Archive for January, 2009

You call this change?

Posted in political on January 24, 2009 by barryshapiro

I noticed today that the price of gas has begun to creep back up. Here in Florida, where a gallon of regular was as low as $1.45 a couple of weeks ago, the average price around here today is about $1.89. Hmmm. Is there any less gas around since the inauguration? I doubt it. The fact is that while the new administration is talking about change, they need to make some decisive changes and fast. While Obama talks about the need for job creation with the nations infrastrcture, there is more money in the stimulus package that is going to go to tax breaks than towards infrastructure projects. Tax breaks? Isn’t that the kind of nonsensical thinking that got us here in the first place?

I don’t like the fact that the President feels the need to be warm and fuzzy with the Republicans and I don’t believe for a moment that the majority of Republicans in Congress want to see Obama succeed any more than Rush Limbaugh does. I smell a rat.

Speaking of Rush Limbaugh, if I have one regret in my career it is that I once made a commercial for him. The truth is that I really didn’t know that much about that fat tub of garbage at the time but I knew enough to realize that I was really lowering my standards in taking the money. My excuse then was that someone was going to get paid to do it and it might as well be me. Well, that’s just the same kind of bullshit thinking that gets us into trouble with things like a sub-prime mortgage crisis and torture at Guantanamo. I am ashamed of myself now and I regret doing anything that at one time added to the success and riches of one of the worst people in the media today. To the world: I apologize!


One Mans View of the Inauguration

Posted in personal, political on January 22, 2009 by barryshapiro

I received this email from Manick Rajendran, one of the most interesting and literate gentlemen I have met in many years. What makes Manick’s impressions even more poignant is the fact that Manick was born in India from the Untouchable caste and worked his way up to becoming a great American story. He is a successful businessman, a devoted husband and father and a man who has experienced prejudice first hand but overcame it with an indomitable spirit, a piercing intellect and a fierce competitive spirit. When you read his letter please stop for a moment and place yourself in his shoes. I think you will sense the power of hope the new administration brings in a different sort of way.


The thermometer showed minus 13 degrees C when I woke up at 6am. The Inauguration itinerary had noted that they will close all security points at 9:00am. So there was time. Really chithappa? my niece asked me as she turned the TV on to CNN. We better leave as soon as we can. Look at those crowds! She was the only other brave soul at my sis-in-law’s place (where I stayed the previous night) who volunteered to come with me.
Way back in 1963 on a warm balmy day in August, about a quarter of a million people heeded the call to March on Washington and proceeded to the gathering point in Washington D.C. by the towering spire of the Washington Monument. They would then march to the Lincoln Memorial a mile away, with their backs to Capitol Hill and listen in rapt attention to the speakers who will be giving voice to the anguish they have been living through. The winds across the open space and the reflecting pool will distort what little decibel strength the microphone system would help deliver. It will not matter to the crowd. They will wait for John Lewis, Dr. King and others to speak. They will applaud and cheer whenever they hear strong and passionate words. They will hear the speakers utter words of importance that will have an effect on the Kennedy Administration. They will know that they are fighting for their civil rights. They will know that theirs is a nationwide struggle for Jobs and Freedom. They will express through their hearts and souls, with no guarantees that it will create any change.
They will not know at that time that millions of Americans, Black and White will be watching the March and Rally on TV. They will not know then that the dignity, strength and character they will exhibit will transform the country to enact the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act within the next two years. They will not know then that the hopeful looks on their faces will inspire Dr. King to step over his seven-minute limit of a prepared speech to verbalize on behalf of struggling souls of oppressed people everywhere. To deliver those immortal words “I have a dream” that will resonate through generations, across geography to all human beings across time. Soul-stirring words backed by the other leaders on the stage leading to a crescendo of affirmation – “Free at last” !
Forty five years later, we are now a nation of achievers. Dreams and aspirations have translated to policies and guarantees. We live in a vastly different world. An estimated two million of us are now going to brave the winter cold and be at the same spots where history had happened. I would not miss it for the world!
Toe and hand warmers in place, heavily booted, a few layers of clothes, map in back pocket, energy bars in one of the front pocket, a bottle of water on the other, some cash, driver’s license, a camera and a video cam strung over the neck, I was ready. Nivviand I were dropped off at the local Metro station at pretty much the same temperature we woke up with. It then took us about 40 minutes to be able to get through the turnstiles using the commemorative daily pass that my sis-in-law had so thoughtfully bought for us the previous day.
There were smiling faces all around, making way for more of those on the platform to come aboard. No need for Japan’s Shinkansen locomotive-style people-packing help. Pretty soon we realized how planning could be so different from what actually happens. At 8:40 am, we were still riding the Metro watching in dismay as the train rode past L’Enfant station without stopping. There goes my carefully architected plan to be strategically midway between the Monument and the Capitol! Anyway, at least I will still be able to make it to the south side of the National Mall (the open 1.9 mile strip between the Capitol and Lincoln Memorial) so that the sun will be on my back to enable me to take good pictures.
Waterfront station was crowded when we got off. Walking towards the Mall, the crowd started getting thicker with people walking in all directions until finally on 14th street, one could only face West and attempt to move a foot at a time, towards what destination, no one knew. The smiles around us persisted and very soon all we could see was the skies above us and government buildings floating by passively. It was fascinating to watch the lone city-jet high above us trying to make “O” with his smoke flume. At about 10:00am, we caught a glimpse of the Monument, but still did not have a clue as to what lay ahead. A few hundred yards later, a spectacular sight sprung into view as the crowd began to descend on a slope towards the obelisk, giving us a perfect view of where we could have been if we were here at 4:00am! Thousands of human beings in bright colors, all looking in one direction, Only this time, they were all looking towards the Capitol where Dr. King’s dream of his children not being judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character, will come to pass at exactly noon.
We finally moved en masse towards one end of the slope facing the Monument from the East and what a treat it was to take pictures. One could not go wrong any which way you aimed your camera. The Jumbotronscreen was so far away, but the video cam came in handy. All I had to do was lift it high above my head, zoom in, tilt the view finder screen and watch. Four others craned their necks to watch the events on this small screen. We were not alone with this bit of creativity. Kids were hoisted by their dads to afford them a glimpse. Teens took turns climbing on each others shoulders. Tears, smiles, pride, Obama caps, Obama buttons, twinkle in the eye – everyone was wearing one or more of these. People swapped tales of how they never thought that this would happen. Of how this is real. Happy people everywhere for whom all the world’s economic crisis meant nothing at this time. What mattered was that they were there.
Aretha Franklin’s rousing performance was lost to the enormous bow she wore. Rick Warren’s words were lost on the bowed heads of people who said their own thanks and prayers. Elizabeth’s poetry was lost to the anticipation of what was to follow. Reverend Lowery’s rhyming benediction was lost to the chuckles of all who thought that he was a better poet on stage. Justice Roberts’ fumbling of the Presidential oath was lost to the charming smile of the new President we could see on the screen. The soft cold breeze at minus 8 degrees C was totally lost to all of us as we cheered in unison for Barak Hussein Obama as he accepted his responsibility to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States of America on this sunny day, January 20, 2009.
What a country !!
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Talkin’ bout my G…G…Generation

Posted in personal, political on January 20, 2009 by barryshapiro

Today history will be made. Barack Hussein Obama will become the first Black American President. It is significant also that he will be the first President of a new generation. We Baby Boomers can now officially begin our decent into old age and irrelevance. Those of us who considered ourselves part of a revolution, at the forefront of the ‘Greening of America’ can now let the past go and watch the future unfold around us.

The 60’s and early 70’s were a good time for those who wanted to push the envelope in politics, social behavior, art and intellectual discourse. We survived the sexual revolution and the drug crazed hippie experiment. We changed the world but perhaps not in the way we thought we would. We opened the door for Barack Obama to step through and bring a whole new meaning to the word change.

I am very happy to pass the torch to the new generation. Our group still has lots to do and there is still a lot of white and gray hair in Congress, ready to screw things up at any time. But Bush and his regime are out and that has to be a positive step for the nation and the world.

I sat with my mother yesterday as we watched Obama on TV and she remarked that I wouldn’t remember watching Kennedy inaugurated. I remember so much of Kennedy though. I remember the promise and the excitement. He was young and compelling and even as an nine year old I was inspired. I even wrote a school play and acted the part of Kennedy (it was a play about kids finding a spaceship and going to the moon – Kennedy gave them an award upon their return to earth) and I was crushed by his death. Death was something that I didn’t really understand. My cousin Michael’s tragic death from leukemia was my only previous encounter with death and it was too abstract a notion for me to grasp. Kennedy’s tragic death from a bullet was somehow more knowable. He was the president and I felt I knew him as much as I knew my cousin. Now, for the first time since JFK went bye bye, there is a man in the White House who can inspire and rally a generation of American’s and hopefully inspire them to achieve new heights.

So today the torch is passing. That’s really really good. For all of us. Good luck Mr. President – you’ll need it.

An Actor and a Gentleman

Posted in directing, personal, political on January 12, 2009 by barryshapiro

“Steve Gilborn, a ubiquitous stage, film and television actor best known as Ellen Degeneres’s sweet, befuddled father on the TV sitcom “Ellen”… died on Jan. 2 at his home in North Chatham, NY. He was 72.” – NY Times January 12, 2009

There are times when ordinary people can make a big, important difference in this wacko world of ours. Reading this obituary in today’s Times took me back to a time when a bunch of ordinary people stood up to make just such a difference in the war on homelessness and poverty. Steve Gilborn was not just one of that group but he was a key player, someone who really cared and by his caring touched a lot of lives on a cold wintery day in Manhattan.

It was the 80’s (I apologize but I cannot seem to recall the actual date) and my production company was just starting to take off. We were shooting some cool spots and making money and my partner, David Wilson was looking for an idea we could put on the reel. He came to me with an concept for a spot in support of the Coalition of the Homeless. He knew of an actor he had worked with before named Steve Gilborn who would be perfect and he had this off the wall concept. I didn’t know Steve at the time, except by his face which I had seen many times on spots and in the theater. Steve read the script and was in favor immediately. They worked on the script together. He never asked for anything – just to be sure the scheduling would work out for him.

It was going to cost a few bucks but if it worked it seemed like it would be good for everybody so I decided to pay the freight. We approached the Coalition who loved the idea and we got to work. First we would need a crew and so we reached out to one of our favorite DPs, Mike Negrin. Mike brought along his camera assistants and electrics. Jimmy Grubel, a big, gruff, curmudgeny key grip jumped on too and brought his guys. The shot required a crane underneath FDR Drive and so we needed help from the City (which we got) and General Camera (which we got in spades!) Everyone from the PA’s to the sound crew to the makeup artists worked for free and seemed happy to be involved. We got a Honey Wagon for the day and night for something like $400. We even got a ton of film from Kodak and processing from Joey V at Technicolor for free.

The afternoon of the shoot we lucked out with the weather and though everyone was cold spirits were high. Steve was made up as a homeless guy and gave a great performance. The copy was about a man who had once had a job on Wall Street but through some misfortune found himself on the streets. The spot could run today and be as poingnant as ever! Maybe more so! They should runthe damn spot now and see if it strikes a chord.

Steve Gilborn stood out in the cold dressed in a shabby overcoat and wool cap holding his hands over a fire we lit in a barrel and delivered those lines over and over until we got the crane move and the dialog synced just right. He never complained or asked to take a break once, despite the cold and the monotony of the seemingly endless takes we required.

The spot was a great success. Sally Kellerman did the perfect voice over. It ran for quite a while and helped bring attention to the work of the Coalition. In the end, as we had hoped, everyone benefitted. Steve Gilborn went on to more success in TV and on the stage. I never watched Ellen so I never had the pleasure of seeing him shine on that show but our paths would cross from time to time and we’d always say hello in that knowing way that says, “Remember when we did that crazy shoot in the cold?”

Steve Gilborn was more than an actor. He was a guy who cared about the world he lived in and though I am sure he did many other wonderful and generous things in his life on earth, I will always remember him as the guy under the highway freezing his ass off and fighting for the underprivilidged with dignity.

Don’t Blame Andy

Posted in personal, political on January 3, 2009 by barryshapiro

The other day I received one of those supposedly funny and poignant emails that sarcastically dismisses anyone with an opinion contrary to someone for right of center and at the end tells you to pass it along to ten friends if you care about being an American. It was supposedly a quote from CBS commentator Andy Rooney but I have been watching Andy Rooney for many, many years and I highly doubt he said anything of the sort. Besides, I had read this exact email before, just not attributed to Andy Rooney but the exact same text. I didn’t pass it on.

Well… first of all, Andy Rooney didn’t say any of this on TV or possibly anywhere else. It’s been on the internet almost as long as I have had access to the internet. Second, though I agree with some of it (especially a part about a waitress with an infected lip) I don’t agree with the nasty take on what it is to be a true American. Didn’t we get enough of this in the Bush years? Didn’t we reject this during the McCain Palin campaign?

I believe in the separation of church and state and I don’t believe you have to be able to speak English to be an American. My grandfather didn’t know English when he came here. His English was always difficult to understand but he also spoke German, Russian, Yiddish and a little Polish. Still, he worked his way through school, went to college, started a successful business, paid taxes, raised a family and donated thousands of hours of his time and his money to charity. He was an American – not a Russian American and I can relate to that.
If 86% of Americans believe in God(according to this circulating email), good for them. They just don’t have the right to foist it upon the other 14%. That’s what the Constitution says anyhow. By the way, 99% of that 15% don’t care what’s written on the dollar bill. It’s only money.

What I see is that somebody is always pissed off about something somewhere. That’s just human nature. If people would just be tolerant of others, respect their beliefs and mind their own freekin business than the world would be such a great place.

I’m not passing that email along or any others like it, whether they have right or left leanings. It’s time for all of us to get along. I am wishing everybody a great New Year full of peace and prosperity and diversity.

Bang Your Head

Posted in personal on January 2, 2009 by barryshapiro

Last week in a study published in the British Medical Journal, Andrew McIntosh, an associate professor at the School of New South Wales, reported that flailing your head to a rock and roll song at an average tempo of 146 beats per minute can cause “mild head injury when a range of motion is greater than 75 degrees.” At faster tempos the risks can range from headaches to stroke. This was all reported in the New York Times so it must be true. The study concluded that listeners can reduce their risk of injury by listening to “adult oriented rock.”

Now this brings up a number of questions, first of which is “What the hell is ADULT ORIENTED ROCK?” Rock and roll, whether heavy metal, Chuck Berry or DEVO is created for the young by the young. Not that us old folks can’t appreciate it but I know of no category called adult oriented rock. It’s an oxymoron.

Second, why on earth would Mr. McIntosh waste his time and energy on this topic?  And third, what ever happened to the bass player from Ten Years After?

For those of us who love air guitar this could be a real bummer. That same day the Times published an interview with Jay Jay, the lead guitarist of Twisted Sister who gave tips on airport travel and told of how he was trying to fly home from a tour when Chernobyl exploded. Now I figure this guy must have suffered from thousands of head banging concussions and add to that the radioactive fallout he may have been exposed to and the guy must be absolutely bonkers.

Serious physical damage has always been a hazard of rock and roll. I watched a drunken Jerry Jeff Walker fall off a stage once. I also knew a guy who brought two gigantic Voice of the Theater speakers into his dorm room at school and had them facing one another. He would lie down on the floor in between them and crank the volume up to 10 while blasting Edgar Winter’s White Trash so almost all of Brooklyn could hear it. He’s probably deaf by now.

I wasn’t big into rock and roll until the Beatles. Prior to that I only knew whatever I heard on the radio whenever I was in my dad’s car. I seem to recall a lot of Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Bobby Darin. And also Leslie Gore. It was good but it was the Fab Four that really turned me around musically. The 60’s and early 70’s were rockin’ years but by the time I got to Pratt my tastes were changing – broadening you might say – and I discovered Miles Davis and Lester Young. Jazz was it for me then but rock and roll has always been part of my life. Still, I’ve never gotten even a slight headache from listening to rock. Now, the booze and drugs gave me quite a few headaches and probably much worse but I can’t fault the music.

When I go jogging I have a wide range of driving rock songs on the iPod. Everything from Fleetwood Mac to the Foo Fighters. You’d think that all that pounding in my ears and the pounding on my knees would cause some damage but I always feel better after a run.

If you really want to hear some ass-kicking, head banging music than check out Milenia. I’ll leave you with that thought.