With his son Zack. I just love the look in his eyes.
With his son Zack. I just love the look in his eyes.
I don’t like to celebrate death days. Birthdays of the deceased are to be cheered as the day a particular soul we loved was given to us. But on this day last year, a person we admired did something some of us – especially in the comedy world – have contemplated. It’s a seed in the human mind – the idea of taking one’s own life – that has made Hamlet and Macbeth wonder aloud if this fucking life is worth living. “Life’s but a walking shadow…”
But the truth is – I’ve already written more on this post on Williams’ one year anniversary of shuffling off this mortal coil than I did on his birthday. The fact he took his own life made us face suicide directly and the pain that lurks beyond a person’s persona.
One year ago today, a man who was a dad and a famous comedian, took his own life. He made us laugh. He made us weep. Mr. Robin was the clown who danced on the edges of the world, lived in the side vision of many who thought he’d always be there…dancing…riffing…twinkling.
Williams’ death also makes me think of Bruce Bechdel, the father of Alison Bechdel, writer of the graphic novel “Fun Home” – now a remarkable musical on Broadway. One month from today, I will see it in person on Circle in the Square after a summer of listening to the score and immersing myself in the story of a cartoonist stuck in her craft, looking backwards to the relationship with her father and his death, likely by suicide, or “an accident waiting to happen”.
Although my father died of natural causes at 83, the musical will undoubtedly bring me to my knees. Fathers and daughters. Our stories are never told like this.
Also, one month from today is September 11th, and I don’ t have to tell you what that anniversary entails.
Here’s to the Bruces and the Robins of the world – dads who lived in very different worlds, yet suffered horrendous internal conflicts.
Fathers and goodbyes. To all the dads we’ve lost, rest in peace.
By Walt Whitman
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?Answer.That you are here—that life exists and identity,That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.Source: Leaves of Grass (1892)
I’ve been taking some down time lately. It’s been super busy at the day job, and a trip to New York to rejuvenate my creative flow has left me feeling wistful for home (NY) and slightly jet lagged; yet, I’m happy to have this moment, this early summer Friday where my little vacation continues in my apartment in Los Angeles as I plot the future, make goals, and wait for Mercury to stop being in retrograde. Apparently, it’s the cause of many creative people feeling stuck and drawn lately.
Hands up if that’s what you’re feeling.
This universe is made of mass and energy. We are part of the bang, the energy flow that comes and goes with the tide forced by the moon’s pull. What planets design our emotion allows us to only speculate, but it’s worth knowing that we are in the middle of a force, an open plane we cannot understand. So if a planet performing a retrograde dance is halting our feelings and work flow – who are we to question it?
As I build my verse to the world, bit by bit in the background, I turn to the wondrous Mr. Robin, whose portrayal of John Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’ rings forth the truth from Whitman, and continues the flow by asking his young students…
“What will your verse be?”
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.’ The Latin term for that sentiment is Carpe Diem. Now who knows what that means?…Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Why does the writer use these lines?…Because we are food for worms, lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day gonna stop breathing, turn cold, and die.
Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them. They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. Do you hear it? (whispering in a gruff voice) Carpe. Hear it? (whispering) Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”
~~ As spoken by John Keating, ‘Dead Poets Society’. Screenplay by Tom Schulman.
Flipping through the internet, I randomly came across a picture of Jane Dornacker, the traffic reporter who died in a helicopter crash in 1986 and whom I briefly knew. The photo lead to a Pinterest site listing people who’ve died before the age of 50. So many losses there. Including Jane. The memory of her inspires me. Indeed, it drove me to write my book of short stories “Hitting Water”.
I bring up Jane because she is the beckon in my book. She’s the goddess of mojo, the grand queen of inspiration. I really need it now. 2015 is starting off in a funk for me. Maybe a little JD will get me back on track.
Jane was a friend of Whoopi Goldberg, back when they performed on the San Francisco comedy circuit. I think of Whoopi because in the year that’s past, she’s lost some very well known friends: Mike Nichols and Robin Williams. Within the sorrow, I wonder if she would like to read a person’s view of an old friend of hers, how in their loss, they have inspired others to live. I feel that Jane has allowed me to do that this year (and the years ahead), even after all these years after the amazing memorial service for her at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. So, I’m thinking of sending Whoopi a copy of my book.
Here’s the thing about presenting my book to Ms. Goldberg (if she ever does receive it) : I mentioned her in my story “Jane in a Plane. And as the mighty hand of Thor has shown me, as my heart stopped beating upon noticing this – long after my book was officially published – I misspelled her name. Yes, I admit openly and wholeheartedly – that the one person whose name is mentioned in my book, a book that went through two passes by an editor and one go with a proofreader – has that one particular person’s name misspelled. Apparently, thirty years of seeing Whoopi’s name in lights in the entertainment industry didn’t sear into my brain well enough that her name is spelled “Whoopi” not “Whoopie”. Yes, despite the edits – no one noticed. Except my comedian acquaintance Sharilyn Johnson who told me, “Ya might wanna spell her name right.”
What??!! Run off to find the chapter. There it is…”Whoopie.”
By the way, Sharilyn has written a phenomenal book book about The Colbert Report – “Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z”. Check it out!
So, perhaps in making this error in my book, it’s a great opening line on the note I plan to attach to a copy of “Hitting Water’. Maybe it will show chuztpah. Yes, it could reveal the byproduct of do-it-yourself publishing, exposing cracks and dings that go along with self publishing process. But if she does receive the book, it could show her that there is a little Jane Dornacker in all of us.
The following is my lame attempt to slip into the lingo of Lord Buckley.
Can you feel the love in the new year? Can you dig it, feel the thunder rumbling from the distance?
Ladies and gentleman, this jive is about to happen. Slamming down on you from a bozo un-represented scribe, dreamer of juke joint, new comer of the pasty dry streets of Los Angeles, birthed in the green rolling fields of New York, slamming you down with the righteousness of a cat so cool he’s held like a beating heart in the hands of the hipsters, the dipsters, the old, dead and spliff smoking nipsters.
Lord Buckley, one and all.
Can you dig it?
This cat snarled and bee bopped, diddle boo dopped and shucked his words like cigar smoke in a spot light, like cool vodka against ice, hitting the reals in the feels until your wheels would spin off and scatter. He spoke of Jesus as “The Nazz”, Ghandi as “The Hip Gan” and the hipsters on the streets, scatting, dashing off their heels, hiding in dark corners, beating the Beat, snapping fingers in agreement lest the neighbors upstairs complain about the clapping. Cool babies. Tom Waits and Mr. Robin, Bob Dylan and the rest of the mondo bonzo freaks who ruled the tongue, Lord B scatted and preached and infused them. He swindled, he reached, he announced, he told tales and stories of the bible of great human beings, of monsters scattering in the dark, of train stations and dead on a single day. He wailed and spewed. He gave a big fuck you to the establishment – the man.
I’m still learning about this scoundrel, this wordsmith who lived before my time and threw words like jazz notes and beat smoky jives.
Mr. Williams honored him in the beauty of this:
And Lordy B vocalizing a daily commute gone and tragic.
So, I ask again. Can you dig it?