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All Things Thriller

A Celebration of Thrillers, Noire and Black Comedy by Pamela Lowe Saldana

In Something Bigger

 

It is a small and mighty thing

that knows no boundary

and respects no law.

It does not discriminate.

And it is not fair.

It wreaks havoc on the weak,

while it stalks the strong.

Fear is its prelude.

Its wake is long.

Hoping for a cure.

My faith is in the Lord.

Dancing On The Skids With Nicolas Cage: The Swan Song of Gary Poulter; Conclusion

Like a first cup of black coffee, Gary’s initial brush with homelessness was bitter, but not for the reasons one might expect. It wasn’t that he lacked a warm bed, or that he didn’t have enough food, or easy access to a toilet and shower. Of course he didn’t like the deprivation, but he got by well enough, working odd jobs for pocket money and bathing in the sinks of public restrooms.

And it wasn’t that he was a seventeen year old kid gone AWOL either, (his straight-laced father thought the military would do him good) or that he was in Japan and didn’t know the language. Youth bolstered his natural state of fearlessness and charm; plus he was whip smart. He learned to speak fluent Japanese in just a year.

No, the bitterness that encased him sneaked in where he least expected, from the tiny chinks in armor as natural to him as the gait of his walk–his immunity to attachments, his inability to conform. It struck him in the pendulum of his being, that swung  high and drug low, where he craved pure freedom that he cut with alcohol and illegal substances.

Gary liked his coffee black. While in Japan he began the downward spiral of two steps forward and five steps back.

The MP’s caught up to him and threw him in the brig. His parents worked out a dishonorable discharge and brought him home. There he built things and learned to sew.

He married his sister Debbie’s best friend. With her he fathered two daughters, who barely knew him before the couple divorced.

Years passed. He drifted and danced, popping and locking, jumping from the street to the flophouse and back again. Along the way he went to rehab, was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and found work as an extra in the 80s television series Thirtysomething.

His family gave him money and cell phones when things got so desperate that he called. Otherwise, they worried themselves sick and learned to live with not knowing where he was.

Both parents blamed themselves. If only they hadn’t let Gary skip a grade in high school, they thought. Mr Poulter, in particular, regretted encouraging his son to join the Navy and pushing him to like sports.

Ever so often a sense of clarity prevailed. He would apologize and refasten ties only to–in the rage of a drunken stupor–threaten his sister, Debbie, at the drop of a hat.

Finally, she refused to see or talk to him. When his father lay dying, Debbie warned Gary not to come.

Three days after he left Austin with the traveling carnival, Gary called his sister Maria in a panic. He had been caught stealing money. Some of the carnies smacked him around, stripped him naked and left him on the side of the road.

Maria paid his way back to Austin, bought him another cell phone and put him into a Motel 6. There he entertained fellow lodgers with his roller skating skills.

Weeks later he called her again. This time he put Nicolas Cage on the phone.

Gary improvised for his audition. He spoke Japanese. He danced. The camera loved him. His even featured face was handsome at every angle. His blue eyes flashed weary wisdom enlivened with mischief.

The casting agents were thrilled. Gary was even better than they thought. They envisioned him in a small speaking role as a shop keeper, a barfly or, maybe, a laborer if–and it was a big IF–he could be trusted to keep it together on and off the set.

Agent John Williams called Maria. She told him Gary had some past issues, some of them serious, but if they would keep tabs on him, she believed he could do it. He and his partner, Karmen Leech, met with director David Gordon Green. They gave him the skinny and showed him the tape.

Green was blown away.  To him, Gary seemed a perfect fit for the character Wade, a degenerate drunk and cruel patriarch of an itinerant family, the third lead in Joe. He called Gary in for another audition. Afterwards they had a long heart to heart.

Gary went back to the Motel 6 with the part.

On the set, Gary bonded easily with cast and crew. He talked heavy metal with Nicolas Cage. He hammed it up with the artists in hair and makeup, joking he didn’t need any makeup to play a drunk. They agreed. When he learned the production coordinator liked to rollerblade, he let her borrow his beloved skates.

To the show biz professionals, Gary’s genuine enthusiasm was a refreshing break from the monotonous discipline of 12 hour shoots. He entertained them with his dance moves and mouthed off irreverently, like he owned the place. Even when he wasn’t scheduled, he’d show up on the set. And he always showed up sober.

Cage, who starred as the title character, Joe, was especially impressed with Gary’s work ethic. “He was always on point. Always knew his lines. Never missed a day. He was always on time,” the actor said in an interview with Hollywood Outbreak.

Costar Tye Sheridan, who played Wade’s abused, resourceful son, remembers Gary being impulsive–in a good way. “He was very talented. Quick. Very smart,” mused the young actor who has worked with director Terrence Malick and actors Reese Witherspoon, McConaughey and Brad Pitt. “You really had to be on your toes. You never knew what he was going to say or what he was going to do,” he said, speaking of the improvisational skills that meshed so seamlessly with Green’s unorthodox cinematic style. “It was an honor to work with him.”

Joe wrapped in December 2012, but not before Maria flew down and watched some of the filming. She was impressed with Gary’s performance, but even more so with the crew’s reaction to it; her brother made a producer cry.

Before she left, she managed to get Gary and Debbie on the phone. They talked a long while and made peace.

Gary attended the wrap party, looking sharp in a retro, two toned Cuban shirt and black fedora. To everyone’s delight, he owned the dance floor. Green presented him with a new set of false teeth, a present for a job well done.

Before he left town, Cage encouraged Gary. “If you can keep it together for a year, your phone is going to ring and your life is going to change,” he told him. Gary looked at Cage sadly, unconvinced. “Really?” he asked.

The production team stayed around a little longer while they struck the set. Lead coordinator Shanti Delsarte (who had borrowed Gary’s roller skates) let him stay awhile in a house the crew had rented. John Williams (the casting agent who had discovered him) got him a hard look for a part in the movie Parkland that was filming in Austin. Gary didn’t get it, but Williams persevered as his advocate and industry insiders took notice.  He was quickly up for another part in a project filming in New Mexico.

But Gary seemed, if not oblivious, then, dull to his opportunities. When he met up with production assistant Hugo Garza to retrieve some of his personal belongings, he was gloomy and detached. He told Garza that he was going a way for a long, long time. He was drinking again.

Then, in early January, 2013 Gary suffered debilitating seizure that sent him to the ER. There he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Doctors told him he had anywhere from six weeks to six months to live, though he would have to wait three months before he could be treated.

He and Maria made plans to spend his last days at her home in Colorado, but he wasn’t ready to go there just yet. Nor was he willing to dole out more money for a hotel room. He decided to buy a tent and pitch it in one of the homeless encampments on Lady Bird Lake.

Six weeks later his body was found there, face down, his fly unzipped so he could urinate, his feet still encased in the mud. His death was ruled as an accidental drowning due to acute ethanol intoxication.

Not long after Gary died, John Williams got a call. They wanted Gary for the part in New Mexico.

“Even though he’d never been on camera, he had the guts and the instincts. He knew how to hit a mark. And he could actually deal with subtle direction because he had been acting all his life.” –David Gordon Green

 

 

 

Dancing On The Skids With Nicolas Cage: The Swan Song Of Gary Poulter

There are two things about Lady Bird Lake that everybody from Austin knows:

  1. You don’t call it Lady Bird Lake. It’s called Town Lake. And…
  2. You can’t swim in it. It’s against the law.

Not that I’m from Austin, but I am a Texan– a former West Texan, to be exact, who has visited Austin many times. Hence my knowledge of Lady Bird Lake.

And here’s another thing about the lake that I know: there are homeless camps in the thickets along its shoreline. Not that I’ve seen them, mind you, but I’ve seen homeless camps along the river of my city; so I know they are there.  Same goes for your city.

Sad, but quantifiably true.

So, on February 19, 2013, when Austin police officers were called to a homeless encampment on the shores of Lady Bird lake and to the body of a homeless man, lying face down in the water there, they can be forgiven if they thought it a tragic, albeit unremarkable reality of their job. For even the most seasoned, been-there-seen-it-all cop could have never guessed, that just a month before, the deceased had starred in a critically acclaimed movie and that his performance would be lauded as one of the great cinematic performances of our era.

Director David Gordon Green is known for his love of crime and grime. Yet, his films are beautiful in their own eerie,  hyper-realistic way and distinct in the eloquent dialogue of ragged characters chased by demons with human skin. Consequently–much like the preceding sentence–they can be a little overwrought, as can his experiments with novice actors.

Timing is a critical component of acting. It can be taught and improved upon, but it cannot be mastered by technique. Those who have perfected it were born with it.

Casting agents Karmen Leech and John Williams caught wind of that talent when they encountered a nimble little tramp wandering the streets of downtown Austin. The two were scouting for actors–mainly extras–for Green’s adaptation of the Larry Brown novel Joe, starring Nicholas Cage. Roughed up and dirty, Charlie Chaplin he was not, but the two were intrigued by the man’s startling blue eyes that peered discerningly through a veil of white, baby-fine hair, some of it stuck to a nasty gash on his brow.

Still, for all that, it was the way the vagrant spoke–confidently, with a whiskey worn growl–and the grace within the way he moved that beguiled them most. He told them he was fifty-two (though he seemed paradoxically older and younger at the same time) and that his name was Gary Poulter.

And he told them he was an actor.

Maria MacGuire flew to Austin on a wing and a prayer. Though she was as safe and sound as anyone can be on an airliner and her flight was uneventful, it was the mission of her trip that was fraught and fragile. She flew there to see her big brother.

Maria and Gary’s relationship had always been complicated. Of course she loved him, he was her brother after all. Even as a child she loved him when he threw her down the stairs of their family home. She loved him when he locked her out of the house, his gleeful laughter penetrating the door as she rang the bell, crying, pleading to be let  in. She loved him when he choked their little brother and mistreated the family dog.

Terrified and terrorized, she dreaded for her parents to leave their middle class home to go to work. But still, she loved him. And she never told on him.

Her older sister, Debbie, had fonder childhood memories of Gary. Their relationship was different. Debbie was only a year younger than he was, so she had been both his sibling and his friend. They watched Lost in Space together and acted out the episodes. They rode bikes together and played circus in the backyard. Still, he could be mean to her too. Maria couldn’t understand why Debbie liked Gary so much.

But that was then, when they were kids. Before she understood that her big brother was sick.

As it turned out, Maria needn’t have worried about the trip to Austin. Gary was on his best behavior. They met for dinner and reminisced carefully, picking out the morsels of good times, concentrating on the near future. Gary had joined a traveling carnival and that was the reason for her trip: she wanted to see her brother before he left Austin, because this was the first time she’d laid eyes on him in years and with Gary–with anyone yes, but especially with Gary–the last time you saw him might really be the last time.

To be cont’d…

The Late Show…And Other Tales of Celluloid Malice; A Short Story Collection by John Greco

 

John Greco loves movies.

Uh-huh. Lot’s of us do.

He writes about movies.

Yeah? Good for him. There are hundreds…no…thousands of movie blogs out there.

John Greco is a cinephile.

Oh no. Not another film snob going on and on about camera angles and 35 millimeter film…

Okay. Stop it. John’s not that guy.

Yes he’s an encyclopedia of cinema and of film techniques, all of which he presents in a very friendly, accessible way on his superb blog twentyfourframes.

But this post isn’t about his blog. This post is about John Greco the author because, first and foremost, John is a writer of fiction. And what a fine writer he is.

In his third published compilation, The Late Show, John has mined his passion for film in a taunt, page turning collection of eight short stories inspired by classic cinema and reminiscent of the golden age of television (e.g., Alfred Hitchcock Presents) and the gritty carousel of 40s and 50s crime comics.

The Late Show is replete with a motley crew of characters: a bored, neglected housewife and her pot bellied, movie bug husband; a gut shot button man seeking refuge in The Roaring Twenties; a mean guy brother-in-law who channels “the shower scene”; a psychopathic, rich-kid with film director aspirations; a grind-house impresario, his antique pistol and bucking buckaroo protege and more.

All the tales are infused with suspense, tempered with notes of malice and refined with a pinch of humor and hints of irony.

Pop a top. Uncork a bottle. Put your feet up. Enjoy.

I sure did.

The Late Show is available for purchase on Amazon.

 

 

 

How’d He Get This Way? (A Profile in Narcissism) The Serial: Part III

 

The truth is he was good at sports.

He was. Look it up. You’ll see.

He was great at baseball.

It’s true. He could have gone pro.

The problem is, was–whatever–he doesn’t like to exercise. He thinks its boring.

He’s smart too. Made good grades. In the upper tier of his class.

High School. College.

You can look that up too. It’s right there. In black and white.

The media. They never print that stuff. The good stuff.

Sports. Grades. It came easy for him. He barely had to work at it. And he was right there…

In the B+ to A- range.

Which means he’s smart.

But he’s no genius. And that bothers him. It bothered his dad too.

He’s a tough guy too. He really is. He fought a lot. 

Nothing to be concerned about. It was military school. Everybody gets into fights in military school. It’s a right of passage.

He hated it. He didn’t want to go.

In hindsight it was good for him. It made him a man.

So what if he didn’t go to Vietnam. He’s rich. What father wouldn’t pull strings to keep their kid out of that war if he could?

His sons could have used some military school. Especially Jr. But their mother coddled them.

If his mother had treated him that way he wouldn’t be where he is now.

That’s what’s wrong with America today. Too soft. Especially the men.

Come on fellas get off mama’s tit. Go knock some heads.

To be cont…

 

 

La Femme Nikita (1990); She’s so French

Back in the early 80s there was a marginally popular song by rock singer Benny Mardones, a very dramatic song (as all songs sung by Benny Mardones are) called “She’s so French.” Great song.

The 1990 action film, “La Femme Nikita” directed by Luc Besson is a lot like the song. It’s French. It’s dramatic. And it’s great.

But it is not without warts. In other words it’s got some really silly–bordering on stupid–stuff in it. Need I reiterate?

Now before anybody gets bent out of shape, it’s just an opinion, a matter of taste and–dare I say–a clash in culture in the way that pink goes with red. Some people like the combination. Others do not.

Anne Parillaud plays Nikita. According to the script, Nikita is a nineteen year old junkie with cyberpunk sensibilities. According to our eyes, the script is lying.

That’s not Parillaud’s fault, necessarily: She was thirty when she played Nikita and she’s too much woman to play it that small. We don’t, for instance, believe that she would wear that top, with those shorts, with those boots.

Neither do we believe that she would wear her hair that way, or that she wouldn’t brush her teeth, or that she would break out in a vaudevillian folk dance in the middle of kicking ass, anarchist heroin junkie or not.

Nonetheless, there she is being drug along–literally–to what turns out to be a botched robbery. Her compatriots are ambushed by the police and shot to pieces.

Nikita survives because she’s in a jones induced world of her own. That, and she’s crouched in a cubbyhole wearing headphones.

When a rather handsome cop finds her and sympathetically removes her earphones, she rewards him by putting her 38 automatic under his chin and blowing his brains out. As you can imagine, that doesn’t go over too well with the rest of the cops.

In fact, the whole law enforcement community brings the hammer down on Nikita. Hard. She gets life with no chance of parole until she serves thirty years.

(Here, in the southern portion of the United States, she would have got the death penalty.)

Nikita is incorrigible. The girl is cur mean; she bites off fingers and stabs through her handler’s hand with an especially sharp pencil.

What’s more, she screams a lot. Her scream is annoying.

Accordingly, things go from bad to horrible, to considerably worse than that, when Nikita finds herself in some kind of prison/dungeon/hospital room with the most affectless team of health care professionals ever assembled.

A doctor seemingly prepares a syringe of poison and plunges the needle into Nikita. She cries for her mother.

We believe her. It is sad.

But a shadowy government subset has other plans for Nikita. Unbeknownst to her, she has been tagged as a prospect for a clandestine, extremely exclusive, squadron of assassins. As such she serves at the pleasure of an elderly, law and order type who hates her guts. We are immediately aware that Nikita has a very short expiration date.

Of course we know this before she does, but she finds out soon enough. Nikita is nothing less than survivor. Therefore, she must learn to make nice.

(She has the killing stuff down pat, but she still practices.)

Now as we become voyeurs to her “new” life, we also become investors into director Besson’s vision. We are amused as his muse learns to mind her manners. We approve as she bends her will to fashion. We worry when she goes on suicide mission with a gun that is bigger than she is and when she finds the window she is supposed to escape through inexplicably bricked in.

Nikita achieves her transformation with the help of a matriarchal tutor, the great femme fatale Jeanne Moreau, as Amanda, who has survived a very long time in the squadron to which Nikita belongs.

Oh, and did I mention romance? There is some.

So it is here, about halfway through, where Besson’s film really takes off, where it flatteringly grows into its Irma la Douce form even as it keeps its riot girrrl figure.

And fittingly, this is where La Femme Nikita earns its stature as the prototype. It has never been done better, though–predictably–Hollywood continues to try.

 

 

The Irishman, a Movie directed by Martin Scorsese; Crime Drama, 2019; Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker

A lot of crime historians and criminals dispute Frank Sheeran’s version of the events surrounding the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. They say he’s full of it…That he’s a wanna be gangster at best.

Be that as it may, I think he tells the truth about a lot of it.

Not that I’m an expert on the subject–thank the Lord–but I had a friend whose uncle was mixed up with the “Dixie Mafia.” That was her story, anyway.

And from what she told me, Frank Sheeran very much resembles the kind of guy who commits murders for the mafia, a guy who drives into town, pays for everything with cash, does the deed and then vanishes like a puff a smoke in his Toyota Camry, or whatever.

(Back then, when Jimmy Hoffa was alive, it would have probably been a Ford LTD…Ugly car.)

Anyway, along the way, this guy–the killer, hitman–whatever–would stop at the same kind of coffee shop…would buy only one brand of gasoline…He would stay in only one type of motel, if he decided to stop.

Or he might drive straight through.

After he killed “Hoffa”–or whoever–he–the killer–would be killed by someone lying in wait in the coffee shop parking lot…Or at the gas station…Or by someone hiding in the closet, waiting for him to enter his motel room.

All very bleak and bleary. All apparently standard stuff in a sordid world, but stuff with the ring of truth.

That’s why I think Frank Sheeran is being truthful about murder, but not about the murder of Jimmy Hoffa. Once again, a matter of nuance rather than contradiction.

Sheeran killed people, yes, but they were people like himself. Small fish.

If he’d killed Hoffa, he would have been higher up in the food chain. And he would have never lived long enough to write a book about it.

In fact, he’d probably be dead within a few hours of his victim, if you want to call Hoffa that. According to my friend’s uncle (and Tony Soprano) mob guys never hurt anyone who doesn’t deserve to be hurt.

Of course mob guys lie a lot. We all know that.

Even so, from our perspective, it doesn’t really matter if Frank Sheeran (1920-2003 ) told the truth to Charles Brandt, the author of his memoir, I Hear You Paint Houses or not. Either way it provides excellent fodder for Martin Scorsese’s latest motion picture venture.

With the exception of Casino, Scorsese always mines the lower echelon of mob life for his crime dramas. With The Irishman, he scrapes the bottom of the well once again.

Robert De Niro plays the title character. His Frank Sheeran is an adept, lumbering thug–a combination of traits that suits his vocation and is prized by his three bosses, Russell Bufalino, (Joe Pesci) the boss of the Scranton mob, Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) the boss of the Philadelphia crime family and Jimmy Hoffa, (Al Pacino) president of the Teamsters Union.

In other words Sheeran is no great intellect, but he’s a lot smarter than he looks.

Predictably, his bosses underestimate him to varying degrees. Pacino gives his best performance in decades as Hoffa, who underestimates the pug mobster most of all of all. Hoffa also happens to be the closest thing to a friend that Sheeran has and he is the only man that he truly respects. Therein lies the tragedy.

And that’s really what The Irishman is. It’s a dour, tragic character study. And that’s why it isn’t as palatable as Goodfellas, which is essentially as an action film, or as melodramatic as Taxi Driver or as thematically confident as Mean Streets.

There is no glamour here. No mania. But there is desperation and subtly.

Consequently, much of Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is underwhelming by design which, in the age of elaborate costly studio gimmicks, makes a bolder cinematic statement than does the groundbreaking but slightly distracting, de-aging special effects.

Likewise, the soundtrack, another Scorsese hallmark, is not souped up with strutting late sixties rockers by The Rolling Stones, or lilting wall of sound masterpieces like The Ronettes Be My Baby and The Crystals Then He Kissed Me. Instead it is infused the quaint doo-wop of The Five Satins In the Still of the Night and the austere Western warbling of Marty Robbins’ A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation.

And the violence?

It’s as realistically humdrum as two close range shots to the back of the head can be, except near the end when we know what is coming, but we don’t know exactly when. Then it is as disconcerting and on the edge of your seat as any thriller could ever hope to be.

In other words, it is filmmaking at its very best.

Oh…And it’s heartbreaking too, in it’s own quiet, austere, bleak and bleary way.

 

 

 

In Defense of Lynyrd Skynyrd and, to some extent, Unkempt Hair and Bell Bottom Jeans

Back in the day I did my fare share of partying. I graduated high school in the early 80s and we, as a generation, were notorious partiers. I’m not saying that’s a good thing (thinking Brett Kavanaugh here) that’s just the way it was.

At that time, there were two classes of partiers. There were kids like us–the stoners– who partied all the time–before school, after school, during lunch–and the kids who partied on special occasions.

We had no respect for the occasional partiers. They felt the same about us.

There were all kinds of occasional partiers: Preppies. Jocks. Christians.

There was just one kind of habitual partiers: Us. The heads.

I know what your thinking: Just like The Breakfast Club. No. Not really. More like Dazed and Confused and That 70s Show, but with an 80s, New Wave, Heavy Metal vibe. This was the era that you would hear The Human League and Ozzy Osborne on the same radio station.

My friends had 8-track tape players in their cars. They aspired to get  cassette players with custom stereos, but they didn’t. Their parents weren’t about to pay for such nonsense and they–my friends– didn’t have jobs. Neither did I.

As for me, I only had an AM radio in my car. Other than that, I had a nice ride–a ’77 Cutlass. It was in immaculate shape when I got it. A muted yellow with a white interior and a white vinyl top. But because of the stereo situation we never cruised in my Cutlass. My Cutlass didn’t provide sufficient jams. No FM rock radio.

Plus, even though my car was a nice car, it wasn’t a hot car. It was too respectable. Too middle aged.

Anyway, we had our “albums” that we partied to. Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes was a big one. Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna (oh my gosh, the intro to Edge of Seventeen, we went crazy to that.)

There was The Rolling Stones’ Tattoo You. (I think it belongs in their canon of iconic albums, I don’t care what anyone else says.) Ozzy Osborne’s Diary of a Madman and Blizzard of Ozz (Randy Rhodes was a phenomenal guitarist. It’s not his fault that a lot of his acolytes were soulless speed freaks.)

There was Van Halen’s Van Halen and Van Halen II. Pat Benatar’s whole catalog, but especially Crimes of Passion. And everything and anything by The Cars.

And then, there was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gold and Platinum double album.

True, Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t really fit our vibe. There were no flourishes of heavy metal or brush strokes of new wave. Skynyrd didn’t dabble in pumped up studio antics that were the rage in those days; in fact, the band had disbanded after the tragic plane crashed that killed three of their members, including their alpha dog lead singer, Ronnie Van Zant in 1977.

That was before our time. There had been a cultural shift in the time between the plane crash and our coming of age.

Lynyrd Skynyrd, was THEN and we were NOW. The members had really long, unkempt hair; we desired men with short, edgy haircuts like Sting, of The Police, had.

(There were exceptions to this rule. For example, we thought David Lee Roth was very sexy. I’m sufficiently ashamed of that–have been for a long time.)

But back to Lynyrd Skynyrd, they wore bell bottom jeans. Bell bottoms were anathema to us. Nothing, and I mean nothing, was worse.

Plus Skynyrd, as we affectionately called them, had a sexist vibe. The women of the band–back up singers–were regulated to the sideline of the stage, where they were barley seen and only sometimes heard. We really hated that.

But above all of that, they were rednecks. Unquestionably. Unapologetically. That alone was enough to incite our disdain, though we were rednecks too–oilfield rednecks–we just didn’t know it.

Nonetheless, in spite of it all, we loved them. We loved them because Skynyrd had soul. They embraced the nitty gritty, dirty South–the muscular R&B roots of rock.

Consequently there’s a lot of Otis Redding influence in Lynyrd Skynyrd. Redding was a very physical singer. He didn’t have to be that way; his vocal ability was off the charts, he could have been smooth as silk but he liked to rough it up.

Skynyrd was like that too. They worked hard on stage and in the studio. There was blood sweat and tears in their musicianship and they were masterful musicians.

There was tenderness too.

Believe it or not, that tenderness came, primarily, from lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. He wrote some gorgeous songs. Tuesday’s Gone is one of them.

Train roll on, on down the line,
Won’t you please take me far away?
Now I feel the wind blow outside my door,
Means I’m leaving my woman behind
Tuesday’s gone with the wind
My baby’s gone with the wind

Ronnie Van Zant sings, but he is not a great singer in terms of range, or tone. He is a baritone, not exactly the sexiest voice for a lead singer of rock.

There have been–there still are–many great baritone singers, but Van Zant doesn’t work his voice like Otis Redding did, nor does he take you on a sensual journey like Teddy Pendergrass would. Of course they were R&B singers and Van Zant doesn’t have an instrument like either of them.

Van Zant sings simply, with the twang of his southern ancestry. He sings sincerely. Here, with Tuesday’s Gone, he is singing of sorrow and of pain. There is a hole in his heart where is woman was and now the wind blows through that hole and it hurts.

You feel his pain. You hear his pain.

Yes, Van Zant is lyrically sexist, especially by today’s standards. It’s not okay to say “my woman” these days and I’m glad. But I’m OK with it here. I’m okay with it because he reveals his vulnerability by baring his soul.

Train roll on many miles from my home
See, I’m riding my blues away
Tuesday, you see, she had to be free
But somehow I’ve got to carry on

Then there’s the instrumentation of Tuesday’s Gone. It is perfect. It is serine. It is spatial, spiritual and comforting. There is a touch of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me in the arrangement. There is even orchestration in the guise of the Mellotron.

The Allman Brothers, another preeminent band of Southern Rock that leaned more on jazz than hard rock, had an album entitled Enlightened Rouges. I always loved that title, but I thought it was more befitting of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Let’s face it, Skynyrd looked like a bunch of Hell’s Angeles. And Leon Wilkeson–the bassist–looked really stupid in that cop helmet. In fact, the whole band looked pretty dangerous and, at the same time, even a little silly.

But they were none of those things.

They were enlightened rouges. Especially Ronnie Van Zant. And with the exception of Gary Rossington they’re all gone. Just like Tuesday.

God’s speed.

Taxi Driver, a Film directed by Martin Scorsese, 1976; Psychological Melodrama, Neo Noir

I’ve been to New York City once. It was a hit and run trip and I didn’t make it to Times Square. I regret that.

“I’ll hail you a taxi,” a waiter generously offered. “You’re less than five miles away.”

But it was getting late and I was alone. I wanted to get back to my hotel room before it got dark. I told the waiter that and he laughed. He was a handsome white haired gentleman who was chubbier and friendlier than most of New Yorkers I had encountered.

“You could walk there and be safe. It’s all corporate now. Tourist.” He smiled as he laid the waiter wallet on the table. “Giuliani,” he said.

Even then I knew that there were some New Yorkers who liked Time Square better pre Giuliani. I knew because I heard them–mostly artist types–say so on television the night before.

(NYC TV was great, by the way. Lot’s of independent channels with the weirdest people doing the weirdest things. FYI, this was pre Netflicks era.)

Here in Nashville, I’ve ran into some New Yorkers–transplants, they’re called–who have a love hate relationship with their home town. I have listened while they opined, extolled, how much better New York is even as they proceeded to tell me–in the same breath–how corrupt, dangerous and rat infested it is.

Twice this has happened to me at the deli. Once in a car dealership. And once in the sauna at the Y.

Grant it, some Nashvillians get upset by such remarks. Not me. I  admire audacity even as I call BS.

Don’t get me wrong, I like New York City. I do. As an American I’m proud of it, just like I used to be proud of downtown Nashville before it went tourist city bonkers.

Before so many out of towners moved here.

Be that as it may, I think Martin Scorsese is one of those artist types who prefer the corrupt, dangerous, rat infested Times Square to the conventionally gleaming, corporate Times Square. Why? Because he ignores the latter while the former is his muse.

In his landmark 1976 film, Taxi Driver, Scorsese shines a glaring light in a very dark place, answering the questions we have asked too many times–then and, especially, now:

Who acquires an assault weapon and tries it out on his mother before he unloads it on classrooms of kindergartners and first graders?

Who sneaks a cache of assault weapons into a luxury high rise hotel room, a strategically chosen snipers nest, and unleashes a barrage of gunfire on thousands of unsuspecting country music fans attending an outdoor concert?

Who holes up in a metal shed with a dirt floor and no bathroom, no electricity or plumbing, surviving with little more than a sleeping bag and, sadly, a little dog, gets fired one day and goes on a drive by shooting rampage–again with an assault weapon–through the streets of my home town, Odessa Texas, indiscriminately killing anyone who happened to be in his swath?

Enter: Travis Bickle.

He’s not a bad looking guy–not particularly good looking either, but there’s something appealing about him. It’s odd.

(That’s why it never bothered me that Cybill Shepherd (Betsy) is a little curious. What bothered me was that she went into the porno theater with him. That just doesn’t pass muster. But I digress.)

Travis is a young, hardworking, honorably discharged Vietnam vet. A cab driver.

Relentlessly driving, rarely sleeping, storing his money in a slipshod apartment, he is a sentinel of mid Manhattan when it was a magnet to pimps, prostitutes and peepshows. What he sees repulses and excites him. He is unable to mindfully mitigate his weaknesses.

But Travis Bickle isn’t wildly out of step with the world like Joaquin Phoenix (Freddie Quell) is in Paul Thomas Anderson’s wonderful The Master; he’s simply amiss. Nor is he devoid of humor or empathy, but his sense of them is inappropriate.

The more we watch him, the more unsettled we become. That is because we are bystanders at his decent.

When Betsy, a senator’s campaign aid, rejects him, his newly found hope is crushed. Ever present loneliness suddenly becomes unbearable. He begins to rigorously train himself as an assassin.

He does push-ups. He lifts homemade weights. He tests his resistance to pain by holding the inside of his arm to the flame. The faint softness in his face fades into lean, jutting angles.

He buys a brief case full of black-market handguns and modifies one with the mechanical parts of of his shoddy dresser of drawers . He sets his sights on the object of Betsy’s admiration, but his plans are thwarted.

He commits a vigilante murder.

There is another who catches Travis’ gaze, but she is less woman than she is child. She has the potential for beauty. She looks a lot like Betsy. Her name is Iris (Jodi Foster).

She is a prostitute and drug addict. A runaway–the  property of low rung mafiosos–who comes and goes as she pleases. Or so she thinks.

Iris has a pimp. He is her boyfriend. His name is Sport (Harvey Keitel.) He is probably in his early thirties.

Sport has a nice build. He wears a white, Marlon Brando, undershirt and dress slacks. His hair is long. It flows beneath a fedora. The nail of his right pinkie is long and sharp. It is painted blood red.

Sport knows how to talk to a woman. And though we see him only with Iris, we know that he talks to many women this way.  We know that he always tells his women same thing, no matter how young or how old they are.

He tells them what they want to hear.

Sport is dangerous. He will resort to physical violence but he’d rather not.

From his taxi Travis observes Sport interacting with Iris. He despises him and objectifies her.

His frustration. His incompetence. His abstinence. His guilt. He projects all of it onto Sport. He decides to save Iris and satisfy his death wish in one fell swoop.

Sport’s fortress is a whore house guarded by mobsters. It is where Iris lives. There Travis Bickle confronts his demons.

It’s epic.

 

 

 

Tangerine Jam: An Eclectic Ode In Jazz

My husband and I are DJs. Yes, at one time we were on the radio. In fact that’s where we met.

Radio was my husband’s dream and my hobby; that means he was better at it than I was. And for awhile he made our living working his dream. He made it all the way from a tiny Christian radio station in Odessa Texas to the airways of Nashville Tennessee where he worked at just about every radio station in town. All of this in the late 80s thru the mid 90s when radio was a big deal and a highly competitive field.

Country. Rock. Top 40. Adult Contemporary. He did it all. He loved it.

But then I got pregnant with our first child and we needed to make some serious money. So–with the contacts and the skills we accrued in radio–we started our DJ and Karaoke business. It has been good to us and I can honestly, humbly, say we’ve been good to our fledgling industry too.

We’ve trained and employed many DJs. We’ve worked the Bonnaroo music festival, the victory party for Vice President Al Gore, the CMTV Music Awards after parties and Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton’s engagement party to name a few of the high profile gigs.

But mostly we’ve DJ’d weddings. Literally hundreds of weddings.

My husband and I no longer gig. We manage our collective of DJ’s and cater to an increasingly demanding clientele. As such we are music directors, marketing campaigners and event planners.

I rarely miss “being in the field.” I don’t have time to, but occasionally I get nostalgic.

Here’s one of my old Dinner Music/Cocktail music mashups. It’s not stuffy and it’s not boring if you like jazz and dabble in hip hop, that is.

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