Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Herein lies the conundrum of Thom Yorke. He's one of the most beloved rock stars in the world but he despises celebrity culture. "I'm surrounded by a world of grinning idiots and I don't want to be another one."
Thom Yorke was born in 1968 in Wellingborough, England. At birth, his left eye was fixed shut after doctors determined the eye was paralyzed. Yorke endured five eye operations by age six. He wore an eyepatch though much of his childhood and today he has a permanent droopy eyelid.
Yorke's father was a nuclear physicist and chemical equipment salesman. The family moved often causing Yorke to attend multiple schools. At age 7, Yorke received his first guitar. He mimicked the guitar riffs of his childhood hero, Brian May of Queen. Yorke wrote his first song at age 11. Tthe song was called "Mushroom Cloud").
Yorke met his future Radiohead bandmates at an all-boys public school. They formed a band called On A Friday (they could only rehearse on Fridays). Yorke sang, wrote the songs, played guitar, bass, piano and drums. Despite his talents, he never learned to read music.
After college, Yorke briefly worked as an orderly in a mental hospital. In 1987, Yorke and his girlfriend were involved in a serious car accident. The experience instilled a lifelong car phobia in Yorke which later inspired the songs "Airbag," "Killer Cars" and "Drunkk Machine."
In 1991, Yorke and his bandmates were signed to EMI. They changed their name to Radiohead taken from a Talking Heads song. (Yorke's early musical heroes were David Byrne, The Pixies and Joy Division.) In 1992, Radiohead's first album "Pablo Honey" brought them immediate success. Yorke confessed that his ego got out of control bolstered by an excess of drinking. "I was unbearable. As soon as you get any success you disappear up your own arse."
Yorke disliked his own singing voice. His vocal range stretched from tenor to frequent falsetto. "It annoys me how pretty my voice is, how polite it can sound when what I'm singing is deeply acidic." Only after seeing Jeff Buckley play live in 1994 did Yorke realize "you could sing in a falsetto without sounding drippy."
After their second album "The Bends" in 1995, R.E.M. chose Radiohead as the opening act for their European tour. Michael Stipe gave Yorke advice on dealing with fame and the demands of being in a rock band. The two became lifelong friends.
In 1997, Radiohead rented a mansion in Bath once owned by actress Jayne Seymour to record their new album. The band immersed themselves in the music of DJ Shadow, Underworld, Ennio Morricone and Pink Floyd. The result, "OK Computer," did not conform to standard verse-chorus structure. The music is fragmented and pieced together with hooks buried beneath layers of atmosphere and melodic dissonance. Though some critics claimed the album was "commercial suicide," today "OK Computer" is considered one of the greatest albums ever made.
Radiohead were not afraid of experimenting and reinventing themselves. Yorke fell in love with sampling and programmed beats and the band's post "OK Computer" music relied heavily on looping and processed vocals. In 2007, Radiohead revolutionized the music industry with the digital release of their album "In Rainbows." Fans were allowed to choose the amount they wanted to pay for the album download. The average price paid was 2.90 pounds.
When he's not playing music, Thom Yorke is spokesman for Friends of the Earth, a group advocating the perils of climate change and carbon emissions. Yorke also plays in the band Atoms For Peace with Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Joey Waronker (from R.E.M.). (6" x 7", black ink print)
Friday, April 26, 2013
I was fortunate enough to live with Shane for a year while attending UCLA. In those days, Shane was a theater major who aspired to be an actor. He loved 70's character-driven film thrillers like The French Connection, Dirty Harry and Bullitt. He was an avid reader of the hardboiled detective fiction of Ross Mcdonald and John D. MacDonald. He carried a dog-eared copy of William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade wherever he went.
I remember seeing Shane perform standup comedy at UCLA. He was frenetic on stage, trashing props and uttering punch lines about "anal probes" administered by UCLA security. Like many college seniors, Shane was uncertain about his future. He was always gracious and kind but he was also moody and intense.
One day I came home from class to find Shane typing in the living room. He was writing a satirical one-act play about the second coming of Christ. Shane's method of typing was unique. Using just his left and right index finger, he pounded the typewriter with intense force and amazing speed. I watched spellbound as he seemed to box with the typewriter keys, pages flying out of the carriage as if Shane were channeling the ghost of Ben Hecht.
Shane completed his play in two days. A week later he staged the piece at the UCLA Theater Department. Like his future films, the play was both dark and funny. Jesus returns to earth but people are oblivious to his message. He hires a Jewish public relations man who procures Jesus a "drink milk" tv commercial and books him on the talk-show circuit. The story ends in tragicomic fashion true to Shane's cynical view of life.
Shane spent most of his time in his college days with the Pad O' Guys. The Pad was a group of fledgling screenwriters and film students who lived, ate and breathed movies. Members included the future filmmakers Ed Solomon (Men In Black), Jim Herzfeld (Meet The Parents), Greg Widen (Backdraft), Robert Reneau (Demolition Man), Ryan Rowe (Charlie's Angels), David Silverman (The Simpsons) and Dave Arnott (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane).
A year after Shane graduated, he wrote Lethal Weapon in six weeks. One of Shane's Pad friends, Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps) helped Shane find an agent and soon several studios engaged in a bidding war for the script. Shane sold the screenplay to Warner Brothers for $250,000 and his career formally began.
Shane was determined not to become a Hollywood A--hole. He continued driving his rusted Mustang convertible and he lived with several Pad friends in a Westwood apartment. As Shane's career flourished, he experienced jealousy and resentment from friends and fellow filmmakers. Critics lambasted his writing style and he was turned down for membership in the Academy. (New Academy members were required to have "two produced works of substance and merit.")
Shane struggled with his early success. He experienced self-doubt and began to believe his detractors who said he only made money, not quality films. When Warner Brothers hired Shane to write a sequel to Lethal Weapon, Shane's version killed off the Mel Gibson character. Shane's friends saw this as a symbolic suicide since the character was viewed as Black's alter ego.
After The Long Kiss Goodnight tanked at the box office, Shane's golden boy reputation took a hit. Producers were eager to end the spec script bidding wars that Shane had helped trigger and old friends seemed to gloat. Shane had an aversive reaction. He was burned out on screenwriting realizing the process was no longer fun.
Shane bought a beautiful home in historic Fremont Place in midtown Los Angeles. (The house served as the main character's home in The Artist.) Shane stopped writing and began an era of partying. The Halloween bashes at Shane's place were the stuff of legend. But the drinking and substance abuse took a toll. "I just sort of got lost. I drank too much."
With the support of filmmaker James Brooks, Shane began writing again. In 2003, he completed his comeback piece Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This time, he wanted to direct as well. He showed the script around Hollywood but responses were lukewarm. Some producers didn't even bother to read the script. To Shane, the experience was humbling.
Shane turned to producer Joel Silver who procured $15 million from Warner Brothers to get the film made. Shane cast Robert Downey Jr., who at the time was nearly unemployable having just served time in prison. He also cast Val Kilmer who's career had gone cold. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was a mystery suspense film inspired by the writing of Raymond Chandler. The film was a modest success but more importantly Shane was back in the film game.
Shane stopped drinking in 2008. He again became serious about writing. Jon Favreau & Robert Downey turned to Shane when they needed help with the first Iron Man screenplay. Downey credits Shane for writing the press-conference scene after Tony Stark returns from captivity. (Shane asked to be paid in "blueberries and wild salmon.") When Favreau declined to direct Iron Man 3, Downey lobbied for Shane to direct. Shane had helped Downey resurrect his career. Now Downey was returning the favor.
Shane always admired the "old gunslinger" story. A character falls into a dark place and must rise above his demons to redeem himself. It seems Shane has done the same. The initial reviews of Iron Man 3 are positive and Shane is ready to begin his second act. If we're lucky, we'll have many new Shane Black films to look forward to. Here's hoping Shane feels the same way. (6" x 7", black ink print)
Monday, April 8, 2013
Poe was born in 1809 in Boston. His mom died shortly after his birth and his father abandoned the family. He was taken in by John Allan, a wealthy tobacco merchant from Virginia though he was never formally adopted. He was raised to be a businessman. Instead, Poe dreamed of being a writer like his hero the British poet Lord Byron.
Poe attended the University of Virginia but was given little money by his foster father to pay his bills. He turned to gambling to survive and he quickly accrued large debts. He was so poor he burned his furniture to keep warm. Poe dropped out of college after one semester. He returned to Richmond to find his fiance engaged to another man. Heartbroken, he joined the army.
In 1827 Poe published his first book of poetry, Tamerlane and Other Poems, attributed with the byline "By a Bostonian." Only 50 copies were printed and the book garnered no attention. Poe traveled to Baltimore and moved in with his Aunt Maria Clemm and his young cousin Virginia.
By the early 1830's, Poe began publishing short stories. His work slowly gained acclaim but he remained in poverty. Poe turned his attention to prose and literary criticism. His literary criticism was so scathing he gained the nickname "Tomahawk Man" and he was said to write with "prussic acid instead of ink."
In 1835, Poe married his cousin Virginia. (He was 26, she was 13.) Poe became editor of several journals and his literary output increased. In 1845, Poe wrote his most famous poem The Raven. He became an overnight success though he was only paid $9 dollars for the poem's publication.
In 1847, Poe's wife Virginia died of tuberculosis. (Tuberculosis claimed his wife, his birth mother, his older brother and his foster mother.) Despondent, Poe was unable to write for months and he turned to drinking. He moved to a cottage in the bronx and continued to struggle financially. His stories were more popular in Europe than America and they were translated into French by Charles Baudelaire.
By 1849, Poe was drinking heavily and wandering the streets delirious. Though the story of Poe's final days is complicated, he disappeared for five days before he was found in the bar room of a public house wearing clothes that were not his own. He died at Washington College Hospital surrounded by strangers. The exact cause of his death is unknown. (His death has been attributed to alcohol, cholera, heart disease, rabies, tuberculosis and suicide.)
The Mystery Writers of American present an annual prize called the Edgar Award named after Poe for best writing in the mystery genre. (6" x 7", black ink print)
Monday, April 1, 2013
Steve excelled in all sports but his great love was golf. He competed in numerous Junior Golf Tournaments and during one match he took future PGA Pro Duffy Waldorf to a sudden death playoff before losing on the second extra hole.
Steve and Duffy became great friends and drinking buddies. (Steve would be Best Man at Duffy's wedding.) As Duffy's golf career began to take off, Steve asked if he could caddy for Duffy in a tournament. Surprisingly, Duffy said yes.
Their first tournament together was the Winnebago Classic on the mini-tour. The environment was casual and relaxed and Steve's lack of caddy skills posed no problem. At least until the second round. Duffy was on pace to set a course record. As they reached the 18th green, Duffy had a 10-foot putt to set the record. Steve reached into the bag for the putter but it was gone. "You don't have your putter do you, Duff," Steve asked. Duffy stared back. "No."
Realizing he'd left the putter on the previous hole, Steve sprinted to the 17th green, grabbed the club, ran back to the 18th hole and watched as Duffy calmly drained the putt. Duffy went on to win the tournament and Steve earned $750 for his 3-day effort as caddy.
When Duffy joined the PGA Tour Steve again asked to caddy in a tournament. Duffy offered Steve the 1992 Phoenix Open. The PGA environment was different. Most of the caddies were pros themselves and caddying was how they made their living. They didn't take kindly to outsiders coming in for a weekend of casual fun.
Duffy gave Steve a few tips: where to stand, when to tend the pin, make sure to avoid the eye line of other golfers. "Return the club to the bag after I'm done with it. I don't need you sprinting through the course for forgotten putters." Steve viewed his job primarily as cleaning clubs, carrying the bag and keeping Duffy loose and relaxed. Their chemistry was effective. As they played Round 4, Duffy was tied for the lead with 9 holes to go. Mark Calcavecchia went on a birdie run to win the tournament but Duffy took second place earning him $108,000. Steve's share as caddie: $2,500.
Steve would caddie for Duffy numerous times over the next few years. Duffy's playing partners included some of the game's greats: Phil Mickelson, John Daly, Rocco Mediate. At one tournament, as Steve stood on the green Duffy yelled out, "Don't move. You're standing on Mickelson's mark." Duffy walked over and instructed Steve to press down hard then slowly lift his foot. If the ball mark were to move, Duffy would suffer a two-stroke penalty (costing him thousands of dollars). Fortunately, the mark did not stick to Steve's foot and Steve was able to resume breathing again.
Caddies are not allowed to wear spikes. During the 1994 Kemper Open in Maryland, the tournament was interrupted by rain. As play resumed, Steve was carrying Duffy's bag up a steep hill when he lost his footing on the slick grass. The bag went airborne and Duffy's clubs were thrown into the rough. The gallery gave Steve an ovation as he collected himself and gathered the clubs.
Though Duffy finally hired a permanent caddy in 1998, Steve would have one last stint as caddy. Golfer Paul Stankowski, who Steve met through Duffy, needed a caddy for the 1998 Los Angeles Open. On the second hole, Stankowski asked for Steve's feedback on a putt. Steve studied the break then said "the putt will break 6 inches right to left." Stankowski struck the putt. The ball started right, as Steve predicted, then it broke even further right far from the hole. Steve didn't realize that all greens at Riviera Country Club broke toward the ocean.
Steve no longer caddies but his love for golf remains. He is still friends with Duffy. More important, he makes sure to return his club to the bag after each use. (5" x 7", black ink print)
Sunday, March 10, 2013
"I had three auditions and a callback last week. It's only a matter of time."
"You've been saying that for six months."
Leigh pouted and Kevin relented. Their relationship was rocky and maybe a new place above the flatlands of Hollywood was what they needed.
Kevin scoured the local papers and rental guides. All he could afford was $600 a month and everything north of Sunset Boulevard was more than $1,400. He called a realtor in Laurel Canyon.
"Do you know anybody who's having a hard time selling their house who might be open to renting?"
"Well there is this one place..."
In retrospect, Kevin should have asked some questions. But he always considered himself a pragmatist and $450 a month sounded pretty good.
Kevin met the aging realtor halfway up Wonderland Avenue. The home was a two-story stucco townhouse with flaking paint and rusted bars fronting the balcony. It wasn't much to look at but the neighborhood was gorgeous.
"How long is the lease?"
"Month to month," the aging realtor said.
"I'll take it."
"Don't you want to look inside?"
"I've seen all I need to see."
Kevin and Leigh moved in that weekend. There was a bit of a roach problem and the house needed a thorough cleaning but the two were happy with their new digs.
The nightmares began immediately. Each evening, around 2:30 am, Leigh dreamt of a gray-haired man in his 50's pushing her out of bed. As she stared into his face the man's eyes became blood red and he screamed. Leigh woke up in a cold sweat and Kevin spent the rest of the night trying to calm her down.
Kevin reasoned that Leigh's dreams had something to do with their recent struggles. Perhaps he was the old man pushing her out of bed. Kevin vowed to be kinder. He bought flowers, cooked dinner and began placing lit candles around the house. Despite his efforts, Leigh's nightmares continued. In one especially horrifying dream the gray-haired man raised a knife and plunged it into Leigh's body. Leigh awoke screaming.
"We have to move," she said.
"We're not moving."
"There's something wrong here."
"It's the Hollywood Hills. Isn't that what you wanted?"
"Either we move together or I go alone. This place is haunted."
"You're crazy," Kevin said.
Leigh moved out a week later.
Kevin was heartbroken but he figured their relationship was doomed anyway.
A few weeks later on a Saturday morning Kevin was watering plants beside the driveway. A Hollywood Tour Van stopped in front of his house. The tourists stared out the window at Kevin as the driver spoke into a microphone. Kevin couldn't hear what was being said but he reasoned they mistook him for a celebrity. He'd always had a passing resemblance to the actor Richard Dreyfuss.
The shoe dropped a week later. Kevin was sitting in his living room with a six-pack of beer watching the local news. Suddenly the television screen flashed an image of his townhouse. The TV Anchor spoke with honed gravitas.
"Tonight marks the seven-year anniversary of the Laurel Canyon Murders. On this night in 1981 four people were savagely murdered in a small home on Wonderland Avenue. The killings involved porn star John Holmes and a local strip club owner who sought revenge for a drug deal gone bad."
Kevin leaned forward as the television displayed an image of his living room circa 1981, splattered with blood. A body bag rested near the fireplace. Kevin looked toward the very same fireplace just five feet away. A brown stain was visible on the shag carpet. Similar stains dotted the rest of the room.
"Son of a bitch," Kevin yelled. He dropped his beer and ran out of the house.
Though he wore only sandals, shorts and a T-Shirt, he sprinted down Wonderland Avenue as if the house were on fire. He kept running until he reached the realtor's office halfway down Laurel Canyon.
"What the hell, man? How come you didn't tell me about the murders?"
The aging realtor was eating a Cup O'Noodles. "Have a seat, please."
"I don't want a seat. I'm gonna sue your ass."
"I'm sorry you're upset, sir. But California disclosure laws only apply to home buyers not renters. You have no grounds for a lawsuit."
"You rented me a possessed house you son of a bitch. My girlfriend left me and tourists think I'm some kind of freak."
"Calm down, please. We can work something out."
"What's there to work out? You have me living with psycho ghosts."
"What would make it right?
"Huh," Kevin asked.
"You moved into the house because it was cheap, correct?"
"So how about if I found you another place for even less?"
"What is it, some kind of rape house?"
"Just trust me."
Two days later Kevin moved into a small bungalow two blocks from the Laurel Canyon Country Store. The place was a bit moldy and it needed a paint job. But it had a backyard and a spacious garage. It also had a lemon tree filled with ripe, beautiful fruit.
Leigh moved in a week later.
Kevin asked about the history of the house this time. No murders had happened here. Nor was there a record of torture or kidnapping or animal cruelty. Kevin was confident Leigh would be happy. He also felt the tour vans would stay away. Of course Kevin wasn't crazy about living in Charles Manson's old home. But those were the days when Manson was still trying to make it as a rock star. He hadn't gone off the rails yet. No need to alarm Leigh. Plus, $400 a month was pretty damn good rent. (6" x 6", black ink print)
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Dustin Hoffman plays Ratso Rizzo, a crippled, two-bit con artist suffering from consumption. He befriends a sexually ambiguous cowboy gigolo named Joe Buck (played by Jon Voight). Ratso becomes a pimp to Joe Buck's male prostitute and the two struggle to survive on New York's gritty streets. The film is dark and bleak intertwined with subtle humor. The relationship between Hoffman and Voight captures a platonic love between men rarely seen on screen.
When Producer Jerome Hellman was casting the lead roles, he came across Dustin Hoffman performing in an Off-Broadway play called Eh? Hoffman agreed to play Ratso Rizzo but it took a year for screenwriter Waldo Salt to write the script and another year for Hellman and Director John Schlesinger to raise the funds. During that time Hoffman starred in The Graduate and became an overnight star.
After seeing The Graduate, John Schlesinger felt Hoffman was too clean cut and collegiate to play Ratso. Hoffman asked Schlesinger to meet him at a filthy Times Square coffee shop at night. Hoffman came in character dressed in a dirty raincoat with slicked back hair and several days stubble. Hoffman begged for money, unrecognized by Schlesinger. When Hoffman finally revealed himself, Schlesinger agreed that Hoffman would "do quite well."
Hoffman relished the seedy nature of Ratso Rizzo which was the polar opposite of ultra-preppy Benjamin Braddock from The Graduate. (Has any actor ever had two greater first roles than Ratso Rizzo and Benjamin Braddock?) When casting the role of Joe Buck, the producers initially considered Warren Beatty, Michael Sarrazin, Lee Majors even Elvis Presley. They scoured Off-Broadway Theater and eventually found Jon Voight.
There was a charged chemistry between Hoffman and Voight. Voight traveled to Texas to study small-town good ole boys, appropriating local wardrobe and a southern accent. Hoffman hung out in the Bowery and studied street people. He obsessed over character details like Ratso's walk and his consumptive cough. He put a stone in his shoe giving him a forced limp and he donned a stained white jacket found in a bus station dumpster. The film's most memorable scene where Hoffman screams at a cab driver "I'm walking here" was improvised and shot without permits. The drug-fueled warehouse party scene was staged by Andy Warhol and it featured prominent "Factory" personalities like Viva, Ultraviolet and Paul Morrissey. Warhol planned to act in the scene himself but shortly before filming he was shot in the stomach by Valerie Solanas.
When production on Cowboy finally ended, Schlesinger feared the film was a disaster. By the end of the first screening for United Artists when Ratso was dead in the bus with Joe Buck's arm around his shoulders the theater was dead silent. Everyone was crying. The newly-created Ratings Board gave the film an X-Rating due to homosexual overtones, drug use and nudity. Critic Rex Reed wrote that "the film is a collage of screaming, crawling, vomiting humanity." Roger Ebert wrote "it's a vulgar exercise in fashionable cinema." This only helped spread the buzz. Ticket lines stretched around the block. Audiences gave standing ovations. Midnight Cowboy received 7 Oscar Nominations and won 3: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. (It beat out the favorite Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.) Today the film is rightly viewed as an American Classic. (5" x 6", black ink print)
Sunday, February 17, 2013
At age 16, he was jailed for 60 days for robbery which prevented him from graduating high school. Aimless and desperate he enlisted in the Air Force. After serving two years, he took night classes in creative writing. In 1961, he hitchhiked across country and landed a job as security guard at Big Sur Hot Springs (which later became the Esalen Institute).
In 1963 he married Sandra Conklin and the two settled in San Francisco. Thompson immersed himself in California drug and hippie culture and began writing for the Berkeley underground paper The Spyder.
In 1965, The Nation paid Thompson to spend a year riding with the Hell's Angels and writing about his experiences. The Angels demanded a share of Thompson's fees. When he refused they gave him a savage beating. His subsequent book Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs became a huge success. This led to well-paying writing gigs with the New York Times, Esquire and Harper's.
In 1967, Thompson and his wife bought a home in Woody Creek, Colorado. Thompson was deeply affected by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy and the police beatings of protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention. His words became more political and incendiary and his writing style became personal, rambling and manic. The journalist Bill Cardoso labeled this new subjective style as Gonzo Journalism.
In 1971, Rolling Stone hired Thompson to write about the killing of journalist Ruben Salazar by the LA Sheriff's Department. Thompson decided to leave racially-charged Los Angeles and drive to Las Vegas with Mexican-American activist Oscar Acosta. Thompson's impressionistic account of this road trip became his greatest book, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. The novel is a hilarious drug-filled, hallucinatory rumination on the failure of 1960's counterculture and the "death of the American Dream." Accompanied by expressionistic illustrations from artist Ralph Steadman, Fear And Loathing made Thompson a literary sensation.
Hunter followed this up with Fear And Loathing On the Campaign Trail about his time covering the 1972 presidential campaign. Thompson became a vicious critic of Richard Nixon whom Thompson described as a man "who could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time." After Nixon's death, Thompson wrote "he was evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand."
In 1980 Thompson and his wife divorced. Thompson became more isolated and fixated on firearms. His substance abuse continued and his behavior became increasingly erratic. In 1981, he was arrested for drunk driving and "raving" at a Colorado state trooper. He visited Jack Nicholson's house with a massive amplifier and broadcast the sound of a pig being eaten alive by bears while shooting a 9mm semi-automatic rifle at Nicholson's home.
In the 80's, editors began critiquing the quality of Thompson's work. Celebrities like Bill Murray and Johnny Depp made movies of Thompson's books which fueled the "gonzo myth" but Thompson continued to struggle. In 1990, he was accused of sexual assault at his Colorado home. Charges were dismissed though a search of his property turned up drugs and a stash of dynamite. In 2000, Thompson accidentally shot his assistant Deborah Fuller after "mistaking her for a bear" (she lived).
In 2005, plagued by numerous chronic and painful medical conditions, Thompson took his own life by shooting himself in the head. At his funeral his ashes were shot out of a massive cannon with red white and blue fireworks while Norman Greenbaum's song "Spirit In The Sky" played in the background. Johnny Depp paid for the funeral expenses. (5" x 6", black ink print)