Thursday, March 3, 2011

Last Tango in Los Angeles: American Idol

Last Tango in Los Angeles: American Idol: "I have to watch American Idol. I mean, I HAVE to watch it. Angie adores the show and will brook no argument. If it comes on, it's on our ..."

Last Tango in Los Angeles: American Idol

Last Tango in Los Angeles: American Idol: "I have to watch American Idol. I mean, I HAVE to watch it. Angie adores the show and will brook no argument. If it comes on, it's on our ..."

American Idol

I have to watch American Idol. I mean, I HAVE to watch it. Angie adores the show and will brook no argument. If it comes on, it's on our television. Period.

I pretend to find it distracting. But the truth is, I sort of like it. I can see the television from my office, sitting at my desk, and spend a lot of time craning my neck and peeping at it while it's on.

In it's own way, it's impressive, I guess. But it is a constant reminder that I'm gettting older. None of these folks seem to 'sing' so much as they seem to be 'caterwauling.' Now, don't get me wrong, I don't even pretend to be trained singer. I'm really not. I can sometimes carry a tune if a revolver is pointed at my temple, but that's about it. But like most people, I know what I like. And I don't care for caterwauling. There's a cat in our barnyard-influenced neighborhood that supplies all the caterwauling I need. Incidentally, his name is Isaac and he's the most insolent cat I've ever met. He fears no dog. He chews dogs up and spits 'em out. He sleeps on our car's roof at night in the driveway. Isaac is a 'cat's cat.' He's a legend among other cats. He's the Fonzie of cats.

But I digress. The problem with these American Idol kids is their inability, it appears, to simply sing a damn song, no frills, no James Brown-esque screams, no smoke and mirrors. But that's not the way it's done today, apparently, and that's why I don't let these American Idol kids play in my yard. I'm the metaphoric old man that comes out on the porch and chases them off.

There's one kid, the one with the scarf hanging out his ass like a beaver tail, who steps on the stage and screams non-stop for the next two mintues, or however long it is they get to show their wares. This kid makes me fightin' mad.

And you know, it's appalling. Not the kids so much, but my reaction to them. I'm reminded of the response my Dad always had when he heard me playing my Springsteen albums back in the late seventies. My bedroom was on the second floor of my childhood home and he'd stand at the bottom of the stairs and scream up, "Turn that shit down!" And then he'd wander off, mumbling under his breath, "Can't understand a word that damned hippie is singin'." Once I was playing Aretha Franklin and he called her a 'yelping negress.' Good Lord.

I am uncomfortably close to having that same reaction during American Idol. One of them will start singing a song, something that sounds vaguely familiar, I'll stop what I'm doing and listen intently. "What IS that?" I think to myself. "I know I've heard that somewhere." Finally, unable to stand it one more second, I call out to Angie, "What the hell is that song?" Invariably, she'll say something like, "Happy Birthday." Or, "The National Anthem." And I sit at my desk and mumble, "Can't understand a damned word that hippie is singing."

I'd like them to simply calm the f**k down and sing the damn song. That should be one of the competitions. The night they all are forced to sit in a chair, not move, and sing the melody as written. One misstep, one moment of veering off into a slight caterwaul, and they get points deducted. Maybe even give them all the same song, say, "Theme from Ice Castles." Maybe something by The Carpenters. Maybe "Weekend in New England." Maybe "Muskrat Lovin'."

I think there's a moment, a clear, distinct line in the middle of our lives, that is the actual moment we enter middle age. And that is the moment we stop seeking out new music. We're totally content with the music we know. The moment we're not really interested in hearing the new 'Radiohead' song, or the new 'Coldplay' song or whatever. We'd just as soon put on Elvis Costello and listen to a song that meant something to us twenty years ago. Oh, maybe we'd like the song if we gave it a chance, but it's just too much effort. We no longer have the strength or fortitude to listen to ten songs in order to find one that moves us.

I remember some years back, quite some years back, in fact, when I stood at the door to the now defunct Camelot Music in New York and waited for them to open so I could purchase the latest 'Smiths' album. I would never dream of doing something so asinine today. I wouldn't stand outside and wait if a store were giving out free money today. Unless, of course, it was A LOT of money. No, those days of intellectual experimentation are long gone for me.

Honest to god, it's pathetic. I have a long drive ahead of me every night to get over to Sepulvada Avenue where I do the play in which I'm currently acting. Most of the time I listen to music on the way, CDs I have in the car. Here's what I have in my car right at this very moment: Springsteen (The Promise - brilliant), Sinatra's Greatest Hits, George Jones' Greatest Hits, Tom Waits' Heart Attack and Vine, The Soundtrack to "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (lots of great jazz tunes on that one), and (I apologize right out front for this one) Andy Williams Christmas Album. I just haven't gotten around to taking that one out, yet.

The point is, nothing new. Nothing remotely new, in fact. And I'm perfectly happy with that. I'm comforted, actually. I NEED to hear my old music to remind me who I was, how I got here. I NEED to hear Sinatra swing, "I've got the world on a string, sittin' on a rainbow...' I NEED to hear Springsteen chant, "Barefoot girl sittin' on the hood of a Dodge, drinkin' warm beer in the soft, summer rain..." I NEED to hear George Jones cry in his whiskey, "He stopped loving her today, they placed a wreath upon his door..." I need to remember that I, too, once appreciated new things, new ideas, new stuff in my life. I need to remember I was not always so stuffy and isolated. I need to remember that I, too, was once young and idealistic.

I'm not sure exactly when I crossed that invisible line into middle age. But to be honest, I'd like to step back across it sometimes and not be so damned set in my ways. I'd like to go back to that moment, sitting at a kitchen table in David Brady's apartment with a few other friends drinking Little Kings, waiting breathlessly while David cued up the song 'Drive All Night' on Springsteen's The River. David saying, "You gotta fucking hear this! It'll fucking change your life, man!" And then raising my head and stare at the ceiling while Bruce let loose a primal scream so perfect and honest as to make my eyes water. Listen once again, for the first time, to the soul-scraping lyrics, "I'd drive all night just to buy you some, baby, baby..." Back to that moment when anything, anything at all, was possible.

See you tomorrow.