“An American Marriage”

“An American Marriage”

I could not put this book down.

For the last three days I’ve been sitting in a chair getting an IVIG drip. Not a great way to spend a holiday weekend, but to be truthful when you work for yourself the weekdays are holidays and the weekends are downtime you endure, e-mail slows down, people fall back into their lives, and you long for the action.

The first day is always the same, the Benadryl and the steroids make you foggy and tired and it’s hard to do just about anything. I watched that movie “Mudbound” on my iPad. Don’t.

And I finished that book “The Glass Castle” on day two, when my brain came back. I always thought it was a fantasy, and I hate fantasy, but after reading “Half Broke Horses” I cracked it. Turns out it’s the story of the author’s upbringing. It resonated because…let’s just say I know that life, I know someone who was brought up that way. Can you ever shake your roots? I don’t think so.

And “Half Broke Horses” is the thinly fictionalized prequel, about the rambunctious grandmother in a different time. Do spirited people always triumph or is the spirit squeezed out of them? I’m not sure. But your goal is to keep your spirit alive. I’m not being religious here, but when you stop thinking you make a difference, when you think nothing matters and you can’t accomplish any more, you’re done. But as we age, we oftentimes think this way.

And looking for additional books to read I stumbled upon “An American Marriage.” It was the reviews that intrigued me. I didn’t know it was an Oprah pick. But if this is what she’s into, I’ll now read everything she recommends.

So what we’ve got here is the story of married African-Americans.

Atlanta is the black Hollywood. Certainly in hip-hop. And as hip-hop secures its place in the national consciousness, the world consciousness, Atlanta rises ever higher. Once upon a time we listened to the Allman Brothers play “Hot ‘Lanta,” but now…

And how much do I know about the black experience? Not much.

The protagonist is a man with swagger, who comes from little but graduates from college and is gonna set the world on fire. But he’s a bit of a playa, he steps out, he’s imperfect. But lovable just the same. It’s these chiaroscuro characters that entrance me. Because we’ve all got shades of light and gray.

The woman he’s married to is somewhat cold and reserved and hot-headed. She’s a prize, but you never know if you really have her.

And then something happens.

I won’t tell you what it is, even though it happens surprisingly early in this book. But it tests the marriage.

“Marriage is between two people. There is no studio audience.”

If you’re doing it for the public, if you’re marrying a trophy wife so others will be impressed, the joke is on you. Because no one really cares. And you’ve got to be with this person all the time. Find someone you can be yourself with, who understands you, who gets you.

“Much of life is timing and circumstance, I see that now.”

You learn this as you age. The timing’s not right. They were married when you were single and now they’re not but the spark is not there, no matter how hard you try.

And that’s not the plot of this book, but it made me think of that. You can intellectualize all you want, try to bend the will of the gods, but you can’t, you can only drift down that lazy river and paddle a bit.

And then there’s the issue of who you should be with.

And the sense of duty.

It’s all so complicated and much of what comes across the transom is just plain wrong. We see the people on TMZ and think life is about following your instincts, your wishes and desires. But those can get you in big trouble, baby. You’ve got to hold back, but to what degree?

There’s a device in this book that is riveting, the letters between the characters.

And there’s the modern device of multiple viewpoints.

But mostly there’s the story of people. Time marches on, what do you do, how do you live your life, can you ever turn back the clock?

And for a moment there the book got sappy and overblown and I thought it was building to a predictable ending but it didn’t. It surprised me, it was real.

This is not “Gone Girl.” This is not a thriller.

Rather this is the story of modern life. Being black in a world where you always have to be on guard. Being married in a world where you never really know if you have somebody.

You may think it’s chick lit.

Then again, if that’s your viewpoint you probably have a problem with intimacy. Because feelings…expressing them is what relationships are all about.

I recommend this. The added bonus for whites is the insight into black life, without the sugarcoating.

But this is not a racial story, this is a people story. And we’re all people. It resonates.

Icarus

Icarus

I thought this was a movie about Lance Armstrong.

But it’s not.

We knew Lance was doping because of the kerfuffle with that one test, the one that was thrown out. And the words of Greg LeMond, who said scientifically there was no way Lance could win, because of his inability to process oxygen. Yes, I followed this. LeMond was excoriated and Armstrong was venerated until…

It’s always until.

And there was some hype about this Oscar nominated documentary but it slid right off of me, even though I get all the publications it was hyped in. Because it’s hard to believe anything in a world of sales. It’s a symbiotic relationship between media and entertainment, it’s not hard news so we’ll fudge, say something is good so we can get access down the line. Kinda like the promoter has to take the bad band to get the good one.

But then a friend with no dog in this hunt, who saw the flick on a screener, a man who sees absolutely everything, is more qualified to vote than any member of AMPAS, told me it was his favorite movie of the year.

So I checked it out on Netflix.

Now despite the written word triumphing online, the truth is we live in a visual culture, people don’t believe something until they see it, and when they see “Icarus”…

You’re not exactly sure where the flick is going. Actually, the director himself was not exactly sure where the flick was going. He was an amateur bike racer who wondered if he doped whether his results would improve. He reached out to the doping bigwig at UCLA, who invented so many of the anti-doping tests, and this man said yes to involvement and then he said no and then he hooked him up with his Russian friend Grigory Rodchenkov, who immediately started to help the director over Skype.

And you think you’re watching a nobody on a lark, trying to prove a point that you already know, kinda like Morgan Spurlock in “Super Size Me.” But then the movie turns into something different, something very different, because this Russian gentleman…

Breaks the story of the Russian Olympic doping wide open.

And probably you’re O.D.’ed on the Olympics, you really don’t care, but this is not about the Olympics, but Russia.

And Russia is all over the news this week. Our President considers Vladimir Putin a friend, he thinks the Mueller investigation is much ado about nothing. And then you watch “Icarus” and your eyes bug out.

You see in America we’ve been sold a bill of goods, a myth, that we live in a democracy where truth wins out and honesty reigns and if you just put your nose to the grindstone it will all work out.

But if that was ever true, it’s not now.

Ignore the naysayers. ignore the Trumpers. Ignore the blowback. It’s our country to save, and it’s at risk.

You see these people lie. All the time. And since Trump got elected the “left wing” media calls him on it, but the right wing does not, and since so many only pay attention to the right wing they’ve got no idea what the truth is. That the tax cuts are not good for individuals. That Trump is tied-up financially with the Russians. And I’m willing to let Trump stay in office, but as he does our democracy is fading away. We’re becoming just like Russia.

Where Putin lies and kills his enemies and throws his hands up and says we’ve got it wrong, he’s honest and forthright and our accusations are inaccurate and we’re dreaming. And you watch him and you wonder, how far is this from our own country? Where the Ambassador to the Netherlands denies making comments that are already on tape?

But Putin is not that stupid.

So this Russian scientist… They arrest him and put him in a mental institution, but they release him to help with doping at Sochi. And they’re not satisfied with beating the test, they devise a way for the KGB, which is now called the FSB, to literally replace all the samples. So Russia wins more medals than ever and with the public’s surging support Putin invades Ukraine and the rest of the world does nothing about it.

And then when incontrovertible evidence comes in the IOC lets the Russians participate in Rio anyway.

So the scientist sneaks out of Russia. And his assets are stripped, his colleague is killed, his direct connection up the food chain, only three away from Putin, resigned and is under criminal investigation, and the man in charge was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister and Putin denies, denies, denies.

Kinda like it is in the United States today.

Don’t take my word for it. Don’t defend Trump or his right wing cronies, just watch this documentary.

We’re in search of greatness. In a world of plenty, we want very little. I’m combing Netflix and finding too much product which does not rivet me. But then I stumble on “Icarus” and my adrenaline starts to flow and my blood starts to boil and I wonder how in a country where everybody’s focused on celebrities nobody knows all this. It washes off of you when you see it printed endlessly in the paper. But when you watch the scientist involved, when you see the pols deny, when the scientist has to go into the witness protection program you sit up and get scared and wonder what you can do, how you can push back, you’re stunned that this is happening in the world.

But it is.

One person can make a difference. It hurt him financially, but Greg LeMond was right.

The Russian scientist, Grigory Rodchenkov, turned the sporting world upside down.

And it was all because a novice documentarian wanted to go faster on his bicycle.

You can make a difference, truly. That’s the story of America, that’s the story of the world, how one person can move mountains. If right is on their side.

But too many people believe in expedience, staying quiet so they can get ahead, even though lying never works out in the end.

This is not the fastest movie ever made. But it’s one of the most important of the year. All the attention is paid to the Hollywood wankers, with their worldwide productions of sci-fi fantasy, when it’s the work of relative nobodies that changes the course of history. Who cares if Steven Spielberg made “The Post,” that was then and this is now and Bryan Fogel’s achievement eclipses that of Hollywood’s most revered director. Because Fogel thought outside of the box, he never backed down, he pursued the story, not the cash.

He made a statement.

You should spend the time to watch it.

It will change your life.

The Chris Rock Netflix Special

I LIKE PEACE MORE THAN PUSSY!

Can you say that in 2018? Then again, when this was recorded Omarosa was still in the White House. But that’s what we depend upon from our comedians, the unvarnished truth, the way we would say it. With the F-bombs and the scatological comments. You’re drawn right in, the way you aren’t with the modern work of the classic rockers. Chris Rock ages and his material changes, musicians age and they sing the same damn songs about love under the moon in June. What’s up with that?

Now I’m not saying you’re gonna bust a gut watching this. Not that you won’t laugh, but Rock is in search of something different. Lessons. Education. What kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where you learn more from a comedy special than you do in school? One in which a private school says it’s got a “No Bully Policy.” Rock says the world NEEDS bullies, and I agree with him. It’s a rough and tumble society and my father could not stop imparting lessons, that’s what he did best. Come to my baseball games? No! Discuss music with me? No! Watch television with me? No! Talk about my emotional state? NO! But when we were together it was an endless class in Life 101, the way the world really works.

And my girlfriends hate it. When I take the air out of their story. When I don’t believe what someone says. When I poke holes in the surface to get to the nougat. Guy drives a Lamborghini with no visible means of support? Either he comes from a rich family or he’s living on the edge with no money in the bank. That’s what life is about, finding out how the world really works. And most people are clueless. Either they buy the hogwash on TV and TMZ, or they believe everything they read in the newspaper. But the truth is it’s all artifice and it doesn’t apply to you. You’re on your own and no one outside your front door gives a rat’s ass about you. Oh, they might SAY they do, but they really don’t, especially if you’re a guy. Lose your job and see how many of those “friends” call or text, NONE! Oh, maybe once or twice to commiserate, but after that they move on to people who can do something for them, that’s the reality of males today, they only want to know you if you can do something for them, or get them in the club. Oh, don’t tell me about the sixth grade buddy you iMessage with all day long. Is he gonna help you get a new job? And when you’re in the shitter and need him to come over he’s gonna wimp out and say his wife won’t let him.

That’s another thing Rock drills down on, marriage.

You’ve got to make like you care. You’ve got to have sex whether you’re in the mood or not. Fucking and traveling, that’s what he says it’s all about.

And there you have enough four letter words to unsubscribe. But Chris Rock’s special was an inspiration, he was growing and being himself, isn’t that what artists do? It’s not about playing it safe, maintaining, but pushing the envelope. And when you get it right there are untold accolades. Along with money raining down.

The paradigm has shifted. You don’t want a sitcom, NOBODY IS WATCHING! That’s right, Marc Maron leveraged his podcast into a sitcom that no one watched and is now over. And the interviewer hates me and that’s all right, because Chris Rock dismisses cyberbullying. I mean come on, some dude you don’t even know, sitting at home in his underwear, is talking shit to a minimal audience?

But back to bullying, one of the insightful jokes is how when a real bully came along, i.e. Donald Trump, we didn’t know how to handle him. That’s right, Michelle Obama said when they go low, we go high. How did that work out for the Democrats? IT DIDN’T!

And Chris says a man is all about his job. You meet a new girl and your guy friends ask what she looks like. You meet a new guy and your girlfriends ask WHAT DOES HE DO??

Do nothing and you’ve got nothing. Even Michelle is bugging Barack, how’s that book going, what comes next?

There’s more wisdom in this hour than there is in a year of network television. Certainly more than there is in white rock. Hell, country music is lowest common denominator family crap and Chris trumps those crackers. That’s right, you can be politically incorrect when you’re right, the truth resonates.

And stings.

We want to hear what Chris Rock has to say.

And on one hand he’s telling us what’s happened to him since we last saw him. He got divorced, he stepped out, he hit on Rihanna. But unlike seemingly everybody else in the public eye, especially those in Washington, D.C., HE’S THOUGHT ABOUT IT! Isn’t it funny you can’t change your mind in politics when in reality life is all about learning, the lessons that help you get through.

As we venerate the youth in a looks-based culture where the old are derided for their age and there’s no center.

That’s right, there’s no center anymore, no water cooler. Not even Facebook. Never mind on every social media outlet everybody’s got their own friends.

And sure, some are communicating, but most want to become famous, and rich.

But few make it. They’re not willing to put in the hard work, the ups and downs with no safety net.

Chris Rock triumphed as a new comic on HBO and then failed on SNL. Took him a long time to claw back. And since he has, he’s not repeating himself, he’s trying new things, especially in his comedy.

White guys telling observational jokes… That’s why Seinfeld is lost in the nineties, he never grew, he never changed his act, he never became something different.

Chris Rock has.

And when you watch this show and the truth spits into your eyes and ears your brain starts to percolate, you start to think. And that’s what being a human being is all about, cogitating, sifting through the input to establish a course of behavior.

And for all the right wing put-downs of the African-American culture, as they step out and get abortions and divorces and then don’t want anyone else to partake of these privileges, it’s Chris Rock who is saying to stay married, that the woman is in charge, she rules the house, but really your family is a band, and if you don’t play the tambourine with gusto…

It breaks up.

Netflix

It’s already won.

You don’t play the game, YOU CREATE THE GAME!

This is what established players don’t recognize, whether it be in content or distribution. If you want to win in the end you can’t do what everybody else does, you’ve got to risk, you’ve got to create something new that satiates the customer in a way existing products do not.

With Netflix it was all about on demand.

Remember driving to the video shop? What a waste of time/terrible experience that was. You had to get in your car, you got there, and they didn’t have what you wanted.

But now you go on Netflix and they organize the titles in a way that plays to your interests, that’s comprehensible, BUT YOU NEVER HAVE TO LEAVE YOUR COUCH!

How great is that, INCREDIBLE!

Meanwhile, traditional outlets are dribbling out product with endless promos and commercials and as soon as we got an option, we bolted.

That was the magic of Napster. We just got the tracks we wanted. We didn’t want the overpriced CD. And the MP3 was good enough, we don’t need the Blu-Ray, but unlike the record labels, Netflix gives people what they want, you desire high quality, you can pay for 4k.

But the point is Netflix is a tech company, not an entertainment company, and that’s why they’re winning.

One, they know there’s a first-mover advantage. And that if you continue to improve the product, you dominate. It’s only when you become stagnant that you’re screwed.

So Netflix is airing reruns. Then it goes to original programming. But not like HBO, which releases shows in drips and drabs. You get overhyped and then you’re disappointed, like with “Divorce” or “Here and Now.” Whereas with Netflix, if you don’t like this, we’ve got a new show for you tomorrow, or next week.

But Bob you say, LOOK AT THE LOSSES!

Where were you the past twenty years? You overspend for market share and kill all comers and then you roll in dough. Can you say AMAZON?

And there’s this fiction that there can be multiple competitors.

I ask you, when you talk about television, and everybody does, how often does someone suggest an Amazon show… ALMOST NEVER! Showing that outlet’s challenges, although I do believe only Amazon can challenge Netflix.

But, the cable outlets are dependent upon cable system payments. We’ve seen with channels going dark that the cable systems are saying NO MAS! And everyone’s sick of overpaying for sports they don’t watch.

So if you’re dependent upon cable system payments, you’re done.

And if you’re dependent upon advertising you’re done. The public will not sit for it, only the cheapest individuals will endure ads, and then the ads don’t work on them, because they’re so damn tight. No, the people advertisers want to reach are the spenders, which is why everybody’s now advertising on Amazon, check it out, that’s where the dollars change hands.

So the networks and other ad-supported channels are on life support. They’re dependent upon hits, which come and go, and what do I always say…DISTRIBUTION IS KING!

So, just having good content is not enough, you’re reinventing the wheel every season, you’re only as good as your last hit.

As for HBO… That’s a dying model. If the outlet were smart, they’d band together with Hulu or another player and release all episodes on the same day. People don’t like to wait, appointment viewing is passe. We want it all and we want it NOW!

As for Hulu, forget about it, it doesn’t have critical mass, and unlike Netflix, it’s only in America. Sure, the “Handmaid’s Tale” burnished the outlet’s image, but Netflix has more than that, “Narcos,” Stranger Things,” 13 Reasons Why,” “Wormwood”… A record company can’t survive on one act, you need a steady flow of product, which Netflix has. And it’s a virtuous circle, they keep adding subscribers to the point they’ve got more money and they spend it on the best creators!

So they end up with the lion’s share of the viewers.

Which is why Fox wanted out, why it sold to Disney.

But Disney started too late. It’s like Apple Music and Spotify. Spotify was first and eclipses Apple in worldwide subscribers and growth, Apple Music can’t catch up.

And what is Disney’s plan? Three apps? You’ve got to pay for kids, sports and mainstream fare? Come on, we’re sick of paying multiple outlets. We want to pay only one, or two. Disney doesn’t have enough product to fill the pipeline, to get our attention.

As for Apple…

It’s just too late. One hit show does not make a network. Sure, they’ve got a great brand name, but explain Siri to me, the first voice assistant that’s the worst. As for the HomePod, dead upon arrival. Amazon has been iterating like crazy, they keep lowering the price and Apple comes out at a premium, what world do they live in? It’d be like offering a ten thousand dollar flat screen. That ship has sailed, a TV is under a grand!

So Netflix ends up with the lion’s share of the marketplace. On the internet, that’s usually 65-70%.

And then Amazon is the next biggest player and then a few marginal ones.

The whole world goes topsy-turvy. We’re not bonded to CBS or Showtime or TBS or…

The recent Netflix deals show creators would just as soon go to Netflix for more bucks and less interference.

And so would you!

Netflix already owns comedy. All the greats are on the service. To the point when they launched the latest Chris Rock special this week there was very little hype. You’d see it on the service, which you’re already subscribing to. This is not HBO where we bang you over the head with coming attractions. Talk to a movie theatergoer, they hate the endless trailers! They’re a captive audience, but not at home, not with streaming, you’re in total control!

So unless Disney aligns with every other studio and they load up product immediately it’s a Netflix world, with Amazon as a runner-up, since you get their service free with Prime, and anybody who spends dollars has Prime.

This is not a nascent game, it’s about to be set in stone!

How many people have both Spotify and Apple Music. NONE!

And sure, they have the same products, whereas streaming video services do not, but soon all the creators will want to be on Netflix because that’s where all the eyeballs are.

The game is almost over.

And Netflix won.