Death and All His Friends

As we grow older, we inevitably reach that point where life stops handing you things and starts taking them from you, and when that happens, you realize you really are an adult.  But the finality of death really seals that deal; and when it’s someone your age, you really begin to feel your own mortality.  Despite being in my late (shudder) 30s, I still feel like I did in my late 20s (which makes me either a youthful thirty-something, or that I was a mature 20-something).  But 2010 will go down as a year of infamy as it marked the passing of three different people I knew at very different stages of my life.

The first was my longtime manager Cathryn Jaymes, who left us in January of this year.  She had represented me since May 2001, which makes it the longest professional relationship of my career.  She managed actors and writers and directors for thirty years, was a model for a time in the late 60s, and her greatest notoriety came with one of the young clients she championed when nobody else would – Quentin Tarantino.  She was one of those people who was almost “too nice” for a rotten business that attracts more than its share of rotten people.  She never stopped believing in me and my work, and told me I’d “get there someday.”  I’m not surprised by that, because she was the one person who refused to give up on me and my work, especially at times when I was ready to do just that.  She once told me that I was the smartest writer she’d ever known and that intelligence translated to my writing (she also said that’s why it and I were a tough sell in Hollywood – a place where intelligence is viewed as a threat, not a boon).  I naturally took that as a compliment and resisted the urge to “dumb down” and compromise my principals and that carried through to the end when, even as she took ill, I refused to jump ship even though she and others urged me to.  How could I not stick by a person who stuck by me?

Then in September, Alwyn Rottschafer succumbed to a disease that took him very suddenly.  Alwyn was a talented musician, who played guitar in a garage band called Spaceman Spiff (who I wrote about here – check out the photo; Al is to the right).  My memories of him are faded, like that old photograph, but I do recall that he appeared as the Grim Reaper in a short film I shot for someone in my senior year of High School – I was cameraman, with the other guy writing and calling the shots.  He and his sister lived near me so there were also (probably) several instances of me giving them a lift home after school, or after the occasional party.  I am also reasonably sure Al was one of many who attended a 91 Pixies concert together. Now he’s a guy I lost touch with pretty quickly – one of those friendships that can be counted in months.  But the amazing thing about Alwyn was despite all the years that have passed, I never forgot him, whereas so many others are not even memories I can hang onto.

Now word has come that Alston Adams has lost his battle with the same wretched disease that took Alwyn and Cathryn.  Alston – Ali as we called him – lived the next street over from my place when I moved in 1986, so naturally we walked to and from school together frequently.  In fact one of the things we would talk about was the ongoing novel he was writing at age 13; a fictionalized account of the town, the school and our classmates, done in a Peyton PlaceDark Shadows vein (one of our classmates was a robot assassin sent by the Russians – hey, the Cold War was still on). He’d been battling the disease I won’t dignify by uttering its name for some time – well before he and I reconnected this past summer (same time as Alwyn).  In both cases I really wish I had gotten back in touch with them much sooner –as a mini-reunion this past summer showed me, it’s astonishingly easy to reconnect with people you haven’t seen in years.

With Al and Ali, the span of years knowing them was brief — 1986 to 1991 — but they might as well be lifetimes apart.  You don’t realize how much your life changes in that brief span from 13 to 18, but it’s a huge gulf, and probably the most radicla change in your life.  I was certainly much different at 18 than I was at 16 even.  But, the passing of these people has really made me think a lot about the places I’ve lived and the people I’ve known.  When people ask me where I’m from I never have an easy answer given we moved around a lot when I was young – eight moves in the first twelve years of my life.  I’m certain if I was to do a full accounting of every place I lived and every person I know, I’d find several of them no longer with us, and I honestly don’t know how to feel about that.  Should I be depressed?  Sad?  What should I feel?

We all feel invincible when we’re younger, but as we age, and as people start dying, we realize that’s not the case.  But I don’t necessarily think that death is something to be feared; why fear the inevitable?  Death could very well be the end, or it could embrace you like an old friend and usher you to the next stage of your journey … and what is life but a journey?  We all move through life at the same speed; some of us reach our destination sooner than others.  Sometimes the paths we take through life intersect with others on their paths.  The moment those paths cross can be brief, and they can be longer.  In a few rare instances our lives can follow parallel lines for years, decades even, before separating as they inevitably will.  I wonder if that’s the point of friendships, whether they last a month, a year or a lifetime; because we all need companions on the voyage.

I’m a deep dreamer; always have been and always will be.  And one thing about my dreams that I wonder if other’s share is this (and bear with me); Ever since I was a child, I have had repeated dreams of a place that’s familiar to me, even though I’ve never been there.  It’s a city that’s a mix of every city I’ve lived in or been to, with neighborhoods that are a composite of every house I’ve lived in or visited or spent any time in.  The surrounding lands are a mix of various places I’ve visited in my life; mountains and valleys, the ocean, the prairies, the desert.  Commensurate with my experience this subconscious land has grown as I have grown, taking on the characteristics of my life experiences.   It continues to this day; since I moved to New York this city has taken on certain New York characteristics and it’s populated by my memories of people I have known, whether briefly or for years.  Now it’s easy to see that this dreamscape is just the part of my subconscious that has catalogued every place I’ve been in my life and blended them together, and when I dream, it’s one of the parts of my subconscious that my mind wanders through. Yet to me it feels like Heaven would be and should be – a place we retire to at the end of our lives and exist on a higher, more abstract plain.  In rare cases you’re aware a dream is a dream, but for the most part you don’t, and this is what Heaven would be like.  So, I don’t think of these people as being gone – they’re just waiting for others to arrive at the big party in the great beyond, where it will not feel like an end, but a homecoming.

Analog Stories in a Digital World

One absolutely guaranteed way to mess with people comes when I tell them I don’t have a cell phone.  Well, technically I do have a nice Nokia – it takes great pictures and I can even play music on it – but I have yet to use it as a phone.  It’s always a kick to see that look of confusion in someone’s eyes as they ponder the imponderable, like Dave Bowman pondering the mysteries of the Monolith.

“No cell-phone?  But … how do people get in touch with you?  How?!”

First, I actually maintain regular and consistent office hours.  From 8am to 5pm I’m in my office, at my desk, typing away until my fingerprints are worn down like old tires.  During regular work hours I’m totally reachable, by phone or by email.  Now, once 5pm hits, the computer’s off until 8 the next morning.  Usually once work is done for the day, so am I.  Once the computer’s off, so am I, for the downtime is as important to the work as the actual work is.

The other reason I haven’t bothered to activate my cell is because, frankly, I don’t want to be bothered by anyone on those occasions I’m out, either running errands, or taking a walk through the park to clear my head, or at a meeting downtown, or at a movie.  I’m good with getting back to people promptly; a voice mail is responded to; an email is replied to within 24 hours of receipt (because if it’s urgent, they can call me).

There’s also probably a psychological reason – given how the advent of the cell phone has made writing a suspense or horror movie fucking impossible, as some smartass will always ask “Why don’t they just call the police on their cell?” and “Lost in the woods?  Doesn’t their iPhone have the GPS app?  There’s totally an app for that.”  Probably.

I know, you’re going to say “But … what if there’s an EMERGENCY?  What happens if there’s an emergency and THEY CAN’T REACH YOU RIGHT AWAY?!  Well, I imagine the same thing that happened before cell phones.  Every time I’m asked the “emergency” question I have to ask in turn; has that ever happened to you?  So far, nobody has produced an instance where an emergency occurred that would have resulted in disaster because they weren’t reachable (unless “I need you to pick up juice on the way home” can be called an emergency).  In fact, with so many stories about people getting into fatal car accidents or bus crashes or train derailments BECAUSE they were focused on their cell phone or Blackberry or iPhone or iWhatevr , one could say that they have become the problem, not the solution to it.

Look, I know I sound like a Luddite, and the fact I’m writing on a blog would also make me a hypocrite.  I’m on FB, and the web has made doing my job so much easier.  I can’t recall the last time an agent or a producer asked for a hard copy of a screenplay – they just want the PDF of it so they can read it on their iPad while on the subway home.  But it’s the insidious nature of technology that gives me pause, and I don’t think a lot of us realize just how much it has taken from us by giving us everything.

I can’t even call it a generational thing, given everybody and their Grandparents has a cell phone.  But it makes me wonder about the people who’ve never known a world without cell phones or the internet.  I would not want to be a teenager these days – not if there was some elixir I could drink and – poof – be twenty years younger; not with the dominance of cell-phones and the internet, of social media and all these things that, in making our lives better have really made them much worse.  I wonder what will become – hell, what’s becoming – of a generation raised under a microscope and living in a 24/7 web-cammed world, where being “out of the loop” for even an hour means the death of your social life and social standing.  It’s the worst elements of High School ballooned up to global reach.

I spent my teen years in a small town where everybody knew everybody, and a rumor – true or not – could spread through the halls of my school and the streets surrounding it like a brushfire after a lightning strike.  Now, that rumor can spread across town, across the country and over the world, all aided and abetted by people you don’t even know.  Lately there’s been a rash of cases of high school students and college students committing suicide because some deep dark secret was exposed online; that’s not a sign that kids today are any more cruel and messed up as they were 20 years ago – it’s just proof that we’ve made it that much easier to be cruel and messed up, by making it easy to be reached in case of an emergency.

Kids are not innocents and as adults we tend to forget that, deep in the recesses of our own memories we know just how cruel we could be.  Looking back over my own life, I can recall my less proud moments with surprising ease.  I have been mean to people for no reason other than their reaction.  I’ve been cruel to people who only wanted to be my friends (and thought I was their friend when I really wasn’t).  I have even been cruel to people who wanted to be more than just friends and I regret all of these acts committed by someone who didn’t know better, or knew better and did it anyway.  Maybe that’s the boon that comes with adulthood; we’ve matured to the point we know right from wrong, and know that our actions indeed have consequences.  But we never forget how cruel we can be to each other – it can still be a struggle too, and you needn’t look very far to find people who should know better performing any number of awful acts, then trying to shirk blame entirely and deny it ever happened at all; the “I didn’t do it” exclamation kids use all too often.

Do people change, really?  I recently finished a screenplay that addresses that very question, and the answer is one a lot of people probably won’t like.  Of course they don’t – they adapt and they evolve and they have to, to survive a world that demands it of us.  That’s been the appeal of the MIXTAPE project – what is essentially an Analog story for a Digital age.  The world of 1990 is far away, yet still close enough for those who lived it to see how much has changed, but how people are essentially the same.

Anyway I’ll be saying goodbye for a short spell as I descend upon the New York Comic Con this weekend to meet and neytwork and prompte and shop a bunch of projects, MIXTAPE among them.  Hopefully once the dust is settled I’ll have some news to report on where MIXTAPE is going and when you can expect to see it.

Oh, and if you’re going to NYCC  too, keep a look-out for me; I’ll be the guy not talking on a cell phone.

R.I.P.

Somewhat surprisingly (but not really), in reviewing the first month’s web stats for this website, it turns out that the “non-film” posts have been the most popular, with 15 Albums, X/Y and the lengthy (some would say epic) story of Bossanova, and how it influenced my MIXTAPE graphic novel/comic book project, being the most read.  I want to thank everyone for their visits and feedback, either here or on my Facebook page.  The coming months will hopefully be an interesting stretch, as I hope to be making some big announcements on a variety of projects (fingers crossed).

But keeping with the music theme, one nice effect from the 15 Albums series is in how many people replied in kind with their own lists.  I found these lists fascinating.  It was amazing to see how many lists were similar to mine, and to each other.  Nevermind and Ten were well-represented, along with Ministry, Jane’s Addiction, Mudhoney, The Pixies (natch) and many more from that great era in music.

And, of course, it got me thinking as all things interesting do.

What were the last five albums you listened to, from start to finish, from beginning to end, from front to back, all the way through?  Can you recall that with ease or do you have to dig a little?  Or, can you not recall the last time you listened to a record all the way through?  I admit something like this is easy for me to recall, given that I listen to music when I write, and I write every damn day. A quick perusal of my “Last 25 Songs” in iTunes easily furnishes the answer to my question and the following are the last five I listened to straight through, from yesterday to this morning;

Inspired by its prominence on many of your 15 Albums lists, I realized I hadn’t listened to Ten (and Pearl Jam for that matter) in years.  It’s one of those special albums – those ones that take you back to the first time you heard it.  In my case (and some of you will recognize the setting), would have to be spring 1992, in my 83 Camry, cruising town having just picked it up from the local record shop.  If I close my eyes I can still see the view out the windshield.  The fact that this album, and Nevermind are 19 years old reminds me how long ago this really was.

The White Stripes are great writing music, at least for me.  Much of my novel (details forthcoming) was written to the Stripes (despite taking place in Renaissance Italy).  This is the live album documenting their 2007 tour of Canada, hitting places from Montreal and Toronto to Whitehorse and Iqaluit.  Their renditions of Black Math and Icky Thump are blistering, and it’s a hoot to hear Jack White bellow “Sing with me Yellowknife!”

The YYY’s are one of those safe choices around the house, as they’re a band my wife and I can listen to equally.  She leans more to dance, I lean more to rock and the YYY’s comfortably straddle that line.  They, along with Coldplay and MGMT are among some of our shared favorite bands, though she tolerates The White Stripes and U2 more than I tolerate some of her choices (I’m trying, honey, I’m trying).  I just picked up Show Your Bones, filling in the gap between their crunching Fever to Tell, and their blockbuster It’s Blitz! (which contains my favorite YYY’s song — go on, ask me which one) which explains its inclusion in this list.  Plus it rocks.

I just picked The Suburbs up, so naturally it’s been in heavy rotation.  I really dig it too, given that it truely captures that suburban life I was raised in.  This album has multiple covers – something like eight different ones, and when I purchased the album at Borders, I had to scour the rack until I found the cover that best spoke to my memories of suburbia, and the above image was my pick.  Turns out the music itself was enough to stir those memories from the ether and, if I was 17 today, not 37 (!) it could very well be my Nevermind, my Bossanova, my Achtung Baby

In talking about albums, it’s appropriate that the album I listened to before penning this entry – Horehound by The Dead Weather is one of the few I’ve purchased in MP3 format exclusively.  I’m one of those dinosaurs who still likes to buy the CD (eBay has been great for scoring old and used discs) but when I lucked into an Amazon.com MP3 store credit I used it to purchase this album.  It’s a hard, bluesy, growly, great stuff that’s definitely worth a listen, and it makes me wonder when Jack White finds time to sleep.  I know how he must feel.

So why is this entry titled R.I.P.?

Call it a eulogy for the Album.

I think it’s sad the Album is a dying art form, and believe me it is dying.  In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go away entirely in the coming years.  Now people want the songs they know and skip over the rest.  The reasons MP3s and iTunes have become so successful are because you can just pick and choose what you want, like at a buffet.  But the question remains; how do you know what you’re going to like if you don’t try it out? How do you know what you want if you haven’t heard it?  I can’t be the only one whose favorite song on a particular album is *not* the one that got me to buy it.  My favorite on Nevermind for example is “On a Plain”; my favorite on Ten is “Black”; my favorite on Achtung Baby is “So Cruel” — songs I never would have heard if I only listened to or bought “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Jeremy” or “Mysterious Ways.”  The aforementioned favorite track off It’s Blitz! is not one of its singles and, had I not bought the album, would never have heard the song.

I lament the fact that albums aren’t afforded the respect they deserve, and I miss The Album, and the passions they stirred, just as I miss A Sides and B Sides.  The CD partially killed that, but I always liked the moment when you had to flip the record or cassette, the last song on that particular side lingering in your mind.  Albums were constructed for the break in sides for decades – the “A” side of Nevermind ended with the chilling “Polly”, which lingered in your bones until you flipped the tape and got a supercharged grungy blast from Territorial Pissings.  I think the playlist for those albums benefitted from the break — it’s almost too easy to program a playlist of 50 – 100 songs and just listen to that; at some point it just becomes white noise.  An Album, like the best books and best movies, isn;t meant to be continuous and never-ending.  The ones that lingered — the great stories — are the ones that ended.

So my question to you is this: what were the last 5 Albums you actually listened to the whole way through, from start to finish, as the artists intended you to?   Send me your list, your thoughts and impressions on the albums you listened to most recently, and I’ll post a follow-up with your picks … ‘Because I’m always looking for an album to buy.

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?

This is not a test … this is ROCK AND ROLL!

Okay, so after six months of owning www.BradAbraham.com, I finally have the means to post regular updates to it.

And I’m drawing a blank.

That’s discouraging for someone who makes his living as a writer.

If you’ve surfed on over here, it’s probably because you saw my most recent film Stonehenge Apocalypse and want to give me either a hearty pat on the back, or to spit in my face. That’s right, I’m a screenwriter by trade and take full ownership of the awesomeness that was and is STONEHENGE APOCALYPSE, the SyFy original that premiered in June 2010 to record ratings. Reviews have even been somewhat kind, with Innsmouth Free Press actually singling out my contribution in a positive light, and Dread Central saying it registered “a high magnitude on the Richter scale of ridiculousness.”

There are a share of negative reviews too, but I’ll let you seek them out. All I’ll say is that they’re written by uniformly boring people who lack the sense of humor or self-awareness to realize when something is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek piss take on disaster movies. The types who judge a movie called STONEHENGE APOCALYPSE upon one glance at the title. The types who would give their right arm for the opportunity to write something called STONEHENGE APOCALYPSE and cry bitter tears with each passing day that they realize they only write about movies, since nobody’s lining up to ask them to write one themselves.

Can you tell how much I dig the title STONEHENGE APOCALYPSE? Is the near half dozen mentions of it not enough of a clue?  I’ll detail more background on the project and my involvement with it over the coming months.

So now that I’m unleashed upon the world wide web (estimated time before I somehow manage to destroy it: three days from now), I plan to offer a frank, honest and entertaining look into the life of a screenwriter, the projects I’m working on, the ones that got away, and the ones that escaped despite everyone’s best efforts to subdue them.

There will be profanity.

There will be blood.

There will not be boredom.