January 15, 2018

January 15: MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. - The History that Blocks the Dream

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968

Originally published January 15, 2015.

Getting rich is simple; save more money than you spend.
Getting fit is simple; eat less and work out more.
Being happy is simple; just avoid pain and seek out pleasure.

So many things in life can be boiled down to simple formula of inputs and outputs. And it’s true; these formulas are simple, and people blithely wield them as evidence of moral failing or a weak backbone. “Of course you can lose weight,” they say, “it’s simple. Just eat less.” And yet we remain a population overweight, overburdened with debt, supporting huge markets for self-help guidance and prescription anti-depressants. The formulas for wealth and health and happiness are simple; this does not mean that executing these formulas is easy. Because we all bring a lifetime of experience to every moment of every day, a collection of triumphs and traumas and scars and glories. Confidences and fears. Certainty and doubt. And depending on our state of mind, no amount of simplification can make a formula easy enough to complete, or no hurdle is high enough to stop us. My wife and I often discuss why I allow certain people to walk all over me during personal or business interactions. After all, the formula is simple: when being bullied or disregarded, simply standing up for your rights and your boundaries will almost always stop the process. And yet I never seem to. Because as simple as it is to just say the word “stop”, it’s not that easy. Somewhere within me is a belief that I deserve to be treated poorly; it’s a belief that overpowers any logical process, or even any desire. No matter how much we dream of a pain-free life, somewhere in us is the belief that we have to carry a burning ember in our closed fist, and no matter how simple we make the instructions (“Just open your hand.”), we continue to serve the original belief. It’s a limiting (and limited) existence, but it’s also very, very common. Holding onto detrimental beliefs is like walking in a well-worn rut, yet great things can happen when we escape it.

January 14, 2018

January 14: THE SEX PISTOLS - The Danger of Razing the House Without New Blueprints

THE SEX PISTOLS: Final live performance - January 14, 1978

Originally published January 14, 2014.

I recently friended an old friend from high school on Facebook. She and I hadn't seen or heard from each other in over 20 years, and it was nice to hear from her again. However, she mentioned that she was still in contact with a lot of people we went to high school with. I could recall a few of the names she mentioned, but most drew a complete blank. I graduated high school in 1988, and like most people, high school was a time of incredible awkwardness. I compensated for feelings of ugliness and awkwardness by aggressively trying to convince people to like me, to the point that I really started hating myself. By my senior year, I started cutting classes to hang out, read books, and drink beer. Once I graduated, I tried not to look back. By the time I hit my mid-20s, I had mostly forgotten high school. Before I moved away from Chicago in 1998, I threw away my high school yearbooks and any memorabilia from high school and never really thought about it again. Twenty-five years later, memories of that time don't appear to be something I will ever get back. I combed through my friend's photos and saw names I know I should remember, but simply cannot; it has been too long, and I have cared too little. That has always been my curse. I become entangled with things so deeply that I lose myself, and when I get to a place where I'm ready to separate, I have no problem separating - cleanly and entirely. This is, for the record, a miserable way to handle life and relationships. It indicates an inability to manage relationships and to determine anything resembling self-direction. It's the result of poor boundaries and a self-worth that only comes out in the panicked moments of fight-or-flight. And perhaps it leaves a legacy, but more than anything, it sadly highlights "what could have been".

January 13, 2018

January 13: JOHNNY CASH "AT FOLSOM PRISON" - Attacking Salvation at the Root

JOHNNY CASH AT FOLSOM PRISON: Recorded January 13, 1967

Originally published January 13, 2014.

When you consider it, the natural resiliency of the human spirit is amazing. In a world filled with so much stress, with so many problems and so much legitimate despair, it's fascinating that humans hang in there as well as we do. The continued hardship of life, of economics, even people facing terminal illness fight to the bitter end. This is not to say that suicide and the complete loss of faith or hope doesn't exist, or that its existence isn't as sad and horrifying as it seems. But if we truly look at the numbers, of earth's more than six-billion people, only around 0.000016% in a given year give up completely and end their own lives. That leaves an extremely high percentage of people who either consciously or subconsciously are holding onto something tightly enough to make living meaningful. Some people are lucky enough to have an abundance of reasons to stick around; others are not so lucky. And perhaps one of the greatest blessings we can offer as humans is our own ability to be something for whom people want to stick around.

January 12, 2018

January 12: CHARLES NELSON REILLY - Learning the Rules, Only to Break Them

CHARLES NELSON REILLY: January 13, 1931 - May 25, 2007

Originally published January 12, 2014.

I've always been fascinated by natural talent, particularly iconoclastic natural talent. People who broke down walls of an art form with (seemingly) little to no knowledge of the rules. The Sex Pistols creating punk rock with no musical training. Picasso creating cubism out of thin air. Orson Welles creating new visual methods of storytelling on his first film. Sam Shepard re-writing theatrical narrative as a 24-year old. From the outside, each of these examples seemed to materialize out of thin air, a unique group that created an entire expanded map of the universe without knowing the landscape prior to their journey. Historical examination of these iconoclasts, however, shows that none of them succeeded without knowledge of their creative landscape or without influence. Their groundbreaking creations were actually the result of numerous, less-well-known influences which they then re-arranged to create something utterly unique. Yet, generally, we prefer the idea of "natural born iconoclasm" over study and influence. And that love provides easy opportunity for those who follow in the footsteps of the iconoclasts. Yet, there are groups for whom artistic innovation is a process of intense study. Only by learning all of the rules and knowing where all of the barriers are placed can they decide which walls to knock down. And how. And why. Charles Nelson Reilly - yes, the Match Game guy - was one of the better examples of that kind of artist.

January 11, 2018

January 11: CARL REINER & MEL BROOKS - An Eagerness to Sacrifice

THE 2000-YEAR OLD MAN ANIMATED SPECIAL: Premiered January 11, 1975

Originally published January 11, 2014.

One of the most striking things about being co-dependent is that the idea of "teamwork" goes completely out the window. Not that you disagree with the idea of teamwork, or that co-dependents ever think for a second that they're not part of a team. It's that the nature of co-dependency is to sublimate all of your own needs to the point that they no longer exist. So the actions of a co-dependent person seem - on the outside - to be very team-focused; there is an inordinate amount of self-sacrifice in co-dependence. However, when self-sacrifice is constant and all-encompassing enough to be habitual, then it's no longer sacrifice. In short order, the concept of "team" breaks down because one member isn't taking part; they're simply handing their part off to other people immediately. It may look like hard work, and it is definitely a high volume of action, but it's not teamwork. It's a member of the team facing a challenge and instantly leaning on another member to finalize a strategy and move the team forward. It's the opposite of teamwork, even though it makes the team feel better. And it's a difficult scenario to break free from, as years of abdicating responsibility for decision-making and the goals of the team will eventually atrophy those skills. Eventually, the simplest of decisions seem difficult and fraught with danger until finally, you're not a part of the team at all, even though you're there and taking action every day. All you become is an extension of the other teammates, and an unnecessary extension at that. Because everyone on the team can already do their part. Teams are a collection of parts whose sum is greater than its individual parts, and co-dependence doesn't allow for that. Waking up to realize that not only have you not helped the team, but that the team no longer sees value in you is one of the hardest things a co-dependent person will ever face.  Because from the start, co-dependents give up everything for the other members of the team. Yet it's a moment destined to happen, from the first time the co-dependent hands responsibility off to another teammate.

January 10, 2018

January 10: FRAGGLE ROCK - "Let's Make A Show That Will Change The World"

FRAGGLE ROCK: Premiered January 10, 1983

Originally published January 10, 2014.

Few people would so so audacious as to walk into a creative meeting with a pitch of, "Let's make a show that will change the world." Jim Henson was one of those people. Soon after The Muppet Show had ended its five-year run, Henson and his team were looking for new projects to tackle. Would it be a new show? Would it be a movie? Live theater? Never one to skimp on the grandiosity of an idea, Jim settled on "world peace". When he pitched the idea to his creative team, nobody balked at the size and scope of the task. Coming from anyone else, that charge would have met with laughter and ridicule. Coming from Jim, they merely breathed deep and got down to work. This was Jim Henson, after all, and if anyone could create such a show, he was the likely candidate. By January 1983, they released Fraggle Rock worldwide on HBO. It was an instant success. I was probably too old to be in Fraggle Rock's key demographic. I was a few weeks from being a teenager when it was released, which probably explains why I don't remember ever discussing Fraggle Rock with anyone as a teenager. I remember waking early (it was broadcast at 6:30am) to watch it before church on Sundays. I remember buying Fraggle Rock toys for my young cousins. I remember writing books for them at Christmas with Fraggle Rock characters in them. It may have just been the lack of access to Muppets, but this show designed for pre-schoolers became a favorite of mine.

January 9, 2018

January 9: WALTER HILL - An Escape to the Ends of the Spectrum

WALTER HILL: Born January 10, 1942

Originally published January 9, 2015.

Years ago, a group of friends and I left a party in the middle of the night. One of our friends had lagged a few seconds behind, and the rest of us walked down the block and piled into my car. I started the car and headed back towards the party to pick him up. In the minute or two it had taken to get to the car and get back a block, he had left the party, crossed paths with two strangers, and when we found him he was being held from behind by one guy, while another man brutally pummeled his face. Before I could stop the car, a friend in the backseat had jumped out to help. My friend ran up to the fight, and the puncher immediately turned and punched him hard in the face. The attacker then went back to throwing punches at the first friend. I stopped the car, and another friend and I climbed out. I don’t know if the attackers were concerned about a four-on-two fight, or they’d just grown bored, but they yelled a few threats and stormed off. In the end, two of my friends were bleeding (one severely). The entire thing took less than a minute. The thing that’s striking about random violence in real life is how ugly it is. The attackers threw wild, clumsy cheap shots. My friends had seemingly no ability to defend themselves outside of cowering. When we kept asking the first victim what precipitated the incident, he swore he had no idea. Life just went from celebratory and pleasant to escalated, brutal, screaming, hysterical, and bloody – in a few seconds. Real life battles are far from glamorous or linear; they’re random and awkward. They create more questions than they resolve. They’re unlike the movies, with clear heroes and villains and moral resolution. And few filmmakers have chased that unreal, clearly-moral universe like Walter Hill.

January 8, 2018

January 8: ELVIS PRESLEY - The First Spark in this Journey

ELVIS PRESLEY: January 8, 1935 - August 16, 1977

Originally published January 8, 2014.

Writing about Elvis is pretty much impossible. Everything about the man has been picked apart, note for note, moment for moment. Nothing I can add to the analysis hasn't been said already, and probably said better than I could ever say it. We know why Elvis is important, and we know the impact he had on society and music. We know his faults and his successes. We know his indulgences and his indignities. It would be easy to ignore him on his birthday because so much attention has been paid to him in other channels. And so I will make today's entry ridiculously short, and discuss how Elvis kicked off this entire project, in a very roundabout way.

January 7, 2018

January 7: JOHN BERRYMAN – The Decision to Wave Goodbye

JOHN BERRYMAN: October 25, 1914 – January 7, 1972

Originally published January 7, 2015.

When I was a young man infatuated with poetry, I read the poets whose lives I most wanted to emulate. I sought out contemporary American poets with reputations for iconoclasm. Angry young men don’t generally enjoy the company of their own kind, but they live for a good example to follow. And so I devoured the works of poets whose work spoke to me. The Beats. Amiri Baraka. Diane diPrima. Whitman. Kathy Acker. Dennis Cooper. Jim Carroll. Jimmy Baca. A long line of literary brilliance with common traits of alcoholism, addiction, poverty, depression, and suicide. I was 22 when I got my first hosting gig – Monday nights at The Bop Shop in Chicago’s (then very-pre-gentrified) Wicker Park, one of Chicago’s neighborhoods with the richest literary history. One night, a friend of mine in his 40s recommended the poetry of John Berryman.

“You’ll like him,” he offered. “Amazing writer. Got a million influences and borrows from tons of styles. Plus, he was an alcoholic and eventually killed himself.”

Right up my alley.

And so I checked out The Dream Songs, Berryman’s most famous collection of 77 poems which create an epic story of the life of their narrator, Henry. I remember reading the work, but the work fell so flat with me that I didn’t retain any of the work. What I did retain, however, was a small point I read in an article about Berryman’s suicide. On January 7, 1972 Berryman jumped from the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis and killed himself. The point that struck me? As he jumped from the bridge into the icy waters below, Berryman waved goodbye.

January 6, 2018

January 6: BOB NEWHART - Providing The Gaps For Us To Fill

BOB NEWHART: Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, January 6, 1999

Originally published January 6, 2014.

I don't remember a world without Bob Newhart. The Bob Newhart Show premiered in 1972, and by most accounts, lingered in the Top 15-20 shows for the majority of its run. While never a massive hit, it had a cult following strong enough to convince Newhart to continue the show when the ratings slipped low enough that it was no longer enjoyable to make. My parents were among those fans who watched the show regularly, and being a typical '70s family with one TV, I watched what my parents watched. What we were seeing then (and what the ratings reflected) was a new kind of comedy, and one that didn't necessarily conform to typical comedy standards, which made it both irresistible to some and less-accessible to others. But it changed the world, nonetheless. Years later, as an adult, I had a professor who lived in an apartment on Chicago's north side. After a post-class coffee and discussion one day, I drove him home. As we pulled into the circular drive in front of his building, he pointed across the street at the apartment building. "Bob Newhart Show," he said. And so it was - the exterior of Bob and Emily's apartment. The show had been off the air for 20 years, but somehow, he was certain I would know what he was talking about. That was the impact of Bob Newhart.