American Brother Malcolm

About 18 years ago, while I was still living in Lincoln, Nebraska, my brother-in-law decided to fly out further west from having been in Chicago for a Catholic Worker’s conference, for a little visit, before flying back to Albany.  During his stay, we rented a car and made a pilgrimage out to Omaha, for two reasons: to visit Boy’s Town headquarters — literally in the nearby village of Boy’s Town, Nebraska — for my father, who was a fan of Father Flanagan, and to visit the birth-home of Malcolm Little, of course also known as Malcolm X.

Figuring we were close, we spotted a local social justice center to ask if in fact we were.  We introduced ourselves, enthusiastically shared how we came all the way from New York and, well, Lincoln, respectively, and asked about some other possible details surrounding the house.  But the guy’s tone there unusually erred towards disappointment.  After we told him the address of the house, he pointed over our shoulders and indicated, well, it “used to be” up that hill.

So we drove up, and from the side of the road all we saw was this plaque…

malcolm x plaque

“Is that it? (emphasis two different times, on “that” and “it”)!  And for some reason the plaque was not even facing the road, it was facing the woods behind it.  I remember looking down to my left and still seeing the pole with street-signs for 34th and Pinkney mixed down in with the trees.  We both felt a big sense of disappointment and sadness, while mitigating a sense of outrage.  (I could not help but note the choice or wording in the text, of “allegedly murdered”, as well as “became outspoken” as opposed to ‘spoke out against’.)

And with that said, fifty years ago this past February 21st happened to be the assassination of Malcolm, in New York City, at both the non-alleged hands and as a result of having spoken out against its ego-corrupted head of his former brotherhood.

Money Talks, and where does ‘the Right Thing’ Walk?

I don’t agree with the headline that he ‘rips McConnell a new one': http://www.addictinginfo.org/2015/02/20/obama-trashes-mcconnell/

…I wonder, when it comes to the issue of fiscal irresponsibility if Democrats and Republicans on the ground are mad at the same thing, but just choose to label it differently.  The labeling is of course a result of disinformation and misinformation, from the right-wing, to which I wish The White House and/or Democrats in Congress would put together some sort of widely publicized, ‘round-the-clock or just a daily effort to more concertedly, transparently inform the public regarding what they are actually trying to do for the middle-class.  Let me just clarify that our economic progress has been a credit to those beneath and between all of the ballyhoo from above, but it could have been improving at a faster pace.  And, I suppose this may still answer the question behind “genuine ideas”, as mentioned in here speech.  But I still wonder if both sides agree we are living in a corporatocracy (or, plutocracy), and both sides blame the government for allowing corporate money to continue to do its damage, and thus just label who is right and wrong differently.  The lack of civilized conversation between red and blue states of mind still foster this stitched-in-Cambodia blanket of runaway greed.

The GOP, in their continued attempts to label themselves as the GNP, are simply still a long ways worthy of our trust, in both message and spirit.  ‘How many more election losses is it going to take?’, can safely be the new Democratic campaign slogan.  We cannot have all-out Social Darwinism if, for one, many on the right still insist on living in the 1950s as far as many a social value.  As former Speaker of the House during Reagan’s tenure, Tip O’Neill said it, their economic policy is all theory and no practice.  It sounds lovely and just, all in the name of liberty.  In theory, we can all individually push to create our own opportunity, and create communities in order to foster any and all various fields of opportunity, without the help of ‘big’ government.  Everyone can do the right thing for one another, and compete fairly against one another, in theory.  But you gotta somehow share the wealth.  (And, for any who want to label this as preaching socialism, bear in mind of course how any ‘ism’ can work just fine so long as it is not corrupt.)

A Higher Love

In the past, like many do now, I felt plenty reason to be outspoken against Valentine’s Day. But for all the arguments to try and dismiss it, I have found that all could be countermanded.

I once went as far as wanting to renounce it as a made-up holiday, ironically designed to get us to spend cash in this wintery down-season for retail, forgetting (er, wanting to deny) having read accounts of a martyred saint.

One legend has it in the 3rd century A.D. a Father Valentine performed marriages in direct defiance of the tradition being recently banned by then Roman emperor, Claudius II. The Father was captured and imprisoned, and from there, sentenced to death. Couples whom he had married, however, visited him in prison, and parted from him with gifts of flowers and notes of gratitude for his brave acts. He was then believed to have fallen in love with the jailer’s daughter, and on the day he was to be executed — February 14 — wrote her a note with the salutation, ‘from your Valentine’.

Quite the heavy set of underpinnings when thinking of gifting someone chocolates.

Or, the idea that giving romance an international holiday would defy one of its principle ingredients: spontaneity.

As life evolves under this and virtually every economic system, trying to mitigate choices and pressures both tedious and necessary — as they by no means seem to grow less with each day — romance largely gets set aside or in one way or another ‘banned’. If I were able to do something whenever the moment would seize me for my now long-distance fiancée, throughout a whole year, what then would be the harm in doing something for her on this day in unison with other folk?

As you can see, I am still one, and certainly not the sort who thinks Fifty Shades of Grandiose Pretense is.

As long as the gift is simple, creative, and from the heart, you’re good. It is supposed to be kept easy and fun. (Not to mention of course, much of these things tend to equal being as $-free as possible!)

I, like so many an undeveloped youth could not help but develop the notion that the more random the search the more romantic you are. But by this route, you are just making things unnecessarily difficult for yourself.

The search for love, like with just about everything else in life, essentially comes down to basic math. If you place yourself in a community that is warm and/or civil to your values and interests, it increases your self-esteem, decreases anxiety, and drastically increases your chances of meeting and establishing something with someone. For in either case, it finds you more often than you find it.

Love, the intimate sharing thereof, is something both the creative and misperceived not-so-creative long for in order to become better at what they do. It is a higher power, upon which when it strikes we can never fight off its mortal wounds but can only free ourselves upon acknowledging we’re never alone in the fight.

So to all esteemed martyrs who may still feel lacking on this day, don’t respond hopelessly or bitterly against it; be bigger about it. The opposite should be wrong with the idea of designating a virtual International Day of Romance, yes?

Black and Blue, All Over

In the early 1950s, President Eisenhower needed to nominate a new Chief Justice.  His attention ultimately centered on the three-term governor of California, Earl Warren. Warren, the more conservative Eisenhower felt, on paper, like a political moderate, and was enthused the two would relate.

However, as David Halberstam put it in one of my favorite books, The Fifties: “If Dwight Eisenhower had decided from Earl Warren’s record that the two of them shared similar attitudes and values, then he was wrong. They could not have been more different. They might have come from similar backgrounds, but Eisenhower had long ago removed himself from the complexities of contemporary American life by going off to the military; there he was largely isolated from the changes in the society.”

I loved this insight when I first read it.  One of my closest friends for almost thirty years has been a Marine now for about twenty-five of them.  And reading that paragraph instantly reminded me of the many rifts between civilians and many of his military friends and peers when we often hung out.

I can’t speak for them but I nor my friend were ever easily accepting of such rifts.  Marines can adapt a very clique-ish, walk-on-water attitude when out and about among civilians (and not to mention, among other branches in the military).  Such instances paid towards myself, I would quietly resent how all they pretty much had to do was sign their names on a dotted line and obtain an instant career — along with obtain future benefits like free travel and a free college education.

As an artist, I have always felt among the lowest scrapping along the opportunity totem-pole, with an ego just as big but an even bigger — that is, recognizable — inferiority complex.  So, in this sense, I know what it is like to feel shunned.  But, unlike regular folk, the common fear/point of view military and law enforcement people are trained for and more accustomed to is the enormous, practical responsibility of having to think in terms of enforcing general safety, every day.

However, it has become very easy to sense how this social disconnect has now drastically widened as police forces in unheard-of small towns and cities across America have become inexplicably militarized — courtesy of hand-me-down equipment like tanks and grenade-launchers, from our most recent wars.  Having been at war for now over thirteen years, we as a nation have certainly become very accustomed to it.  And these weapons have certainly handed down a tangible, offensive sense of amoral over-dramatization — and, overcompensated imagination — to tellingly drama-free areas.  I mean, there are reasons, say, here in upstate New York one can only see ‘Repeal the SAFE Act’ signs out on cricket-laden suburban and rural lawns — largely populated by whites — and only ‘Stop the violence’ signs posted around poor, inner-city neighborhoods — largely populated by minorities.

Meanwhile, and by absolutely no means to underscore, the real ‘thieves’ — the lobbying powers anchoring the revenue of guns, et al — continue to go about business as usual.

 

In the immediate aftermath of his death Eric Garner’s widow and daughter both expressed believing race had nothing to do with it.  A very wise declaration — as wisdom is yet again stubbornly lacking on both sides of this matter.  For one, saying this of course downplays any a potential riot that could spring at any time, any place, and under any circumstance, under their family name.  And on the flip-side, we can all see how difficult it can be to reasonably rule out race as a factor, in the abstract, upon gathering the facts from one such incident to the next.

We’ve all seen the video and read the key components about the Eric Garner incident:
– Why go to such great lengths to arrest a man for selling tax-free cigarettes?
– The local police had a history of verbally harassing Garner, over this, according to both what he kept saying in the video and in later accounts from his family.
– The two officers questioning him initially appeared as calm as can be.  It was in broad daylight, and there was no chase to get their adrenaline revved up.

And so when they finally motioned to make an arrest Garner backed up a little, held his hands back, and up, insisting, “Please, do not touch me.”  Then the one officer from behind slipped a choke-hold on him.  (Now, if one sustains an object while applying some type of force this can be referred to as a ‘hold’.  And if such a hold happens to be an arm wrapped around a person’s throat, then this can literally be referred to as a ‘choke-hold’ — which is illegal in the NYPD.)

At no point was Garner physically resisting arrest, even after he was pulled face-down, head pinned against the pavement, repeatedly heard pleading, “I can’t breathe”, while several officers now jumped in, and at some point as a result of all this, dying.

This is a very clear case of police-misconduct.

Trayvon Martin: in one particular defense of George Zimmerman’s character, he was among the few protesting a police beating of a black homeless man, Sherman Ware, in 2010.  By all accounts, it seems reasonable to assess that Mr. Zimmerman simply should not have created his own ‘Ground’ […sigh] by getting out of his out of his car, as a result of, well, manifested boredom.

Michael Brown was an upsetting result of differing eyewitness accounts.  But, later, in nearby Berkeley, Missouri, was a clear case of an actual armed [black] man having pulled his gun on a [white] police officer and the officer justifiably engaging in self-defense.  And in between, we have this interesting, recent post by a retired St. Louis police officer.

Tamir Rice is an extraordinary case of incompetence, immaturity, poor training and conditioning.  I mean, of course with complete respect to Tamir’s family, but this fool of an officer must have gone to the Reno 911 academy.

Akai Gurley is yet another clear case of lack of common sense.  If officers — in this case, an Asian-American officer — are ordered to patrol a housing project of poor residents, very late at night, as a result of some recent homicides, but there is no lighting in the building, then YOU CANNOT PATROL WHAT YOU CANNOT SEE!

Jerome Reid: despite being very loudly, clearly, and repeatedly warned not to move, with a gun pointed at his face, he started to step out of his car with his hands raised about shoulder level.  The officers then opened fire, killing him.  Reid and the man driving the car were black.  The Bridgeton officer who spotted the gun, Braheme Days, is black; his partner, white.  Reid had spent about 13 years in prison for shooting at three state troopers when he was a teenager, and officer Days knew who he was.  Days was among the arresting officers last year when Reid was charged with several crimes, including drug possession and obstruction.  Both officers have been placed on leave while prosecutors investigate.

Since the Rodney King travesty, in spite of the LAPD’s decision to undergo sensitivity training as they continue to largely, successfully conduct community outreach, there was the recent case of a California officer pummeling a homeless, black great-grandmother alongside a highway.  This did end up with a $1.5 million settlement in her favor.

 

There are countless scripts, even in our recent history.  Take the Central Park Five case from the not-too-long-ago 1980s: five black teens with five different, video-recorded confessions, charged with the rape of a white, female jogger, one night, in Central Park.  With each different video-confession presented in front of the jury, each of the five were still convicted of the same crime.  Or, personally, the stunning dozen or so instances my one friend rattled off in one conversation of being pulled over for DWB.  I never knew it was illegal, for one, to have something like an air-freshener hang from your rearview-mirror.  I suppose, because I never ‘fit the description’.  The perennially high percentage of mistrust minorities have towards law enforcement in cities and towns throughout the country reflects the high percentage who have a decreased confidence in our legal system.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, there is a chapter towards the end entitled, “Seven Seconds in the Bronx”.  This chapter I strongly urge reading for the sake of here conversation.  It extensively deconstructs — and proposes ideas and solutions, analyzed and practiced, among some local police forces — details surrounding the Amadou Diallo shooting.

The four officers in this famous case made a string of instinctively shallow and profoundly regrettable decisions: no real second-guessing of the subtly influential elements surrounding them, and very little precaution taken to better ensure self-defense.

Towards the end of the chapter is a quote by a psychologist, Keith Payne, that pretty well sums up everything here: “When we make a split-second decision we are really vulnerable to being guided by our stereotypes and prejudices, even ones we may not necessarily endorse or believe [my italics].”  The word ‘prejudice’ of course never automatically refers to racial-prejudice, but you can see how race can still be considered a factor, both directly and indirectly, in every case involving a law enforcement official shooting a usually poor, black civilian.

 

We are all very busy people, continuing to go about our daily lives business as usual.  And this does not forgive how easily sensationalized we can be from being more generally bored than we would care to admit.  And, so long as we are here, journalistic leads ought to exclude mentioning race in their initial reporting of these instances until more of the facts are gathered.

 

One of the first Supreme Court cases Chief Justice Warren presided over was Brown v. Board of Education.  He sought amongst his associates a clear, unanimous 9-0 decision (unheard of in today’s Court) in favor of desegregation as a means to signal at least a legal balance between liberals and conservatives alike. Naturally, a more conservative justice wanted to write his own concurring opinion and another continued to hold out at 8-1.  But, by May of 1954, the unanimous decision was reached.

This decision was long deliberated over, as a result of being very long overdue.  For later in life, a few years since retired now, Warren would be brought to tears when asked during an interview about his decision as California governor to intern 110,000 Japanese-American citizens living in the state, during WWII.  As a strong advocate throughout his career for young Americans to have a decent education, and to be treated with equity and respect, fear and misunderstanding obviously overtook reason at this point in time.  Oh, the inestimable power of conformity, and the difficulty — if ever — to think for oneself in the face of it.

Relevance

Fans of music who like to flatly say U2 is no longer relevant need to define what they mean by this.  Coming from people who don’t like to think (as well as feel)?  Or, seeing how hipsters do not like to call themselves hipsters, they can just as well find a definition for that, instead.

It’s true, the band is not young and cute anymore.  Sometimes, a certain band-member tends to sacrifice authenticity in place of showy gestures, on stage.  I’ll give you that.  Rock/Pop music — on the surface — typically speaks to and for a young medium.  The band acknowledges this, even commenting wondering whether the world really needs another U2 album, seeing how there are so many songs of theirs already out there.

But, this band has never written typical rock songs, like The Rolling Stones, for instance — whom we can dub no longer relevant because the average music fan could not name, say, three to five songs they have recorded since 1982.

U2 still comes from a punk/post-punk musical ethic, and even after embracing or amalgamating/reinventing just about every derived form of music — continuing to fatten that sound — their singer still aptly likes to refer to them as the loudest folk band in the world.  They fall under that post-postmodern Dylanesque umbrella.  But, Dylan gave up in the late-60s.  R.E.M. gave up.  Radiohead is still here and there.  Touring is a tough, grinding demand, to go on top of songwriting.  And as far as keeping in a band personal needs evolve, too.  But the problems of the world still require a loud electric-guitar, drums, bass, and an angry, impassioned, articulate voice to fight the good fight.

This all being said, the primary and hypocritically shallow resentment paid towards them is undoubtedly related to their Christian underpinnings.  But, they have always been completely tolerant and progressive, in terms of ideas, and keep on the same ground as reasonable, everyday folk.[1]

Every artist wants to reach as many people as they can; to want to share their work with as many people as they can.  If you are in your 60’s and are still performing in clubs, that is perfectly fine.  If you don’t like their music, that is perfectly fine.  But if you are able to spend an average of $150,000/day (not just on days in which you perform, but every day) of your own money for a tour (Zoo-TV), and then $250,000/day of your own money for the next tour, and then an average of $750,000/day (but this time with the help of at least one corporate sponsor) on your most recent tour so that people in the very last row of the upper-deck, orbiting Mars, can feel as close to being in a club as possible; when you choose to perform in countries where bands don’t tend to perform, like in Russia or South Africa, or in countries where it is not like in the U.S. where there’s a stadium in just about every state but people take days off from work, rent hotel rooms, and travel long distances by car and even (crazy enough) plane to hear you play; when you can write lines like “I stopped outside the church-house where the citizens like to sit./They say they want their kingdom, but they don’t want God in it”, among others; when you can sell all 7,272,046 tickets put up for sale over your most recent tour and gross a total of $736,421,584; drastically refresh or even remake new songs and make them better; when you can invite mothers on stage to peacefully protest a violent dictator, sing on behalf of oppressed world leaders, and lobby world powers to try and rescue a continent — when you can literally take on the world as a rock band and can remain pretty successful at it, still as big as they are, refusing to play it safe, and still writing good songs, then how does any of this make them ‘irrelevant’?

[1] “There’s a line in, I think, the New Testament which says that the spirit moves and no one knows where it comes from or where it’s going.  It’s like the wind.  I’ve always felt that way about my faith.  That’s why on ‘Zooropa’ I say I’ve got no religion.  Because I believe religion is the enemy of God.  Because it denies the spontaneity of spirit and the almost anarchistic nature of the spirit.” – Bono, Into the Heart: The stories behind every U2 song, Niall Stokes, p. 112.

Ulysses

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174659

“Throbbing Python of Love” contains the funniest moment — the funniest two words — in the history of recorded stand-up. A steady and stern knock suddenly starts pounding on the outside the bathroom door. It’s followed by an equally stern and typical sterile-sounding, voice of a parent. The voice demands, “What are you doing in there?!”

The response:

“GOING BLI-IIIIIIIIIINNNND!!!”

Utter shamelessness. The story of Adam and Eve had been rewritten! I hit the floor in absolute amazement as well as in tears. (…”If it feels this good I’ll take the hair, I don’t care!” …Sorry.)

It was in my pre-adolescent years when I was first introduced to these things called comedy albums, by slightly older kids in the neighborhood. They listened, I could tell, because the recordings predominantly talked about girls and sex. For me, at the time, the taboo-appeal was more because they used swear words. The material was all hysterical (in every way) — funny, wild, crazy, and honest — but of course kept entirely in-bounds.
And though much of the material was doing Blue Angels over my head, what made these guys so appealing to my friends is because they were predominantly, jokingly sharing stories about what it was like to be their age. And I would end up getting my first, authentic, adult, intellectual education for the outside world.

Everything was fair game, and down to Earth, from how you can tell a guy is over 40 by way of how he now always tucks his t-shirts into his jeans, balanced with the less pop, more radical topics of politics and religion. Cable-television was also relatively new at this time, and HBO started showcasing these giants, so that you can see as well as hear hour-long performances by Richard (Pryor), Eddie (Murphy), George (Carlin), Bill (Cosby),Billy (Crystal), and Steve Martin ( ;) ), among others.

These great ‘stand-up philosophers’, as Cardinal Mel (Brooks) once referred to them, all serve as profoundly indelible educators in the art of freedom of expression.

And I can very easily say that one of the things I revered most from those early years — along with music and sports, like every other male — was stand-up comedy.

And apart from the impact of early M*A*S*H episodes, and with the possible exception of Bill Murray’s flawlessly esteemed wary style of comedy, Robin was king. [His inflection and energy of performance].

I had already seen evidence and developed a sense that the best comedians could excel dramatically, as well. And so from my late teens up into my early thirties was ripe time that his comedic and dramatic work in many a film would have an influence on me, particularly, “The World According to Garp”, “Moscow on the Hudson”, “Good Morning, Vietnam”, “Awakenings”, “Aladdin”, “Death to Smoochy”, “Man of the Year”, and of course the two most significant – each, I have seen at least a couple of dozen times — would be the extraordinarily colorful and creative, “The Fisher King” (still among my all-time favorites; a beautiful performance from him, and Jeff Bridges’ best performance at the time) and of course the brave, powerful, and beloved film of my late-teens, “Dead Poets Society”[1].

 

I remember the late New York Times’ film critic, Vincent Canby, writing in his review of “Dead Poets” (which left me wondering if he had actually seen the film) that if you were unable to see one of his students “take [Mr. Keating’s] teachings to fatal lengths” then you would have had to have been raised on a space station. I didn’t see Neil Perry’s suicide coming, just as virtually none of us saw Robin’s coming. Why? I think because he left such a mark, from my youth.

It was only after the fact that a great many of us learned he had been seeking treatment for severe depression. Given his huge and hugely generous volume of work — not excluding a great many of his televised interviews which were like comedy routines — his material never seemed to reflect a general fear of death. And thus now, only after the fact, am I able to see it.

So along with herein wanting to pay tribute, concerning the big question in which his death has raised for me, in being creative myself, I have always loathed the myth that one has to be ‘crazy’ — suffering from some sort of clinical depression, diagnosed or not — in order to create something powerful. Thus, I want to share here and now what I have uncovered for the sake of both creative and non-creative, young and older folk, alike.

I was always aware he had a bit of a ‘Hamlet complex’. I don’t know if such a term actually exists in psychology lore, but it is a bit of a cliché among male comedians to try and make light of an inability to identify with and/or please the father (or, the ‘ghost’ of the father, if you will). After the actor/comedian Jonathan Winters had recently passed from natural causes, I caught Robin commenting to a reporter on television how he was the only comedian he had ever witnessed make his father (a former, rather austere auto executive) laugh. No coincidence then how he would become a major influence on the son’s
comedy.

The following is a very revealing excerpt from an article published in The Guardian, in 2010, promoting his film, “World’s Greatest Dad”. About halfway down, the paragraph begins with the interviewer writing, “My worry beforehand had been that Williams would be too wildly manic to make much sense. When he appeared on the Jonathan Ross show earlier this summer, he’d been vintage Williams — hyperactive to the point of deranged, ricocheting between voices, riffing off his internal dialogues. Off-camera, however, he is a different kettle of fish. His bearing is intensely Zen and almost mournful, and when he’s not putting on voices he speaks in a low, tremulous delivering a funeral eulogy. He seems gentle and kind — even tender — but the overwhelming impression is one of sadness.” The next few paragraphs continue on this.

In recent years, anytime I hear of anyone abusing alcohol and/or drugs, or having gone as far as taking their own life, my first impulse as for their main culprit is ‘depression’, untreated or unsought after. Yet, for as long as art has existed the link that being ‘crazy’ and a ‘creative genius’ has always been a very easy and very romantic one to make. Poets, writers, and musicians seem, to me, to be the most associated. George Byron, Robert Lowell, Alfred Tennyson, Anne Sexton, and David Foster Wallace, as well as more well-known sufferers, like Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Cobain, and Vincent Van Gogh, to name just a few, all suffered from a particularly debilitating form of depression called bipolar disorder — bipolar I, to be exact; as opposed to the less severe bipolar II. Lowell described living with it as “a magical orange grove in a nightmare.”

From the study, “Creative Mythconceptions: A Closer Look at the Evidence for the ‘Mad Genius’ Hypothesis”, by Judith Schlesinger, published in 2009:

“In his Creativity and Madness: New Findings and Old Stereotypes, [Albert] Rothenberg (1990) addresses what he calls the presumably objective work of [psychiatrist, Nancy] Andreasen and [psychologist, Kay Redfield] Jamison, noting the widespread inclination to soft-pedal its limitations: ‘the need to believe in a connection between creativity and madness appears to be so strong that affirmations are welcomed and treated rather uncritically’ (p. 150).”

“To date…the most basic assumption of this whole enterprise remains in the air: there is still no clear convincing, scientific proof that artists do, in fact, suffer more psychological problems than any other vocational group — and probably little chance of obtaining any. So far, neither the National Institute of Mental Health nor the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association keep statistics on the rate of mental illness by occupation. Meanwhile, the biased focus on those creatives with troubled lives will never confirm their unique vulnerability, even if their troubles had unimpeachable documentation.”

So, the rather dangerously tempting and disturbing fact of the matter is, is that there is no proving nor disproving of a scientific link. Nobody can tell for certain how much Robin Williams’ particularly severe disorder/extrovertedly compulsive desire to entertain played a hand in helping to make who he was and ultimately undo him, nor how the scope of his brilliance was influenced as a result.  (The reported early stages of the neurodegenerative illness, Parkinson’s, accompanied by these two elements, along with old age, I believe all played a significant part.)

What makes dealing with this even more troubling is that, I know at least in the case of David Foster Wallace, from having read his biography, is that it can be difficult finding the right medication, the right dosage of the right medication, in order for one to feel as if that can effectively create as well as live with it.

But all told, one certainly does not have to be to some extent clinically, mentally ill in order to create something powerful. Nor would proper medication, should one be able to find it, hinder creative output.

Generally speaking, first and foremost surrounding yourself with friends and a supportive community is most important foundation in order to encourage and sustain your muse. Since the moment I learned I wanted to write I just felt I needed love as a sole foundation, and it took some long, excruciating not-knowing in order to uncover this other necessary foundation.

Robin’s influence will no doubt continue to inspire me to be a well-rounded, and grounded, creative individual [2].

 

When he got going, it was always invigorating to experience. He would seem in every way in speed with the nineteen miles per second the Earth would spin on its axis. His sharp, mesmerizing barrage of calculated wit and highly calibrated sense of irony, for one, were huge influences on me. Classic Robin-isms, like, “Excuse me, Mr. President, in the dictionary under ‘irony’, it says ‘See irony’”, or “We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing near you,” were always said out of love.

He was the most worldly and voraciously in every way adventurous, as far as wanting to learn more about something new and exciting. He embodied a child-like curiosity to always want to learn more. He was extremely articulate, even while dipping into a dizzying array of character voices, or musical instruments and sound-effects. He could dole out the obscurest of technical details in the middle of an improvised routine, and was able to conduct this entire compendium at any given time (…I had to pause for a minute after the ‘invention of the bagpipe’, around the 6:40 mark).

He will, like Cy Young in wins, forever remain untouchable in his ability to improvise. I was/am especially amazed by his Shakespearean launches; one of which, in the middle of introducing Rita Rudner at Comic Relief V, which I cannot find on youtube but will try to do justice here:

“…And she just finished her first movie, which she co-stars with Kenneth Branagh [dropping into highly pronounced/dramatic British personae]: Gadzukes! Yes, the woman is here — all the way from The Royal Shakespeare Company! ‘I fear not, Fellatio… This is I damndest cunningly withstane! These queen-sheets: I shall not know thy thread, but yet touched the cock and called her thro! Oh, saucy Worcester, wilt thou deny thy father’s brothers’ eldest son, Vollack? Come to the moisture of all England’s fetted loins — in my loins! Titus has no penis.’ — Act IV, scene ii.”

He was just an incredibly, selflessly theatrical. And that was it for me. And this was in considerable credit to having studied stage-acting at Julliard for three years. He only needed three years, before being recommended to leave by his professors because there was nothing more they could teach him.

And even though he was not always on, or other people did not find him as entertaining, it was also remarkable to me for as long and often he would go on his tangents how he would never lose confidence, never lose control of his context, or just ever allow himself to be overtaken by the slightest of indulgences. He had an enormous and thus rather fearless sensibility to either seriously or exuberantly point out our hypocrisies, and would just go until it was somehow indicated that it was time to move on.

 

Mel Brooks said it was never enough for him, personally, to just make people laugh but to leave them on the floor. Robin was the same way. He seemed to humbly hold his craft in esteem with other more prominently humane professions, such as in medical science, research, education, humanitarian aid, and so on. At the heart of his brilliance, stemmed kindness rooted in human dignity.

 

Fare-thee-well, dearest King of kings.

 

[1] From which, his character’s recitation of the excerpt from “Leaves of Grass” has now been immortalized in an i-pad commercial.  ‘Seize the day’, youth of the world, by burying half of it into an electronic device?  Hearing Walt Whitman promote Apple is like hearing Hart Crane do a voice-spot for Home Depot.

[2] I do not own the dvd, don’t really need to, and don’t wish to currently pay $500 for a used copy on amazon, but the rest of the scene finishes with the headmaster’s polite reminder of two of the school’s four philosophical ‘pillars’: “‘Tradition’, John.  ‘Discipline’.  Prepare them for college and the rest will take care of itself.”