NPR’s Wits Behind the Scenes and The Comedic Genius of Fred Willard

I did a taping of the NPR show Wits last night, playing bass with Shinyribs.  The other guests on the show were Carrie Rodriguez and legendary comedian Fred Willard.  There were two things that really surprised me:

1.  The first was how much work went into the show.  The show was supposed to begin at 8pm.  We showed up at 1:30 to soundcheck.  Now, that is pretty common in the musical world, to soundcheck hours before a gig.  However, we were the first of many things that needed checking and the staff that was there worked from before we got there to after we had left the theater.  (11pmish)  Now again, for sound guys, roadies, this kind of long hours is normal.  I had never seen it done for a radio show though, just the insanely long hours put in for a one off taping.  Also, once we were done sound checking Carrie Rodriguez had to sound check and then they did a two hour script run-through.  The script run-through was the thing that really surprised me.  Every radio show I’ve been on we show up, set up our gear, right before we play the radio personality enters, and we do the thing.  However, everyone that was on the air got up and did parts of all the script, at times doing whole skits. It again took close to two hours.  Even Fred Willard, who could probably do whatever in his sleep, was game and did the whole run through.  I’m not saying that one could not deduce that an NPR show would be professional, but actually seeing the amount of work put into it was surprising to me for some reason.  This was show business in the sense that it was entertaining and fun, but people were clearly putting in a lot of work to make something as good as they could.

2.  The other thing was how fucking funny Fred Willard is saying just about anything.  I’ve seen stand-up comedy shows, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this, which is partly scripted and partly off the cuff.  He could say just about anything and the crowd laughed.  This wasn’t because he was famous, or because he had writers who gave him part of the script, or because he had spent weeks and months crafting his material like many stand-ups do; he just had great instincts, impeccable timing, and a quick mind.  There is a clearly a reason someone like that has gotten so many roles in comedies.  I’m not saying that when he is in a movie or TV show that good editing might not help him be even funnier, but in the flesh, just shooting things off the top of his head, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand.

Advertisements

Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial

Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial

The above link is to an Atlantic story that talks about how the social safety net actually increases the chances of taking the risk of being an entrepreneur.  The evidence presented in the article seems to back this idea up.  It personally seems like common sense to me.  A safety net is not meant to provide someone with a comfortable middle class existence.  It merely allows for survival in the face of economic hardship.  If one knows they can take a risk starting their own business without facing abject poverty, it seems to me they would be more willing to take that risk.

Soul-Crushing, Mind-Numbing, Work

I can tell it is a slow Friday at work for y’all.  My blog stats are up, despite only having one post up today on account of travel!  Stats are always highest during the work day.  When I used to work an office job I swear some days I thought I found the end of the internet.  I know what goes on out there.  They key is to position your desk in such a way that your boss can’t see what you are doing.  (That is if they can’t monitor you.)  That way you can be playing video games and shit, but you’ll be so quiet that they will think you are a diligent worker.  I once worked somewhere where there was an extremely high turnover rate.  After about a year, except for management, I was the longest serving worker.  Someone remarked that the reason I lasted so long was that I was always at my desk, quiet and hard working.  I was playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out when they made that comment!

So if you read my blog while you are at work I understand.  I support it.  There are a lot of soul-crushing, mind-numbing jobs out there.  American is full of jobs that bring zero meaning to one’s life.  As well as working office jobs I was also a janitor for awhile, among other things.  Today on the van ride home I was thinking that at least when you are a janitor and you clean something, or you mow a field, it looks nice.  Even if it doesn’t last you can be proud of it and it increases of the quality of other people’s lives.  Kids can play on a nice newly cut field.  I’m not saying you didn’t do a lot of stupid shit as a janitor, you did, but at least you had tasks where you could take pride in your work some days.  Some of those office jobs were beyond meaningless.  You almost felt that the work you did was so meaningless that you somehow were going back in time creating more work, instead of getting anything accomplished.

Why is it that we value some people’s jobs more than others?  Often that value has no real connection with a job’s value to society.  (Hey it’s Friday afternoon.  I thought it would be a good time to raise these questions.  If you try really hard you can black out enough over the weekend that this blog will be a long distant memory!)  All I’m really trying to get at it that we should not be so quick to judge those who have jobs that we find undesirable.  Society would be pretty bad if the blue collar workers all got up in quit, but the world worked just fine before the internet.

And don’t think I am casting judgment from down on high because for the moment I am making my living as a musician and don’t have to work a day job except for on occasion.  Even if you aren’t willing to hear the argument that being a musician is not as glamorous as you think, there is no guarantee that this lifestyle is going to last.  Second, I’m pretty sure that if the deal goes down, and World War III starts, that playing a guitar will most likely qualify you for cannon fodder!

But its ok.  I am used to non-sympathetic treatment.  I remember one time my brother and I were riding tractors mowing grass on a super hot summer day.  A local denizen, who knew we were both musicians, was jogging by and asked my brother how our day was.  Covered in grass, bitten by flies, and sunburned, my brother replied that our day was pretty shitty.  To which the citizen replied, “Why don’t you sing me a fucking song about it!”

Jobs Swallowed by Technology

I don’t mean to bum you out on such a day as Tuesday.  Tuesday is, in my mind, the worst day of the week. You at least get some Mondays off, there is Monday night football, etc.  Wednesday you are already at hump day.  Tuesday, even when I was drinking heavily, was a night I normally don’t go out.  My brother and I always joke about making a horror film called, “Night of a Thousand Tuesdays.”

Anyway, earlier this week, I downloaded an app turning my phone into a flashlight.  It works incredibly well, better than the last real flashlight I bought.  My current Kindle doesn’t have a light on it and I needed something to see my book when I go on tour.  But then I thought to myself, “What is going to happen to all the people that make flashlights?”  I have a guitar tuner on my phone as well.  What is going to happen to all the people that made and sold guitar tuners?  And I was thinking about how my phone does a thousand things that I used to need a thousand things to do.  On one hand, for someone that travels, this is great.  On the other, how many jobs is this technology putting out of business?  (How many people that worked for companies associated with books were put out of business by the Kindle and other reading tablets?)

I’m not claiming these are new thoughts.  These kind of thoughts have troubled people all along during our technological revolution.  What they make me think is that now, more than ever, we need a safety net for people whose work disappears as these tech giants kill jobs.  When the Republicans in power twist and twitch to dismantle every safety net they can, we need to think about how this is even worse than in the past.  We also need smarter consumers, that make decisions not only on what is based upon their needs, but the good of the community.  I’ll admit, I’m as lazy as anyone.  And to some degree the genie is out of the lamp.  But I think it is at least good to start thinking about these things.

This is just a hunch, but I feel like the places that stick together as communities are going to live lives worth living, and the places that let inequality be the law of the land are going to become more and more hellish.  Call me crazy.

Work

Andy was a Catholic, the ethic ran through his bones
He lived alone with his mother, collecting gossip and toys
Every Sunday when he went to Church
He’d kneel in his pew and say, “It’s just work,
all that matters is work.”

He was a lot of things, what I remember most
He’d say, “I’ve got to bring home the bacon, someone’s got to bring home the roast.”
He’d get to the factory early
If you’d ask him he’d tell you straight out
It’s just work, the most important thing is work
No matter what I did it never seemed enough
He said I was lazy, I said I was young
He said, “How many songs did you write?”
I’d written zero, I’d lied and said, “Ten.”
“You won’t be young forever
You should have written fifteen”
It’s work, the most important thing is work
It’s work, the most important thing is work

“You ought to make things big
People like it that way
And the songs with the dirty words – record them that way”
Andy liked to stir up trouble, he was funny that way
He said, “It’s just work, all that matters is work”
Andy sat down to talk one day
He said decide what you want
Do you want to expand your parameters
Or play museums like some dilettante
I fired him on the spot, he got red and called me a rat
It was the worst word that he could think of
And I’ve never seen him like that
It’s just work, I thought he said it’s just work
Work, he said it’s just work

Andy said a lot of things, I stored them all away in my head
Sometimes when I can’t decide what I should do
I think what would Andy have said
He’d probably say you think too much
That’s ’cause there’s work that you don’t want to do
It’s work, the most important thing is work
Work, the most important thing is work

Work by Lou Reed and John Cale.  This song is from the excellent album Songs for Drella.  This is a tribute album the two did for Andy Warhol after Warhol’s death.  Drella was Warhol’s nickname.  It is a combination of Cinderella and Dracula.  The album as a whole is an incredibly powerful work in which the two share their recollections of Warhol and often sing from Warhol’s perspective.  One of the reasons that it is so emotionally moving is that it largely lacks sentimentality.  Warhol is presented as a real human being, faults and all.  One feels as if they are getting a look at the Warhol behind the pop culture figure that he has now become.  Often when someone influential dies mainstream society sands the edges off of them.  The Warhol presented here is actually more interesting here in his full humanity than the Warhol that we often see in TV and films.

I often think of this song because it is about the daily grind to create art.  David Milch talks about how one needs to be, “prepared to be inspired.”  Art is a work of passion, so no I’m not comparing it to digging ditches.  But it does take a certain persistence to create anything.  Warhol created an astonishing amount of work.  To do what he did took a lot of effort.  Because of his public persona it makes it easy to overlook the fact that he put countless hours into his craft.

Great artists like Warhol make creation seem easy.  Behind that fey outer shell was someone who possessed grit and determination.

Fun With Quitting

I’ve always believed that if you are going to quit a job that you should make an art project out of it.  “Punch through the mask”, as good old Captain Ahab once said.  Society is kept in order by rules, many of which are bullshit, that no one ever questions.  Quitting is a time when you can go can let go of these invisible rules, shake things loose, have some fun, and see what happens.

One time I worked at Panera for a week.  I started on the bottom rung, as one is likely to do at jobs such as these.  I was primarily a dish washer.  I was getting paid nothing.  I had been a janitor by this point, so it wasn’t as if I wasn’t accustomed to doing shitty jobs.  About a week in I showed up with terrible sunburn.  The dishwater was hot and my arms felt like they were on fire.  I was already in a “bad mood.”

The manager came up to me, and instead of just telling me what to do, told me to go outside and look at the dumpster.  Someone had not loaded the dumpster properly and there was rotten food all over the ground.  By the dumpster there was a snow shovel.  I put one and one together and realized that she wanted me to clean up someone else’s mess by using the snow shovel to load the rotten food back into the dumpster.

I walked back inside to complain that the shovel was inadequate for the task at hand, as when you tried to shovel the rotten food it simply pushed away from the shovel.  However, before I reached her I got an idea that made me laugh so hard I simply had to go through with it.

I went back out to the dumpster and took off my uniform.  I then, using the shovel as the basis for a sort of scarecrow, made a dummy with my uniform.  I then placed the “scarecrow” directly in front of the dumpster that I was supposed to be refilling.

After that I simply got into my car and drove off into the day, telling no one, and never looking back…

Total Insanity

One of the books I’m picking my way through is Henry Rollins’s Get in the Van.  The book is a tour journal of his time in Black Flag.  In between a very realistic depiction of life on the road he expresses his inner thoughts.  Many times these thoughts border on insanity from the constant exhaustion he faces.  He is not only touring with Black Flag, but often going on spoken word tours in between those tours.  They also have no money and are often touring under horrible conditions.  Anyway, I read a couple pages with my morning coffee and what follows are a few excerpts that I took from about a five page portion of the book.  This section actually takes place between all of the constant work when he is finally at home living in a shed.  Yes between tours at this point he lives in a shed.  He seems particularly adrift when he is not working.  As insane as his schedule is, he seems to feel even more lost when he is not working.  I recently put up a post about how there was a certain poetry to insanity.  I also have a dark sense of humor and found  a certain parts of what follows to be great.  As my brother commented, “He’s got a real sweet mind.”

No one would understand that I see jungle on Prospect Street.  Always jungle.  Napalm falling through the polluted sunset.  A village up ahead.  People have been poisoned.  Something was stolen from them in the night.  

I wonder if there are people who destroy themselves without anyone else around to see them do it?  Of course there are.  People who cry alone.  People who sit in silence with the lights off, silently burning.  Not seeking seeking attention, but falling apart on their own.  These people are heroes to me.  Someone with enough stuff in them to take and not seek attention.  I’m not saying that waving one’s arms for help is bad or weak.  I’m sure there are thousands holed up in hot or freezing apartments, tool sheds, basements, just simmering.  Ready to explode or cave in.  Pressing their eyes to the keyhole.  Scratching a clear space on a dirty window to have a look outside.  Going to work.  Waiters, dishwashers, grinding through shifts, punching out.  Walking to a fast food place for dinner then going home.   Living in a custom tailored hell.  

I saw a couple of beer commercials.  Fuck, they must have a lot of idiots watching.  They make a drunk slob look cool.  Why can’t they have Hitler ads?  Ads with mushroom clouds going up with people riding motorcycles and drinking beers.  That sounds nice and gross, just as gross as the ones on the box today.  

The DNA in his semen could automatically code with any animal he put it into.  Didn’t matter what he mated with, it would bear his children.  He built an army of beasts, half-human, half-whatever.  He lead them into the city.  They put on clothes and blended in.  No one seemed to notice until the moon was full.