Monthly Archives: October 2010

Pain

I haven’t blogged for some time now and my apologies to those who have checked in and not seen anything new. I’ve been working on a couple of projects which have required my time and attention, and I’ve also been dealing with some major league dental problems. So I thought I’d get back in the groove a little bit by telling you about my experiences with the dentist.

Let me start by saying that I like my dentist a great deal. He’s experiences, competent, confident and serious. He’s also a heck of a nice guy. I put my total trust in him every time I sit down in that dentist chair, which happens to be where I’ve been spending quite a bit of time lately.

Just over one week ago I had an appointment to have a couple of broken back teeth extracted. I was most certainly not looking forward to it, and put it off as long as I could. But eventually there comes a time when one must tend to one’s health, and that time had come. So I went in, and my dentist pulled out what needed to be pulled out. I should mention now that I have been both blessed and cursed genetically. And one of those curses is that I have extremely long and curvy roots on my teeth – especially my molars. So the few other times I’ve had extractions, they’ve been very painful. This experience wasn’t any different.

And this time, like the other times I’ve had extractions, I ended up with not one, but two “dry sockets.” I don’t know if you’ve ever had a dry socket from a dental procedure, or have even heard of them, but they are what my Dad used to call “a bugger.” I won’t go into detail (google “dry sockets” if you really care), but basically it means that you experience about five times to usual pain. And once you get one (or in my case two), you have to visit the dentist every couple of days so that he can treat the hole in your mouth with medicated gauze, which ostensibly is supposed to take away the pain.

So my fiancee and I (thank you baby, for your tender loving care) have been shuttling back and forth to the dentist for a week now to try to get these holes in my mouth to heal. It’s been an extremely long and very painful experience. You know, the kind you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Luckily, my dentist has been very compassionate and has written a number of prescriptions for pain killers, antibiotics and now, steroids to get this damn situation under control.

So I’ve had a lot of time spent on my back, trying to take it easy, watching old episodes of the “Sopranos,” reading and thinking about pain. And I’ve come to a couple of conclusions about pain that I thought I would share with you. Maybe they’ll come in handy some day.

First of all, I’ve come to understand that there is really no way for another person to gauge your pain. The problem is that everyone has different “pain thresholds” or amounts of pain they are able to tolerate. One person’s tolerable throbbing ache is another person’s unbearable sensation. I know there have been a lot of studies on pain. Some claim that woman can tolerate a great deal more than men and, well, as everybody likes to say, “That’s why women have the babies.” Could be true.

But I believe there is still so much that we don’t understand about pain. When you go to the hospital after you sliced your finger or suffered some other injury they often ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever had. But is it really possible to do that? What do those ratings mean? And how is it possible to be rational about rating pain when there’s blood all over the place.

I think the one thing that I’ve learned in this latest experience with Pain (capitol P intended) is that it is important to try and focus on other things, if possible. But the person experiencing pain should and must always be treated with great empathy and care and above all must be taken seriously. Only you know exactly how you feel. Nobody else can come close to experiencing it including the doctors. There seems to be a trend in America lately to err on the side of caution when it comes to giving out pain medication. I say to doctors: Stop that. We all know the risks of becoming dependent.

When people are dying, doctors don’t worry too much about the risks of their patients becoming dependent on drugs. They say, “We feel its important to keep the patient comfortable.” And usually a dying man or woman is in a boatload of pain. But so are so many others.

We claim to be an evolved bunch of chimps walking around. We just entered a new and interesting Millennium. People should not have to suffer from pain. Ever. Let’s try to be a little more empathetic and a little less concerned about the Federal Drug Authority monitoring records.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe it is time for more pain medication. May you never suffer a dry socket.

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The Promise: The Making of Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” Album

It might have seemed, to the casual observer, that Bruce Springsteen was on Easy Street after the completion of his masterpiece, best-selling album “Born To Run. But Bruce Springsteen was, in fact, a deeply troubled man. And he was pretty much on his own again, trying to find his way back home.

As the HBO documentary “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Thom Zimny illustrates so beautifully and personally, Bruce was 27 years old and was a superstar. But as he admits in the documentary, he may have been a rock and roll superstar, but he was still haunted by some hardcore ghosts. For one, he was trying to deal with his newfound success and adulation, while at the same time attempting to untangle his own personal and business relationship with manager Mike Appel.

Although he was on the cover of Time and Newsweek with the release of “Born To Run,” Springsteen was still broke, along with every other member of his band. He was at odds with Appel, with whom he had begun a creative split during the making of BTR. In an effort to bring fresh ideas into the mix to try and rescue both BTR and his record contract, Springsteen brought in Jon Landau and Bruce and Jon became fast friends. Appel, enraged over being cut out of his partnership with Springsteen just as the fruit was about to bloom, slapped a lawsuit on Springsteen that barred Bruce from going into the studio with any other manager/producer without the approval of Appel. Talk about locks and chains.

Springsteen also states in the beginning of “The Promise” that he felt he was, in fact, letting down his friends and band mates. In short, he was a man carrying a major league-sized albatross around his neck. Springsteen says these and many other issues led to the inner turmoil which precipitated the writing of countless of songs (nobody knows quite how many were written but an estimate of 80 to 100 would be a safe estimate) during the Darkness recording sessions.

Springsteen says he always writes in an attempt to answer the questions that plague him. On “The Promise,” Springsteen says he was trying to figure out how to come to a reckoning with the “a life of limitations and compromises” or as he also puts it, “the adult world.”

“Well, the dogs on Main Street howl cause they understand,
If I could take this moment into my hand
Mr., I ain’t a boy, no I’m a man
And I believe in the Promised Land”
– “The Promised Land”

“The Promise” is a documentary that picks up where “Wings For Wheels,” the making of “Born To Run” leaves off and it’s helpful to see the latter if you want to understand the former.

“The success with had with “Born To Run” made me ask, well (laughs), what’s that all about,” says Springsteen at the outset of “The Promise.” Springsteen says the success of “Born To Run” also might have meant that he would have to surrounder all that was his very core, the relationships he had with those closest to him. He admits that more than anything else he wanted to be “great!” And he says that he believed it was the obsessive, selfish quest for greatness that led so many other of music’s “greats” down a dead-end road.

“We all thought we had made it, that we had finally achieved greatness and everything was going good”, says E Street band guitarist Little Steven, along with the other members of the band. “We thought we got it made, we’re gonna make it,” says the Big Man Clarence Clemons, Springsteen’s sax player and onstage foil. “And then everything just went….STOP!”

“The Promise” explains that the other major cloud hanging over the future of Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band was the end of Springsteen’s relationship with his manager and good friend Mike Appel. Appel still maintains to this day that he was only trying to protect Bruce Springsteen with his original publishing deal. “You gotta take a stand. How are you getting out of your contracts if you wanna get control,” Appel argues.

Springsteen calls the contracts “not evil, but naive.” “It wasn’t a lawsuit about money,” Springsteen continues, “it was about control. The bottom line was, it was gonna be my ass on the line and I was gonna control where it went and how things went down. If that meant I didn’t go into the studio, then I wasn’t gonna go into the studio.”

Springsteen says they tried to make a living playing live, but eventually things got extremely tough on everyone in the band and the organization financially. But Springsteen says in retrospect it was worth standing his ground against Appel.

“You know,” says Springsteen. “You can lose the rights to your music, you can lose the ability to record, you can lose the ownership of your songs, but you can’t lose “that thing”. That thing that’s in you.”

“Tonight I’ll be on that hill cause I can’t still
I’ll be on that hill withe everything that I’ve got
Where lives are on the line
Where dreams are found and lost”
– “Darkness On The Edge of Town

“Not being able to return to the studio after the “Born To Run” record was truly heartbreaking,” remembers keyboardist Roy Bittan. So banned from the studio, the band rehearsed every single day at Bruce’s house in New Jersey. All day and into all hours of the night.

That footage of Bruce singing at home, shot by the essential chronologist Barry Rebo, with Bruce in many scenes sans shirt is bound to have women viewers who fantasize about Springsteen in dreamland. But for the band, it may not have been as fun as some scenes make it look. Bruce was writing like a banshee, churning out new ideas and new songs every day. Song after song after song. “My sense of his reaction to this roadblock,” says the mighty drummer Max Weinberg all these years 30 years or more later, is that his desire, that will, that determination to do things his way got even stronger. Maybe his way of working it all out,” says Weinberg, “was writing all those songs.”

“While this was a time of pain because I was trying to sort out what had happened with Mike,” says Springsteen, “there was also a time of refinding myself and freedom. The freedom of finding out where I belonged”

During Springsteen’s narrative we see incredible behind-the-scenes home studio footage of Bruce sporting his Italian-Afro (as he calls it). A half-naked Springsteen is seen working out the words to one of the most several songs on “Darkness on the Edge of Town,”

“And I take her out easy looking for a place where the world is right
And then I go tearing into something in the night.”
– Early Version of “Something In The Night

We even get to see Bruce perform the rarely performed alternate lyrics..

“Well, I picked this girl up hitching, she stuck her head out the window and she screamed
She was looking for a place to die or redeemed”

This reviewers only minor disappointment with “The Promise” is that we’re not treated to enough to this kind of footage, but nobody really knows how much more of it they have. My guess is that this wealth of information contributes to a lack of cogent, linear presentation and that they could only allocate so much time to home practicing and studio recording scenes. At times, it is difficult for the viewer to follow the highs and lows, ups and downs of Bruce’s recording experience.

Springsteen says that because of changes in the music business, the three years that went by in between records may have seemed longer back then than it would now. He says he started to see pieces in the press asking, “Whatever happened to Bruce Springsteen?” And Bruce says that the time stretched out so long, he started wondering that himself. As time continued to pass, the pressure grew and grew. And so did the number of pages in Springsteen’s notebook of songs.

“You didn’t know if you were going to get another chance,” says Springsteen. “So everything I had inside me, I had to get out.”

Good news came in the summer of 1976 with the resolution of the lawsuits between Appel and Springsteen. “I was happy that it was over because I would have fought to the death…because that’s what this was all about.” In the end, amends were made, and the band went back into a professionally equipped studio with Jon Landau and mixer Jimmy Iovine at the helms.

“The Promise” shows a band with renewed vigor as they try to get this project finished. But Landau recounts that it was strange that nobody really had a clear idea of what kind of record they wanted “Darkness” to be. As things evolved, all anybody could agree on was that they wanted a sound that was very basic or as Landau puts it, “coffee black”. While Springsteen wanted Darkness to be very specific in its focus, he also wanted it to be “relentless.”

This long stretch of writing and working on songs in the studio is displayed in wonderful black and white super 8 film shot by Barry Rebo. Of Bruce and Steve at the piano working out “Sherry Darling” and “Talk To Me,” neither of which would made the “Darkness” album. “It’s tragic in a way,” says Little Steven with his usual love and admiration for his old buddy, “because he would have been one of the great composers of all the time.” Thus, the prolific, nonstop song machine named Springsteen. “The Promise” also tells the great story of how Bruce gave away his brilliant song, “Because The Night” to punker Patti Smith, who was also recording with genius engineer Jimmy Iovine in another studio. Springsteen says he didn’t feel comfortable with writing that love song, so he graciously gave it over to Smith, for whom it was her biggest hit ever.

At one point, it was decided that there wasn’t enough saxaphone on “Darkness.” So it was back to work. “It was always like a giant junkyard that were were working in. So if one part wasn’t working, we’d pull another one out of another car and see how that car runs.” And Bruce just continued to write. And write. And write some more. Bruce continued to work on new songs in his growing notebook of what one band member calls the “magical notebook.”

And so they pressed forward with a number of what Max Weinberg calls a “freewheeling” approach, as opposed to a more conservative and stubborn manner in which BTR was recorded. Looking for a live sound, Springsteen ate up precious studio hours hammering out songs as he went along. He refused to allow the band to rehearse many of the tunes. He wanted them real and he wanted them raw. Springsteen also spend hours or days trying to find a certain drum sound and ambiance. And suddenly they looked around, and the boys were stuck again.

After a while, Bruce, Jon, Jimmy and the band needed somebody outside the band. And a not-so-local hero rode into town in the form of Chuck Plotkin came riding into town with a fresh outlook. All band members agree that Plotkin somehow found a way to take the songs they had and give them a theme, meaning and structure. Chuck Plotkin, according to Bruce, is one of the true heroes of the Darkness recording sessions.

“‘Darkness on the Edge of Town” is a meditation,” says Springsteen, “on where your going to stand, it’s a meditation on with who and where your going to stand. These are basic, essential questions that need to be addressed.”

“The obsessive-compulsive part of my personality came through because I found that I could try to drive you crazy….JUST BECAUSE I COULD,” laughs Springsteen. “The band had to find lots of different wants to get out from under my oppressive grip,” he says.

Springsteen and others address the greatness of the song “The Promise.” “It could have gone on the record it we had finished it,” says Springsteen. “It’s about fighting and not winning. But I felt to close to it at the time” So “The Promise” didn’t make it. Along with a lot of other gorgeous, moving songs. But this is a documentary about the album that was made. And that has been with us for more than 30 years and has helped us on our journey as we ask ourselved the same question.

“Darkness On The Edge Of Town” will always be for so many of us our own coming of age album. And in a way it’s Bruce Springsteen’s coming of age album, as well. It’s an album that raises more questions that it answers, but isn’t that how all great art works? This may not be the masterpiece that Born To Run is, but it’s a major victory of Springsteen’s spirit. To continue to believe in the dream and not be unswayed. Played start to finish it is passionate howl issued into that deep, dark night; a man wrestling with the ache the comes from growing into a man.

As the dogs on main streets howl. And howl. And howl

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The Social Network – From Harvard Prank To 25 Billion Dollars

My fiancee and I were fortunate last night to see an special advance screening of the new Facebook movie, “The Social Network,” billed as the film that Facebook doesn’t want you to see. It’s a great teaser and it’s true. Based on a book by Ben Mezrich, who also wrote “Bringing Down The House” about the bad boys and girls at Harvard who figured out how to use their brains to beat the house at the casinos of Las Vegas. That book was made into the film “21.”

This film is more about the genesis and probably tougher on the kids in Crimson who started what they called “The Facebook.”
The screenplay was written by the excellent Aaron Sorkin, who takes his fast and smart dialogue he used on “The West Wing” and turned it up to warp speed. These brilliant students like co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and his best friend and co-founder Eduardo Saverin don’t just think at a million miles a minute, they speak that way too. In the beginning they just wanted to be cool. Little did they know the hazards that lie in their respective futures. And little did they know they’d go from being best friends at Harvard to archenemies in the cut-throat business world.

The movie, which takes place frequently at Harvard, was actually filmed at Boston University (which is a victim of a quick verbal insult – talk about biting the hand that feeds you) and Wheelock College. The filmmakers begin with the birth of Facebook from a night in a dim dormroom where Mark uses Eduardo and a formula he’s familiar with. This computer hacking technique gives them access to photos of woman at every house on campus and the ability to create a tiny version of the current Facebook.

This “Mashbook” which allows all Harvard students to scrutinize and compare women catches the attention of a couple of big, rich men on campus who are trying to create a social dating site called “Harvard Connection,” which leads to a partnership with more partners, or more importantly INVESTORS!!!

And so we’re up and running. In a big way. Mark decides to expand the Harvard early-version of Facebook to other Ivy League campuses. But along with the great big ideas come also the dirty little lies. Mark lies to Eduardo about his association with some of his partners. Mark lies by not keeping the “investors” in the loop. Finally, after meeting the founder of multi-millionaire founder of Napster, Sean Parker, played with great flourish and deviousness by an ultra-confident Justin Timberlake. Mark finally yields to Sean’s suggestions to move to California, along with all of the other partners in this growing endeavor. In other words, the web is growing more and more tangled as Mark continues to take more and more initiative without the initiative or consent of his partners.

And that’s when the problems begin. As the company gets bigger and the zeros multiply, the lawsuits against a nationally flourishing Facebook stack up. The original “Harvard Connection” twin crew members and investors sue Mark Zuckerberg. And here’s where the actor playing Mark, Jesse Eisenberg really starts to show his range. The scenes during depositions with room after room after hilarious. It’s evident to everyone that Mark is the smartest person in the room, with or without the law degree. Eisenberg may play the part nerdy at times, but it’s soon clear he is a creative genius with an obsessive streak for greatness. Others who excel are Mark’s college buddy Eduardo Saverin, who as brilliant if not as crafty or zealous as his buddy Mark. And I would be remiss, if I didn’t give big kudos for Trent Resnor for his incredible soundtrack. It sets just the right tone for this tale. Smart, evocative words and music.

In the end, when all the cards come tumblin’ down and all the lawsuits (for now) settled, it almost seems like the days of the first “Wall Street” film, when the means didn’t matter, just the end. And greed is good. Everybody gets big-time settlements or payoffs and Mark Zuckerman remains still, the youngest billionaire in the world.

This is a film that raises many hard questions. For instance: When all is said at done and the billions are made, does loyalty matter in business? Does friendship and creative control matter?

Or is it just cash that is king in the hard, cold world?

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