The Blues Brothers [1980)

This one just barely makes the cut as “’80s comedy”.

Narrowly avoids “Big Bush”.

But certainly “Notre Musique”.

The Blues Brothers is one of my childhood favorites.

And I was craving this film.

I tried to locate it on DVD (to no avail).

And so tonight I broke down and splurged on iTunes’ exorbitant à-la-carte business model.

I was willing to pay the premium.

Because I’m sick.

No way around it.

But let me update you as to my progress.

HUGE progress.

Weeks ago (a month?) I cut my sleeping medicine in half (the dosage).

It was hard.

Really hard.

I was disoriented.

Headaches.

But largely just slow as fuck.

I felt like I had a crayon lodged in my brain 🙂

Yes, my body and brain had gotten used to a certain dosage over the past 2 years.

Eventually I returned to some normalcy.

I got used to the new dose.

Half-as-much as previous.

It was time.

My graduate studies had long been over.

And my wonderful psychologist (whom I am so lucky to have) challenged me to break my addictions.

Understand, I didn’t conceive of my dependencies upon prescription drugs as “addictions”.

But I think it is helpful that my paradigm has shifted.

Yes, I was addicted to a sleeping medicine.

Because I took it every fucking night.

And eventually it called to me…to take it earlier than bedtime.

Ugh…horrible.

A few short weeks ago (two?) I made a psychologist-approved adjustment to the dosage of another of my medicines.

This one is for anxiety.

I reduced my dependence from three pills to two.

This was an achievement.

And a tribulation.

VERY FUCKING DIFFICULT.

Again I had that same confusion.

That same disoriented stupor.

Strangely, this detox was a little different.

The whiplash effect (“rebound anxiety”) hit me a full two weeks later.

There was a delayed effect.

The first days were headaches and stuff.

No prob.

I thought I had it beat.

Like nicotine.

Rough, but possible.

So when the delayed effect hit, it really sucked.

But I got through it.

I trudged on.

I got back on the horse.

And now these past few days have brought a return to the sleeping medicine.

But not, you understand, a regression.

No.

Rather, a full stop.

It’s been three days.

And now I am totally off my sleeping meds.

The first night was really rough.

It sucked.

Anxious “sleep”.

Inability GOING to sleep.

But I stuck it out.

Each night has gotten better.

But the DAYS…

Ugh…

Aches, pains, headaches, stomach…trips to the restroom.

Bad stuff.

And that same disorientation.

It is a really strange feeling.

Very unsettling.

But it is an accomplishment.

And so tonight I made it through a movie.

I didn’t have the brain-power to review a film with subtitles.

No art films this time around.

But The Blues Brothers was just what I needed.

Something comforting.

This really is a masterpiece of sorts.

John Landis turned in an excellent effort here.

The costars John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd were magnificent.

And the cameos just keep on coming 🙂

The blues.

Yeah.

I’ve had the blues.

Not depression, so much, but another kind of blues (lately).

Like climbing up a hill.

Like Sisyphus.

When I get to the top (and get used to a new, lower dosage of medicines), my feet are pulled from under me again (as I start on a new challenge).

I am learning (slowly) to deal with my anxiety in natural ways (rather than with drugs).

Suffice it to say that this is VERY FUCKING HARD (for me).

In some respects, I am already back to an engagement with the world which I haven’t had in seven years.

Indeed, I have rolled my medicines back (under psychological supervision) to a level I last “mastered” seven years ago.

That is SOME FUCKING ACCOMPLISHMENT! 🙂

Just a few short months ago (this dog-day summer), I was in the pits of debilitating anxiety.

My cousin died of a heart attack on July 5th.

That sent me into a tailspin.

Not too long afterwards, I myself was on heart medicine.

My dear cousin perished at age 43.

I’m 40.

It scared the fucking shit out of me.

So here we are 🙂

I hope to start a new job soon. (Yay!)

I am scared to death.

Scared I can’t handle it.

But I WANT to do it.

I WANT to handle it.

I WANT the challenge.

I had a great job interview the other day.

First time any company had bothered to listen to me in forever.

AND I WAS OFFERED A JOB! 🙂

I am just waiting on my background check to be completed.

As I have no criminal record (and no credit…neither good nor bad), I don’t see how a fair company could preclude my employment.

But life offers no promises.

I speak my mind.

A bit too freely, perhaps.

And I am not anonymous.

Sometimes I wish I were.

But I am flying out in the fucking wind.

I am not a secret.

My pen name is strictly that.

I am not hiding behind it.

It was my stage name.

I earned it.

I toured the world as Pauly Deathwish.

And so it seemed only natural that my film critic persona take the baton from my musician self.

Indeed.

Music.

I have been making it again.

Playing open mics.

Trying to get my drug-addled brain to MEMORIZE songs.

[ugh…]

Was never my strong suit.

But I’ve gotten (more or less) a couple of tunes under my belt.

And being a middle-aged geezer, I don’t feel too bad showing up with a music stand and some extra lyrics for songs which I haven’t quite set to memory yet.

Music.

Music is what’s at issue here.

The Blues Brothers.

A beautiful film.

I have lived this film.

I have fucking lived these roads.

I’ve played just about every possible analogous shithole to Bob’s Country Bunker.

Believe me.

I have been in the disgruntled band 🙂

As close to chicken wire as imaginable…

Which drags me back to topic.

This is a really fucking good film.

And I am cursing like a sailor.

For my conservative, proper readers, I do apologize.

It is a defect in my personality.

I feel it necessary that I curse.

Otherwise, I don’t feel I am getting my point across.

Because what I am expressing is a very pithy matter.

Life.

The grunge and grit of life.

Every word is in lieu of weeping.

Experiences so pungent as to suck all fight out of a person.

That is what I have lived.

And it is that to which I bear witness.

I am not thinking real clearly, but I am thinking (and writing) a lot clearer than I was a month ago.

I am on the good drugs now 🙂

Tylenol, Advil…

I have been fighting through multiple addictions.

Things which I didn’t see as addictions.

And life is coming back into focus.

And THAT IS TERRIFYING…

But also EXHILARATING!!!

But mostly terrifying 🙂

So here we are.

A movie.

On a mission from God.

Sinners.

Redeemed.

Walking with the Lord.

I ask, here, that God grant me mercy.

I’m just as fucked up as anyone.

But I ask for the grace of Jesus.

And I ask for strength to do the right things.

To help people.

To not be afraid.

I am living through the spiritual battle.

May God protect me.

Yes.

I have seen the light.

And I weep.  Jesus wept.

Too.

I’ve been through so much shit.

And I feel like maybe I am finally emerging from the “dead mall” of limbo.

Like Jake and Elwood crashing out of the JCPenney in 1980 🙂

I want to exist in that flophouse minute.

Buttered toast on a coat-hanger over a hotplate.

And a 78 rpm Decca blues record spins and the elevated lines churn by endlessly.

I want to live in that moment.

Brings us back to the Danish concept of hygge [coziness].

John Landis nails it in the scene where Jake is drinking Night Train wine and Elwood is making toast.

Very close to what Roberto Benigni would do 17 years later in the Schopenhauer scene of La vita è bella.

Those scenes from films…

Those scenes in which we want to live.

They never get old.

They never cease to comfort.

That somewhere in this fucked-up world is a little closet we can call home.

Barely big enough to open the door.

Just a bed.

Basically.

But it’s our little space.

Carrie Fisher tries all manner of destruction in this film 🙂

Even a flame thrower!

But Jake and Elwood keep getting up.

Just some rubble.

Just keep dusting off those black suits.

“Maybe CIA”, says Aretha Franklin (like the key to Dylan’s Tarantula).

Keep climbing from ‘neath those bricks.

Gotta make it seem real.

Maybe use real bricks.

Better to be the first man up.

Let’s get this in one take.

Hit on the head too many times with a brick…

Because there are private pressings on vinyl of American acts that went no further than their local Holiday Inn.

It is almost a fabled purgatory.

Red-shag.

Very Charlottesville with the car and the cartoonish Nazis.

But I just wanna hear me some more John Lee Hooker.

Electrify.

My evenings.

I got the blues.

Days of Delta slide…feathery as an aeolian harp.

And nights of thin, wild mercury.

Just like in the movies…

Get a record contract backstage.

You could wait your whole life.

Carrie Fisher goes full-automatic.

And most of this film takes place in the hellhole of Chicago (but nearly 40 years ago).

Hey…I’m not much for car chases, but this film does something real special with the device.

Exhilarating.  x2

That’s where they have that Picasso, right?

And perhaps it will be notable that Spielberg is the Cook County Tax Assessor clerk?

We shall see.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 10 [1976)

“…I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know, I know, I know, I know,
I know, I know…”

Ah, Bill Withers.  A lyrical genius.  And though I kid, I mean it.  This section of “Ain’t No Sunshine” is one of the most tense portions of pop music ever laid down on tape.  In case you’re wondering, there’s 26 “I know”s.

And indeed, the powerful Mr. Withers performed this very song on SNL backed up by Howard Shore’s band to amazing dramatic effect.

Now, if you have been following along with my clinically-insane review of the entire Saturday Night Live oeuvre (or canon, if you will) you will know that the musical guests thus far had been:

Billy Preston, Janis Ian, Simon & Garfunkel, Randy Newman, Phoebe Snow, Esther Philips , ABBA, Loudon Wainwright III, Gil Scott-Heron, and Anne Murray.  [Hopefully I didn’t leave anyone out.]

I mention them again because almost all of them (with the notable exception of Simon & Garfunkel) were pushing product.  To use the terminology which Kurt Cobain so presciently keyed in on, they were attempting to be “radio friendly unit shifters”.  Shift those units.  Move that product.

This is significant when viewing Bill Withers’ performance.  “Ain’t No Sunshine” was from his 1971 album Just As I Am (that’s five years before this broadcast).  He’d had at least four albums come out since 1971.  He would have a fifth released in 1976.  And though he only got to perform one song, he went back to his big hit.

It makes me wonder whose idea that was.  Lorne Michaels?  Perhaps even a wily A&R man trying a counterintuitive tactic.  Kinda like, “Hey…I’m Bill Withers.  Remember me?”

All…that…having…been…said:

this is a fantastic episode!!!

I must admit I had no idea who Buck Henry was upon viewing this.

Pierre Henry?  Of course.  But Buck Henry?  No way.

Sure, I’d seen The Graduate, but paying attention to who the screenwriter was had to be the last thing on my mind as the credits rolled.

I like films without scripts.  Godard.

The only script I can honestly say I’ve ever read out of admiration for the film (and writing) is Ernest Lehman’s fantastic North by Northwest (brought to the screen, of course, by Alfred Hitchcock).

To make a short story long, Buck Henry is an amazing actor.

I don’t know to what extent he was involved in the writing of skits for this episode, but I can confidently say that this show surpasses all the others before it.

What is more, Buck Henry is ten times the actor that is Elliott Gould (the previous week’s host).

So, there.  Buck Henry is great.  From his role in John Belushi’s Samurai Delicatessen to his part as Gerald Ford’s aide in the Oval Office.

Speaking of these two skits, they are certainly among the highlights (if not the outright best two).

Belushi was improving with every episode.  From Samurai Hotel came Samurai Delicatessen.  It is an artful role on par with the talent of Peter Sellers.

The extra portion Belushi brought to the table was his singing (yes, singing).  We heard him earlier in the debut season doing a send-up of Joe Cocker.  In the episode under consideration, Belushi and Dan Aykroyd debut a proto version of The Blues Brothers…in bee costumes!

I must say that their performance of “I’m a King Bee” is infused with the punk spirit which was then coursing through the veins of New York City.  Belushi takes his breaks from singing as opportunities to do ridiculous, stumbling cartwheels around the stage.

This is one thing for which you have to give the Not Ready for Prime Time Players credit:  they would do anything for a laugh.

The precedent had been set early on by Chevy Chase.  No one could fall quite like Chevy, and thus it was natural for him to portray the unlucky Gerald Ford.

One of Chevy’s real miracles was a failed attempt (as Ford) to put the star on a 15-foot Christmas tree.  I don’t know if Chase had stunt training, but his falls are impressively wild.

But again, in this episode we see Chase developing his comic timing and humorous subtleties which he would later parlay into a successful movie career.  Chase’s portrayal of Ford is particularly smooth (peppered, of course, with appropriately clunky dementia).

Two more bits bear mentioning.  Michael O’Donoghue’s anti-impression illustrates all that was good about the early days of SNL.  It’s flailing about, but it is such a refreshing flailing.

And finally, I must mention that Toni Basil returned to the show (after making an appearance earlier in the season with the dance troupe The Lockers).  This time Basil does some great scat singing (and, of course, dancing) on the old tune “Wham”…(re bop boom bam).

It’s an impressive performance with a touch of Cyd Charisse in the choreography.

Bravo SNL!

 

-PD