Thursday, July 22, 2010

"I think there's just a couple o' guys up there and this asshole is one of them!"

I had a conversation with a really good young actor the other day. At one point he mentioned that a young female actor — who'd had a recent decidedly brief and unfruitful stay in New York — told him that he should only do film. No TV, no stage, no nothing. Just film. I replied that while his friend was probably a perfectly nice young woman, she also happened to be a first-class dingbat.

Like being a working actor isn't impossible enough already. And isn't that the point after all? To, ya know, work? Well, the great (and sadly late) James Gammon seemed to think so. All he did was work. And work. And work.

In 1967, he did his first guest spot on TV — on The Wild Wild West and his first film, a little thing called Cool Hand Luke . Am I the only one who finds it completely awesome that on IMDb the credit right before Cool Hand Luke is Gammon's appearance in the original Batman series?

Its okay if I am.

Gammon did nearly every hour-long drama from The Virginian to Grey's Anatomy and was a series regular on Nash Bridges — that last bit makes me so jealous of my old friend Jodi O'Keefe, who got to play his granddaughter and hang out with him, that she and I can never have a normal conversation again.

James Gammon was such a sellout that all the poor bastard could do was be the muse for the greatest American playwright of the last fifty years. Sam Shepard repeatedly wrote plays with Gammon in mind. Over the years Gammons became the most reliable interpreter of Shepard's work, acting in Curse of the Starving Class, A Lie of the Mind, The Late Henry Moss — and the two shows I was lucky enough to see him in — Simpatico and the Broadway revival of Buried Child for which Gammon nabbed a Tony nomination for his spectacular turn as Dodge.

He was simply great on stage.

Oh — and he did a few more films as well. Most of you may love him most as manager Lou Brown in Major League and rightly so but he will always be Dawson from Silverado to me. Rent it and the title of this blog entry'll make sense. A close second is his great performance as Double D in Traveller.

James Gammon was a gifted acting lifer who was, by all accounts, a great co-worker and who had no need to do anything but stay married to the same woman for 34 years and raise two daughters and work with everyone from Sam Shepard to Adam West to Wim Wenders to Robert Conrad to Paul Newman to Don Johnson.

He didn't give a shit. He was a working actor. He worked.

Please, my young actor friend, aspire to be a sellout just like James Gammon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Greatest 32 Pages You'll Ever Read To a Kid

Let's dispense with the pleasantries and get down to brass tacks:

Buy this book and read it to a tyke you love.

Actually, what you can do is pre-order this little gem for all the little nippers close to your heart.

Lisa McClatchy — already a seasoned pro at the sweet, smart and funny young-reader story — is debuting her first original picture book — Dear Tyrannosaurus Rex — in July 2010. But you can order that puppy today!

Inspired by the antic imagination of our daughter and spun into sweet, warm comic gold by a woman noted for her writing skills as well as her taste in men and who is today celebrating her date of birth in the year 19#*, Dear Tyrannosaurus Rex ix a keeper.

(Technically her birthday is tomorrow, Nov. 29th but we're getting a jump on that epic mystery number today.)

You may only know Lisa McClatchy as the wildly successful publishing consultant.
Or as the instantly successful theatre producer.
Or the endlessly generous, thoughtful and loyal friend.
Or the involved, caring and loving parent.
Or the reliably fun and chatty social companion.
Or the one who saved you from having to hang out with me any more than you need to.
Or the ...

I could go on ... and I will. Just not here except to say that she continues to surprise me, crack me up, inspire me.

And please buy her book — because our kid has expensive tastes and Ivy League aspirations and a thing about seeing the world .. and shoes.

And wish Lisa McClatchy a Happy Birthday as well. Remember — If it wasn't for her, I might be sleeping on your couch. Or yours.

Monday, September 14, 2009


No, I wasn't a junkie. No, I never played against Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul Jabbar) in high school and no, I never turned tricks on the streets of Manhattan. But Jim Carroll spoke to me in a way no other artist has.

I have read The Basketball Diaries — in part or in its entirety — every year since 1979.

The Basketball Diaries is high art from down in the gutter. A riveting, heartbreaking, hilarious and insightful examination of an extraordinary teenager and emerging artist.

(Its pointless for me to talk about the film version of The Basketball Diaries. Nothing could have lived up to my expectation, my own inner movie of it.)

It was tempting to want to live the equivalent of his wounded poet/hoop prodigy/streetwise cool existence myself — first in suburban Philly, then Lexington, Va. and finally in New York.

And I was not alone in that pursuit.

Jim Carroll and The Basketball Diaries helped me forge one of the great and lasting friendships of my life — because it wasn't every freshman hoop player at stately Washington and Lee University who recognized the names Anton Neutron, Lefty, Jimmy Mancole and swimming the shit lines, nodding at Headquarters and wanting to be pure.

Or who could go toe-to-toe with you at full volume singing "People Who Died" or any of the other stone-cold classics from Jim Carroll's yowl of an album Catholic Boy.

It was me and it was Cregs.

Cregs would be Mike Cregan — another Philly boy, a 6'3 power forward from Holy Ghost Prep, another tortured, youngest-of-six-fallen-Catholic soul who loved hoops, beer, stimulants, a free Ireland and Jim Carroll.

We found ourselves slugging it out in the alternate universe known as Washington & Lee and then in the land of Carroll himself — the streets of NYC.

Cregs was the first person in my adult life — outside my immediate family — who truly knew what I knew, who was moved by what moved me and who laughed at the same stupid shit I did.

The days of the inseparable Kevin and Cregs are long gone. The wild days replaced by encroaching middle age. For the last fifteen years we've lived thousands of miles apart. But he is still my confidante, my close friend, my third brother. And it was Cregs who I instantly thought of when I heard that Jim Carroll had died.

(Speaking of brothers, Scotty Mac was very eloquent about Jim Carroll here.)

So not only did Jim Carroll's artistry make me want to be more than I was (and continues to challenge me to be more than I am), it helped me locate the one friendship that I needed as I found my way into adulthood.

So here's a big slug of OJ and 5 Italian ices to Jim Carroll — tortured street poet extraordinaire, dead at 60, and to my man Cregans — the only other one who really knew — alive and well at 45.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eight Years Later

What exactly will you think of today — on the eighth anniversary of 9/11?

Our daughter — a 2nd grader — asked us at breakfast this morning to explain what happened eight years ago.

So we told her, in (we hope) age-appropriate terms, about that day — which occurred 53 days before her birth. We emphasized the bravery of the firefighters, police and military personnel lost, as well as the passengers of United 93. We told her about the two people we knew who had died in the attacks:

My college classmate Commander Robert Allan Schlegel, USN.

Firefighter David Fontana, elite Squad 1 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. David was the husband of our friend Marian Fontana.

And, finally, we told her how people came together to help each other and rise to the challenge of overcoming the tragedy, striving to make our country better and stronger than ever. Our worst nightmare produced our greatest unity.

That unity is what I will think of today — fleeting as it was — because regaining it is the only real and lasting way for the country to honor those who gave their lives.

If only for a brief while, there were no Republicans, no Democrats, no special interest groups, no Glenn Becks, no Michael Moores.

There were only Americans.

President Bush had the support of a nation and the free world ... and promptly squandered it. Only the financially vested and ideologically blinded can continue to say waging war on Iraq was the best course of action in the wake of 9/11.

Osama Bin Laden did exactly what he set out to do — "We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy."

We screwed the pooch and soldiers are still dying or coming home damaged and ill-tended.

(The lack of care for our veterans is probably the greatest national shame of — at least — my lifetime. It is morally criminal to send soldiers to war if you are unwilling or unable to properly bring them home. "Homeless veteran" is a phrase that simply should not exist.)

So eight years later, we find ourselves more divided than ever.

There is an anger — one that has been present from the moment the final vote was counted — directed at Barack Obama that is historic.

I may be mistaken (my research department is on unpaid leave,due to the fact that my credit card companies — the ones owned by the same financial institutions we all bailed out —— have thanked us by ramming the APR equivalent of Purple Thunder up our asses as they use the resulting profits to catch up on executive bonuses) but I don't recall gun-toting protesters during previous administrations, or Congressional hecklers during a speech by the President of the United States or parents frightened to allow their children to be exposed to a speech by the President of the United States, written specifically for them.

I further don't recall a sitting president ever being publicly called a racist or an entire movement enacted — from the instant of his election — to hamstring the very legitimacy of his presidency.

I also don't recall ever having an African-American president.

The behavior of the loudest and the crudest and the news outlets that give them a voice has besmirched the memory of those we honor today.

Can we, just once, consign the likes of breathless, self-pleasuring media personalities Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Moore, Laura Ingraham, Wolf Blitzer, Keith Olbermann; celebrity 9/11 conspiracy douchebags Charlie Sheen, Rosie O'Donnell, Daniel Sunjata and Wille Nelson; and morally dubious politicos too numerous to mention to the sidelines?

Can we conduct ourselves in a way befitting that silent promise we all made eight years ago as two towers fell, the Pentagon exploded and the United 93 passengers charged up the aisle:

I'm going to earn their sacrifice. I'm going to make them proud. I'm going to be better than I was yesterday.

Oh — gotta go — I hear my daughter reading Charlotte's Web.

Thank you, Rob.

Thank you, David.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Willie, Hughes and the Crack of Hearts

I'm fairly certain that Willy DeVille and John Hughes never worked together, never hung out or even met.

They were of two distinct universes. Two distinct talents. Two distinct barbers.

They are forever joined now, having passed away on the same day, August 6th — DeVille at 55 and Hughes at 59.

And I have a soft spot in my heart for both.

My brothers turned me on to DeVille and his legendary band Mink DeVille. His great songs are too numerous to list — and, anyway, if you're even a little curious, you're already hunting and sampling and judging his stuff by now.

But Willy DeVille is in the McClatchyActsUpHall of Fame (if you haven't heard of this Hall, don't fret. I established it 45 seconds ago) for two movie moments:

1. The theme song (Storybook Love) to The Princess Bride.

2. The scene in The Pope of Greenwich Village where a pre-nutjob Mickey Rourke tries to re-woo a pre-nutjob Darryl Hannah and asks some (presumably pre-nutjob) neighborhood guy with a boombox to hit them with some romantic tunes so they can dance in the park. Just to Walk That Little Girl Home is the song — it is perfect and it works.

Bonus moment — I went to see him at a club in NYC — the name escapes me (Scotty Mac, help me out) — one of those shows where the headliner hits the stage around 12:30, 1am. He was eerie, translucent, unbelievably cool and the master of the gravelly, downtown wounded poet love song. Plus, I think he was on the nod. But since I was in my full-blown Jim Carroll fascination phase, I was down with Willy's heroin rap.

Fellahs — you want to get the woman in your life in the mood — a bottle of Pinot and a Willy DeVille mix.

You're welcome.

And thank you, Willy — whose cool was matched only by his talent.

Now, I know it was never really cool to dig John Hughes out loud — but I'm trying to come up with another screenwriter with a comparable volume of lines that get quoted. Help me out if I'm overlooking someone.

In the eight year span from 1983 to 1990, Hughes owned the harmless-mildly-subversive-comedy genre. Owned it. In that time period, he wrote (and you have been quoting ever since):

Mr. Mom
Sixteen Candles (also directed)
The Breakfast Club (also directed) featuring one of the great comic jackass performances of all time by the late great Paul Gleason.
European Vacation
Weird Science
(also directed)
Pretty in Pink
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
(also directed)
Some Kind of Wonderful
Planes, Trains & Automobiles
She's Having a Baby
(also directed)
The Great Outdoors
Uncle Buck
(also directed)

Be a movie snob if you must — but that list right there is unbelievable. Packed with great lines, memorable characters and indelible moments. All in eight years.

So leave a thankful moment for John Hughes — his movies have been very good to you.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Street Dogs: Let Them Save Your Soul

How often do you get your mind (as well as your eardrums) legitimately blown at a rock and roll show? Especially when you have never heard of the band? Especially, especially when you've been stumbling around the Dublin (OH) Irish Festival in a vaguely been there-done that haze of familiar faces and a half dozen Killian's?

That's where Lisa and I found ourselves yesterday on the closing day of the second-largest (I'm told) Irish festival in the United States. There were the usual local suspects (whom we love) reeling and jigging the day away with homegrown talent and professional vigor. Sure there were new faces — the Celtic Tenors, Pogey and Dervish, to name a few — and they, too, gave very entertaining, good, clean accounts of themselves.

But it fell to the festival's closing act, out in the hinterlands of the Killian's Celtic Rock Stage, to deliver bone-rattling, hair-raising, fountain-of-youth inspiration to geezers like us.

All we knew about these guys was that the lead singer had been the original lead singer of the Dropkick Murphys.

Then the Street Dogs took the stage promptly at 6:30 and, for the next hour and a half, made me love punk rock all over again. Far less overtly Celtic than their Dropkick brethren or Flogging Molly or The Tossers, the Street Dogs come on like a Billy Bragg/Clash/Ramones car crash with louder and faster everything and an idealistically manic frontman in Mike McColgan.

More astounding than their brilliant, searing and utterly genuine show was learning that the Street Dogs have been around since 2003 — evidently saving rock and roll one sweaty, ear-splitting, pogoing show at a time. They have four records out. I don't own any of them.

That will change in about nine minutes.

No band appears to believe more than the Street Dogs and no frontman believes more deeply than Mike McColgan.

Believes in what?

The power of rock and roll.

And the son of a bitch is right.

It's hard to beat the pure joy of a great rock and roll show.

McColgan and his mates just ripped it — from the opening strains of Amazing Grace (courtesy of the Cyril Scott Pipe Band) which led to the blistering sing-a-long Not Without a Purpose to a knockout call-to-arms cover of the Joe Hill song (made famous by Billy Bragg) There is Power in a Union to McColgan's heartbreaking PTSD lament War After the War (dude's a Desert Storm vet and a former firefighter — talk about walking the walk) and on and on through a breakneck, ecstatic set.

There were pleas for unity, instructions on how to correctly and effectively pogo, Bono-esque climbs up the scaffold, Townsend-like leaps off amps, dedications to the active duty soldiers, heartfelt exhortations to fuck MP3s and go buy The Clash and The Pogues on vinyl and the most supportive mosh pit in history.

It was a Woodstock moment for the Anti-Flag generation.

And it didn't matter how old you were. Or how long you've been married or ...

I'm fairly certain that a marriage (or any meaningful relationship, for that matter) is not truly consummated until you have pogoed together to Tobe's Got a Drinking Problem.

No one was immune to the joy ... the electricity ... the tinnitus.

This was the loudest show I've ever attended.

(Yes, even louder than when Scotty Mac opened for the Smithereens.)

The Street Dogs were so loud I thought Lisa might suffer a concussion. I thought I might crack a rib. I thought the bass player might stroke out.

And it was just loud enough.

Go see the Street Dogs. Buy their music. Be saved.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rod Stewart — For Real

After last night's American Idol finale (my daughter nearly threw a Howard Cosell brick through the TV when Kris Allen won — hey, she's a rocker) I thought it was necessary to remind myself just who the balls Rod Stewart was.
Here's the guy I wish America had seen last night — one of rock and roll's all-time great singers: