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[Photo Via: Nieman Journalism Lab]
That there’s the Brill Building in midtown, Manhattan. I got my first job working in the movie business there when I was 17. Summer of 1988. This is what it was like back then. Surrounded by pornography. Why, there she is, one of the Queens, herself: Vanessa Del Rio.
[Photo Credit: Ghislain Bonneau]
When I was 25 I got a job with the Coen brothers. I’d worked on 3 movies as an apprentice film editor and got a gig with them as a personal assistant when they made The Big Lebowski. I was with them for a year, from before pre-production through post-production (when they edited the movie, I transitioned from personal assistant to one of the assistant film editors). It was a memorable time, one that I’ve recounted often throughout the years when people tell me how much they love the movie. Now, I’ve got a long behind-the-scenes story, The Dudes Abide: The Coen Brothers and the Making of The Big Lebowski, over at Kindle Singles.
Here’s a little taste.
Joel and Ethan Coen were waiting for John Goodman to finish taking a leak. It was just after lunch on Dec. 10, 1996, and Joel, who’d turned 42 a few weeks earlier, was looking out a large window at the Hollywood Hills. It was raining again.
“That’d be just our luck, Eth,” Joel said. “Spend a whole winter in Minnesota and it doesn’t snow, then we come here and it fucking rains.”
Joel, older by three years, stood with his hands in his sweatshirt pockets. His black hair tied in a ponytail, small round glasses across his nose, he could have passed for the Ramones’ long-lost brother—the one who went to graduate school.
“The fucking rainy season,” he said.
On this rainy afternoon in L.A., Goodman and Jeff Bridges were meeting for the first time to read through a new Coen brothers screenplay called The Big Lebowski. Bridges was still stuck in traffic when Goodman returned from the can. He sat on the edge of the couch, legs open, his belly hanging so low it looked like he was sitting on the floor, and started quoting lines fromFargo. Goodman, a friend of the Coens since he worked with them on their second movie,Raising Arizona, laughed about the scene where William Macy tried to escape out of a motel window, only to be dragged back inside by the cops.
“Macy in his underwear,” Goodman said, giggling.
“That’s our answer to everything,” Ethan said. “You need a dramatic fall, put a character in his undies.”
Joel told Goodman about re-recording dialogue for the profanity-free television version ofFargo. They rewrote the line, “I’m fucking hungry now” to “I’m full of hungry now.”
“Why didn’t we write it like that originally?” said Joel. “It’s funnier.”
Goodman said, “Who else is coming on this show?” (In Los Angeles, movie people call a movie a “show.”)
There was Steve Buscemi as Donny, Julianne Moore as Maude, Jon Polito as Da Fino.
Joel said, “Our friend Luis, who was an assistant film editor on Hudsucker, will be playing the enraged Mexican.”
“Yeah, you’ll like Luis,” Ethan said in a creaky voice. “He makes a big statement.”
“Turturro is coming in to play the pederast,” Joel said. “He said he’d do his best F. Murray Abraham.”
Much of the cast was in place save for Bunny and Brandt and, critically, the Big Lebowski. You know, the other Jeffrey Lebowski, the tycoon whose Pasadena mansion is both miles and worlds away from the Dude’s rundown bungalow. With just over a month left before filming began, the Boys—as Joel and Ethan were known by colleagues and friends—weren’t close to casting the title role.
The trouble was that most of the actors they wanted were dead. Raymond Burr? Dead. Fred Gwynne? Dead. Anthony Perkins, Marty Balsam, Chuck Connors? All dead. Brian Keith was ill (he died less than a year later). Jason Robards was said to be having health problems.
The original Lebowski list was dubbed “Mussburger lists”—referring to Paul Newman’s character from The Hudsucker Proxy. It included Tommy Lee Jones (too young), Robert Duvall (not interested, didn’t get it), Anthony Hopkins (not interested, wouldn’t play an American), Gene Hackman (not interested, wanted a vacation), and Jack Nicholson (not interested, only wanted to play Moses).
Another Lebowski wish list followed, a wild collection of names that included Norman Mailer, Jerry Falwell, Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley, Jonathan Winters, and General Norman Schwarzkopf. Also, venerable actors like Fred Ward, Carroll O’Connor, Hoyt Axton, Ned Beatty, Peter Boyle, Richard Mulligan, Michael Caine, Jackie Cooper, Bruce Dern, and Paul Dooley. Ernest Borgnine was included, as were Larry Hagman, James Coburn, Andy Griffith, and Lloyd Bridges.
The choices narrowed—Rod Steiger, George C. Scott, Charles Durning, Pat Hingle. Then, the impossible dream: Brando. It was a good dream, too, though unlikely. Brando had certainly grown into the role but he was eccentric, expensive, and didn’t much like to work. Still, the idea amused the Boys no end, and for weeks they quoted the Big Lebowski’s lines in a Brando accent: “Condolences, the bums lost,” Joel said with his jaw pushed out to look like Brando inThe Godfather.
“Strong men also cry,” Ethan replied.
But their favorite was, “By God, sir, I will not abide another toe.”
The Dudes Abide is available now. You don’t need to own a Kindle to read it. So long as you have a device that is connected to the Internet, you can download the Kindle App—to your phone or computer—and then purchase the story.
My father’s best friend Marty died yesterday. I found out this morning from his daughter who sent me a message on Facebook.
I thought of Marty on my way to work, and the unabiding loyalty he shard with Dad for more than 50 years.
A melancholy song by Guy Clark played on my iPhone:
At a 145th Street, a young man walked onto the train holding a cardboard box. I removed one earbud after he started to talk. His voice was bright and clear. I thought he was selling candy. Instead, he said that he was Pete Seeger’s grandson. He moved through the car and handed out pamphlets for something called Seegerfest. I took a pamphlet and told him that I admired his grandfather. He said that both of his grandparents died in the past year and that he missed them very much.
At the next stop he left the car and went to the next one. His grandparents would be proud.
I went to high school with Greg Rodriguez. He was a couple of grades ahead of me. I remember sitting next to him in French class. He smelled like cigarettes and gasoline (he had a job at a local gas station). His finger nails were chewed down. Oh, and he had a mohawk. He was a political kid but also generous and kind, especially for an upper classman.
He died on September 11th. Here is his parents’ story.
My father was a Sid Caesar man. Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour trumped Benny, Berle, and Gleason.
So when My Favorite Year came out, Dad was eager to take his children to see it. I was eleven years old and we went one Saturday afternoon to the Paramount. I always loved that theater because it was underground. Dad fell asleep during the movie but my brother, sister and I enjoyed ourselves. It didn’t matter that Dad passed out (he was still boozin’ then). The subject meant something to him. The movie was funny and sentimental. And O’Toole was nominated for an Oscar.
And Dad woke up for the finale:
[Photo Via: Cinema Treasures]
Well, well, well; welcome back to the exciting and intriguing Where & When. Did you miss us? We missed you… holidays are always the toughest days to come back from. How about we help refocus your brain matter so the rest of your day can be a piece of cake (insert favorite flavor here _________)…
And for your pleasure, how about another piece of cake:
Nice day for a stroll, it seems. Crazy nice, in fact. Maybe more than crazy… maybe it was that time of the year, or maybe it was that year. Well, don’t lose your mind trying to figure out the date; you’ll be really mad when you figure that part of it out. But if you do… well... (yep, if you understand this one, you and I are on a wavelength that deserves much pity.)
Post your answers below in the comments and feel free to help out and discuss. I’ll will be peeking in now and again (work work work) and offering some thoughts throughout if I can.
How about some of Dad’s stash if you are the first with the answers, and some Hansen’s Natural for the rest of us, butterfly included. Now run along and sleuth, chop-chop! (Bonus if you know what all these awful puns are referring to… >;)
At the risk of making her slightly uneasy by the attention I feel compelled to let y’all know that I sure do love The Wife.
She is one great lady.
For reals, as the kids like to say.
(And as far as attention goes this is certainly less embarrassing for her than when I loudly declare my love for her in a crowded store or when we’re walking down the street.)
My grandparents lived across the street from the Museum of Natural History. They were older grandparents, not the kind to get down on the floor and play with my sister, brother and me. When in doubt, they took us to the Museum. We went so often that for years I never returned. It just reminded me of being bored out of my skull. But when I was in my twenties I went back and remembered just how cool the place is. I haven’t been in awhile but am down to go again.
[Picture by Bags]
Occasionally I see a big kid on the subway platform in the morning. He has a full head of dark hair and he gets on the subway at the same door as me. One morning I established position as the train arrived. When it stopped and the doors opened, the kid slid past me and got in first. He tapped on the side of the train twice before he got on.
No manners. So I began to play a little game every time I saw him, getting position like I was boxing someone out on the basketball court. But still he moved past me, knocked on the side of the train and got on.
Finally I realized that I was being ridiculous. The kid could be autistic and here I was getting offended. Or maybe he didn’t have autism. Anyhow, what’s it my business?
Yesterday, I saw him again. Made eye contact. He looked away. When the train came I stayed back, watched him knock twice on the side of car then get on. I was happy to let him go first.
If ghosts paid the rent, Eric Hadar would have an all-star tenancy: Freddy Bienstock, Johnny Burke, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington and Jimmy Van Heusen, to name a few. Not to mention J.J. Hunsecker and Danny Rose.
But ghosts do not pay the rent. Neither do fictional characters. Their onetime home, the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway, at West 49th Street, now stands more than half empty, after the closing last year of Colony Records and the Sound One postproduction studio.
I worked for Sound One when I was in high school and college and then later as a freelancer. That building is where I came of age in many ways. Bummer what’s going on there now.
[Photo Via: The Brill Building Documentary]
I lived in Brooklyn from the fall of ’95 to the summer of 2000 and was in my Bronx apartment on the morning of September 11, 2001. But I still had a lot of friends in Brooklyn like my pal who was in his Carroll Gardens apartment. When the second plane hit he walked to his roof to see what was happening.
A few hours later the roof and the streets were covered in white like a ticker tape parade. Only it wasn’t ticker tape but paper from the twin towers that had blown across the East River.
This one that still gives me the chills all these years later.
Love and respect to everyone who lost someone that day.
Not so long ago a friend asked me if I thought I was a success. I didn’t know what to say and when I did manage an answer it was “No.” I was thinking in terms of not just professional success but financial success. Where I want to be not how far I’ve come. I didn’t think about success as a person, about emotional or creative success, about success in my marriage or in my relationships with people. My initial reaction was to think of success in narrow terms. And because of the way I replied I became aware of how limited my idea of success often is.P
I thought about this when I read “The Third Man,” Lauren Collin’s profile of Novak Djokovic in the New Yorker. Djokovic told Collins this story:P
It’s important to be humble, and important to be very open-minded toward all the people in the world. It doesn’t matter who it is, really, or how much amount of success that person has made, because you don’t measure the person through the success the person has made, but through his behavior. There is one actually great quote from Pavle, our Orthodox priest—we are not Catholic, so we don’t have apapa. He’s our spiritual leader, in a way. He passed away in 2009, and he’s actually one of the greatest people that, really, Serbia ever had. Because he was a very modest man—his sister was very ill, so he would go every day with the public transport to visit her. He never used cars; he always talked to the people. So, one great quote—he says to one kid that was saying to him that he has the best grades and so much success in the school. So Patriarch Pavle said, “That’s all great, I congratulate you, but it’s not the grades that make you a man, but your behavior.” So that’s what I try to implement in my life.P
Behavior, how you treat people, showing up when things are difficult, over achievement. That’s cool, man and rings true to me.
Here’s an example of success:
[Photo Via: Clutter and Chaos]
Around this time 13 years ago I got together with my friend Alan to make a mix cd of the rap records that has been released that year. A rash of good hip hop records came out in 2000, from major label and underground artists alike. There were joints from name brands like Jay Z, Snoop, Dre, Eminem, Ghostface, MOP, Common, Xzibit, Wu, Outkast, and De La Soul. The veterans were still heard–Biz, Phife and Sadat X. But some of the records I liked most were from so-called underground artists like J-Live, Quasimoto, Dialated Peoples, Kid Koala, Slum Village, Cali Agents, Rah Digga, Encore, and The Nextmen.
Alan and I had known each other for a few years and always talked about doing something together. Alan was a record nut and an engineer. He’d programmed drums for Tori Amos, Madonna, and C&C Music Factory. Worked with Francois Kevorkian and Steinski.
Alan was a whiz at Pro Tools, a professional audio editing program. It was a chance for me to make a dream mix because of what Alan could do technically. I figured we’d make a little cd that I could give to friends for the holidays.
Alan lived in Midwood, Brooklyn, I lived in Carroll Gardens. I’d go over to his place with my records and video tapes. What started as a quick project turned into something more substantial. Four months and more than 120 studio hours later we produced an album-length mix cd we called “Borough to Borough.” (By the time we finished I’d moved to the Bronx.)
After each session, Alan burned a cd of what we’d done. I’d take it with me, listen to it for days, make notes, and the next time we saw each other, we’d make corrections before moving on to the next track. We shared similar sensibilities so there was an easy shorthand between us–remember that Bugs Bunny cartoon when?, what about that George Carlin line? Still, it was the first time I ever truly collaborated with someone. I learned that I couldn’t always have my way. Sometimes, I had to let Alan show off like when he reprogrammed the drum pattern on a Jurassic 5 record because there was no place on the instrumental where the drums were in the clear. And I was always happy to let him do his thing because it sounded great but also because I admire watching a craftsman at work.
If the project was a fantasy come true for me, it was liberating for Alan. He could play and do anything he wanted to do; he wasn’t just a hired hand. So we played and played, and honed the sombitch until we were satisfied. Then we packaged it and sold it and even got reviewed in a few British music magazines.
So here you have it. An audio collage, featuring rhymes, scratching, dope production and a host of spoken word and movie clips. You’ll recognize the voices of Fred Gwynne, Jack Nicholson, Elliott Gould, George Carlin, Marv Albert, Bill Murray, Frank Oz, Holly Hunter, Steve Martin, Elaine May, Walter Matthau, Al Pacino, Jack Palance, Joe Pesci, Goose Gossage, Richard Pryor, Mel Blanc, John Sterling, Mel Brooks, Bill Cosby, Earl Weaver, Nicholas Cage, Jackie Gleason, Chris Russo, Mark Rydell, Albert Brooks, Michelle Pfieffer, Gabe Kaplan, Mike Tyson, Robert De Niro, Orson Welles, John Turturro, Art Carney and Fat Clemenza.
Intro. Beat by DJ Desue (Barber Shop Emcess…”Music, Money and Women”)
Yes. J-Live, produced by Emmai Allaqueva
Tour Guide. People Under the Stairs
I Don’t Know. Slum Village
Crookie Monster. Produced by the Alchemist
Oooh. De La Soul
Dew It. Biz Markie. Produced by Ill Chemist/Al D
What’s Up Fatlip? Fatlip
Microphone Mathmatics. Madlib
Lyrical Fluctuation. Jigmastas, beat by DJ Spinna
Service. Dialated Peoples. Cuts by Babu
Take Over. Joey Chavez. Cuts by DJ Revolution
Any Champion. Pacewon. Cuts by DJ Revolution.
Worldwide. Defari. Beats by Joey Chavez
Love/Hate. Encore. Beat by Nextmen
Rhymes. Get Open featuring Sadat X
Nasty or Nice. Beat by Y@k Ballz
Lesson of Today. Rah Digga. Produced by DJ Premier
Rockaparty. J B Lee. Produced by Ill Chemist, Al D
Loop Diggin’. Madlib
Ass Finish First. Beat by DJ Nu-Mark
J-Liveness: Produced by Pete Rock
Players/Fall in Love. Slum Village
Barhopper. Kid Koala
Just One More Thing. People Under the Stairs
Them That’s Not. J-Live
Nighty Night. Beat by Madlib
Picture of me in Gravesend, Brooklyn with Sammy’s 62 Dominican Republic shirt from the ’98 season and Nathan’s cup of soda. Picture by Alan Friedman.
I contributed a short essay on “Buffalo Gals” to Herc Your Enthusiam, HiLoBrow’s series on old school (pre-1983) rap records:
There wasn’t anything like “Buffalo Gals” before, nor after. Though you could categorize it as an early sample record, in the vein of “Pump Up the Volume,” it’s really a novelty record, the brainchild of British trendsetter and former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.
For McLaren, style was substance. After a trip to New York where he saw Afrika Bambaataa spin, McLaren co-opted New York’s hip hop scene for his next record — the dancing, record scratching, the fashion (all of which are on display in the “Buffalo Gals” video). He flew New York DJs The Supreme Team to London to provide scratches, and got Trevor Horn, a successful young British producer — he had been part of The Buggles, whose version of “Video Killed the Radio Star” was in 1981 the first video ever played on MTV — to make the record.
“Buffalo Gals” is a culture clash of stuff — samples of phone calls, breaks, a synth bass and pads, the catchy “duck, duck, duck” refrain, the title chorus taken from a Piute Pete record, the scratching: “Oh, that scratching is making me itch.” It sounds like a bunch of stuff cobbled together but it works — and for DJs it goes with other records, because there’s so much in it.
Check out the rest of the series here.
I visited my mom recently and she showed me photographs from her trip to Africa in 1966. It was on this trip that she met my dad. She didn’t only have pictures, she still had the sunglasses she rocked that summer. They were in a plastic case stored in a box along with letters and photos.
Pretty cool, right?
My father did some work for CTW in the 1970s. He’d bring us home Sesame Street albums and once we cleaned our rooms were allowed to listen to them. One time, Dad took my sister and me to visit the set of Sesame Street. We sat on this stoop and looked into Mr. Hooper’s store. Nobody was filming. The crew was busy. I remember a kid riding a bike around. We sat there, next to Oscar’s garbage can, quietly, and wondered where Mr. Hooper was.
[Pictures via: Loosetooningaround]