Endings and Beginnings

The one and only?

“When one door closes another opens.”  It’s taken me all of my life and then some (I’m counting the future) to accept the adage.  How does one take a disappointing or not hoped for outcome and not only accept it but actually revel in it because its very existence might be opening up a great opportunity yet to come?

On that note, how can you let go of a longtime dream, whether you’ve achieved it or not achieved it and make room for another (Remember — either outcome means you do have to go on).  How do you believe that CHANGE IS GOOD, or can be good –-because experience tells us that it is, or can be, if we make it so.

This is all essential in show business and in life (Side Note: Never, EVER, confuse the two).   I’ll resist saying anything about the latter because, well, I’m not that wise and certainly not old enough to philosophize.  But I do know something about surviving in show business because, well, I’m friends with a lot of people who have and, let’s face it, here I am still performing in our little/big/medium-sized three-ring circus (the size depends on your current standing in the biz).

The death of Amy Winehouse this week prompted all this reflection.  I was a rabid fan of the brilliant and troubled young singer and her demise felt to me like a door closing on one of the few contemporary musicians whose work I listen and relate to with any regularity.  There have been so many intelligent tributes, tweets, comments on this (and some not so smart) that I won’t go on about it.  You can read Russell Brand‘s or two writers at Salon (here and here) for some of my favorites.  There’s even a NY times article where iconoclastic (or at least he was) director John Waters talks about her style.

But best of all there’s the music. Listen to the “Back to Black” album and if for some reason it’s not your thing, it is likely you won’t deny the one-of-a-kindness of Winehouse’s talent.  Perhaps more interesting and less known was her pared down jazz/soul cover of the vintage Carole King song, “Will You Still Love me Tomorrow.” Watch it here. 

Why am I writing about this?  Because while part of Winehouse’s talent was just a grand gift from – not sure where, you decide – it was not just the inheritance of the “brilliant gene” that fostered her creativity.  She worked at it from a young age.  She grew up obsessed with Frank Sinatra, girl bands, played with her musician Dad and others for years on end as a kid on several instruments.  She listened incessantly to Billie Holiday, white British soul singer Mari Wilson, and American girl group icon Ronnie Spector for hundreds of hours on end.  Spector, a member of rock royalty whose classic “A Christmas Gift For You” album you hear in every mall across America in the holiday season (and yeah, she was married to THAT guy), knew Winehouse was inspired by her but the feeling was mutual.  So much so that at a concert six months ago, she sang a cover song of Winehouse’s signature song, “Back to Black.”  (Watch it here) while a shy Winehouse hid behind a man in the corner.  But Spector still spotted Winehouse’s signature beehive hairdo, the same hairdo she herself sported in the 60s.

The truism here is that like all great art, artists are not accidental and Amy Winehouse wasn’t.  It was a combination of study and hard work on the shoulders of those who came before her — Holiday, Spector, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, the Shirelles and every girl group of the sixties, Aretha Franklin, Carole King (I was surprised but shouldn’t have been that a Carole King song, “So Far Away,” was noted by her father as one of her favorite songs at her funeral), and Lauryn Hill (the latter apparently being someone she listened to incessantly).  That her demise into the “27 club” even happened is awful and represents an ending of sorts.  Yet as final as her death is as an end to her new music, we can be sure her creative history marks the beginning of someone else – perhaps in a few years – in 10 years – or maybe a generation later.  That person will listen to Winehouse incessantly, be influenced by her and the handful of brilliant artists of all kinds before her, and create something just as raw, fresh and frankly, amazing, as she did.  But in a different way.  And we can also be sure that person would not have existed without Winehouse ending specifically when she did.   That sucks, and we wish it didn’t happen but it did and that’s the way of the creative world.  Work is sparked by nuance, by obsession, by circumstances, by innocence and by tragedy – of all kinds. *

 *For those who say we pay too much attention to Winehouse’s death in comparison to the massacre last weekend in Norway, I say – “uh, since when do tragedies have to compete in the “best” category, like Oscars,  and why does attention to one negate the other.  And I point you to this refutation in one of the two prior Salon posts.

It should also be noted the ENDING of Winehouse’s music will somewhere spark the BEGINNING of someone else’s voice not only in music but in film, print, television and/or yes, perhaps the internet.  It’s part of the elusive cycle of art in this new world we live in.  No one does it alone, really.  Nor could they  (And who would want to?).  We don’t live in isolated caves anymore, no matter how much the reflection of our current events on cable news makes it seem.

If you want to create new work it helps to have a “gift.”  But more people than you might realize have the “gift.”  Ask anyone over 40 you know who is an actor, writer, musician or director to recite some of the more talented friends with sparks of brilliance much brighter than their own who were never heard from and I guarantee you will soon get a list a mile long.  The legacy of Amy Winehouse, aside from her music and her brilliance, was that she worked at it her whole life.  So much so that it will in turn give life to much more wonderful art than we can ever know.  Endings and beginnings, indeed.


On a more personal basis – today marks another exciting beginning of sorts for someone very special to the chair and to this blog.   My colleague Holly Van Buren, who fills in for my lack of tech savvy and is the best blog editor any guy (or gal) could ever have, is leaving Ithaca College Los Angeles and relocating to our home campus in Ithaca , NY where she will be teaching freshman film, among other life lessons. (Lucky them – and that’s not me being sarcastic!).

Holly’s exit from our offices is an ending – and is sad for us – but is such an exciting beginning for her that we can’t be sad unless we were the most selfish, egocentric, only obsessed with our own needs people in the entire world.  And I, for one, stopped being that last week because I didn’t want to make Holly feel any worse for abandoning/leaving me and the blog, (okay, not to mention the rest of the office) to our own devices.  She’s not, of course, because that’s not her way.  She’ll be editing it and posting cool videos for us from Ithaca.  It might not be different for you but it’s different for me.  She was the one who encouraged me to do this in the first place and laughs at my jokes, compliments my observations and tells me when I make absolutely no sense at all or am being as clear in print as a smoggy Los Angeles day (which happens more often than I like in my first draft).

Everyone should be lucky enough to have a Holly.  But our loss here, is Ithaca College’s gain.  Endings and beginnings.  Again.

Stay tuned for more.

Dream Team

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