Letters Home

I’ve got three things on my mind.  A television show, a book and a record.


Larry’s a repentant dick.  Jerry’s a comic who walked away and married someone else’s wife and hasn’t been as funny since.  Until last Sunday night.

This season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" is different.  Larry’s pushing it further, even he’d let go before this.  And every episode has been Seinfeldian, multiple plots with a final, unforeseen, hilarious outcome that ties up threads you’d either forgotten or figured had been left behind.  The hyped construct of the "Seinfeld" reunion has figured less prominently than advertised.  But last Sunday night opened with Larry and Jerry at facing desks at the CBS studio in the Valley, writing the show.

Which I’m sure will never be written.  But the banter!

I watched "Seinfeld" when it was still the "Chronicles", from the very beginning.  I’d been catching Jerry on TV for years, talking about the "check out" line at the supermarket.  The show started out good, it eventually got great, but the final two seasons, after Larry left, it went downhill, the jokes were too broad, there was no longer the incisive truth.  Which left one feeling that Larry was the genius.

But last Sunday night, it was clear that Jerry was every bit as responsible as Larry, he was a genius too.

When these two riffed in the office it was like seeing Lennon play off McCartney.  Two finely-honed comic sensibilities riffing on the fly.  It was like being in the dressing room at the Cavern Club, watching John and Paul write a song.  So thrilling, you hoped it would never end.

Watching the Beatles on "Ed Sullivan" made millions pick up the guitar, hoping and praying they too could become rock stars. Watching Larry and Jerry tear it up, not histrionically, just being themselves, not worried about playing anything so stupid as a game, made me want to run down to Radford and join them.  The irreverence, the wit, the sensibility.  In an entertainment industry where everyone calculates what will work, kisses butt to get their chance to purvey dreck, these two are on their own journey, having created possibly the best sitcom of all time, and stunningly, still able to do it.


"’Driving a Porsche is like fucking a model,’, he says, and he would know. ‘It will never feel as good as it looks.’"

If you pay attention to the scuttlebutt, the problem in our industry is there’s no artist development.  Like it’s something you buy at the supermarket, like it’s some secret ingredient you mix in to make the cake bake.

Artist development.  That means "success" at the label.  Listen to how they spent a year or two breaking this act on the same damn album.  Whereas artist development truly means creating an act so great that people still want to see them decades on, and stunningly, none of these one album wonders ever reach this level of success.

Artist development is about failure.  Missed chances.  Disappointments.  Face it.  If the album was that good, that it would close anybody, the act would become an instant superstar.  But, the record isn’t.  And to insure it gets close, dicks like Clive Davis hire hands to give the appearance, the sheen, the patina of quality.  But that’s like when GM makes a car that looks like a Toyota.  The outside might bear a resemblance to the Japanese item, but inside it’s a bunch of crap.

Greatness is about desire.  And a ton of hard work.  Usually done when no one is paying attention, or very few.  Who’s got the patience for this?  Certainly not the label, and very few acts either.

And it’s not solely about being in the game for a long time.  It’s not 10,000 hours logged distractedly, it’s endless hours testing yourself, pushing limits, trying out new stuff to figure out what works and being ultimately great at it.  In other words, if you’re a bar band playing "Louie Louie" or "Sweet Home Alabama" every night for ten years straight, you’re still a bar band, you’re not the Beatles.

This Jonathan Tropper book is SO good that you read slower and slower, not wanting it to end.  Because it’s got truth on every page.

It’s his fifth.  And the one just before this, "How To Talk To A Widower", misses significantly.  The plotting is good, but the book’s got no soul.  I figured Tropper was on a downhill slide.  Then he surprised me with "This Is Where I Leave You".

This is artist development.

In a world where they cancel television shows after one episode, where hit albums rarely sell a million, the country has lowered its expectations.  Sellers try to convince you something’s great when it’s not.  Then you stumble on to something that truly is, and you say EUREKA!

I’m stunned how many people have read "This Is Where I Leave You".  It’s word of mouth that sells everything great.  Hype, marketing, is bullshit.  What did that guy say in that e-mail?  Ashton Kutcher has 3.7 million Twitter followers and his last movie grossed $250,000 and his new TV show got canceled?


The hardest part of looking back is the mistakes are all your own

Woulda, coulda, shoulda.  Everybody’s got an excuse.  They changed the rules, I’m a bad test-taker, it’s unfair!

Maybe you’re just a loser.  Maybe you just made bad choices.  Call me when you’re fifty years old and that tattoo has started to fade on your saggy bicep.  You’ll blame it on your friends, who got you drunk, society, that made skin art hip, you won’t own responsibility, almost no one does.  Either you’re a winner, a Wall Street prick, entitled to your bonus, or you’re on the street, broke, saying you got screwed.  It’s more complicated than that.  Did you go to college, did you learn a skill, can you think, did you give yourself a chance?  And while you’re lying, cheating, scheming your way to millions can you really sleep at night, knowing that your transactions are bankrupting the country, adding to our nation’s infrastructure not a whit?

Now I work in a place with some other girls
And we’re all doing all right
We raise our kids and our jeans still fit
Sometimes we go out at night
Yeah, I’m twenty nine years young today
And I’ve lived it to the bone
And I just wanted to send you this letter home

She left home at eighteen with her high school paramour.  Got married and started a family.  But those youthful indiscretions, those youthful ideals, do they trip you up or do you live a life that’s free and easy?

You know the answer to that.  The older you get, the more you get beaten down.  Life is hard.  What looks so easy when you’re a teenager becomes almost impossible as the years slide by.  In high school you wanted to be a famous athlete, a movie director, date desirables.  Now it’s almost impossible to do one of these things.  It takes incredible focus, incredible desire, incredible sacrifice to achieve almost anything.  Like writing a great song.

It’s not easy.  There are the changes.  And then you’ve got the lyrics.  Try writing verse…  You’ll have newfound respect for Bob Dylan.  A great song encompasses all the feeling, all the emotion, the complete story of a novel.  And oftentimes, you write a great one and few pay attention.  Because despite the protestations of the industry, they want great records, not great songs.  Something infectious, with very little nitty, sans gritty.  Flash is more important than substance.  Who cares if it looks like a Ferrari and drives like a Chrysler?  By time the public figures out, we’ll be selling something new!

Although raucous, and ultimately upbeat, Wendy Waldman’s "Letters Home" is not the story of an unblemished winner.  The protagonist left home, had babies and then her man left her.  So many changes that she couldn’t write to her mother and tell her the story.  If you share everything that happens to you with your mother you’re one of those ass-wipes who considers your parents your best friends, someone so coddled he hasn’t confronted the harsh reality of the truth.  Life hurts.

Yeah, Jimmy found somebody else
He told me that one New Year’s Day
He said he felt like a man with her
And I watched him drive away

I want to feel like a man.  And I don’t.

Who do I want to blame?  My family, ruled by estrogen as opposed to testosterone?  A school system that accelerated me beyond my emotional development?  A college that was about book-learning and didn’t prepare me emotionally?

What does being a man entail.  Earning a living?  Paying a mortgage?  Having children?

Or do we all feel like little kids?

I’m not sure.  But feeling adolescent as opposed to adult, this line, "He said he felt like a man with her", flashed through my brain and I ran to the computer, dialed up "Letters Home" and played it thirty times straight.  The same way you used to get behind the wheel, lower the windows and mash the accelerator when you just couldn’t figure life out, before gas got expensive and the highways became so crowded you couldn’t go anywhere anyway.

Jerry’s excellent.  Needless to say, Larry is too.  Tropper hit one out of the park.  But music, when it’s done right, trumps all other art forms.  In a three minute concoction you’ve got all the emotions of life, you’ve got a power that gets you through.

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