Distance Equals Rate X Time

Typically my workday begins with me at my desk, enjoying my one cup of coffee for the day, checking email, drafting responses, deleting spam, and reading the usual websites.  I do this for as long as it takes to drink my coffee before I get down to work.  I always start with The Onion, and their AV Club website, and on Friday September 10, they ran an article inspired by a question comedian Patton Oswalt asked them: 

Everyone says things like “Oh man, how cool would it be to be in Dealey Plaza during the JFK assassination, or see The Beatles during one of their Cavern Club concerts, or witness ancient Rome?” Well, what if you were given the chance? 

Here are the conditions. You’ve been granted a hypothetical ticket to live, in comfort and coherence, during one five-year time period. Maybe you want to be in New York in Chicago during Prohibition, or Victorian London, or France right before the Revolution. (Or during—no judgments.) You’ll be able to understand and speak the language (if needed), have enough disposable cash to live at leisure, and experience whatever you want, with no need for a job. You’ll have a comfy apartment or house to return to, full period wardrobe, and as much time as you need before making this trip to study up on the period you’ll live in. 

But you must stay within a five-mile radius of where/whenever you choose to live. Thus you can’t go see the Kennedy assassination, then go zipping around the world to London to watch the birth of the British Invasion, or New York for the early years of Greenwich Village. Want to see the Kennedy assassination? Fine. But then you’re stuck in Dallas for the next five years.  What historical period (and place), in your opinion, offers the most enticing experiences in one five-year period?

Now, who among us hasn’t waned to experience life in a different place and time?  I certainly have; three of my screenplays have taken place between 1901 and 1918, centered, for the most part, around World War One.  I’m something of a WW1 buff actually, more so than its sequel.  At any rate I wondered; what period outside of The Great War would I find to be the most enticing experience in one five-year period? 

Typically I had several, but narrowed it down to the following three;

Florence, Italy – 1409-1504

I live in the Renaissance City at the height of said Renaissance.  I apprentice myself to Leonardo da Vinci and serve as assistant to him in the creation of his many great machines, convincing him to actually construct many of them. Then when he leaves to travel with the Papal Army, I cross town and apprentice under his rival Michelangelo and help him sculpt David.  On my off days I hang out in taverns with Niccolo Machiavelli and tell him “sure, a book about Cesare Borgia sounds like a brilliant idea, but you may want to pick a different title; how about The Prince?”  I then ingratiate myself with the crème of Florentine society and end up spending a lot of time at the Borgia court, and get to watch first-hand as Cesare Borgia and his father Pope Alexander IV launch their plot to unite the Italian City States under papal rule.  I make a successful play for Cesare’s sister Lucrezia, incur Cesare’s wrath, but make sure to take copious notes so, upon returning to the present day at the exact moment I left it, I finally have all the research materials I need to finish my damn novel already.

Los Angeles, California – 1971-1976

Armed with a pile of screenplays that will be thirty years ahead of their time, I’ll convince Hollywood to produce the lot of them, befriend George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Marty Scorsese, become heavily involved in the making of American Graffiti, Jaws and Taxi Driver, rewriting all of them and ensuring they become the classics they are remembered for (since I ‘ve already seen the finished product).  I also tell Lucas about my idea for a thing called “Star Wars,” which I sell to him for one dollar, with an agreement that I receive 50% of the gross profits from the film, its sequels and spinoffs, in perpetuity.  This is agreed to in an iron-clad contract.  Said funds are deposited directly into a numbered Swiss bank account.  On returning to 2010, I make a big mother of a withdrawl from said account, and return to Hollywood, buy out MGM and become a Selzneckian mogul.

Seattle, Washington – 1988-1993

Sure I could go with Manchester circa 85-89, Swinging London, or Haight Ashbury circa ’66, but I’m going to be predictable and settle on Seattle at the birth of the Grunge Era.  I’d hang out in coffee shops, go to clubs and see Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, and countless others.  I make friends with the perpetually starving artists; buying them dinner, letting them crash at my pad, buying them beer and just hanging out.  I become a Svengali type to them all, and bear witness to the last great era in rock music as it’s happening around people who don’t realize it, and depart in late 1993, before everything turns tragic (but not before making sure I’m with Mia Zapata the night of July 7, 1993, to make sure she isn’t murdered by some, so I can see how great her and her band can become).  I also tell Kurt Cobain, to chill on the worries about fame, that it’s fleeting, and he should cancel the rest of the In Utero Tour, move out to the middle of nowhere and just hang around reading books.  I’m mentioned in the liner notes to Nevermind, Badmotorfinger, Ten and Dirt.  People wonder whatever happened to me and I become this mythic figure.  Years later someone does a documentary about me.  I’m tracked down, but the notion I was the guy is dismissed, as I would have been 15-20 years old at the time.  My secret remains safe.

Now narrowing those three down to one is a difficult task.  Florence seems the most practical as it pertains to a long in gestation project I’m currently embroiled in, but I would fear that the reality of this time and place and its people would clash with my somewhat romanticized interpretation of these historical figures.  Hollywood fits with my desire to conquer the entertainment world, to influence the making of several classic movies, and attain the financial security I desire – but who says I’m not already on the road to doing that?

The nostalgic in me zeroes in on Seattle, and given how much writing I’ve done on music recently would indicate that.  But for me, there’s certainly an appeal in pulling up stakes and living, anonymously, in a place and time contemporary to my life and experiences.  

Of course, I could really do none of these things; how could I when I have so much to do right now?

15 Albums (Part 1)

So the other day, I was sent one of those notes on Facebook that spring up from time to time; the old “reply and tag” standard.  Most of them get ignored and the person who sent it to me blocked or chopped because I don’t have the time to respond, and some abuse the privilege (seriously; Farmland?).  But in the case of this one, I had to respond because in this case because artist Richard Clark sent it along, and because Richard and I are working on a project about music.

Essentially it asked me to pick 15 albums that I’ve heard that will always stick with me.  I was to list the first fifteen I could recall off the top of my head, and take no longer than 15 minutes to do so.  I was to post the list, tag fifteen friends etc …

I ended up doing it, and if you’re connected to me on Facebook, you read the note.  But, I wanted to go a little more in depth as to why I chose the albums I did, here.  All of the below are important to me; I can look at each and summon a very specific memory about the period in my life when I first heard it.  Listening to these albums today, those memories come flowing back.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop listening to them.

And off we go …in reverse, from fifteen down to one.  

The “Middle Period” of The Beatles remains my favorite; the span from Help to Revolver, where they became more experimental, but prior to them jumping full tilt into Pepperland and the Maharishi.  They could still write a catchy tune (not that they ever lost that tough, but there are miles of difference between “Paperback Writer” and “I Am The Walrus”). Of that period, Rubber Soul is my favorite album, with the bittersweet “In My Life” a personal anthem. I first heard it in 1987, the 20th Anniversary of the Summer of Love, and in the midst of the big Beatles revival of the late 80s.  Even then, hearing “In My Life”, I could imagine myself twenty years down the road, remembering friends and lovers, of moments and meaning … and I often think about them, even now.  But the whole album is packed with great songs –Drive My Car, Nowhere Man, Michelle – and is as fresh sounding as an album released in 1966 can sound.

The Doors are perfect band for when you’re 15 or so – kind of like Green Day is now — all about rebellion and stuff (albeit a non-complex rebellion).  If I was born 20 years earlier, I’m sure I would have gravitated to the darker music of Mr. Mojo Rising over the Come on people, sunshine and flowers and peace, man. They were a gateway band for me – it was a surprisingly straight line from The Doors to The Velvet Underground, to Sonic Youth – one led to another. 

The other “breakout L.A. band” of 1966-67?  The Monkees.  Yeah.

oMy favorite album from one of my favorite bands; it’s the one everyone buys first, and I recall many days at a friend’s cottage blasting thus one on the stereo.  I saw them in concert in New York in 2006, when the original lineup reunited.  The show had been postponed because singer Shane MacGowan had suffered “an injury” (anybody familiar with his legendary drinking could imagine that “injury” having something to do with a bar stool).  But the next night the Pogues took to the stage minus Shane, who was finally brought out in a wheelchair by a roadie.  We all laughed, thinking it was a joke.  Then he proceeded to sing for the rest of the show from said wheelchair.  It was awesome and given the strong connection the Irish have to New York (with “Fairytale of New York” and “Thousands are Sailing” the standout tracks on this album), I can’t picture one without the other.

Document immediately makes me think of the summer of 1991; I know this because I have videotape from 1991 of me and a friend driving aimlessly around my town, with “The One I Love” on the stereo.  I got into REM in a big way around 1989’s Green, when they were just on the cusp of being huge, and I bought up their back catalogue in short order.  Their breakthrough Out of Time album dropped in spring of 1991 – the first in a series of records that would help change the musical landscape for a short but memorable period.  Document remains my favourite REM album from my favorite REM period. 

Polly Jean Harvey is like one of those girls you want to talk to in the bar or club and don’t because she’s just too cool and you figure “hell, I’m just wasting my time.”  Only then, years later, you found out she always wondered why you never came over and talked to her.  This 2000 album has a heavy New York vibe – and I felt that way well before I moved down here.  Anytime I’m in Brooklyn, I can’t help but hear “You Said Something” playing somewhere in my brain.

The first album I bought deliberately to piss my parents off.  It worked. For a brief time I considered forming a band because of it (and as I know many great bands did likewise in its wake); I mean, the Sex Pistols were a terrible band, but that was their appeal and I knew any band I was in would be terrible too. I also managed to slip a copy into the tape deck at the school gymnasium one day.  It got midway through “Bodies” (i.e. Track 2) before the teacher yanked the tape out of the deck and asked; “who put this garbage in the stereo?”  Of course, I manned up and admitted, proudly, that it was I. I was so Punk Rock.

Summer 1992 was the second installment of the Lollapalooza festival – the one that hit as the whole Alt Rock explosion, well, EXPLODED.  Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, RHCP … all great. But as dusk fell in advance of Ministry taking the stage, I noticed all these black clad vampire people emerge from the crowd and surround us.  They were everywhere.  And when Ministry began to play, the place went NUTS.  After the dust settled and we returned to our normal lives, I knew I was going to grab a Ministry album, which I did – this one – as I was in the midst of packing for college.  It was the album that blasted out my dorm room door from September to December of 1992.  My roommate who’d never even heard of them became hooked on it and we went to see them play maple Leaf gardens that December.  MLG was just up the road from my dorm – walking distance – where I saw U2 in 92 and Nirvana in 93.  This album makes me think of that period when after years of being stuck in small-town Ontario, I was off the leash at last.

More to come …