Tuesday, February 4, 2014

All The World's A Stage

I can't stop thinking about the recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman.  When I start thinking about something too much it usually means that I need to write about it.  That always seems to help me put to rest whatever it is I'm thinking about too much.  One reason I'm thinking more about the death of this particular person is the way it happened.  Alone in his $10,000 a month apartment with heroin scattered around the room and a needle stuck in his arm.  So tragic for someone so talented and for someone who seemed to have shrugged off his fame and lived what some who knew him called an "unassuming life" and said that he was just a "regular guy."  But regular guys don't shoot heroin.  It's all just so sad.  The other reason for my reflection has to do with the connection I felt to the characters he played in certain movies.  Some of his roles were familiar to me in both time period and subject matter.  Almost Famous, set in the year 1973, is a good example.  So many scenes and conversations in that movie took me back to that year in my own life.  Scenes like this one, which is pretty accurate right down to the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer on the table and the shag carpet.

There is also a scene in this movie in which Lester Bangs, played by Hoffman, as the editor of a music magazine called Creem, is having a conversation with William Miller, a young kid, played by Patrick Fugit, who is trying to break into the business as a music writer/reporter.  Following a long lecture about how corrupt the music business is, Bangs suddenly pauses, then says, "I can give you 35 bucks.  Give me a thousand words on Black Sabbath."  This gets the kid started on his way, and for the rest of the movie you see him carrying around a small, cheap cassette tape recorder with a microphone about the size of a magic marker.  The reason this scene stood out so much for me is that when I was only 18 years old and working as a dj (that's disc jockey for those of you not hip to the lingo) at a small AM radio station in South Dakota my boss came to me one day with my first big assignment.  Militant members of the American Indian Movement had just staged an armed occupation of Wounded Knee, a small town on the Pine Ridge Reservation about a hundred miles away.  A press conference was scheduled for the next day in Rapid City, about 50 miles away, and reporters from the major national news networks would be there, along with South Dakota Senator James Abourezk, Abourezk's aide Tom Daschle, FBI officials and a bunch of other big shots.  For some reason our own news director was not available, so I got the assignment.  I was nervous, excited and scared all at the same time.  But I went, and there I was - sitting at an over sized conference table with all of these pros with expensive equipment, wearing suits and smoking Chesterfields.  A couple of them may have even been right out some classic film noir, wearing a Fedora with a tag that said PRESS sticking out of the hatband.  It was a big moment for me...even if I was way out of my league.  Thank God I never asked a question.

Another Hoffman movie role that got to me was The Count in Pirate Radio.  It should be obvious by now that my radio days were a huge influence in my life and the source of some very fond memories.
I played a lot of those same records in real life as those guys did on that underground station located on a ship drifting somewhere off the coast of England.  I wasn't quite as animated, however, and I was bound by FCC regulations as well as local standards of the time.  But, in one of my proudest moments, I did almost get fired for playing "The Ballad of John and Yoko."  Some of the lyrics were...well...let's just say they weren't acceptable to the owner of a local station in a small midwestern town.  He gave me a break, though, and I'm glad he did.  Thanks Joe.
My next favorite Hoffman role was Brandt, the nerdy personal assistant to Mr. Lebowski. That's Mr. Jeffrey Lebowski, the millionaire philanthropist, not Jeff Lebowski, the Dude.  You know, the one who abides.  I guess if you haven't seen the movie then you don't know.  So see the movie.

There. I feel better.  Maybe I just needed to talk about some of these things.  It could be that deep down when I hear about the death of someone I admire, even though I may not know them, it causes me to consider my own mortality.  After all, I'm not in my early 50s any more.  I'm not even in my mid 50s any more.  But I plan on being around for quite a while yet. As Gavin Cavanagh, one of those crazy guys on Radio Caroline out there in the North Sea said so poignantly "Now here's a rather long record. I hope I'm here at the end of it."

             Roger O'Dea     2/4/2014

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