Seventies Stories

We tell a lot of stories and we tell ourselves A LOT of stories.  Some of them are true but most of them are not entirely true.

Scratch that. 

None of them are entirely true because there is no absolute truth other than we will all die one day.

HAPPY JANUARY!

Resolutions be damned!

It’s better not to obsess about absolute truth or death because, really, what will that get us?  Instead, I’ve found over the years the better strategy is to accept that there are simply basic truths.

Like when you watch a group of many, many hundreds of weaponized people violently storm the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.  on, say, January 6, 2021, shouting they want to hang a US Vice President before he can, in an hour or two, ratify the results of a presidential election they didn’t like, this is, by definition, an insurrection.

That is because insurrection is defined as a violent uprising against an authority or government. 

You tell em, Lizzy!

It is also true because they built a gallows for the hanging, seriously injured and/or caused the death of many police officers AND destroyed many tens of thousands of dollars worth of government property in doing so.

On the other hand, there is no way to categorically proclaim Power of the Dog, a film I found beautiful to look at but vague and strangely homophobic in its vagueness, is the best movie of the year.

Now you might truthfully state it is the best REVIEWED film of the year and, by extension, a front-runner in the Oscar race for best picture and director.  But you can’t prove it is overall THE best by any rational standard.

Unless there is an Oscar for highest cheekbones, nothing is a sure bet!

No opinion of greatness is an absolute truth.  Just as no memory or memory piece is an absolute evocation of what literally happened.

The best we storytellers, which includes all of us (non-writers especially included), can do is capture a basic spirit of what happened and through character, plot and actions, show it to you.

This came to mind this week as I found myself debating the merits and debits of two films set in the decade I basically grew up in – the 1970s.  These would be Licorice Pizza and The Tender Bar.

Let me state at the outset that as a bit of an expert on the seventies, since I was at my most impressionable, observant and un-jaded at the time, both of these movies told the basic truth.

Double serving of 70s realness

This doesn’t mean they were brilliant or Oscar worthy or that YOU should love or like them.  Rather it’s that they were amazingly accurate on the essentials when so many stories about a particular place and time are not but pretend to be.

Most of the 1970s, particularly the first half, were really the tail end of what we now consider the cultural revolution of the 1960s. 

This was a time when everything felt adrift.  If you were coming-of-age at that moment your journey strangely coincided with the country’s journey.  No one knew what the new rules were in sex or sex roles; in politics and social settings; and to quote a 60s/70s expression, in love or war or the whole damned thing.

See: Peggy from Mad Men, Season 7

This made it a quite interesting but confusing time to grow up in.  To tell stories about it is like trying to hold a hyperactive puppy in your hands.  Just when you think you’ve tamed the impossible it wriggles out of your grasp and runs (or circles) in an entirely different direction.

I think this accounts for some of the disparate reaction to both films. 

The very reason I appreciate and enjoyed Licorice Pizza were the very reason four of the other five people watching the movie with me (Note:  Okay, yes, it was a screener and we watched it on Christmas Day at home!) lost interest.

The story of a weird, pseudo romantic relationship between a 15-year-old boy and a 25-year-old girl that unfolded in disjointed episodes where they sold waterbeds, met drug-fueled celebrities like producer Jon Peters and each grappled with their even stranger, ill-defined family lives, just wasn’t really compelling.

Even an unhinged Bradley Cooper cameo couldn’t do it for them

Yet for me, it was surrealistically accurate because that was what I saw as the story of the seventies.  Everything felt disjointed, and not merely because I was an adolescent.  It was a disjoined time and, in retrospect, a rather lovely one when you consider that the decade that would follow it were the Gordon Gekko-like greed is good eighties.

Sure, the seventies was also the era of Watergate but the eighties brought us Ronald Reagan. 

And let’s just let that sit there for a little while.

A chill just went down my spine

Okay, enough. 

The Tender Bar spends most of its time in the later 1970s and, as a memoir of a young boys’ coming-of-age, has a naturally gauzy quality to it.  But to its credit, it also doesn’t spare us the social reckoning that Licorice Pizza cleverly avoids. 

At this point, there was direct retribution and consequences for underage drinking, hitting women (note: particularly one’s wife) and the snobbism of economic class.  If it feels a little pat, well, at that time, on Long Island, if you were a teenager, it was a little pat.

I only know this because I grew up in Queens (Note: Not quite Long Island, but still….) and saw it play out in real time.  The years prior made it okay for kids to now call out adults in no uncertain terms.  In fact, it even got you support from that group of adults that had made the choice to evolve rather than stand their ground in insurrection to society’s changing norms.

AHEM

I loved The Tender Bar not because it was THE best of any film story but because it so entertainingly and boldly and emotionally told ITS story.  No one thought about being too sentimental because, let’s face it, it was something of an emotional time.

This was my truth of that moment and it happily coincided with what these filmmakers chose to show us.  Which is about the best you can hope to do as a storyteller of any kind.

Well done, Georgie.

Where we all get in trouble, especially society, is when we try to twist the basic truth into something patently and grotesquely untrue.

That’s not only unacceptable but it’s strangely un-American.  To this very American art form, that is.

Gordon Lightfoot – “If You Could Read My Mind”

Show Business Kindness

If you have 15 minutes, and who doesn’t, it’s worth your time to watch an impromptu Instagram video by comic Jeff Ross and musician John Mayer driving their friend Bob Saget’s car home from LAX.

Saget, 65, a nineties lore staple as the star of Full House and Americas Funniest Home Videos, as well as a perennial comedian/actor, died quite unexpectedly this week in a Florida hotel room the morning after doing one of his standup shows. 

He basically hosted YouTube, before there was YouTube

There was no foul play, no drugs and no scandal.  Though autopsy results are pending, right now it looks like he had either a sudden heart attack or a massive stroke.

As the Omicron version of COVID continues to decimate the U.S. and the planet, and we all continue to lose our minds over fascism, voting rights, masks and the people who refuse to wear them or get the g-d damned vaccine (Note: F-ck U Novak Djokovic, you’ll break that Grand Slam record over ALL of our dead bodies!) it might seem relevant to ask the question:

Why are you writing about Bob Saget?

I mean, other than the fact that he died?

Well, I’ll tell you.

America’s Dad

In a two-month period where we’ve lost revered show business legends like Sidney Poitier, Betty White and Stephen Sondheim, seeing the amount of show business love and heartbreak in reaction to the death of Mr. Saget feels…unparalleled?

Funny as he was (Note: I’ll always remember him for his hilariously filthy monologue in The Artistocrats), and as good of an actor as he could also be (Note: Check out his Law and Order: SVU season 8 episode, Choreographed), this isn’t an industry that comes together to laud people for anything other than superhuman success or super duper amounts of accrued money.

Not that Bob Saget wasn’t known among his peers for generous helpings of both.

But it seems what he was mostly known for was his unbridled and unrelenting love and generosity.

He was beloved.

Apparently following his death there was a three-day pajama party/shiva (Note: Jewish tradition for paying respect to a family who have lost loved ones where people bring LOTS of food) at his home with his family; his entire Full House family, which he kept together for decades as their own second family, (Note: Yes, BOTH grown up Olsen twins/moguls were there); as well as a diversity of comics, actors, musicians and other show business luminaries.

But as both the public and the personal tweets mounted there were only three words that united the many dozens, nee many hundreds of them:

KIND.  CARING.  LOVE.

Google his name and type in any of those words and see what comes up.

I guess the fourth word would be funny and it’s likely that would be the first word any comedian would want to have as their epitaph.

But it’s not as if we don’t know and expect comics to be funny.

What you rarely see leading the list in show business tributes is the constant and incessant use of the word kind

It’s not that everyone is mean.  It’s more that in the competitive and sometimes cutthroat world we humans have created, few individuals lead with kind and continue to do so that continually, dependably and personally over decades.

Bob Saget was like a lovable golden retriever, wasn’t he?

People can be kind on the set and a pleasure to work with but they likely won’t be your lasting good friend.  Someone can be a close buddy but it’s rare so many close buddies will be people you worked with and who you still might be competing with for a job.

Which also doesn’t account for those many non-pros who you have made sure to keep in your inner circle or to reach out to in times of trouble no matter how busy or rich you became, simply because you were kind.  Or, more likely, merely because you wanted to.

Jimmy Kimmel, who has cried before on his television show but contrary to so many mean tweets doesn’t do often, tells it much more specifically and emotionally:

We don’t talk a lot about real love and kindness in such direct ways any more for fear of appearing melodramatic or, to use one of my students’ favorite terms/fears, too cheesy.

Sometimes cheesy is good!

But that’s what got Jeff Ross and John Mayer to do something any L.A. resident would herculariously (Note: It’s a word now!) try almost anything to avoid — driving through freeway traffic to Los Angeles International Airport to find their friend’s car somewhere in a dreaded, unmarked multi-level parking structure, pay the overdue penalty and then turn right back around and drive themselves together again through rush hour traffic simply because someone had to do it and it was a way to help.

I mean, it’s not like you couldn’t get a lineup of p.a.’s to complete that task for you, with or without pay.

… and he was funny!

That might not seem like the ultimate display of kindness for those who don’t live here but you’ll just have to trust The Chair on this one.  Out here on the left coast, upper echelon of show business, this simply DOES. NOT. HAPPEN.  EVER.

Though love and kindness, those now seldom discussed qualities too often relegated to the cultural death heap of the sixties, never fail to surprise.  And occasionally, to inspire.

Full House Extended Theme Song