Author and screenwriter Nora Ephron died yesterday at 71. Who knew she was sick? Who knew she was 71?
Nora wrote her book I Feel Bad about my Neck in 2006, which meant she had reached a certain age. What age that is, I’m not certain. Women start feeling bad about their necks at different ages, but most women eventually do hate their necks. Why do female necks turn into such tree trunks, I wonder?
Ephron’s body of work as an author, director and producer is massive. Her 1989 screenplay, When Harry Met Sally, may feel dated now, but back in 1989, the movie broke ground. No film ever depicted relationships with all their quirks and awkwardness so honestly. She wrote for females of my generation.
Nora’s last book, I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections, contains two lists What I Will Miss and What I Won’t Miss. The Won’t Miss list stresses the simple pleasures in life and the Miss list, the annoying rather than the outrageous (However, not missing Clarence Thomas may stem from outrage.)
The list sprung from Nora’s life, so comparing her list to mine is pointless. But I will anyway. My lists, just brewing in my head now, borrow a few items from Nora’s.
Waffles, definitely. I would definitely miss the infinite varieties of waffles. The view from my window too. I have a spectacular view of the Hudson River from my apartment. The sky, the river, and the Jersey skyline are a new color every day. I will miss that view sooner rather than later. Like Nora, I too won’t miss dry skin and washing my hair.
Technology would move from Nora’s Won’t Miss to the Will Miss list for me. I love technology and would miss it very much. Technology allows me to marvel at the world and makes me glad I was on earth before the internet. I can always be wowed by it.
I’ve learned, and so had Nora, that dinners can be excruciating or wonderful, but you’re never sure which until the meal has begun. You get better at sniffing out the potentially bad ones ahead of time. I would tell Nora, if I could, she should have never wasted time taking makeup off before going to bed.
The day after St Patrick’s Day may be a little foggy to some, but I remember March 18, 1989 vividly. Every year on that date, I think about that Saturday morning in Milwaukee when Max Adonnis was shot and killed at Giovanni’s, the restaurant where I worked.
Bessie Smith sang the blues or “the devil’s music,” as some called it. She rose to fame during the bluesiest of eras, the 1920’s. Toughened by a poor childhood, Bessie’s hardscrabble life was interrupted by a few brief years in the sun.
During the 1920’s, Bessie signed a recording contract with Columbia Records and earned more money than any other black entertainer in America—in the world for that matter.
She lost her contract during The Depression, when musical tastes swung away from the blues. People were living the blues; they didn’t want to hear them, Bessie said. In 1937, with a comeback in her crosshairs, Bessie died in an auto accident on the dark, two-lane road from Memphis to Clarksdale, Mississippi.
The Blues Off-Broadway
Few people remember Bessie Smith now. Many never heard of her; some recall her name but can only recollect the ubiquitous sound of tinny recordings.
Get to know who Bessie Smith was at the Off-Broadway show, “The Devil’s Music: the Life and Blues of Bessie Smith,” at St Luke’s Theater (308 W 46th St).
Bessie is played by Miche Braden, herself a big girl, who makes a powerful impression. Braden wears a sweeping purple gown accessorized with diamonds and a fur stole. When she sings, she throws her hands back and her hips forward, a gesture that says “this is me and I am real.” Her voice makes a powerful impression too, but she doesn’t sound like the real Bessie. Maybe it’s the tin that’s missing.
The show takes place in a “buffet flat,” a gathering place where black musicians and friends hung out. Bessie’s loyal musicians are behind her as they party together on the last night of her life.
Between swigs of hooch and bluesy songs, Bessie tells a life’s worth of stories in bits and pieces. She makes no excuses or apologies for her drinking, her temper, or her love of both men and women.
Tough Bessie chokes up only when she speaks of her adopted son and how she lost custody of the boy. Bessie accepts her no-good husband Johnny Gee’s greed, violence and philandering as that‘s the way love is. But the boy’s love meant everything to her, even if she wasn’t around much to care for him.
Every time Bessie utters the word “death” during the course of the show, she cramps up in pain. Ms. Smith knew she wouldn’t see a ripe old age, but her physical reaction to the word made me wince at the obvious device.
St. Louis Blues
Bessie asks the audience (mostly rhetorically) if they’ve ever seen her movie. She answers “Yeah, well, neither did anyone else.” The movie she’s referring to is the 1929 Paramount classic, “St. Louis Blues.” In the film, her man Jimmy leaves her alone and broke. It then transitions to Bessie at a bar singing a beautiful version of the W.C. Handy song.
In this performance, recorded live on a soundstage, Bessie is joined by a band and a Grecian chorus of extras portraying customers at the bar. The result is unique and fascinating. This is the only recorded version of this particular arrangement, and it is hauntingly beautiful.
Braden’s reference to the long-forgotten film is followed by her excellent rendition of “St. Louis Blues,” performed mostly a few feet away from us (she moved among the audience frequently throughout the show).
The corporate world regularly rejects people who later achieve fame, wealth and greatness. Corporate America may nurture talent, but only talent that plays by their rules. Gifted, non-conformists must succeed on their grit, wit and talent. You may have been laid off by your employer or may just resent the ties that bind. Either way, build your confidence by reading the stories of the misfits who made it big. Immerse yourself in the biographies of some of these rebels and misfits who were either rejected or were cast off by traditional employers. Their stories will help you through these hard times.
Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter Thompson left this world on his own terms. He lived his life the same way. Still inspiring new generations, Thompson fuels their little flames of rebellion, sparks that usually extinguish themselves as real-life responsibilities set in. Thompson channeled his rambunctious delinquency, his intellect and his vast capacity for partying into a raucous journalism career. In 1958, the Air Force heaved a collective sigh of relief at Thompson’s departure. Later, Time Magazine fired him as a copy boy. Thompson lived hand-to-mouth for much of his career but he managed to live well. He created Gonzo Journalism, where getting the story becomes the story. The writer and his venomous opinions became the central character of his books and articles. Thompson rode with the Hell’s Angels for a year to get source material for his breakthrough book and for the fun of it. His second book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, with one of the most memorable opening lines ever written, is a tale of drug-fueled trips to Las Vegas. Thompson turned the phrase “fear and loathing” into a franchise. His articles turned Rolling Stone magazine into a political force.
Captain Beefheart started his singing career in a conventional way as a white blues singer who could channel Howlin’ Wolf, a valuable trait in the 1960′s blues-based rock world. After a minor hit single, Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band were dropped by A&M Records. They released their 1967 debut album, Safe As Milk, on Buddah Records. Finally, the band seemed on their way. But a week before the Monterey Pop Festival, their guitarist quit and the band had to drop out of the influential festival. Commercially, this was disastrous to the group. Don and the Magic Band retreated to the Mojave desert in search of “tension and discipline,” recording their second album, Strictly Personal. But Don felt that the producer’s attempt to make the album sound more psychedelic by adding “groovy” sound effects ruined the album. Making even more of a commercial retreat, Don moved the band to a house where, under his strict musical tutelage, he whipped the band into creating Trout Mask Replica, the first album in which Don was given free reign by producer Frank Zappa. The album is a milestone in pop music history. In 1982, Don turned his back on the music industry to become a successful painter and sculptor.
Recommended Listening: Trout Mask Replica (1969 album) Doc at the Radar Station (1980 album) Clear Spot (1973 album)
After his death, the world’s greatest genius, Albert Einstein, had his brain frozen and stored in a jar for study by future scientists. But did his peers, schoolmasters and employers recognize the genius of young Einstein? Not back then. Little Albert didn’t speak until he was three years old. As a youngster, he hated school and learned more studying on his own. Einstein failed the entrance exam for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. He graduated from the Institute of Technology in Zurich with an undistinguished record. After graduation, Albert Einstein failed to find a teaching job, though many of his friends had. He got by on temporary teaching and tutoring gigs while finishing his dissertation. Einstein had moments when he questioned his choice of becoming a physicist and he felt like a burden to his family. He finally got a job in the Swiss Patent Office with a friend’s influence. In the patent office, Einstein finished his work so quickly he had time to work on his personal scientific projects. Einstein’s superior intellect did not get him a job, did not make him fit in socially and did not make it easy for him to succeed. But Time Magazine named Albert Einstein “Person of the Century“.
Reading List: Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007 biography by Walter Isaacson) Albert Einstein, A Life of Genius(2003 biography by Elizabeth MacLeod) The World as I See It (2006, nonfiction) Relativity: The Special and General Theory (1921, nonfiction)
“Do you want to spend your life selling sugared water to children, or do you want to change the world?” –Steve Jobs to John Scully of Coca-Cola
Steve Jobs, temperamental co-founder of Apple Computer, dropped out of college after one semester in favor of a Buddhist life. He decided to travel to India for spiritual study. To fund the trip, he started a project that evolved into Apple Computer. Jobs’ company revolutionized personal computers, turning them into an appliance with warm fuzzy mass appeal. Today, Apple Computer’s stock price rises and falls on rumors of Steve Jobs’ health. But in 1985, Apple’s Board of Directors, his own Frankenstein, ousted Jobs from the company. That’s a fine thank you for visionary leadership. Lesson: a kick in the pants from those you serve can happen at any time in your career. After being dumped, Jobs didn’t sit around and contemplate his navel while living on accumulated wealth. He launched Pixar Animation and NeXT, a computer platform development company. Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 after Apple acquired NeXT. Soon, Jobs was leading his old company again. In the new Jobs era, Apple pulled out of its doldrums and created the iMac, the iPod and the iPhone. You can change the world more than once, Jobs proved.
Reading/Watching List: Insanely Great (1994, nonfiction by Steven Levy) Macintosh Introduction (1984 Super Bowl commercial)
It’s easy to imagine someone fired from a $125,000 a year job making comments like “It makes you feel like you lost your identity to some extent.” You might hear a rebel say, “I never sucked up.” Surprisingly, these comments came from Liz Smith, New York’s 86-year-old gossip columnist. The Diva of Dish was let go by the New York Post recently. Smith feels like many of us commoners and she is speaking publicly about her firing. I’m sure The Post loves that. Smith hit town in 1949 from Texas with 50 bucks in her pocketbook. For the last 33 years, her gossip column appeared in New York newspapers. Smith could retire, but she loves what she does too much—even now. She is not letting her layoff set her back. Smith had already sown the seeds of her rebirth, as one of the founders of www.wowowow.com, a consortium of women on the web. She writes five times a week for the site and continues to be published in syndication. I predict Liz, through her moxie and uncommon durability, will remain a voice of the New York scene long after newspaper printing presses shut down. Reading List: Natural Blonde (2001 memoir)
I know some priests smoke and drink and even break their vow of celibacy. But shouldn’t the pope be held to a higher standard? Legend has it that he is infallible. Let’s apply a logic syllogism that I learned at my Catholic university: A = B and B = C; therefore A = C. In word form: If the pope smokes, and the pope makes no mistakes, then smoking is not a mistake. According the the blog, guanabe.com, the pope even lies about smoking–with Vatican officials backing him up. Wandering off to pray, indeed. My mom would have seen through that lie instantly. I understand nuns picking up the habit. Bah, dum dum. But where did the pope pick up this dirty habit? In the Hitler Youth, when he was Joe Ratzinger? The pope has a heart condition and has had at least one stroke. He is the oldest person to rise to the papacy since Clement II in 1730, but his reign may be shortened due to the coffin nails he puffs on. With implicit papal blessing, Europeans go on resisting the smoking bans that are slowly infiltrating the continent. Particularly resistant are the Austrians, according to today’s Wall Street Journal. Forty-one per cent of Austrians smoke daily compared to 19% of Americans. Austria’s former health minister, Andrea Kdolsky, is quoted in the article:
“Smokers are old enough to decide on their own,” she said in an interview last year.
Opinion polls showed that most Austrians were against a full-blown smoking ban, says Ms. Kdolsky. She dismisses claims about the dangers of secondhand smoke. “No international study tells you that sitting in a restaurant for two hours as a passive smoker brings you harm,” she says.
America’s new leader might sneak a puff or two. But he has never claimed to be perfect.
The breadth of 50-year wall street veteran Bernard Madoff’s purported fraud astounds me. The bust is particularly shocking because of the timing, just days after the astounding arrest of Illinois Gov Blago and the revelation of his astonishing crimes.
I naively didn’t believe that white-collar crime is committed on such a grand scale. But two schemin’ hot shots got nabbed in the same week.
“[Madoff] deceived investors by operating a securities business in which he traded and lost investor money, and then paid certain investors purported returns on investment with the principal received from other, different investors, which resulted in losses of approximately billions of dollars.”
Isn’t “billions of dollars” an approximate amount in itself? When you modify the phrase “billions of dollars” with “approximately,” what are you really saying? Is it just easy for Americans to think in terms of billions after the Wall Street bailout and the Detroit fiasco?
The automakers’ request for $35 billion hardly phased me after the phrase “$700 billion” bounced around the media for months. A compromise of $14 billion sounds downright stingy in that context.
The wristwatch was meant to be the device of the future. Dick Tracy, a man ahead of his time, used his two-way wristwatch as a radio to communicate with police and capture villains.
Futurists with high hopes knew this would be a reality one day. In the early 80s, one such futurist proudly showed me his watch that could store phone numbers. G wore a similar geek watch when I met him late last century.
The futurists got the mobile device part right. Nearly all of us –across all generations –carry at least a cell phone. Or a cell phone and iPod.
Still, I was surprised to hear that people of a certain generation have stopped wearing wristwatches. This new breed just checks the time on their phone, or their Blackberry, or whatever device they carry.
I don’t consider myself slow to adopt new technology and abandon outdated hardware. But this, I must ponder.
Does this phenomenon applies to girls, who more often have purses than pockets? Will it ever be as easy to find my phone in my purse as it is to twist my wrist? Will everyone wear clothes with pockets now? (Cargo Pant Heaven!)
Like typewriters and land lines, the wristwatch will disappear, I guess. But not until all the people who can’t break the habit of looking at their wrist when someone asks, “do you have the time?” have disappeared too.
(And who says “wristwatch” anymore? It’s been a hundred years since the device had to be distinguished from the alternative “pocketwatch.”)
George Carlin’s passing is getting a lot of well-deserved media attention.
Surprised me, because as a kid of the 70s, I think of him as the anti-establishment comedian, the type whose passing might only get a brief mention on the mainstream nightly news. But Carlin had a long career and the clips I saw of his early stuff is funny too. The early stuff is funny; the later stuff, great.
Despite my narrow scope of who’s who in the world, Carlin is a fixture in the minds of several generations. The anti-establishment audience he began speaking to in the 70s is running the media now.
I don’t know who this thought is attributed to, but I’ve heard good comedians are all angry inside. Carlin was crazy, funny and very angry.
In recent years, George put his anger in front of the humor rather than behind it. Anger behind humor is what makes us able to laugh at absurdities and stupidities. Anger is front of the humor pisses people off. (Thanks to George, I can say “piss.”)
G and I saw Carlin in Las Vegas in 2001. He told the audience at the outset of the show that they were not the type of audience to appreciate his humor. He was there testing material for an HBO Special. Granted, I could see a lot of blue-haireds in the red velvet seats, but give them a chance, George I thought. But George Carlin still had it.
G reminds me of the bit Carlin did that culminated in “fuck the police!; fuck the police!; FUCK the police.” Now that was funny and very angry.