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Monday, July 2, 2012

TO GEEK OR NOT TO GEEK PART III

Please Start with PART I
(An Ode to the Fairy Godmother Of Comedy)

I like part II, too. I've decided that you make me sound like the Fairy Godmother of Comedy. I'm OK with that.
   -- Pam Klier
There is nothing as consistent and problematic in the core of my being than some deeply imbedded craving for notoriety.  My father gave this quality to me, and my mother gave me the ability to question it’s importance in living a contented life. I suspect for the first time, as I write this, it occurs to me for the first time, that maybe this marriage of opposing forces is why I am often considered my mother’s favorite.  I am made especially imperfect because I am the perfect balance between conflicted parents. I say this without regret, I say this proudly.
In the first sentence I avoid using the word “fame” because quite frankly I honestly don’t know if that is what I want, or deserve.  Perhaps that is why I don’t have it.   My dilemma with the inherent self absorption and narrowing of talents that seems to be acquainted with the road most traveled to success, or cynicism, or death, forever leaves, me, the seeker of notoriety, a middleman of fame, a seamstress of dreams, and an accumulator of above average medias.  Maybe I don’t have what it takes to commit to one field of creativity.  I have been told by bandmates, and unauthorized critics, that I don’t play guitar well enough to be a musician.  I don’t have enough musical instinct.  I am better off committing myself to theater.  I have been told by theater performers that I am, at heart, a musician.  And so the meta-obsessed portion of my brain dwells on this displacement of personae, lavishing in a term that I have adopted; Semi-Famous.  For instance: I am mostly only recognized on the streets of Chicago (because of the neo-futurists) and in random ancient town centers across Italy (because of Screeching Weasel).  On the internet I can say I am John Jughead, and that carries me some ethereal distance, enough to pat my ego.  I gave away legal ownership of a series of words and a logo without much of a fight, because the future was more important than being forced to forsake the past, fighting legal battles against a tyrant for the rest of my life.  In this I also gave up a more direct path to full fledged fame, but it would have been paved with intense uncertainty, misery, and seething dissatisfactions.  I have no complaints.  Well... I DO, but they are sworn to secrecy and acceptance, out-rationalized by my own stubborn, yet passive, adherence to individuality.  I think my mom gave me that trait.
To move forward let’s say that those former thoughts were what I was thinking as I stood alone in the Hideout during the Just For Laughs Festival for a benefit celebrating the non-profit organization 826 National.  Pam and Paige were searching upstairs for the elusive six-foot-six sloth-like comedian know as Brian Posehn.
They returned moments before I put into action me walking over to the bar to purchase another drink.
Paige, living a dream, hugged me.
“You got to see Brian?”
“No, we couldn’t find him.”
I was surprised that she did not see Brian upstairs, because that is where I saw him go.
I never got to go upstairs.  To me the upstairs was a Hollywood Valhalla, a place where comedic warriors went to bathe in golden ink giving them the ability to write only the funniest jokes.  I pictured Pam leading Paige through the upstairs gaggle of comedians pushing aside the weaselly Aziz Ansari and leaping over the petite 5 foot tall Janeane Garofalo.  Their only mission was to spot the extremely tall or the extremely short stocky comedians known as Posehn & Oswalt.
“Are you sure it was Brian Posehn who touched me?”
“It was him.”
“He touched my shoulder?”
“Yes, he touched the fuck out of your shoulder.”
Then, vibrating through the doors of the back room, was the low roar of Brian Posehn’s, humorously hesitant, highly self-deprecating voice. “Is that -”
“I think so.”
Paige ran into the back room.  I stayed where I was.  I think she needed to experience this on her own.  I joined Kyle’s posse along side Pam.
 [While Paige was fact checking this document she informed me that the two of them did NOT go upstairs.  They chose to restrain themselves from bothering anyone’s privacy.  Instead they went outside, while Pam smoked a cigarette.  They talked about the pros and cons of being an agent as they waited to see if Patton or Brian would step outside for some air.  I wasn’t going to include this correction in the story because why not keep it about my perception of what happened?  I think my vision of what they were doing is much more vivid and adventurous than the truth.  But I like the fact that If I hadn’t decided to write this down, I probably never would have known they never went upstairs.  It reminds me that a large part of my memory is most likely fictionalized.  Erroneous material adopted into my perception of how the world functions.  It makes me wonder if the reason I didn’t raise my hand in class when I was younger, to ask or answer questions, wasn’t because I was shy, but because I preferred not knowing the truth.]
Pam introduced me to a few of Kyle’s posse, and the ones she didn’t know, Kyle chimed in with names that I quickly forgot, I do not have the salesman memory for names my father had.  I gave them all cordial handshakes.  Occasionally Kyle or Pam would elaborate on who I was: punk rock legend, neo-futurist, novelist, friend, and duly respected artist.  Some of the posse were honestly impressed. 
The conversation barely held a continuous thread, and I, in no way was ever for very long, the center of any kind of attention.  I do not have the quick continuous wit of a stand-up comedian.  I do not have that instinct to try and hold the attention of the crowd, although often I crave it.  Even if I did try, on that particular night, there was no competing with these comedians who could feel and control the energy of a room.  They also had the added pressure of staying on their toes to prove their worth. They were all awaiting, admitted or not, those moments where the combination of luck, talent, and obnoxious perseverance could nudge them into a place for career advancement or at least material to adapt or usurp to improve their act. This seemed very familiar. It reminded me of evenings on tour with Ben Weasel as I sat back and watched him slowly dominate a room with his wit and audacity.  He would commit to stances and opinions whether he believed them or not; how punks should dress in leather jackets, and only drink certain types of beer, condemn bands like Led Zeppelin to death even though that’s all he listened to in high school.  I was of a different ilk, a different semi-fame.  I was a chronic voyeur.  So I may sound overly critical of domineering figures but you must also realize that I loved to watch it!  And I still do.  Often this pulling of focus would allow me the time to meet the more subtle personalities.  Within a room full of people racing for acknowledgment there is always a few charismatic personalities who wait their turn and beguile the crowd with a moment of genuine spontaneity and kindness before they disappear once again.  The moments and people that I choose to cram into my brain. These voices often whisper instead of yell and vibrate instead of shake.  They choose their moment to shine, or save it for the stage.
Kyle appeared to stay attentive yet disinterested.  I began to suspect that his fascination with my former band was tangential.  His curiosity did not visibly push him as forward as I felt mine had, to get us into that room, to use the push of my best friend, and the waning power of my fame.  He did in fact choose to go to another bar before his Vic show instead of meeting Pam, Paige and I at a horribly populated frat bar down the street from the venue he was to play with Patton. [This for a bit tarnished my vanity, but really it was about seeing Pam.]  Between Pam’s love of my friendship and my passive aggressive admiration of talent, I felt, with Kyle, I was moving out of respectful acknowledgement of mutual accomplishments into freshman status fandom.  
[This apparent loss of respect has happened a couple times to me already with people in music and theater. In Theater it was the incredibly talented, and incredibly disturbed, writer Dino Stamatopolous.  Dino was interested in my writing for the stage.  He attended the debut of a play of mine in Los Angeles. I was told he helped lead a small audience of about ten people in a standing ovation.  I have met him a few times.  In person I have lacked the ability to surpass or even maintain the enthusiasm of the standing ovation that I never even got to see.  
In music it was, sadly, Blink 182.  They were fans of Screeching Weasel.  They invited me to their show in Chicago many years ago.  I DID not like there music, in fact it was one of the only times I truly got offended at a band’s onstage banter.  They portrayed themselves in a stupid and outright homophobic manner in front of an audience full of impressionable children.  When I went back stage one of them asked me, “What did you think?”  And all I said was, “You can say any ridiculous thing onstage and your fans scream and clap.”   They just looked at me not knowing if it was an insult or a complement.  I don’t think I meant it as either, it was just an observation.  The next time I was to meet them I couldn’t even get back stage to give them a draft of my novel about punk.  I wanted a quote from them to help sell it.  Could you blame me?  No, really, could you?]
Kyle’s harsh judgment of me was an illusion.  It was only in my head.  I think too much.  I was proven hideously wrong.  People are not so easily read.  When my attention was elsewhere Kyle began speaking.
“Man, it’s hard to talk to you.”
I was looking in a different direction when he said this.  It might be possible that he wasn’t convinced he wanted me to hear this comment.
I turned towards him.  “Really?”  I was truly shocked. “Why?”
“I can only see you through the eyes of that kid going to your shows and looking up onto that stage and seeing his heroes in person.  Those punk shows changed my life.”
“Kyle you are an incredible comedian.  You are one of my new heroes. As it stands today we are both equal admirers of each other’s talents.  So it’s all good now.”
This seemed to have broken the ice, because I would never say I learned who Kyle was in those moments to follow but I did begin to see a human being appear before my eyes, one I liked quite a bit.  
Pam had told him I was trying to recall forgotten memories about the my former bands for a blog.  He reminded me of a show Screeching Weasel played at McGregors in Elmhurst in 1993.  
[While writing this I couldn’t for the life of me remember when this show took place.  I even looked at countless “Weasel Timelines” on the internet and still could not find a clue.  So at 3:30 in the morning I texted Kyle.  He got back to me immediately.)
My text: Working on the section about the McGregor's sold out show and can't find a weasel timeline anywhere. Do you remember what year that show happened? Sorry to bother you.
Kyle: Never apologize. Valentines day 1993. Was a Sunday bc Monday I was losing my mind on my disc man over Boogada. 
If you recall Boogada, short for Boogada Boogada Boogada, was the same record Patton referred to while talking to us at the Vic.  Though, I think when Patton listened to it as a dj in Virginia many years ago, there were no such things as compact discs.  Kyle probably had the Lookout! Records cd, the one with the Weasel Logo on the cover and not the European vinyl one with the boy and the house.  My god!  I recorded over 20 records with Screeching Weasel and the only one anyone has referred to in this epic three part post is the one, after only a year of being a band, we recorded and mixed 27 songs, on the cheap, during one sleepless night of coffee, soda pop, and hostess cream pies.  That was more than 25 years ago.]
The Valentine’s Day first-come-first-served McGregor’s show sold out.  There was still a line wrapped around the block.  
[Once Kyle told me the year and that it happened on Valentine’s day, I wanted to confirm this for myself.  I googled a few keywords and fell upon this woman’s site where she wrote about a vintage dress given to her by her boyfriend for her to wear to that very Valentine’s Weasel show in which Kyle correctly referred.  http://bombshellshocked.blogspot.com/2010/05/time-capsule-that-is-moms-closet-pt-3.html ]
It was the first time we had ever sold out a show.  We decided to add a second performance.  It occurs to me now that we obviously made more money adding a second show.  That might sound self-evident, but honestly I don’t even think that was a consideration when we made the decision.  Of course we charged our audience, but that was secondary to us, albeit primary to the owner’s of McGregor’s.  We just wanted to get those people standing outside a chance to see us on stage.  It was very exciting.  I am glad I was given that memory back.    
Kyle said, “If you hadn’t added that second show I never would have seen Screeching Weasel.”  
Ben and I were so proud of ourselves for attracting such a big audience.  We were so high on our bemusement of our, what seemed, unexpected level of fame, that between shows we wandered alongside the crowd, talking with the fans. (I wonder if one of them was Kyle.) We walked to the diner on the corner.  The place was full of punks.  When we entered they all looked in our direction.  We sat down uninvited at a table of about twelve punks. We ordered food with them.  We ate and chatted about everything under the sun, except music. We questioned them about their hometowns, family life, high school, shopping malls, and their dead-end jobs.  The time passed.  We stayed chatting until we were needed on stage for the second show.  Before leaving we paid for their meals with our earnings from the first performance.  I remember having a few crumpled fat wads of five and ten dollar bills in my backpack with which I paid the check.  This McGregor’s show confirmed for me that we were experiencing an important section of our lives, that we had an emotional connection, a common ground with the spirit of the times.  It transcended the music and for awhile it seemed it would never end, but the moments were passing by rapidly.  
Kyle was very animated while talking about HIS memories of this show.  He was so animated that I might have actually seen him smile for a second.  
[While writing this I could not recall properly what Kyle had said to me that night in The Hideout, but a couple days after releasing Part II he contacted me via email.  He had just got done filming a comedy special in San Francisco:

  “Seeing a gathering of people that found a scene without MTV or radio or at that time even the internet. That was my introduction to everything DIY and pretty much the philosophy that would shape my approach to life. I really do credit my success as a comedian to that scene and seeing people creating because they needed to--not for fame or money but because they needed to make something.”]
Kyle returned to his friends giving them the time they deserved.  Tomorrow he would fly back to Los Angeles.  I noticed Paige was standing next to me serenely waiting her turn to speak.  She was calm on the outside but in her smile and eyes I could see the explosions going on inside.  At the Vic she had suspected she might again meet Patton.  She had prepared herself emotionally as best she could.  She was not expecting to even be at the Hideout and she was definitely not expecting to be touched by Brian Posehn.  
“How was he?”
“He was hysterical as always.”
Her expression then changed slightly, the way a mother may look when told by a teacher that her child had been called by another student stupid, fat, or weird.
“What’s wrong?”
“During Brian’s act he mentioned that when he walked into here (The Hideout) about an hour earlier, some hipster said to another hipster behind Brian’s back, ‘Oh, hey. Remember when Brian Posehn was funny? I don’t.’ They laughed.  And even though Brian incorporated it into his act you could tell that that really bothered him.  It was still fresh.”  She looked around.  She was furious. “If I only knew who they were!”  I gave her a hung and a kiss.  There was no need for blood tonight.
In mid hug I looked to my right.  There was a group of people standing shoulder to shoulder next to us.  It was a few of Kyle’s friends, one of the funny comedians we had just seen, Pete Holmes, and next to him was Brian Posehn.  This time there was no reason to avoid directing Paige’s attention to one of her heroes.  I turned her body slightly, she looked up and then she looked immediately down and then at me.  Pam then like a fairy godmother appeared next to us, brought us closer to the group, and introduced us, not directly to Brian, but to the group.  Once Paige was established as a member of this gathering I moved back to talking to Kyle and an old school skinhead friend of his.
  Kyle's friend talked about fighting, and drinking, and punk rock.  They both reminded me of a Weasel event that was derailed by a prank gone bad.  An annoying kid who would start any kind of band to help promote himself named Paul Think passed by a punk record store and saw Ben inside.  Paul threw a pie in Ben’s face.  It was a cherry pie and looked like blood.  Kyle’s friends wanted to know the facts, but I could hardly even remember whether I was even there.  I have asked friends to fill me in on details since reminded of this event.  I have looked online.  All the facts are a mess.  Some say Paul Think after throwing the pie then maced a few people.  An interview online states that Paul was confronted by a big bouncer who held his arms behind his back, smashed his glasses, and that he, himself, was maced.  Some say the owner pulled a gun on Paul Think and others say it was only a squirtgun.  The few who I know who were actually there now say that it is best buried in the past left as a small punk legend forever riddled with inconsistencies.
Not too much later I turned to see Paige standing by herself, similarly to myself earlier in the night.
“What happened with Brian?”
“I think I scared him away.”
“I doubt that.  What happened?”
“I could tell he was exhausted.  He said goodbye to everyone and then turned to leave.  I thought I lost my opportunity to talk to him.  I felt horrible so I faced my fear and yelled, ‘Wait! Brian!’ He turned around. I grabbed his hand with both of my hands and said, ‘Hi, Brian. My name is Paige and I’m a huge fan. Fuck that hipster douche-bag, he doesn’t know shit. I think you.. well...’ then I remembered a phrase he often says in his performance about things that he genuinely loves.  I said. ‘Brian, you just fucking rule!’ He shook my hand and bowed his head uncomfortably.  He said, ‘Thank You’, and he left.”  Paige stopped speaking.  I could tell that she thought she had done something inappropriate.
“What’s wrong babe?  It doesn’t sound like you scared him away.”
“John, I started crying again.”
“That’s OK.”
“Pam held me.  The other comedians were looking at us. I’m so embarrassed.  I think I annoyed him.
“No, that was a great thing you did.
“Pete (http://www.peteholmes.com/) gave me a hug after Pam and said that I was the real hero of the evening.  He said that I probably saved Brian’s night after what the hipster said to him.  He told me that what I said to Brian was really beautiful, and it was touching to see someone get emotional meeting a comic. He said that doesn’t happen to comedians very often and it’s fantastic when it does.”
I agreed.


THE END

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