Master Class

The reality of these last few pandemic years and their political, economic and overall societal impact has been soul crushing.  Up is down, and down seems to have no real bottom.

So what do you do when things turn sour?

I don’t know about you but I turn to art. 

More specifically – music, movies, television, books, painting, architecture and pretty much anything else that can existentially lighten the load.

I know I can’t be the only person who would watch this to relax

It’s not that any of the above will solve the problems of the day, or my day. 

It’s that it makes me feel human and allows the rest to be more tolerable. 

It reminds me of what is pure, reflective, accurate, assured or even appropriately messy.

It tells me I am not alone in my misery, crisis or ennui and that someone, somewhere has not only asked the same questions and felt the same things but has, in some way, made some sense of it.

Bottom line: It gives me hope.

Enter Beyonce #Renaissance

So it pleased me to no end this week to find hope in the work and attitudes of three masters who somehow made me appreciate and feel better about, well, everything–

Joni Mitchell, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

And what’s particularly interesting to me is that I only once again came upon their artistry because of the miracle of technology that enables all of us to experience them, their work and their words, new and old, in ways we never have before.

I love you, Internet

Joni Mitchell re-emerged last week at the Newport Folk Festival where she gave her first concert since a near fatal brain aneurysm seven years ago, which went viral.

Many million of views later she emerged at 78 years old as not only an enduring musical sage and heroic role model, but as living proof that there is no limit to what creative efforts can mean to both an audience and a creator.


We can hear the exact same words in the same song sung by the very same person and, depending on where we, they and the world all are, be provided with entirely new, exciting and reinvigorating energy to conquer our particular worlds all over again.

What her fans have always known is that Joni Mitchell is a brilliant, poetic truth teller that doesn’t hold back, doesn’t try to please and definitely doesn’t suffer fools.

But what we, and likely she, didn’t quite expect after all this time is that her determination to keep going and redefine herself in a new space and body would touch so many so quickly and provide at least a momentary lifeline out of our own darkness.

Try not to after watching Joni! #impossible

It’s not merely because of her persistent dedication to teach herself to sing and play guitar again by incessantly watching old YouTube clips of her performing that the media and we once again sat up and took notice of Ms. Mitchell so en masse.

It is rather that in doing so, Joni Mitchell managed to create something entirely new.

We’re all Wynonna in this moment

I mean, it’s one thing for a 23-year-old singer-songwriter to write and perform classic songs like Both Sides Now and The Circle Game and, through her lilting soprano and folk/hippie garb casually reflect on the cyclical nature of life and the elusive vagaries of love. 

But it’s quite another to hear someone who briefly touched death (Note: As she recently explained), frailly sit down on an overstuffed chair center stage (Note: Because it’s too difficult to stand for very long) and in now basso tones, adorned in flowing gray robes while wearing dark sunglasses shielding her often closed eyes, more than a half century later persist in admitting to us that:

You can’t return you can only look

Behind from where you came

And go round and round in the Circle Game.

Or once again confess to us:

I’ve looked at life from both sides now

From win and lose and still somehow

It’s life’s illusions I recall

I really don’t know life at all.

When you’re searching for answers somehow it’s infinitely reassuring to know that there are none.  It’s only the forward motion of the search for them, and each other, that we can embrace and, if we’re lucky, celebrate.

Thank you

The Last Movie Stars is a six-part documentary on the lives and careers of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, directed by the actor Ethan Hawke,  now streaming on HBO Max.

It’s a largely pandemic-made, almost logic-defying work that does a deep dive into two long married, multi-faceted American acting legends who were born to non-show business families in the south (Ms. Woodward) and Midwest (Mr. Newman). 

But unlike their peers, they went to NYC and were accepted to study at the Actors Studio under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg, along with the likes of other then unknowns such as Marlon Brando, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe.  And, within a decade, became two of the biggest movie stars and/or persistently best actors (Note: depending on the decade and one’s POV) on the planet.


Cleverly employing hundreds of thousands of pages of transcripts of many years of secret taped interviews the couple did privately with their longtime friend, screenwriter Stewart Stern (Note: Rachel, Rachel, Sybil, Rebel Without A Cause), we are given insights into their work and times by both the couple themselves and dozens of contemporaries, family members and collaborators in talking head interviews.

The recorded comments, which Newman one day burned after deciding to abandon the project in the 1990s, are sometimes voiced by the likes of George Clooney, Laura Linney, Sam Rockwell, Vincent D’Onofrio and Zoe Kazan, interspersed with actual public interviews with the couple by the media through the years.

These two

There are a few too many Zoom clips of Mr. Hawke interjecting his thoughts and comments on his subjects, along with those from the actor friends he enlisted, that get in the way. 

But mostly this is six hours of a pretty unvarnished and compelling portrait of Paul and Joanne, their many dozens of films and the historical times through which they managed to live though and alternately triumph, fail and once again triumph in.

Watching the world and the movies through their lives gives us a crystal clear picture of the phony repressive 1950s, the social revolution of the 1960s, the permissiveness and optimism in the 1970s, the corporate avarice and indulgence that the 1980s wrought, and how the 1990s and beyond allowed the world and so many in it, including them, to reinvent for the better and, sometimes, for the worse.

I’m not sure a bad picture of these two exists

The Newmans were not perfect; in fact, far from it.  But their unabashed devotion to themselves, their craft and then, others, is a consistently real and unexpectedly inspiring thread.

When they meet as Broadway understudies in the 1950s, the twenty something Newman was already married with three young children.  Nevertheless, their romance continues hot and heavy for five years before he divorces his wife and starts a new life with three more children.

Woodward was universally felt to be the far better actor, particularly by Newman, winning an Oscar for Three Faces of Eve (1957) by the time she was twenty-seven. But Newman goes on to be the movie STAR and in the sixties and seventies, as Woodward has the kids and raises their blended family, he remains emotionally aloof, drinks heavily and remains what his surviving children and then peers refer to as a “functional” alcoholic for many decades.

The Family Man?

Newman gets mostly all the attention as Woodward receives glowing reviews as a great mom who held the family together from all five or their six remaining children, as well as high accolades from the outside world for her then sporadic work in movies and in television. Nevertheless, she freely admits publicly more than once that if she had it to do over she probably wouldn’t have had children to begin with because of all of the costs to her career.

First world problems, to be sure, but that and all the sticky family dynamics of cheating, drug abuse, early death, anger, rage and yet still unyielding, illogical devotion to either a cause or each other will sound vaguely familiar to any one of us who has tried, and failed, to consistently be at peace or have it all.

While Newman is best known for classic films like The Hustler, The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Verdict and his Oscar turn in Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money, one of his greatest achievements turned out to be the hundreds of millions of dollars he raised for charity through the manufacture of salad dressing, cookies and pretzels without ever taking a dime.  Among those charities funded through his Newman Foundation is a still operating camp for seriously and/or terminally ill children, The Hole In The Wall Gang.

Still the best microwavable popcorn!

Woodward worked for those and other charities like Alzheimer’s disease.  This led to her starring role and Emmy win for Do You Remember Love, a TV movie about a college professor stricken with it in middle age.  The illness had struck her late mother and in the last decade has also taken over the life of Ms. Woodward, now 92.

While it’s admittedly transporting and at best escapist to revisit and re-experience the movies, TV shows and music of some of our icons, it’s even better to be reminded that imperfection is and has always been the definition of every human life. 

Spending the week with Joni, Paul and Joanne was not so much a look back at the past but a reminder to embrace the future and not get stuck in the circles of lows and highs, and highs and lows and highs that come seemingly from out of nowhere.

Better to enjoy them, try to do better and not give a crap about judgments made about any of them, most especially our own.

Joni Mitchell – “Both Sides Now”

The Season Finale

There are so many takeaways from Thursday’s season one finale of the Jan. 6th Trump Insurrection Hearings TV series.

But before we get into the serious stuff, let’s understand that this 8th episode was, more than anything else, great TV.  

As such it delivered not only plot, drama and prosecutorial bread crumbs, but something for EVERY type of viewer –especially us silly and superficial ones.

Say it with me now!

Yes, yes, yes, as our beloved Stefon might say if he were still here (Note: And where is he????), this episode had EVERYTHING:

1. Two plus hours of an insanely hot Clark Kent lookalike sitting directly behind live witnesses Matt Pottinger and Sarah Matthews.  He nearly broke Thirst Twitter and, quite honestly, made it difficult for the Chair to focus at times.

Look who left Metropolis!

And, for what I’m sure is only a very small handful of readers who care (Note: Ahem), his name is Alex Wollet, he’s 23 and a med student/Ohio University grad studying neuroscience, currently doing a residency at the National Institute of Health. 

That’s right – a soon to be…DOCTOR! 

Though word is that he might NOT be single (and could be the boyfriend of Ms. Matthews) I truly have no idea and would much prefer picturing him merely writing a story about all this for The Daily Planet and everything that might entail.

Please get this renewed for season 2

2. The once in a lifetime chance of hearing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) say the words delicate flower and (former attorney general) Bill Barr in the same sentence. 

Chastising critics who have publicly knocked her and the work of the committee for being biased and one-sided because there were no hand-picked Republicans chosen by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy serving among their ranks, Rep. Cheney icily turned to the camera in her final summation address and rhetorically proclaimed to all of those doubters:

Do you really think Bill Barr is such a delicate flower that he would wilt under (that) cross-examination?

Add a hair flip!!

(Note: It’s worth stating Cheney, one of two Republicans actually appointed to the committee, is about as conservative a member of Congress as you can get, voting with Trump a whopping 94% of the time)

Why can’t you let me enjoy things, Chairy??

3. The juxtaposition of fist pumping, pre-insurrection fueling Missouri Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), with mid-insurrection footage of Road Runner-like Sen. Hawley leaping through the halls of the Capitol building and then bouncing down its stairs, with folders full of god knows what, in a hurried, last ditch attempt to elude that rabid crowd of patriots he had emboldened just several hours prior.

His escapades sparked a series of soundtrack memes, my favorite being the one to the tune of Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire:

Certainly, there were scores of other revelations, eyewitness testimony, clarifications, framings and reiterations of what happened three plus hours from the time Trump encouraged what we now know were his very well-armed mob of supporters – HIS PEOPLE that we now realize, thanks to this committee, he told security NOT to disarm because he knew THEY had no intention of harming HIM. 

These were the same armed people he shouted to at his rally right before the insurrection started to FIGHT LIKE HELL if they wanted to keep their country.

Lay Translation:  Do whatever it takes to stop the certification of the results of this election.

A thrilling first season

But let’s get back to specific Thursday night revelations:

— A recounting of phone conversations between members of Mike Pence’s Secret Service/security detail on the phone with their loved ones saying goodbye in case they didn’t survive the oncoming onslaught of rioters meant to hang the former vice-president right before our eyes.

– A compelling timeline of puppet master Trump first throwing virtual gasoline onto HIS PEOPLE to spark the planned demonstrations/riots/violence and then unapologetically watching and listening to a more than 3-hour romp of desecration and death onto the Capitol building and those unlucky enough to be inside it despite pleas from TRUMP family, staff and staunch political allies for him to call it off.

Serving real Regina George energy

–  Numerous live and taped accounts of the former president seated in the head chair of his small private dining room, ALONE, hamburger(s) in hand, gleefully glued to Fox News like a demented Wimpy.  His response to those who dared to physically or virtually enter his space and ask for some action or protection or plan to protect the elected representatives in Congress from HIS PEOPLE was outright refusal or deflection.  That is unless you count numerous calls BY TRUMP to various senators and congresspersons in an eleventh hour attempt to get them to stall the ceremonial counting of the Electoral College votes that would rightfully declare Joe Biden president and confirm Trump as the official LOSER of the 2020 election.


Certainly, other high and low points exist, depending on your view of high and low, your commitment to not only truth telling but truth HEARING. 

There are also more questions to be asked, especially in light of all the mysterious missing Secret Service text messages from Jan.6th (and even 7th).

One that comes to mind is:  Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the now deleted texts between Trump’s Secret Service detail and Pence’s Secret Service detail that day considering Pence’s refusal mid-insurrection to get in the car, driven by HIS Secret Service agents, and leave the Capitol Building area?

A real headscratcher

As the Vice President, who was steadfast to record the final votes on that date no matter what, was said to have stated to one of his assigned protectors as they attempted to whisk him away and out of the vicinity of the Capitol building:

If I get in that vehicle, you guys are taking off.  I’m not getting in that car.

What exactly DID Pence fear?  Where WAS the Secret Service taking him and for how long?  And at WHOSE DIRECTION would his evacuation be done at???? 

Also, how is it that the Secret Service claims of updating their communication systems conveniently occurred on Jan. 6, which we now know was a long-planned date by team Trump for a mass rally (Note: Riot?) that the then POTUS tweeted days before would be WILD; and close Trump confidante Steve Bannon previewed would be THE DAY ALL HELL WILL BREAK LOOSE to his podcast audience?

Gotta check my notes here

Okay, admittedly that’s more than one question – among so, so many others. 

This is why rather than closing up shop like the limited series they had planned, the committee will actually have a season 2 starting not next year but in September.

Just how many episodes or for how long, depends on, as is the usual case with MUST SEE TV, public response. 

Next season produced by Ryan Murphy (get your wigs out Sarah Paulson!)

Let’s hope we, the public, nee citizens, choose wisely.   And that the programming from Cheney and company avoids that cursed sophomore slump.

Though her closing admonition re team Trump – The damn is beginning to break –does give me hope.

Josh Hawley running to Benny Hill