the heightened fame was, and how it instilled a need in her to control her privacy, which usually turned out to be a futile aim despite her best efforts. Because of the speed and impact of her ascendancy, she was forever an icon and would forever fight to keep it in control and in perspective. Her thoughts on the matter are really no different than what has been expressed by all the former Beatles, with the major difference being she checked out from it far sooner and far more successfully than any of them did.

It wasn't until August 1977 that she determined what kind of acting career she wanted, and it took another 7 years for her to hone that talent and finally receive the respect and validation she needed.

Let's not forget that she was, essentially, a good Catholic Girl ( after one divorce, she never remarried and she surely bore the unorthodoxy of an unwed pregnancy in 1985 even more than the general public did), so it's easy to imagine the guilt she felt over undeserved success and fame. What is most deserving of respect and admiration is how drastically she moved to correct it, and how hard she worked to achieve the right balance of personal and professional that would make her comfortable in her own skin.

Her personal journey is another reason she has remained such an intriguing icon to both Boomer and Gen X women. The first quarter of her life was about following the rules, while the rest of her life was about writing and re-writing her own rules. It wasn't always smooth, it wasn't always pretty, but a life lived honestly never is, and if someone as blessed as Farrah - who had no choice but to live it partially in public - could trip, fall and always get back up again,then maybe we could, too. We couldn't have her hair, but we could use her as a barometer and inspiration.

The Golden Girl who always had it all and continuously threw it all away in her search for something true had come to her final chapter. Because of all the previous chapters of her life, she was fully equipped and fully prepared to face the ultimate meaning of her life, which is why her decision to let us in on the most painful, final chapter of her life has such resonance: she had nothing left to fear because naked honesty is the final reward that all spiritual practices aim for, and she finally attained it.

We have all noted the bravery of her final years, but when looking back on her life, that bravery was always there; we just didn't quite see it because of all the trappings of beauty and crazy fame. But even though we didn't acknowledge it until the end, she lived it every day, and she more than validated the reasons why we have been so captivated by her for so many decades. She has earned the rights of her iconic status, and she has earned the right to rest in peace.

March 29, 2009

Sexual Archetypes: the 30th Anniversary of "Sooner or Later"

We all react to subconscious triggers embedded in our brains, and often the key to breaking a habit is making the effort to unlock that code. Sometimes it's impossible to identify Ground Zero, while other times we know exactly what it is and the struggle is to try and lessen the power it has over you.

There is a certain type of guy that always sets off my alarm. While I don't consider this a bad habit, it does tend to make me overlook a more appropriate type of mate simply because he doesn't match the archetype. This was never considered a problem when I was younger, but now that I'm on the other side of 40, I wonder if remaining keenly attracted to this specific archetype will eventually back me into a corner? Should I try to break this spell? Can I? And do I want to?

I know my Boy Ground Zero: It was March 25, 1979 when ABC aired Sooner or Later, starring Denise Miller (fresh off the TV series Fish) and Rex Smith. If you don't know the story, within this page, I've depicted the most crucial plot points of the story, as remembered from the perspective of a 13-year old girl. That's exactly how old I was when it aired, that's how old the character Jessie was in the movie, and that was the target audience.

The film was written, produced and directed by Carole and Bruce Hart, who did a masterful job of knowing exactly what things 13 year old girls obsessed about. Horrible job yes, but if you've got a job to do you gotta do it well. There are plenty of money guns aimed at that demographic at any given moment, but it takes a little more effort and heart to create something that goes off like a bomb at the time and then continues to resonate for years after.

On a Friday, not a single junior high girl knew who Rex Smith was, but come the following Monday, it was a wonder we'd survived that long without him. I was blown away because his singing voice sounded quite a bit like David Cassidy (my first true love), and unlike the fawn-like Shaun Cassidy (who was on my walls at this time - as well as on the walls of a character in the movie), Rex was a dangerous, sexy MAN. And he fell for someone my age!

Denise Miller was the perfect blank page for writing yourself into the story. She was cute, but not exceptional, so not a threat. She was audacious without being precocious, so a believable role model for a confusing period of life. She confirmed the secret to jump starting a love life - makeup. And she landed the hottest rock guy in a not too improbable way. It was the most believable of scenarios, and that air of real life possibility is probably what makes it an emotionally enduring film.

I bought the paperback book. I bought the album. I bought the issue of Us magazine with a feature on Rex Smith that featured a photo of him by a pool, completely naked save for an electric guitar. I swear to you the tip of his penis was visible in the picture. I threw Shaun Cassidy under the bus. I got a $35 acoustic guitar from Sears. I waited expectantly for my Michael Skye.

About 14 years later, I finally got around to proper guitar lessons. I about plotzed when my teacher was a long-haired, Italian stallion metal guy. Knee-to-knee in a tiny room, I could barely concentrate as he put my new Telecaster through its paces. I soon dropped the lessons because he was too hot for me to be serious about learning, and because it made all those latent Sooner Or Later emotions well up. That, and I also had a boyfriend who played guitar and had hair much like Michael Skye.

So, I went home and put the dog-eared paperback and the well-worn vinyl into a box of stuff that went off to a garage sale. This was the grunge era, so these items from a bygone era were way uncool and embarrassing.

Sooner or Later happened right after my puberty kickoff. The whole point of the movie was dealing with the issues of girlish daydreams becoming all too real. "They tell me I should slow up/ Take my time and grow up/ But sooner or later is too late."

It quickly becomes apparent that the dividing line between child and teenager is hormones, and what to do about it. Your body tells you plenty, you're all ears, but you don't understand and are mortified by what it's saying. The outcome - sex - is inevitable, but it's the steps toward it that were the most confusing. Wait, that aspect doesn't change much, no matter how old you are. I guess we just have so much practice with it that it's no longer as scary.

But it was that fear of the unknown that made it so indelible and so special. Just like first love, the lead up to first sex is filled with rush of new emotions that then become unsustainable once you've experienced it. They are replaced with sensations that we experience over and over again, in many new and different ways, but The Firsts have a powerful hold on our psyche.

Many, many years later, my Mother ran across Sooner Or Later on cable, and was kind enough to tape it for me. I circled that tape for a few days, afraid to watch it again 20 years later because what if it sucked? I loved those memories from that time; why chance ruining it?

Have you ever run across an old commercial from your childhood that you completely forgot until you saw it again, but it was like being transported right back to that very moment in time, and you recall it all crystal clear? The sensory input actually produces a physical reaction; it can make you feel good, instantly. I believe the physical sensation it produces is why we spend so much time on YouTube - it's like huffing emotional glue.

My second viewing of Sooner Or Later was the second coming of puberty, and it was good. Real good. It turned out to be an exceptionally well-written and executed piece of work with an honest, emotional core that allows it to float past being unduly dated by its time period. Yeah, all that... and it had me giggling and screeching like a 13 year old girl, all over again!

I swooned and cringed in the exact same spots as before. Every emotion was just as pure and expansive as it was at 13, and being able to fully conjure that at such a late date was a heady experience. It reminded me of a Rufus Wainwright song: "I twist like a corkscrew, the sweetness rising, I drink from the bottle, weeping why won't you last? Why can't you last?"

Well, yes, it can last - just hit rewind!

Viewing it from an adult perspective just adds to the fun. Considering my age, it's now PG cougar porn primo, and I appreciate the care they took in lingering on certain camera angles. It produces this weird sensation of my teen and adult selves swooning simultaneously for different - but just as valid - reasons. It's as close to an out of body experience as I'm going to get without meditation or medication.

During the drive-in scene, Michael sings "She's Still a Mystery To Me" to himself as Jessie stuffs her face with junk food to avoid the necking that accompanied drive-in dates. Jessie asks what's the song, and Michael teaches her about John Sebastian and the Lovin' Spoonful, following up with another pointed reference by singing "Young Girls." This makes Jessie cry, because she has a bucketful of secrets to soon reveal, but at the time, it sent me to the library to dig deeper into the Spoonful, beyond the radio hits. So, Rex, thanks for another enduring gift!

Jessie is 13, Michael is 17. Yes, technically, it will be statutory rape (if 17 was considered adult in Yonkers in 1979). That's the first lens we view through, today. But of far more emotional impact is the deep sea change within that 4 year age difference at that time of life. The writers didn't need to cite laws to make the revelation of the concealed age difference so gut-wrenching for both of them.

But it does beg the question: could this story be told as convincingly today? For multiple cultural reasons, a 13 year old girl is a much different creature than she was 30 years ago, outwardly. Could the changing shape of society, parenting and criminal paranoia make this a quaint, old-fashioned story?

I've now watched Sooner Or Later with male and female friends around my age, some seeing it again, some seeing it for the first time. Everyone enjoys it, which verifies that it truly is quality work. But I've yet to have a clock in from a young girl of today. Would the story resonate? Would the Michael Skye type still be considered foxy in this era?

Personally, the Michael Skye type still resonates within me. Maybe a bit too strong... depends on the perspective and the day. I didn't need to see the movie again to conjure that, only to verify the starting point. But now that I know what the trigger is, maybe it will be easier to quell the sensation and explore the world of Non-Michael Skye types. Especially when I can get my fix any time I want by popping in the DVD!

Turns out there is a part two and three to the story of Jessie and Michael. The Harts wrote two more books about it. Waiting Games takes place immediately after, with 14 year old Jessie deep in a sexual relationship with Michael, whom after declaring his undying love for her, leaves for Los Angeles to become a rock star.

Now or Never zooms ahead 4 years, finding Michael a drunken and failed rock star coming back home and hoping Jessie will take him back.

I haven't read the sequels, though I'd certainly love to. They are not available at any of the libraries, and the third book is fetching some crazy high prices in the eBay world, so that's not happening for me. I'm content with leaving it right where it is, and wishing we could get a little more 30th anniversary love for this romance classic.