Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Writers Block

I guess it happens.  Going to the mental well the last few days it seems the water table has dropped. My bucket comes up empty.  This fills me with anxiety because, whether we will admit it or not, every artist believes that the last idea he or she had could very well be their last. In a profession that is judged by your NEXT successful project, it is extremely depressing not to have one. 

It is part of the "people pleasing" phenomenon that seems to dominate actors and performers.  Perhaps it is also true with non-performing careers, although I wouldn't know. All generalities are untrue, even this one but, in the career of the arts no matter how much you are loved by those who actually know you,  it becomes more important that strangers love you as well.  It is a struggle to find your own benchmark and extol your own uniqueness rather than become the vanilla flavor that is universally liked.  The number of artists that have become modern icons but were dismissed by their own generation is an unusually large number. In a world where even Facebook values "likes" and "thumbs up" it becomes important to be known by the unknown masses rather than have the admiration of those who actually are your friends and family. Are people valuable only when they are known by the greatest number of strangers? Do we all fear being unknown?  I really don't understand the value of celebrity. Fame seems a really cheap trade for privacy. 

Fame is also a double edged sword.  The public will embrace the negative aspects of your career with the same relish as your successes.  Fame is fickle and it does not care if you are famous for being a hero or a villain. It is the deal you make with fame. 
My friend Ann says that the rule of writing blogs and posts is: never discuss your depression because no one cares.  I totally agree.  Why should any one care? We are all trying to keep our own spirits up in these odd times. Besides what is more depressing than to be around someone who is depressed? Depression is not accepted as a disease but just a condition,  and one should "get over it." I have never heard of a Facebook prayer request for someone who is experiencing debilitating depression. Yet, daily someone is appealing to their Facebook list to intervene on behalf of a sick or dying relative.  To spin the prayer wheel one must have a "medical" not a "mental" condition.  The last time it was okay to pray for cure of a mental condition was when the world believed it was caused by demon possession. 
In the words of Spaulding Gray... "I cannot write the lie that tells the truth." I just have to wait until I see the truth and write about that. 
Until that moment comes.
As you were,
Jay




Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Won't Beileve Your Eyes

My Friend John Hardman, master puppeteer, posted this YouTube on Facebook. It is absolutely wonderful.  The skills of a mime, a puppeteer, a magician and a juggler in one seamless performance. I love the simplicity of art and beauty of talent driven performances like this.
Enjoy.
As you were,
Jay

Monday, April 14, 2014

That Magical Face...

My Trophy Jerry -
I got him in an Ohio Antique shop
while on tour with Sheilds and Yarnell
 I remember the exact moment I first saw that face. He sat in the corner of the front window at Nichols Toy store, eyes cocked toward me as I walked by. If you were in downtown Abernathy it would be impossible not to pass this window. The entire Abernathy, Texas metropolis downtown was only a block long. Nichols was the only toy store in Abernathy and it regularly displayed games, dolls and the newest toys in that window, but there was never a toy like this one before. There was no doubt in my mind this little guy was waiting for me. 
I did not grow up watching the Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney Show. Lubbock had two television stations when TV finally came to the panhandle of Texas.  One station was a CBS affiliate and the other was NBC. Paul's show was on ABC.
I knew Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney from guest appearances on the other networks. Paul was not the first ventriloquist I ever saw on television.  I have racked my brain trying to remember who was and I can not.  It was likely a vent on the Ed Sullivan Show. My family never ever missed The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night.
I knew exactly what to do with that puppet in the window and I couldn't even pronounce the word ventriloquist at that age. I remember begging my Mom to buy this puppet for me. The request was never taken seriously.  I visited my new friend almost every day. The owner of the toy store demonstrated how the string at the back of the neck opened the mouth but he wouldn't let me play with the doll unless I bought it. Eventually Nichols got tired of demonstrating the doll for me and I had to be satisfied with just looking at him. 
One day when I came to visit, Jerry was gone. In his place in the corner of the window was a little girl's coloring book.  The only Toy store in town had only one Jerry and someone bought him. It would seem that my relationship with my first ventriloquist figure had abruptly come to an end.
A few days later I was invited to the Birthday party for a kid from down the block, Billy Bob Drace. I was very shy as a kid and parties were very intimidating for me.  My Mom insisted that I go and attempt to fit in.  It came time to open the presents. The third present opened contained MY Jerry Mahoney puppet. The rest of the party is a blur. Although "playing with the toys Billy Bob got" was not on the list of party activities that day, I knew eventually I would be back at his house and get to actually touch this magic doll. That time came about a week later when I went over to Billy Bob's house. I had to pretend I was interested in his new board game; we even had to play a round.  But I kept my eye peeled for Jerry. 
Finally I spied him face down, slumped over a small football near the toy chest. I didn't recognize him at first because his green suite was gone and he only had one shoe on.  The muslin fabric of his unclothed body made him look like a ghost in long underwear. 
Judy's Jerry on the shelf.
Same model but not the same puppet.
The original was destroyed in a flood.
I held him up and reached for the string at the back of his neck to open his mouth. Before I could, the mouth gaped open and the chin fell half way out of his head.  The rubber band which held the mouth closed was already broken. As I stared at Jerry in the face... he would not look at me. 
It would be five or six years later before I saw that face again.  This time it was at my cousin Judy's house. He was fully dressed, in perfect condition and it was the more advanced version of Jerry... this one had an independent moving head not just a string at the back of the neck.  Details of that story are chronicled in the play, "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only" (SOON to be available on DVD for a select few.) Needless to say it was the beginning of a 50 year relationship with these magic creations called vent puppets.
Thank you Paul Winchell for the gift of Jerry Mahoney.  His face still lifts my spirits and reminds me of a day when the future was the un- manifested dream of a five year old. 

As you were,
Jay



Friday, April 11, 2014

Weekly Left Overs

FLASH
The Oscar "Blade Runner"  Pistorius trial continues with Oscar on the stand.  I love a good high profile trial... however, I'm not sure I would call this one good.  He admitts he shot his girlfriend. Says he was trying to protect her.  He shot four times through a closed door because he felt threatened by what he thought was an intruder hiding in the closed toilet.  What if it was an intruder. How would he know that the intruder didn't have his girlfriend inside the stall as a hostage.
Oscar never called her name to see where she was, he just shot blindly through a closed door.  
The way I learned it from cop shows is,  you take a position, aim and yell, "Come out with your hands up I have a gun."  I think he is going down for this one.  Are there prison issue prosthetics? They didn't allow Michael Milkin to wear his hair piece in jail.  

FLASH
Flight MH370 is still missing. And it is still "Breaking News" on CNN.  Malasia now says it knew the plane had turned, and dropped to 4,000 or 5,000 feet on the day it went missing.  Information that should have been known minutes after it was declared over due in Bejing.  Why is it just now coming out , 33 days later.  Something is very fishy about this story, that is probably why it has been such a compulsion with CNN. Some are saying the plane might me resting on the sea floor like the Titanic. In reality the sea floor where they are searching is thousands of feet deeper than the ocean where the Titanic lies.  At this point in the ocean they say the pressure is like having the weight of a Cadillac Escapade pressing down on a space the size of your finger nail. The structure of a ship is not the same as an airplane.  There is no way any part of it is "intact". The fuselage of the 777 would be crushed to the diameter of a garden hose long before it rested on the ocean floor.  I say we are years away from having any more information than we do now. 

FLASH
Hillary Clinton had a shoe thrown at her while she was on stage in Las Vegas.  I was amazed by her composure and dignity in a situation that is very scary.  I once had a person throw an ashtray at me while I was on stage.  It was in Tahoe not Las Vegas, not that the venue is the issue.  I may have come back with a joke, but I don't remember, it was extremely stressful.  I had a hard time getting back to my act and I was shaking when I got off stage.  I wanted to go after the guy in my anger but Casino security had already thrown him out of Ceasars. There is not way to explain how frightening it is to have a object fly out of a darkened audience toward your face.  

FLASH
Larry Nelson posted a text exchange from a guy and a girl in a relationship. Here is how it went.

"Hey... where are you and what are you doing?"

"I'm home. Long day and I think that I am just going to turn in... Where are you?

"Standing in line behind you at the bar."

FLASH
Recently my friend Michael said his young daughters had a great idea. It seems when the cordless phone at the house rang it was always an "Easter Egg Hunt" to find where it had been left.  His youngest said, "They should tie a string to the phone and attach it to the wall so we could always find it."


FLASH
It is Friday.  Have a great weekend.

As you were,
Jay


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is this the right App for an Argument?

There are a few things that Facebook does really well. 
How else would I know how delicious your lunch looks,  if you didn't post a picture. 
How would I know which Wizard of Oz character I am or what my "Blues Name" would be or how cute your dog or cat is without Facebook.  
I love those old photos on Thursday, can't get enough of them.  And who can resist informative posts that end with... "Send this to 20 of your friends or you will get crotch rot in three days."  If this was Facebook I would now publish a picture of me with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. 
However, high on my gratitude list of "things I like most about Facebook", is posts from my friend, Ann Anderson.  She is a wonderful person, excellent writer, one of the first stage managers for my Tony Award winning show, but mostly Ann is very funny.  I usually laugh out loud at her posts.  I don't mean LOL... I mean an actual laugh. I miss Miss Ann and wish she was geographically closer. That is another thing I like about Facebook, physical geography doesn't matter, we can all meet in this media middle. 
But, Facebook is NOT good at a lot of other things. The most egregious is substantive discussion of politics, religion or any emotional subject. Recently I wrote in this blog about my confusion when I "Liked" a post about someone's Mother passing away. Facebook makes that awkward social interaction instantly possible for millions.
If you are looking for facts and truthful information... you are looking in the wrong direction on Facebook. Unfortunately this is not general knowledge for the average FB user.  Political evangelist think they can sway the opposition with a paragraph.  Religious fanatics think they can convert a sinner with a quote from the Bible.  Facebook users seem to easily confuse debate with conversation or discussion with comment. A comment on a Facebook post is neither discussion, debate nor conversation.  It is simply a comment. Most people can't write a complete sentence so, intent, voice and innuendo are rarely present in the average comment. The odds of being misinterpreted in a Facebook post or comment are exponential.
Children are taught: count to ten before you say something that will make you sorry. I think we should count to more than ten before placing words on the Internet.  Why can't we dial down the tone of the Facebook discourse and celebrate our differences?  Let's not use the Internet to proselytize for exclusions but encourage inclusions. Let's celebrate our different views.
I am so glad that there are differences in the world.  Everybody can love a different color of rose, or have a different favorite song. We learn from our differences. And we can all agree that we may sometimes disagree. But if we continue to disagree on everything... that conversation stays the same and never grows. It becomes an argument:

Palin 
Is this the right room for an argument?

Cleese 
I told you once.

Palin 
No you didn't.

Cleese 
Yes, I did.  

Palin 
No you didn't

Cleese 
Yes, I most certainly....Oh I'm sorry.... is this the full half hour argument or just five minutes.

Palin 
Five minutes...

Cleese 
That's 20 dollars... Thank you...
Now, let's get one thing straight, I did tell you.

Palin 
No you didn't.

Cleese 
Yes I did

Palin 
No you didn't.

Cleese 
Yes.

Palin 
Wait a minute.. I'm paying for this session and this not an argument

Cleese 
Yes it is.

Palin 
No- it's not..An argument is not the 
automatic game of saying Yes/NO  Yes/No

Cleese 
Yes it is

Palin 
No it's not.  

Thank you, Cleese, Idle, Chapman, Guiliam, Jones  and Palin.
As you were,
Jay