Runaround

Kicking somebody out of a concert is always tricky. The patron has paid money for a ticket, paid for parking, stood in line to get in, waited hours for the show to start, secured their spot, bought food and drinks and merchandise. So they feel pretty entitled to be there. And they’ll tell us all about that entitlement. And yet, certain rules posted all over the venue, website, and ticket will get you a fast trip outside to the sidewalk.

But kicking somebody out of the concert when they are right up front against the barricades, that’s the trickiest. Everyone in the venue is watching it happen, and there aren’t that many easy ways to get them out. We either pull them up over the barricade, walk with them through the entire crowd to the back of the hall, or dismantle a part of the pipe and drape so we can get them out the side. All of this with the crowd pushed up against the back of them.  Even the band performing notices it and sometimes comments on it.

As I’ve mentioned in other chapters, there are certain things that get you kicked out immediately. These are things fighting/violence, sexual or racial harassment, or trying to get on the stage. Also being too drunk to stand, blatant drug use, or an underage patron trying to sneak into the beer garden. For a more grey area situation I’ll give warnings first. Mosh pits and crowd surfing are ok, but simply being an asshole and ruining the show for everyone around you can get you kicked out. It is largely at our discretion. We call getting removed from the concert an ejection.

Often there is an unexpected soundtrack to our actions during the show, provided by the band. When the song perfectly matches what we’re doing it’s a kind of magic. Obviously when I’m catching crowd surfers the songs being played onstage are the natural soundtrack to the mayhem. But when I’ve got somebody’s arm wrapped up while I’m escorting them out of the venue and a heavy-ass metal band is playing their most brutal stomp-riff, it defines perfection. Somebody’s assholery is being responded to with badassery.

Tonight was just such a moment. There was a couple up at the front of the stage that had been there since doors opened hours ago. They spent that time drinking overpriced beers and camping out up at the front barricade. I made small talk when they first arrived and listened to their stories of seeing this band previously and how much they love them. They seemed all right then. But by the time the headliner came on, their drunken behavior was seriously aggravating everyone around them. Yelling way too loud for no reason right next to people’s heads. Sliding into their neighbors and pushing them. Vigorously fist-banging and almost inadvertently punching people. Spilling their water bottles. I would swear I saw the woman close her eyes and do a turbo-pass out for a few seconds. I always read the faces of the people nearby a trouble maker. Sometimes they are all friends of this person so they accept it. But when they aren’t you can see the shock, disgust, and frustration in their eyes. Usually somebody will plead for me to help just with their eyes, if they don’t feel comfortable waving me over in fear of retaliation from said troublemaker.

We spoke to them a few times asking them to settle down, telling them that they were ruining the show for others. They said they would behave, but went right back to being jackasses. I like to see if a verbal reprimand and threat of removal will calm a person down. Often it does, and the problem solves itself. But, no such luck tonight.

Another patron who was in a wheelchair was, unfortunately, positioned right next to these drunk knuckleheads. Although we do provide ADA compliant areas for people with wheelchairs, scooters, crutches, or other medical concerns, that area doesn’t appeal to everyone. Some people in a wheelchair still want to head into the breach and brave the sea of people to experience the show from the crowd. Now, a normal person notices this and accommodates them. They help clear a path for the wheelchair patron, let them up front to the barricade, and even protect them from any nonsense in the crowd like crowd surfers or oblivious rude-asses.

The guy in the wheelchair tonight was really digging the show, he had straight long hair and a kind face. He had a pretty strong hippie peace-loving vibe. I got the feeling he had seen the band a lot of times already. I always ask people in wheelchairs if they need anything extra like earplugs or plastic bottles of water, to save them any unnecessary trips wheeling through the crowd. Then I keep my eye on them during the show just to make sure they aren’t getting crushed or suffering any other peril.

Well tonight, the hippie wheelchair dude had the misfortune of ending up right next to the drunk belligerent couple. I noticed the drunk guy was bumping into the wheelchair guy a lot, knocking into him with his body and elbow. I went over and spotlighted him with my flashlight and told him he needed to be careful of the disabled man in a wheelchair right next to him. I felt like I was talking to a stupid kid on recess telling him the most obvious of behavioral expectations on the playground. He nodded like he got it. Of course, he kept doing it. I then gave him this ultimatum, “If you don’t stop knocking into the man in the wheelchair right here, we are going to kick you out. You’ll miss the rest of the show. Figure it out.”

I heard the oh-so familiar huge hit song from the band start onstage. This song came out in the late 80s and is definitely an ear worm song. You’ve heard it. It’s the highlight of their live show. Drunken fool starts yelling as loud as he can, “This is my favorite song! I’ve been waiting for this all night! WOOOOOOOO!” He starts drunk dancing, which really just means he is knocking into everyone around him, spilling their drinks and pissing people off. I saw a drink get spilled on the wheelchair guy’s lap.

I knew that this one wasn’t going to go peacefully, so I made a radio call for backup, including a manager. I went to help someone with a medical issue on the other side of the stage, and when I looked back there were 5 other security staff there waiting for my instruction. I also saw the drunk couple sway into the wheelchair hippie again hard, actually tipping his chair a few inches off the ground. The man’s face showed disbelief and anger. Who doesn’t show care and respect for someone in a wheelchair?

I told the other staff that that couple was drunk and ruining the show for everyone around them, especially the man in the wheelchair. It had already gone on too long, so they needed to leave right now. I went over and reached between the jerk and the wheelchair guy, in an attempt to protect him from any further harm. My arms made a fence of sorts and I asked the couple to move over to where the other staff were so that they could leave. They had already removed a portion of the pipe and drape so they could get out right there instead of having to go back through the entire crowd. The woman complied and walked out into the DMZ where the staff were, Of course, the man started yelling that he wasn’t leaving.

I said, “You need to go over that way, you’re done here.” As predictable as a Dean Koontz thriller, he said, “Fuck that, I paid good money for this concert. You can’t make me leave. I’m staying!” I was contemplating climbing over the barricade to put myself in between this fuckhead and the wheelchair. A couple more staff had moved through the crowd up to the barricade positioned behind him in case he tried to run or fight us. I yelled, “I can make you leave and you are leaving. Go over there with your girlfriend!” At this point our show of force was more than what was necessary with 8 staff standing around.

But that’s all anyone was doing, standing around. I think everybody wanted the other person to grab the guy first. Sometimes people get nervous and don’t want to be the first to initiate putting hands on a potentially combative person. Or they assumed that since I made the radio call, I should lead the physical escort. But I was on the inside of the barricade trying to protect the hippie in the wheelchair, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to grab him first since I couldn’t keep my hands on him and walk him through the break in the pipe and drape. There were enough other guys there to grab his elbows and start walking him out. But nobody did.

So, since my arms were already out preventing him from pushing over the wheelchair, I looked at my coworkers and just started pushing the guy along the barricade in the direction of the gap and all the other staff. I felt like a bulldozer knocking over a wooden shack. I was ready for him to swing on me, but he tripped and stumbled. The security guys behind him reacted to my push and grabbed his arms too. We all shoved the guy over to the waiting staff, who grabbed him as well.  He was screaming and yelling the whole time but didn’t swing on us. Since he wasn’t calmly walking, and to protect ourselves from physical attack, we had to just have each of the four of us grab each of his limbs.

During a physical intervention, you usually don’t have time to direct which staff grabs a the left arm, which staff grabs the legs, and which staff goes ahead and opens the door. It just happens in a flash of an instant. We had to carry this guy down the stairs, which is perhaps the most dangerous route possible. But it was the most accessible to the outside sidewalk, and since he was already struggling it had to be done that way. If any one of us tripped, or if he broke from our hold and started fighting us we would be having to tackle him on the stairs themselves. That’s a nightmare for everybody.

So just as we are lifting this guy off the ground, the chorus of the song kicks in with the entire crowd singing along.

But you
Why you wanna give me a run-around?
Is it a sure-fire way to speed things up
When all it does is slow me down?

Yep, the band was Blues Traveler, and the super happy pop song was Runaround. Picture the four of us each holding a limb and carrying this idiot down the stairs while this hippie dance anthem played. The staff carrying his ankles were headed down the stairs first, so the guy ended up in a position like he was laying on his back. I had his left arm since I started the push at the stage barricade, but I was carefully watching the steps so I didn’t trip. We carry this guy down two flights of stairs with him struggling the whole time. Amazingly he didn’t get in a kick, punch, or spit on us. Another security staff got ahead and opened the fire door for us so we could just keep moving out to the sidewalk.

Somehow, without talking about it or coordinating it, we just knew to toss him. You know how if you’re at the lake with your friends you might each grab your friend’s wrist and ankle, count, “ONE…TWO…THREE” while you swing them, and then release them to splash into the water on ‘three?’ Well that’s what happened except we tossed that guy out the door onto the concrete. I remember seeing his body at our eye level floating in the air after we released him. For just a second he looked like an astronaut floating in space. He landed on his ass and his back, and his girlfriend ran out after him and coddled him laying on the sidewalk. We closed the door and went back up the two flights of stairs to the concert. I walked back to my regular spot and exchanged smiles with the guy in the wheelchair. He mouthed the words, “Thank you.”
I didn’t even miss out on John Popper’s harmonica solo in Runaround. I will forever think of this ridiculous incident when I hear this song.

****

Six months later, I saw a familiar face in the front of the crowd. It was hippie wheelchair guy again! I’m pretty good with faces, and honestly you remember faces from an intense situation like that. He was grinning at me already, so I went over and said hello, asking him if he was the guy from the Blues Traveler concert several months back. Of course he was. I didn’t get to talk to him again that night, so I apologized for that jerk’s behavior and how long it took us to get him away from him and out of the audience. I thanked him for his patience and commended him for his grace under pressure. Then he told me something that absolutely made my night. He said that while I was holding my arms between him and the jerk, he reached down by his wheel and grabbed the guy’s ankle. He said with mischievous glee and a twinkle in his eyes, “I tripped him.” He held onto the guy’s ankle at the exact moment I started pushing him. That is why the guy stumbled as I was bulldozing him over to the side of the barricade. And that’s one reason he wasn’t able to attack any of us. I laughed heartily at this revelation. Then in my best Jack Black voice, I sang the Tenacious D lyric, “THAT’S FUCKIN’ TEAMWORK!”

 

 

 

 

Get ’em in, and get ’em out

If there was an episodic television show based on my job as a music venue bouncer, I imagine the opening credits would go like this:

INTERIOR. MY HOUSE – NIGHT

Energetic 80s music plays, think CHiPs or THE A-TEAM.
This scene should play like an action movie with the hero gearing up grabbing weapons and ammo like Rambo.

Close up, fast-edit shots of hands grabbing items from a basket by the front door.

One shot for each of the following:
Keys.
Gloves.
Earplugs.
Leatherman tool.
Tactical flashlight. (click on to test)
UV Blacklight flashlight. (click on to test)
Lighter.
Sharpie.
DPSST certification card.
Walkie-Talkie.
Earpiece for walkie-talkie. (plug in)
Smart phone.
Charger.

INTERIOR. TRUCK – NIGHT

Hand-held camera shots of main character driving in his truck. Intercut with shots of homeless people shuffling down the sidewalk, and agitated mentally ill people punching at the air. The theme music continues to play throughout entire scene.

EXTERIOR. MUSIC VENUE FRONT DOOR – NIGHT

Main character confidently walks up to the brightly lit front door of the music venue. The other bouncers greet him and give him a handshake or a high-five. Cut to shot of the marquee listing some famous bands performing. Main character stands in the doorway of the venue in silhouette. We see him put on his gloves, attach his walkie-talkie to his hip, and put his earpiece in. Main title covers the screen.

FADE OUT

****

Being a bouncer in music venues is honestly the most fun job I’ve ever had. Even though most people view us as someone to avoid. We are considered ‘The Fun-Enders.” Normally, if we are talking to you, it means you’re going to be told to stop doing something that you are having fun doing. I’m going to impede upon or end your fun evening by telling you various things. Things like A) you’re being cut off and the bartenders will no longer serve you, B) you can’t smoke inside, C) you can’t sleep here, D) you are being too loud, E) you are harassing women, F) you are in an unauthorized area, G) you are making people uncomfortable and need to stop or leave H) whatever activity you’re doing is not allowed here, and finally I) you are being kicked out and must leave immediately. If you don’t go willingly, we are going to put our hands on you and walk you out. That is commonly called an ejection, or being 86’d. Whatever the particular reason, it’s a person of perceived authority ending your fun. In most of those cases, I’ll be asking you to leave, and therefore, your night will be concluded.

Another friend in the bouncer industry described it even more simply. He said that his jobs have all given him a lot of experience moving bodies around. And that does seem to describe it well, in the most basic terminology. We move bodies around in many ways. First, we process people through the door checking their ID and scanning their tickets. Moving the bodies from outside the venue into the venue. Then we move bodies around with our voices. I regularly tell people where to go or where they can’t go with their alcoholic beverages. Or I move people out of the way to make a path for a wheelchair, staff members, or band members. And, of course, we move bodies around with our voices or our hands when they have ignored all warnings and are finally being kicked out. I’m moving you out of our establishment with either my stern voice or my strong hands.

But let’s get back to the fun parts of my job.

When I’m working the front door at any given venue I often greet people by saying, “Welcome!”
In my head I then say,
To the pleasuredome….
This is from the opening song of the landmark Frankie Goes to Hollywood song of the same name.
This was one of the first compact discs that I bought when that technology became available in the early 80s. The other first CDs I bought were Prince 1999, and the soundtrack to the film 1984 by The Eurythmics (For the Love of Big Brother). I have now owned those three compact discs for over 35 years and still play them all the time. Some albums just have legs. 
I will continue to greet people in this fashion. Someday I hope that Holly Johnson (lead singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood) comes into a venue I’m working at and recognizes my ‘WELCOME’. 

At the start of the night, I’m pretty much the friendliest door guy you’ve ever seen. I’ve had strangers tell me I’m their favorite security staff at the venue. One tour personnel told me at the end of the concert that I made his day. He appreciated my overall demeanor and welcoming attitude. Another guy told me that I should win the door guy of the year award, if such a thing actually existed. People are obviously expecting the door guy to be an asshole due to their previous experiences. So when I’m the opposite of their expectations, people relax and warm up to me. I attribute this to my innate customer service skills and a whole lot of caffeine. I honestly like answering the endless questions and making people feel at home. Come on in and have a good time. I’m here to help.

When the evening starts I’m smiling and greeting people and making small talk. I’ll even flirt back if you want to flirt. I’m selling the concert or event, and bringing people into the venue. I feel like I’m the lead singer of Kool and the Gang. I’m stepping left and right dancing in place snapping my fingers singing, “This is your night tonight, everything’s gonna be all right.”

But flash forward 8 hours later and it’s a different story entirely. Now I’m standing statue-still, frowning with my arms crossed in front of me. We have reached the hour of the furrowed brow. After dealing with entitled, rude, drunk patrons, I’m ready to kick every single person out of here. And I’m looking for a reason to do so. By this time of the night all I want is for GTFO hour to get here. I wish we had a neon sign that I could click on that flashed in super bright letters GET THE FUCK OUT.

Now I’m more like Prince singing, “Closing time, ugly lights. Everybody’s inspected.”
And I am totally inspecting you. I’m looking for a reason to kick you out (stumbling, yelling, dropping drinks, falling asleep). If I observe signs of visible intoxication, then you will be leaving us sooner than you planned. I can’t wait for these people to go home, they have sapped all of my enthusiasm and energy. Our motto is, “Get ’em in, and get ’em out.” Sometimes getting them out takes a long, long time. Nobody really wants the night to end, except all the staff.

But I still try to be gentle with my “Get out” speech. I might say, “OK everybody last call was 15 minutes ago, the bartenders need to close up and I need to lock the doors.” I’ve been known to say, “Ok my friends, the time has come.” Or, “If you love us that much we open again tomorrow morning, but you need to head out for tonight.” If my patience was thin, it’ll be something like, “Okay, that’s it. We are now closed. Please make your way to the door and get home safely.”
If I have a friendly bunch of people, I’ll lead them with this familiar exchange.

Me: “Hey everybody, you don’t gotta go home but…..”
Drunken revelers: “WE GOTTA GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE!!”

That usually gets the group laughing and they get it and begin moving towards the door.

That’s the ideal way to end the night, with laughter.

****

EXTERIOR. MUSIC VENUE FRONT DOOR – LATE NIGHT

Main character removes his earpiece and turns off his walkie-talkie. Intercut with shots of staff sweeping the venue floor, pulling down the letters from the marquee, and flipping off lights. Main character walks out the front door in silhouette. He doesn’t have the same bounce to his step as earlier. He is weary. He leans down and gives a homeless person a slice of cold pizza. Another staff behind him can be seen chaining the door shut, then they flick off the lights. Main character waves at the homeless person and walks off screen. Credits roll.

 

Nobody Touches the Priest

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A PRAYER FOR THE DYING (1987) – Mickey Rourke

Another film that slipped through the cracks at the time, A Prayer for the Dying is a great drama that needs to be re-appreciated.

This film was released in 1987 as a star vehicle for Mickey Rourke, who was on fire in the 80s. It is the second film of his to come out in 1987, with the first being the amazing detective noir-horror film Angel Heart.

Just to recap, Mickey Rourke in the 80s was a huge rising star. I’m not going to delve into his later years of taking any film that came along, or quitting acting to become a boxer and thereby changing or ruining his good looks. Mickey Rourke started receiving much acclaim in the 80s and was even called that era’s potential new Marlon Brando. Even when he only had a small part in a film, he was the actor you remembered. His acting style draws you in and makes you believe him in any role. His emotions are telegraphed perfectly just by his face and his eyes. His delivery of powerful lines puts him a notch above most other actors in the 80s.

One of the first rated R double features I was able to see in theaters was the 1985 Michael Cimino crime epic Year of the Dragon. Strangely, the other film on this double feature was John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest. Both really good films, but not connected in the slightest thematically or genre-wise. Oliver Stone wrote a hell of a script for Dragon, just a couple years after writing Scarface. I used to wear my Dad’s army jacket, similar to Stanley White’s in the film, while playing adventure time in my backyard. I had a toy handgun and would imagine I was running around fighting the triad in Chinatown. I still love Year of the Dragon and re-watch it often. I have a similar love for Alan Parker’s 1987 masterpiece Angel Heart. Seeing that in theaters changed my life. But that’s a topic for another essay.

Mickey’s run of great films made by great directors is quite impressive. I think people forget just how big of a star he was, and how he was considered one of the greatest male actors of the time. He was handsome, charming, naturalistic and mesmerizing on screen.

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Mickey’s select 80s filmography:

Heaven’s Gate, Michal Cimino 1980
Body Heat, Lawrence Kasdan 1981
Diner, Barry Levinson 1982
Eureka, Nicholas Roeg 1983
Rumblefish, Francis Ford Coppola, 1983
The Pope of Greenwich Village, Stuart Rosenberg 1984
Year of the Dragon, Michael Cimino, 1985
9 1/2 Weeks, Adrian Lyne 1986
Angel Heart, Alan Parker 1987
A Prayer for the Dying, Mike Hodges 1987
Barfly, Barbet Schroeder 1987

That is quite a strong list of famous directors for any resume.

Clearly, every director wanted to work with Mickey. Cimino obviously found something he loved in working with him, perhaps planning a long-term working relationship similar to Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. He cast Mickey in Heaven’s Gate, Year of the Dragon, and Desperate Hours (1990). I truly wish we could have seen more Cimino-Rourke collaborations.

The greatest and most prolific year for Mickey Rourke was obviously 1987. Three powerful films were released this year, with each of them showcasing his stellar acting and command of the screen. He played the grimy 1940s New Orleans detective in Angel Heart, the haunted IRA terrorist in A Prayer for the Dying, and the alcoholic Charles Bukowski character in Barfly. If you were to only watch three Rourke performances, I would say this is the holy trifecta of where to start.

A Prayer for the Dying is now one of my favorite Rourke performances. I rented this in the late 80s and didn’t love it. I think it’s because it was mis-promoted as an action movie when it is more of a dramatic meditation on guilt and religion. Also at that time I probably wanted it to be a violent action film like Charles Bronson would have made, since it dealt with an IRA terrorist killing mafia targets. Death Wish in Ireland. Watching the preview confirms this, as they show each and every action scene of gunfire paired with heroic action movie music (none of which is even used in the film). The original composer left the project and was replaced by Bill Conti, who gives us an amazing soundtrack. Pretty sure that music on the preview was from the original composer. I am so glad that they went with Conti. I would buy this soundtrack easily.

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Mike Hodges directed this film based on the book from Jack Higgins. Mike Hodges slammed onto the scene in 1971 with the gritty crime movie Get Carter. People my age may also remember him as the director of the classic 1980 camp sci-fi movie Flash Gordon. He had a bit of a comeback with the films Croupier and I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead. He’s a great director for this kind of story.

Rourke plays Martin Fallon, an IRA terrorist sporting a sawed-off shotgun, red hair and sideburns, and what I found to be a very convincing Irish accent. He looks weary and defeated for most of the film, because he is. The movie starts with a botched attempt on military vehicles that results in a school bus full of kids being blown up. He wants out, but the powers that be won’t let him out until he does one last hit (and because he knows too much). With promises of a passport and 50 thousand dollars, he reluctantly agrees.

He assassinates the mafia target in a cemetery but is seen by a priest, Father De Costa, played by Bob Hoskins. For the first time in his career, he does not eliminate the witness. Instead, he does a very interesting thing. He later visits the priest and confesses the murder to him, thereby insuring that the priest cannot tell the police about it. Whatever is said in confessional is strictly between the priest, the confessor, and God himself.

De Costa cannot understand why Fallon let him live, and uses that as a sign that there is still good in him and a chance to save him.

Martin Fallon:

I could’ve closed your mouth with a bullet.

Father De Costa:

Well why didn’t you?

Martin Fallon:

There’s been enough killin’

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Watching the interplay between these two great actors is one of the many pleasures of this film. The priest takes him on as his project to try to redeem him, and the terrorist wants to keep the priest safe and debate religion and forgiveness. I think his character wants to do something good as penance for the murders he has committed. A clunkier title for this movie could have been Absolution for a Hit Man. It becomes an existential discourse on the nature of religion and redemption, between a man of the cloth (with a violent past), and a man of the gun.

One of my favorite exchanges is when the two reverse their roles by the priest sitting in his own church pew and the terrorist standing behind the pulpit giving an anti-sermon.

Father Da Costa:

Have you something to say?

Martin Fallon:

We are fundamentally alone.

Nothing lasts. There’s no purpose to any of it.

Father Da Costa:

That’s a bit of a statement. Can you explain it to God?

Martin Fallon:

No, Father. Wrong way around. Can he explain it to me?

Can he explain my lost faith and how I lost it?

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Another interesting scene is where the priest loses his temper after a group of teenagers vandalize his church. They reveal that some men at the corner bar paid them to destroy his church. De Costa goes to the bar, called COURAGE, and confronts the familiar mafia villains. He then viciously beats the three gangsters with his fists and a garbage can lid, which seems to be homage to Sonny Corleone beating up Carlo Rizzi in The Godfather. The shot is framed so only certain letters of the big neon sign are visible, just the four letters R A G E. Hoskins does a great job in this scene, showing his disappointment in himself reverting back to anger and violence. He and Fallon are just two sides of the same coin.

The rest of the cast is just as great. Liam Neeson is another IRA terrorist and good friend of Fallon. Alison Doody, later to be cast in the third Indiana Jones film, gives a solid performance as Neeson’s teammate. Alan Bates relishes his role as the mafia villain. He and his brother run a funeral home, with Bates enjoying doing the mortician duties himself.  Having the main villain also working as the embalmer was an interesting touch I hadn’t seen before. It was reminiscent of Norman Bates’ interest in taxidermy in Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho.

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Rourke’s character spends time around the church with De Costa and his blind niece, Anna. In an inspired scene, Fallon tries to help Anna tune the huge church pipe organ. We have no idea of his background besides being a terrorist. A police detective arrives to question the priest and takes an interest in Fallon’s presence. Rourke plays innocent and tries to pass himself off as the organ tuner. He is sitting on the piano bench facing away from everyone, but looking at them in a mirror on the organ. The detective doesn’t believe him and pushes him to play a song. Rourke’s face shows a mix of distracted innocence and the tension is built as he just hits some random discordant notes. Then, when we fear the detective is about to arrest him for questioning, Fallon proceeds to play a beautiful somber fugue by Bach. The director lets the song play out and Rourke smirks and smiles with satisfaction.

De Costa’s blind niece, of course, finds herself in peril late in the film. She is terrorized by a bad character in a way that made me think of Terence Young’s 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark. Her character might be the weakest link in the story. Having her be blind almost felt like a gimmick to make her as vulnerable as possible. The actor does a fine job, she just has some pretty obvious lines and serves as a superfluous and somewhat unbelievable love interest. I suppose her character represents purity and virginity in a film about Catholic guilt and repression.

Certain shots might hold symbolism I didn’t catch when I first watched this movie over 30 years ago. The religious iconography is plentiful. Having the church be under reconstruction with scaffolding is unusual. That could represent the church trying to give itself a makeover to continue to exist in a modern society with changing priorities or disinterest. In another scene a huge statue of a crucified Jesus falls to the ground and a large cloud of dust puffs off of it. The ancient history of religion literally dusting itself off to reinvent itself anew. When a character is shot in a cemetery, a statue of a saint is spattered in blood, in a reverse baptism at the point of death.

There are many great acting moments from Rourke in this movie, but the best has to be this speech between his character and Liam Neeson in the tree park. His delivery and facial expressions truly show his pain and remorse. The camera holds in tight close-up on Mickey and we are gifted this short monologue about his suffering and loss of himself.

Martin Fallon:

Listen, I don’t want to keep waking up every night hearing the screams of young children. I lost something a long time ago, Malachy. Everything. Everything got very black, like dried blood. And something started to stink. Every day it got worse, sometimes so bad I couldn’t get out of my bed. I sat there in the dark like a wee scared boy, not being able to breathe or speak my name. I saw myself lying in the street, dying, not wanting to die. Maybe there’s something wrong with me.

 

This somber film is full of great performances, music, and direction. Please track it down and give it a watch. I recommend the Twilight Time Limited Edition BluRay. And if anybody needs help curating a Mickey Rourke film festival, I’m your man.

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Cletus in the DMZ

The largest indoor venue that I work at holds 1500 people at full capacity. There’s only one official entrance, so that’s a whole lot of people to process inside in a big hurry. Every single person is going to have to come through this one checkpoint; it’s the bottleneck of doom. We check IDs, scan or sell tickets, stamp wrists, answer all the questions, then get them through the metal detectors. Or we deny them entry because they are already too drunk or high to come in. We are always referencing faces of people that have been permanently 86’d from the venue. When in doubt one of use will go to the private area with photos of all the people who are not allowed inside due to previous assholery. This collection of photos of angry people is called the wall of shame.

The room itself is divided down the middle to accommodate all-ages crowds. We are one of the few Portland venues that can put on all-ages shows. But it’s a lot of extra work for us, and frankly, it’s a huge pain in the ass. We have to keep the underage kiddies away from the beer garden area, and stay in accordance with the OLCC guidelines of alcohol consumption and monitoring at a show with minors present. To do this we build a DMZ, or really an aboveground trench to separate the all-ages section from the 21 and over section. Obviously putting on a strictly 21 and over show is much preferable and easier for us to set up.

This DMZ (demilitarized zone) is a protected walkway made up of huge heavy steel concert barricades bolted together in a particular formation. We arrive early to lug these heavy bastards into place and lock them in position. They have steps on the inside for us to use to catch crowd surfers or see into the crowd better to address a problem. Or so we can jump over the barricades easier to enter the crowd to break up a fight. Photographers will also step up on there to get that perfect across-the-top-of-the-crowd shot of the band onstage. It’s also designed to be wide enough so an over 21 person from the beer garden side cannot pass an alcoholic beverage to a minor on the all ages side.

Nobody is allowed in this walkway without being authorized. If you don’t work here, or have a laminate or photo pass, you aren’t allowed in here at all. But there are always exceptions. ALWAYS. One exception is when a crowd surfer makes their way to the front area (the moat) to be caught by us. We then allow them to run down this DMZ pathway to get back out into the general population of the crowd, usually to crowd surf up to us again. Another exception is when the band members (who all have laminates) give all-access passes to their friends or family or (potential) fuck-buddy.  Gear load out is also sometimes done between sets, so drum kits and gig bags and amps are being rolled down the DMZ by the stagehands and tour staff. Videographers, photographers, tour personnel, roadies, stagehands, promoters, other industry people, and us security staff can all be seen moving up and down this metal trench. Sometimes we offer ADA placement of a patron in a wheelchair up by where I stand. And the lead singers love to jump down next to me and run up and down the DMZ. It’s a great way to get into the crowd safely and give a lot of high-fives, hugs, and Instagram video opportunities. So, for a place that nobody is supposed to be, there’s actually a hell of a lot of people moving around. And I’m supposed to monitor all of this activity.

You’ll see us move extra fast if we are responding to a fight or a medical situation where someone has passed out. This corridor is hugely important, as it is the only way to move quickly across the room to an emergency without having to push people apart through a packed crowd. I can’t even count how many times I’ve had to climb over the barricade into the crowd to help a patron who had fainted or passed out. I’ll then talk with them and gently walk with them out the DMZ pathway or just through the crowd to the back where we can get some air and fresh water. It’s amazing how many people just didn’t want to lose their spot, so they didn’t eat or drink any water for hours. One show we actually stopped the band, raised the house lights, and brought in EMTs though the DMZ so they could get to a patron who collapsed and had a seizure. The band never got to play their encore that night.

My position once the concert begins is right up by the stage where this DMZ corridor begins. I’m monitoring the DMZ itself and stopping anyone that isn’t supposed to be there. I’m watching for people smoking or sneaking alcohol into the all-ages section and dealing with that. I’ve kicked a lot of people out of concerts from up at the stage. I’m also watching the stage and the moat area and my stage buddy on the other side (stage right). I’m keeping my eyes on the VIP area that has their own bar and is often full of entitled drunk industry people. I’m also somehow supposed to see behind me to monitor the backstage area and sound engineer station. Having eyes in the back of my head would be a most appreciated upgrade. Sometimes really famous people get positioned right near me. I’ve looked over and found myself bumping shoulders with famous athletes, actors, models, and other musicians who aren’t performing that night. Sometimes I have to ask them to stop doing drugs where the crowd can see them, or politely ask them to move so a huge crate full of musical equipment can come through. That does give me a small degree of satisfaction, since these people are not used to being told that they have to move, or to stop smoking pot.

On rare occasions, we might have to haul out some asshole from the stage area down the DMZ. This would be because they were fighting, groping women, being aggressive, trying to actually get on stage with the band, or were ruining the show for others around them. Or if they intentionally try to get in the DMZ after being warned not to.
This next incident is precisely that last example.

I don’t remember what concert this happened at, but I surely do remember the Cro-Magnon jerk that we had to kick out. There was some stereotypical white redneck dipshit trying to get our attention from the beer garden side of the DMZ. He kept gesturing that he wanted to crawl over the barricade. I would shake my head no at him, but he continued to pester me and any other staff that would walk by. I went over and acted like I wanted to help him. “What do you need?” He asked if he could climb over the barricade to get into the staff-only area I was in. I told him very clearly and firmly that he was not allowed to do that, as this is an off-limits area. In my head I said, “Staff only, cretin.”

He nodded his head like he understood, but kept asking everybody as they got near him if he could climb over the barricade. He thought he was funny, apparently. He even would mimic the motions of putting his hands on the railing like he was about to jump over. I went over to him again and stated, “If you try to get into this area, we will kick you out and you will miss the concert.” I called for a manager on the radio just so they would have eyes on this fool and know who I was talking about if I had to kick him out later. Manager met with me in front of this dude and I explained that he was repeatedly asking if he could climb into the DMZ and acting like he was going to try the moment I looked away or got distracted with some other issue. The manager repeated my expectation to the guy. When he made faces like a sad puppy dog being chastised, I told him a final time that I would kick him out if he entered. He could walk over to the ID station between the two areas like everybody else and get to the all-ages section if he wanted. Then I walked back to my station, keeping my eyes on him.

This guy was a big dude. He was 6 feet 4 inches and probably 280 pounds. Not fat, not super muscular, just farm-bred and stocky. If I had to guess, he probably eats a lot of red meat and drinks Monster energy drinks. He wore a gray wife-beater t-shirt and camouflage army shorts. I imagine that the military wouldn’t let him in, but that he probably does indeed beat his wife (if he even has one). And yes, he had a classic mullet. I know I’m making a lot of assumptions. But after working in this field for a few years, you can get a good read on people based on their appearance and how they communicate with you. If I were a betting man, and I’m not, I would put down money that this guy drove a pick-up with a lift kit, barely graduated high school with a C average, votes Republican, and experimented with making bathtub meth. His Christian name is probably Cletus.

I obviously didn’t like this guy, which makes what happened next all the more sweet.
Like I expected, he waited until there was no other staff in the area, and I got busy talking with the stage manager about some cool things the band was going to do that I should be ready for once the show starts. I glanced back over to see our man Cletus actually pushing up onto the barricade and trying to come into the DMZ. House lights were still on and the concert hadn’t started, so this was literally the worst time to try this nonsense.

I called for backup over the radio and started charging towards him to intercept. Surprisingly, he got his big ass up over the barricade pretty well and was going to land in the DMZ in seconds. I think his intention was to leap all the way across the 6-foot wide chasm, somehow landing on the opposite barricade and then just falling into the crowd on the all-ages side. Except that he didn’t clear the barricade entirely before he started pitching forward. His foot was still stuck on the top part of the barricade. And I’m sure being drunk didn’t help this graceful white trash wizard’s coordination.

His body fell forward into the heavy metal trench with his foot still hooked on the barricade. Remember the steps I mentioned that were on the barricades? His forehead hit that full force. Unyielding black steel. He could have just broken his neck. I thought of Mr. Blonde from Reservoir Dogs saying with no remorse at all, “If they hadn’t a done what I told them not to do, they would still be alive.” I couldn’t believe this idiot might have just killed himself. I saw the manager running towards me responding to my radio call making a face of disbelief and shock. He was aghast, and I’m sure my face showed the same thing. It was a bizarre slow-motion moment of seeing this huge man falling and being too far away to help prevent this brutal injury. I laughed out of nervous fear, and at the absolute insanity of this whole situation.

We both ran up to the guy and found that he was alive. In fact his foot had come loose from the barricade and he was pushing himself up off the floor and the metal step. We each grabbed his arms and started walking him up the DMZ so we could kick him out of the venue, just like we promised we would. I hooked his arm like I’d been trained to do for years and yelled at him to walk with us. Obviously he was stunned, disoriented, and probably had a concussion. He started struggling and trying to break loose, grabbing the barricade to the all-ages side and acting like he was still going to try to climb up and over. I peeled his hand off the barricade and started force-walking him out. Since he was much taller than either of us, I imagined he looked like The Hulk trying to shake off two regular sized humans from his arms. Since the band hadn’t started yet, there was nothing for anyone to do but watch this ridiculous scene unfold. He was indeed a big strong dude, but I had a superhero grip on his arm. I’m not going to say that I had him in a pain-compliance hold or anything, but I had his hand twisted in an uncomfortable way to say the least. And once I put hands on somebody, I do not let go until the situation is resolved.

We kept walking him down the DMZ towards the elevator that would take us to the main doorway. The adrenaline takes over and you don’t want to get hurt or have them spit in your face, so you grip the person’s arm like a C-clamp holding fence posts together. More and more staff came to support us in case he broke free (which I wasn’t going to allow). We got to the elevator and he made a verbal contract not to struggle if we released his arms. So everybody let go of him except me. I just didn’t think releasing anybody that we had previously been hands-on with until they were outside the front door was a good idea. But he seemed much more calm now, and there were now so many security staff surrounding him that it would be pretty easy to get him in a physical hold immediately. So I reluctantly released my death-grip on his arm.

Then he did a really stupid thing. I don’t think there is a name for it, but it’s that thing you would do if you wanted to scare your friends that weren’t expecting anything. He turned towards me quickly and stomped on the ground really hard while puffing up his chest and arms. A fake-out move intended to make somebody flinch or recoil. Big dudes and bullies do this.

But what made it even more shocking was that his forehead and face was covered in blood from the impact on the barricade step. In that whole physical escort fracas, I hadn’t actually seen his face until now. He looked like a demon. I flashed to scenes from The Shining, Evil Dead, and Rob Zombie movies with evil faces covered in bright red blood. Hell, he probably couldn’t even see for most of the time we were manhandling him down the DMZ from the blood in his eyes. And since he was covered in blood, it was also a good idea that we let go of him at this point. Blood-borne pathogens training, you are always on my mind.

But, in the second that he power-stomped trying to get the last laugh by scaring me, I reacted as well. Without flinching, I immediately raised my hand up to his face. I had grabbed my tactical flashlight and brought it right up to his temple aimed at his eye. And turned it on. It was so fast people probably thought I was going to punch him in the jaw with an upper-cut. So picture Cletus making a face meant to scare me, now illuminated by a 1000-lumen flashlight mere millimeters from his bloodied eye. This was the moment where he could have pushed it further and lunged at me. And the moment where I could have cracked him in the temple with my own black metal flashlight, dropping him to the ground. I wish that there was a photo or security camera footage of this moment. He was stunned that there was a metal spotlight almost touching his eyeball. I’m sure he could actually feel the heat that the flashlight puts out. So he backed down and the situation de-escalated. Everybody let out a sigh. People handed him paper towels to sop up the blood. We examined our own arms and were amazed that we didn’t get bled on at all.

I was done dealing with Cletus, so I let a bunch of the other security team ride down the elevator with him and walk him out the front door. He missed the concert like I warned him he would. Once he took care of his head wound and sobered up, he reportedly apologized to all the staff and said that he never acts like that.

I washed my hands and returned to the concert hall. I walked down the DMZ to the stage, and a dozen smiling people from the crowd gave me high fives over the barricade walls. It felt like when athletes walk onto the playing field and their fans high-five them. They thanked me for getting that guy out of there. Apparently he had been irritating people even before he got our attention. Patrons told me that he was saying creepy inappropriate things about going over to the all-ages side. Comments that were reported to me were, “I’m going over there to get me some of that fine young pussy.” And also, “Look at all that sweet teen meat over there.”

Hearing that, I was extra glad that I kicked him out. Cletus, you got what you deserved. I hope your head hurts for weeks, I hope you need chiropractic work on your neck, and that you need a bunch of stitches. And you best believe that you are on the wall of shame now.

 

The Demon Alcohol

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I had already clocked out and was hanging outside the entrance of the venue talking with my coworker, who was closing by himself tonight. Almost all of the patrons were gone, and the bartenders were doing their closing cleaning duties. Two males exited the venue and wobbled off to wherever they were going. Now that we live in a time of cheap and convenient Uber and Lyft drivers, there is literally no reason to ever get a DUI. There never really was to begin with, but you get my point. Cabs regularly park outside our venue and wait for some easy fares. People stand on the sidewalk watching their Lyft or Uber driver’s progress on their smart phone’s map. Within minutes, they are safely picked up and transported home.

But tonight a female bartender came outside in a panic and yelled to us, “Those guys are hammered. We cut them off and they were talking about driving home. STOP THEM!” Immediately the adrenaline shot into my system and I kicked back into work mode. We ran around the corner and sure enough, saw the more-drunk of the two men opening up his car door.

We sprinted over to the car yelling at the men. I went to the driver’s side door where the man was already sitting, keys in hand looking for the ignition. All of his windows were down. My coworker was on the other side of the car talking to the other man. I started trying to talk the man out of it. “Sir, you are not going to drive home tonight. You have had too much to drink and you’ve gotta stay.” He mumbled some drunk-speak about being fine and he was going to drive. “Nope. You can pick up your car tomorrow. Let’s get some coffee in you and call you a cab.” He kept mumbling his protests. “My friend, this isn’t worth going to jail and losing your license. Or hurting somebody. I just want you to get home safely.” All of this sound logic would have worked on a sober person. But you just can’t reason with drunk people. My coworker and the man’s friend were on the sidewalk pleading with him to give me the keys. I finally said, “Hey look over there, your friend is talking to you.” The driver glanced over and I reached inside the car window and snatched the keys out of his hand.

The man looked like I had just stolen all of his retirement money. He nodded to himself bewilderedly and smiled. I walked away to the sidewalk with his keys. It turns out the less-drunk friend had a hotel room at the hotel directly behind us. He offered to let the driver stay in his room that night. I gave the keys to the more sober friend. We thanked him and watched them stagger over to the hotel room, open the door, and go inside.

My coworker said, “Damn man, you oughtta clock back in. You just saved somebody’s life tonight.”

* * * *

Some thoughts on alcohol. Without it I wouldn’t have a job. If you take a macro view of what I do, my job is essentially to confirm that you are old enough to drink alcohol, and then kick you out when you’ve had too much of it. That’s it. It’s a legal drug that kills more people than all other drugs combined. And yet, it is tolerated, promoted, pushed, advertised, and worshipped by our entire culture. At least here in the United States. It is potentially a part of every family celebration, rite of passage, and life event. It is the most popular social lubricant or anxiety crutch.

I work around alcohol and deal with intoxicated patrons all the time, yet I barely drink at all myself. I’ll occasionally accept a free shot after work, commonly called a ‘shift drink.’ When I do drink I choose hard cider that I’m drinking for the taste, not to get buzzed or drunk. The last time I was drunk was at Burning Man in 2005, and that probably qualified as alcohol poisoning. I just can’t tolerate the hangover and the headache the day after being drunk. And I’m not 21 anymore, either. In college I could drink a bunch and snap back pretty well the next day. Now that I’m substantially older I would need the entire next day to nap and recover and be miserable and in pain. Screw all that, it’s just not worth it. I suppose I would actually make a great bartender since I don’t crave the product at all. I could never work as a chocolatier though. I would eat my weight in chocolate and be fired after one shift. I’m reminded of something somebody probably said in some western film I can’t recall the title of. “Alcohol? Oh it’s the devil’s drink. I ain’t got much use for the stuff myself….but I sure do make a livin’ off of it.”

One behavior that I don’t  particularly understand is this: Getting off work but staying at the bar you work at drinking with your coworkers. Some people hurry up so that they can clock out and run a block or two away to another bar. This is where their friends work, so they can get a drink or two in there before they stop serving. I suppose that if you really like alcohol, it must be a kind of torture to handle it, pour it, and serve it all shift when you can’t have any. Then when you’re done all you want is a shot and a beer back. Me? I just want to go home and chill out after work, where I could have a drink in peace and solitude. I’ve already been around people all night and I don’t have the bandwidth to put on the social mask and engage in small-talk with anybody. And drunken small-talk is even worse. I’m not single, so I’m not interested in flirting with anybody. And I’ve already been here for too many hours, so staying longer just doesn’t appeal to me. Blowing my cash tips that I was just given on overpriced drinks seems like a complete waste. I know I sound like a boring old miser, but I’ll save my money by not remaining in the bar giving my tip money right back to the business. I have a Tupperware container hidden away at home that I put all my tips in so I won’t spend them on impulse purchases. I even have a secondary envelope full of tips I get specifically from working private rental events or catering jobs. This envelope is beginning to look like something you would see in a crime movie when somebody is making a payout after robbing a bank. My Tupperware tips and thick cash envelope will hopefully allow me to take my family on a vacation somewhere without puddles of rainwater.

I’ve had a couple girlfriends who would definitely qualify as alcoholics. Functional alcoholics. Binge drinkers. But still alcoholics. That certainly contributed to the eventual demise of those relationships. I also used to throw epic parties out at my house in the country. Since the parties would go for three days, everybody would just stay and camp. That way nobody had to worry about driving home after drinking on dark curvy country roads. I’d put out a huge bowl and people would put their keys in there. But, accidents do happen and I always felt like I had to maintain sobriety in case I needed to drive anyone to the ER. So even though you’d see me walking about with a drink in my hand tending the bonfire, I was nursing the same drink for six hours. Reminds me of stories of Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin pounding back an entire fifth of Jack Daniels while performing onstage. He later admitted that the bottle was full of apple juice.

I can’t say that I didn’t experiment with alcohol. Friends of mine from high school and college might remember stories of me drinking too much in the dorms or a friend’s house. Luckily, that was decades ago and minimal evidence exists to prove our intoxicated excesses. In my thirties I did develop a taste for mango cognac, which I would deliver to guests at my parties in tall shot glasses. Nobody refused mango cognac. “You cannot possess mango.” I also liked drinking absinthe. I really liked the ritual of preparing this anise-flavored spirit. You pour absinthe into a special glass, then slowly drip iced water over a sugar cube on the slotted spoon set across the glass. When this drips down into the green absinthe and the cloud of sugar swirls around, it is called ‘the louche’ or releasing the green fairy. This was from the time where the psychoactive ingredients wormwood and thujone were still present in absinthe. Much rumor and confusion any mythology accompanies the story of absinthe. Absinthe was finally legalized in America in 2007, and it is commonly available in nightclubs and bars. Today’s absinthe is just an unusual tasty drink with much history, that appeals to those who like the taste of licorice.

My parents never had any problems with alcohol, but there were many alcoholics in their family. They did sit me down and talk about alcoholism at one point when I was a little kid, years before I would ever have even been thinking of trying alcohol. They said that, due to my heritage of being Irish and German, I should be very cautious when drinking alcohol. They said that many family members have struggled with alcoholism, and that I may be potentially more prone to react poorly to it, or to even become an alcoholic. The idea was that I may carry around a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. This warning lodged itself deep into my brain and I never forgot it.

I did indeed have an uncle who was an alcoholic. He almost died before I was born. He was drinking with his friend and they attempted to drive home. His friend was driving drunk without any insurance, and my uncle wasn’t even wearing a seat belt. They lost control and drove straight into a building storefront. My uncle went through the windshield of the car, and then crashed through the store window. He was in the hospital for three months recovering from that accident, and had to have his jaw wired shut. I never forgot this story of his completely preventable accident caused by drunk driving. When he would visit at family events I would secretly examine his face for any scars or evidence of his jaw being wired shut. As a little kid, I didn’t really comprehend what that entailed. But as an adult, I never got into a car with a driver who had been drinking, I always wear a seat belt, and I have never driven drunk.

I was also deeply affected by the loss of several of my musical heroes due to alcoholism. One of my favorite bands of all time, Led Zeppelin, broke up when drummer John Bonham died. He died from choking on his own vomit after drinking the equivalent of 40 vodka shots. Jimi Hendrix died the same way, but from a barbiturate overdose. Not only did I love Zeppelin beyond measure, but I was a budding young drummer myself, so I felt like this was a warning I shouldn’t ignore. When I started learning to play drums at age 16, I put on Led Zeppelin IV and attempted to play along with Bonzo. Keith Moon of The Who also died due to alcoholism, along with Bon Scott of AC/DC and Jim Morrison of The Doors. So many great talents self-destructed due to their abuse of alcohol. It seemed like the accursed trifecta of things to avoid as a musician were alcohol, heroin, and airplanes.

In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn
All I want for you to do is take my body home

When I do spend a few minutes at the bar after a long shift, I’m usually decompressing over a non-alcoholic beverage just watching people. Most people there are talking loud and saying nothing, to quote James Brown. They clumsily flirt and ogle one another, trying to glean some confidence from their friends around the pool table. They are spending far more money than they should be on unhealthy bar food and alcohol in an effort to treat themselves, celebrate some accomplishment, or let off steam. On the good side, they are creating memories with friends. On the bad side, they are getting sloppy drunk in public. Now that I’m clocked out, they aren’t my problem anymore. The problem is, I’m still in uniform, and being a bouncer isn’t something I can turn off easily.

I think mainly of the missed potential when seeing people getting drunk in a bar. Instead of regressing to a cro-magnon level, these people could be home creating something or achieving their goals. I think of all the dreams and projects that people in the bar might have while watching them smoke cigarettes and drink beer. I bet these people have projects that they are procrastinating. I bet they would normally be writing music for their band, working on writing their book, or studying for their college coursework. They could be working out by lifting weights or running, building their own business plan, or finishing their screenplay. Or even just the more simple act of spending time with their partners, parents, or kids — creating those good memories. There’s nothing but squandered potential in here during the wee hours. Very rarely, there are people who can get amazing things done while drunk. I’m thinking of the famous painters and writers who reportedly would create masterpieces while drinking. But that is the exception, there can only be one Charles Bukowski. That cantankerous old bastard wrote more amazing lines while he was drunk than I’ll ever write in my sober lifetime.

I have theorized with my coworkers that a certain very popular television sit-com has affected all of our lives in this industry. Cheers was one of the most popular shows ever made and concerned the lives on and off shift of bartenders. This show won numerous awards, ran for 11 years, had spin-off series, and started the careers of many beloved actors. Most of my coworkers are around the same age group, so we watched this show as it aired, or later in syndication. The idea of your neighborhood bar being your safe haven and sanctuary started with us all watching this show. No matter how bad your day was, you can walk into the bar and everybody yells, “NORM!” The neighborhood bar is the great decompression center with your friends. I think we internalized the themes of having work mentors/coaches, friends/therapists, lovers, and people you see more than your family becoming your family. No, I never consciously thought I would grow up and work in a bar. But somewhere in my childhood those archetypes and characters and relationships making a home and a family in a bar embedded themselves deeply. And decades later, here we are.
We all just wanna go where everybody knows our name.

I don’t think most people like drunk people. Intoxicated people become rude, boisterous (loud), selfish, cocky, demanding, and really repetitive. They can’t control their bodily functions well and might vomit, or trip and hurt themselves. Property damage is also a concern. Or they want to fight people, or put their hands on people without consent. And I would guarantee that alcohol has involvement in a majority of rapes and sexual assaults. Then, to compound things, the usual verbal de-escalation techniques or verbal judo that I typically employ are rendered ineffective. It’s like they put up a +10 Shield of Unreasonable. Because you just can’t reason with drunk people. Honestly, I really hate drunks. The irony isn’t lost on me that I hate drunk people, yet I have chosen a career that literally manufactures drunk people. We are producing the very problem that we then have to handle. Job security at it’s finest.

So at the end of the night, I’ve clocked out and am sitting at the bar. I’m tired and drained and sweaty. I’m not drinking alcohol, obviously. I’m drinking soda water with about four squeezed lemon slices in it. I’m texting my wife goodnight and telling her what time I will probably get home and quietly crawl into bed with her. I hear the manic sirens of an approaching emergency vehicle. Instead of rubbernecking to see if it’s police, fire, or an ambulance, I just look up at the rows of glasses hanging upside down above the bar in front of me. The red and blue lights from the police car reflect and glitter inside all of the glasses, lighting them up like a string of Christmas lights. I stir my drink slowly, wondering if they are responding to another drunk driver wreck, and hoping that nobody went through the windshield.

The Purple One

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I love Prince and I always have. I stuck with him through all of his different personas, albums, and musical phases. He was one of the most talented musicians and songwriters of my, or any other, generation. Whatever mood I am in, there is a Prince song to go with it. I can’t believe that he has left us already. I needed to take some time after his passing to process that loss before writing this piece. So almost four years later, here are my thoughts about Prince and my life-long experience with his music.

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life

I was probably about 10 years old when I first started hearing Prince songs. I would have seen the Solid Gold dancers do their sultry routines to his music as the show charted what number in the top 10 he reached this week. American Bandstand also was playing his songs for the youth to dance to on camera. I finally got a compilation record from
K-Tel called NEON NIGHTS. They just put together some of the biggest hits of the day on one record and made money selling it. This was the precursor to the mix tape that you recorded and gave to somebody you liked in the 80s, the burned CD of music in the 90s, and the internet and YouTube mixes after that. I still have this album on vinyl. It turned me on to lots of funk and soul that my little white middle-class suburban upbringing wouldn’t have typically known about. The standout songs were “Whip It” from the Dazz Band, “Superfreak” by Rick James, “Get Down on it” by Kool and the Gang, and “Controversy” by Prince. Guess which song I played the most?

Prior to MTV launching in 1981, watching music videos was a difficult task. I lucked out and was able to watch a locally-produced show called simply Video Music Channel. There was no host, it just showed music videos from all genres. And honestly, since there weren’t that many music videos being produced yet, if a band had a video they got played. Pure scarcity created the popular bands of the day. Lots of them were culled from a live concert that the band already had. Only a few were specifically created for use as a marketing tool, or had an actual storyline. Some were staged live videos; where they rented out a hall and filled it with their friends dancing while the band lip-since the song onstage, replicating a live concert. Or just setting up in a garage or abandoned warehouse and performing the song to the camera with minimal edits. This is how I first got turned on to artists like Pat Benatar, Kate Bush, The Specials, Elvis Costello, The Police, The Pretenders, and Fishbone. And this is probably why I still have such a strong love for these artists. Their music and imagery were burned into my brain lobes at a very impressionable age. I owned albums from all of these artists first on cassette, then vinyl, then compact disc. Luckily I still have crates full of these records from decades ago.

The beautiful ones always smash the picture. Always, every time.

The early videos from Prince are so fun to watch. The earliest one I saw would have been for the 1979 song, “I Wanna Be Your Lover.” This was the first video that he ever put out, so it was most people’s first exposure to the man. He’s doing everything in the video. Prince is singing and dancing, but also you see him play the drums, bass, keyboards, and guitar. Some of the shots are close up so you don’t see his face, but some aren’t and you can see that it is all him. It’s almost like there are five different Princes, which is a very interesting idea.

In the 1980 video for the title song from “Dirty Mind”, Prince is starting to figure out what his image is. He is now starting to wear eyeliner, thigh-high socks with heels, and a tan trenchcoat with some heavy metal studs stitched onto it. He also is either wearing a g-string, thong, or women’s bikini underwear. He isn’t wearing a shirt, so his abs are on full display. He’s dancing around with amazing confidence and stage presence, doing the splits and jumping off the drum riser.

The lyrics to the 1981 title song “Controversy” may have been the first time a song made me think about sexuality, racism, and religion/athiesm. Prior to entering puberty I just listened to songs for entertainment and nothing more. Prince’s sexy yet ambiguous appearance shocked and confused people in the late 70’s. Wearing eye makeup and high heel boots while presenting as male wasn’t new (David Bowie, The New York Dolls), but Prince took it to a whole new level by wearing thigh-high kink boots and chaps (note that I didn’t say assless chaps, because all chaps are assless). He also was addressing prejudice from the perspective of being a light-skinned African American man. These lyrics can be seen as the groundwork for my adult interest in gay rights, feminism, equality, and alternatives to anachronistic guilt-based religions.

I just can’t believe all the things people say
Am I black or white, am I straight or gay?
Do I believe in god, do I believe in me?
Some people want to die so they can be free
I said life is just a game, we’re all just the same, do you want to play?

In 1982 his album 1999 was released with the accompanying videos. By now music videos were essential, and any major album release needed mandatory videos of the singles. We got glimpses of Prince’s command of the stage, dance moves, and burgeoning confidence. We also got to see more of his backing band, including the two keyboard players Lisa Coleman and Jill Jones. They would both play the same keyboard standing very close to each other wearing revealing clothing and garish makeup. They would move in sensual unison while vamping and looking right into the camera. Their gyrating and pouting in close proximity made us all think they were lesbian lovers off-camera, which was by design. You can see them both in the videos for “1999” and “Automatic”, and then just Lisa in the video for ‘Little Red Corvette” and “Let’s Pretend We’re Married.”  While Lisa had been in Prince’s band for years, Jill was Prince’s new girlfriend and was used as a backup singer on a few songs on the 1999 album.

Excuse me but I need a mouth like yours

The video for “Automatic” shows a young man becoming an icon. This is where he started adopting purple as his chosen visual motif. Most of the first half is just Prince on stage hitting different poses with dramatic lighting showing him mostly in silhouette. He dances, grabs his hat, and seriously strikes the pose. But he can do a lot with just his body posture and stance. Watch how he pivots and sticks his heels, puts out an elbow perfectly with a percussion accent, and works his fingers amidst all the stage lights and fog. He graduated to being a pop music superstar in this video. Yet MTV refused to show this video at all. For one thing it’s eight minutes long, which doesn’t fit with their 3.5 minute song format. But also it got a little too hot. In the second half of the video, a guy with aircraft marshaling batons guides a king bed out onto center stage. Prince appears to be knocked back onto the bed by the power of the music. Lisa and Jill sit down and join Prince on it. They remove his gloves and shirt, tie his hands to the metal bedpost, and Lisa then removes her belt. Instead of the threesome that you expect to happen next, Lisa starts whipping Prince’s naked chest with her belt. She tortures him for the remainder of the song, along with the moaning and crying sounds from the original track. In 1982, MTV wasn’t much for kink.

Is the water warm enough? Yes, Lisa.

At this point I must admit that 12 year old me developed a huge crush on Lisa Coleman. She had been in Prince’s band and videos since 1980’s Dirty Mind, but was woefully underutilized. Sometimes she would get a brief eight second shot of her playing keyboards while every other band member received all the focus. I watched the ‘1999’ music video often, since MTV played that gem about once every 30 minutes. Lisa is (finally) heavily featured in this video, as she is one of the main singers. I vividly recall her purple dress with large openings at her waist, the purple dress gloves she wore, and her big hair flipped up off to the side. The holes in her dress were perfectly positioned so that, if you were dancing with her, your hands would naturally land there. She also starred in the film Purple Rain as herself. I wisely put on my headphones and listened to the salacious pornographic lyrics of songs like “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”, “Lady Cab Driver”, and “International Lover.” Lisa was also featured earlier on the super funky and lyrically scandalous song from Dirty Mind called “Head”, which is about what you think it’s about. Lisa softly speaks lines like, “I’m just a virgin, and I’m on my way to be wed.”
“I must confess, I wanna get undressed and go to bed.”

The catchy chorus is:

Now morning, noon, and night
I give you head till you’re burning up
Head till you get enough
Head till your love is red
Head, love you till you’re dead

With all these sexy videos and graphic lyrics coinciding with puberty, it’s no wonder that I credit Lisa Coleman with leading me by the hand down the purple velvet-curtained hallway of adolescence.

Isn’t it a shame this ain’t a movieThen U could rewrite my every line.

One thing that I loved about Prince is that although he could, and often did, play every instrument on some albums, he didn’t hesitate to give the spotlight to his bandmates. On  the song “1999”, arguably one of his biggest hits, he shares vocals with Lisa Coleman, Dez Dickerson, and Jill Jones. Also the album cuts were often extended versions with additional verses, instrumental jams, or spoken word portions. He was smart to always release a 3:30 minute long radio friendly version of the singles, then reward the fans with an 8 minute version of the same song on the album.

Related to that, Prince enjoyed taking young artists or bands under his wing. He loved to be a mentor to others. With his tutelage, numerous bands benefitted from at least a gifted song he wrote, a spot performing on his tour, an appearance in one of his films, or him performing/producing their albums. Bands that got vetted by Prince, or were associated with him or his label Paisley Park, include: The Time, Jesse Johnson, The Family, Vanity 6/Appolonia Kotero, Sheila E., Carmen Electra, Sheena Easton, The Bangles, Sinead O’Connor, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Martika, Wendy and Lisa, Janelle Monae.

One example of his amazing silent contributions is regarding the funk band The Time. Morris Day was their singer, but on their debut album every single instrument is played by Prince. He wrote the songs and sang backup for this record (you can totally recognize his voice on several songs), yet his name is not anywhere on the album. He used one of his stage names, Jamie Starr. There are band photos including the other members that joined later, including Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Jesse Johnson, Jerome Benton, and Monte Moir. But the album is all Prince. I reveled in the huge raging guitar solos, overly sexual lyrics, and catchy funk songs. Listen to the blazing guitar solo Prince gives us on the song “Get it Up.” It’s almost two full minutes of pure power, with intensity reminiscent of some heavy metal guitar solos. I spent many a teenage afternoon playing air guitar along to this particular song.

Prince cast the members of The Time as themselves in his huge 1984 film Purple Rain. They were his competitors in the club scene, and their two featured songs were ‘The Bird” and “Jungle Love.” For a while I loved The Time almost as much as Prince. I wonder why. Their debut record could reasonably be considered an alternative Prince album, since he did everything on it except record the lead vocals.

Dig if you will, the picture of you and I engaged in a kiss

Purple Rain was amazing. This had to be one of the first R-rated films that I was allowed to see. The live concert footage is still staggeringly good today. This was most people’s only idea of what Prince was like in concert. I was too young to go see concerts, and the internet didn’t exist yet. So the only way we knew what the shows looked like were fan magazines, the few live performance music videos he released early on, and then the film Purple Rain. This album is still one of my favorite and most listened to albums. Every single track is genius. That album deservedly went 25X Platinum, which means that 25 million people purchased it. Buying this album was a rite of passage, a zeitgeist moment, a turning point, a shared musical experience.

I got this album on vinyl when it came out in 1984, and still have this and many other Prince records in my collection today. I upgraded to CDs for just about all of them, but the vinyl holds a special place for me. In high school I was a Disc Jockey on our radio station. I remember bringing in Purple Rain on vinyl to discover what the backwards message was at the end of the song “Darling Nikki.” Played forward it sounds like a bizarre alien chorale. When an artist records something and then reverses it in the studio it’s called backwards masking. Today you could just take a moment to get the music software needed and reverse the track. But back in the 80’s, you had to work harder. You need to put it on a turntable, change the motor to neutral, then put your finger on the matrix of the record (the part after the last song where there is no music) and push it around counterclockwise. You had to try to keep your finger pushing the record around at about the same speed to get it to sound the best. Only by doing this could we hear these harmonized lines:

Hello. How are you? I’m fine. Because I know that the Lord is coming soon. Coming, coming soon.

I’m sure everyone remembers the huge hit “When Doves Cry.” It was the top-selling single of 1984. The distinctive video for the song was directed by Prince himself. An interesting bit of trivia that blew me away when I first had it pointed out to me is that there is no bass line in the song. This is likely the only pop/dance song of the 80s with no bass at all. There was actually a bass track recorded but Prince decided to remove it. I like to imagine him defying all of the industry logic and advice of label executives by saying, “I’m motherfucking Prince, I don’t have to have a bass line if I don’t want to.” What’s fun about this is that the Prince tribute bands that cover this song get to make up their own bass line. I’ve seen a few bands take on this song, and having a bass player drastically changes the feel. I’ll often try humming along a bass line that I make up when I play it in my truck. But this only confirms to me that Prince was right to take it out.

When I bought my first CD player somewhere around 1985 the first CD that I purchased was 1999. The other first CDs that I bought were Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Welcome to the Pleasuredome,” and the soundtrack to the film 1984 by The Eurythmics. All three are amazing albums that I still listen to. Prince’s 1999 was missing the great song “DMSR” due to length restrictions of CDs back then. You just couldn’t fit all of Prince’s sweet funk on one disc. On subsequent CD releases of this 1982 classic, technology changed and they were able to make room to add the song back in. I played this album endlessly and loved deciphering the lyrics. Lyrically, this was probably the most sexual album that I had ever heard. All of the songs (except perhaps two) are explicitly about having sex. There was a photo of Prince laying provocatively on a bed with purple sheets with his ass exposed.

She had the cutest ass he’d ever seenHe did 2, they were meant 2 be

When his double album “Sign O’ The Times” was released in 1987, I rode my trusty ten-speed bike all the way downtown to The Record Garden to buy it on the day it came out. Riding back home, I felt like I had a coveted prize in my backpack that needed safe delivery back to the cave. A record release was a bigger deal back then. You really wanted to get a physical copy in your hands and listen to it before all your friends did. Sometimes you’d buy a new album and call your friends (on a rotary phone) to come over and listen to it together. The first listening session for a new album from a beloved artist was a serious matter. Almost holy in it’s reverence. There was no talking allowed, and no stopping after a song or repeating a song. You dropped the needle on the record and laid down and closed your eyes to absorb it all in one listen. Or you poured over the record sleeve looking at photos or album art, and if you’re lucky, a lyric sheet. It was a magical thing, listening to a vinyl record from your favorite performer for the first time. I didn’t understand how a needle dragged through a groove on a vinyl platter could transmit music through a stereo. Hell, I still don’t really understand that. I’m just sticking with the idea that it’s magic.

This double album was the first release after The Revolution disbanded. Amazing drummer Shiela E was brought onboard, who Prince mentored and dated. This album has so many great songs on it. It was also the debut of Prince’s androgynous alter ego, Camille. Certain songs were sung in a female-sounding voice and sped up in the studio to sound different. These tracks are “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, “Strange Relationship”, “Housequake”, and “U Got the Look.” I could listen to this album every day of my life. Thirty years after this album came out, my kids and I will sing “Starfish and Coffee” in the kitchen in the morning. And that’s one of the only songs from this album I would feel comfortable hearing them sing.

Starfish and coffeeMaple syrup and jam.
Butterscotch clouds, a tangerine and a side order of ham

I was such a Prince fan that I found a copy of the infamous unreleased Black Album. This album was scheduled to come out after Sign o’ The Times in 1987. But at the last minute Prince changed his mind and held it back, releasing Lovesexy instead in 1988. The Black Album didn’t officially come out until 1994. Honestly all the hype and mystery of the album eclipsed the album itself. While the scant 8 songs are fun, it honestly isn’t nearly as scandalous or different from his previous ten releases. Prince sings to supermodel Cindy Crawford, raps in an affected voice, and digitally lowered his voice for the spoken word experiment “Bob George.” Had he just released it as a regular album on the timeline that he intended, it would have been a decent album (with some B-sides thrown in to flesh it out). I think that “When 2 R In Love” is the best song on this album. But like most Prince devotees, we accept all of his varied output with affection. Even a mediocre album from Prince still towers over a lot of other artists’ most respected records.

Every time I comb my hair thoughts of you get in my eyes

I only got to see Prince perform in concert once. But it truly was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen in my life, still to this day. He performed at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon on September 28th, 1997 with Chaka Khan opening up for him. This was his Jam of the Year tour. My birthday was just a few days prior, so this was a big birthday present for me. I was giddy to finally see the man who wrote the soundtrack to my adolescence performing up on the stage. He wore all white and played a white grand piano that said the word BEAUTIFUL across it. He would often climb up on top of the piano and sing standing up there. He may have even done the splits on top of that Steinway. I couldn’t see this at the time, but looking at photos later he was singing with a specialized mic. He had the pistol grip of a revolver attached to the mic, making the microphone the barrel of the gun. When he held the mic using this gun grip, it looked like he was aiming a gun at his mouth.

He performed almost all the songs that I hoped and expected him to play, plus songs I didn’t even recognize. One highlight was Prince covering James Brown’s “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing.” He played a portion of his big huge epic song “Purple Rain” near the start; maybe the fourth song of the set. Most of us assumed he would wait until the encore for that one. He played certain songs that made me lose my shit due to their imprinting on my brain. Super sexy songs like “Do Me, Baby”, “If I Was Your Girlfriend”, “Erotic City” and “Sexy Motherfucker” gave me Princegasms all night. He worked in pieces of songs like “The Glamorous Life” by Sheila E., and then played the entire Joni Mitchell classic “A Case of You.” A highlight was when he brought out Chaka Khan to perform a duet of the huge hit from Joan Osbourne, “One of Us.”  He did a solo set on the piano where he played stripped-down versions of “Girls and Boys” and “The Beautiful Ones.” He played a beautiful solo acoustic guitar version of “When You Were Mine.” Strangely, he did not play his huge hit, “Kiss.” But he did it all, flying around the stage, hanging out with all of his band members giving them time to shine. He sang, danced, played guitar, and played piano, all with equal mastery. And he made it look easy. I believe he was even wearing heels. I was in awe of the man’s talent, he had such a gift.

Prince was infamous for playing afterparties after the concert ended, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. Some tiny warehouse/venue in Portland got Prince to have his afterparty there. If memory serves, this space became an all-ages music venue called Meow Meow for a few years in the 2000s. We bought tickets to this special afterparty, hoping to see a second, more private show from him. We got in and immediately saw the mighty (but diminutive) Purple One hanging out in a roped-off area with his entourage and security team. I’m pretty sure that cameras weren’t allowed, so I don’t have any photos of this event. We ended up just dancing with the crowd for a long time, as Prince did not feel compelled to grab any instruments and start performing. He would, however, stand up and raise his glass cane to ‘direct’ the crowd during songs that he really liked. The whole place would freak out and cheer each and every time he did this, especially when he danced along at his table. I still remember vividly that he had a great smile. Bodyguards were all around him, offering no chance to even get near him, let alone talk to him. He wasn’t there to sign autographs or be fawned over by fans. Since he did get up and dance to certain songs, I can kind of say that I hung out at an afterparty and danced, with Prince.

You don’t have to be beautiful to turn me on

In 2019, Prince’s most famous backing band, The Revolution, went on tour and came through Portland to perform at the venue I work at. Some people had a negative opinion of the whole idea, thinking that they were somehow merely trying to capitalize on his legacy after his death. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In my position I often have the opportunity to meet and chat with the artists. We are, of course, instructed not to ever ask for an autograph or intrude on them in any way. We are just supposed to treat them like any normal person and not to be a fanboy at all, ever. But sometimes, the artists want to reach out and talk to the staff.

After soundcheck, the drummer Bobby Z was walking around near the green rooms and struck up a conversation with me. He was a tall good-looking guy that I easily recognized from all the Prince videos from the 80s. He would have been 63 at the time but looked much younger. We had a good chat about the Minneapolis sound that Prince is credited with starting. Bands like Prince, The Time, The Family, and early Janet Jackson. We also touched on Bob Mould from Husker Du, and Paul Westerberg from The Replacements. Bobby Z was Prince’s original drummer, and he started talking about drums and warming up his hands. He had no idea that I also was a drummer, the conversation just organically went there. I tried to ask intelligent questions related to drums and bands from Minneapolis, and I hope I succeeded. I think he appreciated talking to staff people who were in the music world, but weren’t gushing fans that only asked about Prince stories. I asked him how previous nights of the tour were, wished him good luck, and told him how excited I was to see them perform tonight. I fought the temptation to ask him to introduce me to Lisa Coleman, even though it entered my mind about a dozen times during our chat.

During the show I was posted right up at the stage where I usually am. I am there for crowd control and to respond to any emergencies or issues that come up during the show. The band moves right by me to walk onstage, and I’ll light up the steps with my flashlight for them as I’m calling over the security radio that the headliner is starting their set. Bobby Z recognized me from our earlier conversation and smiled at me and clapped me on the shoulder as he walked by and up the steps to the stage.

The crowd absolutely loved The Revolution, and it was great to finally see them in concert. I was too young to go see big concerts when The Revolution toured with Prince from 1979 to 1986. All of the musicians have been playing for decades now, and were at home and happy onstage. You could tell from their faces and their short stories that they were honored to still be playing the music of Prince. They still loved him deeply. The whole night had a feeling of a respectful tribute and celebration. When they finally played “Purple Rain” and the purple lights cascaded raindrops down the walls, the whole crowd, as one, lost it. The emotion in the hall was palpable and many people in the crowd were crying. Even though I had seen Prince in concert once in 1997, I had never seen The Revolution at all until now. So I had been waiting decades to actually see them perform in concert. It was one of the most meaningful and emotional shows that I’ve ever seen.

Wendy and Lisa were both located on stage left, which is where I was stationed. So I got to watch them closely during the show. They were in a romantic relationship for years, and put out albums together after The Revolution disbanded. Wendy seems to be the spokesperson of the band now, as she talked the most over the mic. Lisa remained near the back behind her keyboards, just like in the videos. I have to admit, I spent a substantial amount of the show watching her. I mean, I’ve had a crush on her since the early 80s.

As the show ended the group came off the stage and walked down the steps right behind me. I called over the radio that the show was over and the house lights were up. The crowd was still roaring, hoping for another encore. I kept looking straight out into the crowd when I felt someone grab my forearm. I turned around expecting to see the stage manager or another member of the security team. Instead I was looking directly into the face of Lisa Coleman. She was smiling at me. She kept one hand on my forearm and grabbed my shoulder with her other hand. She smiled wider and her eyes sparkled as she said, “Thank you.”

I smiled back at her and said, “You’re welcome.” I felt both of her hands release my arm, then she and the rest of the band sauntered away to the green rooms. At that moment I swear I felt 14 years old again, all awkward and not knowing what to say to a pretty girl. If, somehow, she would have grabbed my arm back in 1983, I likely would have just exploded. I have no idea why she came over and thanked me, but it was a highlight of my year. Maybe she saw me watching her during the show and mouthing along most of the lyrics. Maybe she saw a deep history of appreciation for her, the music, and Prince. Maybe she’s just a super-nice person and likes to thank the venue staff. Or perhaps she saw an expression of a little boy in awe peeking out of the face of a middle aged man.

I love you more than I did when you were mine

One of the music venues I work at had a Prince Tribute dance party where they played music videos on big screens all over the room. But what’s great about Prince is the current availability of so many songs and different versions of his songs. Instead of just playing all the videos that we’ve seen a thousand times from Prince, they delved deep into the internet and found lots of rare live footage that even I had never seen before. Songs from his concert film Sign O’ the Times, live television appearances, and live concert footage from unknown sources were played. Not only that, but any artist that was associated with Prince was mixed into the playlist that night as well. So the crowd got tons of Prince songs along with The Time and Sheila E. If there wasn’t a video to go with the song, they would just show a collage of great photos of Prince. Even if the patrons weren’t dancing, they were still glued to the screens watching this tribute to him.

I loved working this event, and I would have attended it if I wasn’t working it. I loved seeing people coming together to enjoy the music that Prince gave us over the decades. If you were alive in the 80s, Prince songs left a mark on you and undoubtedly accompanied some great memories. For me, he created the soundtrack to some of the best years of my young life.

The most moving part of the night was when they played the music video to “Let’s Go Crazy.” This video is just footage from the film Purple Rain. No new content was created, it’s really just a commercial to get you to go see the movie. But that movie contains some of the most electrifying live footage of Prince and the Revolution. The four-minute song comes to a screeching halt at about the three-minute mark, when Prince plays a blistering guitar solo. He climbs up on the piano and digs into his guitar like Jimi Hendrix. All the other musicians stop and the entire spotlight is on Prince soloing. We are shown a montage of Prince playing guitar in every outfit from different songs in the film. And he dances and rubs his hands all over his hair, stomach, and groin. An interesting thing happened in the crowd at this point. Since there is no longer a beat in the song, you literally cannot dance to this part of it. So the hundreds of people who were previously jumping all over, abruptly stopped along with the song. Everybody was just watching the video screens absorbing the immeasurable talent of this man who recently left us. They wanted to soak in every frame of this video. Nobody was texting on their smart phones, ordering a drink, or even having a conversation. Everyone froze. There is a quick shot of the Appolonia character watching Prince from the crowd with awe and lust, which is honestly how we all were looking at the screens as well. People put their arms around each other and leaned their heads onto each other’s shoulders in a mixture of sadness and amazement. Like good friends standing around a bonfire after a memorial wake, deep in thought. Everybody slightly leaned in towards the video screens to get closer to this moment. Whether people had seen this movie before or not, it was as if we all were watching it for the first time. With Prince gone, none of us will ever have the chance to see him play like this again. So these videos are to be even more appreciated as a document and a testament to his magic and talent. The song ended and everybody applauded and cheered as if they were at a live concert and not a video dance party. I saw some tears in the crowd, and if anybody had looked back towards me, they would have seen mine.

4 all time I am with U
U are with me
(until the end of time)
U are with me, U are with me

Sidewalk stories – Episode 1

A young and relatively well-dressed couple was wandering down the sidewalk towards me as I was standing outside checking IDs. It was pretty early on a Friday evening, about 8pm or so. Not usually the time for the nonsense I was about to witness. I noticed the woman seemed to be looking for something, and I assumed that she was looking for the bus times on the bus stop kiosk next to her. But then she backed up against the kiosk and began pulling down her pants. She was looking for a place to urinate.

Mind you, this was not some dark obscure nook unseen by others. There was absolutely zero privacy here. In fact, I couldn’t think of a more public and inappropriate spot for her to attempt this. There were numerous pedestrians walking to and fro on the sidewalk, and I was standing outside the front door very visible to everyone as the door guy. Not only was there regular vehicular traffic just feet away from her, but it was a bus stop. The MAX had just pulled up and opened up it’s doors, so there were people boarding and offloading. Homeless people were wandering all around, and I had a small line in front of me waiting for me to process them inside. People on scooters, bicycles, and skateboards were zooming past her, and there was a street musician playing his violin just in front of me. The panoply of the downtown nightlife moved all around her.

I couldn’t believe what I was watching, so I shined my flashlight on her. I wanted her and her fella to know that at least I could see them. Her boyfriend was standing next to her helping stabilize her as she tried this public urination maneuver. They both noticed my light on them and showed the bare minimum of surprise, but not embarrassment. She did abandon her attempt to pee right there. As she attempted to walk, her boyfriend stabilized her with one hand and kept video chatting with his buddy on his phone in the other hand. She was as drunk as an underage sorority girl during pledge week. She could barely walk at all. I was stunned that she didn’t fall down and break her heels. In fact, she had the gait of a show pony that had suffered a brain injury and then drank cheap whisky. Clop, clop.

As I expected, they walked right over to me and pulled out their drivers licenses, expecting me to let them into the venue. I stifled my laugh and told them, “I’m not letting you two in here tonight.”
The boyfriend looked honestly confused by my statement and asked me why.
“Well…because she just tried to pee over there, and she’s so drunk she can barely walk.”
The woman moved in very close to me, put her hands on her hips, and said loudly and defiantly, “BUT DID I PEE, THOUGH?!?! DID I PEE?”

I shook my head and dismissed them saying, “You two have a good night.” I resumed checking the IDs of the sober people who were waiting for me. People who knew how to pee in a bathroom, I imagine.  Do you really think that after showing such terrible decision making, and stumbling over drunk, that I would just let you in to my place of employment? Keeping out people like this is literally why I am here. The drunk woman walked about 20 feet away from me, proceeded to pull down her pants, and sure enough peed right there on the bricks in front of everybody.

A homeless man on a bicycle was stopped right in front of her and dropped some metal case that made a loud noise. This effectively drew even more attention to this grown woman squatted down peeing in the doorway of a business. Anybody who wasn’t already watching her was watching her now. I assumed that the case he dropped was his rig, full of whatever needles, pipes, and paraphernalia he uses to get high. He took a very long time picking up everything that fell out of this book-sized metal tin. I don’t think he even registered the woman peeing two feet in front of him. The harsh light from the streetlight hit the urine at just the correct angle to make the stream glitter on the bricks like liquid mercury. A quicksilver rivulet. Her urine trickled all the way across the sidewalk bricks, going directly under the bicycle and the homeless man. I wondered if the urine got his rig wet, and if he cared.

If I had reason to, I could access the video footage from the security camera outside the door to watch her pee all over again, but I’ve got work to do.

The couple crossed the street and went somewhere in the night to continue their date, hand in hand, romance and weed in the air. The violinist who set up across the sidewalk from me was playing the underwater theme from Super Mario Bros. This waltz made a surreal, yet perfect, soundtrack to this asinine nonsense happening on our sidewalk. He gave me a wink across his violin, as this is a memory that only he and I will share.

Collider Accelerator

Tonight I was driving home after a long night’s work thinking over all the choices that people made, as well as the choices that I made about how to handle them. I was listening to the Nine Inch Nails album Ghosts I-IV, which is an instrumental album of dark ambient moody work from Trent Reznor. It’s great atmospheric late-night music for writing or driving. It makes driving home through the Portland cityscape feel even more like a movie than it already does.

On this particular night, around 2am, I was lost in thought driving down a major street called Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. This is a 4-lane major artery that connects North and NE Portland with SE Portland and Milwaukie. It’s a one way street at the section I was traveling. Up ahead a few blocks, I noticed a car pull out into the street against the flow of traffic and start driving towards me, going the wrong way up a one-way street. Portland is full of one-way streets and some people find this confusing and frustrating. A car turning up a one-way street the wrong way is so common that it doesn’t really register much surprise on my end. Usually they notice the error and self-correct with a wave of embarrassment.

This particular car didn’t immediately self-correct, so I did what I always do when this happens at night. I started turning my headlights from regular to high-beam. Their headlights continued towards me and the other cars all traveling south on the street. But they were in my lane, so their lights and their car were aimed directly at me. I then started turning my headlights off and on and switching from high-beams to regular lights, which can appear like a police or emergency vehicle. It’s definitely attention-getting and impossible to miss. Still no response from the wrong-way driver. So now I continue to flash my headlights and start laying on my horn. Continuously, not short spurts of horn. The car continues to drive right at me.

At this point I was almost laughing to myself at how this driver could possibly continue to not notice that they were driving the wrong way up a one-way street. First off, there are no street signs or street lights that are visible to them. They can’t see anything from a street sign to a stop sign to a speed limit sign, because all they see is the silver backs of the signs without any words or symbols on them. Huh, that’s strange. Then, what about how all of the parked cars on both sides of the street aimed right at them? That’s another dead giveaway that the flow of traffic is towards you, and that you are not going the right way. And then there’s the ultimate kicker, the fact that there are cars in every lane driving straight at you. And they are flashing their lights and honking their horns at you. I think even the newest, most inexperienced driver would pick up on that super clue. I started to think that this car was empty, like Christine in the Stephen King movie.

At this point I figured out that whether this was a driver-less car, or the driver was fast asleep, they weren’t going to stop. We were going to have a head-on collision car wreck. I didn’t have any experience of my life flashing before my eyes, but I did think something like, “Oh hell no, this motherfucker is really going to hit me!” There were parked cars to the left of me and another vehicle driving to my right, so I had nowhere to go for evasive maneuvers without causing an accident or involving a third innocent driver. So I smashed on my brakes and tried turning to the right as much as I could without hitting the other truck driving right next to me.

The car smashed into me and my truck stopped moving instantly. Their car somehow kept driving off to my left. Amazingly, my airbag did not deploy and my windshield did not shatter. But my truck was stopped dead as if I hit a brick wall. Looking behind me I saw my wheel rolling down the street behind the car that hit me, as if it were giving chase to the other vehicle. My truck tire had been dismembered. Somehow we hit each other at just the right angle to avoid both cars colliding and suffering impact injuries. My front end was all crumpled up, headlight smashed out, and my front axle broken. My front driver’s tire was perfectly removed from my truck and was rolling down the street.

I bolted into action and jumped out of my truck to give chase to both the other driver and my tire. I had the composure to turn my hazard lights on before exiting my truck, just in case somebody didn’t see my destroyed and abandoned truck in the middle of the road. I considered that this might now be a hit and run accident since they definitely aren’t stopping. Leaving the scene of a crime is bullshit. I pulled out my smartphone while running and began taking photos of the car to at least get the license plate. I must have looked like a crazy person.

As my tire finally started circling to a stop, it made me think of how a quarter will spin around on it’s wide edge faster and faster until it finally lays flat. I looked down and saw something quite strange on the ground behind my truck carcass. There was what appeared to be organic goo all over the ground and the tire, as well as some small limb-like thing laying on the concrete. It wasn’t red like blood though, it was light tan and splotchy. That could be an alien arm or some body-horror object from a David Cronenberg film. Did we somehow also hit and kill a small animal when we collided? Am I hallucinating? Did I actually hit my head during the impact?
Note to self: check that gory-looking business out later after I chase down this car.

I keep running after this vehicle yelling at it to stop and taking blurry photos of the rear end of it when it slows down and turns off on a side road. It pulls over and stops and I run around to the driver’s side. I found a young blonde white girl sitting at the wheel looking scattered and rattled. She rolled down her window almost like I was a cop about to ask her if she knew how fast she was going. But what I wanted to say was, “HOW THE HELL DID YOU NOT SEE ANY OF US BACK THERE AND WHY DID YOU DRIVE INTO ME?!?!” Instead, always the helper, I asked her if she was ok.

My Dad was an insurance agent for decades before he retired, so I was well-versed in what to do when you get in a car wreck. He was an insurance agent from the 60s through the 90s, when you actually knew your agent and went into their office regularly to talk about coverage and plans. I worked in his office as a teenager answering phones and such, so I would see people come in to chat with him all day long. It felt like social hour at his insurance office. It’s too bad he couldn’t serve drinks, because it seemed that casual and fun. All these people who just seemed like good friends coming in and shooting the bull for a while before signing some new coverage paperwork on their way out. Your insurance agent was your friend that you saw a few times a year and was on your Christmas card list. It’s a far cry from today where your insurance agent is just a computer app and you never talk to anyone in person. You just pay your premium online to Geico or Progressive or Allstate and hope you don’t get in an accident.

So my Dad’s voice was in my head saying, “Never admit fault. Never admit fault. Never admit fault.” The first thing the young lady said was, “I’m so sorry, that was all my fault. That was my bad.” And I wanted to answer her, “Well no shit it was.” It’s hard to argue culpability when you were going the wrong way up a one-way street. This accident was 110% percent her fault.

After assessing that she didn’t need any medical attention I called the police. I took a bunch of non-blurry, non-running-man photos of her car and license plates. I then spoke with the young woman and we got out our drivers licenses and insurance information. I was afraid she was going to be an uninsured driver, but sure enough she had coverage under her parent’s insurance. The car was also registered to her Dad and not her. She was freshly 21 and didn’t even appear drunk to me. We took photos on our smart phones of each other’s information, which also was a new thing for me. Technology has changed a lot since I was last in an accident. I haven’t been in a vehicular accident since 1988, a fact that I was very proud of. I’m a very cautious and defensive driver. I’ve avoided dozens of accidents over the years, I just couldn’t avoid this one.

She had absolutely no explanation for how she didn’t see me. No reason for driving up a one-way street the wrong way into oncoming traffic, missing all the situational cues, ignoring the flashing lights and honking, and crashing head-on into me. The police arrived and assessed her, and she was not intoxicated. She just…..fucked up. My theory is that she was looking down at her phone and messaging somebody while driving. It’s gotta be that. I bet she had the stereo up loud so she didn’t hear any honking, and she was in some deep flirty texting conversation or video chat on her phone while she drove. I wanted to classify her as a Millennial, I really did. But based on her age at the time, she was technically a Generation Y. Weeks later she tried adding me as a friend on Facebook. I declined her request.

So after the police cleared us to leave, I walked back to my truck and examined the Area 51 alien leg goo I noticed on my car chase sprint. My adrenaline and imagination got the best of me. It was discolored axle fluid from the broken axle. The little limb that I thought was that of an animal or an alien was part of the axle and wheel attachment. Since my truck had over 330,000 miles on it, the axle fluid was perhaps discolored and created the light tan splotchy goo that was everywhere. It was sticky and thick, like putrified salt water taffy. This whole tableau did have the somber feel of a crime scene carnage to it. I picked up my dismembered tire like I would the body of a deer hit by a truck, and placed it gently in the back of my 4Runner. I also grabbed the axle pieces and laid them on top of the tire like bones on a funeral pyre.

I heard a voice call out to me. It was somebody who said that he heard the incredible crashing noise from upstairs in his apartment. He said he would be happy to be a witness since that was clearly the other driver’s fault. This guy looked familiar and I asked his name. Turns out I knew him as an acquaintance from the bands he had played with here in Portland. Of course we would know each other. Portland is the smallest big city I’ve ever lived in.

I called Triple A and waited for my tow truck to arrive. I sat on the curb under the hyper-bright street lights and watched traffic go by. My wife was out of town with the kids so there was no way I was going to call her or text her about this. But my house was going to be empty except for the dogs. Also, it was Mother’s Day today. I’m certainly not going to text or email my parents about this until it is a reasonable hour. People worry.

The tow truck got me home at about 5am and I was still amped up from the adrenaline rush of being in a car accident. I loved on my dogs and sat out on my back deck, thankful that the accident didn’t injure either of us. As the sun started to come up I went to bed and finally slept.

The aftermath of this was that both vehicles were totaled. My truck was a 1999 Toyota 4Runner. Those things do run forever and it had treated me well. But mine had 330,000 miles on it, and it would cost more than the value of the truck to replace the front end, front axle, and wheel. So it was written off as totaled, as was her little white sedan. Since it was her fault and her parents had good insurance, I was able to get a new (to me) vehicle out of the deal. I got a check for the high-end Blue Book value of the truck and purchased a 2007 Nissan Xterra with low mileage on it. I also had her pay for a rental car for a month while I searched for a new car. And I got about 8 months of chiropractic treatments as well.

I drive past the site of this collision every night coming home from my jobs. It’s a nightly reminder of how any moment can potentially change or end everything. If we had each been driving just a bit faster, that collision would have been far more damaging. Driving takes 100% focus and concentration, and I get angry when I see people looking down at their phones while operating a vehicle.

So after all my worrying about the perils of my job getting me like tweakers, zombie girl, stray bullets, crazy drunk fighters, or angry homeless dirt wizards, it was a young woman texting while driving the wrong way that finally took me out. I hope that she got a good Tinder date out of it all.

Roundhouse

While working a big dance party event, I noticed some people in the back of the room having an intense conversation. It was one man having a really emotional talk with a woman who was probably his girlfriend. They were sitting down near the back of the venue with another woman that seemed like the first woman’s best friend.

It was near the end of the night and I was just wandering around the dance floor ‘floating.’ That is when you’re not posted at a checkpoint so you are available to respond to any radio calls or incidents. You usually check on things like water stations and offer breaks to coworkers. You are also available for patrons having concerns or medical issues, cutting off people who have had too much to drink, breaking up fights, escorting people out, etc.
I think of it as being a roving problem-solver.

So my eyes were drawn to this group in the back due to the guy’s intensity and body language. The woman was gesticulating with her hands and speaking to him firmly.  There was certainly some drama happening between these people. The guy was grabbing the young woman around the back of her head to stress whatever point he was making. She wasn’t pulling away or recoiling, so this must just be the physical way that they communicate, especially when out drinking. The guy would even put both hands around her head and speak very seriously to her. Something about his mannerisms and intensity made me pay attention to their interactions. It easily could have been her dumping him and him begging her for one more chance. I never understand why people choose to have the big emotional fight in public. Oh wait, alcohol and insecurity, that’s right.

The man was generic with a capital G. He was white, wearing a plaid flannel shirt and blue jeans, probably in his thirties, and had a bald head. Not bald like he lost his hair early, but bald because he noticed his hair thinning and just gave up the ghost and shaved it down. A good comparison would be the tough guy actor Jason Statham, but shorter and nowhere near as handsome. He honestly looked like every other white dude in Portland. The young ladies were both tiny and wore tight jeans and button up shirts. They both had straight black hair in a similar style. From a distance they could actually pass for sisters.

Suddenly this guy stands up and storms away from the women. He even put his hands up on his head like he had a headache, or was anguished. As one of my friends would say, “Brother was distraught!”  He makes a bee-line for me. I don’t think he had seen me prior, but perhaps he did and didn’t like me eye-balling him or his girl. Or maybe I was just the nearest male staff to him. Whatever the reason, this drama-king wanna-be tough guy tries to roundhouse kick me.

People like Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee are famous for roundhouse kicks in movies. But this dude was neither. In fact, his roundhouse kick was barely executed in an identifiable manner. Alcohol had definitely taken away his balance and ability to connect his strike. It was the slowest, weakest roundhouse kick I’ve ever seen. It was as if he was kicking at me in slow motion, and only got up to my hip level. Most roundhouse kicks aim for the face. He would have kicked my upper thigh, had he succeeded. I’ve seen nerdy 8-year-olds deliver a better roundhouse kick in martial arts class.

Without even thinking, I automatically swatted his leg away and he spun away from me. I felt like I was pushing down a large over-friendly dog that keeps jumping up on me. He recovered from this foiled kick attack that he thought he would lay me out with. I don’t know anything about this guy. Maybe in his (sober) real-life he is a martial arts instructor. Maybe he is a complete badass during the day. But right now, overcome with emotion and alcohol, he was about as threatening to me as an angry child. He needed to go take a nap.

I believe I stifled laughter and said, “The fuck is wrong with you?”
I didn’t even really consider this an assault since it was so laughable and he didn’t even connect with me or hurt me at all. In hindsight, I should have called an emergency code over the radio right there. But I was kind of in shock at the stupidity of this whole nonsense situation.

I put out my hand and made the gesture that means, “Come over here.”  You’ve seen a dozen action stars make this gesture. Most famously would probably be Laurence Fishburne and Keanu Reeves during their kung fu sparring session in THE MATRIX, which is an homage to Bruce Lee, who did this decades prior. I’m not sure exactly why I did this to the guy. Maybe I honestly wanted him to come talk to me so I could tell him I was kicking him out. Or maybe I wanted him to try to roundhouse kick me again so I could take him down. I don’t really know. But he probably saw it as a challenge, like I was ready to take him down on the dance floor in front of his girl and everybody.

Suddenly the two young women were right in front of me making a human barrier between me and this guy. The screened him out and were probably afraid I was about to annihilate him. They were apologizing for him and saying they didn’t know why he did that, and that he never acts this way.  With the young ladies right in front of me I got a much better look at them. They were what I would call ‘club girls.’ They were made up like models to grab the attention of every male in the party. Heavy black eyeliner that would make Siouxsie Sioux proud. Eyelashes so long they almost got tangled in my beard as they talked to me. I suspected that they applied habanero oil lip gloss along with some collagen injections to make their lips all huge and swollen like that. I won’t even comment on how their cleavage was pushed up and out of their shirts, because that doesn’t really do anything to further the story.

The failed roundhouse master wisely decided not to attack me again, and stormed off towards the exit downstairs, leaving the two women there with me. I think he figured I was a super confident kung fu bouncer after I so deftly deflected his Chuck Norris-quality roundhouse kick. I quickly made a radio call that meant “Escalating situation” and gave the location and description of the guy and which way he was headed. I then asked the one that was probably his girlfriend, “Are YOU all right?” I didn’t like the way he was grabbing her during their conversation and wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if he was an abuser of women. I thought also that she seemed well-practiced in how to intervene and cover for him. She’s probably seen him pull this drunken tough guy routine many times before. And sadly, she’s probably the one who’s going to pay for all this later. He’ll find a way to blame her for his outburst by saying she was ignoring him or flirting with other men. And then maybe he’ll slap her around in the privacy of their apartment before apologizing and crying and begging her not to leave him.

I told both of them that he would not be welcome here again, and asked if they wanted me to secure a ride home for them. I was assuming that he would be out of the venue soon and they should definitely not go anywhere else with him. I was implying that whatever their relationship was, perhaps it should end tonight and they should go their separate ways. But, of course, they were concerned about his well-being and chased after him around the corner.

I was following to see if there would be any further drama, and kick that asshole out finally, when I heard another radio call about a violent situation. I rounded the corner and saw the two young ladies trying to restrain the man at the top of the stairs. Then they all three ran down the stairs and out the front door. I followed in case he turned on them, and I was ready to put his ass on the concrete if he did. The part that I missed was that when angry guy rounded the corner to go downstairs another patron was coming up the stairs, and he punched him in the face. A complete innocent bystander got punched in the face for absolutely no damned reason. I think the angry guy couldn’t rally the nerve to attack me, so he attacked a random person that was even less involved than I was. Misplaced and unchecked drunken male aggression. Other staff people must have whisked the victim off into the bathroom to see if he needed first aid, because I never even saw the guy. I wanted to check on him and apologize and help him.

I feel like this incident didn’t go like it should and I feel guilty for not handling it faster and better. Sometimes the night just doesn’t go the way it should, and we don’t get the happy ending we want. You can’t try to kick a security staff and then punch a stranger. Everybody deserves to be safe here. The dance event was 10 minutes from ending, I was already in the mode of getting ready to clean up and go home, and I let my defenses down. You always need to be ready for some drunk asshole to roundhouse kick you. But apparently I should have tackled him to the ground right then and there when he spun around trying to kick me. I misjudged him as a credible threat, I suppose.

I hope the girlfriend didn’t get beaten up later that night. Ideally I hope that she broke up with him. But my instincts tell me she’s going to keep tolerating his anger problem and likely suffer some physical abuse herself. This will continue, and if I ever see them again we won’t let them in in the first place. And to the dude who got punched in the face that night, I definitely owe you a couple beers.

 

 

The eyes, Chico

The eyes, Chico.
They never lie.

These lines were spoken by Al Pacino as Tony Montana in Brian De Palma’s 1983 crime epic Scarface. They apply to every performance ever given by the great Al Pacino, and have special resonance in the film that they made together a decade later, Carlito’s Way.

Al Pacino has always been one of the most revered male actors in American cinema. I grew up watching him on television in the big films like The Godfather, The Godfather part 2, Dog Day Afternoon, and Serpico. Later on, with the convenience of VHS tape rental stores, I went back and found the lesser-known gems like Scarecrow and The Panic in Needle Park. I then saw any film of his that I could in theaters. Pacino can make a poor or mediocre film worth watching, just for his performance. It has been said of his acting that if he is on the screen, you can’t take your eyes off of him. Some actors just have this gift.

THE GODFATHER (1972)

Pacino can do more with his eyes than most other actors can do with their entire body. Recall the tense scene from the first Godfather film where he sits with Sollozzo and the Police Chief at the restaurant table after grabbing the gun from the bathroom. He was instructed to come out shooting, but instead he sits down and considers/stalls the actual descent into becoming a killer. His eyes dart around nervously and the audience agonizes along with him as he teeters on the edge of the businessman/criminal dichotomy. At this point he could fall back into normalcy or cross the line into murder that can never be uncrossed. This is one of those major character-defining moments. We then watch through all three Godfather films as Michael Corelone embraces the killer’s cold heart while still trying to appear as a businessman.

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The Godfather’s famous climax juxtaposes the images of Michael’s son being baptized with the heads of the other five families being assassinated, all to the soundtrack of some relatively ominous church chamber music. It is a genius scene where Pacino only says things in response to the priest like, “I do.” But his eyes are amazing. While he is trying to be present and participate in one of the milestones of his life, his mind is elsewhere wondering if all five hits are going successfully. As the priest asks him if he renounces Satan and all of his works, Pacino’s eyes look conspiratorial and evil as he affirms the baptismal statements. It’s one of the greatest montages in all cinema. And Pacino’s eyes are the windows into his now-blackened soul.

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The Godfather part 2 ends with a slow zoom in on Pacino’s face after making several decisions that have forever changed him. His hand covers his mouth as he contemplates recent deaths and betrayals, leaving only his eyes visible. I’ve watched this movie probably 30 times, and each time I see a different emotion in his eyes in this scene. Regret, sadness, self-hate, isolation, emptiness, loneliness, stubbornness, justification, shame, and doubt. This powerful ending is where Michael won what he wanted, but completely lost his soul. His eyes contain it all, and show us everything he is thinking as he counts the costs.

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SCARFACE (1983)

In Scarface, Pacino plays a character whose soul is already gone. Tony Montana is pure violent ambition and machismo, out for financial success whatever the cost. He is an assassin, drug user, thief, and drug dealer. Tony is a narcissist, an egomaniac, selfish, and exceptionally jealous. He is responsible for getting everyone close to him killed, including his sister and his best friend (who he actually kills himself). He achieves everything his wants only to then lose it all, making mistake after mistake and going out in a hail of bullets.

Pacino has said in interviews that of all the characters he has played, Tony Montana was the most fun. Perhaps he wanted the challenge of playing a despicable character in such a way that we still like him and root for him. Most actors enjoy playing the villain more than the good guy, and Tony is pure bad in this one. But let that sink in for a moment. The actor who has played Michael Corleone (Godfather trilogy), Sonny (Dog Day Afternoon), Vincent Hanna (Heat), Lefty (Donnie Brasco), Ricky Roma (Glengarry Glenn Ross) and the Devil himself (Devil’s Advocate) cites Tony Montana (Scarface) as his favorite character of his career. You can see why, as he gets to go batshit crazy. De Palma must have at one point said something like, “Al, I trust you, turn it up to 11 if you want to.”

An infamous scene in Scarface is the chainsaw scene. During a drug deal with Columbian drug dealers in hotel room, the Columbians take Tony and his gang hostage and decide to kill them all with a chainsaw. This is the scene that initially got the film an X rating. Honestly, De Palma doesn’t show you much, and when he does it’s just blood splattering on the shower curtain, the chainsaw, or Pacino’s face. But it’s what your mind imagines with the sound effects and horror of the scene that makes it so unforgettable.

During this scene, the leader of the gang, Hector the Frog, wants Tony to watch as he uses the chainsaw on his friend Angel. He hopes that Tony will tell him where he hid the money. As he begins murdering Angel, Tony understandably tries to turn away from the carnage. Another gang member pushes a gun into Tony’s face and moves his head back to witness the carnage. I feel like this is symbolic of De Palma himself making the audience watch this violent scene. And it’s all about Pacino’s eyes. He is being forced to watch the violence just like De Palma is forcing the audience to watch it in the movie.

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CARLITO’S WAY (1993)

Carlito’s Way is the spiritual sequel to Scarface. I always felt that it was an alternate universe continuation of the Tony Montana character had he somehow survived the events at the finale of Scarface. If you played the Scarface video game (like I did), you remember that was exactly the whole premise. But, unlike in the game, Carlito isn’t trying to gain all of his territories and power back and get revenge, he’s trying to stay straight and retire on a tropical island with his lady.

Made a decade later, the similarities are too many to overlook. Not only do you have the lead actor and director reunited, but the story is quite similar. It involves the character arc of a criminal going after what he wants and inevitably failing. Any crime film with De Palma directing Pacino will feel like a ripple or echo of Scarface. Some lines are even repeated in both films. In Scarface, Pacino memorably calls someone a ‘fucking cock-a-roach.’ While in Carlito’s Way when Pacino says that someone is a friend of his, Frankie says, “He’s a fucking cockroach.’

Two important supporting actors appear in both films. Actor Angel Salazar played Chi Chi, a member of Tony’s gang in Scarface. He also appears in Carlito’s Way as Walberto. Actor Al Israel played Hector the Toad in Scarface. He was the Colombian drug dealer who took a chainsaw to Tony’s friend. He appears in Carlito’s Way as Rolando. Both of these characters died in Scarface, but whether we consciously remember them or not, our unconscious registers their faces. Their return into the life of the Tony/Carlito character feels like ghosts from the past haunting him. This is no random accident of casting. De Palma knew exactly what he was doing by adding them to the cast.

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There is extensive use of mirror images in this film that I won’t get too deep into here. But briefly, there are many shots that are exact mirror images of each other. The close up of Pacino’s face nose to nose juxtaposed with with Benny from the Bronx, the arrogant younger version of himself. A double reflection can symbolize the duality of man, the good and evil, the young and the old. Carlito struggles with his two sides all throughout this film. His criminal past versus his dreams of the future. His old violent ways versus forgiveness. The use of the mirrored sunglasses of the bad guy in the pool hall. He shoots the main villain in front of a mirror. Carlito escapes into the bathroom of the pool hall after the shootout and we see his reflection in the mirror as he taunts the remaining villains outside. It happens of frequently it makes me think of him being haunted by his own ghost. The scene with Carlito and Gail in the mirror, that Pacino ends up smashing in anger, distorting the image of himself just as is happening in the story.

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But his eyes….the great emotive Pacino eyes. Two scenes in particular have always stuck in my head from this film. The first scene is in the pool hall as he realizes something is wrong with the simple pick up that his cousin asked him to come along for. Carlito is leaning back against the red bricks and calculating a way to gain access to a weapon and trying to save his cousin and himself. His eyes dart around again, similar to in The Godfather, as he thinks under pressure of a way to gain control of the situation. No need for narration. His eyes are expressing the fear, panic he is trying to conceal, and a smart criminal mind figuring out a way out. Then he peels himself off of the wall and moves to engage the group and gain control by entertaining them with the distraction of a pool trick.

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The second scene is where Carlito opens the safe in his nightclub and found his money missing. He figures out who likely took it and walks through the club to find and confront him. At this point in the film everything is falling apart, and any character is expendable, so we expect Carlito to murder Ron right in front of a full capacity crowd in the club. Pacino storms out across the floor and De Palma has a hand-held camera right in front of him so we can see his rage building. His anger is palpable in his walk and his glare. Pacino’s eyes are communicating everything, and it’s a scene that you cannot look away from.

In writing this Pacino piece, I realized that each of the major films I discussed have a pretty memorable scene that happens in the bathroom. In The Godfather, Michael goes into the bathroom to get the gun left there for him. The sound of the elevated traincar outside rumbles loudly, intensifying his upcoming moment of murder. In Scarface, Tony and his gang are brought into the bathroom where the chainsaw murder occurs. And in Carlito’s Way he runs into the bathroom and yells out various bluffs, remembering how to be the tough guy he once was, even with an empty gun.

I love Al Pacino and hope that we get to keep looking into his eyes for a long time to come.

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Some favorite Al Pacino films of mine:

THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK
THE GODFATHER
SERPICO
SCARECROW
THE GODFATHER PART 2
DOG DAY AFTERNOON
SCARFACE
SEA OF LOVE
GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS
CARLITO’S WAY
HEAT
THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE
DONNIE BRASCO
INSOMNIA
THE IRISHMAN

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