Saturday, September 23, 2017

Be Good

Sometimes you just have to marvel at things.  "Things" is a stupid word, but it works here because it is so wide-open and meaningless/meaningful and dull that it encapsulates the whole stinking universe while also shrinking the whole shebang into just 6 reliable letters.

I guess you could call ET a thing.  He was a puppet turned into an intense reality on the big screen in 1982, when I was 17, and living in a small Midwestern town, feeling lost and disjointed, floating from school to a part-time job to home to wherever else I needed to go.  No direction outside of what I kept seeing in my head, dreams about not knowing, dreams about leaving, dreams about the terrors of leaving, dreams about being a star.  I knew I was what I was:  lower-class/working-class and gay and weird and excited to be alive but also scared of letting people know any or all of that.  I also did not feel like I could connect to an identity that accommodated those crossed signals.  In short I felt like ET, a puppet and a real thing, lost in a world he was only supposed to be visiting.

That movie.  That thing.

Flash-forward to 35 years later.  I'm 52, living in a bigger Midwestern town with Bill, working a job I like, trying to write stories and a novel, running a little non-profit gallery, and so on.  ET comes out in a 35th Anniversary edition on the big-screen thanks to TMC.  We go.  I watch, and it all, as they say, comes flooding back:  that feeling of being lost/sad/excited. I realize that Spielberg created a existential security-blanket, not a movie, a sense-memory, not a blockbuster.  It is a puppet-show from a dream you have when you're small and sweet and innocent, and when I was 17 it made me lose it.  I was bawling my eyes out at the textures Spielberg found, that foggy dark night gleaming inside itself with window-light and moon-light and a kind of suburban night-light sorrow you can't really describe, a yearning cut through with love and hurt and above all a sort of kindness.  Pure kindness really, as if some beneficent imagination was fitted with a golden spigot and out flows those colors, those sentiments, those images, those moments.

ET has a plot, of course, about a spaceman coming to earth and getting lost and then finding solace and safety by following a trail of Reece's Pieces through the forest; it's also a coming-of-age gig too, with Elliott figuring out how to let go while also maintaining hope and wonder.  It's about a divorced mom trying to maintain sanity in the shadow of her husband who has just abandoned her and her three kids.  It's about a team of kids riding bikes around the neighborhood in order to save the universe.  It's about a little girl named Gertie who is told, at the end of the movie, to just "Be good" by the creepy/sweet stuffed-toy that fell from the sky and into her bedroom closet.

It's everything.

Watching it at 52 I reconnected to not necessarily my youth because I don't think I want to reconnect, but to a spirit of escape and return to that pure bliss most movies can't manufacture or even hint at. ET is a cornucopia of compassion, weirdness, hope.

And then the credits roll, and I remember me and my mom and my little sister getting up from our velvet-lined seats in the old State Movie Theatre in downtown Anderson, Indiana (a plush, old-school cinema that had seen better days, with fake-Greek sculptures lining the walls and a black-painted stucco ceiling speckled with electric-light stars, and that musty cool smell of better days staying on your clothes even after you leave), the three of us walking out into late-day summer sunlight, my face red and my eyes still pouring, and next door is a little Chinese restaurant we always went to, just like 5 or 6 booths, red-and-black decor, a Chinese family owned it, and the mother took the orders, the kids bussed the tables, the dad made the food, and me and my mom and my little sister sit down and I'm still crying, can't stop because of what I just saw, that stupid movie giving me a sort of traumatic sense of joy, and finally I stop and I laugh and I think by that time mom and sister are laughing at me too, and I order egg-drop soup, I always did there, and here it comes, somehow the same color as some of the light in ET, lush yellow, with flickers of white, you make this soup by boiling chicken broth and then dropping an egg in and stirring it real fast and it kind of explodes and cooks and turns into this creaminess, and I remember sipping that and recovering from crying so hard, and right then it was one of the best feelings in the world.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Holy Fool

"The Holy Fool or yurodivy (юродивый) is the Russian version of foolishness for Christ, a peculiar form of Eastern Orthodox asceticism. The yurodivy is a Holy Fool, one who acts intentionally foolish in the eyes of men."(More about Foolishness for Christ.)

Thunder-Sky, Inc. is sponsoring an art-show in tribute to Chris Farley on the 20th anniversary of his passing, opening October 14, 2017, reception 6 to 10 pm.  

So why him right?  

We've done tribute gigs to Prince and David Bowie and Joseph Cornell and Flannery O'Connor, and even William Blake, but Chris Farley? What is the point here?  He was a lost cause from the get-go, wasn't he? Just a big old mess all the way around, contributing his sloppy stylistics to an era of SNL many people would like to forget -- that early-to-mid-nineties wasteland of frat-boy-antics over-spill caused mainly by Adam Sandler and David Spade and Rob Schneider and Norm McDonald and Chris himself.  Some of those skits were so dead on arrival it made people stop watching the show for years.  Remember this? 

New York Magazine 1995 SNL "Comedy Is Not Funny" piece.

This article is a hatchet job, but still it got at the main idea:  in 1995 SNL was a laughing-stock, and nobody was laughing.  

Yet Chris Farley seemed somehow innocently and intoxicatingly outside of the fray and frazzle of it all.  He was the idiot savant, emphasis on the idiot,  an outsider figure in that overheated Adam-Sandler/David-Spade realm of smarmy meanness and formulaic antics.  He was making his own version of art by begging SNL writers to write skits for him in which he could humiliate himself to the point people could just not look away.  You felt sorry for him, you fell in love with him, you hated him and scorned him, it just did not matter.  He was in charge of his own foolishness, his own destiny somehow.  All through those sketches -- Chris doing that shirtless Chippendale's shuffle, Chris in drag eating fries and telling the other two Gap bitches to lay off, Chris sweetly asking truly numbskull questions of Jeff Daniels and Paul McCartney and Martin Scorsese on his own sad little talk-show, Chris on Update sweaty and super-serious letting us know he doesn't use deodorant with finger-quotes, and so on -- Chris was the center of attention, and he seemed to absorb the stares and laughs and humiliation and scorn like a morbidly obese, slapstick vampire, gaining super-strength from what did not kill him. Gaining monster-status and immorality too.

Of course his life was tragic, and stories of his self-abuse are notorious, the over-eating, the drugging, the alcohol bingeing, the whores, the self-hatred blossoming into a kaleidoscope of shame and hurt and eventual unintentional/intentional suicide.  But beneath all that John-Belushi-wannabe decadence and all the psychic wounds was Stupid Angel Chris.  That face.  That lovely sweaty huge face, eyes crossed.  So lovable you could only grab glimpses of it like the sun.

Consider Matt Foley, the door-to-door salesman who lived in a van down by the river, probably Chris's most famous iteration, created by Bob Odenkirk for him.  Suit does not fit.  Those black-rimmed glasses, the slicked back hair, that office-horse voice, that desperation to be a part of a family, any family, the simultaneous desperation to make the other cast members laugh.  In that initial skit, it was almost beyond belief some of that Matt-Foley prancing, the way Chris gave the scum of the earth so much energy and so much (for lack of a better word) dignity.  Holiness, if you will.  Yurodivy to the max. A foolishness for Christ (Chris, if you didn't know, was a great big Catholic and often returned to his faith for refuge from himself and his demons), a foolishness as well for mankind. Sounds lofty and dumb, but you know what?  "Lofty" and "dumb" easily merge in Farley-Land.  

Matt Foley, Holy Fool. 

I quoted the Wikipedia definition of that literary and religious trope above because it seemed somehow to get at Chris completely.  Above all else, Chris's art and performances were orgiastically "intentional."  He intended to find that moment of pure, ripe humiliation, an epiphany of shame, perspiration, despair, hopelessness, grotesqueness, all of that comprising a sort of horn-dog reverse-asceticism, a discipline of humor and also tragedy, the exact locus where they intersect and enhance/diminish each other.  He looked us right in the face within the form of all that is "not right": foolishness, fattiness, creepiness, et al.  And from that spiritual/aesthetic location he was able to create monumental amounts of bliss and absurdity and yup connection.  If you were worth anything, you laughed with him, not at him, but if you did laugh at him, well hell, the joke was completely on you.

That's why Chris Farley.  

So please if you'd like to contribute art to his and our cause, please do.  Send me an email if you're interested:  Work is due by October 7, 2017 at Thunder-Sky, Inc. (4573 Hamilton Avenue, Cincinnati, OH).  We'll be open 1 to 4 pm that day to accept.

Thunder-Sky, Inc. shares that same Farley ethos, I guess, if you get right down to it, that sense of Holy Foolishness.  Most of our shows bask in that glow:  we aren't after starchy echoes of culture or trends, not after what art is supposed to "mean."  We're after some kind of renegade and hilarious strangeness.  That strangeness is Raymond Thunder-Sky's legacy in fact.  

Consider Ray and Chris in that same epiphany of absurdity and oddness, humiliation realigned into triumph.