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.

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