Distraction is the spice of life.
To tell you the truth, I usually put it differently, I say "Digression is the spice of life." And I truly believe that. The story is much less important than the nuance. Just the facts ma’am? I hate that, it’s so boring, that’s like reading the newspaper. Informational, but not satisfying. But a great book? There are so many characters and subplots, a great novel is a tapestry of irrelevancy, just like life. You can sum up so many great novels in one sentence. "Anna Karenina", the greatest novel ever written according to me? Woman in despair jumps in front of a train. There it is, now you don’t have to read it. But if you don’t, you’ll be missing something. Not only insight into Russia over a century ago, but the dawning realization that life never changes, despite railroads then telephones and now iPhones, the human condition remains the same.
So if you’re telling me a story, add the flavor. If you tell me your father died, tell me how much he loved strawberry ice cream. My dad did. Didn’t have it every day, but when he ate it he smiled in a way I’ll never forget. And then there was that time we rented roller skates at Venice Beach. My father was possibly the worst athlete ever born. But he put on skates and not only did he roll off into the distance, when he returned he did little pirouettes, not showing off, just performing something deep in his DNA, that had been buried at least since I was born. That gives you a little insight into the man who passed away in 1992 from multiple myeloma. Seventy seemed old then. Now it seems he was taken way before his time.
And now that I’ve digressed I can return to my initial aphorism, "Distraction is the spice of life."
If you always do what’s expected of you, if you fulfill all your obligations, on time, you’ll live a life, but it will be no fun. We feel this insane pressure to answer our e-mail. At least read it. Maybe glance over it. Yes, I know people who commit e-mail suicide, they become overwhelmed with the contents of their inbox and delete all the messages en masse, but that’s truly drastic, and I could never do it. Not only are these real people e-mailing me, I might miss something. A nugget! And if I don’t get back to someone not only might I miss an opportunity, they might get pissed at me, and I can’t tolerate this anger, so I read every message.
Which was what I was doing when Felice was flipping the channels in the background. Yes, I’m one of those snooty people who look down their nose at television. Then again, television is far superior to the movies these days. I read an explanation in the "Wall Street Journal". You see movies are made to be consumed worldwide, they’re lowest common denominator, whereas television is paid for by adults, and if they’re not satisfied, they pull the plug. Yes, we’re talking about cable here, especially what’s known as the premium channels, like HBO. If they play to foreigners who don’t speak English, as the movie business does, subscriptions would falter and HBO would be history. No one watches their pocketbook like an adult. Kids waste money, their parents don’t. Adults want value. Which is what HBO and Showtime and now Starz do their best to deliver.
And playing on HBO in the background, as I was answering e-mail, was Carrie Fisher’s "Wishful Drinking".
I had no desire to see it. She’s an unemployed actress looking for a paycheck and a bit more celebrity… I didn’t want to see it live and I didn’t want to watch it on HBO. But out of the corner of my ear I heard Carrie talk about her family, which I thought I knew the history of, and it was so fucked up and her commentary was so funny, I got hooked, I cast my inbox aside and watched Princess Leia deliver her story.
And I learned I must be the only male who never had a crush on her. Carrie talked about a random encounter with a person who said he thought about her every day for years. Really? Yup, to be more specific, FOUR TIMES A DAY!
Carrie didn’t need to know that.
And she no longer looks like Princess Leia. And I’m not talking about the body, gaining weight is no crime, but the plastic surgery. You wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a lineup. They say Jennifer Grey is unrecognizable? Carrie Fisher is worse. You could be talking to her and not know it was her. Why do people do this to themselves? You age and we can still see the old you in you. We can no longer see the old Carrie in today’s Carrie Fisher.
And her voice grates. But worse is the delivery. Malcolm Gladwell would say just because you have a good story, that doesn’t mean you’re a great monologist. Which is why any Spalding Gray film is better than "Wishful Drinking". You get carried away, even though it’s only Spalding at a table. He’s telling his tale and you get images in your brain, emotions wax and wane. The facts are secondary to the humanity, the trip. Carrie speaks so slowly, so didactically, that you get pissed off.
But that doesn’t mean the content isn’t interesting, and that she adds no nuance.
I could recite everything she said in this seventy five minute special, but it was the pure digressions that stuck with me, that I want to convey here.
"Celebrity is obscurity waiting to happen."
That’s almost as good as:
"Show business is high school with money."
Martin Mull said that. At one time, few people knew it. Now even D-listers quote it.
Then there’s that analog, which most of the public is still unaware of:
"Politics is show business for ugly people."
I like that. If you think your Congressman or woman is akin to Mr. Smith, going to Washington to stand up for what’s right, then you never noticed all the people in student government who were not on the football team, who were not popular.
But let’s get back to Carrie’s aphorism…
Everybody thinks fame is gonna last. Forever. But not only do you eventually get to "Where is he now?", you live long enough and the younger generation is truly clueless, they’ve got no idea who you are. So if you’re coasting on your fame, just wait. One day you’re gonna be broke without an education, with no obvious means of support. That’s one of the reasons celebrities die young, they don’t want to admit they’re just like us. It horrifies them. They need to feel "special", and if they’re not…
And the other revelatory irrelevancy in "Wishful Drinking" is Carrie’s explication of Paul Simon’s "Hearts and Bones"…
One and one-half wandering Jews
That’s about Paul and Carrie. Yup, she’s half-Jewish, Eddie Fisher was a member of the tribe.
How many times have I heard that lyric? I had theories, but I never truly knew what it meant. To be honest, I thought it meant nothing, that it was a figment of Paul Simon’s imagination.
But that’s not true. Carrie Fisher was Paul Simon’s muse.
Maybe that’s stretching it, but she delineates other references to her in his work. And that’s just mind-blowing. We think our greatest creators come up with this stuff out of thin air. Hell, it was mindblowing to me to be in Minnesota and to notice we were on HIGHWAY 61! Dylan didn’t just pluck that thoroughfare out of his tucas, he grew up in Minnesota, Highway 61 is part of his heritage, his DNA.
Any insight into the creative process thrills us. And to hear Carrie go on about her relationship with Paul had me on the edge of my seat. It’s like someone was with the Beatles in the Cavern Club and suddenly surfaced and told the real story of the songs on the first two albums. Not just an easy reference, but details, where John and Paul were when they wrote it, what they were eating.
Not that Carrie went that deep. Then again, she did. She talked about a conversation they had when Paul dropped her at the airport. We find out that even though they were only married for a miniscule time, the relationship went on for twelve years. Ain’t that life. You can’t break up, but you can’t make it right, even though you keep trying. Then you finally disconnect and one of the parties lives happily ever after with someone else? Huh?
Yup, Paul Simon is married to Edie Brickell.
Carrie Fisher found someone in so many ways like her father who ultimately turned out to not only be a bad choice, but gay.
What I’m saying here is casting aside my obligations, my work, what I should have been doing, I had a much richer experience hearing Carrie Fisher talk about her life.
I know, I know, I slagged her appearance, her voice and her delivery.
But I’m telling you you won’t be able to turn "Wishful Drinking" off. It’ll stick with you. Little elements will fire synapses in your brain days later. Watch it.