My question this week is “If you could thank anyone, who and why?” Before I delve deep into whatever metaphorical or metaphysical answer I might come up with, I need to start by saying I’d thank my parents because I forgot at my Bar Mitzvah, which was 41 years ago, and they still haven’t let it go.
So thanks mom and dad, on this day that I become a man.
Whew, now that that’s out of the way, let’s examine what the question asks and to whom I should be grateful, in whatever manner. I mean the obvious answer would be the folks who had the obvious impact, right? Parents, early friends, grade-school teachers, etc. The ones whose influence is probably outsized in the scheme of things. And sure, these people all deserve their share of thanks and gratitude, but to be honest, I’ve probably already thanked them, if not here in answers than in real life.
Then, what is the kind of thanks we should be looking at?
When I first moved to Los Angeles back in ’87, I got a job as a critic for the Los Angeles Theater and Entertainment Review, eventually becoming the review editor. It was an interesting publication, focused on theatre (naturally) and coming out every other week. Since these were the days before the internet, we were still a print publication, with all the space limitations inherent. Now, it’s a little-known fact outside of the casting offices of Hollywood, but LA has more theatres than New York does. Not all of them are professional (or even Equity-waiver) and most of the performers are barely getting gas money for their sometimes genius work, but that doesn’t matter. They are there for the love of the art*. I bring this up to point out that my boss at this magazine, the publisher, had a specific business model for reviews – don’t publish any bad ones. Not because there weren’t bad shows, there were, but because we had such limited space, he wanted to promote the good rather than denigrate the bad. Give people reasons to want to attend theatre rather than excuses of why they should go to a movie or worse, just stay home.
So while I should definitely thank that boss for teaching me something important about the way I interact with art and the world to this day, it makes me wonder to do I thank the negatives? Do I thank the people who taught me lessons where my takeaway was how not to behave? The folks whose influence on my life was “well, I’m never going to do that again.”
And what about the famous and infamous? Both those I know personally and those I’ve never met but their work has impacted mine?
Honestly, I don’t know. What if I forget someone important (like my folks 40+ years ago)?
Okay, I think I’m gonna go a bit more obscure this time around.
Let me start by thanking any number of friends and exes who have turned me on to new music. Back in the day, it was always so exciting to get a mix-tape from someone with tunes you had no way to be exposed to otherwise. People like Jeff Lane and especially Steve Hibbert from The Groundlings, who taught me about everyone from Elvis Costello to Concrete Blonde to Toots and the Maytals. Also in that group is Matt Green who worked next door at Vinyl Fetish who supplied me with all sorts of stuff which was new to me (like 29 Palms and Pleasure Thieves) but certainly wouldn’t sell to the black-haired, pointy-shoe crowd Melrose Avenue was known for. And the guy whose name is now lost to the shrouds of history who worked at the record store at the Meadows Mall when I was working at Waldenbooks there. We had an “employee discount exchange program” where we’d “help” each other out with product from our establishments**. While this guy didn’t turn me on to any specific music, he did allow me to experiment by picking up 45s and LPs by bands I couldn’t actually afford on a whim, which did lead to my discovery of Marillion back in 84/85.
On the professional front, I should definitely shout out to Connie Leaverton, who, more than anyone, deserves thanks for giving me the shot of confidence needed to move out to LA in the first place and Doug and Deke and Elsa and that whole gang for giving me the confidence that what I was doing was worth doing in the first place. Also, Matt Sorvillo, who, once I had lost that passion for writing and storytelling, helped me regain it by challenging me to get back on the horse.
There should be a special thank you to Mike Wallis, who I met because he was my traffic school instructor, who was a partner in many adventures, but mostly, he gets the nod because of one of the best birthday presents ever. When he signed us up for magic classes and arranged for an evening at the Magic Castle, he codified my love of magic as an art form and that led to so much more in my life.
I know there are more people who need to be thanked, for all sorts of things, but this is enough to get started for now.
And once again, let me, in no uncertain terms and unequivocally thank my parents for my bar mitzvah. I’m hoping now we can put this one to rest (since I’m sure there’s something else from my childhood they can give me grief about, waiting in the wings). Seriously, though. Thanks!
* And the hope that one of those aforementioned casting office folks (or, hope upon hope, actual casting directors) will come and see them and bring them in for a film role, which they’ll book, thereby proving their lives aren’t a waste.
** which wasn’t strictly legal, but hey, when you’re 17 and working for minimum wage, you do what you can.