Friday, August 23, 2013

80's Buddy Pictures

We here at thunderstrokes are big believers in the four R's: recycling, reducing, reusing, and repurposing.

As proof, today we are offering a collection of repurposed pictures featuring recycled celebrities, reusing a traditional comedic device known as inappropriate photo captioning, the results of which have been reduced in scale from monumentally hilarious to merely silly.

The following gallery of celebrity buddy photos all hail from the era of Reagan, Frogger, and Gilbert Gottfried, and were borrowed without permission from The Huffington Post, which really wasn't doing anything with them anyway.

So, here you go, a little feature we're calling...Celebr80's

#1:  Betty White and Charlie Sheen
Charlie (to himself):  Betty has no idea what she's in for tonight...
Betty (to herself):  The hell I don't.                                                    

Monday, August 5, 2013

Bullitt Slug Bug

Remember when you were a kid, and you used to play Slug Bug?  You’d be going somewhere in the family car, and you and your siblings or friends would be watching the road like hawks from the back seat.  As soon as you saw a Volkswagen Beetle, you’d lean back and WHAM! let your neighbor have it by punching them in the arm, shoulder, ribs, neck, or wherever you thought you could inflict the most damage (aside from the obvious).  In our family’s version of Slug Bug, if the person made a sound while being hit, you got to hit them again.  I don’t know how many times we’d start a game of Slug Bug, and some time later I would find myself waking up in the waiting room of the local hospital.  Man, little sisters can be vicious.

I don’t know why, but for some reason Slug Bug only worked when you were in a car.  Inside a car, belting someone for being the first to see a Beetle was fine; outside a car, it was considered assault and battery.  I think even the hospital workers understood this.  When they found out that I had been beaten unconscious in the back seat during a game of Slug Bug, they’d just nod knowingly and tear up the child abuse reporting form they were filling out.

Remember how prolific the VW Bug used to be?  Yet, despite the German zest for the, shall we say…autocratic, they were never considered the king of the road.  Despite their lineage, Beetles just weren’t big enough, intimidating enough, or all-around serious enough for that.  No, the Beetle was all about mob rule, but of a decidedly friendly sort.  As a kid, peering out the car window at a cluster of Beetles surrounding you was like being licked to death by a dog; that is, provided there was no one wailing on you mercilessly at the time. 

In 1977 Volkswagen stopped selling Beetles in the U.S., and I think the game of Slug Bug gradually went dormant as the vehicles that once swarmed America’s streets, parking lots, and highways slowly dwindled.  Or maybe I just grew out of it.  Hard to know for sure.

Of course, Volkswagen revived the Beetle in the late 90’s, and several years ago, my daughter introduced me to a game she learned from some of her school friends called Buggy Punch.  She patiently explained the rules in the car one day, after suddenly exclaiming “Buggy Punch!” and hitting me on the back of my head.  I listened as though it were all new to me, while simultaneously fighting off panic-filled flashbacks to my childhood.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lola Versus

The two-line TV onscreen description summarized the film something like this:  a twenty-nine year-old woman gets dumped three weeks before her wedding and then struggles to find love and happiness.  I didn’t watch the film because of the blurb.  I watched because of the title. 

Now that I’ve watched, I’m depressed.     

Lola Versus happens to be the first two words from the title of one of my favorite all-time albums, Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-go-round, Part One, from my all-time favorite band, The Kinks.  I would call it an iconic album, but the fact that so few people seem aware of its importance (existence?) kind of argues against the useful definition of the term. 

My love for The Kinks is such that even the merest suggestion of something connected to them brings me running.  My loyalty to The Kinks means I sometimes end up enduring things I wouldn’t otherwise endure.

Remember the movie Club Paradise?  Of course you don’t; no one does.  It came out in 1986, and starred Robin Williams, Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy, Jimmy Cliff, and, if you can believe it, Peter O’Toole.  In the commercials for the film, they used the Kinks’ song “Apeman,” also from the album Lola Versus Powerman etc., etc.  That was enough for me.  Elizabeth and I went to see it the summer we started dating.     

Club Paradise put me in a difficult spot.  For years afterward I defended the film, insisting that it was “okay,” or “so-so.”  But it wasn’t.  It was dreadful.  Only I couldn’t bring myself to admit it, because they had been kind enough to feature “Apeman” prominently in the film.  With my twisted sense of fealty, I felt like I owed Club Paradise something because they had publicly acknowledged the greatness of my favorite band.

Here's the trailer for Club Paradise: (go ahead; it's worth it just to see Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy dressed in their 80's dweebish best)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Twerking Hitler

You may have seen the secret photo session pictures released this week of Hitler shortly after his release from prison (Mein Kampf, anyone?) in 1925, according to this story in The Huffington Post.

After seeing the photos, I'm kind of relieved that he was using that time to perfect his Angry Aryan impersonation. I was really worried they'd turn out to be boudoir shots. 

At any rate, as I was scanning through the photos, I couldn't help thinking about how silly he looked in them, practicing these exaggerated, almost vaudevillian poses.  I blame Mel Brooks for my failure to be properly impressed; he pretty much single-handedly destroyed any chance for me of taking Adolf seriously.  Don't get me wrong; I completely understand what a dangerous, hate-mongering fascist he was, and how much power and appeal his ideas continue to have amongst the feeble-minded and helplessly fear-mad in our world.  It's just that after you've seen The Producers and laughed uncontrollably throughout "Springtime for Hitler," and watched Dick Shawn's character, LSD (Lorenzo St. DuBois, if you must), brilliantly deflate Der Fuhrer without even realizing it, there's only so much respect you can hope to muster for a man who insisted on wearing a toothbrush moustache.   

As I scrolled through the pictures, one after another I had these completely ridiculous and equally incongruous captions pop into my head, imagining the things Hitler might be saying or thinking.   

Critics may accuse me of beating a dead horse, but I know better.  This horse isn't dead, really; it's more like undead, and as the current popularity of zombies extensively illustrates, there are no limitations on the type or frequency of beatings that can be visited upon the undead...

In that spirit, then, I humbly offer the following:

"This twerking thing is harder than it looks..."

Friday, June 14, 2013

Love, If

For those of you out there seeking answers, may I suggest that there are answers, or rather, an answer.   


Jesus said it, Shakespeare set rhyme to it, Einstein deduced it, the Beatles sang it, Robert Indiana sculpted it, Dr. King and Gandhi and Mother Teresa fought for it; yet, despite these illustrious and accomplished proponents, each one of us must discover for ourselves that it is the truth, and the answer to everything.

Be advised, however, that knowing the answer is not the same as getting the answer, and knowing only marks your starting point on a new road, not an endpoint.   If you’re like me, what will happen next is that you will realize how perfectly terrible you are at it, and how far you actually are from your destination. 

It will probably shock you to know. 

On the other hand, if you’re like me, you’ll be thrilled to have found the road at all.

Anyway, here’s where I am now on that road, in exactly fourteen lines…

Monday, June 10, 2013

Meeting with The Boss, A Springsteen Odyssey - Song 4 (and a birthday card)

A Springsteen Odyssey is an ambitious effort to tell the story of one Springsteen concert, from one fan's perspective.  What makes it ambitious is that it is twenty-six parts long, one part for each song played by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band that night, with each song helping to tell one part of the story.  Taken as a whole, they provide a comprehensive picture of a fan's relationship to an artist and his music, but each part also stands completely on its own.  This is part 4 of 26.  You can read part 1 here.

Let’s see, where were we?

I believe we were on our way up at the end of song three.  A quick check of the previous post, and yes, that’s exactly where we were.

All of us in the audience, it seemed, had been caught up in the spontaneous, swelling exuberance of I’m a Rocker.  Coming as it did after a slow start, and a disappointing one for me, the relief I was feeling at that moment was indescribable.

Well, perhaps not completely indescribable.

I used to have an old pick-up truck with a clutch that was nearly worn out.  It became progressively harder to get going in the morning, and one day I couldn’t seem to get the truck into gear at all.  I was sitting there, the engine idling, gears spinning incoherently, mashing the stick into the flywheel over and over, and it seemed like no matter how many times I tried, it just wouldn’t catch.  I found myself suddenly wondering if this is it, if my old truck’s finally had it, and what will I do now.  But then the clutch somehow magically did engage.  I could feel the harness slipping once again over the flailing beast of a motor, futile energy channeled into useful power one more time.  I set off for work, sighing with relief, happier in that moment than I ever would have been had the darn truck been working perfectly all along.

It felt something like that. 

I’m guessing that Springsteen felt it too, knew that he had things moving in the right direction, and understood, with a veteran performer’s canniness, not to let the surge falter.  That might be why, while Max Weinberg was still busy splashing around on the cymbals during the song’s finale, The Boss began counting out “One..two..,” forcing Weinberg to rapidly alter direction in mid-splash.  Even so, he was able to pick up the count before Springsteen could get to ‘three,’ and belted out five big, staccato beats.  Then he held up momentarily, letting silence fill the next two counts, creating an instant, electric anticipation in the crowd, like the one that comes during a fireworks display, each time there’s that long, expectant moment of silence between the fizzle of the rocket’s fire-trail and the booming blossom of color in the sky. 

In this case, though, the pause was broken by a prancing piano jangle synchronized to the deep Bahm..Bahm, bah-bah-Bahm..Bahm, of the saxophone.  Recognition flashed through the arena, and the audience roared out in spontaneous reaction.    

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ray Harryhausen remembered

Let’s take a few moments to mark the passing of Ray Harryhausen, the master of stop-motion animation, who died on May 7th at the age of 92.  Ray was best known for creating movie monsters.  Not the kind that could be played by a guy in a rubber suit with a face buried under twelve layers of spirit gum, but mythical, sometimes grotesque, sometimes majestic, largely nonhuman ones.  

To do this he created highly detailed miniature models, which he would pose and then photograph one frame at a time, twenty-four different times in order to produce one second of film.  If my math is correct (always a dicey proposition), a five-minute scene would require somewhere on the order of 7,200 separate ‘shots,’ with each shot usually requiring multiple minute adjustments to the model (or models). 

And somehow, the man lived to be 92.  He must have possessed the patience of Job, along with the gumption of a sea barnacle.

The resulting animation was then typically incorporated as seamlessly as possible into the live action of the film, so that it appeared that some gargantuan reptile or sea monster was sharing the screen with Jason and the Argonauts, or battling Sinbad and his crew, or conquering San Francisco, or stomping on Rome, or whatever the case may be. 

If you go back and look at his work, what becomes obvious is his attention to detail and stubborn commitment to producing the best results possible.  This wasn’t the kind of guy who was content to glue bits of latex to a lizard and call it a Dimetrodon. 
Emphatically not an example of Ray Harryhausen's skill

Yet, although I’ve always had great respect for Harryhausen’s work, I can’t say I’ve always been a huge fan of it.  I think that’s due to timing more than anything.  My first movie experience was Star Wars, and the problem with that is the film’s special effects were so spectacularly effective that it rendered the inherently unbelievable perfectly believable (at least to my nine-year-old mind).  Star Wars created an artificial reality so unhindered by the obvious presence of a magician’s hand that my imagination was completely immersed into it, and the resulting experience was absolutely thrilling.  Once that happened, once I had the realization that such a thing was even possible, well, there was no going back, no settling for less. 

And, unfortunately, Ray’s stop-motion animation, while it was performed at the highest possible level, could never quite clear that final barrier to believability.  His creations, as careful and nuanced and detailed as they were, always struck me as what might happen if Dr. Frankenstein, after his first giddy taste of success, went on a resurrection spree and brought an entire menagerie of prehistoric monsters and mythical beasts back to life.  Plodding, stone-footed cadences; each creature a staircase series of frozen motions, the perpetually nagging sense of knowing that you were watching an inanimate object imitating a living thing; those are the unfortunate constraints placed on Ray’s work. 

None of which was really his fault, though; he was simply bumping up against the ceiling of the technology that existed at the time.  To his tremendous credit, he pushed the process of stop-motion to its absolute limits, and extracted from it a certain kind of effectiveness which no one else could quite match as successfully. 

Besides, anyone with an understanding of the tedious, precise, unforgiving nature of the work involved in model animation (setting aside the vast array of additional problems introduced by blending animation with live action) has to admire what he was able to accomplish.  I acquired my keen sense of appreciation by making several stop-motion films as a kid.  With Rob, my friend and partner in crime, we learned two great lessons from these experiences.  One was that making stop-motion movies was easy; the second was that making stop-motion movies that weren’t hopelessly cheesy was next to impossible. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Adventures of Hercules Mendoza: Tease #1

So, everybody who reads thunderstrokes knows that I’m working on a novel based on Greek mythology.  The Adventures of Hercules Mendoza is a reimagining of the classic story of Hercules and the Twelve Labors.   Except in this version, Hercules is a fourteen-year-old (almost fifteen) Mexican-American boy who lives in the rather nondescript Southern California town of El Cajon, a suburb of San Diego.  His father has recently remarried, some three years after the death of Les’ mother (by the way, he prefers that you call him Les and not Hercules; you’ll understand why when you meet him), and the arrival of this strange new woman changes everything for the worse.  His father seems different, and their relationship is growing more difficult and confrontational day by day.  Furthermore, Les is convinced that this new woman does not like him, even though she pretends artfully enough whenever his father is around.  He has the distinct feeling that she would prefer he were somewhere – anywhere – else.  Naturally, he can’t stand her. 

El Cajon, if you don’t mind me deviating briefly, is Spanish for ‘the box.’ If you’ve ever been in El Cajon (perhaps passing through on the way to San Diego, like most of us half-baked Arizonans), you may have noticed that the town is hemmed in by hills and mountains on three sides, thus the name El Cajon.  However, the idea of boxes, and being boxed in, and how to break out of the boxes we occasionally find ourselves in, or put ourselves in, happens to be a central theme in the novel.  Purely serendipitous choice of location, as it turns out.    

By now you may be beginning to wonder where the Greek mythology comes in, as the story seems to concern itself primarily with the adolescent angst of young Les Mendoza.  Well, hang on now; don’t get your chiton in a twist.  Even though the story is set in contemporary, post-9/11 America, Greek mythology does play a powerful role in the book, exerting an undeterred influence on everything that happens to our pobrecito protagonist.  As if he didn’t have enough worries to keep him going, Les finds himself transported one day to a bizarre and barren realm, where he subsequently learns he has been given the opportunity (read:  he has no choice at all in the matter) to attempt the same daunting feats once accomplished by the great Greek hero himself.   

If only Les had been paying attention to all those stories about heroic Hercules that his aunt Lucinda liked to tell, and that he despised so much.

Well, what you don’t know can’t hurt you, right?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Good Humor Divides Scottsdale

Alright, I already told you mine (see above), now you choose your preferred headline for today’s post:

Scottsdale Ends Ice Cream Freeze-out!
Kid Knocks Council Out Cold!
Teen Licks City Hall, Claims ‘Tastes like Maple Walnut’

The headlines may be fictional, but the inspiration for them isn’t, as our neighbors over in Scottsdale can attest.  

You might say it has churned up some controversy.    

Alright, forget about the bad puns.  The fuss has to do with the Scottsdale city council’s decision to allow ice cream trucks, which had been banned by the city since the seventies, to once again ply their wares on residential streets.  Children all over the city broke into spontaneous rejoicing at the announcement, although many of them didn’t know exactly what they were cheering for, having grown up without the merry, jingling vehicles that tend to pass by their houses just in time to ruin their appetite for dinner, but were instead cheering the general concept of ice cream, and expressing their enthusiastic approbation for anything that might make it easier to get some.* 

*For all those poor, deprived kids in Scottsdale, I have provided a link to the Wikipedia page for ‘ice cream truck,’ which gives a comprehensive description of the vehicle as well as a general overview of the service the operators provide.

Who is it that all those children, not to mention all those other people who are just too lazy to drive to the corner to buy their Choco-Tacos, have to thank for this remarkable reversal of fortune?  The unlikely hero (or villain, depending) is an 18-year-old high school senior by the even unlikelier name of Leo Blavins.  Almost two years ago, Mr. Blavins bought an ice cream truck for the purpose of starting a business, only to discover that the reason he thought it was such a good business opportunity – namely, the conspicuous lack of ice creams trucks in the area – was not due to some oversight on the part of hapless fellow entrepreneurs, but because the practice had been prohibited by city ordinance long before he was born.  While most of us, especially at the tender age of sixteen, would have frozen up in the face of such obvious futility and focused instead on turning our ice cream trucks into supreme-mega-ultra party vans in time for prom, Mr. Blavins chose to challenge the status quo.  It only took eighteen months, but last week’s announcement means he will at last be allowed to realize his greatest dream, which, if it were me, would be to drive up to the steps of city hall in said ice cream truck, hand out complimentary fudge pops to the recalcitrant members of the city government, and tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine. 

But, perhaps Mr. Blavins isn’t as vindictive as I am.

That’s why they have to be fudge pops.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Polishing our Wings

By all accounts, Wings was a huge success when it opened in 1927.  The silent film set during WWI wowed audiences and critics alike, and went on to garner the first Academy Award for Best Picture, the only silent film to win until 2012’s The Artist.

*The Artist is a silent film, despite that one scene at the end, and no matter what purists and nitpickers have to say about it.  

With that kind of success, you would think more people would be familiar with it, and that it would have some sort of lasting legacy.  But something happened to Wings over the last eight decades.  It’s gotten lost.  These days, it rarely shows up on anyone’s list of great movies, and doesn’t seem to rate much discussion even amongst hardcore fans of silent films (now there’s a group you don’t want to run into in a dark alley).   

I used to pore over the lists of Oscar-winning movies, looking at the titles and imagining what they were about.  As a thirteen-year-old kid, I set a goal to learn about and see every movie that won the Best Picture Oscar, a goal that would officially be declared dead only in 1998, when The Great Atrocity occurred, and the Academy awarded Best Picture to Shakespeare in Love over both Saving Private Ryan and Life is Beautiful.  But Wings was always an enigma.  The books about the movie industry and filmmaking that I got from the library offered little enlightenment, other than mentioning its historic role as winner of the first Oscar for Best Picture.  Duh.  In college I took some film analysis classes, but Wings was not one of the movies we dissected, or even obliquely discussed.  It was as though the film was no more than vapor, a see-through ghost, a spirit that everyone seemed to know was there but that no one seemed particularly inspired to acknowledge.   

A pretty sad thing to be, if you’re a movie that was once loved, I would think. 

Fortunately, Paramount Pictures released a fully restored version of the film in commemoration of its 100th year as a film studio last year.  And TCM, serendipitously for me, included it in their annual “31 Days of Oscar” movie cavalcade in February, finally affording me the opportunity to see this elusive film. 

Thank you, TCM.  My life-debt to you is increased yet again.  I know I’m late on my payments.  Please don’t refer me to the life-debt collection agency, and please don’t send someone to repossess me.  My wife would be so disappointed to come home one day and discover I’ve been repossessed.

Anyway, here’s the thumbnail sketch of the movie:

It starts with two young men who are rivals for the affections of the same girl.  Jack (Buddy Rogers) is clever, daring and poor, while Dave (Richard Arlen) is reserved, smoldering and rich.  I’ll leave it to your imagination to decide whom Sylvia (Jobyna Ralston) prefers.   Meanwhile, Mary (Clara Bow) is totally enamored with Jack.  Beyond their petty little problems, however, World War I is raging, and although these youthful dreamers don’t know it yet, America is just about to send four million lover-boys into no-man’s land.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Meeting with The Boss, A Springsteen Odyssey: Song Three

A Springsteen Odyssey is an ambitious effort to tell the story of one Springsteen concert, from one fan's perspective.  What makes it ambitious is that it is twenty-six parts long, one part for each song played by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band that night, with each song helping to tell one part of the story.  Taken as a whole, they provide a comprehensive picture of a fan's relationship to an artist and his music, but each part also stands completely on its own.  This is part 3 of 26. 

The concert’s third song began like a rallying cry rising from the chaos of a battle that was almost lost as soon as it began.  Just moments before, I was growing despondent, trying to fend off the feeling that coming to this show might have been a serious mistake, that after only two songs, we might be talking unmitigated disaster. 

My reasons?

First of all, Springsteen and the band were nearly an hour late getting to the stage.  The first thirty minutes or so of the delay were forgivably annoying, and could have easily been put behind us.  But once that time lapsed and there was still no sign or word concerning the imminent arrival of the show, it became harder and harder not to take it as a personal insult directed specifically at us.  See, I had waited a tremendously long time for Elizabeth to recover emotionally from our previous, massively disappointing Springsteen concert experience (massively disappointing for her anyway; for me it was very mildly underwhelming).  Only now, after nineteen years of complete separation, was she ready to attempt a reconciliation, and make a tentative effort to mend our concert relationship with The Boss.  But as the delay dragged on and on, it was as though our good-faith overtures were being intentionally rebuffed.  It got to the point that each minute that passed inspired increasingly ugly and nasty thoughts, as often happens when a person’s gracious gestures are ignored or met with silent repudiation.

When Springsteen finally did step out on stage, it was with a few mumbled words (you call that an apology, mister?) and an acoustic guitar.  He began by playing an uncharacteristically quiet, almost solemn little tune called Surprise, Surprise.  It wasn’t a bad song, just unexpected, and while I can’t say that it added to the negative momentum already set in motion, it didn’t do much to reverse it, either.

Lastly – and this was the one that had me worried – was the pure sense of detachment I experienced during the concert’s second song, No Surrender. I was caught completely by surprise by my own hardened indifference, all the more mystifying because the vaunted E-Street Band had just joined in.  The performance itself sounded a little slow and kind of plodding, as though the band was a little subdued, or groggy for some unimaginable reason.  But the real problem, I realized later, was that my connection to the song had been broken long ago.  Listening to No Surrender now was like being reunited with a long lost dog that turns up years later, a dog so exhausted and spent that it is barely able to crawl up to your front porch before keeling over dead at your doorstep, and, only then, looking down upon its pathetic little corpse, do you realize that you never really cared for that dog to begin with.  Of course that’s a terribly disrespectful thing, and wicked, and completely uncivilized, but that’s the truth.  You can’t just manufacture that kind of emotional attachment.  It’s either there, or it’s not.

As wrong as it was to be so callous, by the end of the second song that’s how I was feeling, and now I was beginning to think that this shockingly cold-hearted apathy was going to stick.  I started to worry that at the rate things were going, I’d have nothing but one big pile of dead dogs on my doorstep by the end of the show.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Torn Between Two Lovers...

The Forward Path – March 2013

Torn between two lovers
Feelin’ like a fool
Lovin’ both of you
Is breakin’ all the rules…

So it’s been a long time since I’ve posted an update on The Forward Path (August 2012, to be specific).

Much change has come to my little writing perch since last summer.  The changes are necessary, and good for me and my larger goal of becoming a novelist, but I have to confess they are also bringing the lyrics of the sappy 70’s Mary MacGregor song, Torn Between Two Lovers, frequently to my mind.   

For the first eighteen months of thunderstrokes, my focus was almost exclusively on the blog.  Envisioning the blog.  Creating the blog.  Writing stuff for the blog.  Expanding the blog.  Blog, blog, blog.   All of which was great, because I was teaching myself how to start a piece of writing (always a struggle for me), and then finish it (a much bigger struggle), and then throw it out there into the wild blue yonder (by far, the biggest struggle of all).  It was great practice, and great fun.  But it got to the point where the blog consumed about 90% of my writing time.  That left precious little time for the book I wanted to write.  And writing a book had been my brass ring, my reason for taking a left turn in life.

Somewhere around October of last year, I felt like the time had come to make a transition, a switch in emphasis away from writing for the blog, and towards the book.  That meant devoting my most creative and productive time (my 4 a.m. mornings) to writing the novel.  The effect was immediate and transformative.  I wrote about 50 pages of a first draft in those first three months.  My writing time ratio reversed itself, going from a 90/10 blog advantage to a 90/10 book advantage.  And I have fallen in love with the story I’ve been given to tell, the story of a boy named Les Mendoza.  Now I feel like I have to tell this story, because I’m the only one who can tell it.  And there’s a whole lot of story to tell, let me tell you. 

That’s a lot of tells, isn’t it? 

Anyway, the price of all that telling is that the blog is now consigned, as it must necessarily be, to playing second fiddle.  What’s that old saying?  ‘You can’t serve two masters?’  Or is it ‘You can’t master your serve?’ For me, both are equally true.  Whichever of those means you can’t devote yourself to two things at the same time is the one I mean. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Are you Serious? Real Genius and me.

Sometimes, a movie just happens to come along at the right time in a person’s life.  It may not be a great movie per se, one that is received with critical acclaim or crowned by popular sovereignty.  It just happens to be the right movie for you, seen at the right time in your life for its message to hit you where you live, and change you in some perhaps small, yet substantial way.

Films like this are somehow able to tell you things about yourself that your family and friends don’t see, or can’t see, or don’t want to say, or can’t say.  These films help you recognize or realize something that you yourself may have been blind to, or unwilling to acknowledge before. 

I think that ability art has to communicate with our secret selves is one of its great functions, and the beauty of it is that it doesn’t have to be great art to have a great impact on the right person.  For a movie, maybe it’s just one in every showing, or every other showing, or every ten showings.  But for the person who is impacted, what difference does that make?

We tend to embrace the movies that help us see things in a different way, help us change and grow.  We invite these special films in amongst the collected assortment of relics that constitute our most private selves, and that’s where they tend to abide.  They become our friends.  We still laugh at all their jokes, long after they have lost their spontaneity and their ability to surprise.  Their well-worn gags still delight us, not in spite of, but because of their familiarity.  We overlook their flaws, and overemphasize their strengths, at least in contrast to the opinions of others.  Just as with true friends, we cannot be purely objective when it comes to them.  We have too much history together, and there is too much emotional attachment.  It doesn’t matter that critics trashed it (none of them to your face, mind you), or that it didn’t get a great meta-score on, or that your other friends look at you like you’re completely nuts when you tell them you love this film.  None of that matters.  Just as with a true friend, you don’t expect the rest of the world to see what you see, as much as you might wish they did.  The fact is you are bonded, friends for life, blood brothers. 

Real Genius is that kind of film for me.

For a long time growing up, I didn’t take life seriously at all.  I didn’t work hard.  I saw the essential folly, or thought I did, of any one individual who tried to do anything more than laugh at the fundamental absurdity of life.  I was a natural existentialist, long before Camus and Sartre meant anything to me beyond being simply funny-sounding words.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Meeting with The Boss, A Springsteen Odyssey, Song 2

A Springsteen Odyssey is an ambitious effort to tell the story of one Springsteen concert, from one fan's perspective.  What makes it ambitious is that it is twenty-six parts long, one part for each song played by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band that night, with each song helping to tell one part of the story.  Taken as a whole, they provide a comprehensive picture of a fan's relationship to an artist and his music, but each part also stands completely on its own.  This is part 2 of 26.  You can read part 1 here.

“One, Two, Three, Four!” Weinberg picks up The Boss’s count with the drumbeat and then, after a trip and a tumble around the drum kit, the rest of the E-Street band comes spilling in behind him.  It takes a moment, but only a moment, to place the song. 

“No Surrender” from Born in the USA. 

The song feels a bit sluggish at first, kind of sloshy.  It strikes me that the band needs a little time to tighten up and find its groove, the same way a team of horses might need a minute or two to establish a unified rhythm, to work out the relationships and the timing between themselves.  Of course, I know next to nothing about horses.  Or bands, for that matter.

Well, we busted out of class
Had to get away from those fools
We learned more from a three-minute record baby
Than we ever learned in school…

Springsteen’s voice makes the drastic transition from the soothing lullaby of “Surprise, Surprise” to the rasping, tobacco-spitting vocals of this song seamlessly.  The band, however, still feels to me like they’re trying to warm up while they catch up.

Well we made a promise
We swore we’d always remember
No retreat, baby, no surrender…

The sensation of being slightly out of phase dissipates, but despite that my anxiety level is rising.  They’re well into the song by now, and so far my reaction has been a big, fat…


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Grapefruit Picking

This one's for my dad, whom I love very much...

Grapefruit Picking at my Father’s House (After a Rainy Day and a Cold Night)

Dressed for cold
bird bath ice-filmed
we gather the typical implements:
ladder, gloves, empty boxes and plastic buckets
and the long, red-handled pole
with the wire basket
and grasping prongs
bent inward like a shark’s
backward row of teeth
for plucking the fruit
and catching it
before it can fall
and split
and be

The sky beyond the tree
Is evangelical blue
the fruit is the yellow
of crayon suns
the tree is deep green
and dark with shade
and rounded
like a cave-hole
its bowed form
by its own

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Just having a little Fun.

Congratulations to Fun., who won two Grammys Sunday night.  They won for Best New Artist, and for Best Song of the Year for “We Are Young.”

Just how young are they?  Rumor has it that after winning their awards, they bumped into veteran rocker – and inveterate practical joker – Neil Young backstage.  Seeing their Grammys, Neil casually mentioned how the phonograph-shaped statuettes were actual size, and that if they wanted to, they could chip off the golden coating, and play records on them.  

The trio was later seen at the Warner’s after party, scraping the awards with swag bottle openers, and accosting music industry insiders and celebrities alike to find out if they “had any vinyl in their pockets.”
Seriously, congrats to the band, and especially Nate Ruess, who grew up in Glendale and went to Deer Valley High School.  There is a rumor floating around the internet that Nate and I attended Brophy Prep together; but both the New Times and The Republic confirm that he attended Deer Valley, while I attended Brophy.  In completely unrelated decades.

However, it’s possible I delivered the mail once or twice to his house back when he was still practicing in his garage, and I was delivering the mail to the box at the end of the driveway.  Not that I’m claiming all the credit for your success, Nate.  Maybe three percent, no more.  Alright, make it two.  What’s that?  Oh, so that’s how it is?  Fine, be that way.  I always liked Neon Trees better anyway.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Destructapalooza! '13

Here at the thunderstrokes home base, we held our 2nd Annual Destructapalooza! celebration just prior to the Super Bowl last Sunday. 

Tbf’s of the blog probably remember last year’s event.  Resulting as it did from a moment of sheer inspiration, we never gave it an official name; instead, it was typically referred to as “that thing where we smash the gingerbread houses with the bowling ball.”  If you want, you can read about that first one, and watch some video of it, here. 

This year, we gave it a much shorter, ultra-retro-cool moniker, because once you’ve done it two years running, it’s pretty much on its way to becoming an annual tradition, and as such deserves to be officially recognized with its own registered and trademarked name. 

Encouraged by the phenomenal response of the ten family members and friends who took part in the festivities last Sunday, we have decided the time has come to turn Destructapalooza! into a mainstream cultural event.   We have a national expansion plan ready to roll out, and have retained a high-profile marketing company to help increase our brand awareness.  If all goes well, by the year 2023 Destructapalooza! will have passed Festivus as America’s 47th favorite annual celebration. 

We envision Destructapalooza! as becoming the crowning glory of a new holiday which puts a bold exclamation point at the end of the winter holiday season.  As it stands now, the holidays are just allowed to trail off indeterminately, like an old cat looking for a place where it can quietly die alone.  Everybody is forced to decide on their own when they consider the holidays to be over.  Sure, most people are ready to put the season behind them right around New Year’s Day, but you also have those who wake up on December 26th and strip their homes of all Christmas ornamentation faster than the Grinch stripped Whoville.   And what about those people who refuse to acknowledge any end to the holiday season, and keep their trees up in their living rooms year-round, and turn on their outdoor light displays when they think nobody else is watching?

Friday, February 1, 2013

and he happens to be...

Imagine a man who has had a singing career, highlighted by singing the National Anthem before Super Bowl XX in 1976, an acting career that has spanned forty years, appearing on TV shows ranging from M*A*S*H to Touched by an Angel, made some 60 appearances as a guest on The Tonight Show, and spent five years working as a special correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America. Would you listen to what a man like that has to say about living a passionate life?

Imagine a man who graduated from Harvard, has written several books including a memoir that was made into a feature film (for which he also composed much of the music), and has spoken about his life to hundreds of thousands of people.  Would you listen to what a man like that has to say about living with purpose?

Imagine a man who has met and learned from Hellen Keller, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Muhammad Ali.  Who has run the NYC Marathon, golfed Augusta, and been enshrined into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.  Would you listen to what a man like that has to say about meeting challenges?

Alright, admit it; you have no idea who I’m talking about, do you?

That’s okay.  Truthfully, I didn’t know any of this stuff either before I picked up a copy of his book.

Imagine that the man who has done all these things is blind, and has been almost since birth.  Would you be interested in hearing what such a man has to say about living a fulfilling life?  

Me too.

The man who happens to be blind is Tom Sullivan.  If you are a child of the 70’s, or even the 80’s, you undoubtedly have seen him.  He was ubiquitous on television during much of that time.  There he is.
Told you you'd recognize him.
Here's what he looks like these days:

In addition to appearing on many popular series in those decades, he was also a very frequent visitor on the talk show circuit:  Dinah Shore, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, and of course, the king, Johnny Carson.  He did them all.  Even co-hosted with Douglas for a few weeks.

But I remember him particularly from one of his sitcom guest-star roles.  He played a blind businessman on an episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.  The character, and Mr. Sullivan, have been lodged firmly in my brain ever since. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Abrams To Fly Falcon

There’s a bug in our house.  Maria got sick on Saturday.  She’s slowly recovering, but Elizabeth came down with it today. Between the two of them, it means my writing time today is constrained to three-to-five minute intervals between rinsing out the throw-up bowl, and administering to Maria’s many random whims.  I suppose I could use that time to wonder how long it will take for me to catch it, but I'd rather write. (excuse me; I hear retching)

There’s no chance of getting any serious writing done, so today I thought I’d take on something easy, and respond to the news that J.J. Abrams has been designated to direct Star Wars Episode VII. 

Not that it matters to anyone else, but I’m not sure I like this pick. Yes, I know he can handle big budget, special-effects-laden franchise films, but I have to say, I haven’t been overly impressed with the films he’s directed.  (excuse me)

Okay, after almost three hours of vomiting, Elizabeth appears to be resting. Not that anyone needed to know that. 

As I was saying, not a huge fan of J.J. Abrams as a director.  I think I saw Mission Impossible III, but I can’t remember with certainty.  Since I’m not sure if I saw it, I should reserve comment, although if I did actually see it, the fact it was that forgettable would be a verdict in itself.

On surer footing, I did see the Star Trek reboot from 2009.  As any tbf of the blog knows, I’ve always been more Star Wars nut than Trekkie (it’s got its own category on thunderstrokes, fer cryin’ out loud).  But I’ve always respected Star Trek for its intelligence and integrity.  Consequently, the most recent film presented a big setback for me.  While the film looked great, and the movie as a whole wasn’t bad, there was something inherently intolerable about eradicating the past (no, I guess it was the future) lives of Kirk, Spock and company in order to justify wiping the slate clean and taking the characters in a new direction at a younger age.  In my opinion, that’s just cheating.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hard Freeze in Phoenix

We recently endured a stretch of freezing nighttime temperatures.  This usually means two things:  Hell's weather hotline is being swamped with calls, and it must be time for another Eagles reunion.   

In our desert climate, freeze warnings are a cause for great alarm.  We don’t often have to deal with water in its frozen state.  Come to think of it, we don’t often have to deal with water in its liquid state either.  Ditto for water vapor.  Consequently, we run our water pipes willy-nilly all over the place because we don’t have to think about protecting them from the cold.  We leave our animals outdoors year-round, because there's not much chance of them turning into petsicles overnight.  And we buy our plants based on their pretty shapes and colors, not on whether they can tolerate a freezing night or two.    

Nothing seems to mobilize the valley quite like the threat of cold weather.  In their finest moments, the Suns used to be able to muster up a similar sense of civic industriousness, but those days are long gone.  But anytime the forecast calls for 32 degrees or less, people you normally never see are outside with their ladders and their bed sheets, frantically working to cover up their citrus trees and bundle up their bougainvilleas.  

Anyway, this being one of the more dramatic examples of cold we’ve endured in the last thirty years, I thought it would be a good time for a visual survey of how different people approach the problem of protecting their plants.  I took the following pictures almost entirely from one small neighborhood in the area where my oldest daughter goes to school.  

As you will see, there is a wide range of techniques, philosophies, and strategies evidenced in the following photos.  Covering up, with plants as with fashion, seems to mean different things to different people.  

This is a reasonably average Arizona response to a freeze warning.  You pull out the pool towels (which you're not using at the moment anyway), maybe grab a few blankets, and head out front.  If it's a plant you really don't want to lose, you drape a towel over it and hope for the best.  It's not foolproof, but it does strike a balance between having to re-landscape your yard in the spring, and sitting out all night with the blow dryer.

Meeting with The Boss, A Springsteen Odyssey: Song 1


The time has come to be bold and daring.  The time has come to take a risk.  The time has come to show a little faith, 'cause there’s magic in the night.

I’m going to try something new.  It might end in ignominious disaster, or glorious triumph, or die somewhere (mercifully? tragically?) along the way. 

I’m saying this up front:  I don’t know how I’m going to do it.  I don’t have a plan.  I have only an idea:  I want to tell you a story.  Specifically, I want to tell you the story of the night of December 6th, when Elizabeth and I went to see Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band at Arena in Glendale, Arizona.  It’s a story that encompasses much more, and much less, than a single night.  And it’s a story only I can tell, because, like everything here at thunderstrokes, it’s always as much about me as it is the purported subject.       

Here’s the thing.  The way I’ve decided to tell this story is a little, um, unorthodox.  This story will have 26 parts. 

Why 26? 

Well, somewhere along the way I got the idea that it might be possible to tell this story within the framework of the songs Springsteen and the band played during that December concert.  By my count, the set list was 26 songs long, so that means 26 parts of the story.  I start with the first song, and end with the last.  Every song, in order.  Little bits of the story get woven into each song.

Sound a little coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Big Year

More elusive than a great spotted woodpecker.  Harder to locate than a pink-footed goose.  More difficult to spot than a snowy owl.   

Is anybody getting these references?

For the last fourteen months, I have been diligently trying to pin down and watch this movie The Big Year. 

And yes I get the irony.  It took me more than a year to see a film called The Big Year.  Har har.

The film is about an annual competition amongst bird watchers.  I like birds.  I don’t stalk them or anything, but I am often distracted by them when driving, and I often sit around and wonder what it would be like to be a bird, or wonder where I would fit in the social hierarchy at the bird feeder, that sort of thing.  I also like the three lead actors in the film:  Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson.   

I wanted to see The Big Year when it first came out, but I missed its theatrical release.  Why?  For one, there are few things in life I do quickly, unless it’s driving home after hearing that one of our bathroom pipes burst, as happened last weekend due to our recent cold snap.  For another, I am the father of two young children, and therefore a Very Busy Man.  This means that it typically takes me a month or more of advance planning to get to a movie these days, even one I’ve actually set my mind on seeing.  This is why I tend to see and write mostly about blockbusters; they’re the only ones that can handle my requisite lead time.  The Big Year was not a blockbuster.

Having missed my opportunity, I intended to take up in hot pursuit of the film once it was released on DVD.  However, unlike ultra-ambitious bird-spotting champion Kenny Bostick in the movie, I constrained myself to using only using the most ethical and legitimate methods, which for me includes Netflix’s streaming service, Redbox, and the local library – but not paying more than a buck fifty, or poaching the movie illegally online.  I struck out repeatedly with all three of my sources, and was just about ready to acknowledge that I would probably have to wait for it to pop up somewhere on regular cable. 

The problem with watching a movie you haven’t seen before on regular cable (excluding Turner Classic Movies, thank God), is that you just don’t know how it’s been edited.  They always throw that disclaimer up on the screen before the film: “Edited for content, and to run in the time allowed.”  With that kind of a free hand, almost anything could be cut in order to make sure they get the right number of Geico commercials in.  And since you have no way of knowing exactly what’s been taken out, you can’t help but feel like you’re watching an incomplete movie.  It doesn’t matter what they actually do with the film; they could show the whole thing in its entirety.  They could unbleep the curse words, and unblur the T&A, but I would still feel wrong about watching it, all because of that stupid disclaimer. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Are we there yet? Thoughts on Jackson's The Hobbit

Not much has been said about The Lord of the Rings here on the blog, the movies or the books.  The last of the movies came out long before I started thunderstrokes, and although I’ve managed to work in a few scattered references here and there along the way, they are in no way sufficient to indicate the depth of admiration I have for them, the movies and the books.

I am an unabashed fan of Peter Jackson’s trilogy of movies.  Jackson did a better job of bringing Middle-earth to life, and of telling the story of Frodo and Sam, Aragorn, Gandalf and company, than I would have believed possible.  The narrative was clear and compelling, the characters bold and nuanced, and the tale’s majestic scale and scope effectively replicated.  Best of all, Jackson found a way to consistently give satisfactory visual form to Tolkien’s unbounded imaginings. 

Frodo as the book, and Sam as the movies.
Yet for me, the films cannot begin to rival the books.  At their best, Jackson’s movies play Sam to Tolkien’s Frodo, faithful and loyal followers to the hilt, but always subservient, always ancillary to the one charged with carrying out the original task.  As Frodo would be the first to tell you, though, that is something special in itself, and renders the films deserving of all the bountiful praise they have received.   

I think I can honestly say no book, or series of books, has had the cumulative emotional impact on me that The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) has.  Oh, all right, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn did, but in a different way, for a different reason, which I will hopefully find the words to explain someday.  I was fifteen, or sixteen, or maybe even seventeen when I discovered Tolkien’s magic place.  By the time I finished reading LOTR, I was so completely and hopelessly attached to the characters, so utterly rooted to their world, my mind could not accept the fact that I was now being deprived of their continuing company.  My forced departure from Middle-Earth was physically painful; I felt as though I were being punished unjustly for no crime greater than finishing the story.  I grieved the sudden absence of Frodo’s band of noble heroes from my life like the death of a good friend.  I was heartsick for weeks, suffering from intense feelings of separation and loneliness.  I have no doubt that I would have been labeled as clinically depressed during that time, had anyone stopped to check.