What do you love? For the topic of “things I love” I’m taking “things that can love you back” off the table, that’s a whole different meditation. No, I’m talking about the things we encounter in life, things that trigger a response in us – art mostly – that not only linger long, but attach themselves in some way to our identity. Of course I can only speak for myself, but I hope it’ll trigger similar reflection in you – an excuse to remember deeply things you may have slipped into the greyer corridors of memory.
Another boundary I set for this exploration was that the love needed to come from the experience of the thing (not the clutching avarice of possessing the thing that some collectors feel), those moments when new doors are opened, or existing desires are illuminated. The things in life that act as talismans, fetishes or totems for our deepest passions, both dark and light, inviting us to imagine beyond our immediate selves.
Enough jibber-jabber, just wanted to set the table for what I’m shooting for in this series of journal entries. For me this is basically an ongoing fan letter to the universe, expressing gratitude that no matter the time or day, we can all experience love – even if it’s just for a candy bar!
1. Born to Run
Didn’t catch up with Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” till later in my teen years, I perceived him as belonging to my older siblings – who clearly couldn’t see the genius found only on imported European metal discs of The Scorpions or UFO.
I don’t have clear memories of when “Born to Run” entered my blood stream, what I do recall was the feeling that it was a perfect piece of art. I love a lot of music, but this record had no defect – the imagery, the musicianship, the coherence of the suite of songs, the emotional resonance – there was no fluff or dead tracks. It would be decades before I heard the story of how this was a “make or break” record for Springsteen, that if it tanked it was game over for his ambitions (at least that was his perception). That kind of pressure usually breaks lesser talents and they fade either quickly or slowly to obscurity.
Instead, we got a timeless distillation of the mad, burning, target-less energy of young manhood, that age between 20 and 30 where you don’t know what you want but want it with an indescribable urgency. I still listen to these songs with young ears, not transported back in time, but back in age. When just getting out was enough, and back “when her love could save you from the bitterness”.
While technically a podcast can be almost any non-musical audio file on the web, what I love is the emergence of long-form conversations, unbound by pre-existing format or convention. A wholly new art form which was essentially created by the medium that delivers it, we’ve all had long conversations, but until the advent of essentially free tools to record and distribute no one would ever think to capture them repeatedly and over time.
I’m specifically in love with the works of Joe Rogan and Kevin Smith (who in turn gave birth to other interesting podcast creators like Duncan Trussell, Tell ‘em Steve Dave, Daniele Bolelli). These are not “radio on the internet”; these are upwards of three hours of interesting, thoughtful people entertainingly discussing an indescribably broad range of topics. They don’t seek your agreement or approval; they’re simply inviting you in to their worlds with the hopes that you’ll enjoy it. People discuss death, illness, fear, triumph, loss, emotional upheavals – not as the “topic” of the show – but because that’s what happens to be going on this week.
Rogan’s podcast touches seamlessly on the business of comedy, MMA, hallucinogens, spirituality, conspiracy theories, philosophy, friendship, exercise, media and a host of other topics with genuine curiosity and thoughtfulness. Smith (and his Smodcast Network) tends to be more focused on being entertaining, though through a prism of honesty that’s refreshing. Smith also has begun to take the creative energy of his podcasts and transmute them into live shows and now two films.
What I love most about these audio gems is they remind me of the power of conversation; it seems our culture has devolved more into sequential statements as opposed to thoughtful, considered conversation and these “shows” are potent reminders that there are few things in life as enjoyable as conversations among friends.
3. Neal Adams
I’d seen comic books before, but the first one I remember is Batman #245, and I remember it because the artist Neal Adams blew my mind. It’s not that other artists were “bad”, it’s that Adams was better, in every way. His layouts, his rendering, his ability to evoke mood – all leaps and bounds ahead of anything I’d ever seen. I don’t know if I’d decided I wanted to be an artist yet, but I know Neal Adams pushed me over that cliff. Something in my soul said “I may never be as good as this guy, but the fact that he exists means I’ve got a shot” – and while I’ve never gotten close, I’ve loved every attempt.
Adams made me love comics, comics made me love drawing and reading, drawing and reading made me love a million other things I can’t begin to number – and I can trace it all back to a 7-11, a Slurpee and the twenty cents it took to put Batman in my hands.
4. Perry Mason
I first encountered Perry Mason as the character portrayed by Raymond Burr on the TV show, which played on channel 5 WTTG back in the day. As a little kid, I have no idea why this show about adult people in trouble, and the smart guy who got them out of it resonated so deeply – maybe it was the sweet cars. Looking back, I think it was the fact that the smartest guy was the one who won – not the toughest, richest or the one in authority – the guy with the sharpest wit. And, like Batman, he seemed like somebody (if you put the time and effort in) you could become.
Later when I was introduced to the Perry Mason novels, my mind was blown to find out that a character that was created in 1933 (by a straight-up writing fool Earl Stanley Gardner) had lived nearly continuously till 1993, in books, movies and television – he was like the Tarzan of lawyers! And to me as a creator, the notion that you could create something like that was like catnip, it made me joyful thinking such a thing was possible. The truly amazing thing is that the over 80 novels are virtually identical in structure, but each distinctly memorable. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste, but I encourage you to uncover some of these gems, either the TV show or books – maybe you’ll find a new love.