Still Crazy After All These Years

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Don’t forget to revisit the Chair’s interview with SNL expert Stephen Tropiano here… and then read on.

Watching the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special was very much like attending a fun family reunion with home movies from the past that you get to revisit once more along with all the cool aunts, uncles and grandparents you haven’t seen in years. A great television show can be like that – spending time with the fantasy clan you once were and will always be a part of – the one that, when you get together, you always want to hang out with just a bit longer.

When it’s a series that is a rarity like SNL – one that is celebrating a four-decade long run and is still somehow going strong, well, just multiply everyone’s feelings – both good and perhaps bad – and you get a sense of what the reaction will probably be from various quarters. In the end it is not unlike the feelings one’s own family engenders.

So happy together

So happy together

I can only say that for me the show was a wonderful mix of past and present served up with a lot of care and class with most of the people who made the show what it was returning one more time. It also occurred to me that one’s enjoyment of the event could perhaps be somewhat commensurate with one’s age. Like viewing a 16mm film with scenes from your parents’ honeymoon or your great Uncle Sol’s bar-mitzvah – a time when you were not even a thought or a twinkle in their eye – it would be entirely possible that some of the moments those of us over 40 thought were great could likely have fallen flat for you.

Though I may find that hard to believe

Though I may find that hard to believe

On the other hand, that might be selling the younger generation short – something Saturday Night Live has never done. Part of the magic of the series is that it reinvents itself with a younger and younger cast that turns almost totally over every five to ten years. In that way, the show and the special did and do have something for everyone. And you can’t say that for many things these days.

Sure, I loved Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon doing the opening musical bit with SNL catchphrases. Pretty funny. But not as funny for me as seeing Steve Martin “hosting” once more and making fun of himself and the general “whiteness” of the show for so many years. Then when Paul Simon and Paul McCartney came out and sang 30 seconds of I’ve just Seen A Face, well…they had me at Paul and Paul.

Except then there were moments like Dan Aykroyd, one of the original Not Ready For Prime Time Players (Note: As if!) reprising his famous Bass-O-Matic sketch, complete with blender, dead fish and the flick of a switch. Which was followed by a killer Celebrity Jeopardy! where I got to see Darrell Hammond’s version of a sexist Sean Connery pick the category of Le Tits Now instead of Let It Snow. See, you had to be there…oh, never mind.

If you’ve ever been to Los Angeles or have even resisted coming to the west coast because you hate all of us pinko commies who live here then you probably LOVED The Californians sketch, complete with guest appearances by Bradley Cooper, Taylor Swift and Betty White.   And I won’t even talk about the power trio of Jane Curtin, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler doing the news. Well, I will because Jane Curtin had one of the funniest bits of the night.

Jane: Times have changed since I first sat behind this desk.  For example, I used to be the only pretty Blonde woman reading the fake news. Now there is a whole network devoted to that.

Cue Logo of Fox News with the image of one of its many interchangeable bottle Blondes.

Touche Jane

Touche Jane

This SNL also got me to belly laugh at Adam Sandler for the first time in years when he reprised his Opera Man, and had me giggling like…uh…use your imagination…when Maya Rudolph showed up as Beyonce with a continuous wind machine blowing back her fake flowy tresses. Yes, there was this strange, odd stand alone tribute to Eddie Murphy – as if he were the only huge star to emerge from the show – and a moment when I noticed a few people on social media were down on Paul McCartney’s voice when he soloed on Maybe I’m Amazed. To the latter I say: He’s Paul McCartney. Just deal with it, fool. He’s freakin’ Paul McCartney!!

Remember when you were in the Beatles?

Remember when you were in the Beatles?

I loved Paul Simon closing out the show with Still Crazy After All These Years but who would have ever thought that by far my favorite musical moment of the night would be Miley Cyrus doing a slowed down, twangy version of Simon’s own 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover? Not only was she not born when SNL started she wasn’t even alive when that song first became a hit. And I don’t care much for country music. (Note: Except for Dolly Parton but hey, c’mon). Still, this is also some of what the show has always done best. Introduce or reintroduce young talent to people who either don’t know them or choose to dismiss what they do out-of-hand. Bravo Miley and cheers to SNL for once again getting it right.

He's been fooling us this whole time!

He’s been fooling us this whole time!

It doesn’t matter if you didn’t understand why including Jon Lovitz in the tribute to the dead SNL cast members was funny, wondered why Bill Murray ended the touching tribute to the deceased with a joke about Spain’s General Franco having just died or scratched your head over Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey doing Wayne’s World, still pretending to be goofy Midwest teenagers Garth and Wayne. Scratch the latter. I’ll bet there were very few people who didn’t get the value of Wayne’s World – one of the few SNL sketches and characters to become a successful feature film aside from The Blues Brothers. Yup, some characters do reach across generations and just don’t age.

On that note, I hope to be watching Stefon 40 years from now, cheering for more Cowbell once again, and getting on the bandwagon for some as of yet unwritten comedy gem that will make me laugh even more than Roseanne Rosannadanna did the first time I saw her. That might seem as unlikely to you as the fact that 40 years from now I will be watching, much less understanding anything, especially SNL.

But you underestimate both of us at your own peril.

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Listen

There is something both great and awful, yet at the same time scary, offensive and exhilarating —  about listening.  How many activities can engender such a range of responses and emotions?  Not many unless you count the reaction to the renewal of NBC’s “Whitney” or thoughts on the new Adam Sandler trailer “That’s My Boy” and feedback concerning the voice Mr. Sandler is using to play Dad to the movie’s title character.  But who wants to get into all that now, anyway, even in the safe space confines of a user-friendly (one hopes) Internet blog.

The death of singer supreme Donna Summer this week got me thinking about listening, as opposed to my usual rants about being heard. At one time not so long ago, Ms. Summer’s sultry yet powerful voice played on many more radios than Rush Limbaugh’s ever did but, unlike Limbaugh, her voice was a clarion call to an emerging culture of people who were tired of the way things were and wanted the society to, if not change, at least be broadened enough to include something a little bit more colorful and different.  That was, until, disco sort of imploded upon itself (sort of like what’s happening to Limbaugh at the moment), and created a backlash that sent Ms. Summer’s music underground until decades later when it was sort of okay to listen to her again in a nostalgic, albeit kitschy way.

Dancing Queen

Though I was no Disco baby, I never did lose my taste for a Summer record like “Last Dance,” “MacArthur Park” or even “On The Radio” – all of which I listened to as a young person who, at least on the inside, felt different enough to hear what she had committed to vinyl (uh, yeah, vinyl) over and over again.  I think this was due, in part, because it made me think and, more importantly, feel things I had never felt, or dared to feel before.   For those not getting this last statement – use your imagination.  For those still not getting it – phone a friend (girl OR boy).  Or better yet – listen yourself to her very first hit international hit in the confines of your own study, crib or own safe space.

Music is one way to listen – or not to – but these days, of course, there are a lot more, partly because there are many more outlets. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean there is more worthy stuff to hear.  The challenge is – choosing what to listen to.  Now I’m not one of those armchair liberals who only listen and look (the latter often a requirement of listening in the 2012 age) to those who agree with me – that would be boring.  But that doesn’t mean that my version of listening requires me to watch what passes for news on Fox Broadcasting (I have Jon Stewart to siphon that off) or expose my diminishing hearing to anything within the smell zone that the cigar-chomping Limbaugh chooses to Rush at me.  There are variations of the ilk I will watch or read – pundits or even bigots that make my blood boil at a little lower temperature (Peggy Noonan the former, or Tony Perkins of something called the Family Research Council, being the latter).  This is just in the off chance I can learn something or be forearmed in the very off chance that they might, at some point, or even now, be listening to me.  (A long shot, I know, but, like Bill Clinton, I try in my mind’s eye to still live in a little town called Hope).

Best cheeseburgers in town.

I honed my listening skills as a young reporter, a field where you are pretty much forced to listen to everything in an effort to synthesize and tell the “real story” of an event to people who are depending on you for the truth.  Well, at least that’s the way I learned it back in journalism school.  Unfortunately, times have changed.  Back then most writing and reportage was not about advancing an agenda but actually attempting to get all sides and then tell the most truthful version of it that you could in your own, inimitable fashion.  This does and did not mean that many stories – both news and features – didn’t have a point of view.  Of course they did.  Since complete objectivity is a human impossibility it is a given that the retelling of anything will be synthesized in some way given that mere mortals are telling it.  But as any decent filmmaker knows, POV doesn’t change the actual story elements – it merely shifts focus and moves the audience in a direction.  It is then up to the audience to do what they will with the information given to them.

Or not given.

That’s a trick too.  When no one is listening or reading or watching hard enough, merely arranging the same facts a certain way can cause people to interpret the story exactly the way you want them to.  But that’s pretty much only in the case of people who are not really listening or at least are not practiced listeners. Which, these days, means pretty much everybody.

Everyone. Everywhere.

If we, as storytellers (professional or just plain folks like us), don’t listen we won’t have enough information to tell the story the way it is because we won’t be able to recognize that there are indeed missing details.  And our version will become someone else’s faulty version – someone who is depending on us for the truth – and then they will retell it to yet another who creates still another version with a lack of proper information or facts that we provided them in the first place.   One need only look at the political situation in the Middle East or the “true love” choices on “The Bachelor” to get confirmation of that.

Certainly, we all listen differently and most of us are too busy looking for either work or validation or love or money (sometimes all four) to be focused on getting to the bottom of anything.  That is, unless the real story will provide us with one of the four  (see “The Bachelor” or “Bachelorette”).   In some ways, this was always the case.  We humans usually don’t listen hard enough unless we can get something out of it.  Or, to put it another way: “what’s in it for me?”

Stlll, the baseline was – how do I put this – a bit higher.  There was a time when television news was required by law to present both sides.  But that was abolished under Pres. Reagan’s FCC in 1987.

There was also a time when there was no:

– free porn on a small screen in your home whenever you wanted it

– 1,438,928 cable TV stations vying for your attention

– opportunity to listen to as much of Donna Summer, Adam Sandler, or anyone else you wanted without charge if you clicked the right set of keys on a laptop computer anywhere in the world.

Can you do better?

Chair Translation — we’ve gotta raise the bar – just a tad, or even a hair.  Or two.  Even if it’s calmly trying to discuss and investigate whether the news story your friend posted on Facebook is little more than someone else’s faulty retelling of someone else’s rant.  Or asking your friend, lover or family member to calmly tell you what they are saying and then stepping back and spending more than five minutes deciding for yourself how much you want to believe or whether you want to take at least another five or even ten minutes to do some investigating on your own.   Which might then lead you to talk to someone else about this very situation.  A situation (and NOT the “Jersey Shore” kind) this person might very well be interested in or have pertinent information about, but found that said story in the form you are advancing had never crossed their path.  And that, in turn, can do or change all kinds of things.  Or if not, forge the discovery of yet another “something else”.  Something that might not have been heard before if someone wasn’t listening to you (or vice versa) in the very first place.

All of this can be done to the tune of the Donna Summer record of your choice if you so desire.  Or perhaps, simply, in silence.  I suggest the latter but certainly understand the former, depending on your mood.