Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Richard Lewis, Yiddish, American Slang, Salvador Dali, Bread: a trainwreck of thoughts
I was perusing a small book store last week when I picked up Richard Lewis' "The Other Great Depression". I remember liking Richard Lewis and was intrigued. I figured the book was about depression. Pretty good assumption, given the title. And it was a good assumption based on my memory of Lewis' stand-up comedy. I had always assumed the guy was depressed.
Lewis' entire schtick was kvetching. I use two Yiddish words here, because Lewis was portraying the quintessential "neurotic Jew" to the hilt. He made Woody Allen seem normal in comparison. I hesitate to compare the two, however. Woody Allen was a ground breaking comedian who has also made some films that were pure genius. I wonder why I'm using the past tense. . .
Lewis, though funny, basically did something that any "neurotic Jew" with a big ego could have done: made a career out of self-denigrating himself publicly. Yeah, I thought he was funny, but often felt "Why can't I get paid for this?!" I mean, I have plenty of neuroses and I'd love to get rich pacing back and forth on stage whilst complaining or being interviewed on talk shows and talk non-stop about myself and my worries. How did he manage to pull off this schtick? I'm sorry, but it seems like an easy gig to me.
Time out for Yiddish lesson:
From "Bubby's Yiddish/Yinglish Glossary": Yes, I could have used a "real" dictionary, but they didn't feel right (whatever that means). I wish Leo Rosten's "The Joys of Yiddish"" was online, for it not only has definitions of words, but the oft used jokes that go along with them.
Shtick: piece, thing, bit, part. Also, an act or routine (as in comedy or vaudeville.)
Kvetch: complain. One can kvetch (complain) or be a kvetch (a complainer).
Kvitcher: whine, whimper. "Quit kvitchering. You'll live! It's only a paper cut!" (A kvitcherer is one who kvitchers)
And the joke from Rosten's book:
A young woman was driving her grandfather through the desert, and he kept complaining, "Oy, am I thirsty! Oy, am I thirsty!" And he kept going on like this, and on and on and on and on and finally the young woman pulled off at a gas station and got him some water and Gatorade and anything else she could think of to quench his thirst. He drank some of it, and they got on the road again, and then he started kvetching again: "Oy, was I thirsty. Oy, was I thirsty..."
And now, back to Richard Lewis' book. I generally do not like autobiographies, biographies or, especially, confessionals (especially from famous performers). I don't want to know the "artist behind the art". It's usually a disappointment for me, or has been enough in the past (the distant past), to have kept me from even a fairly normal dose of curiosity about artists I've liked. I don't want to know how a composer treated his family, for example, for it may color my opinion of their music. Having learned more about Woody Allen's life has seriously damaged my appreciation of his work. I couldn't avoid knowing the dirt on him for it was public knowledge and I would have had to make a conscious effort not to pay attention to any news media to not find out that he was having an affair with what I consider to be essentially his step daughter. This doesn't make me like his films less, but I certainly have lost my respect for him. I suppose it may (and perhaps must) effect my sense of his "getting it right" in terms of portraying human behavior. However, I will say that even before all his personal drama erupted into the media spotlight, I had always found his conclusion about human behavior rather suspect. Interesting, but suspect. I suspected that he was, in essence, a morally bankrupt human being, and I now feel more sure of that prior assessment. Yes, that's a harsh statement, and you may vehemently disagree with me. But the final word on this is it doesn't make me appreciate "Crimes and Misdemeanors" or "Annie Hall" any less.
Here's the first part of my train wreck of thought. It's even worse than I thought. I started out, last night, to write something about a word I encountered in Richard Lewis' book. I haven't even gotten close to that subject yet (for I haven't even told you the word). I wound up writing about Woody Allen's scandals, autobiography, why I'm not interested and giving you some definitions of Yiddish words.
So, back to Richard Lewis (which I had said I'd do two paragraphs ago, didn't I?) The book is about his recovery from alcoholism. If it's about depression, I haven't read anything so far that really touches upon the subject, unless we make an assumption that anyone who drinks to excess is depressed (which I don't). Am I that interested in this subject? Not really. What I'm interested in, mostly, about his book, is his seemingly candid discussion of the desire for recognition at all costs. And today, I'm troubled, for I poked around on the web looking for something (what, I don't even remember now) and discovered that there's some controversy over whether Lewis is, in fact, an alcoholic or if he's exaggerating.
I normally wouldn't care a whit. If someone feels they have a substance abuse problem, that's their call. If they think their use is hampering their lives in any way, I go with the user's opinion. Who else can judge?
But when it comes to a celebrity, my alert system goes off. Are they trying to shore up their career? It seems many of these tell-all books come out when an artist is losing their celebrity (think of all the has-been musicians who've put out "read how much heroin I did and get a vicarious thrill out of how promiscuous I was" books).
Interlude: Confessional book subtitles
Slash: "Slash: It was excessive but that didn't mean it didn't happen"
Nikki SIxx: "The Heroin Diaries: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star"
Only two books? There must be hundreds! But I'll leave that to another time. . .
And why has William Burrough's "Junky" now become "Junky: the Definitive book of Junk"?
Richard Lewis' book really does take the cake with its subtitle: "How I'm overcoming, on a daily basis, at least a million addictions and dysfunctions and finding a a spiritual (sometimes) life" The paperback even has a sub-subtitle! "With a new preface from the author on his current state of mind." Oy gevalt. (I'm tired - google that if you don't know what it means.)
Now, my third try to get back to Lewis' book. I'm reading along. Sort of enjoying it. I think "it's light reading", which is funny, because one reviewer said ". . .painful, shocking, a soul stripped bare. . ." What am I to make of this huge gap in perception? Nothing.
I want to get to my point. You will not believe how small it is. It's as small as a pencil tip.
Wait for it. Hold on. I'm getting there. In a moment. . .
First, on page 61. . .I started to become uneasy. . .he wrote about waiting backstage with Shelly Berman; ". . .rapping with Shelly Berman. . .it was a gas."
I just re-read four pages three times (oy vay) trying to find this tiny little thing, only to discover that it is also on page 61, right before what is written above.
Speaking about Lenny Bruce's mother, who was terminally ill (with what, he doesn't say), he wrote, "comics did benefits to help raise bread for her mounting medical expenses."
That was it. What I was looking for is: "help raise bread".
Maybe it was the whole paragraph. . .it bothered me so much I thought "I can't continue reading this." He says he's raising bread for a sick woman while digging rapping with another comic and it was a gas.
I just had had it at that point. Take off your shades, Richard Lewis! They are messing with your perception of things and how you express yourself. How come noone has called him the "yiddish pseudo hipster comedian"? Perhaps they're afraid of being labeled an anti-semite, but that's not worrying me 'cause I'm of semitic heritage myself (and why exactly does this let me off the hook?)
I am going to continue reading the book. It's become more interesting, in a way, as I see how full of shit he is starting to seem while trying to be "brutally honest". And why am I being so judgmental, anyway? Perhaps it's this: I am experiencing exactly what I usually try to avoid: knowing the personal life and inner thoughts of an artist whom I like.
I never really thought the guy was all that funny. The truth is, I related to him. Like I said, I coveted his "job". I still do on some days. I'm quite good at self-deprecating humor and I love to tell stories. My family is a bunch of nutcases and I grew up in a crazy household. I do see a therapist and there are many times he bursts out loud laughing when I tell him something that happened in my life, or the latest thing my father has said to me (especially then). I am not meaning to elicit a response of that nature!
Before I go off on for five more paragraphs about this, I want to say what happened last night (when I originally started this post). I went to find out when the word bread, rap and gas became part of the American slang lexicon. I got stuck at the word bread. There wasn't much. Or perhaps I was too tired to find it (likely), for I am too tired to hunt it down right now (and it's the early afternoon, not midnight after a long day!)
I put that task aside for a bit and decided to find a nice painting of bread to head up the post. Surprise of surprises: my first few hits were all painted by Salvador Dali! Who knew he was a still life painter? Not I!
I assume these were all early works, but they were not. It seems Dali had all sorts of ideas about bread. Unfortunately, because of the bread/painting search, I came up against a pet peeve (which is an expression I need to research) that is as great as my dislike of certain slang use, namely, Salvador Dali. Note: While spell checking, I discovered that this last sentence made no sense, yet I am leaving it in for it is really quite funny. Accidentally, I equate Dali with slang use. No, this not a "Freudian slip". Sometimes an error is just an error and a cigar is in fact a train. And now I am entering surreal territory where I do not like to go. It is only this: I am so tired that I am typing with one eye closed and I just nodded off mid sentence.
I have always thought Dali was a phoney, a hoax, a media whore (and I give him credit for that before there was all that much media), a megalomaniac, self-consciously (not authentically) eccentric, filled with outrageously stupid ideas about human consciousness. . . .the list goes on. I really "hate" this guy! However, I have always found this painting, the Crucifiction, to be quite powerful (wow-check out that last typo - I know it's the crucifixtion!), but it has to be seen in person (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) to get the full impact:
But I love both religious art and music (as long as they are not current).
I had more thoughts about Dali, especially on his "paranoiac-critical method" of painting. However, this is the end of today's blog entry. I've had enough. In fact, I feel like taking a nap. Dali's ideas are probably completely irrelevant in the face of all post-modern theory, but I see there's an article entitled "A Semiological Exploration of Dali's Paranoiac-Critical Method" which I may read, and you are certainly invited to get there before I, if you are interested.
Last word: I wrote this post when I was dead tired. I just spent over an hour fixing all the typos. Now I'm wondering if the sentence I say made no sense does make sense. It's in red. You tell me.