It can’t be all politics and economics. There’s just not enough blood in it.
There’s more than there used to be, for sure. But not the right kind. So, from time to time, when it matters, I need to write about something else.
This is that.
There’s a story comedian Andrew Dice Clay tells about one of his early experiences as a performer. That you may find Dice’s brand of comedy offensive isn’t material to the story. That the story reveals a truth of the human experience is. So, stick with me.
In the late 80’s, after his act started to catch on, Dice was given the opportunity to perform at a closed benefit that included major power players in the entertainment industry. It was a make or break type of opportunity. Twelve thousand dollar a plate dinners weren’t really his scene though. And the crowd wasn’t really his crowd. His manager painted a clear picture. Things were going well. If the gig went well, he was in. Famous for 30 years in. If it didn’t, he was out. For good.
Dice turned to his father, who he trusted most, for guidance. His advice? Take the gig under one condition. Don’t hold back.
“Let em fuckin have it.” as Dice tells it.
Later, staring out at Hollywood royalty, from behind the podium of a closed fundraiser, the Dice Man, leather jacket, fingerless gloves, slicked back, overdone hair, started his act the way he always did. With a cigarette. A flash of sulfur from the match. A long, exaggerated drag. A cloud of smoke. Long, awkward silence.
He was nervous. But he remembered his father’s advice.
Then he delivered a classic profanity laced, Dice Man one liner to an audience of old rich men and their wives.
There was no awkward pause. Only hysterical laughter.
Let em fuckin have it.
I didn’t really like Dice’s act that much. I didn’t think it was that funny. But I love that story. I tell it often and follow it’s lesson.
If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly bear. Don’t hold back. That inertia is the only shot you’ve got in this world.
This essay’s not about Andrew Dice Clay though. It’s about Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, of course. It says so in the title.
On Friday, my wife dragged me to the movies to see something I didn’t want to see during the Red Sox/Yankees playoff opener. On Thursday she reminded me that I committed to seeing the movie A Star is Born with her and that I never did any of the work of planning dates.
So, we went to the movie. It was my only way out alive.
Then, something unexpected happened. With the Sox up 5-2, and the bases loaded with Yanks, there was a scene in the movie that evoked an emotional response that I almost never have. To anything. One reserved for funerals of friends that unexpectedly pass or in the quiet moments after I said goodbye to my family when leaving for a six month deployment.
This response happened during a Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper movie. I feel I need to make that point clear.
I’ve got no business belittling the immense talent of either. But I can’t name a Lady Gaga song. And my favorite Bradley Cooper role is the Raccoon he voices in Guardians of the Galaxy. Yet, the truth remains. I was overwhelmed. So much so that days later, if I hear the song that played during the scene, it still effects me.
Something has clearly, even recklessly, broken loose. And I think it has something to do with the story I just wrote about Andrew Dice Clay. He’s in the movie too, by the way. Still famous…30 years later.
If you’ve seen the move, you likely know what I’m referring to. There’s a scene in which Cooper’s character, Jack, a world famous music star, urges Gaga’s character, Ally, a waitress, onto the stage at one of his concerts to sing a song she’d sung a part of for him in the parking lot of a grocery store. It’s the third time that the movie’s been done so there’s not a huge risk of spoiling the core plot. Even so, I won’t spoil what can be by telling the backstory of why they’re there. All that matters is this:
He’s the star.
She’s a waitress.
And she wrote the song.
And he wants her to sing it in front of tens of thousands of people and the rest of mankind via youtube.
All she has to do is trust him.
He starts by singing a verse of it himself. When it’s her turn, she wanders out, takes the microphone and nervously begins. A slight cheer from the crowd returns. The song is good. And so is she, but still a bit nervous. Tentative.
And then it happens.
She explodes with a voice from another spiritual plane.
“I’m off the deep end…watch as I dive in…”
The crowd goes nuts.
She’s a once in a planet talent. And she just let em fuckin have it. All of it.
Over her shoulder, off focus, Jack smiles.
It’s something to see.
So much so that I’m still not sure how I feel about the rest of the movie. I’m sure its fine. It gets a bunch right. The music is right. It gets living with a fall down drunk right too. It’s more sleep and embarrassment than drama. I’m sure it’s all good. That scene, though, was a hell of a thing.
I’ve spent a few days on it. And I get it now. I get why it hit me so hard. And why, even now, writing about it evokes an emotional, even physical response. If you’ve got an ounce of creative in you, or if you ever wondered or hoped that you did, every part of that uniquely human experience is laid bare in a five minute scene. The guts of it are right out in the open. There’s nowhere to hide.
I’m sure there are those among us who will tap dance on the high wires of life, without a net, and never think twice about it. My guess is there’s less of those than most of us think. And more of the rest of us.
Because in the creative world, there’s a fear. It’s more than a fear. It’s a reckoning of self worth. To dare to believe that what’s inside of you is worth something outside of you is a hell of a thing.
How foolish, how self centered and egotistical to think that anyone would ever care about any of it. If we keep it inside, where it’s safe, we can at least imagine. We can dream of a day when it escapes, not of our own doing, and the world rejoices. But if I dare to put it out there, and they reject it, then the dream is dead. And with it, some part, the best part perhaps, of me, is dead too.
It’s a rare animal that does it on their own. No matter how good we are. We need someone to believe in us. Someone who has seen what’s inside. And what’s outside. And can do the math. Someone generous enough to share the secret and to urge us to do what we know is our only hope.
Don’t hold back. Let em fuckin have it.
And when we do, when we bleed words onto a page or sing them to a crowd of strangers, and they accept it, there is no experience in all of existence quite like it. And if what we are giving them is not just great, but is true and honest too, if it is not just by us, but of us, they accept more than the art. They accept us.
To be accepted as you are is the stuff of religion. And apparently Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga movies too.
Niagara Falls Frankie Angel.
Now do yourself a favor and go see the movie.