Archive for July 2012

Blinded by the Light: My Springsteen Story

July 16, 2012

When I saw the news story about Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney having the plug pulled on their London concert this weekend, I had to sit back and laugh. Long before he became a rock icon, I saw him perform in the Christian Brothers Academy gymnasium in New Jersey, not far from where he grew up. It was 1973, and I was a junior at St. John Vianney (ironically, I now live near a different SJV in Kailua, Hawaii) and used to hang out with the jocks in my high school. A group of us bought some beer, got a little drunk, and paid $2 apiece at the door to hear Bruce’s new group… the E Street Band.

His first album, “Greetings From Asbury Park,” was getting some air play on NYC radio stations. Most everyone in the crowd — about 200-300 kids, all standing around or sitting on the floor since there were no seats — had heard “Blinded by the Light,” but his prior bands were known for covering other rock songs, including the Beatles’ hits. The jocks I was with weren’t big fans of his, nor were they the type of guys who were likely to break out into spontaneous dance as if they were on Glee… but about half an hour into the set, we were all dancing and jumping around like fools.

I remember hearing “Rosalita” for the first time, which was about to come out on his second album, and to this day I still get a tingly thrill whenever I hear the opening notes of that number. He played for more than three hours. Me and the boys were sweating and giddy when the concert was supposed to be over. But Bruce wasn’t finished. They launched into the longest version of “Twist and Shout” that I think has ever been played. At some point someone turned on all the gym lights to signal it was time to stop the music. Yet everyone kept dancing, so Bruce and the E Street Band played even harder… until finally, they actually cut the power to the stage. Little did I realize I was witnessing the birth of a rock and roll legend right before my eyes. I thought for sure there were probably a few accounts recorded for posterity, but this link was one of the few references I could find online. If you click on the photos from the CBA yearbook, you’ll see how scrawny he was back in the day.

I wonder if that skinny kid with the big grin could have ever dreamed that some day he would actually perform the very same Beatles tune with Paul McCartney himself — or that someone would pull the plug on him again after all these years! You know what’s really cool though? That he’s still performing with the same passion as when he first started out. The article about the London gig (click here) says he had already exceeded the curfew by half an hour when Paul joined him on stage.

That’s one thing I continue to see in people who are successful in life. They find something they are passionate about, and they keep at it because it never gets old for them. For some, it’s easy to figure out what it is they love to do. Some never find it, which is a shame. Worse, they wait too long before they even ask themselves what it is they truly want to do. All I know is that night in a hot, sweaty high school gym, when I heard “Blinded by the Light” sung by this scruffy young guy from Freehold like his life depended on it, I believed my future was going to be wide open because anything was possible. And I suppose that’s why I keep writing, whether it’s these little blog posts or screenplays and books that have yet to see the light of day. For better or worse, it’s like the Boss sang:

Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun

Oh, but Mama, that’s where the fun is…

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What’s It All Mean?

July 6, 2012

So my wife and I went to see PROMETHEUS because I felt it was a movie that should be experienced in a theater with a big screen in 3D and surround sound to get the full effect. Since we can’t stand distractions, which are impossible to avoid if you go to a multiplex these days — rude movie-goers, crying babies, super-loud previews, etc. — it takes something special to get us into the theater, instead of waiting for new releases on Netflix.

For me, that “something” is it must be big on a visual level. But it also has to appeal to my desire for meaning and substance. I don’t care if all the plot points don’t make sense, or if the story is lacking in characterization. If it makes you think, if it makes you feel awe, wonder, fear, sadness, that’s what matters. Yet more often than not, whether it’s a big event film or small indie I’ve watched at home, I’m left shrugging my shoulders, thinking: Eh, it was okay. Nothing special.

To wit, PROMETHEUS and at the other end of the spectrum, JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME. You may be wondering what the two have in common. The short answer is they are both about the meaning of life… or more precisely, the meaning of life as seen in movies. That’s why I was looking forward to seeing PROMETHEUS so much. The trailers, the bits of plot info that were leaked had me anticipating a Big Idea story about who created life on earth, and perhaps, why. Since I am an agnostic, I hoped it would provide a plausible explanation for all the various creation myths that seem to implicate aliens as the inspiration for depictions of supreme beings with god-like powers.

I also was intrigued by the trailer about David, the android created for the mission. What I loved about ALIEN and ALIENS was how the android characters in both were ambiguous in their intent, raising all kinds of questions about morality and what it means to be human. The best representation of the robot-as-sentient-being conundrum, in my opinion, is another Ridley Scott classic: BLADE RUNNER. When I watched the David trailer in which he states he isn’t capable of emotion, while shedding artificial tears, you have to question why he even has that capability. Why would he be programmed to simulate “fake” feelings such as curiosity or a fascination with Peter O’Toole in the epic movie, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA?

And then we see a close-up of David’s fingerprint, showing a “W” pattern which is the Weyland Industries logo. It reminded me of the saying that God is hidden in the details — or is it the Devil? — which stoked my anticipation even higher for the movie. Here’s the short video, which I think is more interesting than anything in PROMETHEUS:

http://www.weylandindustries.com/david

I’m not going to get into a blow-by-blow review of the movie or why it was such a letdown. The bottom line was it raised plenty of profound questions… but didn’t actually attempt to answer those questions in any real coherent fashion. It was just so vague and devoid of any serious intellectual discussion or debate on what the Ultimate Discovery truly represented (or didn’t). Sure, there were plenty of “faith” references and metaphors sprinkled about, but heck, you can find more interesting theological theories on those History Channel shows about “Ancient Aliens” supposedly being the source of Man’s god myths. Why did God or Alien Engineers make us? In PROMETHEUS, the closest thing we get to a theory is “because they can.” It’s the same rationale offered for why androids like David are created — because Weyland can do it.

Except that’s not true. David was created with very specific functions and purposes in mind as you can see in the trailer. So why were the humans created by the Engineers — or God, for that matter? What purpose or function were we meant to perform? Maybe the trick is to reverse engineer the question: why did Man create the concept of God? If we have no true purpose for being, no “soul” to save, would we simply be amoral creatures like the Alien, or robotic androids like David?

In JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, at least there is a theory offered: everything is connected and if we look for the signs, we will find the ultimate meaning for why we are here — we will discover our fate as it was meant to be, in relation to other people. At no point is God brought into the picture, but Jeff is the only one who seems to have “faith” in his life having a bigger purpose… even though by all appearances, he is a loser. Jeff himself says he isn’t really happy with his life. Then through a series of “coincidences” involving his not-so-close brother and their widowed mother, a bunch of things happen that ultimately tie in together at the end, proving Jeff’s theory about the meaning of life. It isn’t really very convincing though, and for me, it was another overrated Duplass Brothers little slice of life movie that doesn’t actually amount to much. It wasn’t bad, and I chuckled during parts of it. But I wouldn’t pay to go see a movie like this in the theater.

The only thing it made me wonder about is who does pay to go see films like this, and why? At least with PROMETHEUS, my wife and I had something to talk about as we left the theater — mainly, what the heck was the black ooze stuff and who created it? Or was the black ooze, in fact, God? Beats me!