Scat Mask Replica IX


My favorite artists offend me on a personal, philosophical, and artistic level. They’re emotional robots who have as much sympathy for others as they do for themselves. My favorite artists might use some swear words and some provocative imaginary, but they’re not reliant on them. They’re also not offensive for the sole purpose of being offensive. They don’t care who they offend in their pursuit of artistic purity, and they don’t pick safe targets. Some might say that it’s not possible to be observant, creative, and artistic without sympathy, but my favorite artists ask how an artist can report on the world if they handicap themselves by being sympathetic to the people they report on. My favorite artists refute my worldview in a rational and constructive manner, and I find their challenges to my belief system engaging. They might not change my mind on one single issue, but I don’t think they care. I don’t think that’s why they’re here.

Acting is as difficult and specialized as any other art form, but for all the overblown accolades and financial rewards we provide actors, they’re little more than vessels who carry artistic messages to the people. It takes special qualities to convince an audience that they’re another person. It takes other qualities to capture emotions and convince an audience that those reactions are genuine. Taken down to their core, these elements involve lying, so an individual who wants to become an actor should be an unusually good liar. Those who spent an inordinate amount of their youth learning the subtle intricacies of convincing others of a lie, before they ever thought of becoming an actor, might have the qualities necessary to convince others of the lie that they’re another person. These qualities are difficult to quantify and qualify, but they do lead to some sort of ingrained qualities that is evident to all who seek them for their productions.  

For entertainment purposes, an audience agrees to enter into any fictional production with some suspension of their critical facilities, but at some point, the audience wants that latitude they offer rewarded. This is where those with ingrained qualities shine. Some are better at it than others are, of course, but at some point all inherent qualities are equal and it becomes difficult to distinguish one quality actor from another. Physical traits play a huge role, of course, as some casting agencies won’t let prospective applicants in the door without a decent headshot, but as with any profession those with a hunger to succeed, can overcome physical limitations, so what separates a quality actor from those who can never quite manage to capture the same on-screen magic?

If an actor has established a motif after acting in 40 different productions, how difficult is it to convince other people that they are a 41st character. Landing a key role in a beloved production can advance a career, but it can also kill it, if the audience’s association with a particular character is too strong. We call it being typecast. We’ve also witnessed some actors who are so charismatic they can play themselves every time out, but the others are chameleons and shape shifters who assume another’s characteristics so well that the audience forgets there’s an actor playing the role. How do any of these types wipe the slate clean, so they can help the audience wipe their slate clean? Is it easier for a quality actor to be an empty vessel? I would think that a strong sense of identity would be a difficult obstacle for any actor. If they have little-to-no character of their own, wouldn’t it be easier for them to assume the characteristics of another? When I watch a master craftsman accomplish what so few can do, I wonder if there’s an equation that suggests the less character an actor has in life the better they are at playing another.

On that note, we’ve all heard the stories of method actors who demand that everyone involved in the production call them by their character’s name. Is this a silly, childish game? No, according to some on the inside, and those who want inside, some actors demand this, so they can get “locked in” on their character. In order for them to play pretend properly, others have to join in on the façade. If someone breaks that spell by reminding them that they’re Joey as opposed to Esteban, they can’t continue. Does it kill the empty vessel thing? Is the spell is broken? I’m not an actor, and I have no idea about the process involved in playing another character, but I wonder how much of this is stoked by public relations outlets trying to hype a role one of their clients is in to build the mystique of the actor’s abilities. If it’s all true, and I don’t doubt that it is, in some cases, it seems so silly to me.

We’ve all met unusually good liars who couldn’t find a channel their ability in anyway. We’ve heard them lie about matters we considered so inconsequential that we wonder why they lied about it in the first place. After we hear enough lies from unusually good liars, and the quantity is not as important as the quality, it becomes apparent that they want us to think they have a master plan. They might not have a master plan, but some elements of their intangible qualities lead us to believe they do. Some of these qualities suggest that they pity the rest of us for our struggles, and they might even be laughing at us. They don’t look like they have a plan. They look as bored, unfocused, and as random as the rest of us, but what if they weren’t? What would we think of them if they were someone else? How would our opinions change if they had such an adventurous past that it informed their present? What if their past was so adventurous that they couldn’t wait to tell us their tales? What if none of them were true?

Screenwriters love coming-of-age scenes, and to express their views of coming of age in the compressed time a movie allots them, they use common tropes. One of their favorites tropes involves an actor playing a teacher asking a pre-teen actor a question about a classic book. The child actor’s answer is often far too complex for their age. (The screenwriter is attempting to rewrite and vicariously relive their pre-teen years by appearing more intelligent than they actually were in junior high.) The child actor’s lines often involve shocking, adult swear words that sophisticate their answer in a manner that the screenwriter intends to shock the audience’s sense of moral values. Using children in such scenes feels like a cheat, because moviemakers know adult audiences will feel silly if something a child says offends them. We are to forget that we’re watching a movie created by adults, and that the child actor is reading the lines adults write for them. In the movie, the principle suspends the kid for using offensive language in class. While in the principal’s office, the adult actors playing the child’s parents are dutiful and respectful before the principal. While walking away from the principal’s office, the adult actors offer the child actor sympathetic condolences that suggest that not only is the matter closed as far as they are concerned, they are actually quite proud of the spunky kid for speaking his mind. The supporting character actors, playing the teacher and the principle, eventually develop an indirect way of showing support for this precocious child actor by rewarding him for an unprecedented level of sophistication. (The screenwriter is receiving the vicarious accolades that they felt they always deserved.) (End Scene.)

“I don’t care if you disagrees with some of the ideas expressed in that book,” I would tell my child, as we walked away from the principal’s office, “you sullied your reputation with the language you chose to express your opinion. It’s immoral and disrespectful to say such words in a classroom setting, but more than that, it leads others to believe that you are not capable of formulating a decent argument without using such words. If your argument begins and ends with swear words, no one will remember what you said in between. They will only remember that you “had the cajones” to say a swear word in class, and while that might pay some immediate dividends among your peers, they will not respect you long-term for it. If however, you drop an articulate refutation of the book that expresses a passionate view, you might blow those kids away. No one cares about a book at your age, and they won’t care what you think of it either, unless you say something so profound that they can’t help but notice. Trivial moments like these define you. They might also affect who you’re going to be.

“If you insist on offering your class such a provocative refutation, don’t forget to back that characterization up with details,” I would add. “It’s not enough to call your philosophical opponents a name. You still have to defeat their arguments. Most provocateurs forget to do that when they are trying to sound cool, and most of us forget to hold them accountable for this failure. Most of us will only remember the name you called them. It’s pointless. If you choose the other road, while standing on this philosophical fork in the road, and you strengthen your mind to a point that you can defeat other people’s ideas with concise factual data, and/or a persuasive opinion that is not dependent on emotional provocation, you will leave an impression on them that you are an intellect.”

The Joker is one of the greatest bad guys of all time, and I love stories that involve The Joker, but I never feared the character in an artistic sense. For most of my life, The Joker never really hurt anyone. It was all a game. He said things that made him sound psychopathic, and he had a deranged laugh, but the worst thing he did, for decades, was create precarious James Bond-like situations for Batman to undo, under time constraints, to save the good citizens of Gotham. I never feared The Joker, in an artistic sense, in the manner I did the Tommy DeVito character that Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese created for Joe Pesci in Goodfellas, based on the real-life actions of Tommy DeSimone. Their Tommy DeVito character made me so uncomfortable that I wanted it over. I didn’t care how it ended. I just wanted to return to my comfort zone. I don’t recall ever having such a visceral reaction to a character before, and to my mind, that’s art. If The Joker ever caused such a reaction to an audience, that ended when DC Comics’ editors put an end to any killing in the second year of The Joker’s publication history, and they did it because they didn’t want to influence young, impressionable minds to commit violent acts. Their goals were laudable, but they essentially defanged The Joker. The psychological games The Joker played were some of my favorites, but in the era of The Sopranos and Quentin Tarantino, The Joker seemed like nothing more than the other team in an exciting chess match, until Christopher Nolan and Todd Phillips changed that in the movies.

“I pay hard, cold cash for such an experience,” I informed a friend after she said she didn’t care for another movie, because it made her feel uncomfortable. I told her about my experience with Tommy Devito, and how uncomfortable he made me, and how much I loved it. She couldn’t understand that mindset. She considered such characters and their movies too realistic and too unnerving. I told her that I think that should be every moviemaker’s primary goal.

Most people don’t think this way about artistic enterprises. If they attend violent or horror movies, they want them toned down just a tad, so they can maintain a comfort zone, and they don’t want to pay their hard-earned money to experience anything that rattles their core. I’ve experienced moments in other movies when they tweak my comfort zone, and I always think back to my friend saying that she doesn’t want to be uncomfortable in a movie theater. If she had a particularly violent past, or even a violent incident that such movies unearthed in an uncomfortable manner, I could understand, but she didn’t. She was just a casual moviegoer who doesn’t enjoy it when movies, or art in general, take her to uncomfortable places. I know most people don’t think this way, as evidenced by most of the movies they make, but as a movie connoisseur, I seek those that offend me, horrify me, and takes me to uncomfortable places. The theme of my rant might be violent movies, but I often wonder if the world would be a better place if more people welcomed, with open arms, those who constructively challenge our ideas and ideals in a rational manner, as opposed to those who just provide us more blankets in our comfort zone.  

How to Succeed in Writing VI: Follow guidelines, and let your freak flag fly!


Mike Patton

“There’s a right way to do things, and a wrong way!”  My Dad used to say. “And you always choose the wrong way!”  All artists have a natural proclivity to doing things the other way, a different way, and “the wrong way”.  Those who want to write a best-seller, sing a top 40 song, or sell a mainstream painting, study up on the trends of the market, and they have all their formulas for success spelled out for them in the various “self-help” guides that are available in the marketplace.  Artists, true artists, are the freaks, the odd balls, and the weirdoes of our society.

If these artists didn’t have certain predilections in life, they probably would’ve been better athletes in high school, and more popular, and less inclined to eventually have the angst that drove them to do what they would ended up doing.  They probably would’ve made better employees, better spouses, better parents, and better people.  Their people probably would’ve enjoyed their company more if they fell in line with the practiced repetitions that led to better muscle memory in all these avenues of life.  They probably would’ve been happier people and fit into society better, but they chose a different path in life.

Marcel Proust

“Everything great in the world comes from Neurotics.  They alone have founded our religion and composed our masterpieces,” –Marcel Proust.

To say that an artist chooses his path in life is a bit of a misnomer, for most artists fell into expression as a form of therapy.  They’ve usually had an incident, or a series of incidents, that they couldn’t quite get past in the accepted ways, but they made decisions on how to deal with them in their own way.  Most artists didn’t “reach out” for others to help them deal with that which plagued them, or if they did they recognized the fact that most people don’t care about other people’s problems.  Either that, or they didn’t receive any satisfaction from sympathetic responses.  Most artists internalized their pain, until it exploded into some form of expression.

Expression meant free-form expression to them early on.  It meant being outrageous, and offensive, and playing the game by their own rules.  If they had good mentors though, they learned that much of this resulted in sloppy and undisciplined work.  The whole reason they entered this field of expression was to expunge the toxins they had coursing through their veins, but their mentors told them there were rules and guidelines to doing this properly.  Most artists angrily accepted that fact.  They believed that artists should think outside the box, but they learned that true artists would eventually have to know what was in the box is if they ever hoped to violate it properly.

A friend of mine is not artistic, but he reads a lot of novels, and he knows their rules.  He also gets bogged down in details.  He circles offensive material, and he suggests that I delete, or edit, those portions.  He doesn’t know art in this sense, and he doesn’t care.  He knows the rules of society, and how those rules were applied by Hemingway and Faulkner, and he knows I’m offensive.  This friend wouldn’t be able to write one word of fiction.  He could get so boxed in by the rules that every word would be written, edited, and then deleted.  He would write a novel that would be as entertaining as an instructional manual for a park bench, or the proper use of fly paper.  He would’ve made a better editor, if he came to that crossroad.

The differences between an individual who knows the rules, but doesn’t know how to apply them in an artistic manner, are the differences between an artistic writer and an editor.  Take a look at some of the names of the people who have written the articles on developing the perfect character, or the most dynamic conflict.  You’ve probably never heard of them, for they know as little about writing an artistic novel as you do.  Some people are excellent editors and teachers, but they know little to nothing about being an artist.  The opposite is usually true of artists, and this is why freelance editors are making such a great living in the age of the rule breaking, freelance eBook writer.  It is also why the advice of most artists, such as myself, is to just do it.  Don’t talk about writing, don’t hold yourself up as a writer when you don’t write, and don’t complain about the arduous process involved.  Just do it!  Doing it, will help you figure out why you can do it or not.  The other important note on this topic is that those who teach can’t teach you how to write your novel.  They can give you general guidelines that you’ll need to know, but they can’t teach you the art of writing, and the art of letting your freak flag fly, in the vein that you’ll  learn by just doing it.  I’m not saying that their advice is without merit, but don’t let yourself get bogged down in the detail.

Today’s Music Ain’t Got the Same Soul


As a former AOP (album oriented person), I have finally come to realize that most songs, on most albums, by most artists, are crap.  It’s a tough admission for me to make, especially after decades of fighting against my “single-loving” friends on this very issue.

downloadThe Beatles may be one of the few exceptions to this rule.  The Beatles made about five albums that were almost top to bottom perfect, but then again they had three bona fide songwriters in their group.  Those three songwriters could usually write one to two great songs a piece for the albums The Beatles would release on an annual and biannual basis.  When The Beatles broke up, these three artists continued that trend.  They would write one to two great songs on solo albums that they would usually release on a semi-annual basis.  One of those songs would get extensive airplay on the radio, and we would all run out and buy the album.  To our disappointment, there would probably be only one other song on their solo albums that could be enjoyed long-term.  A couple of the other songs on those albums were self-indulgent, political rants, and the rest were just filler.  Led Zeppelin may be one of the other another exceptions, but they sold their souls to the devil, and there’s Queen, but Queen had four solid songwriters in their band.

There are other exceptions to the rule of course, and I’m sure you have them in mind, but were those exceptions the first album your guys made for a major label?  If that’s the case, you have to ask yourself how many years of writing went into the making of that first album?  If that’s the case, I submit that that first album was a compendium of all the years this artist(s) spent as a struggling, starving artist.  Kurt Cobain once said that if he knew what he was doing, he would’ve spaced out all the songs on the album Nevermind, to presumably allow some of those single songs to appear as lead singles for forthcoming albums.

From what I understand of the business, and I understand very little, this first album usually generates little to no money for the artist.  The reason for this is that the record company assumes all the financial risk for this unknown artist on their first album, and this unknown artist is usually so eager to sign with a major label that they forego most of their rights.  Most new artists have little-to-no pull in the signing process, and most labels take advantage of them on that basis.  Most labels are also hesitant to give a lot of money to a new artist, because they know that most new artists will go out and ruin their minds and bodies on drugs and alcohol with all of their new found money.  Other than the objective to make the most money they can off the artist, they might also want to keep the artists hungry enough to produce at least one more great album.

After the artist is raped by the label on the first contract for the first album, they’re usually bled dry by the lawyers who try to rectify that first deal.  This gives them the hunger necessary to complete a second album.  This second album is usually rushed by the artist, the label, the lawyers, and all of those with their hands in the pot trying to cash in on the success of the first album.  It usually sells well, based on the success of the first one, and the critics usually label this effort “the sophomore jinx”.  The second album usually contains the “could’ve beens” and “should’ve beens” that didn’t make the cut on the first album, and that album usually sounds rushed, sporadic, and often times sub par, but you can’t blame the artist too much for wanting some of the money they missed out on with the first album.  If the artist was allowed some time to write a new single, and some time is usually reserved solely for studio time in the world of music –because most artists are artistic on their time– you may get one marginal-to-good song on this record that would’ve been a better-than-average filler song on the first album.

“Wait one cotton-picking moment here,” you say. “The artist I listen to says that they don’t do it for the money.”  That’s just good business.  Very few artists, outside the for reals world of rap artists, would tell you they’re in it for the money.  If they believe it is about the money, and for some it is, then they’re probably not very good artists.  For those that are quality artists, that love the art form, money is a happy byproduct that pays the rent and the grocery bills.  Money allows the artist the free time necessary to concentrate on their craft, and that is important even if they won’t admit it.  If an artist is in it solely for the money (or the fame), if they’re being for reals, they’re probably producing the schlock that comprises most of the Top 40.  It is about the money though, for those artists that truly know their craft, and have some idea of the business side, know that when a customer hands over dollars for product, they’re complimenting such products in a manner that allows the artist to keep producing said products.

Sting once said: “Anyone can write a hit, but it takes a true artist to write an album of excellent material.” 

If that’s the case, there just aren’t as many artists out there nowadays.  Either that or my patience for half-hearted material has diminished, because there appears to have been a dearth of great albums in the last ten years.  My guess is either there are fewer spectacular artists out there nowadays, or we have over-estimated these artists in the music field for decades.  Perhaps these artists were never were as intelligent, or as brilliant, as rock journalists led us to believe.  I’m not just taking about the members of ‘80’s hairbands in this critique, or the starlet that tries to show off her body parts to remain relevant.  I’m talking about our favorite artists.  I’m talking about the seminal artists that have graced the covers of corporate magazines for decades.  I’m talking about the artists that the marketing arms of these corporate magazines, and the corporate labels, have led us to believe were complicated geniuses.  Maybe they were just better than most at crafting an image, maybe they are not as deep as we perceived them to be, and maybe we need re-evaluate our definition of the term “musical genius” based on the fact that they can’t come out with three decent songs every two years.

If we are to judge an artist based upon their albums, and not their singles, then we have to assume that they’re not very deep.  The Beatles came out with nearly three albums a year in the 60’s, and they came out with some complete albums, top to bottom.  With today’s artist, we’re lucky if they come out with an album every two years, and as I said those albums usually only produce two decent songs on average.  Whatever the case is, I usually make my own albums out of all of the singles and some of the secondary songs released today.  The rest of the songs released by these complicated artists are just drivel.  Thanks iTunes!