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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Forgive Us Our Crap

" Dusty, You'd Think They'd Remember 'Bonnie and Clyde'?"

Tim Robbins has released an album with his "Tom Robbins and The Rogues Gallery Band."

It is by all accounts a bad album. That is, the part that Tim Robbins plays is, according to the AP's Chris Willman, "an occasionally torturing role."

Hold on, not so fast. You'd think that likening what was intended for listening pleasure to mock execution and gaslighting would mean the end for the outfit's self-titled debut album.

You might be wrong...because, as Blanche Dubois noted on one of her few good days: "Sometimes, there's God so quickly..."

Yes, that. And, The Rogue Gallery's inept lead singer happens to be one of the most endeared actors of his generation.

That helps. And there you can see the daylight breaking in...

"His voice," writes Willman, "is not something a plurality of listeners will find lovely to behold."

What? Again: What? I think his saying that Robbins' voice is not lovely, in a review of someone he  obviously respects, can only be a euphemism for "dog-shit bad."

And a "plurality" wouldn't like it? How about one? Anyone? Willman can really only speak with certainty for himself, and considering his flowery speculating that people wouldn't find it lovely, but painful, wouldn't it be more accurate to say, as he probably would for the local punk band's "Live from The Knights of Columbus" release: It's awful.

This ostensibly bad review is a "Well, alright, Tim..." and a dropping of the velvet robe; we can fit one more in.

You have really succeeded, not when your work resonates with your audience (blah, blah, blah), but when they forgive your failures...

You're the coin, with alternating sides of success and failure that can hurt you not at all.


An American Idol contestant is up and surprisingly (I'm not yet saying "good" or "bad," we don't know...) wails away on a line Otis Redding had originally handled so delicately.

Cut to Simon: Is he mad? Is he disgusted? Offended? Or, is he wowed?

Most prominently, Cowell voices protests when his time is wasted.

"Is this going to be a long story?" Is the prevailing sentiment and posture of auditioning panels, and Cowell has famously given an acidic voice to it, which (who knew?), is evidently the guilty fantasy of the viewing public.

What has done this to us? Has it been "ideas meetings," weekly conferences, re-certification lectures, seminars and symposiums 'til we want to puke? All the build up to...nothing.

What's the answer? "Just knock 'em dead!"

Have you ever been "knocked dead?"

The Bruce Springsteen concert the last time it came around?

No, absolutely not. In fact, the very reason you enjoyed Bruce so much was that it didn't knock you out and there was no expectation that it would. There was a reliability of quality, yes, and maybe even some oddity ("I'm gonna do a number you might not have heard before that Woody Guthrie used to do..."), but also a reliability that there would be the usual numbers, not sounding much like the mastered albums, and a couple of cart-wheels and flag-holds on his mic stand without much threat to maintain normal breathing.

Has anyone ever started a joke, "I heard this's really, there's this guy and..."? Did it make you nervous? It makes me nervous because its expressed purpose is to be funny; there's no other way to go, it can't be ironic or weird or interesting.

It's a lot to ask of yourself and your audience that either of you will elicit an exact reaction or performance.

David Letterman was so easy to tune into because his failed jokes and his "cover" to them was every bit as enjoyable as his gems; the joke falls and no one laughs. "Goodnight, everyone!" he'd say and mock walk off the stage. The general experience was so easy to endure.

There was a music reviewer for a local Boston paper who I used to see at shows all the time. With no physical description, you could easily spot him: he was the most nervous guy in the house;  gulping beers and gnawing on his pencil, worrying that his observations wouldn't match the band's faithful.

The faithful, on the other hand, knew it was going to be a good show...

"You suck!" they'd joke between the band's songs.

Ah, there it is...letting the audience off.

It's said that when performing stand-up for the first time at The Apollo, that your intro should be brief and not too flattering, as the usual response from the audience when a hyped talent disappoints is "Maybe you should've stayed in Kansas City, Superstar!"

As the girl with whom I shared a loss of virginity could tell you: there is nothing more unforgivable than being let down after a lot of hype.

As for being knocked dead...

There was a group of acrobats who performed at the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. For several very intense minutes they scared the shit out of everyone who walked past them. Flips, fire-breathing, handstands upon handstands, and finally a tower-standing upon each other's shoulders thirty feet or so in the air, and the man at the bottom supported them all on his stomach as he bent backwards -- no hands -- in the most impossibly low limbo stance of all time. With a hip pop, he sent each descending member into a somersault and then to their feet.

They passed the hat and, notwithstanding the nervous claps, our mood was not unlike the tellers' in movies when the bank robbers have made off after having kept them at gunpoint.

Knocked dead.

Impressed? Yes. Anxious to see them in future engagements? Maybe not.

Ask a 1941 Yankees fan how he felt following Dimaggio's hitting streak. Or those about the summer that they waited for Lance Armstrong to win the Tour again? Or the undefeated team who runs through the playoffs and wins the championship? How do they feel?

"Thank God that's over" they say. We are proud to get through trials, but we tend not to want to go through every week.

The perfectly lean cut of filet mignon may be a sight to behold, but it's the T-bone, speckled with fat and circle of mangled marrow, that brings out the hmmm.

The performer who has had the good fortune of both disappointing and giving us what we want will likely be able to pawn anything off on us.

One of the most delightful boxers of the last twenty years was Vinnie Pazienza. Before a title fight, when the cameras got their last glimpse of the fighters before they hit the ring, Paz would tell the pay-per-view audience not to worry: "relax and have a good time...this is what I do." The smile across his broken face a testament that shit happens.

The Arist I-Think-Presently-Referred-To-As-Prince, had a hit back in the '80's with "Rasberry Beret." He begins the song with a cough before the music rises.

With the flaw out of the way, it was easier to hum to the chorus.


And of course, the rules change from medium to medium...

Music, by and large, is not taken very seriously when done by non-pros (I think, we defer to our ears over diplomacy). Sure,  Keanu Reeves' Dogstar can come to your town and fill the best theater know.

TV seems to be a pretty good place to for those dependent upon the goodwill of the audience.

In what was supposed to be a scathing review of her new show "Parks and Recreation," The New Yorker's Nancy Franklin first asked, "Is there anyone more appealing on TV than Amy Poehler?" Then gushed, rather generally about her spunk and "warmth" and "radiance" before even getting to, in the article's last paragraph, the business of the show.

Her admiration of Poehler, or the nature of it, much like Willman's soft-touch to Robbins' current effort, is grounded in her relationship with Poehler's spirit. Willman provides himself something of an escape hatch of flat-out telling Robbins to stick with acting by referencing his adequate musical performance in 1992's "Bob Roberts" (which, I seem to recall, was supposed to be deliberately hokey and unpleasant). Similarly, Franklin says that Poehler's imitations on SNL "weren't necessarily terrific, either, or dead on."

Then, what was so appealing or warm?

You would think, to answer her own question, as the magazine's TV critic, she'd find a performer who did do "dead on" and "terrific" impressions more appealing.

Or someone on a good show, which she felt "P&R" was not...

After her ass smooch...

"Which brings me rather uncomfortably to her present show..."Parks and Recreation."

Is she apologizing for the bad review? "Uncomfortably?" Who is Franklin working for, the readers or Poehler's publicist? Why would she be uncomfortable saying crap is crap?

Poehler as it turns out is a TV star and one perfectly suited to steer such a vehicle. "P&R" survived awful first season reviews and ratings and has come out the other side.

 Poehler's "appeal" with both the skimp viewers and the NBC execs staved off cancellation long enough for the creators to revamp "P&R," shifting focus of the series to a strong supporting cast and cameos. The critics and Nielsen have approved.

It was said that Henry Winkler couldn't lead another show because the audience couldn't think of him as anything but the Fonz. Personally, I had no trouble believing Winkler couldn't start jukeboxes with a snap of his fingers....

I think the continued climb of a TV series, with the hills being the knockout episodes and the valleys being the ill-conceived mistakes that come with filming 22 shows per season, we can't bear to go through those rough patches again with someone who took us to top as "Happy Days" was.

When I was a police officer, there were cops who regularly performed the task of "informing next of kin;" they possessed something that made the ugly and tragic, if not more bearable, a part of life we have to go through.

Poehler, who was a front piece as SNL cast member for nine years, a show where (admittedly) every other skit doesn't work, had an extraordinary record of disappointing and being granted forgiveness.


I know, I know: Your heart bleeds for me and every other unsuccessful writer/actor.

"That's the business, dude..."

Indeed, and it surely has colored by perspective. But long before I threw my hat into the ring, I was a viewer, and I appreciated what I thought was good so much that I hoped that I could do it myself for some other people.

It is a business where the auditioning soprano is cut short before she even finishes her 16 bars -- "Next!!!" Or writing partners scratch their heads to figure out the best way to FADE IN from black (really, there's only one...the lights come on!) because, as they're told continually: "You've got to hook the reader fast!"

Or as a friend was told when he performed a monologue so dear to the director's heart, "Who are you to do 'The Shadowbox'?"

All this, and then front page billing and kid-glove handling such as the review I once heard of Rosie O'Donnell's turn as Rizzo in "Grease:" "She can't sing or dance, but what heart!"

Do they have a class in heart at Juliard?

I'm all for giving the Charlie Hustle Award, but does it have to be to millionaires while there are starving types with chops galore busting their ass admirably in community theater?

And yet, I believe that there is the intangible...that association with the actor...

Tim Robbins and The Rogues Gallery Band have benefitted from the star power of winning the Oscar, yes, but also from the silly turns in "The Sure Thing" and "Howard, The Duck."

Maybe our smug dismissal of "one hit wonders" is an instinctive resentment towards the pretty boys who  dance around and win the title without a scratch: we want to see the swollen eyes of a flop, the bloody lip of a broken marriage; we want to know you paid your dues.

The answer is not to knock them dead, but to keep cranking it out. Volume is rewarded, I guess.

That seems a good idea.

After all, the readers of this blog stood by me after that piece of crap post about "adages" a while back with only a slight drop in hits to the site.

Yes, I have arrived.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite paragraph of the blog is: Maybe our smug dismissal of "one hit wonders" is an instinctive resentment towards the pretty boys who dance around and win the title without a scratch: we want to see the swollen eyes of a flop, the bloody lip of a broken marriage; we want to know you paid your dues.
    Well said Paul.