Sunday, September 11, 2011

A TALE OF TWO COASTS: Charlie Sheen and 9-11.

"Life is so full of noise and speed, that any opportunity we afford ourselves to stop and think about deeply serious things is a gift, and we should take advantage of it." -- New Yorker editor David Remnick on NPR, 9-11-11. 
"Drugs couldn't kill me, sex couldn't kill me, the press couldn't kill me. Two and a Half Men couldn't kill me....I'm Charlie Sheen, and in here burns an eternal fire. I just have to remember to keep it away from a crack pipe." -- Charlie Sheen at Comedy Central Roast, 9-10-11. 
I knew I was in for a surreal experience when I scored a ticket for the taping of the TV roast of Charlie Sheen. But I hadn't fully thought through the stark juxtaposition with the national commemoration of 9-11 the next day, and the contrast it painted between the two coasts.

Both involved revisiting troubling sights and sounds that had dominated the news, trying to conjure symbols of resilience and and self-awareness, and a lot of handwringing about whether the revisiting was exploitative or fetishism.

So: On one coast they were reading psalms, names of the dead, and singing "The Sounds of Silence"; on the other they were making jokes about spousal abuse, drug abuse, violence against hookers, and Sheen losing custody of his children.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

HOW "AWAY" IS SLEEPAWAY CAMP?


When my brothers and I were kids, we went off to a sleepaway camp in Maine [right] for eight weeks. And we were away.

Sure, I would write letters home  -- more often than many kids who only did so on nights they had to hand over a letter to gain entry to the dining hall.

And my mom wrote me back, envelopes stuffed with Times clippings and Mets gossip. My parents would drive up at the four-week mark  for visiting day to put faces to the names of  my counselors and bunkmates.

But I don't think I spoke to them on the phone more than once a summer, and they really had no idea what my day-to-day life was. (This was only somewhat less true during the school year when I lived with them.)

That isn't quite the case nowadays. Though my daughters are "away," I feel quite apprised of what's going on. And, in the age of helicopter parenting and TMI,  I don't know whether that's a good thing or not.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Good Swimming/Bad Handwriting

My late mother was part amphibian; she preferred a Best Western with a pool to a Ritz without one. And so I spent my brother's wedding weekend in a horrible Best Western in Seattle. My late Dad swam a mile every morning before going to work.

And as much as we try to rebel against where we come from, I, too, am happier in the water than out of it.  I prefer a lake, but when you're in New York City, where a fire hydrant sometimes is all you have, a pool shimmers like a mirage on the desert.

A friend once invited me to lunch poolside on the roof of the Soho House [left]. It was gorgeous, but like most hotel pools, also small and highly self-conscious making -- like swimming on stage for people whose main concerns are suntanning, immersion, or peacocking. I knew I was never going to pay a membership fee to swim laps that are shorter than a Mack Truck.

A few years ago my girlfriend and I

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Death in the Musical Family

R.I.P. Clarence Clemons. It is truly the end of an era.

The E Street Band was the closet approximation to a family I ever saw on a rock and roll stage. After keyboardist Danny Federici died of melanoma, the family soldiered on, but it's hard to imagine anyone replacing or subbing for Clarence's signatrute throaty tones or onstage bravado.

When I saw the band on the last tour there was something in the air that felt like it might be the last time we were all in the same room together -- maybe Bruce sensed it too, that's why he did some cncerts where they performed entire albums start to finish, to make sure he touched all the bases.

I first saw Bruce and Clarence play at New York's long-gone Palladium in 1978 -- that's 33 friggin years ago. I once drove all the way to a little bar called Lock, Stock and Barrel in Fair Haven, NJ on the rumor that he was going to be playing - -and he was, with Southside Johnny, Garry Talent and a guy named Stormin Norman on piano. (Thanks to Google, I found this nice tribute Norman wrote when Clarence was ailing.)

I posted some videos on Facebook but this is a more permanent place to put them.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can't Win?

I am an Emmy voter. And boy was I happy when buried in the mailbox onslaught that included discs for Gene Simmons' Family Jewels and George Lopez and Lifetime movies and that Kennedys atrocity, I got the complete set of the 13 episodes of Friday Night Lights final, fifth season (above). Last night I devoured the last three episodes, which will air in the next couple of weeks on NBC.

Kyle Chandler as Coach Eric Taylor
Well, not devoured, really, I kept hitting the pause button, to wax nostalgic over a familiar face like Adrienne Palicki and Jesse Plemons who had graduated and left seasons ago -- but really,  to just extenuate the inevitable final lights-out. Because nothing like it will come this way again any time soon. A realistic show about people with realistic relationships, feelings, hardships and triumphs in this era of Jersey Shore, Glee and Desperate Housewives, was a major miracle.

It's part of the sad saga of FNL's undeservedly checkered airing career that instead of there being a hugely anticipated finale night like The Sopranos that everyone tunes into at once, many people will have already seen it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Malick & Me


A lot of my journalism isn't on the Internet, but when people write to ask me for a copy of an article, it's never, say, when I took the Beastie Boys to Graceland. No, what they clamor for-- still -- is a piece I did 25 years ago, that by now has become my equivalent of a defining first hit single that a band never recovers from. But -- as I often tell actors who bemoan being identified with one role -- it's better to have one of those than none, right?

It's a piece I'm proud of -- the 24-year-old me spent six months reporting it, for pittance pay, for a magzine that few read. The reason for its legend is the subject: visionary, esoteric director Terrence Malick, who at the time hadn't made a movie in the seven years since his previous movie, Days of Heaven, a gorgeous big-screen fable which itself was seven years after his peerless low-budget debut, Badlands, a fictionalized version of Charles Starkweather's killing spree -- and had stopped giving interviews even earlier.
Malick's of-necessity cameo in Badlands as a man who
stumbles on the killing spree. He's never acted before or since.
One school year I screened 146 movies here. 
After being obsessed with Malick's films from viewing them repeatedly at the Harvard Square Theater revival house [right], I painstakingly tracked him down

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Drumming Thomases

As I bulleted up to the Beacon Theater to see Elvis Costello for the umpteenth time, delayed by tornadoes (not local ones, but covering Joplin at CNN), I paused to consider, honestly, somewhat jaded, what part of this evening would be able to provide a transcendent moment for me.

It's not that I'm hard to please (well, I am, but not on this count), it's just that my Elvisgoing is second only to my Brucegoing in terms of sheer hours logged agog on my feet, and I occasionally suffer from having heard certain songs live so many times -- for example, "Pump it Up" -- that it's hard for them to still have meaning. I start craving the obscure, or the complete reinvention of a song, or a guest appearance (as when Elvis himself showed up to sing "Higher and Higher" with Bruce at Madison Square Garden) to kick this concert into the category of Not Just Another Elvis Show.

Having read up about Elvis's tour, which features a spinning wheel of song titles [right] spun by audience volunteers and a go-go dancing cage -- neither of which promised transcendence -- I was hoping he would perform one or both of the Beatles covers on the wheel -- "And Your Bird Can Sing" and "Girl." But I would  be equally happy to hear the chestnuts he'd been excavating from the mid-80's King of America/Blood and Chocolate albums -- the last time he played New York with this spinning songbook  -- back  when I worked for Rolling Stone and Elvis played five nights at a legitimate Broadway theater, having traveled light years from his punk origins.

Turned out, the moments that truly moved me -- mesmerized me, seared onto my brain, left me breathless -- had nothing to do with Elvis at all. Nor was it the guest cameo (on "Lipstick Vogue" by Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys, whose name holds as minimal impact for me as Elvis Costello's name did for my dad when he was my age).
PETE THOMAS
No, the surprise was that it was all about drumming. Intergenerational drumming.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Too Big To Talk


The Pillars of the EarthThis is the time of year Emmy voters like me get barraged with screener "For Your Consideration" DVDs. Sometimes I'm grateful: a chance to catch up with the terrific British period miniseries Downton Abbey. Sometimes I'm tickled: Wow, they're hoping to snag a nomination for Gene Simmons' Family Jewels. And sometimes I'm just baffled: when did I miss the "epic eight-part miniseries" The Pillars of the Earth (right) with Ian McShane and Donald Sutherland? 

Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System---and ThemselvesBut no DVD was more welcome in my mailbox this year than HBO's Too Big To Fail. Not just because of the mind-boggling all-star cast, including William Hurt, Paul Giamatti, Billy Crudup, James Woods, and Cynthia Nixon. Not just because I work for Eliot Spitzer, who foretold, and tried to stem, the burgeoning Wall Street calamity. Not even just because the book it's based on (left) is written by yet another writer alumnus of my high school named Sorkin.  

But because I had my own history of writing lines for a few of these characters -- the real-life Chairman Richard Fuld Jr. (played on HBO by James Woods) and President Joe Gregory (played by John Heard) -- back in 2005, three years before their empire would collapse like a house of cards. It's a tale that is funny, sad, and more than a little telling. So I'm going to tell it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Quick (Spring) Break


As your kids get older, you see them less -- it's just part of the bittersweet bargain of doing the job of parenting. They gain their own social life, independence, and workloads; as teenagedom hits, most weekends, even if you're a city family, your only way to achieve quality time is often during transportation to an event.

But the school calendar does carve out a few oases to look forward to -- Summer, Christmas, and Spring Breaks. In New York, while public schools get a week in February and a week in April, private schools give two conjoined weeks at the end of March.
A nice chunk, but I always wondered how easy  it was for families with two working parents to manage.  It was one of the few things that divorce actually made easier.

Well this spring, through a peculiar set of circumstances -- including plans to visit colleges with my older daughter, being needed at work, and my younger daughter being invited by a classmate on a great trip leaving 36 hours after finishing her vacation with my ex -- I found myself looking at a spring break with my younger daughter totaling only 12 hours, on Friday.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Albert Einstein of Comedy


Today Deadline Hollywood announced that Judd Apatow is in talks to cast Albert Brooks in his next movie, as Paul Rudd's father. For most of today's young moviegoes (unless they caught his guest shot on Weeds), Albert's mostly known as the voice of Nemo's dad in Finding Nemo
I hope Apatow helps fix that. Because for a certain generation of comedians and moviegoers (his), this is amazing news. To us, Albert can do little wrong (excepting the scary-looking remake of the Alan Arkin-Peter Falk comedy classic The In-Laws. I refused to watch).

My first question was, what took Apatow so long?

Monday, March 7, 2011

From Mom's Mixed-Up Files: George C. Scott

My mom was an energetic correspondent, especially when aggrieved. I inherited this trait from her. But I had no idea how deep hers ran.

When she died, I found a treasure trove of letters, in which she complained about everything from construction on the Whitestone Bridge [right] on opening day at Shea Stadium to PC Richard on the failure not only of her DVD/VCR combo, but on its website's woeful inability to calculate the number of miles between her house and the nearest repair center.

Often she was a Donna Quixote tilting at windmills, but occasionally her advocacy did bear fruit; after she sat at an intersection down the road from her house and kept a log of traffic light changes and cars backed up behind people waiting to make a left turn, the village actually installed a left-turn lane.

But I was completely surprised to find among the weary bureaucratic responses to her single-spaced diatribes, a few letters from celebrities.

Partly because I myself had, as a teenager, done the same thing (see my blog post about it here), and gotten responses from people like Michael Palin of Monty Python [left] and John Belushi, en route to becoming a professional celebrity pursuer at Rolling Stone.

But I was also surprised because she'd framed some letters she'd gotten when she was younger from the likes of Adlai Stevenson, but these writers shoved into a folder deep in the recesses of her house -- Kurt Vonnegut and George C. Scott -- were pretty impressive "gets."
My mom wrote to Scott to compliment him on a TV series

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Outsourced Consumer

When you buy a new apartment, you try to make the right consumer decisions the first time, so you don't live with a mistake. My last apartment, when I did the Ikea scrum with my daughters, I thought a round dining table would be perfect. I brought it back home and it didn't fit. Luckily I could bring it back and swap it out for a drop leaf rectangular one.

In my new place, some decisions have come easily. Though I've lived with my girlfriend for five years, she had moved into my preexisting place, so this is the first time we've set up a non-sublet home together. We've had very few disagreements about furniture, rugs, closets, etc., and it's gone very smoothly. No regrets.

But the vacuum cleaner decision nearly broke me.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Forgotten, then Gone

Although New Yorkers love to lord their city over everyone else's hometown, to be honest, they often brag about places they don't actually patronize. Kind of like the folks who brag about their iPhone app capabilities when all they really do is play the same video game every day.

You talk about how great all the museums are, and then totally fall into the habit of only going to them if someone's visiting from out of town.  You have a favorite restaurant you recommend to people, when deep down you realize the last time you actually ate there was years ago and you have no idea if it went downhill.

As life accelerates (in truth, when did it ever not?), I feel more and more of these New York attractions slipping through my fingers, and now and then I make conscious decisions to reinvigorate them.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Let it Stop!

I woke up today to see that ominous gray sky. Looked out the window down at the street -- oh no, the frosty menace is back.

It wasn't always this way between us.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Unloading

When you move, it's imperative to throw out as much as possible in advance. But you can't always predict what will work in the new space until you've lived there.

So I knowingly paid movers to schlep several things uptown, despite the fact they would soon be history.  One of the more embarrassing and unwieldy was the 65-pound, 27" diagonal, perfectly working Sony [above] I had bought when I moved into my old place in 2004.  I mean -- I work in television, for chrissake.

I had never bought into the plasma extravaganza. But now LEDs were too good and cheap to ignore. So within a few weeks of moving, I bought a Samsung and a new TV cabinet to house it, and the Sony became the world's biggest doorstop.

Not wanting to dump it on the sidewalk, I posted it on Craig's List.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

City Porch


People who live anywhere but New York City take outdoor space for granted.  In L.A., the only other city I've lived in my adult life, even the shit-ass lowliest apartments often had balconies (and sometimes swimming pools). The last time I lived there, for the same price as my grungy New York apartment, we had a whole house with a yard, a hammock, a hot tub, and a resident pet bunny. We barbecued -- even in February. 

One of the nicer aspects of the Upper West Side apartment I rented in 2004 turned out to be its fire escape.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Moving (Part 1)


Many people find moving traumatic. But I was never one of those people.

Growing up, I was the opposite of an army brat: my family only moved once my entire childhood -- and that was to a house a few blocks away, which was larger, so we didn't have to throw anything out.

When I went to college, I spent two years in dorms, then got my own place for two years. After I graduated, I lived with my parents while kickstarting my journalism career, rented a few NYC apartments, then bought a place and remained there for 12 years.

Then my marriage ended, and my living situation became....entropic.

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