Posts Tagged ‘Annie Lennox’

Bob Kevin Culture

Monday, November 7th, 2016

windmill two

Windmill Sky photo by Todd

“There are two kinds of artists left: those who endorse Pepsi and those who simply won’t.” Annie Lennox

For a few weeks this past summer people kept asking me what I thought about Kevin Durant deciding to leave Oklahoma City to come to California and play for the Golden State Warriors, and lately people keep asking me what I think about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. Now that the basketball season has officially begun, the Kevin Durant question has resurfaced, and yesterday two more people asked me what I thought about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize.

I learned a long time ago that a fan’s love of a musician or band or athlete or sports franchise is a form of religious fervor, and I don’t mess with religious fervor. So I dodged the Dylan question by saying tangential things like, “Isn’t it odd they don’t award the Nobel Prize posthumously?” or “They gave Bob a Pulitzer, too.” To the Kevin Durant question, I answered, “The guy can shoot,” and “What a handle, huh?”

But I’ll tell you in the privacy of this article that my initial reaction to Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize was to recall when I was nineteen and driving through Hibbing, Minnesota on a hot muggy summer day, the mosquitoes ferocious, and I thought, ‘I know why Bob moved to California.’

The country I come from is called the Midwest. I was taught and brought up there, the laws to abide, that the land that I live in has God on its side.

My favorite Bob Dylan song is ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.’ I know he’s written hundreds of songs since, but that’s still my favorite. I resonate with every syllable and I love Peter, Paul, and Mary’s version as much as Bob’s, though my favorite rendition is a slow bitter blues take by Eric Clapton recorded at some Dylan celebration twenty years ago. Tore my heart out.

That said, I know almost nothing about Dylan’s music after 1969, and I’m sure Bob would be okay with that, the Bob who wrote ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.’

Over the intervening decades, several men have tried to convince me of Dylan’s ongoing genius. They insisted I listen to Bob’s later albums, with them watching me listen. And these experiences were always torture for me, though I never said so to my torturers because I don’t mess with religious fervor. I try to avoid it, but when I can’t, I feign reverent somnolence.

“There seem to be two causes of the deterioration of the arts: wealth and poverty.” Plato

Also over the last several years, several people have sent me links to advertisements Bob Dylan made for IBM, Victoria’s Secret, Apple, Cadillac, Pepsi, and Chrysler. Some people sent me those commercials because they were outraged Dylan would sell out like that, though they didn’t say what he was selling out. And some people sent me the ads because they thought everything Bob did was fabulous. I did not watch those ads until I started writing this article, and now that I have watched them, I wish I hadn’t.

As for Kevin Durant choosing to leave Oklahoma City and move to California, I’m sure he made that choice for the same reason Bob Dylan changed his name from Zimmerman to Dylan and moved from Hibbing to Malibu—in hope of having a more enjoyable life.

“The poet’s only responsibility is to write fresh lines.” Charles Olson

Now that’s an interesting and noble-sounding idea, but pragmatically nonsensical. It reminds me of the Peanuts cartoon dozens of people sent me before I managed to publish my first novel. Snoopy is sitting at his typewriter on top of his doghouse writing a letter to a publisher. “Dear Sirs, I have just completed my new novel. It is so good, you will just have to come get it.”

Snoopy is elucidating every artist’s dream—to be recognized and rewarded for our creations simply because we created them. But the truth is, our ships can’t come in, so to speak, unless we send our ships out. Artists must take their wares to market or no one will ever know about them. And to succeed in a big way as a musician or artist or writer in America, the artist must convince those who control the avenues of distribution and exposure to give them access to large audiences; and once initial access has been gained, the artist must continue to convince those in power to give them such access.

Though they work in different sectors of the entertainment industry, Kevin Durant and Bob Dylan are both savvy business people adept at sustaining and improving the value of their brands. Kevin Durant’s salary for playing basketball is twenty to thirty million dollars a year, but the Kevin Durant brand makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year from shoe sales and jersey sales and endorsements and advertisements. And the same is true of Bob Dylan. Making a Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler was good for his brand, and so is winning the Nobel Prize.

“Though he played so sweet and high, they knew he had never been on their TV so they passed his music by.” Joni Mitchell

When I was thirteen I bought Harry Belafonte’s new album Midnight Special. On that album, a young guy named Bob Dylan plays a harmonica solo. Midnight Special came out right before Dylan released his first album, and Bob’s harmonica playing on Harry’s album is reputedly Bob’s first official professional recording.

Until that Belafonte album was stolen from me in 1980, whenever I found a fervent Dylan fan had made his or her way into my house, I would bring out the Belafonte, lower the needle on Bob’s solo, and watch the true believer listen in reverent awe.

Celebrity Saviors

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

magician

Mr. Magician painting by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2013)

Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin of the influential Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in England say many of the solutions proposed by world leaders to prevent “runaway global warming” will not be enough to address the scale of the crisis. They have called for “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the United States, EU and other wealthy nations.” Democracy Now

You may have heard that Russell Brand, the British comedian and movie star and ex-husband of pop diva Katy Perry, has made quite a splash of late talking about bringing down the current earth-killing systems of government and finance and replacing them with truly democratic socialist systems that serve all the people and stop killing the earth instead of only serving the bloody hell psychotic super rich. Russell isn’t saying anything new, but he speaks well, debates well, and has a lovable fearlessness and charisma that attracts the attention of thousands of previously disinterested people.

Also recently, Angelina Jolie, the mega-famous movie star and wife of mega-famous movie star Brad Pitt, received a humanitarian award from the same folks who hand out Oscars, and she made an eloquent acceptance speech in which she said that there but for fortune she might have been trapped in a refugee camp with little hope of having a good life, and she was determined to continue to work as hard as she can to help those less fortunate than she.

Simultaneously with Russell and Angelina broaching these subjects so rarely broached by super-famous celebrities, I happened to read the transcript of the show on Democracy Now from which I took this article’s opening quote, and I thought, “What if Amy Goodman interviewed Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks and they spoke the identical words spoken by these two scientists no one has ever heard of? What kind of an impact would that have on the world?” These scientists are talking about living lives of what many people in America and Europe would consider extreme material simplicity: no more traveling by air, minimal use of automobiles, getting around by bicycling, walking and using public transportation, radically reducing energy consumption in the home, not buying imported food, shopping locally, and so forth.

Then I had an epiphany that goes something like this: since hundreds of millions (and possibly billions) of people around the world care more about what celebrities do and think than they care about anyone or anything else, what if Katy Perry and Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber and Madonna and Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Lawrence and Lady Gaga and all the world’s most famous celebrities could be convinced to live lives of material simplicity in order to slow and eventually reverse the destruction of the biosphere?

Impossible? I don’t think so, especially if we, the people, can convince a few key super stars to make the change, and in so doing make material simplicity seem exciting and sexy, which it is, for then other celebrities will follow suit in order to, you know, be among the coolest of the cool.

“There are two kinds of artists left: those who endorse Pepsi and those who simply won’t.” Annie Lennox

While watching sports highlights on my computer, I saw a thirty-second advertisement for shoes or shaving cream, I can’t remember which, that features a mega-famous basketball player going to exclusive parties and driving a million-dollar car and being swamped by fans and living in a mansion and buying diamonds and consorting with gorgeous women. As we watch the footage of the superstar’s high life, we hear the voice of the mega-famous player we’re watching say, “If they took away the parties, the hot cars, the fans, the money, the high life, what would be left?” Now we see this superstar jumping incredibly high and making a fantastic shot as he answers his own question with, “Everything.”

And I took this to mean that this superstar, worshipped by millions of young men and women, cares more about basketball than he cares about all those glitzy, greenhouse gas spewing, meaningless wastes of life and time, which means he is the perfect candidate for assuming a life of material simplicity and modeling earth-saving ways of living for his followers. Okay!

“90 companies on the list of top emitters produced 63% of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane, and all but seven of the 90 were energy companies producing oil, gas and coal. The remaining seven were cement manufacturers.” Jon Queally

That’s right. Two-third of all the greenhouse gases emitted on earth in the last two hundred and fifty years were emitted by ninety companies producing oil, gas, coal, and cement, and most of the remaining greenhouse gas emissions came from people using that oil, gas, coal, and cement. Thus the solution is clear: we have to stop using so much oil, gas, coal and cement.

According to Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the average American is responsible for producing approximately eight (8) tons of greenhouse gas per year. Furthermore, 1.5 billion people in China are catching up to Americans with a per-person average of five (5) tons per year, with 1.5 billion folks in India gaining fast on the people of China in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Kevin and Alice estimate that we must quickly reduce the global per-person yearly average to two (2) tons of greenhouse gas emissions to have any hope of the planet being habitable a few decades hence. They also remind us that the average per-person tonnage is brought way up by the wealthiest people on earth who do lots of flying around in jets, living in huge energy-gobbling homes, driving too many gas-guzzling cars, and buying lots of things they don’t need brought to them from many thousands of miles away.

“On personal integrity hangs humanity’s fate.” Buckminster Fuller

So…you check your email. A friend sent you a link. You click on the link and are taken to a headline JUSTIN BEIBER JOINS CO-HOUSING COMMUNITY. The accompanying article reports: “Following a celebratory tweet to his eight hundred million devoted followers, the Beibster rode his bicycle towing the small trailer holding all his worldly possessions to his one-bedroom apartment in the zero emissions and totally self-sustaining co-housing community of High Hopes in Townsend, New Jersey, his ultra-groovy pad to be shared with the Beibster’s awesomely cute wife Gretchen, also known as She (Accordion).

“I’m totally digging working in our big organic garden and teaching guitar at the local community school,” said the Beibster who will be traveling by tramp steamer with Gretchen to Europe next month for their acoustic bicycle tour touting his new album Light As A Feather, featuring his global hit Cleaning Up My Act. “When we get home from Europe, we’ll hang here at High Hopes for a few months and then go gigging by train.”

In the afternoon, you turn on the radio to catch your favorite Eco-Revolution show Get Natural with hosts Tina Fey and Russell Brand, coming to you live from the straw bale solar community center of Quail Run Cooperative Farm a few miles from downtown San Luis Obispo. Tina and Russell, co-founders of Quail Run, have as their special guest today the famous director James Cameron talking about his latest 3-D comedy thriller Turning Down The Heat starring Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington, Hugh Jackman, Beyonce, and Adam Sandler as improvisational ecological innovators sent into the way-too-hot center of North America to befriend the desperate people living there and implement zany innovative ways to speed up the reversal of global warming.

What makes Get Natural such a great show is the way Tina and Russell mix movie talk and celebrity gossip with tips on canning, fermentation, compost, communal living, and the new Slow Travel movement. Jennifer Lawrence calls midway through the show to talk about some new tricks she learned while making her latest batch of goat cheese and how much she enjoyed her three-week walk to Florida from her upstate New York intentional simplicity commune to shoot the seventh and final movie in the Hunger Games series, Hungry No More.

“I was exhausted after four weeks of filming,” said Jennifer, “so I took the quantum gravity zero-emissions train home. We had a stop in Raleigh, North Carolina, so the trip took almost an hour instead of the usual thirty minutes, but we produced far more energy than we consumed en route.”

There are still a few celebrities and a few dimwitted fans who have not yet made the shift, but that can’t last now that all the corporations are making such huge profits from their clever de-growth de-hedge fund strategies, and with the fines for profligate energy use so exorbitant. Yes, we’re faced with the problem of what to do with so much wealth and freedom and opportunity to be shared by everyone, but we’ll have to tackle that challenge with the same strength and conviction we brought to convincing our beloved celebrities to change their ways.

How did we do that? How quickly we forget. Let’s see, I know thousands of us barraged our favorite celebrities with persuasive informative heartfelt letters, instead of wasting our time writing to our pea-brained congressional representatives, but I can’t quite recall how we got those celebrities to realize that lip service and driving electric cars wasn’t enough.

Oh, yes, now I remember the turning point, when Brad and Angelina walked from Los Angeles to New Orleans, and hundreds of thousands of people and dozens of super-famous people joined them along the way, and how they gathered in the Super Dome to announce to the world that henceforth they would get around without flying and without the use of automobiles, and they would be assuming lives of material minimalism. Yeah, that was huge, that was when the tide began to turn.

Cautionary Tales

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

Photo of Molly by Marcia Sloane

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser July 2012)

“My stories run up and bite me on the leg, and I respond by writing down everything that goes on during the bite. When I finish, the idea lets go and runs off.” Ray Bradbury

Before the advent of personal computers, CDs, digital cameras, digital recordings, the interweb, cell phones, e-books, cyber pads and downloadable everything, long before Amazon and Google and Microsoft, when manuscripts were still typed on typewriters and editing was not instantaneous (which may have been a good thing) I met a man, a writer, who told me a cautionary tale I will never forget.

I was in my early twenties and hoping to become a successful writer and musician, though at the time I had yet to sell a story and was making peanuts playing my music in the bars and café’s of Santa Cruz, California. A friend of mine showed the writer one of my short stories, and when the writer finished reading my youthful creation, he told my friend he wanted to meet me. And so on a foggy August morning I hitchhiked from Santa Cruz to the writer’s fabulous home just south of Carmel, hoping the writer might open a door or two for me on my way to fame and fortune.

Living with the writer in their fabulous stone house perched above the Pacific, just a few doors down from where Henry Miller lived, were the writer’s exuberant wife and two willowy teenaged daughters, a third daughter off to college, the fourth and eldest daughter living in Los Angeles where she worked as an assistant to a television producer.

The writer, however, was not exuberant. He was, in fact, deeply depressed and dying of despair. “I’m fifty-one,” he grumbled, leading me from the sunny kitchen to his dark little den. “How old did you think I was when you saw me? Be honest. Seventy, right? I might as well be.”

A portly fellow with terrible posture and wispy white hair, his outfit a crumpled blue suit and a drab gray tie, the writer dropped heavily onto a little gray sofa and gestured for me to sit opposite him in a well-worn leather armchair, my view of the ocean negated by heavy brown curtains.

“Why do I wear a suit?” he asked, giving voice to one of my questions. “Dignity. A feeble attempt.”

“So…” I said, curious to know why he had summoned me. “I appreciate…”

“Your story is rough.” He coughed and cleared his throat. “I’m being kind. It’s barely a sketch. Ever heard of depth? What’s the hurry? Description? Beware generalities. What are you reading? Faulkner? Chekhov? Steinbeck? Never mind. There was something there. A spark. I was interested. You got me hooked somehow. The pace? I don’t know. But then you let me down. You call that an ending? I know it’s all the rage now to just stop, but…” He shrugged. “Still…you have a unique voice. There was a real person telling the story. That’s rare.”

Before I could muster a reply, he went on.

“You know what I’m about to do?” He nodded, shook his head, and nodded again. “Spend fifty thousand dollars to publish my own fucking novel. Is that pathetic? Yes. Do I care? Yes. I hate that I have to do it myself, but I have no choice. New York spits on me.” He gave me a baleful look. “I’ve written eleven novels. Good novels. Seventy short stories. As good as anything they publish in the fucking New Yorker. Never sold anything. Thirty years. Nothing.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, confused by his revelation, my friend having told me the writer was fantastically successful.

“So where did I get the money to buy this house?” He lit a cigarette and immediately stubbed it out. “Money for this life of luxury? Money to send my girls to the best schools? No, my wife is not an heiress. No, I didn’t inherit a thing. I did what I did because we had four little kids and no money and no future and my wife was about to leave me because I wouldn’t take a job, wouldn’t give up my dream of selling a novel and having my book reviewed in the New York Times. That’s all I ever wanted. And I’m telling you, what I did was the death of me.”

“I’m very sorry,” I said, battered by his anger, “but I don’t know what you did. I don’t know anything about you except that my friend said you were a successful writer and wanted to talk to me.”

“I’m gonna publish my own fucking book,” he said, closing his eyes. “I don’t care what anybody says. I don’t care if they think it’s an admission of failure. Fuck them. Fuck everybody. I earned it. I paid with my fucking life.”

“Well…Charles Dickens self-published A Christmas Carol,” I said, wanting to assure the writer he was in good company. “Twain self-published…”

“How did I get my money?” he roared, pounding the sofa with his fist. “I sold an idea for a television show. An idea. Not a script, not a story. An idea. A sentence. And after the show was a hit, I wrote scripts for the fucking thing and they didn’t want them. For the show I invented.”

“How…”

“My wife knew this guy…we were living in a dump in San Jose. I’m talking rats and roaches and wreckage. Four kids. No money. Any day now I’ll sell a novel. Right? Wrong. So her old flame comes to visit and he’s horrified by how poor we are. Wants to help. Buys us a shitload of food, fills the fucking refrigerator to save his sweetheart, and we get blind drunk and he picks my brain. We stayed up half the night and made a long list of ideas. I’m not even sure I came up with the one he sold.”

“How…”

“His wife’s brother was a big shot Hollywood agent. The thing ran for nine seasons. Reruns forever. And the money has only just now stopped coming in, seventeen years after he sold the stupid thing. But I’m still gonna publish my novel.”

“Beatrix Potter self-published…”

“Killed me,” he said, bowing his head. “Never wrote anything good ever again. And you know what I do now, day and night, year after year?”

“What?”

“Try to think of another idea I can sell for another fucking television show.”

 “There are two kinds of artists left: those who endorse Pepsi and those who simply won’t.” Annie Lennox

When I was in my early thirties, my literary star having barely lifted off the horizon before it began to sink, I was twice hired to read screenplays before they were turned into expensive motion pictures, and to make suggestions about how the stories might be improved. In each case, I caught an early morning flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles, spent a couple hours listening to the director talk about his movie, had lunch with my Hollywood agent, and then flew back to Sacramento with the script.

One of the movies was a bloody saga set in Brazil, the other a bloody multiple murder mystery set in Los Angeles. In my opinion, both screenplays were so badly written and so poorly conceived, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to film them, yet they both were filmed at enormous cost, one never released and the other loosed upon a few theaters for a few days before fading into oblivion.

I never saw either movie, but I did propose many changes to each screenplay, changes I thought would make them both better than bad. In the case of the multiple murder mystery, the director dismissed my ideas as ridiculous. I suggested there only be one murder, with the private lives of the two detectives given greater prominence, their human comedies juxtaposed with the tragedy of murder.

“But the whole point is escalating violence,” said the director, yelling at me over the phone. “I thought I made that perfectly clear. Violence is the main character. I didn’t ask you for new ideas, I wanted my ideas improved.”

In the case of the bloody Brazilian saga, I made a second trip to Los Angeles to discuss my thoughts face-to-face with the furious director. “You want me to take out most of the violence?” he asked, glaring at me. “This isn’t a character study, it’s a chase. A bloody fucking chase. And you think the boys shouldn’t die at the end? But they have to die. That’s the whole point.”

“They escape,” I said, seeing the boys escaping from their murderous pursuers. “So the movie ends with hope.”

“But there is no hope,” said the director, deeply dismayed. “That’s the whole fucking point. No hope.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, shrugging apologetically. “It was just an idea.”

“Well,” he said, frowning at me, “I’ll consider it.”

But in the end he went ahead and killed the boys.