Another Side Of Keith Richards (He’s A Genius Inventor!)

When my cell phone rang in my bedroom a week ago Monday at 4:30 AM, I bolted up from the deepest sleep I’d been in since I don’t know when. Shit, I’d forgotten to leave the phone out of earshot! Double shit, the jolt was so dangerous I came this close to reaching the end of my Earthly days. Hallelujah though, my wife Sandy continued to sleep the sleep of babies. Grabbing the phone, I tiptoed out of the bedroom and down the stairs to the living room sofa.

“What the f*ck’s wrong with you, man?” I said to the caller. “Don’t you know what time it is here? It might be late morning in Ireland, but I don’t live in Ireland!”

Photo by Mark Seliger

“Calm down, bro,” said Keith Richards. “I forgot about the time difference, ya know? Gimme a break. And by the way, it’s good to hear ya voice.”

I put my hand over my heart. It still was beating like a big bass drum, but overall I felt alright. I put on a happy face and resumed the conversation.

“Keith-o, what’s happening? How are the rehearsals going?” He was in the Emerald Isle with the rest of The Rolling Stones, preparing for their latest tour. It opens next week in Dublin. And yeah, damn right that Keith and I are buds. You can learn a bit of the backstory by clicking here.

“Ah, man, I don’t know. I mean, the band’s still got it. We’re smokin’ hot, but I’m feelin’ blue. Sometimes I wonder if I made the right career choice. I mean, I like writin’ songs and playin’ on stage and all, but is that all there is to life? Neil, I shoulda been an inventor. I’ve got lots of great ideas. There’s one that I’ll call the Bravo Toilet if I decide to try and bring it to market. Did I ever tell ya about it? Here’s the deal: After ya finish doin’ your business — it don’t matter if it’s number one or number two — and push the flush handle, two big mechanical hands pop up from behind the tank and start applaudin’ real enthusiastically! And they don’t stop clappin’ till the tank has refilled. Not only that, a recorded voice keeps yellin’ ‘Bravo! Bravo! A magnificent performance!’ over and over. Ain’t that the coolest?”

I had to agree. Keith had a very brilliant idea there. I was more than impressed. “Yo, Keith,” I said, “this is a side of you I’ve never known about. What other genius notions have you been keeping secret from me?”

“Well, how about this one? Chewing gum, Neil. Its potential is almost untapped. Think about all the flavors of gum that nobody makes. Brussel sprouts, prunes, kale, quinoa. Oh, and I forgot to mention turnips and parsnips. I tell ya, the list goes on and on.”

“Keith, my man, your future is bright. Very bright. You’ve got more lightbulbs going off in your head than I have strands of hair on my head.” And that’s when a lightbulb went off inside my head for a change.

“Good buddy,” I said, ‘‘you need to turn your attention to finding the cure for baldness. Come up with that one and your legacy will be unmatched. You can do it, Keith, I’ve got total confidence in you.”

“Neil, after this tour is over, curing baldness will become the heaviest item on my plate. I’m gonna tackle that problem with laser intensity. You’ve got my word.”

“You rock, Keith-o! Listen, I’ve got to go. I’ve got to pay a visit to the little boys’ room. I wish I had a Bravo Toilet installed, because my impending dump is going to be majestic. But I have to ask you one more thing: I have a blogging buddy who lives in Scotland. Andrew Ferguson is his name. Andrew and his musical partner call themselves Tribute To Venus Carmichael. They play great songs that Venus composed over the years. Thing is, nobody knows where Venus herself is these days. She’s been performance-shy for forever. You remember Venus, don’t you? She was part of the L.A. music scene in the 70s.”

“Holy crap, Neil, I can’t believe that you’re bringing her up. Sure I remember her. We were an item for a nano-second back in those days. Gorgeous girl. Excellent songwriter. And you won’t believe this, but I’m pretty sure that I saw her in Manhattan last month. I was on my way to a recording studio — me and Mick were working up some new songs there — when I swear she walked right past me. I wouldn’t bet my life on it, but I think it was her.”

‘‘ ‘Venus, baby, it’s Keith,’ I said. ‘It’s fantastic to see ya again.’ But the girl didn’t give me a glance. What can ya say? Maybe it was Venus, maybe not. In any case I’d love to know what Venus’s been up to all these years.”

“Okay, Keith. I’m going to let Andrew know about this. And I wasn’t kidding about what I said a minute ago. Nature is calling me in a deep, powerful voice. See you, Keith-o. You can start applauding in a few minutes. And don’t forget to yell bravo. I’ll hear you from across the pond.”  

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(P.S. Andrew Ferguson is real, as is the musical duo Tribute To Venus Carmichael. Is Venus Carmichael herself real? You’ll have to check out the TTVC website to find out. Is anything else about this story real? Well, the Stones begin their latest tour next week in Dublin. As for the rest . . . )

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Two Movies With One-Word Titles: Brooklyn And Carol

Is it my imagination, or were there a whole lot more movies than usual with one-word titles in 2015? Burnt. Room. Minions. Spectre. Trainwreck. Trumbo. Phoenix. Pixels. Grandma. On and on the list goes. Luckily for me and my readers, this article will not be an examination of how, if at all, movie quality correlates with title length. I’ll leave that project to PhD candidates frantically in search of an original research topic. However, I am going to write about Brooklyn and Carol, two more movies with really short names. They hit theaters in the latter stage of 2015, which is when my wife Sandy and I saw them. I thought that both were very good and that they had some things in common besides the title situation.

Let’s start with the interesting but unimportant. It’s pretty cool that here we are with two movies partly set in New York City circa 1950. Dig the voluptuous cars and snazzy hairdos. Brooklyn spends much screen time in, who’d have guessed, Brooklyn. Carol takes place in various places, most prominently in Manhattan. And, amazingly, each movie features a girl employed as a sales clerk in a department store but not destined to remain there. What’s more, both flicks are based on novels. Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn came out in 2009. Carol is drawn from Patricia Highsmith’s 1952 opus, The Price Of Salt.

But none of the above is glue. Where the movies, to me, really seem to reflect off one another is in their multi-angled looks at the meaning and value of a big-time human concept: Home. What is home? Is it a place, a state of mind, both? Do people know when they are home? Does feeling at home matter? Where does live fit in with all of this?

Whew! Tough questions. There’s a good chance I’ll get nicely tangled up trying to address them. Before that happens, though, I’ll make what probably are my most important comments: Brooklyn and Carol are thoughtful movies, and they have different tones. The former has its slightly unsettling sequences, but overall is bouncy, laden with brightness and bon mots, and maybe too stagey. Still, it firmly gazes at human relationships and life’s pitfalls, as does Carol. Carol, though, is deliberately paced and dead serious. Muted lighting, a quiet jazzy soundtrack and ubiquitous cigarette smoke add a dreamlike quality to its decidedly realistic proceedings. If you need some laughs mixed in with the cerebral, then Brooklyn likely is for you and Carol isn’t. But both are strong productions. Fluid direction (Todd Haynes helmed Carol, and John Crowley took the wheel for Brooklyn) and excellent acting propel them. Brooklyn‘s leads, Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen, are terrific. Likewise Carol‘s main players, Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.

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Brooklyn and Carol are love stories of the heterosexual and homosexual varieties, respectively. Brooklyn follows the ups and downs of Eilis Lacey (Ronan), an 18-year-old or so Irish lass living with her adoring mother and adoring older sister, Rose, in County Wexford. Rose wants the best for Eilis. Duly noting that career opportunities for her younger sister are limited in Ireland, Rose arranges for Eilis to live and work in America, in Brooklyn, where presumably a fine future will be attainable. Large numbers of Irish and Irish-descended already populate Brooklyn. There, Eilis might feel as if she almost were home. But she doesn’t, not at first. Far away from everything that matters to her, she flounders. Then she meets Tony Fiorello (Cohen), a young guy of Italian background who seems for real, who loves her, and her world changes. But life, as is its wont, throws curveballs at Eilis. Where is Eilis’ heart most at home? In Brooklyn? In Ireland? With Tony? The answers mutate over time.

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Carol presents a similar mix of conundrums.  Therese Belivet (Mara), maybe a few years older than Eilis, lives alone in a small Manhattan apartment. She has a loving boyfriend, Richard. But she feels unsettled. She doesn’t know herself, hasn’t come to many conclusions about her needs and likes and directions. At her department store sales counter one day she meets an intriguing customer, Carol Aird (Blanchett), a polished and moneyed missus living with, but divorcing, her husband. Carol Aird is twice Therese’s age. They take to each other, feel comfortable with each other. Start spending a good deal of time together. And ultimately take a road trip, a trip necessitated by Carol’s wish to try and make her unhappy marriage a distant memory for awhile. Carol and Therese are platonic partners at the start of their adventure, but not for too long.

At a restaurant during the journey, Carol asks Therese if she misses Richard. Therese says she hasn’t thought about him since hitting the road. In fact, she says, she hasn’t thought about home at all. Carol looks at Therese and, with a gentle snort and slight shake of the head, mumbles “home.” Carol knows that she has no home, not really. She feels unanchored in the stately house she shares with her spouse, has no real connection to her community. Both she and Therese are homeless in spirit. But they are discovering each other.

Gentle readers, little more will I divulge about Brooklyn and Carol. Except for this: Both movies reach clear and understandable conclusions. Which, being on the slow side, is something I appreciated. But those conclusions sent my mind into overdrive, and I projected past the closing scenes. Life’s complicated. Answers and resolutions do not come easily. And even in those instances when the fogs eventually lift, as they do in Brooklyn and Carol, who can say what the future will hold?

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