American Bruce

It’s not simple to process Memorial Day in a year when many of us are wondering what it means to be an American.

Some of us might choose to see it as nothing but a long vacation weekend to ignore our world and all of its problems and simply choose to party with friends, relatives or simply ourselves.

That is a more than valid plan.  In fact, probably the safest if everyone will adhere to leaving politics – nee Trumpism – at the door.

No, don’t turn on the news!  Don’t even touch that:

Remote control…

Keyboard….

Newspaper…

History book…

History Book? Chair, you crazy

Whatever….

And DON’T BRING UP THAT SUBJECT!  I told you before you got here, WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT THIS!  If you are going to talk about this, you can just GET OUT!!!

…Fine, then please don’t say anymore, okay?  For me???

Since I don’t have either of my two Moms to implore that of me anymore, only a husband who has long ago stopped trying to fight an uphill losing battle, I decided to ponder the question myself.

Memorial Day, which was called Decoration Day when I was growing up, was, once upon a time, not political at all.  It was there simply to honor the men and women, past and present, in the military.  People who signed up to preserve the idea of a country whose principal mantra is…well, what?

Give me your…. ???

I was going to say freedom, a melting pot of international cultures, two welcoming arms to all those in persecution wanting to start a new life since that is all you need to become an American but see…

Well, already I’m in trouble because this has quickly gotten political.

That being the case I turned to the one person in pop culture who these days seems to cross political divides (sort of) through music to tell the stories of what it is really like to be an average small town American with regular working people as friends, family and relatives who can provide all the lessons you will ever need from which to build a fabulously happy, healthy, kind and prosperous American life —

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN!!!!

Only he can pull off a full denim look

At my sister’s urging I caught up with his Netflix special, Springsteen on Broadway, this weekend. It is essentially a stripped down version of the key Springsteen songs that tell his life story in the way he wants to show it to you.

Yeah, we don’t call him The Boss for nothing.

Still, there is a lot – TONS – to take away from Springsteen on Broadway if you want to feel really good about being an American and honor those in the military.

Also — what’s more American than these white guy dance moves?

In one key section, he poignantly speaks of several local New Jersey rockers who he looked up to in awe that were killed in their prime while serving in Vietnam.  Sure, it’s funny, lovely, sexy, nostalgic, even tear inducing.

But that’s not what really gets you to this holiday.

What immediately brings you in is the very beginning where, standing center stage, in nothing but his jeans, t-shirt and guitar, an almost 70 year-old Bruce admits to you that he’s a fake and a fraud. 

That his whole persona is nothing more than an IDEA.

Wait.. this was really his butt though right? #ineedanswers

A magic trick that has you believing that a guy who never held a regular 9-5 job in his life, never did one day of hard labor and certainly was much more familiar with a the inside of a rock star suite on Sunset Blvd.  than he was the inside of any factory in the USA, could be the quintessential American working class hero.

As he freely admits from the get go:

IT’S ALL BULLSHIT!!

Um… what? #hedid? #really?

We might take that as a perfect metaphor for the times and for this Memorial Day but pretty soon we realize there’s a lot more to him than that.

It is Springsteen and America’s brilliance that their mutual personae are indeed simply an IDEA, but an idea that is based on SOMETHING.

Words that we aspire to and/or people who have inspired us.  Sometimes in moments when we didn’t even know it.

It was Springsteen’s Dad who was the hard-working factory worker who supported a wife and kids on a union salary and spent too much time at the local bar trying to unwind.  It was Springsteen’s Mom who had the upbeat, can-do, music/dance-loving American attitude of doing unto others as you would have them do to you and always, always doing your best.  It was the many people in Springsteen’s small town, by the Jersey shore before it was “the Jersey Shore”, who lived the many stories he wrote about.

He would have beat Chris Christie

And it was also all of the above that he sought so desperately to get away from only to wind up, as he tell us, wildly and ridiculously successful and, yet, still living within 4 miles of his childhood home.

His overriding point is that America has, for better or worse, always been an IDEA forged by the people in it and an ever evolving one depending on what those people at the moment chose to do with who and what they were raised around.

To see those that served to defend it in any other way is to not acknowledge both the HAT TRICK and MAGIC of the idea.  The notion that you can literally be born into anything and succeed far beyond your dreams if you’re clever and lucky enough.

Or be born into everything, or well, a lot, and in your own eyes (or others’) be a miserable failure.

Or fall somewhere in the middle, put upon and never quite satisfied with so many of the promises unfulfilled.

It’s OK to be confused

We all have our own American stories.  Certainly mine had nowhere near the stability and opportunities available to a straight white man born in Bruce’s era and environment.  Though undeniably I was far, far more fortunate than the majority of others in the country, particularly those non-white and non-male.

To honor the many before us who fought for our rights as Americans is to understand that it is only in the true collective WE that we will continue.  We the average factory worker and we the exceptional rock star and every other WE that falls somewhere in between.

To pretend that any of this extremely large, often unmanageable group is an OTHER, or that a very good part of our journey is not pure luck and bullshit combined with only mere dollops of perseverance, talent and hard work, is to miss the entire point of our country completely.

“Born in the USA” – from Springsteen on Broadway

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The Next Generation

I spent the last two weeks reading 30 original screenplays and television pilots from graduating college seniors and here’s what I know –

It is a dark, dystopian world out there where pretty much NO ONE tells you the truth.

Of course, I already knew that but I’m almost three times their age.   I mean, when I got out of school in the seventies I knew the world could be a crappy place but what I was equally sure about was that there was also hope.

At least there was hope for better fashion #whoamIkidding #imkillingit

This was because I was as sure as shit that my friends and I were going to be able to change things.  At least a little.  I knew this as sure I knew I was going to live alone and lonely in a huge Malibu beach house, clutching my Oscar as I fell asleep.  That is if I didn’t die in my twenties of some horrible disease, a fact I was 100% convinced was a 50-50 possibility.

Well, of course I was wrong.  Here I am almost more than middle-aged in a relationship of 32 years with nary an Oscar in sight, living way, way across town in a house in the Hollywood Hills.

Yeah, I’m cool

Like many dreams, mine were fairly off but not totally unrealized.  Personal life aside, I did make it to L.A. and the movie business and worked in several categories where one could conceivably get nominated for an Oscar.

Right.  I know.  A grown up with a dream.

This, of course, is the point.  It’s not that my many wonderful students don’t have dreams.  It’s that judging from the past few weeks the majority of them don’t believe their best fantasies can take hold and flourish.

pretty much!

And, I mean, who can blame them?  Sometimes I turn on the news and can’t believe what I’m hearing and seeing.  When I read the newspaper it’s even worse.  And I came of age in the Nixon-Watergate era and spent the last years of my pre-teens watching Robert F. Kennedy get shot live on TV.  And this was several months after that same station almost got to cover the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. live instead of merely its bloody aftermath.

Those extreme acts, combined with a seemingly endless war in Vietnam and the Ohio National Guard murdering four innocent students who happened to be walking by anti-war protestors at Kent State University, made it seem like there was nothing the elders of the American status quo wouldn’t do to hold onto their power.

The general message to the young was:

We will literally kill you in a war or at school if you get too uppity and, if you don’t believe us, just give it a tryYou could easily find yourself in jail, overseas with a gun or in a morgue for doing nothing more than disagreeing with us if you’re not careful. 

Then or now? Does it matter? #Amen

We didn’t realize it at the time but in truth the country did have a modicum of sanity left.  As young people we innately understood we lived in an environment where freedom of speech was the norm, our federal elected representatives had just put the de-segregation of society into law and journalists were almost universally lauded by most, if not all, as the sacred last bastion of truth-tellers.

It was a world that had suddenly and almost completely gone totally off the rails but somehow we knew it was salvageable.  We had gone to the moon, you could still burn the American flag in the street and not get arrested and, if all else failed, the pleasures of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll would get you through until you entered what could only be described as the blissful golden Age of Aquarius.

Plus.. we had Cher

I so want that for the young people that I teach who are going out into the world today and it angers me each day that they have come of age into an alternate reality of stupidity, division and denial.

No one middle-aged can imagine what it’s like to grow up in a time where you could easily and routinely be shot up in your school.  In the sixties and seventies we had fire drills, not re-enactments of how to act or where to hide when a random gunman might happen to enter the building and aim a military style assault rifle to your head or the head of your friend, or younger brother or sister.

This is their reality. #sadtruths

As much as most of my contemporaries might have loathed Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and later, Ronald Reagan, none of us grew up hearing the president of the United States making allowances for white supremacists.  Or calling the American press the enemy of the people and degrading the indisputable facts they report as fake news.

Or, more importantly, respond this way when asked in front of the White House if the U.S. is about to go to war in the Middle East:

I hope not.

ARE YOU FREAKIN KIDDING ME?!?!

Say what you will about any of those men (Note: And I’ve said plenty) when they spoke it was with a definitive thought, not with the vague possibility that at any moment something absolutely horrible can and probably will happen so we’d gosh darn better be on guard for….well, anything.  And by anything he truly means ANYTHING.  Just ask him, as the press often does, if you don’t believe it.

Dystopian?  Dark?  Sadly, I fear these young people have it exactly right and I couldn’t be more pissed off about it.   We all should be.

The Who – “My Generation”

Oh Mama!

While the Chair is busily finishing up his semester (also known as: reading scripts until the next millennium), enjoy today with your moms, stepmoms, aunts, sisters, godmoms, like-a-moms, and really, any woman that you love.

Speaking of women the Chair loves… have you seen the new trailer for Judy? Yes, that Judy — the one with Renee Zellweger. Yes, Renee. Zell. Weger.

You know the Chair has thoughts on this… Stay tuned for more. 😉

Do I Have to See Endgame?

There are weeks when you simply do not know what to say.  Or write.  This is one of those weeks.

That is why I’ve been trying to listen.

I say trying because for some of us (Note:  Most especially Chairs) it IS trying.  It takes a lot of effort to listen.

If you’re truly listening you actually have to take a moment or two, or ten, to take in and think about what is being communicated to you.  It means you have to consider what the other person is saying even if your knee jerk reaction is to want to strangle them.

For instance, when I recently heard Avengers: Endgame was three hours I wanted to strangle the entire film business.  I had a lesser punishment for my students who were urging me to see it.

Me at the Arclight for the 8:00 Avengers

I wanted to strap them all to separate Chairs in the corner and make them watch a loop of Magnolia, Godfather Part II and Schindler’s List, all of which have similar running times.

Yes, that would be nine plus hours but it would take that long to teach them that at this point in their lives there are better ways to spend your movie-viewing time if you’re truly trying to learn about movies.

This is me, maybe, probably, judging you

Of course, this would have been the incorrect response for so many reasons.

First of all, I had not and didn’t plan to see Avengers: Endgame so how did I not know it wasn’t every bit as good as any of the above three?  And no, experience is not the answer.   You can’t have an experience with something you haven’t experienced.

I mean, I don’t like it when they turn their nose up at the three-hour version of one of my top 10 favorite movies, Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born.  And god knows that has happened a lot more than once,  twice 250 times.

Don’t judge me!

Second of all, don’t I teach that good and bad are relative terms and that there is no artistic hierarchy?  If this is so, then why is a mess, I mean, mass entertainment movie any less valuable to see than something we film people deem essential viewing?

::Snickers::

If one subscribes to the idea that some escapism is required from a real world that too often than not can be dark, merciless and disappointing (Note: and who doesn’t these days?) then wouldn’t watching a star-studded SUPERHERO film be just the perfect prescription for coping with the impending realities any impending college graduate is about to face?  Certainly it’s worked for much of the rest of us for generations.

Third, and lastly of all, we ignore that which has international mass appeal and popularity at our own peril.

Now you’re getting it!

No one is saying that one has to experience an In-N-Out or McDonald’s hamburger.  But if one is going to open a fast food restaurant, or any meat-serving restaurant, wouldn’t it behoove one to at least one time experience THE most successful meat product on the planet?

To NOT do so would mean a willful ignorance of the marketplace and world around one.  To close one’s ears, eyes and taste buds to what is would mean one is willfully NOT listening to what the majority of people prefer.

OK but this is a different problem all together.

To lower, or even raise one’s standards ONE TIME and try – meaning hear, see or experience – something one in no way prefers means one is purposely remaining willfully ignorant.

And we all know people who are WILLFULLY IGNORANT, right?

I DO NOT CARE HOW GOOD THIS CHICKEN IS

We know what happens when we don’t listen to and ignore the demands, tastes and preferred choices of a group large enough to be considered a MASS audience, right?

Someone can step in and serve up a modern version of the McDonald’s hamburger that is so simultaneously seductive and yet poisonous that it can bring an entire industry to its knees in submission.

It will then duplicate, replicate and otherwise dominate everything to such an extent that few other types of preferred food stuffs would be able to survive.

Thanks Chair, now I’m also thinking about dinner.

Imagine a world where one had little choice but to eat not only a fast food hamburger, but a certain type of fast food hamburger, at least periodically, for primary sustenance?

Then imagine a world where these choices extended to all of the arts and entertainment.

Then, finally, imagine what that same, seductive poisonous product could do to, say, a democracy?   What WOULD happen when so few choices were left?

That means this is a good thing right?

That and so much more is why this week and going forward I am going to do my best to try and not only listen, but HEAR.

I don’t want to live in a world where burgers, superheroes and flaccid dictatorships are my primary, and then only, options.  (Note:  That is unless I really do and this is the last reel of the original Blade Runner because I do know, that in just a few decades, I will have a chance at a sequel).

… and when I come back I will have the voice AND hair of Shawn Mendes #reincarnation

I guess what this means is that a screening of Avengers: Endgame is in my foreseeable future.   God (or whoever you deem Her to be) help me.  And us.

Judy Garland – “I Don’t Care”