Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

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I’m not religious or particularly spiritual. Pretty much I think that when you die (Note: That’s YOU, not ME) it’s the end. I most certainly don’t imagine there’s a heaven or a hell, especially given the sheer numbers that have come before me. And if there is, well, I can’t imagine facing the same kind of overcrowding we’re now experiencing in Los Angeles. The mind, or whatever would be left of it at that point, boggles at the traffic. In either direction.

But still….

And yet…

There are those moments.

Here’s a story:

Many moons ago in the 1970s I went to grad school. I was 20 at the time, a too young overachiever with an attitude about many things I knew nothing about. This served me well since I was in journalism school and the ability to play along and ask intelligent questions about subjects one knows nothing about with a certain air of…confidence…is an essential skill. It is a skill that, in fact, I occasionally call on to this day. As most of our readers and subscribers realize and have probably come to expect, if not sometimes dread.

Anyway, I was unbelievably lucky back then to fall in with a small group of fellow students who grounded me through our intensive one-year, four quarter (nee semesters for those not in academia) program. One of these people, let’s call her “A” to protect her privacy, actually did die this week. Even though she and I hadn’t talked in the last number of years we all managed to sporadically keep in touch through social media, or via others in the group who had spoken to one of us and had information about someone else. Unfortunately – or perhaps realistically – this is how it goes as we get older. It doesn’t mean the love isn’t still there. In actuality, it’s quite the opposite. At any given moment, any of us could call the other and pick up almost exactly where we left off.

My lovely friends.... and hair

My lovely friends…. and hair

These enduring friendships, which are often formed at pivotal, peak moments in our lives or developmental cycles (Note: Which hopefully happen all through our lives) are the closest I get to religious experiences. Which makes the following all the more ironic. See, A was not only smart (a Smith gal) but one of the nicest and pure of heart people you’d ever want to meet. This has nothing to do with her untimely death – which is, I suspect, what you’re thinking about now. Rather, she was…to put it bluntly…just….nice. Like…..sweet. Almost naive. Except, she wasn’t by any means. More specifically she was a gentle soul.

Who LOVED The Beatles.

Particularly PAUL MCCARTNEY.

Yes, Paul McCartney. Of The Beatles. Not Band on the Run Paul McCartney or the Michael Jackson dueting This Girl is Mine Paul McCartney. Certainly not Silly Love Songs or even Live and Let Die Paul McCartney. Though I’m sure she very much liked all of those. (Note: Eh, maybe she could’ve done without the Jackson tune, but, well, I’ll never quite know).

That's our Paul

That’s our Paul

She enjoyed Ringo, George and most certainly John (NOTE: That’s Starr, Harrison and Lennon for my students, who I don’t ever underestimate but whom I always want to make sure I inform in case they’re in the dark). But Paul – talented Paul – adorable floppy-haired Paul, the Paul of YesterdayA was all about him.

So much so that when A was put into hospice care her husband hired a guitarist to play Beatles music for her, with what I’m sure was a serious bent towards the Paul canon. By the second day A was not speaking at all so her cousin asked the musician to play something other than The Beatles, if only for a change of pace. To which A said, after 24 hours of silence: NO, JUST THE BEATLES!

Those were her final words.

I'll miss you dear friend

I’ll miss you dear friend

At her memorial service some time later, all five speakers talked about A’s love of The Beatles, and especially Paul McCartney. There was a deli around the corner from the funeral home that one member of our group, let’s call her J, ducked into with some other mourners afterwards to eat.   So imagine their surprise when, sometime between ordering the corned beef and chowing down on the pastrami on rye, who walks in for lunch but —

Paul McCartney. Yes, THAT Paul McCartney.

Does he even live in NYC? Who knew he liked NY deli? And you mean, he just sort of mosies around town ducking in and out of places that sell items like knishes, dill pickles and sable? Well, I guess so.

giphygiphy-1

This seemed like the right time to post this gem

This seemed like the right time to post this gem

J, who told me this story, which I’m sharing with you, decided she had to go over and thank Paul for the joy that he brought our friend. She shared it all – bits of her life, the moments before her death. She said he seemed very touch by the whole thing.

Maybe he’ll write a song about it. Or one of you will. Or perhaps it will inspire something else.

Now, this may all be a coincidence. I mean, why wouldn’t Paul McCartney be in NYC, right? And I mean, it’s not the 1960s, 70s or 80s – he could probably slip in and out of eateries all day without being too mobbed, right? But why that moment?

Well, a cynic like me could say why not? Except, in this moment I find myself to be – dare I say it – a believer. In exactly what, I’m not sure. But it’s the same leap of faith I make as a writer when I sit down to the blank page.   Or as a potential lover when I decide to expose (literally!) my entire self to an individual who for some reason I want to take a chance on. Or as a friend when I meet a new person, or group of people, I decide in that moment would be a good idea to invite into my life.

It’s all guesswork and chance, right?

No, it’s faith.

Which has NOTHING to do with RELIGION.

And everything to do with The Beatles. Or more precisely, Paul McCartney.

…..Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

 

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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.

Time to Pass the Torch

It strikes me as the height of irony that the Olympics are all about competing to be your best yet NBC’s coverage of the event is a monopoly that has allowed it to be its worst.

I thought this on Friday night as I sat watching the opening ceremonies “live” from London, a full half day after they happened –- which as it turned out was as quickly as any human being in Los Angeles (except those who work at NBC) could get them.

This would have been bad enough had the opening ceremony not gone on to include duds like:

  1. The real Queen of England and the real actor playing James Bond exchanging pleasantries in Buckingham Palace, followed by their (presumed?) stunt doubles jumping out of a helicopter into Olympic stadium.
  2. A floorshow featuring an odd pastiche of agrarian, industrialized and social media-ized Great Britain over the course of several centuries, interspersed with very brief verbal recitations by Kenneth Branagh and J.K. Rowling while hundreds of extras danced in period costumes to the point of distraction.
  3. And a finale of Paul McCartney singing a slightly off tune “Hey Jude” (why that of all his songs?) that made one wonder WWJLD (What would John Lennon Do?).  In answer to the latter I say something welcomingly naughty, but one can only IMAGINE on that score.

What is happening here??

Call me crazy ( or even “maybe” since its Olympic-related) but all this activity made me rethink if being a little desperate and hungry is a good thing (as opposed to starvation and “The Hunger Games”), and if perhaps a few rounds of good old, level-playing field, REAL competition in the world might not just be the better answer for at least some of the things that ail us.

These thoughts surprise me since I’m not much into sports and certainly don’t think unfettered, free-market capitalism is the answer to anything but 21st century greed.  Still, you have to wonder when a corporation like NBC is able to shell out $4.38 billion (yes, that’s a B!) in order to hold you captive to its whims, ratings or otherwise.  One could argue that for billions of dollars a corporation (who the US Supreme Court recently ruled is indeed human) has earned/bought the prerogative to do exactly as it pleases and, legally, one could argue that one is right.  Except – if you toss out legalities and use common sense – is it???  And is it wise for us?

The Olympics are about excellence, humanity (the non-corporate kind) and grit.  Yeah, there’s money and sponsorship and opportunity thrown into the mix but, when it comes down to it, you can’t prevent a superior athlete from a war-torn country from decimating another from a large, rich industrialized nation and thus prove his or her superiority for all the world to see.  In other words, at the end of the day it’s not about how much money you have but how good you are at what you do.

This is not the case for cash rich NBC or for the rest of us who choose to watch the show and, as fans, expect to at the very least see the real version of a live event we elected to watch.

Despite Twitter, You Tube, Facebook and other streaming technology, NBC has figured out a way to block almost all immediacy of every match up and thus render its billion-dollar coverage pretty lackluster for world-wise consumers.  Yes, there is online streaming of each event but only if you are in front of your computer at the precise moment NBC’s cameras happen to be there in London time.  Otherwise, for the competitions geared to primetime (meaning all the ones you really want to watch), you have to wait 9-12 hours in order to raise NBC’s prime time ratings.

In need of a serious lift…

True, you can watch it some 9-12 hours later on your tv/tablet in high resolution and technically feel as if you’re there, both out front and backstage.  But that’s only technically – meaning high def, clear as glass pixel images.  What you might consider the best parts of the event STILL get cut or filtered by correspondents who you’d rather see serve as the actual bullseye in Olympic archery than pose as experts asking the questions you might never ask if given the opportunity to have been there live yourself half a day before.

For example, in its infinite wisdom, NBC chose to excise what was arguably one of the most emotionally moving segments of the opening ceremony – a haunting tribute to victims of the 2005 (7/7) terrorist bombings in London which occurred just a day after the city was chosen to broadcast this Olympics.  Instead, NBC decided American audiences couldn’t relate to worldwide terrorism and chose to run an interview by its new resident haircut Ryan Seacrest (who Deadline Hollywood’s Nikke Finke recently dubbed the “Viscount of Vapidity”) with uber Olympian Michael Phelps that could have won Olympic gold itself were they giving out medals in television blandness.

Am I sounding bitter and petty?  Then don’t take my word for it – judge for yourself.

The memorial tribute you missed

click for full video

vs.

click for full video

The Viscount of Vapidity barely distracting Michael Phelps on TODAY

(because all copies of the infamous Olympics interview has been removed from the Web)

Seacrest is an apt target of derision not because he’s uber successful and wealthy but because he is so clearly devoid of anything related to what the Olympics is really about – namely excellence and grit.  He is everything the Olympics isn’t.  As was NBC’s decision to use this interview instead of staying with one of the few planned emotional moments that director Danny Boyle (who also had little competition) created for the London ceremonies.   It makes one wonder whether the Olympic Gods actually decided to curse Phelps to fourth place and thus deny him a medal of any kind in his first race in London in retaliation.

Thanks Zeus!

Certainly this is life in the real world when everything, including all of us, are on the chopping block for a price.  But what the top 1% of the “job creators” need to know is that the changing platforms in world media will not allow them to gorge themselves with a diet of indulgent choices forever.  At some point, there is an Arab spring for everything – a “tipping point” where audiences turn off and, as they used to say in the sixties, “turn on” in ways their elders never imagined.  Ask the music industry.  Check in with the production heads at film studios.  Survey some of the smarter, more prescient business people in the world who make their money by inventing things and recognizing trends or potential needs.  You might want to even call some of the leading climate scientists who were being laughed at 10 or 20 years ago if the recent rash of heat waves across the country haven’t knocked out your phone service.

All of this is what makes the world a still somewhat pleasant, amusing and consistently wondrous place to live in.  There is indeed something called evolution, despite the very vocal minority of worldwide religious fundamentalists who to this day spend a lot of their capital (both financial and intellectual) trying to deny it.  Evolution is defined as “the development of something, especially from a simple to a more complex form.”  What that means is that try as one group might to make choices for you that you don’t want, eventually that one group will overreach and the world will change enough and evolve to something more complex that will accommodate the majority.

Oh I could puke.

There is no timetable on this, as much as one wishes there were.  But it will happen as sure as Seacrest will manage to annoy me sometime in the very near future (try today).  Because what it will come down to is a world that runs, and has always run on good old level-playing field, real competition – whether it be women’s volleyball, horse dressage or corporate indulgence (some might even go so far as to call it censorship) in any particular industry in any particular year.

Competition ain’t so bad!

The wisest among us, both individual humans and the corporate kind, will take the lead of the most practiced Olympic athlete at their peak performance and prepare for the race that will inevitably come.  The competition is long but ultimately there can only be one real winner.  Despite what we’re being sold.  Or told.   And both history, as well as evolution, have a way of making things right – or at least giving the least likely among us more of a fighting chance that we will run with.