When Martin Scorsese Asked For My Help, I Obliged!: A Cinematic Story Of Sorts

Martin Scorsese (Photo by Jeff Vespa; copyright WireImage.com)

“Neil! It’s Marty. Do you got a minute? I really need your help,” Martin Scorsese, the titanic film director, said to me a few days ago. He was calling from his production studios in Manhattan, where he’s putting the finishing touches on The Irishman, a crime drama with an all-star cast that includes Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: How can a schlub like me be friends with a luminary like Scorsese? Maybe I’ll go into the details in a future article. For now, let me merely say that Marty and I first met, a few years ago, in a dream (click here to access that dream). Our relationship evolved and deepened organically from there into a real-life friendship.

Leonardo DiCaprio (photo credit: NASA/Goddard/Rebecca Roth)

“Listen, Neil,” Marty went on, “here’s why I’m calling. You know Leo, right? Leonardo DiCaprio? He’s been in a bunch of my films.”

“Sure, everybody knows who he is. But I never met him, if that’s what you mean.”

Portrait of Leonardo da Vinci (attributed to Francesco Melzi)

“Leo’s a great guy,” Marty went on. “Talented as hell. Smart as hell too, a genius in fact. That’s why, I suppose, I came up with this fabulous idea: DiCaprio should portray Leonardo da Vinci in a movie. One genius playing another genius. One Leonardo playing another Leonardo. Could anything be cooler than that? I love it, man! It can’t miss . . . except that I’m having trouble figuring out what angle the movie ought to take, what it should be about. A straight drama? Forget it. I’ve done enough of those. A comedy? Definitely could work. Picture this: Da Vinci would be a bumbler in the film, stumbling from one misadventure to another. The running gag would be da Vinci getting his humongous beard caught in a door wherever he goes. ‘Get me out of this hairy situation, I beg you! The f*cking door is stuck!’ would be his catchphrase.”

“Marty, that’s good. You can’t go wrong with a comedy. But you know what’s even better? A superhero movie, Marty, a superhero movie. Da Vinci was gifted as hell. He was a painter, an inventor, a scientist, a mathematician, a you-name-it. Shit, there was nothing that old boy couldn’t do. He was the Renaissance man of all Renaissance men.”

Marty cut me off. “I’m listening, Neil. And I like where I think you’re going with this. Tell me more.”

“Well, only the greatest Renaissance man of them all has what it takes to save the hub of the Renaissance — Florence, Italy — from two potentially catastrophic invasions. The first assault is by aliens, the second by zombies.”

“When the aliens, looking for all the world like seven-foot tall ants, descend upon Florence from a distant galaxy, in 1505, the city’s residents are thrown into a panic,” I continued. “But Leonardo da Vinci, a Florentine, stays cool, immediately putting his scientific know-how into use. Within an hour he invents a chemical spray that anything resembling an ant will be powerless against. Then he disguises himself with a Mona Lisa mask, whose enigmatic smile stops the invaders in their tracks. They’ve never seen such a smile before, and are nearly hypnotized by it. Spray bottles in hand, da Vinci now advances on the creatures, systematically killing them one by one.”

David, by Michelangelo (photo credit: Jorg Bittner Unna)

“‘All we wanted to do was steal Michelangelo’s statue of David from your city and bring it back to our planet,’ the alien leader says to da Vinci with its final breaths. ‘David’s hung like a horse, after all. Most impressive! The statue would have sat majestically in our supreme ruler’s palace. He’d have gazed at it admiringly and enviously, sometimes bemoaning the less-than-daunting size of his own genitalia.'”

“You’re on a roll, Neil,” Marty said. “What’s next?”

“Well, only one week after da Vinci dispatches the aliens, Florence is confronted with an untold number of zombies. Those f*ckers seemingly came from out of nowhere. But they don’t stand a chance, not with our Renaissance man on the scene. He dons his signature mask, whose smile has the same effect on the zombies as it did on the aliens. That’s when da Vinci whips out the hammer and chisel that he’s borrowed from Michelangelo — the very same tools that Michelangelo used to carve the David statue — and bashes the living crap out of the baddies. Problem solved! Case closed!”

“Yes, this is the best!” Marty exclaimed. “Mega-sance Man, short for Mega Renaissance Man, is what we’ll call da Vinci’s alter ego. And that’ll be the name of the film too. Neil, I can tell that this will be the most popular movie I’ve ever made, an absolute blockbuster. I’m going to hang up now. I’ve got to call DiCaprio and tell him about your genius ideas. For years he’s been itching to play a guy who saves the world. Thank you, Neil, thank you. You’ll receive a screenwriter credit, of course, and hefty payments for your contributions.”

“Marty, in your hands Mega-sance Man will be stunning. Leonardo da Vinci, if he were alive, would be flattered and proud.”

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Driving In My Car (A Musical Story)

Music, music, music. Since I was 10 or so years old — back in the days when Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel — music has given me kicks, highs and peace of mind way beyond any of my other interests. The hours I’ve spent listening to music, reading about music and thinking and yapping about music are so enormous in number I don’t know how I found the time to hold down a job, let alone get married and maintain that union. Miracles sometimes do happen.

But, you know, I’m nowhere near the music freak that I used to be. Haven’t been for the last 10 or more years. I still go to clubs and auditoriums to catch concerts, but only one fourth as often as in my youthful prime. And at home, where once I played albums and CDs to death, listening to them and radio stations with the laserlike intensity of a neurosurgeon, I now half-listen more often than not, usually not reaching even that degree of concentration.

Yup, it took nearly forever to happen, but my obsession with music, drawing inspiration from my hairline, has been receding fast. Hell, keeping up that relentless pace began to seem nutty. “There’s more to life than music,” I must have said to myself at some point. “You need to find new hobbies, pal, like giving nifty new names each week to your pet hamsters and gerbils. Or organizing the garments in your closets and drawers alphabetically by brand name.”

Yet, despite my slackened involvement chez moi and at music venues, there’s still one place where I really love to listen to tunes, lapping them up greedily, paying attention to the lyrics of those with lyrics, and grooving like a hippie in training: In my car, almost needless to say. Maybe it has something to do with the sound waves bouncing around gleefully in a small, enclosed space. Or the distraction that songs provide from the stop-and-go misery that 90% of my driving entails. Whatever, good songs in my car raise my spirits rocket-quick.

And here’s another part of the reason why: My car is equipped with SiriusXM satellite radio, which I adore. So many channels, so many musical genres. When I climb in the car I can barely wait to start tapping the radio’s touchscreen buttons. And very often my destination is channel number 30, The Loft, where anything goes, though the concentration is on singer-songwriter and rock music veins.

It’s not as though I smile and clap at everything The Loft plays, however. Hardly. Lots of times I’m not impressed, and so begin racing madly from one channel to another in search of a tune or artist that I can relate to. But often there are occasions when The Loft, or another spot on the Sirius dial, seems to be reading my mind and my inner needs, sending out songs that caress me just right.

img_1348img_1354That’s what happened on Wednesday morning of last week when out I headed on what would prove to be a slow, slow journey. As seemingly always, I got caught by the red of the first traffic light I reached when attempting to exit my neighborhood, unable to make my desired right turn because of the non-turning hunk of junk in front of me. At last the light flipped colors. I made the right and then crawled 200 feet to where all traffic was stopped due to the gates being down at the local railroad tracks. It figured. Choo choo, motherf***er! But what did I care? For I was listening to The Loft, and by the time I reached my destination, a supermarket half a mile from my house, I’d heard two songs, back to back, that sent me aloft: Elliott Smith’s I Figured You Out and Late by Ben Folds. And half an hour later, on my way back home from the store, The Loft played another fine tune, Kyle Morton’s Survivalist Fantasy. I’d hit the trifecta!

What I liked about the three songs, beyond the way they made me go all mushy inside, is that I’d never heard them before. I’m always on the prowl for new goods. I Figured You Out, which Smith wrote years ago for Mary Lou Lord, who recorded it for one of her albums, is a knowing look at a broken relationship sung from the female’s perspective. Smith, an acclaimed singer-songwriter, never included I Figured You Out on any of his own albums. What I heard on The Loft is Smith’s original demo of the song. It was unearthed and released recently. The relaxed pace, Smith’s typically hushed voice, and more than anything the chiming melody really got to me. It’s one of those songs that can get stuck in your head. Very sadly there probably isn’t much more unreleased Smith material in the vaults. The poor guy left us in 2000, likely a suicide. The coroner, though, wasn’t fully able to confirm the cause of death.

Ben Folds, like Elliott Smith a singer-songwriter, never has been one of my favorites. His voice strikes me as vanilla, and his piano playing, loaded with loud, broad chords, seems scripted. Who knows, then, why I took to Late. I liked the melody, that’s for sure, and Folds’ loud, broad piano chords rubbed me the right way for a change. And I dug the lyrics, which flowed like the sentences of a good short story. Two days later, doing a few smidgeons of research for this article, I found out that Folds and Smith had been buddies and that Late is Folds’ tribute to his friend. Leave it to The Loft’s crack curators to know about the Smith/Folds friendship and to follow an obscure Smith tune with an homage.

Batting third in the lineup is Kyle Morton. He’s one of the multitudes of musicians who entered the marketplace within the past 20 years about whom I know next to nothing. But a few days ago I learned a few things. Morton’s main claim to fame is as lead singer of the indie tock band Typhoon, and Survivalist Fantasy comes from his brand new, and first, solo album What Will Destroy You. Also, he has suffered from Lyme disease since childhood. His physical woes have colored many of the songs he writes with a dark tint. But, like just about every other songwriter, he can’t ignore love. Survivalist Fantasy is a quietly lilting and beckoning track about love in the ruins.

Parking in front of my house I hauled the grocery bags out of the car. An obvious point had been made. Namely, this is a great time to be alive when it comes to music. Most of the worthy stuff from the past is available to hear, and the avalanches of good, new material are unending. Praise the musical gods,  whose prime mission is to oversee the soothing of the savage human soul.

 

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