West End Girls

Sunday morning and yet again, I have overslept. I wasn’t feeling particularly well yesterday, and managed to get nothing–outside of some errands in the hideous heat and humidity–accomplished yesterday. The end result was I parked my not-feeling-great ass in my easy chair and watched Netflix for most of the day; beginning with an original Netflix show, The Kissing Booth–a teen rom/com, which was actually kind of cute–and then it was back to the misery/drama porn of Season Two of Thirteen Reasons Why.  Season Two is nowhere near the quality level of Season One; without the connecting hook of the cassette tapes telling the stories of the individual kids, it loses a lot. The connective tissue being used for the second season is the trial, where Hannah’s parents are suing the school for not doing more to help their daughter before she killed herself. Therefore, each episode focuses on each kid and is kind of told from their perspective, based on who is testifying that day: because, of course, only one person per day can testify. There are a lot of really good moments in this season, which shows glimmers of how good the season could have been; yet the need to weave the now-dead Hannah into this season without a reason for her to be there is a weakness. I do feel that it would have been smarter to simply have shown her from the point-of-view of the kids in this season–last season was seeing the others through hers–without the ghost/voice of reason/conscience/whatever-the-fuck-she-is that keeps appearing to Clay; which also, unfortunately, weakens Clay. It makes him unreliable as a narrative voice, and we are also not entirely sure he’s not simply lost his mind in his drive and desire to avenge Hannah. This undermines the character and the performance being given by Dylan Minnette, who was so terrific in the first season; which is unfortunate.

But…I continue to watch to see how this is all going to play out.

It’s difficult for a series based on a single novel to be adapted into a regular television series; Thirteen Reasons Why’s first season was a great example of how it can be done, and beautifully so. I greatly enjoyed that first season. But when the show is successful–and let’s face it, in the entertainment industry success  means continue to build on that success, or at the very least, keep milking that cash cow until you’ve squeezed every penny out of it. There wasn’t a need for a second season of this show, nor a third; where I thought they might go in a second season isn’t where they’ve gone. But the series does get stronger after the first weak episodes; maybe it will continue to get stronger. But the standout of this season is the character of Alex, and the young actor playing him, Miles Heizer. The first season ended with someone being shot, and we weren’t sure who it was. Turns out it was Alex, and he survived. This season, the bullet, which entered and exited through his skull, didn’t kill him but partially paralyzed him and messed up his memories. So, watching him struggle with physical therapy, and trying to figure out what went on the month before he tried to take his own life is incredibly powerful and he is knocking it out of the park. It’s really a shame; the first season was about finding out why Hannah killed herself, and the second season should focus more on the kid who tried to kill himself and now not only has to live with the consequences of that decision but try to figure out why he did it, and deal with the pity and cruelty of his classmates.

Now, there’s a story for a young adult novel. Hmmmm. *makes notes*

I am hoping to get some cleaning out of the way today as well as some writing. I’ve been seriously slacking lately, and I need to stop doing that. Granted, yesterday I didn’t feel good, but I need to get motivated and get back to writing. There’s also a lengthy blog entry I  need to finish writing.

But I’ve been thinking about young adult fiction a lot lately; the WIP is young adult, and there’s another one I want to write, or at least get started on, before the end of the year, Bury Me in Satin. It’s going to require some research, which isn’t a bad thing, and perhaps a drive up to Tuscaloosa. I really have been wanting to write this book for a very long time, and I think it’s time. It’s a dangerous topic, but I kind of want to do it. I also want to finish “Burning Crosses” today; it’s ready to be read aloud so I need to go ahead and do that. I also want to finish the first draft of “This Thing of Darkness”, and I have some reading I need to get done. I seriously need to get off my lazy ass and get a move on you know? There’s also that filing shit I started and need to finish. So, yes, indeed, I need to get motivated. But next weekend is a glorious three day weekend, and I am also planning on requesting Friday off and taking a short day on Thursday, not only to maximize the weekend but enable myself to have more time to work, as well as to have a day or two where I have literally nothing to do except read and relax; we’ll see how that turns out.

And I am not missing the cable. Not in the least little bit. This is wonderful.

And now, back to the spice mines.

For your viewing pleasure, here is Jacob Elordi, who plays the romantic lead in The Kissing Booth:

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Party All The Time

Saturday morning. I need to read aloud some stories this morning–“Don’t Look Down,” “This Town,” and “Fireflies”–and I’d like to get some work done on either Scotty or the WIP this weekend. I need to clean this weekend; I got started lasted night, washing the bed linens and blankets, a pre-vacuuming downstairs, organizing books, putting away a load of dishes; I also spent a lot of time in my easy chair reading Lori Roy’s stunning new novel, The Disappearing, which is giving me all kinds of thoughts and things to think about. It’s really extraordinary; you should, by all means, preorder it.

I am also working on a much longer blog piece; about being a gay writer, “own voices,” “we need diverse books”, and various other hashtags and ‘movements’ that have occured over the years on social media. There was an instance lately where an encounter with an albeit well-meaning straight lady kind of took me aback; I wasn’t really sure how to react to what she said. Albeit was well-intended, it was still kind of a backhanded slap in the face.

I find myself thinking weirdly deep thoughts about being a gay writer these days; because no matter what I write and no matter what I do, no matter how hard I might try to run away from it, gay is so inextricably a part of me that I cannot wall it off; no matter what I think or do or write or say, that different point of view is always going to be there; it cannot be turned off. There was, back in the day, a lot of talk about a gay sensibility that queer writers brought to their work; I don’t know if that conversation is still being had. But then, this is all fodder for that other blog entry I want to write; I shouldn’t get that in-depth with it here.

I did finish reading William J. Mann’s Edgar Award-winning Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine and Madness at the Dawn of; Hollywood, last night. Bill is one of my oldest friends in publishing of any kind; we’ve known each other well over twenty years, I would say. I interviewed him years ago for his first publication, the novel The Men from The Boys, and again later with the release of his first Hollywood history/biography, Wisecracker,  a biography of William Haines, the first openly gay movie star; who chose to give up his career when Louis B. Mayer told him he needed to give up his partner and marry a woman. He then went on to have a long career as an interior decorator; he was a close friend of Joan Crawford’s, who said of his long-time partnership, “it’s the only happy marriage in Hollywood.” Tinseltown tells the story of the murder of the director William Desmond Taylor in 1920, and how the big-wigs in Hollywood not only tried to cover up important details of the murder for their own reasons, but how the murder affected the lives of three Hollywood women: major star Mabel Normand (immortalized by Stevie Nicks in song on one of her most recent albums); up-and-coming star Mary Miles Minter; and fringe actress wannabe Patricia Palmer. It’s a well-crafted, well-researched reconstruction of what happened nearly a hundred years ago: it’s also an interesting overview of how Hollywood became what it was; how the Hays Production Code was born as well as the big studio systems; and how hoydenish religious groups have always made a lot of noise and tried to force their point of view down the throats of the rest of the country. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and highly recommend it.

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I’ve always wanted to write a book or two set in old Hollywood; maybe not in the days of the silents, but perhaps one in the 1930’s and another in the 1950’s. The one about the 1950’s has more of a shape in my head; even a title (Chlorine), but there’s so much else I need to write.

But first I need to get my act together today and do all the things I need to get done today; I also need to probably come up with a schedule and list of goals. There are so many books I want to write, so many short stories I want to write, so many short stories I need to revise. There’s only so much time in every day.

And now, back to the spice mines.

PS So far, cutting the cable chord is going swimmingly. I couldn’t be more pleased.

Lay Your Hands on Me

I managed to get all the errands done yesterday, and didn’t feel exhausted until I was in the process of putting away all the groceries and things. I went to both the grocery store and Costco yesterday; I was rather impressed that I wasn’t worn out much sooner. I did get the bedding laundered as well. But I didn’t get any writing done; I am going to need to do that today.

There are a lot of things I am going to need to do today. Sigh.

I’ve been invited to contribute to an anthology; and I am not certain I have anything ready to send along. I do have this one incredibly disturbing story that I would like to make even more disturbing–that’s just how I roll–and I need to get back to work on the Scotty draft. I’d like to revise Chapter 11 a bit today, get it cleaned up more so it isn’t nearly as sloppy as it currently is, and I want to get these other two stories cleaned up as well. I need to spend some more time with “Don’t Look Down” than I have been; I need to get inside the characters more, understand who they are better, and then I think the story will wind up being a lot more strong. The same goes with the Chanse story; the story is really about his relationship with his brother and that’s not strong enough in the story as it sounds right now. That is also, I think, the problem with the Scotty book. I need to spend some time today with it as well, figuring out motivations and so forth.

Ah, being a writer. Always such a challenge.

We finished watching Collateral last night, and I was rather pleased with it; it was written by David Hare, the playwright, and you could tell it was written by someone good. Carey Mulligan was terrific, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys complex, multi-layered crime dramas. I think tonight we may watch Justice League, to just to see if it really is as terrible as everyone seemed to think; I didn’t hate either Man of Steel or Batman vs. Superman, so I am not going into it as a hater.

I’m also still reading Tinseltown, which I am greatly enjoying. I don’t know a lot about the early days of Hollywood; the early 1920’s and late 19-teens, other than what I know from reading biographies of David O. Selznick, whose father was a producer and tried to build up a studio at the same time Adolph Zukor was building Paramount, and before the big merger that created Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). So all this is new information to me, and William J. Mann is a terrific historian and researcher. (I am more familiar with later periods of Hollywood, but hardly an expert.) I’ve always wanted to write about Hollywood’s past; I have an idea for a noir novel to be set in the late 1940’s, but my lack of familiarity with the nuts and bolts of Hollywood in that period makes it difficult–or rather, makes my already vast insecurity about writing about another period even stronger. Although I’ve already written one short story about that time–an ambiguous setting of the early 1950’s–I don’t know. Maybe I should try it as a short story first, see if I can get the sense of the period?

I don’t know.

I’m also saddened to say that I’ve now finished reading both of Lawrence Block’s art-inspired anthologies, In Sunlight or in Shadow and Alive in Shape and Color, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is putting together another, which is great. So, for today’s edition of the Short Story Project, I am sad to say this is the last story from a Block anthology: “A Woman in the Sun,” by Justin Scott, from In Sunlight or In Shadow.

Could she change his mind? Four steps to the open window, lean out and call, “Don’t.”

Or walk to the window and call, “Go ahead, do it.Good luck.”

Or stand here and do nothing.

He had left her his last cigarette. She had talked him into leaving the gun and he had kept his word. It was still on the night table, wrapped in one of her stockings. She had the time of the cigarette to make up her mind. More time, if she didn’t smoke it. Let it smoulder.

This is an interesting story; in that it leaves more questions unanswered than it actually answers. We never know the characters’ names, nor do we really know what has brough them to this point. All we do learn, as the story progresses, is that both are at the end of their ropes and done, basically; they are both ready to die. The only question is whether she will stop him or will she join him, and this rather uninvolved, distant approach makes the story even more poignant and sad; there’s a very strong sense of melancholy that runs throughout this story, and the reader soon realizes you don’t have to know the whys and hows and whats of their pasts–all you need to know and feel is their now.

Powerful.

I then started reading through Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music, and the next story up was”Me Untamed” by David Liss.

She covered the black eye with makeup, but I could still see it was there, something alien and unaccountable. Like a vandal’s scrawl across a museum painting, the dull outline of her bruise was an outrage. Carla smiled and greeted everyone good morning, defying us to say a word, to let our eyes linger too long. It was, I supposed, how she protected herself.

Jim Baron, the senior partner in the practice, met my gaze and flicked his head toward Carla as she walked past with a stack of case folders under her arm. Carla was getting ready, as we did every Tuesday and Thursday, for surgeries–no office visits on those days, just procedures. The practice felt a bit like a gastrointestinal assembly line, and sometimes I hated how we moved patients in and out, hardly taking the time to look at them, but Jim cracked the whip. It was volume, volume, volume as far as he was concerned. We were there to heal, not to socialize, and the more healing, the better.

The point of view is that of a divorced, shy, quiet Milquetoasty doctor,  who is kind of in love with Carla, or maybe he is not. She’s married to a thug of a guy, a man’s man, who works out and so forth, the kind of man a Milquetoast would hate. And he decides to do something about Carla’s abuse…decides to make himself into the kind of man he’s always wanted to be, the kind of man that he thinks Carla would like and love. This is a terrific story, with a terrific twist at the end that lifts it up even higher in terms of craft. Well done, sir!

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Be Near Me

It’s a gray Monday, and I have a lot to do today before I return to work tomorrow. Yesterday was a complete waste of a day; I did manage to reread the first half of the first draft of the Scotty novel and spent some time reading/editing “Don’t Look Down”; not really sure how it needs to be fixed but am going to try to get that taken care of today. I need to run an errand at some point, and I must go to the gym today. But I need to get past the schedule I always am stubbornly stuck with; I’ve always done errands/gym around elevenish/noon; which is insane. There’s no required schedule as such; I can do errands or go to the gym at any time I please. So, yes, I am going to  work my way through things this morning, and try not to waste my time with social media, the way I always do.

It really is a time suck.

I’m not sure why I had such low energy yesterday; whether it was the gloom or the cold or whatever; but I had intended to go to the gym yesterday and run the errands. Instead I found myself listless and drained of all energy; I had to force myself to make lunch yesterday afternoon. I spent most of the day lying in bed reading–although I did managed to muster the energy to come downstairs and watch The Ritual on Netflix around eight o’clock last night. I feel better today so obviously the low-energy was something my body insisted on; it’s just been a long time since I’ve had such a day where I couldn’t force myself to do anything. I usually just brush all that aside and make myself do things. It didn’t work yesterday, alas.

I suppose the best thing to do is just accept that it was something my body needed and be done with it.

I also read some some short stories yesterday. First up was  “Taking Care of Business,” by Craig Ferguson, In Sunlight or in Shadow

The Reverend Jefferson T. Adams, beloved and respected minister of this parish for over fifty years, pulled deeply on the long fragile Jamaican-style reefer and held the smoke deep in his lungs. There was no sensation of getting high anymore, or indeed panic or paranoia or any of the other unpleasantness. No sensation at all really but he enjoyed the ritual.

He listened to the music from outside the church. It was too nice a day to go inside. Cold and still with a high milky cataract of cloud diffusing the sunlight enough to flatter the landscape, softening the edges and blanching out the imperfections like an old actor’s headshot.

The sea was guilty and quiet, like it had just eaten.

This is a poignant and sad story, about a minister who is dying from cancer and smoking medical marijuana with an old friend every day as his life fades away from him. The two old men talk about things, reveal secrets to each other they’ve kept hidden away from the world their entire lives, and finally, as every story about death must, it ends with the death of the reverend, but it’s not sad, it’s kind of poignant and beautiful. Craig Ferguson is an actor/comedian/writer; he was on The Drew Carey Show and later hosted The Late Show (or something like that); I was pleased to see he is also quite talented as a writer.

Next up was “Guilt-Edged Blonde” by Ross Macdonald, from The Archer Files.

A man was waiting for me at the gate at the edge of the runway. He didn’t look like the man I’d expected to meet. He wore a stained tan windbreaker, baggy slacks, a hat as squashed and dubious as his face. He must have been forty years old, to judge by the gray in his hair and the lines around his eyes. His eyes were dark and evasive, moving here and there as if to avoid getting hurt. He had been hurt often and badly, I guessed.

“You Archer?”

I’d taken a long break from reading Macdonald’s short stories; while I appreciate and quite like his hard-boiled style, sometimes though it becomes a bit much to deal with, and in the short stories, that is particularly obvious and somehow more difficult to deal with. I do love the way the stories twist and turn and become something far different than they start as; this story has Archer hired as a bodyguard, only to arrive to meet with his client who’s already been murdered, and a blonde woman is seen fleeing the scene. The client had basically been a mob accountant and stole money from them; and was worried they were going to come after him. However, the story has nothing to do with how it’s set up, and it’s quite a twisty and strange tale. This is one of the stronger Archer short stories, but…again, a little of that hardbitten, hard-boiled, macho straight man sensibility goes a long way in my book; so it’ll probably be a while before I return to The Archer Files. I don’t to make it sound like I don’t like Macdonald and these stories…I do. Reading a Macdonald novel is a bit different. Most of the Archer novels are short and they move so quickly you’re so wrapped up in the story–and the focus is on the story more so than the style; the short stories, oddly enough, because they are short the style is more apparent than in the novels. I’m not entirely sure if that makes sense, but I think it does, even if I can’t seem to put it into words properly.

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Would I Lie To You?

Is it sad that I will read a themed anthology, and then will think up a short story based on that theme that I would have written had I been asked?

I find myself doing this a lot lately; I think it has a lot to do with the Short Story Project and reading themed anthologies. As I read the terrific stories, I start wondering what would I have written for this had I been asked and then my mind starts to wander a little bit, which is both irritating and distracting. Yesterday I went looking for Edward Hopper paintings, and found two that would have worked as story inspirations. One day last week I found an image of my favorite Salvador Dali painting on-line, and grabbed it to my desktop so I could look at it and wonder what kind of story it would inspire within me. And obviously, Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music made me wonder what song would inspire me to write a crime/music story, and of course, thought of a Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac song, and then scribbled down a potential title and some thoughts on the story.

Because I don’t have anything else to write, obviously.

I did get some things done yesterday; I cleaned the kitchen and get caught up on laundry. I must have left my copy of Bryan Camp’s The City of Lost Fortunes at the office, as I could put my hands on it anywhere, which was really annoying as I had intended to finish reading it this weekend; I can’t find it, so I must have taken it out of my backpack at the office on Thursday and walked out at the end of the day without putting it back. At least, I hope that’s what happened to it. I’d really hate the have to wait until I buy the hardcover before I can finish reading it. But in lieu of that, I read a shit ton of short stories yesterday, getting very caught up on the Short Story Project. I will probably get even further on that today, since I don’t have my novel to read. Today I need to write and edit, finish cleaning the living room, and get everything ready for tomorrow; the final day of my three day weekend, and I need to definitely make progress, else I will spend most the week berating myself until the next weekend rolls around. Paul will return home on Wednesday. If I can simply stick to what I need to do, and check things off the list, I can go to work on Tuesday feeling terribly accomplished.

It’s very cold this morning; it rained most of the day yesterday, so today we have the predictable temperature drop. It’s really making me want to just curl up in the easy chair with a book–which is fine, I can do that, as long as it’s the manuscript or one of the short stories or all of the above.

Must. Stay. Focused.

I did watch a couple of movies yesterday; the original 1973 film version of Jesus Christ Superstar (I didn’t remember what a fucking hot daddy Caiaphas was) and Legion, a horror film that came and went many years ago; the Syfy series Legion, which I started watching and never finished, was a sequel of sorts to it. I never finished watching because it was difficult to find, or when I remembered to try the episodes weren’t available anymore, and having not seen the film, I was a bit lost. Now that I’ve watched the film, which I kind of liked, I am looking forward to starting the TV show over again.

All right, I need to get some things done around here. So here are two short stories I read yesterday:

First up is “Shaderoc the Soul Shaker” by Gary Phillips,  from Crime Plus Music, edited by Jim Fusilli.

On for the days when he could snort him a line of flake while some groupie was down on her knees, her head buried between his spread leather-clad legs, pleasuring him like he was a visiting pharaoh. Goddamn, that time in his room backstage at the Forum…the two big-titty blondes. Sheeet, the top of his head damn near blew off that night as they sexed him up, down, and sideways.

Churchill “Church” Gibson shook his head, regretfully cycling away from the glorious past into the stone-cold reality of now. He glared at the screen of his laptop as if it were an adversary. He put aside his coffee and tapped the keyboard and the music app replayed his most troubling tack through external speakers. The green audio readout traveling from left to right as the music filled his compact home studio space.

This is a terrific story. Gary Phillips is one of those crime writers who should be much more successful than he is; he wrote a story for Blood on the Bayou that was fantastic and this one–about a formerly successful, hard-living musician whose career has waned but has a chance to get back on top by writing the soundtrack to a film but is having a terrible time creating anything decent, is terrific. As a writer, I can certainly understand that feeling of why can’t I do this anymore and it used to be easy to do this. But as he works, he starts seeing people from his past, who talk to him and remind him of what he used to be capable of, and as he creates he remembers past times and past crimes…it’s absolutely fantastic.

Next up, also from Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music, was “The Long Black Veil” by Val McDermid.

Jess turned fourteen today. With every passing year, she looks more like her mother. And it pierces me to the heart. When I stopped by her room this evening, I asked if her birthday awakened memories of her mother. She shook her head, leaning forward so her long blond hair curtained her face, cutting us off from each other. “Ruth, you’re the one I think of when people say ‘mother’ to me,” she mumbled.

She couldn’t have known that her words opened an even deeper wound inside me and I was careful to keep my heart’s response hidden from my face. Even after ten years, I’ve never stopped being careful. “She was a good woman, your mother,” I managed to say without my voice shaking.

Jess raised her head to meet my eyes then swiftly dropped it again, taking refuge behind the hair. “She killed my father,” she said mutinously. “Where exactly does ‘good’ come into it?”

This is a haunting story about love and family, friendship and class, all set in a small town somewhere which is never specifically named. McDermid, an enormously successful and award-winning crime writer (you should read her if you haven’t; start with A Place of Execution and The Mermaids Singing), manages to tell this story from two different point of views, and so captures small town America perfectly that it is almost eerie. It’s a terrific story, heartbreaking and tragic in its very simplicity. I don’t think I’ve read a McDermid short story before, but this is a great example of why her work is so popular.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

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Misled

Saturday morning, and everything is dripping outside. A thunderstorm woke me up in the middle of the night, but the rain lulled me back to sleep almost immediately. I feel very rested this morning, which is a good thing. Today I am going to write and edit and clean and go to the gym; it’s been a while–I haven’t been to the gym since before the Tennessee Williams Festival, which is not only shocking but scandalous–and I have to make sure this mess of an apartment is under control. I also want to do some reading today; I am rather behind on the Short Story Project, and I really want to finish that Bryan Camp novel. (Preorder it, seriously.)

I reached the halfway point of the Scotty novel yesterday, which was both a relief and a little off-putting. It’s not very good so far, but it’s also a messy first draft; first drafts are supposed to be messy. This weekend i am going to reread it, as well as track the various plots while doing an outline of the first half; this will hopefully help me to catch mistakes and errors, and places where the story may have gotten off track. Sigh. The drudgery that must be done. It’s lovely to not be on a deadline, though, so I don’t that horrible pressure, that sense of time running out. I think that’s all part of the reason I have never felt satisfied with anything I’ve ever published; I always feel like I ran out of time.

So last night I watched the end of Jesus Christ Superstar, and then, bored, scrolled through all of my Apple TV apps until I found Red Dawn–not the remake, but the 1984 original–and thought, Hmmm, I wonder how this holds up, particularly in reading Molly Ringwald’s piece about The Breakfast Club, so I watched that, and have some thoughts. (And yes, I know it was remade recently, and perhaps that might be worth a watch at some point–Chris Hemsworth–but I was more curious to see the 1984 version as a time capsule of its original period).

So, Jesus Christ Superstar. I remember when it originally surfaced in the late 1960’s, a new take on the New Testament and the ubiquitous Christ story. It’s hard for people who weren’t alive during that time to understand how different the world was then than it is now; the changes that the 2016 election was a reaction to were beginning. Christians felt Jesus Christ Superstar was an abomination, a heresy, an attack on their faith; a modern day reinterpretation of the story, an attempt to make all the characters of the New Testament human was seen as an attack on their faith. Telling the story from the viewpoints of Judas and Mary Magdalen was even more offensive; the betrayer and the fallen woman? An attempt to justify and understand Judas, who committed the biggest crime in the history of the Christian faith? And well, the whore?

It was, regardless, incredibly popular; it made Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber stars (paving the way for everything they’ve done since; so in some ways we can blame Cats on Jesus), and the music was everywhere. “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” and “Superstar” played on Top 40 radio incessantly; even Helen Reddy recorded the former and had a hit with it. Ben Vereen was the original Judas and it made him a star. It was made into a film by Norman Jewison, which sparked more outrage and yet the soundtrack was a huge seller, with Yvonne Elliman playing the Magdalen again, with Carl Anderson as Judas and Ted Neeley as Jesus. I loved the film soundtrack–those vocals by Ted Neeley are intense–and listened to it all the time. I think I know the score by heart; but I also remember being criticized by classmates when I moved to Kansas for loving it so much.

I was rather dreading this live concert staging, to be honest; I like John Legend, but just wasn’t sure he had the vocal power to hit those intense notes. I also liked that they had cast a man of color as Jesus; Judas has always been a role for a man of color, and knowing that Brandon Victor Dixon, who’d played Burr on Broadway in Hamilton and Sara Bareilles was playing the Magdalen was reassuring. I didn’t watch it as it aired; we were watching something else Sunday evening, but I was following the live tweets and Facebooking, and the reviews were definitely mixed. But when I watched it myself, despite my misgivings and how much I associated the roles/vocals as already having been definitely performed, I thought it was very powerful and beautifully done.

Even as a child, certain tenets of Christianity, and the mentalities that went with it, made no logical sense to me (I know, trying to find logic and reason in religion is a fool’s game; which is why it’s called faith). The vilification of Judas, for example, never made sense to me. If Jesus is venerated, not just as the son of God but because his sacrifice made our salvation possible, didn’t it stand to reason that had he not be crucified our salvation through faith and Christ wouldn’t be possible? So, to me, it only made sense that Judas also should be venerated; without his betrayal the rest of it wouldn’t have happened. Likewise, the anti-Semitism reverberating through the century, based in the Jews being Christ-killers; if Christ hadn’t been crucified there would be no Christian faith, and no salvation. 

No one I ever asked these questions of were ever able to give me an answer that made sense to me.

So, my watching Jesus Christ Superstar as an adult who no longer considers himself to be Christian was vastly different from the twelve-year-old who saw the film after church on a Sunday. As I watched this time, I was able to see it from a new perspective, a new appreciation of the story; how would people see something like this happening in their lives, in their reality today? Over the centuries Jesus’ Jewishness has been whitewashed out of him; images of the blond blue-eyed Jesus are everywhere (Ted Neeley in the original film is one of those great examples) and I also realized that all the fiction about the mythology of the Christ (and there are a lot of them, from Ben-Hur to The Robe to Quo Vadis and on and on and on; the enormously successful mid-twentieth century author Taylor Caldwell wrote enormous, bestsellers taken from these stories–Dear and Glorious Physician about Luke, Great Lion of God about Paul of Tarsus, and I, Judas) always played up the supernatural and religious aspects of the story; Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the very few I am aware of that actually tells the story from a human perspective. Who were these human beings, these apostles, who listened to the message of Jesus and saw religion and faith and the world in a new light? Who witnessed the events described in the contradictory gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

To me, looking at the story from that perspective–“he’s a man, he’s just a man”–is a lot more interesting, and can provide fresh insight; make it relatable to newer generations. I always thought the resistance of organized Christianity to Jesus Christ Superstar, which made the story more accessible to younger generations, was kind of strange. But times, as I said, have changed. In 1970, the possibility of a live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar was unthinkable. And yet here we are today.

Red Dawn, in its 1984 original version, is a whole other ball of wax. And yet, as a historical document, watching it again now was an interesting experience. We forget the paranoia of the Cold War years, and people now in their thirties don’t remember the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the anti-Russia anti-Communist sentiment that was, in truth, the precursor to the prejudices of today. The fall of the Soviet Union and eastern European communism, the fear of world domination by Communism and the end of “Western freedom” as understood by Americans, was a serious thing; and while it heightened after the end of the Second World War, it existed since the Romanovs fell and the old Tsarist Russian empire became the USSR. Cuba was a huge part of that, too, and the anti-Castro hatred; a Soviet outpost just ninety miles from Florida, the fall of Central American countries under the sway of Cuban Communism…the geopolitical world of that time is incredibly hard to imagine today if you didn’t live through it, and even I forget…yet watching Red Dawn brought it all back vividly.

This is not to say it’s a good film, because it’s not. As a film it fails on many levels, not the least of which is acting and the script itself.

At the time of its original release, the movie was a big deal. People my age–early twenties, teenagers–made it into a hit, and also saw themselves as the characters in the movie, which even then I was all, yeah, right. (We always identify with the heroes in movies; we never see ourselves as the quislings.) The movie is about the outbreak of World War III and a Soviet invasion of the United States; it opens with Patrick Swayze dropping off his younger brother (an incredibly young Charlie Sheen) and his best friend (C. Thomas Howell) at the local high school. The score from the last football game is still up on the scoreboard; a loss for the local team, some good natured joshing about how it’s a disgrace and an embarrassment, the usual straight boy ribbing, and then it’s time for school. During History class soldiers start dropping in from the sky; when the African American teacher goes out to see what’s going on, he becomes the first casualty of the invasion (and my first thought was, of course the only black character in the movie is killed in the first five minutes). There is chaos, a group of the boys escape when Swayze comes back for them–why they drive past any number of commandos and soldiers who are killing everyone in sight and blowing shit up and aren’t targeted or killed themselves is move magic) and then rush out to hide out in the nearby mountains and forests, armed and dangerous, with no idea of what’s going on. Eventually two sisters join them–Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey–and again, there’s really not much development of the characters; ‘something happened’ to the Lea Thompson character which is never discussed, but it’s changed her. Eventually, the kids become the Resistance, calling themselves Wolverines after their high school mascot, fighting back against the invaders.

There’s also a rather telling shot in the opening of the film, where you see the bloodstained back of a pick-up truck, with a close up of the bumper sticker reading You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers. The camera then pans down to the dead body holding a gun; a commando reaches down and literally pries the gun from the cold dead fingers.

Eventually, they hook up with an American soldier who teaches them strategy, tactics, and they become an impressive teen fighting unit; he also explains to them how it all happened (paraphrasing): “All our allies in Europe stayed out of it because they’ve forgotten how to fight especially when they’re not the ones being invaded” and “Cubans infiltrated the country, coming in through Mexico pretending to be refugees from Central America or workers, and were able to get into our bases, ready for the signal.”

You can connect all those dots for yourself. All I will say was I sat there, watching and listening to all of this, and was like, really? And they talk about Hollywood’s liberal agenda?

There’s also a scene where the invaders have lined up a bunch of Americans who refuse to be re-educated, to be machine gunned, and they start singing “America the Beautiful” just before the Wolverines take the invaders out.

I also found myself wondering if anyone in 1984 saw this film as problematic, but I also rather doubt it. I know all my friends thought it was amazing, imagined themselves as freedom fighters, etc.

I know I thought about writing a book about an invasion of the United States; a seed of an idea that over the years has encompassed many themes and realities. Rewatching Red Dawn when my imagination had already been triggered by Jesus Christ Superstar  was an interesting experience.

But the most interesting thing was to see how much my own perspectives have changed over the last thirty or so years.

And now, to get some shit done.

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Cherish

I was a little boy in the 1960’s; I was eight when the decade came to an end. The world was a very uncertain place for a kid during that time period; people really believed the country was falling apart, or being pulled apart. The divide between the generations, the divide between left and right, the concept of American exceptionalism vs American responsibility; the Vietnam War and the opposition to it; the rise of the civil rights movement and the struggle to end Jim Crow once and for all; the rise of the women’s movement; and even the beginnings of a queer rights movement–all in the 1960’s. A president was murdered and men landed on the moon. There was a huge societal upheaval that changed everything that people had come to know and expect; television also began to change and grow up some, which led to some groundbreaking series in the latter half of the decade as well as set the stage for what was to come in the 1970’s. The after shocks from the 1960’s are still being felt today.

It was also a strange time for films; at the beginning of the decade the big studios and the old systems of American filmmaking were starting to erode away. The best picture Oscar winner in 1961, for example, was West Side Story, the film version of a hugely successful Broadway musical that recast the feuding Montagues and Capulets from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet into juvenile gangs–one white, one Puerto Rican. (I rewatched this film shortly after the 2016 election, and was amazed at how differently I saw it then I did before) The Academy Award for best picture in 1969 was Midnight Cowboy, to date the only Oscar winner to have an X rating (although by today’s standards the film is remarkably tame), a movie which would have never been made in 1961. (Midnight Cowboy is another film I need to see again, quite frankly; I also would like to read the book it was based on again.)

Mark Harris, a Hollywood historian whose book Five Came Back was made into a documentary which I enjoyed, wrote a brilliant book called Pictures at a Revolution, which looked at how film, and the film industry, changed during that decade through the framework of the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967; which, if any year was indicative of the changes being made and the changes to come, was indeed the perfect illustration. Two of the films were old style Hollywood–Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Doctor Dolittle–two were of the new Hollywood–Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate–and the fifth, and ultimate winner  (In the Heat of the Night) seemed to straddle the line in some ways, and whose win–and other four wins–seemed to be a compromise between the old and the new.

Harris’ book, which follows all five films from conception to script development to production and then release, culminating in the Oscar ceremony itself, is riveting and informative. You learn who all the players in each case were; you follow along the studio politics and behind-the-scenes deal-making that went into the making of each film, and in each case, Harris brilliantly illustrates how each film represents an aspect of his thesis. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night both dealt with the current issues of race; one as a gentle family comedy and the other through the darker lens of a murder investigation in a small Mississippi town, Dr. Dolittle represented the beginning of the end of the big Hollywood musical; the early part of the 1960’s gave the world the Oscar winners West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music; the immense musical flops of the second half of the decade were ushered in with this epic disaster (there’s also a book in tracing the rise and fall of the big Hollywood musical in the 1960’s).

I greatly enjoyed this book, and if you’re a fan of movies, or have an interest in the industry, this is a great read for you. I’m not so interested in the film industry of today, but I am interested in its past, to be honest; I don’t really care about the Academy Awards anymore and often change the channel while it’s on–there are no surprises anymore, and the ridiculous amount of awards leading up to the Oscars, from the Golden Globes to the SAG Awards to the Writers’ and Directors’ Guild awards, have taken away any mystery or suspense as to who is going to win; it’s much more interesting to read about the old days when they were always kind of up for grabs, and hadn’t become the expensive, overblown spectacle they’ve become today.

The book also made me want to watch these films again; it’s been years since I’ve seen any of them, and in most cases, I only saw them in their edited-for-television versions.

pictures at a revolution