Friday, June 5, 2009

This Could Be A Total Bust, or Mickey Rourke Inside The Actor's Studio

We sat in the plush velvet theater seats waiting for Mickey Rourke to come out and have his ass kissed by James Lipton. The evening was supposed to have started at 7PM and it was now pushing 8. Our seats were right next to the two cameramen set up in the audience to film Lipton and Rourke. We heard their conversation…

“He’s not even here.”


“Rourke. He ain’t here. This could be a bust.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Just heard it on the headset. He isn’t here. This could be a bust. I mean, a total bust.”

This could be a total bust. With Mickey Rourke, who was briefly on top of the mountain, there is always the chance that he might just decide, “Ah, fuck this noise.” And disappear forever.

But all of a sudden there he was.

He was wearing what appeared to be some sort of a seersucker suit with a sheer tight long sleeve muscle shirt underneath open to his navel. His tri-color hair was in a set of mild dreadlocks and he wore blue velvet shoes without socks that looked like they could have been worn by Kirsten Dunst in a scene from “Marie Antoinette”. A fedora/hat-you-wear-to-bet-on-horses was pulled down over a pair of shades which sat atop an impish mustache/goatee triangle. In short, he looked fucking crazy.

Lipton asked about his parent’s divorce when he was young and he mumbled that Lipton was going to make him smoke sooner than he thought. He then pulled out a Zippo attached to a watch-fob and lit up the first of what seemed to be a thousand cigarettes.

In a moment of behavior reminiscent of the kind he uses to such wonderful advantage in his film portraits, he became frustrated by the smoke billowing out of the coffee mug he’d been ashing into so he took the pitcher from the side table and poured a dollop of water in to quench the ember.

The movement was delicate, refined, the kind of thing an aristocrat would do if they were holding a meeting with a visiting dignitary. When you combine that kind of grace and precision with the body and fashion sense of a Miami pimp with a Gatsby fetish…well, let’s just say you wind up with Mickey Rourke.

I won’t go into all of the amazing anecdotes he shared. You can watch the Inside The Actor’s Studio broadcast for that.

Melody (my gorgeous girlfriend) is younger than me by just enough that she missed Mickey Rourke’s moment in the sun. She has a memory of seeing “9 ½ Weeks” in high school and knowing it was naughty but she was too young to really identify with Mickey Rourke as an actor. She’d seen “Barfly” in college but couldn’t really remember it. His charm is pretty much disguised in that movie anyway. We went to see “The Wrestler” which capitalizes on his past but she really hadn’t been subjected to the full weight of what had been LOST.

So we watched “Angel Heart” to get ready for the big event. It was very interesting to watch someone experience Rourke for the first time in all his glory. He is truly astonishing.

(Side note: they didn’t talk about this film AT ALL which is such an over sight that there must be an actual reason for it, either Rourke refused to talk about it or Alan Parker wouldn’t give permission for the clips…story there that I’d love to know about.)

As we watched “Angel Heart” I primarily watched Melody. Since I know what is coming next in each scene, I vicariously witnessed her being buffeted about by the story, by Rourke’s easy charm and rumpled elegance, by the existential dread that he effortlessly embodies. This carried over to the night of the Inside The Actor’s Studio taping and by the time we left she admitted that she was “a little in love with Mickey Rourke.”

And isn’t that what is happening with the whole world right now? And isn’t that great? The whole world is saying, “Hey, Mickey Rourke! We are a little in LOVE with you.” It isn’t just normal box office bullshit, media created marketing blitzes telling us that Josh Hartnett is sliced bread’s next incarnation.

Nothing against Josh Hartnett who I actually like, but the powers that be tried to treat him like he was Johnny Depp before anyone had gotten a look at him. He was like a minor league phenom touted as the next big thing. Then he gets to the big leagues and it just doesn’t happen. And conversely, can you imagine reading that Josh Hartnett had given up acting and was pursuing boxing? That he had had it with the stinking quagmire of Hollywood and rejected the whole kit and caboodle?

There was an organic quality to Mickey Rourke’s rise to stardom that is hard to explain to people now. There was no internet. There wasn’t even cable TV on a widespread basis. Nope. This guy hit the screen for 5 minutes in “Body Heat” and that was all it took. The audience responded and he was off and running.

I hit college just as he hit his stride and we college actors were all on the Mickey Rourke band wagon. We didn’t just want to see his movies. We wanted to BE him.

And this was when things started to go haywire somehow.

I remember going to see “Johnny Handsome” in the movie theater. For the first half hour I was convinced that Rourke was going to win an Oscar. He plays a disfigured criminal whose deformation has created a kind of anti-social violence in him. He then is given the opportunity for a radical kind of facial reconstructive surgery. The moment when he removes the bandages to see that his face has been transformed into that of Mickey Rourke is one of the more astonishing moments of acting that you WILL EVER SEE.

And then, the movie, like the next 15 years of Rourke’s life, quickly de-volved into a bad cliché. I remember being highly disappointed that the story and film had let Mickey Rourke down, that he was simply TOO good for the material. And in listening to him talk to James Lipton, I think it was that very sense that destroyed him. He could not reconcile the fact that his talent could NOT BE MATCHED in any significant way. His standards set the bar so high that he needed a Coppola or a Scorcese or a Polanski EVERY time out of the box or there wasn’t really a point to it.

Now a certain level of this is bullshit. He was out of control. He was difficult to work with. He seems to have been incapable of respecting the talents of other people, finding it easier to hide behind his own as a defense mechanism. But I don’t think this has anything to do with him as an ACTOR. If he’d continued digging ditches in Miami he’d have been a prima-donna ditch digger with anger management issues and an ego so finely developed that it becomes unhealthy.

This is why the story of his personal journey is so fascinating to us. Normally I don’t care a hoot about the personal life of an actor. In fact, it bores me to tears. I care about what happens once the credits roll and that is about it. But in this case, the relationship that he has developed with the public is so personal that his story has become part of his on screen persona. And this is a change from the beginning of his career when he seemed to crave a kind of anonymity and mystery, even in the parts he played. He craved anonymity and mystery so much that in fact, he became anonymous and a mystery.

But on this night, anyway, Mickey Rourke deigned to grace us with his presence.

We’d gone from “This could be a total bust” to Mickey Rourke surrounded by fawning young artists hoping to touch one of their heroes. And the most amazing fact was that he’d shown up at all. That he’d turned off the voice in his head that said that evenings like this were bullshit, they weren’t what it was all about. We love Mickey Rourke because in some way we AGREE with him that that stuff is bullshit. But we’re still glad he showed up for it.

Look out world. Mickey Rourke has finally arrived.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Book 50: Ferdinand the Bull

I was the kind of kid who would get picked on until a fight happened. Then I would win the fight with fury unchecked. Then I would cry. So it was as if I never won the fight at all...

All I wanted to do was play sports. When I wasn't actually playing sports I was pretending to play sports in my backyard. I was the next left fielder for the Red Sox, continuing the fine tradition of Ted Williams, Yaz and Jim Ed Rice. I romped around our backyard with my glove and hat throwing the ball up as high as I could and diving to catch it at the last second before it hit the ground.

In actual sports it was even more fun. The thrill of competition is acute for me, better than any drug. My year was built around the sport of the season. Baseball in spring and summer, soccer in fall, and basketball in winter. I was always a very good soccer player, a sport where my tenacity could outweigh my average physical traits. I was an average basketball player, being left-handed made it difficult for people to guard me and I was a good shot and a tireless defender.

Baseball? The sport I longed to excel at? For the first two years of Little League I had two accidental bunt hits. I played first base and was a good defender but I couldn't seem to put the bat on the ball. This crushed me.

I had one season of Little League left to me. Somehow something clicked. In the first 8 games I seemed to get a hit every time I came to the plate. I was roping the ball all over the field. Everything seemed to be in slow motion. My stance changed from a straight posture to a deep crouch and I felt like I was launching myself up and out at each pitch, knowing where it would cross the plate and where I wanted to hit it. My batting average was over .500.

I had finally grasped the substance of my dreams.

To this day I believe that I would be playing left field for the Boston Red Sox if only I'd grown to be six foot two two hundred pounds. Alas, I stopped at five foot ten and one fifty.

All that being said, the important point I am making is that anywhere an athletic event was taking place I felt totally IN MY ELEMENT.

But the sensitive kid in me, the one who cried after beating up a bully, that kid had a target on his back IN HIS ELEMENT. People talk about how sports is a great teaching tool, that the leveler of competition shows us how to deal with irrefutable evidence, that working together as a team is a way to socialize young men. But I have come to have a bit of a darker view of the world of sports than that. If those things were true I would have found a home in sports. I did not.

I was too young to know that I was an artist as well as an athlete. I couldn't understand why my skill did not put me in the club. There was something in me that the athletes had disdain for. My skill actually angered most of the 'jocks' I knew. They didn't like that a gangly little guy without speed or power used intensity and desire to keep up with them. I naively thought they would appreciate this. For the most part they did not.

Now as most who know me can attest, my memory is like a piece of Swiss cheese. That has been eaten until nothing remains. I have to turn to my sisters for factual corroboration and my childhood is to me like a movie I saw once and never discussed. Snapshots at best. Books, however, are clear.

I must have read 'Ferdinand the Bull' a thousand times and while everyone always remember him wanting to sit under the tree, I always wanted him to win that damn bullfight. After all, there was a stadium full of fans and a competition to be had.

I didn't think of the irony that his ferocity came from sitting on a bee. I spent my whole life in sports sitting on a bee ON PURPOSE so I could take that intensity and bring it to bear on my opponent. And if my prescription goggles made him overconfident, so be it.

He'd wind up flipped over my back waving his sad red blankie in the air as I turned and snorted and aimed my horns at his heart.

Monday, June 1, 2009

New Beginnings

I have spent the last year plus writing about music and the effect it has had on my life, both through performance and recording. I've talked about the music I make, the music I love, the music I've seen.

Other passions in my life? Movies and books. I am not one of the well-rounded people of the world who shape Bonsai trees and whittle statues and cook internationally flavored food. I am addicted to art the way a cocaine addict craves crack. If you told me I'd have to spend the rest of my life at the same job, same pay, same apartment but I would have an infinitely expanding collection of art, music, movies and books, I'd sign up for that deal.

So will I write about movies? I can't quite bring myself to do that. Here's why. Being an actor at heart if not in profession I find it very difficult to criticize in print anyone who has appeared in any movie any time. As Dennis Hopper said about 'Waterworld', "It is just as hard to make a bad movie as it is to make a good one." Movie making is such a collaborative art that to rag on any detail is to nullify the hard work of some guy who made burritos for everyone on that set at 5 in the morning. It negates the good cheer of a boom mic operator who stood with his arms over his head to catch the whimpering cry of a starlet about to be murdered by an alien. I just can't do it. I can't betray my people this way.

That leaves art or books. The fact that my eyes are so bad that I need to stand an inch away from any painting in order to even see it leaves me unwilling to posit myself as any kind of an expert.

Et, voila. Books. The books that have meant the most to me over the years.

And off we go down another Top 50 List...


Ferdinand The Bull...