Grampy’s Grammys

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Music is a touchstone. But many young screenwriters I teach have confessed to me they have previously been instructed NEVER to put a song reference in a script because they will limit or confuse a reader who may or may not know the song or the group they’re talking about or will be taken out of the moment by a tune that will probably never wind up in the movie anyway.

The above advice is, of course, ridiculous. Music has always been a great connecter and the perfect evocation of a mood or moment in time that all the talk or visual images in the world can’t muster. It is true that if someone doesn’t know a song a reference to it will not put them in the mood or mindset you intend. But if you go with your gut and choose wisely that song most certainly will do the job when they get to HEAR it – which is the point of writing musical references to begin with. And besides, any artistic moment in time needs all the help it can get.

Which brings us to #GrammyAwards2015.

Hosted by LL Cool J - for the 2,000th time

Hosted by LL Cool J – for the 89th time

As a resident of the west coast who is not in the music industry and therefore not present at the actual live ceremonies, I was three hours late to the party thanks to the greed and hubris of CBS. As the official broadcaster of said ceremony, the network has decided that unlike the Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes they have no public obligation to share the music simultaneously across the world – or at the very least, the country.

Knowing full well that the primary reason people watch a music awards show is for the performances and not the actual awards, CBS instead chose to delay their west coast broadcast in order to sell more prime time ads and create a greater revenue stream for itself. This is, of course, the network’s prerogative – but only for the time being.

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There is a power shift going on in how and where and when we get our entertainment. And that shift is going back to the consumer, which means that before long every event of any importance will be available simultaneously in most time zones. It might be five, ten or 20 years away but the corporate world – which these days includes entertainment and even politics – knows deep down that the party is essentially over and that changeover is causing major and minor freak outs as well as corporate and personal misbehaviors everywhere. These manifest themselves in little bouts of broadcast hubris as well as false and outrageous public statements from people, politicians (Note: No, they’re not the same thing) and various organizations about everything from vaccines to international terrorism, before segueing into mass media hysteria over the possible gender change of an Olympic gold medalist or the newsiness of just what the historical accuracy is of any number of Oscar nominated feature films this year whose only real sin is failing to announce loudly enough its claim that it is merely “based” on a true story.

On the flip side, which of us hasn’t found it a little bit more than fun to live in an age when political gaffes and cultural injustices aren’t events so easily handled?   Truth be told, there is some infinite joy in knowing that eventually Twitter, YouTube and Instagram will provide the real images, observations and videos of said events or thoughts rather than the pre-packaged or approved ones we’ve mostly been previously granted by the gatekeepers.

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

Enter: Olivia Pope. #ItsHandled

I guess I’m gloating but it can be quite entertaining to watch more than a few members of the status quo squirm as their grip on power unwittingly gets pried out from behind our necks. Still, the new scandal du jour of something like NBC anchor Brian Williams exaggerating being shot down in Iraq during the previous decade or fictionalizing a case of dysentery in order to make his Hurricane Katrina reporting more dramatic during the Bush, Jr. presidency is almost quaint at this point. I mean, the one thing we all know these days is that EVERYONE exaggerates a bit – it’s just a lot easier to get caught.   Yes, it’s true – the public already does know that even if the bosses in power don’t.   This is not to excuse the lie or the liar or even to condone that mode of behavior.   Only to acknowledge that we mostly understand that we – most of us – are, in at least some occasional cases, a bit hypocritical, indelicate with our opinions and guilty of bending reality ever so slightly and more – whether national, international or not – whenever the mood hits us.

The new normal today is the degree of the lie. Which is why awards shows are so terribly fun to watch – even when a power broker like CBS doesn’t allow you to view them live along with everyone else.

The craftsmanship of a successful artist’s image is often painstakingly and precisely planned, executed, buffed and shined before you and I get to experience it. But how the famed act in public when they have to be themselves onstage at a live event cannot be any of the above by its very nature. Oh, a person can sort of present a terribly rehearsed version of themselves but on a live show the rehearsal is often fodder for the real show on social media. Sure, he or she or even they can do a bit better fooling us when entertaining live – if indeed that is their profession and they’re good at it. But on the other hand, those who have been auto tuned, or have had their public images sculpted up a bit too brightly become as transparent as an overexposed X-ray held up to the light. Which is more than apt since the people we’re talking about have often been far too overexposed anyway.

Or a little underexposed if you're Sia.

Or a little underexposed if you’re Sia.

Watching this year’s Grammy awards I couldn’t help but feel like I’d be a bit like the star of Gramps Goes to the Movies – catching up with what the young-ins are doin’ and listenin’ to or watchin’ it three hours after the fact or perhaps even a year after my own figurative children’s children had first gotten wise to it.

But then I look up at my TV and the 1970s hard rock band AC/DC – a group I managed to avoid during most of my natural adolescence – are doing a five minute opening number.

What year is this? Am I a teenager again? And what time is it? Don’t I still have math homework to get through? Or perhaps it’s CBS again – playing a cruel trick on the left coast and switching programming back 40 years in order to appeal to its key heartland demographic where presumably they all still do listen to that group.

Performing at next year's Grammys

Performing at next year’s Grammys

As it turned out it was none of those. Only that the actual Grammy broadcast was clearly not hip or even unhip. It actually simultaneously managed to be a hybrid of both and neither. There was something for those of us in or moving into AARP range, others who are indeed still teenagers and the rest of you who fall somewhere in between. In its own odd way, its musical acts, award choices and onscreen behaviors amounted to nothing consistent or at times even decipherable.

This is not say to it wasn’t infinitely entertaining at points or that it failed to reach some quite high moments in others. It is only to note that try as they might to manage it all into something slick and pre-packaged it was actually all kind of a big, engaging mush of truth, fiction, fabulousness and confusion. Sort of like sifting through Twitter or Facebook for too long – but then realizing you’ve both enjoyed and wasted three and a half hours of your life in what seemed like 33 and a third minutes. Not to date myself.

That Zuckerberg

That Zuckerberg

Those of you who didn’t watch along with Grampy Chair or Great Uncles AC/DC can certainly revisit the highlights on the social media platform of your choice. Though I can save you the time with a few thoughts and links to some bottom line highlights.

  • You’ll want to marvel at who thought about having Tom Jones and Jessie J duet You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling as a tribute to famed Brill Building songwriters Cynthia Weill & Barry Mann. No, I didn’t say it wasn’t good. I’m just sayin’…
  • You’ll want to slap your head when you realize CBS is actually choosing to bleep out some song lyrics and words from country superstar Miranda Lambert’s live performance. SHE’S too racy for your core audience? Really? Or do you just think the left coast can’t take a bit of sexual innuendo?
Seasonal allergies be damned!

Seasonal allergies be damned!

  • I want to applaud Katy Perry’s Cover Girl commercial where she frolics amid pink flowers while managing to sell me makeup. Though you might want to boo. But as Taylor Swift, all sleek and tall in Grammy blue once both wrote AND sang: Haters gonna hate.
  • Critics might love groaning when Madonna does her new single about the power of love but I thought it was fun and, more importantly, SHE was once again having fun. You can choose to not think so but you’d be wrong. And no matter what you say anyway, here’s my answer to you in the form of a tweet from GregvsMatt: Roses are red, violets are blue #Madonna is 56 and looks better than you.
Werk it, Material Gurl

Werk it, Material Gurl

  • CBS proves it is once again infinitely unclever by having Fox/American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest introduce NBC/The Voice’s Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani performing their single, but all the network proves is it doesn’t have a tentpole TV reality singing show nor can it even make a lame joke about the others.
  • Matthew McConaughey’s confounding Buick commercials, particularly the one with the bull, will short circuit your brain before you even realize that the revenue it produces is what this three-hour delay is really about. (Editor’s note: It’s Lincoln, not Buick, Chairy. #powerofadvertising)
Annie kills it.

Annie kills it.

  • Sixty-year old Annie Lennox stops the show cold with the best performance of the night both by igniting Hozier’s tired performance of his own Take Me to Church and then electrifying us all with her own rendition of an almost 60 year old song – I Put A Spell On You. If nothing else, the reaction confuses those who live and die by the age demographics of corporate market research. #HelloCBS.
  • I manage to consider that Kanye West’s two onstage collaborations with Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett’s jazz turn with Lady Gaga center stage might disprove every bitchy phrase myself and every other baby boomer has ever uttered about what people, or even corporate networks, will promote those days.
Prince digs into Maude's closet

Prince digs into Maude’s closet

  • I then reconsider the above stance when Kanye steps onstage to try and Taylor Swift Beck’s unexpected win for best album (Note: Presented by Prince in the orange chiffon number your Aunt Esther was gonna wear to your bar-mitzvah but didn’t) and instead pulls back at the last minute even though Beck asks him not to. Then I have to admit to myself that just because one loves a Beatle doesn’t mean one necessarily has or evokes any taste at all.   Though at the same time, I have to also admit Prince looks far better in that getup than my Aunt Esther ever could have, not to mention she’d never be smart enough to publicly state: Like books and Black lives, albums matter.
  • You, if you were indeed watching, probably listened in awe as Sam Smith dueted with Mary J. Blige on Stay With Me – a simple love song/video about a gay guy who isn’t good at one night stands. And you would be right to marvel at both that and the fact that he went on to win four Grammy Awards. #WhoWouldHaveThoughtWayBackWhen. Though it would have really been something if he had dueted with say, Rufus Wainwright. #JustDreamin2025.
Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

Hot damn we love those soulful Brits!

  • No, it was all of us who kept rewinding Sia’s performance of Chandelier facing away from us while funny woman Kristen Wiig mimed and dance with Sia’s diminutive ballerina all through the song and didn’t so much get a laugh but prove that she is actually also a real live performance artist.
  • You will thank me for advising you to consciously uncouple from Chris Martin and Beck in the fourth hour, almost finale when they duet on one of the songs from what was just voted album of the year. What year, I’m not sure.
I mean.... we get it.

I mean…. we get it.

  • And, though I am in the minority and hesitate to say this – I continue to wonder how Beyonce – clearly an extremely talented and driven woman – can somehow manage to make the finale of the evening – the spiritual Take My Hand, Precious Lord, from the soundtrack of the movie Selma, so beyond grand and indulgent while Common and John Legend sung the hell out of their original song for Selma – Glory – and closed out the show with sincerity. I’ll take a guess. It probably had to do with the fact that they didn’t have a wind machine, flowing white chiffon or enough lighting effects to buff their imagines into a perfect shine.

But hey – that’s just me. And this year’s Grammys. Three hours late. On the west coast feed.

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Quacks

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Happy Holidays Everyone!

Notice I did NOT say MERRY CHRISTMAS or BELATED HAPPY CHANUKAH.  This is because I’m done being religiously correct.  You heard me – RELIGIOUSLY CORRECT.  Bah humbug.  I am so done.  No, actually…I am just beginning.

I just read this to my partner of 26 years and he said – Here we go – did you get to the part about Jesus being Black yet?

No, not yet.  Wait…you mean Jesus was as Black as….Santa Claus?

So much ground to cover here.  And we’ll get to Phil Robertson – that hate-spouting Fool from Duck Dynasty, who happens to also be religious, in a moment.  I promise.  But first, a story.

Many years ago in the 1970s I was minding my own business on the campus of Queens College.  I was 18 years old and a junior (yeah, I was smart for my age, so what – does that mean anyone listens to me any more than they do you?  Uh, no).  In any event, there I was minding my own beeswax when these Jewish guys dressed in full garb – you know the way that I mean – beards, long coats, big black hates – I meant hats! –  and ringlets of hair flowing down past their ears called payot (look it up) – urgently approached me and asked in very relentless and very accented loud whispers:  Are you Jewish?  Are you Jewish?

I could have been Mr. November

I could have been Mr. November

Sensing something was wrong – I mean, duh, my last name is Ginsberg, I’m 5’7” tall, wear glasses and read books, did you think I wasn’t a Yid – I reflexively answered yes.  I mean, what if someone was in danger?  The entire fate of my tribe could hang in the balance.

Boy, was that the wrong response.

Suddenly, these guys shoved me into this large van decorated with religious symbols and Hebrew scripture, shut the door and backed me into a seat.  All around me – and I mean everywhere – walls, ceiling and on TV screens – where images of Jews being tortured or persecuted.  Jewish fundamentalist music played.  Prayer books were put in my hands.  More religious guys paced around and began shooting questions at me about Jewish history.  Another guy offered me a yarmulke and prayer shawl and still another urged me to roll up my sleeves and put on these leather straps called tefillen and said he would pray with me (or was it us, perhaps there were a few others, I can’t recall) – for Us.

Never a shrinking violet and always with a strong survival streak given some earlier childhood traumas that involved bullies on the playground and various screwed up family dynamics, I pushed the guy out of the way, said something like, Uh, no and ran out of the van.  Well, at least I attempted to.  Because being just your average Jew I couldn’t figure out how to open the latch on the van door.  Little did I know that decades later I’d become quite familiar with these things and learn those vans are really trailers which the film industry would rename Honey wagons and they would be the spot where I’d spend endless hours with other regular Jews (as well as people of other religions and even atheists) who star in and make Hollywood movies about still other people whose actions my ultra religious captors would  certainly disapprove of.  Yes, they often do disapprove – even now – along with all the other fundamentalist nutbags from all of the other religions all over the world –and that includes the United States – of anyone who does not fit into their own tightly constructed beliefs.

But back to this story:

Somehow I did get out of that van (did I break the latch?  I was never sure) and survived, perhaps in order to tell this tale to you more than 35 years later.  The lesson?  Well, there are many.  But the primary one is this:  Never get into a van – or really anything – with a religious fundamentalist.   No good will come of it.  It is a sure recipe for disaster and the only way you’ll win is to escape with your life.

Another reason to never get in an unfamiliar van

Another reason to never get in an unfamiliar van

Years later I learned that this van I was shoved into was called a Mitzvah Mobile and was started by the ultra orthodox Jewish sect called the Chabad Lubavitch Hassidism to persuade (nee intimidate) American Jews to adhere to the more stringent religious beliefs that group espoused.  The good news: this didn’t work on me.  (In fact, it produced the opposite result).  The bad news: there are now Mitzvah Mobiles all over the world.

Just one example...

Just one example…

How this vehicle got onto the Queens College campus of the 1970s, I will never know.  (Note:  Well, our film society did have a midnight showing of the X-rated classic Devil in Miss Jones on campus, so there was that).  But what I do know is that those Mitzvah Mobile fellas are no different from Duck Dynasty figurehead Phil Robertson.  Who is no different from Pat Robertson or the late Jerry Falwell.  Who are all only several steps away from the Taliban.  Who is a mere one step away from the Westboro Baptist Church.  Who are only several steps away from the Muslim fundamentalists who hijacked the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Who bear some resemblance to the Ayatolloah Khomeini.  Who is not that far removed  Reverend Louis Farrakhan or the present radical Chabbad sect in Brooklyn.  It’s all the same snake pit.  Which in no way, shape or form resembles the Garden of Eden.

One might argue this is not the correct statement to make Christmas week, or during the time of Kwanza, or even a month after Chanukah.  However, I would say this is precisely the moment for us all to reflect on this:

Any single religious person who tries to persuade you that their way is the high way using any means they deem fair and moral based on their own individual religious dogma is no different than the most radically violent one.

It all leads to the same place.  Eventually.  The Crusades.  The Third Reich.  Osama Bin Laden’s Jihad.  No, this is not an overstatement.  It simply is – fact.

Now, don’t get all fire and brimstone or your tribal equivalent on me.  This by no means disqualifies anyone of faith from speaking his or her mind.  However, it does disqualify them from public insults, intimidations, racist rants and other forms of emotional and or physical discrimination without outcry and consequences.  That is the price for living in a free and civil society.   And it’s a very small one.   Hiding behind a “God” of your own choosing does not exempt you from the rules of a still secular society.

Simpsons+on+Religion.+seems+legit_69dc80_4449964

Which brings us to the charming Phil Robertson, head of the family on A & E’s most highly rated reality show (14 million viewers and counting backwards) – Duck Dynasty.  Here are some of the lovely statements Mr. Robertson made in GQ magazine last week that has gotten him into hot water and, in turn, suspended from his show.

Sorry buddy, but you don't exactly blend in

Sorry buddy, but you don’t exactly blend in

On sinful behavior:

Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there.  Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men…Don’t be deceived….Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers – they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.  Don’t deceive yourself.  It’s not right.

Or on his experiences working alongside Black people picking cotton in the pre-Civil rights era.

I never with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person…They’re singing and happy.  I never heard one of them, one black person, say, “I tell you what:  These doggone white people” – not a word!  Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy?  They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

Or this excerpt from a sermon in a Pennsylvania church in 2002:

Women with women. Men with men.  They committed indecent acts with each other.  They are heartless.  They are faceless.  They are senseless.  They are ruthless.  They invent ways of doing evil.

Makes you want to have him over for meal, doesn’t it?  Well, that is as long as he doesn’t turn around and try to place your evil head on a platter and announce dinner is served.

Well, unless it's this head, in which case.. i'm in!

Well, unless it’s this head, in which case.. i’m in!

Oh, of course Phil has every right to say whatever he wants.  That’s what free speech is about.  But the first amendment allows freedom of speech, religion, assembly and the press.  It does not guarantee others can’t object to what you are saying or that there cannot be consequences to your actions.  Meaning just as we don’t require a fundamentalist church to marry a gay couple if it chooses not to, a religious fundamentalist whose

  1. dogma equates gay people with bestiality and evil and
  2. suggests Black people (whose ancestors were dragged to the US in chains and forced into centuries of slavery), were always singing and happy…

..IS. NOT. ENTITLED. TO. HIS. OWN. REALITY.   (TELEVISION SHOW, that is).

Because — as Sir Isaac Newton taught us science-believing heathens long ago –

To every action there is always an equal, opposite reaction.

Stocking stuffer?

What is scarier than the news articles on the Duck Dynasty Debacle are the thousands of virulent comments from other fundamentalist supporters who somehow have adopted a dogma so stringent that it leaves no room for anyone that does not adhere to their own rigid, born again rule book.  We Jews don’t really have a hell so their comments that non-believers will burn don’t really rankle me.  But the threats of violence to us sinners (Note: I’m in double trouble being gay AND a non-Christian), not to mention the virulence with which they are written, is a tough road to hoe.

Fringe, you say?  Well, perhaps right now.  But I don’t think so.  The 14 million viewers of DD, a one-hour A & E basic cable show, are nothing to sneeze at.  That’s far more than the number of people who read the NY Times or any other newspaper on any given day.  Though nowhere near as many (41 million) who tune in to view just one hour of Fox News on any average month.

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Of course, there were other stories of intolerance last week.  For example:

  • In Pennsylvania, Methodist Minister Franklin Schaefer was officially defrocked for having the temerity to officiate over the marriage of his gay son and his partner.

Yes it’s true – this week gay marriage was a hot button thorn in the side of the religiously superior.  But make no mistake about it, next week it could and probably will be a woman’s right to choose.  Just as in some Middle Eastern countries it will simply be about the right for a young woman to be educated.  While in still others it can all boil down to being born with the right color skin or in the more advantageous economic class.

Of course, here in Hollywood it’s merely a battle to look young and stay relevant in a business that is as unforgiving of those sins as the Duck Dynasty family is of alternate lifestyles.  Perhaps even more so.  But I’m not going to get into that.

Oh — fun fact: did you know that the creator of Duck Dynasty is a guy named Scott Gurney and that just 12 years ago this very handsome fellow starred shirtless – and often naked – in a movie about the gay male porn industry called The Fluffer? Oh yeah, he so did.  He played an X-rated actor who was “gay” for “pay” AND was a meth addict. 

Uh oh - someone's been a bad boy!

Uh oh – someone’s been a bad boy!

Hmm, but apparently, Scott isn’t taking phone calls these days..  And he also doesn’t answer emails from journalists.  Nor does he speak live in person to anyone asking questions unless presumably they’re, well – members of his own tribe.  Which might not only be optimal but usual.  How are we (I?) to know the truth when we can’t ask?

I’ve been thinking all day about what I would say if I actually did get a chance to talk to him.  Like all writers, my thoughts were many – in fact all over the place.  But like all the mentors before me have taught me I edited and boiled them down to just three words.  These are the words I’d use to describe him and all others who choose to be profiteers on the backs of hate spewing religious zealots hiding behind their own version of God – as well as a way to categorize the zealots themselves.  And all of the zealots the came before them or will follow after.  And those words are:  QUACK, QUACK, QUACK.

QUACK. QUACK. QUACK.

And did I mention – happy holidays?