Friday, July 30, 2010

The Slipstream

In many things I was an early adopter -- CDs, Tivo, tragic Met fandom -- but I was a longtime avoider of Twitter.

Even though I knew Shaq and Justin and Lady Gaga were on there, the few times I saw tweets by people I knew, they seemed both embarrassing and time-consuming. Besides, Facebook, which I joined in fall 2007 partly to reconnect with the world during the Writer's Strike and just after my mom died, seemed a big enough sinkhole.

Then I started this blog, and several people I respect told me I had to tweet to get more traffic. Besides,

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sez You

This weekend, I went to see a friend, Kate Berry, perform at a repertory theater in tiny Creede, Colorado, and experienced a one-of-a-kind moment unique to live theater.

Five minutes into the second act of The 39 Steps. the power went out. Two of the actors were stranded, frozen on stage for maybe seven minutes, first in darkness, then in flashlights, then in emergency lighting, then, even after the power came back on, while the crew rebooted the audio sound effects system.

As luck would have it,

Friday, July 23, 2010

Filtering Pop Culture Overload

My 16-year-old just came back from four weeks at camp with a five-page, handwritten list from a friend naming bands she should listen to. His choices are all great -- ranging from the Velvet Underground to Broken Social Scene -- but they're just names on a page, and would take months to bone up on.

This got me thinking about how musical knowledge is acquired these days. My last post discussed how I became musically cognizant, to the point of obsession (knowing the names of B-sides, etc), helping qualify me to write for Rolling Stone. Part of it included reading Rolling Stone itself. But how does someone of my daughter's or my own advancing age find out about music these days?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Well.....How Did I Get Here?"

Although I left the staff of Rolling Stone around 1991 and have only done a few pieces for them since then, the tag "Rolling Stone writer" still follows me like a tin can on a "Just Married" car. Which is fine with me. It was probably the most sustained fun I ever had at a job, though, as with so many things in youth, I didn't realize it at the time.

As Talking Heads -- my first cover subjects -- hauntingly sang, "You may ask yourself -- how did I get here?" How did my level of pop-culture fandom, consumerism, and opinionating rise above the normal American level and become a profession? Simplified answer: childhood trauma.

I still remember the moment I became aware of pop music as something I needed to know more about.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Rethinking Internet "Plagiarism"

In 1998, I published the above Op-Ed in the New York Times. I had found several articles I'd written reprinted on the web -- retyped, really, with several errors -- without permission, payment or recourse, and wondered what this meant for the future of journalism. 

I cited other then-current examples of misappropriation: a Mary Schmich essay that had been circulating as a graduation speech by Kurt Vonnegut; a Tom Tomorrow cartoon and an Ian Frazier piece which had been stripped of authorship. I concluded, "It looks as if the only possible policeman of the Internet may turn out to be the Internet itself." 

I was reminded of that line this weekend when I tried Googling my old Terrence Malick article (to illustrate my previous blog post). 

Instead, Google directed me to a blog by Jeffrey Wells, which told of his Terrence Malick piece that ran a decade after mine -- for the same editor! -- which he admitted "pilfered from" my original piece, whose title he recalled, but not  the author nor publication. 

Annoyed, I wrote to Wells,

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Going Home Again...and Again...

Yesterday I was in the neighborhood of my parents' former house and decided to check out what renovations the new owner is doing. I pulled into the driveway and saw this sight.

This reminded me that the first story I ever sold to a national magazine was called "You Can Go Home Again," for the short-lived Newsweek on Campus. It was a somewhat smug piece about my decision after graduating from college not to go to grad school but to move back in with my parents so I could "find myself."

Truth be told, the situation wasn't ideal: I was both crowding my brother Matt during  his senior year of high school, and witnessing my mom coping with some empty-nest midlife issues. To get out of the house I worked at a local farm stand, where several residents regarded me with suspicion, wondering if I was on work-release from prison or rehab.

But living there enabled me to write

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Ones that Got Away

When people find out I wrote celebrity profiles, they always want to know "Who was your favorite?" or "Who was the worst?"

Over the years I have codified my stock answers -- favorites (The Coen Brothers, James L. Brooks, The Kids in the Hall, Talking Heads, Beastie Boys, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks) have to do with their personalities, where they were in their careers, and how much access I got (usually a result of the two previous factors; people starting out aren't yet sick of hearing themselves talk, and people who are secure sometimes open up under the right circumstances).

The Worst have to do with a different variety of factors. I'll devote another post to all that.

But what nobody ever asks about, and what really have stuck with me through the years, were the ones that got away. The way most people pine over unrequited loves and crushes,

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Ever since the 2007 WGA writer's strike, I spend way too much time checking out the latest showbiz scuttlebutt on Nikki Finke's blog. She has good sources, gets things early, and has opinions. And so do her commenters, usually (deservedly) anonymous ones.

I'm less interested in her news about box-office blockbusters, which I have come to view as theme parks. So I wasn't really following her breathless updates on the casting of the next Spiderman, after Tobey Maguire exited the franchise. It just seemed to me to be the same old story: make someone a star, pay him so much you don't want to pay him any more, get me the next star.

But when she announced that it was Andrew Garfield -- who apparently gives a great performance in the upcoming David Fincher/Aaron Sorkin movie The Social Network -- Finke singled out for praise "his heartbreaking performance in Boy A." 

What? I follow the indy movie releases fairly closely, and I HAD NEVER HEARD OF Boy A So I immediately

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Personal Quadrant

The "Four Quadrant Picture" is the movie business's current formula for success. If a project appeals to all four quadrants -- men over 25, men under 25, women over 25, women under 25 -- then, the logic goes, it's got blockbuster potential. Anything else is a risk. This is why we are getting movies like Marmaduke even though there's an unnamed quadrant clearly starving for movies like The Kids Are All Right.

Herding all of America into these four age/gender categories is of course the kind of folly that marketers have to parade as science when confronted with the diversity of our country. The truth is, people within the same quadrant have diverse tastes -- some watch reality TV, some watch sports, some watch HBO.  If everybody could agree on anything (besides Toy Story, that is) we wouldn't have these divisive elections, or people who hate the Yankees no matter how much they win.

When it comes to movies, I often disagree with my peers -- even if we're the same age, same gender, same ethnic background, same education. That's what makes life -- and art -- interesting. I was thinking about how idiosyncratic taste is because

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Discovering and Remembering What The Point Is

In the past year I have accumulated over a hundred emails that I have saved to return to....later. They range from a YouTube link of an old-time actress, to a recommendation for a British TV series I should rent, to a friend's piece in an online magazine....eventually I either finally devote the time, or, with a heavy sigh, simply delete without ever getting to the conveyed material.

Facebook has only pushed the ball farther down the field (away from me, that is): every few minutes someone is touting something to watch or read (I am more guilty of this than anyone -- I even touted the New York magazine cover story about unhappy parenting this week before I finished reading it myself). Like a cable-news channel, I feel more and more deluged with crap-of-the-moment (BP, LeBron, Mel Gibson, the spy swap) and less and less able to see the long view.

So I was amazed today to find myself following a link to a LONG article about Pickup Artists Vs. Lovers

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Chinese (Laundry) Alter-Ego

It's funny how a decision you make early in life can label you forever. Like wearing someone else's clothes. When I was in my early 20s, I had a "look": white dress shirts and black slacks, purchased at vintage stores. Some might call this look "Waiter."

Instead of dry cleaning my shirts, I brought them to an old-fashioned Chinese hand laundry. It was around the corner, it was cheaper, it used less plastic, and the shirts could be stacked easier in the limited storage I had in my studio apartment in (pre-trendy) Chelsea.

What I didn't know in my youth was that laundries have a system

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Imitation vs. Inspiration

I had a creative breakthrough on the play I'm writing, and it could have happened a lot earlier, but I was resistant. After hearing my idea, which was loosely based on an incident in my family, my teacher suggested that I read the play The Loman Family Picnic by Donald Margulies, but he also cautioned, "It may be too similar."

That scared me. There have been many times when I've had promising creative ideas only to find out they'd "already been done" or a similar one had just sold. Since I was writing my first-ever play, and Margulies has won a Pulitzer, I decided

Monday, July 5, 2010

Writes With Others

People think of writing as a solitary pursuit. But it's not that simple.

I had an idea for a play, and decided to take a class, because I've never written a play before. I wanted to self-impose deadlines, but most of all, I wanted feedback. We meet only once a week, and I have found myself waiting until the last minute to get the stuff on paper.

Sure, I like procrastinating as much as the next writer, but what's really going on is that I am craving the input of The Room. The actual class itself -- hearing the work out loud and getting reactions from everyone -- really makes me miss TV writers' rooms.

Everybody outside the business -- and more than a few people inside the business -- seems mystified by the group-think of a TV writers' room. "So what, you all write it together?" Well,

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hymns for Agnostics

"Say hi to 1972 for me." That's what a friend texted me when I told him I was at Tanglewood seeing a James Taylor/Carole King concert. And while I think none of the songs played was newer than say, 1980, the show was not a nostalgia fest. When Taylor preambled a pair of songs by describing them as "Hymns for Agnostics" -- King's "Way Over Yonder" and his "Shower the People" -- I realized why 18,000 fans had flocked there.

For many in my generation, rock music has usurped the role of religion. There is a lot more messianic fervor at a Bruce Springsteen show than at most services I have been to. The generation's singer-songwriters like King and Taylor -- Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young -- were bards and prophets. I am not sure who today's are, or if they will ever have the same cultural impact. The distribution of mainstream music has gotten diffused, but also, the sentiments that Taylor and King espouse -- whether the joys or sorrows -- are so raw and personal, they don't seem as possible in today's jaded world.

The subtext of the whole tour was

Thursday, July 1, 2010

All-Area Access

The recent brouhaha about the Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings and his warts-and-all reporting that led to a general's resignation got me thinking about the cost of access.

One of the coolest things about being a journalist was getting invited to media-only events like Paul McCartney performing songs from a new album, buying house seats for otherwise sold--out Springsteen shows, visiting movie sets, or getting backstage at concerts. But with them always came the queasy feeling that you were going to be "nice." Or at least nicer.

[The rainbow array of passes above is from the Live Earth concert in 2007, back when Al Gore was known for his environmental work, on which I helped write material for the TV broadcast. You can see how many levels of VIP there are in today's world.]

Of course there's never an explicit deal made for these perks, but

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