The Incredible Nerd

Posted: March 20, 2012 by Bill Gauthier in Childhood, Comics, Movies, TV

The television series The Incredible Hulk, starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was woven into the fabric of my childhood. Yet, I realized recently that I had never seen the entirety of the very first episode, the pilot movie. So I called it up on Netflix Instant Streaming and watched it last night. Watching it made me realize what has been wrong with the more recent film versions of the Hulk.

I enjoyed 2003’s Hulk, starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, and directed by Ang Lee quite a bit. I want to get that out of the way because I know many people consider this movie a failure. I don’t. I liked the story, I liked the acting, and I liked the Hulk. He was massive, he emoted, and he was fun to watch. Still, though I liked it a lot, there was still something about that didn’t quite feel right to me.

2008’s The Incredible Hulk is notable only because it’s tying in with this summer’s The Avengers. Tony Stark makes an appearance, there may clues to other Marvel movies, the nerds align and cheer with glee. Except it’s dumb.

The 2003 film is an intelligently crafted movie with a real concept behind it. The 2008 movie is an excuse for a brawl in the streets of a major American city (I’ve forgotten which one, mainly because it doesn’t matter) and to tie into The Avengers. Both are missing something that made the 1977-1981 television series the classic it remains to this day: pathos.

The older I got as I watched the TV show’s reruns, the more David Banner’s plight seemed more important–and more interesting. This is a man who wants to do good, who wants to love, yet keeps losing the people closest to him, first by happenstance, then because of his self-inflicted curse. Bill Bixby’s portrayal of Banner is great. Caring, careful, and empathetic, you can’t not watch him onscreen. He portrays Banner as an intelligent, caring, yet flawed man who must reconcile his sins every time the monster comes and disappears. He Dr. Jekyll. He is Dr. Frankenstein. He is Dr. Richard Kimball. But you care about him. And if Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk now seems quaint and silly (and he does, oh man, he does!), then it’s forgivable because of Bill Bixby’s performance.

Eric Bana’s situation in Hulk also provides pathos, yet not in the same way as Bill Bixby’s. Because Bixby’s Banner radiated himself trying to solve a problem brought on by his wife’s death in a car accident, you already care about and understand why he blasts himself with the gamma rays even while you’re hoping he won’t do it. The audience is seeing a tragedy in the making, brought on by raw emotion. Bana’s gamma blast is more like the comic book’s version, where Banner is helping someone else who is in danger of being blasted. The added empathy that helps the story immensely is that Banner’s father, played by Nick Nolte, has already been messing around with his DNA. The creature is essentially already there, just in need of a little push out. But, by my money, it’s just not the same. Yes, Bana’s Banner is more a victim and should be in need of more empathy, yet it doesn’t work out that way. I still feel more for Bixby’s Banner than Bana’s Banner.

In The Incredible Hulk, Edward Norton also plays Bruce Banner. This isn’t a sequel to Hulk, yet in many ways feels like it is. It also feels a little like a sequel to the TV series, including the musical cue Bixby gets at the end of each episode. I’ll be honest here, I had to look at Wikipedia to even know how this Banner becomes the Hulk. I still don’t remember. It doesn’t matter, because this is the least sympathetic Hulk by far. Norton’s Banner tries to get into our hearts but never quite gets there. What time is there with all the running away from, being chased he’s doing? At least the comic book feel of Bana’s Banner left the viewer feeling something, Norton’s Banner is just sort of there. Yes, Norton is a physically perfect Banner, and yes, he can be a good actor, but in this…eh.

Overall, I think that the 2003 and 2008 movie suffers from their closeness to the comic books. They’re not adapted enough. Kenneth Johnson’s adaptation of the Hulk is akin to Christopher Nolan’s adaptation of Batman: it’s set in our world. Yes, there’s a fantastic element to it, yes, there are unbelievable–even silly–things that happen, yet, for the time it takes to watch (the the very least) the pilot movie, I was left rooting for Bixby’s Banner and feeling sad when he loses his second chance at love. And while the visual representations of Bana’s Banner and Norton’s Banner might be more spectacular (yes, I am one the people who actually prefer CGI Hulk to Lou Ferrigno Hulk) the pathos just isn’t there, and we the audience inevitably don’t care.


MediaBio Quickie: Drive-By Post

Posted: October 25, 2011 by Bill Gauthier in Uncategorized

Hello, faithful readers! Sorry it’s been so long since my last post. Life has gotten in the way but I have not forgotten you. I have plenty to say, still, and am always willing to listen.

For now, I have a question for you:

All right, I’ll talk to you soon.

Empty Sky

Posted: September 11, 2011 by Bill Gauthier in Memoir, Music, Politics, Radio, TV
Tags: , , ,

Into the Fire

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

I wasn’t there. I didn’t know anybody who was there.

But I was there. I saw it all.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was supposed to wake up at 4 AM. This was nothing new, I’d been doing so for close to a year now. It was my intention to be a writer and, while I was a stay-at-home dad, I found out that childcare was very busy work and writing didn’t figure into it at all. So I trained myself to get up before everyone else. This morning, for some reason, that didn’t work out. I woke up closer to six, made myself a cup of tea (I didn’t drink coffee), and shambled into my office. My life in 2001 wasn’t great, although the day before had been pretty good.

September 10th. Mondays were my wife’s day off (she’s my ex-wife now) from the veterinary clinic where she worked and we’d had a decent day. Our minivan, a Dodge Caravan that I loathed, needed some work and the dealership gave us a rental for free. The fact that my wife’s grandmother worked at the dealership probably helped that. It was a Dodge Stratus that we got, which we both fell in love with. Within a year, we’d trade the minivan for a Stratus, and within two years, I’d get one of my own. That Monday, we went to the Silver City Galleria in Taunton in the morning, in the afternoon I had an appointment with my gastroenterologist. I sat in the waiting room with a copy of the novel I was reading, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I had a colostomy bag that we were preparing to remove. Some weird guy kept coming into the small waiting room (now my doctor is in a big building, back then, it was a small building) and I kept imagining the guy was going to begin shooting people, or blow himself up.

Calm yourself, I thought. It’s just you’re overactive imagination again.

Shit like that happens, I argued.

I saw my doctor with no issues. Things like people walking into a waiting room with guns blazing or with a bomb strapped to them really happened, but not today.

So Tuesday morning, the good day was still in my head. Things were troubled, though. I had the surgery coming up in November, and the three-bedroom apartment that was owned by my wife’s distant family had been sold. The new landlord wanted us out but what could two people in their early-twenties, with little money and a three-year-old find easily? Luckily, the week before, we’d found a shitty little one-bedroom that we could use for a two-bedroom, and the landlord seemed willing to rent to us. Still, the stress it was causing, as well as the overall unhappiness I was feeling in the marriage. My writing career was nearly non-existent, with only two small publications under my belt. Unhappiness, overall, but there was still some happiness. My ex and I still had good days, my two best friends and I were working on a comic book together, and I had my daughter.

I sipped my tea, put the cup down, and checked my e-mail, maybe went on the web. I really can’t remember. I began writing at 6:30. I read what I’d written on the novel I was working from two days before. Six pages. I made small changes, a word here, a sentence there. The novel was about a slave family and their former owners, and was to span from the 1860s, when a slave escapes due to an uprising on the plantation and the dark deal he makes to a mysterious stranger, to the present, following the two families and the supernatural curse they both share. I was nothing if not ambitious. I began writing fresh copy. Back then, 2,000 words–or ten pages–were what I strived for in a session. On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I got 800. Four pages. And those came with difficulty. I averaged about 1,000 words per hour, so two hours took me to my goal. On this day, it took me just over an hour to get four bloody pages, and I remember not being happy with them. Who knew why?

Eventually, my wife got up and so did my daughter. The day was to look like this: My wife was going to take the rental car back to the dealership and pick up the minivan. Before heading there, she was going to drop by my parents’ apartment house, start the laundry we had, and then bring the car in. On the way back, she was going to go back to the laundry, switch it from washer to dryer, and then come home. I’d take her to work for around noon and come back home with my daughter. Around five o’clock, Courtney and I would go to my parents until it was time for my wife to get out of work. We’d go pick her up and go back home. I’d be in bed around nine or so, ready to get up at four the next morning.

That was how it was supposed to go.

As my wife was getting ready, we had The Today Show on. I brought the trash outside to the curb. The sky was blue and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. A plane flew overhead and I looked up, smiling. I can’t get away from the New Bedford Regional Airport. I grew up near it, and ten years ago, I lived right on one of the flight paths. This single engine plane flew overhead and I thought, Someday I’ll have to go on one of those. I’d never flown, but on the beautiful late-summer morning, it seemed like something to put on the top of my To Do List.

Back inside, eating my morning cereal, I was watching Today with Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. They had their outside shots of the crowd outside and I thought, Damn, I have to go back to New York. I hadn’t been since I saw The Late Show with David Letterman in August 1995 and it was high time for a return. I took out the schedule I’d printed from the bus station I worked at on weekends. I decided that I would mention it to my two best friends, Toby and Jorj, when they came over to work on our comic book that Friday.

My wife and daughter left and I shut off the TV, and went back into the office. I was surfing the web and not paying attention to much. Time passed. At around nine o’clock, the backdoor opened and I jumped, not expecting my wife to back already.

“Oh my god,” she said. “You’re not watching the news?!”

“No,” I said. That was ridiculous. She knew that the TV stayed off when I was alone. The internet had become my drug of choice.

“The radio said that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”

I stood up and came out of my room. “What? The World Trade Center? In New York?”

“Yeah,” she said, rushing into the living room.

“Where’s Courtney?” I asked, close behind.

“In the car,” she said. “I still have to bring the car back, but when we got back into the car after starting the laundry, the radio said a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I had to see it.”

She turned the TV back onto Today and I saw the Twin Towers, both of them ablaze, one with a giant plume of fire coming off it.

“It looks like they’re both on fire,” I said. I’d been thinking that a small plane, like the one I saw just an hour before, with a really inept pilot had made a major blunder. Earlier that summer, a paraglider had attempted to fly over the Statue of Liberty but had become stuck on the torch.

“Maybe the fire jumped from one building to the other,” she said.

“That’s impossible,” I said. “Those towers look close on TV but they’re pretty far apart.”

What neither of us had noticed in the few seconds that it took for us to have that dialogue after she turned on the TV was that no one was talking on the television.

Matt Lauer fixed that. “Um…uh…it appears a…second plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

We looked at each other.

Things were different.

The Rising

Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothin’ but these chains that bind me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s this sixty pound stone
On my shoulder’s a half-mile of line

Come on up for the rising
Com on up, lay your hands in mine
Come on up for the rising
Come on up for the rising tonight

She went back out with Courtney to finish the errands, radio on. I sat down. I watched. At some point they came home. I watched. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. You know what happened, you were there, too.

As the events unfolded, and one horror became another, I watched TV, mesmerized. What was there to say? I didn’t know anyone in New York back then. No one I knew was supposed to be flying anywhere from Boston or anywhere else. I knew no one in Washington D.C. back then. All I could do was watch. I’ll never forget the wide New York streets filled with firefighters walking toward the Twin Towers, and not long afterward, the first tower’s collapse. Soon, they went back to that street, and it was vacant but for the dust and the reporter (I feel like it was Anne Curry, but I might be wrong), and a few firefighters stumbling back, blood trickling down their faces, looking lost, vacant. I’ll never forget when the first tower fell, the way Matt Lauer interrupted a conversation he was having with Tom Brokaw to report that it appeared a piece of one of the towers had just fallen off. Even as it was happening, it seemed inconceivable that the entire building would come down.

I distinctly thought of people hiding in the bushes, waiting for unsuspecting passersby such as myself, my wife, my daughter, to come out and shoot us, or cut our throats.

I wish I could say I was surprised by the attacks, but I’d been hearing and reading reports all summer of Osama Bin Laden’s threats toward the United States. People seemed to think he was serious. On CNN, not two weeks or so before, I’d seen a special on the Taliban and Al Qaida, and I worried.

Nah, I thought. They’ll never get to us. They’ll never cause harm. Our government will be on top of it.

They’d tried before, though, right? Back in 1993. I remembered the people leaving the World Trade Center with their little soot mustaches after they’d blown up a van in the in parking garage.

But I knew, the law of averages dictated that sooner or later one of Them–the Outsider, the Enemy, the Ones Who Hated Us–would launch an attack and succeed. One needn’t be a rocket scientist to know that. Shit, one only had to pick up some of the Tom Clancy brick-turds to see that he thought it was plausible, and considering I learned how to operate a Russian submarine thanks to the 100 or so pages of The Hunt for Red October I could get through, that meant something. So how come our government wasn’t ready? It wasn’t like Oklahoma City where there was that “homegrown terrorist” who could possibly fly under the radar. This was from outside. Was it because George W. Bush had been in office for nine months and had taken several vacations already? Was it that the FBI, CIA, Clarice Starling, the JLA, JSA, and the Avengers weren’t talking to one another? What? How?

But it happened. The two planes into the Twin Towers. The plane into the Pentagon. The Towers destroyed. Fuckin’ destroyed. And the people. I remember watching the 9/11 Jumpers (as they have become known as) as they decided (some say, which I tend to agree with for most of the people) that they would not be taken, that they would go themselves. One last Fuck You to the People Who Did This. There was also the plane down in the field in Pennsylvania, reportedly passengers who decided to thwart the terrorists themselves, “Let’s roll.”

The horrors. I cried many times that day. At one point, Courtney asked, “Daddy, why are you crying?”

“Because some bad men did some terrible things,” I told her.

She didn’t understand. I looked into her deep, brown eyes, at her chubby little cheeks. She was so smart. So beautiful. How could I explain this to a three-year-old? How did I explain it to her as she got older? Why did I need to? Because. The world had changed. We had changed.

At least for that day.

Empty Sky

I woke up this morning
I could barely breathe
Just an empty impression
On the bed where you used to sleep
I want a kiss from your lips
I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning to an empty sky

That afternoon I checked the mail. In the front hall was an envelope without a stamp from the Bristol County Sherriff’s Department. It was an eviction notice. We realized why the new landlord hadn’t cashed the last few rent payments. The motherfucker. I wish my ex and I had had enough brains back then to cancel those uncashed checks. The fucker would’ve deserved that. But the letter seemed rather insignificant compared to the events that had transpired that morning. After all, we were safe. Our friends were safe.

Courtney and I went to my parents with the radio on. We watched the news at my parents. At eight, I picked up my wife and went home. I watched more. My wife and Courtney went to bed. I stayed up watching the news. How could I sleep when there might be more of Them out there? I heard silence outside. The planes going and leaving the New Bedford Regional Airport, a place my father used to bring me with a bag from the nearby McDonald’s to watch planes take off and land, were grounded.

I turned off the TV and went to bed at one o’clock that night.

The days and weeks following are a blur of the surreal and the tragic.. On September 12th, I remember seeing on the TV something going down in Boston at the Prudential Center and the Westin Hotel and watching it. What I didn’t know then was that I may have caught a glimpse of my future-wife in the crowd. Pamela worked at Copley Place in Boston and was on lunch when the buildings were evacuated. Of course, it was nothing. Same thing happened on a train. I eventually finished American Gods and began the second collaboration of Stephen King and Peter Straub, Black House, which came out days after the terrorist attacks. I soon hit my own corridor of death during this period as people I knew lost grandparents and parents. I had surgery in November. One of my best friends disappeared as he married a woman who hated me and didn’t want him doing anything with anyone. There was good, though, too. My best friend met his future wife.

Time passed.

Ten years passed. A lot has happened to me. I went back to college, my writing career truly began, my marriage dissolved, I fell in love and fell out of it, I met Pamela and fell in love (this time for good) and moved to Boston until the economy dived and she lost her job. I began working at a school, first as a sub, then as a teaching assistant, and finally as a teacher. A lot has happened to this country. Bush used 9/11 as an excuse to wage war on a country that had no ties to the tragedy. We found ourselves embroiled in two wars, siphoning out money at a ridiculous rate and he was re-elected to do more damage that even the smarter, wiser new President is having a difficult time fixing. Our economy nosedived. A lot has happened to this world. Many countries that were allies fell to the wayside between 2003 and 2009, some still haven’t answered our calls. War has torn up the Middle East and terms like sleeper cells, Al Queda, and many others have become part of the world’s lexicon.

You know, you’ve been there. In light of what went down in New York and D.C. that day, it seems ridiculous recounting what I went through as I’ve struggled through this memoir.

Why does it matter what you were doing? I think. You were at home with a three-year-old, you were safe.

But I didn’t know that. On that day, no one knew that. As far as anyone was concerned, there were more and varied attacks looming. My job as a writer is to capture a moment and relate it. To tell the truth. That’s what I’ve done. As the 10th anniversary of that tragic day has arrived, I don’t see what the problem is in talking about it, in relating where we were. The documentaries fascinate me. I sit in tears watching them, not wanting to continue, unable to turn away. Some of the stories I’ve heard are burned into my gray matter just as the events of that day are. I’m fascinated by it, I’m horrified by it, I’m saddened by it.

But in the midst of all that tragedy, I’m inspired by the stories of the people who survived, by the people who helped them and died helping others, and by the people who faced courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable horror.

They rose up and survived. And if they can beat that, then we can beat anything.


On September 13th, 2001, around seven o’clock, I heard the familiar buzz outside. My heartbeat quickened. A sound I’d heard all my life except for the previous two days seemed alien, menacing. I went to the window. A twin engine plane flew in toward New Bedford Regional Airport.

Tears came to my eyes. I smiled.

The sky was empty no more.


Lyrics to “Into the Fire”, “The Rising”, and “Empty Sky” written by Bruce Springsteen and appear on The Rising (Columbia, 2002).

Fred Rogers, known to the world as Mr. Rogers.

K. Wilson, author of the blog teachingthekids, commented on my recent post about teachers from pop culture that had an effect on me and noted that Mr. Rogers was the first teacher for many youngsters because he influenced her “in the 70’s.” Fred Rogers was absolutely an important part of my early childhood.

I was one of those kids who hated kids shows because I felt they pandered. I loved The Muppet Show because it wasn’t really for kids, but hated Sesame Street, for instance. However, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was one of those kids shows that I loved. Yeah, I went through a phase at around six or so where I was too big to watch it, but here’s how I know what he did mattered:

It was 2005, somewhere between May and July, and things had been a little bleak. I’d been separated from my soon-to-be-ex-wife (we finalized our divorce in September 2005) and was working at a local bookstore, which I would’ve loved had they paid me what I deserved, treated me the way I deserved, and otherwise didn’t have their heads up their asses (not all of them, just those who were in charge). I sat down to eat my lunch around 11:30/noon, and I only had twenty cable channels. My choices were game shows, talk shows, or PBS. One PBS channel was running Sesame Street. Blech. Another was running Teletubbies. Barf! The last had on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I decided to leave it on. I quickly realized that I remembered the episode from my childhood. I sat watching this show that I hadn’t seen in twenty years, mesmerized. At the end, Mr. Rogers looked into the camera and said in that way he had, “Just remember that you are special. That there’s no one else in this world like you, and that you are important.”

I can’t explain it. I begin weeping.

Lots of stand-up comedians and people who are too cool for school have made jokes that Mr. Rogers was probably a pervert, or some sort of strange dude because of his show. That’s an easy, cynical kind of joke to make in a world where teachers marry students, priests rape their choirboys, and you never know who’s lurking on the playground, the schoolyard, or anywhere else children may congregate.

I have no patience for jokes like that about Fred Rogers. This man was the Real Deal. He understood the power television had and insisted on doing his best to teach children what he could. He understood that by the 1970s, many parents were using the glass teat as a means for babysitting, and that the networks were making tons o’ dough from selling violence, stupidity, and bastardized entertainment to children. Fred Rogers wanted to do something different. He wanted there to be a place for children to go where a human adult could teach them, to build their confidence, and to give to them the sort of love that many children needed. Yeah, he had puppets, but unlike Jim Henson’s beautifully constructed and performed Muppets that lived on a special street in some city, even the dullest child knew that residents of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe were simple hand puppets that were terribly performed.

I can’t believe that I forgot about Mr. Rogers, a man whom I love dearly and wish that I could have met to say, “Thank you, Mr. Rogers. You believed in me, and I thank you for it.”

I got home about half an hour ago, my clothes damp with sweat. I wish I could say I just came back from working out, from performing with my rock band, or even that I just got back from a stand-up comedy gig, with those bright, hot lights, the grateful audience, and the rest of those clichés. But I didn’t. I got home from work. I am a teacher.

Yes, that's my teacher look.

I call teaching The Day Job because I’ve been a writer longer than I’ve been a teacher, and I’ve wanted to write for a helluva lot longer than I’ve wanted to teach. As a matter of fact, if I can tell you the truth (and what’s the purpose of writing if I can’t tell you the truth?), I’ve never necessarily wanted to be a teacher. I fell into it nearly by accident. The good news is that I enjoy teaching nearly as much as I enjoy writing, and while I’m certainly not paid what I believe teachers should be paid, it has paid me a lot more than writing has, and it is fulfilling. If I look back though, it shouldn’t be a surprise to me that I teach. As a matter of fact, I think it was more of a surprise to those who know me that it took as long as it did for me to become a teacher. Since it’s the time of year when the kiddies (and many others) are returning to school, I figured, let’s look at some of the teachers from the movies and TV shows that I watched growing up. This isn’t going to be a definitive list of teachers from the media, I’ll let some other list making website deal with that, but I will talk about the ones I think have an effect on me.

I was in my teens when I was flipping through the channels one day and happened on The Dead Poets Society (1989). The movie got a lot of buzz when it came out and I love Robin Williams, but I hadn’t seen it. Part of it was that I was young when it came out (11/12) and part was that my mother’s co-worker had been dragged to see it by his wife and had reported that it was boring, so my mother didn’t want to watch it. I’d wanted to watch it when it came to cable but just never had until the afternoon, I believe I was 16 or 17, that I was flipping through the channels and there it was, just beginning. I loved it. The piece of the movie I remember the best from that first viewing, and the thing I carry with me in the back of my mind in my Badass Book of Teaching is when Robin Williams instructs the students to tear out pages from the textbook. The tight-ass prep school boys have trouble believing that they’re to follow him at first, but eventually do so in a scene that is both beautiful and inspiring.

There’s nothing really beautiful about Carl Reiner’s Summer School (1987) except for Courtney Thorne Smith, but when I saw it at the age of 10 or 11, I loved it. The thing I remember from that, that I still kind of carry with me now, is that Mark Harmon’s Mr. Shoop is lax, miserable, but treats the students as people. He is the typical 1980s hero in that he has a very I-Don’t-Give-a-Fuck attitude about him but he reaches the students. It may not be by accepted (and these days, he’d be fired without a second thought), but he reaches them and the class mostly succeeds. The other thing that stuck with me, but that has nothing to do with teaching, are the boys who love horror movies, Dave and Chainsaw. The viewing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in class, as well as the gory horror-movie-type prank (check out about halfway down the page) that the kids play on a substitute after Shoop’s fired, I think helped guide me into my love of horror movies (though the date of the movie’s release, July 1987, leads me to believe that I’d already seen the three A Nightmare on Elm Street movies that had been released by then).

Oh, how this scene had an effect on me.

Mr. Miyagi from 1984’s The Karate Kid wasn’t the typical teacher, yet he was a teacher that I could dig. I was probably about eight when I first saw The Karate Kid on HBO or Cinemax, and it was a story that I loved. Though my days of being bullied were to begin in the following years, I already felt like an outsider and the story of Daniel LaRusso’s warm welcome to Cailfornia from New Jersey struck home. Plus, he learned to kick ass, which seemed really cool. But as cool as Daniel seemed to me at eight, nine, and ten (when The Karate Kid Part II came out), Mr. Miyagi was the coolest person in the movie. Wise and comical, blue collar and elitist, difficult taskmaster and best friend, Mr. Miyagi was the friend all boys wanted back then. A father figure who wasn’t your father and who could teach you to defend yourself, but would still play jokes on you. Forget that he’s an Asian stereotype, Pat Morita brought a pathos to Miyagi that Jackie Chan did not in the boring, lame 2010 remake. Mr. Miyagi wasn’t a schoolteacher, but he was one of the best teachers of my childhood and there have been moments in my 5-year-old career that have definitely been influenced by him.

None of MY teachers did this for me.

And that was one of the problems with the 1980s. The punk rock, MTV movement had seeped into the popular culture so much that everyone sort of became the anti-hero, even teachers. Many of them were mean to the kids, or clueless, and being a little boy in the 80s meant I missed some of the good teachers, such as Mr. Hand, played by the venerable Ray Walston, in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a movie I only saw for the first time in the last few years. Most of the teachers in the John Hughes movies, especially The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off were shown as boring, mean, and inept. Of course you had Morgan Freeman taking on a tough, inner-city school in Lean On Me, or James Belushi doing an action movie version of same in The Principal. I recently saw Teachers with Nick Nolte and while he proved to be a caring, even good, teacher at the end, he was pretty much the anti-hero teacher, which is why Mr. Miyagi and the last few important teachers of my childhood in Pop Culture 101 were so important.

Indiana Jones was a hero to me, and probably every other boy born in the 1970s and early 1980s. And the strangest thing about him, to the seven-year-old Billy who first saw him, was that he was a teacher. At seven, you pretty much believe that your teachers live at school, or something like that. To think that they have lives, that they go grocery shopping or have spouses and children of their own is ridiculous. They can’t because they’re your teacher, damnit! And yet, here was a guy who not only was so cool that the girls painted I love you on they eyelids, but he went around, collecting treasures, fighting bad guys, and otherwise being a badass. And he taught you something, too! I don’t know how many fights I got out of by running like Indiana Jones does at the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Oh, and there’s the whole Nazi and Biblical history thing, too.

"I strongly urge you to turn in your homework, or I'll kick your ass."

Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, played by Sir Alec Guinness was probably the first onscreen teacher I saw that had me listening. He taught Luke some valuable lessons like, “Your eyes can deceive you, don’t trust them,” and outcooled Han Solo with, “Who is more foolish: the fool or the one who follows him?” Of course the most important piece of advice from the first Star Wars was “Use the Force.” Yoda also taught about the Force. Never had a green puppet (not even Kermit the Frog) taught me so much at that age. What the hell was the Force? Yeah, yeah, a mystical field that surrounds all life because midichlorians and whatever. It’s magic. Or, as I saw it growing up, it’s the inner power we all have that gives us faith in ourselves. There is nothing more important than faith in yourself. Go back, read that sentence again. I’ll wait.

Teachers should have patience. Some have to deal with two generations of whiners.

Done? Good, let’s continue.

Faith in yourself gives you the ability to make the first step toward whatever goal or dream you wish to achieve. It also happens to be the most important thing that a teacher can pass along to a student.

There are so many other teachers in movies, on TV, and in books, plays, songs, etc. that I haven’t even come close to mentioning. I chose mainly to focus on the teachers I watched in the first dozen or so years of my life, and I’m sure I’m missing some, but those were, for me, the ones that seemed to leave a lasting impression. The only one I’d like to add, from my early twenties, is Richard Dreyfuss’s Academy Award-nominated performance in Mr. Holland’s Opus, which is a bit schmaltzy at times, but is still a movie that I enjoyed quite a bit when I first saw it. He wasn’t a part of my childhood, but I’ve thought about that movie a few times since I began teaching back in the fall of 2007.

"We're going to need a bigger band."

In the end, all the teachers listed above were rule-breakers and taught their students how to fend for themselves, with love, with compassion, and with knowledge. We could all use a little of that in our lives, and we should do our best to use those traits, as well.


So, do you think I missed a teacher? Is there a pop culture teacher who deeply affected you? Let’s discuss it!

Elvis, MTV, & the Future of Rock ‘N Roll

Posted: August 25, 2011 by Bill Gauthier in Music
Tags: , , , , ,

August 16th marked the 34th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. His death is a milestone for me because in a strange way: I was born eight days later. I suppose those who were born on the actual date and all of us born the week or so preceding and succeeding his death are all in the same boat on this, especially if their parents were fans. My father, born in 1941, was an Elvis fan. He wasn’t a fan in the sense that he owned every album or went to concerts or read books about the man, but when an Elvis song came on the radio, he’d listen. He liked Presley’s voice. My mother, born in 1950, did own some of Elvis’s music, but she was more of a Beatles girl than an Elvis girl. By the time she was a teenager, Elvis was already past his craze period and the British Invasion was in full swing. Still, she loved music (and still does) and to dance, and Elvis was a part of the legacy of rock ‘n roll and she knew it. The news of his death shocked them as much as it did the rest of the world. Dad went out and bought magazines, newspapers (mostly National Enquirers) in the days and weeks following Elvis’s death. (I recently received many of these papers).

The local newspaper for August 17, 1977.

I don’t know why I disregarded Elvis for so long, and am still not much of a fan. Perhaps it was natural, being part of being part of The Next Generation and all. You always think that the preceding generation’s idols are old and not worthy of your adoration. Maybe it was the history of the King of Rock ‘N Roll and his descent into (seeming) madness, wearing capes, visiting Presidents, etc., that made me disregard Elvis. Maybe it’s just that I don’t dig him. Whatever it was, I realized this past week (I’m writing the first draft of this on August 19th) that I’ve never really given Elvis a chance. The generational thing only stood up until my teenage years, when I “discovered” The Beatles and have since made many other such “discoveries,” from The Rolling Stones (Mom isn’t a fan) to the power of Motown to Billy Joel, Elton John, and (you were waiting for this) Bruce Springsteen. So that leaves the other two reasons (excuses?) on why I’ve resisted Elvis so long. So this week when I really put the subconscious to work on this (yes, I consciously put the subconscious to work) the closest to an answer I have came: I’ve grown up in the shadow of Elvis’s death and I don’t like it.

I’ve always known Elvis was dead and that he died right before my birthday. I knew that even before I knew my birthname was William! (For the first three or four years of my life, I was called Billy almost exclusively). My mother would often say, “Maybe you’re the reincarnation of Elvis.” This was silly because she doesn’t believe in reincarnation. It became even sillier because I have no musical ability whatsoever.

Alfred Wertheimer's classic photo "Going Home", 1956.

When I was sixteen or seventeen, I saw an Elvis calendar at the bookstore I worked at and the cover captured me. It was Young Elvis, and presumably taken while on the road. He’s sitting and looking at the camera. He was a good looking young man, and was young enough to still have that hungry look that people so respond to in artists. But there was something in the eyes that moved me. It was as though, on the road, maybe in the height of Elvis-mania, as he was knocking down walls of music, taking Black music and bringing it into the living rooms (and, even worse to the old folk, the bedrooms) of White teenagers of the 1950s, he knew what would happen. His eyes almost say to me that he knows his life will never be the same, for better or worse, but most likely worse.

That still didn’t get me to listen to him. To be honest, I’m really listening to him for the first time right now. I have Elvis Radio playing on my SiriusXM Internet Radio. Now, that’s not to say that I have never heard Elvis music, or even like it. I love “Jailhouse Rock.” “Hound Dog” isn’t too bad, either. I like “Are You Lonesome Tonight” and “I Can’t Help Falling In Love with You” and “Blue Christmas.” I know “Blue Suede Shoes.” Yeah, that’s probably about it. I’m finding I like his rockabilly songs.

The talk of the anniversary of Elvis’s death came from my subconscious this morning dragging with it the dying beast that is MTV. Even though I’d heard plenty of music before we got cable (like I said, my mother loves music–there was always music on in the house) the first music to turn me on was from the pop heyday of MTV.

We were one of the last people I knew who got MTV because we just didn’t have the money for cable. When we finally got it, the two channels neither Mom nor I could wait to dig into were MTV and HBO. I was about six years old. This was the time that Michael Jackson released Thriller, and in the immediate years following, MTV introduced me to Hall & Oates, Madonna, Huey Lewis and the News, Cyndi Lauper, Billy Joel, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, The Cars, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Tina Turner, Billy Idol, The Go-Go’s, Prince, “Weird Al” Yankovich, and others that I’ll remember after I post this. But goddamn! did MTV change things for me. All of a sudden, my mother was buying music (45s and then cassettes) that sort of interested me because I’d seen it on TV. And there was an attitude to the videos that were so…rock ‘n roll. In the post-punk early 1980s, there was a feeling that every artist on MTV, and the VJs, and whatever guests they had on (did I mention Van Halen above? No. Well, now I have) was giving a big ol’ “Fuck you!” to The Man, whomever that may be at the time.

For me, being six years old and seeing Twisted Sister yelling into the camera that they weren’t gonna take, no, they weren’t gonna take it, they weren’t gonna take it anymoooorrrre was amazing, especially since I was always in trouble at that time. Always. I was my neighborhood’s Dennis the Menace or Bart Simpson, and though my love of movies was the center of everything, the attitude that came from MTV orbited and fed me. Who needed Elvis when you had MTV?

Of course, I wasn’t aware that I was witnessing the death of rock ‘n roll radio. I wasn’t aware that I was witnessing the homogenization of music into something that only the beautiful people could do, that the radio–which was already broadcasting more and more stations with less and less programming–would begin to base their format on the slickness of MTV so it could sell more advertising. I wasn’t aware that Michael Jackson’s success would take that brand of pop music–big shows, giant dance numbers, strange costumes–and dominate popular music even nearly-thirty years later with acts like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.

The modern pop concert includes singing, dancing, and shiny costumes.

It took a while but eventually success did to MTV what it did to Elvis. MTV had a good fifteen years where it did what it set itself up to do: play new music and introduce different forms of music. Maybe I’m giving it a gift of those last five years of the fifteen, because the introduction of the game shows and series on MTV began as early as the late-1980s, but I don’t think so. Yo! MTV Raps was instrumental in the rise of rap music and brought names like Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Naughty By Nature, and–most importantly–Public Enemy into the living rooms of kids like me, who found something in the music that spoke to them, just as MTV helped the hair bands of the mid-80s, the metal bands that grew from there, and the grunge movement. The video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is actually better than the song and it helped propel what became known as alternative music (which is a bullshit name, I say. Alternative to what, precisely? It may smell like Teen Spirit, but it sounds like rock ‘n roll to me).

Of course, while video killed the radio star (c’mon, you’ve been waiting for me to fit that in since I began writing about MTV), even the monolithic power of TV couldn’t withstand the power of the next technology that would turn the media on its head and the populace further into lemmings content with whomever is spouting nonsense the loudest. With the internet not only becoming popular, but becoming more accessible with each passing moment, the way people got music changed.

But you know this. You know the power of the internet because you’re reading this.

I just replaced my old, deadish iPod with a fancy new iPod Touch. Part of the future of music.

Which leads me, finally, to the future of rock ‘n roll. My definition of rock ‘n roll is pretty similar to that of the classic Billy Joel song: It’s [all] rock ‘n roll to me. As has been the case with everything since just before 2000, the chasms between different music genres are growing. In the same way that people who like one genre of literature, one political viewpoint, one social idea, one religious belief can block out any opposing or different idea or viewpoint because in the this age of 300+ channels on TV, access to the internet, various periodicals that only deal with a single topic, lovers of a specific musical genre, or a single musician, never has to deal with The Other Stuff if they don’t want to. Terrestrial radio is so concerned about making money from ad revenue, that you essentially have pop, classic rock, R&B, hip-hop, oldies, and talk radio–which is predominantly right wing propaganda and nutcases. And commercials. So many commercials. NPR is primarily the luxury of big cities. Of course, internet radio and satellite radio are better choices for diversity. Being a subscriber to SiriusXM, I can attest to how much I love it. There are so many ways for me to hear new music in a variety of genres just by switching stations. Still, wanna know what my favorite station is? E Street Radio. Which means I listen, predominantly to Bruce Springsteen, just like I would on iTunes or my iPod (which has the SiriusXM app on it). Still, I have been adventurous and tried out other stations, like Little Steven’s Underground Garage, which could be called Rock ‘N Roll 101. It is very diverse and I’ve heard a lot of great music from that station. The Spectrum is another great station. I played the Real Jazz station the other day, too. (Since I’m dealing with music, I won’t mention the non-music stations I listen to, but I’m sure you can figure it out).

It’s in the satellite and internet radio where I think the future of rock ‘n roll lies. That and social media sites. MySpace was once good at discovering new music. Now Facebook and Twitter are pretty good. But let’s face it, the way music is listened to, and the way musicians are going to get the brass ring, are going to be different than they used to be. Record/CD sales are at an all-time low and every artist who is asked about how sales are will tell you that their income comes from performing live, rather than sales of their music.

Which makes me wonder, will there ever be another Elvis Presley? Could there be?

Not to be a Negative Nancy, but I don’t think so. I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t imagine a family sitting and listening to the same music on the radio, watching the same new star on TV, and having the way music is presented change because of that one person. We’re living in the future now, a future that seems to be paved by the plastic and silicon of technology, and I don’t know that any one person can warm that cold, artificial terrain.

Let’s Play!

Posted: August 18, 2011 by Bill Gauthier in Childhood, Toys
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Summer is winding down. In some parts of the country, kids are already back in school, I’ll be returning to my teaching day job in less than two weeks, and other local kids go back to school the week after that. Though those dark days are a-coming, I’m still in summer-mode enjoying my vacation (or as much of a vacation as a writer gets, anyway) but I can’t help but get a little nostalgic. Maybe it’s that my birthday is next week, and I always get a little soft around that time. While I know that turning 34 is a joke to anyone over the age of 34, it is still making me remember childhood with rose-colored glasses. What can I say? The sunshine outside and my birthday does that. Now, I’m not thinking about summer in terms of Stephen King’s great novella The Body, which most of you know as Rob Reiner’s greatest film, Stand By Me, me and a group of friends going on an adventure (though there is a summer I may write about like that at some point) but of the thing I spent the majority of my childhood doing: playing.

What better way to spend the summer is there than looking for a dead body?

I loved to play. Big whoop, right? All kids love to play. Maybe. But in my experience, I’ve never seen a kid play quite like I did, except for my daughter, but even she was different in many ways (at least in front of me). Not only did I love to play, but I loved to play alone. My favorite thing to play–mostly indoors–was with my action figures. Being born in 1977, I was at the exact right time for the Birth of the Action Figure. Well, maybe not the birth, since G.I. Joe existed as early as the mid-1960s, and the company Mego was making action figures of superheroes before I was born, but I was basically on time for the birth of the 3 ¾” action figure. Up until the late 1970s, you see, most action figures were larger. G.I. Joe was the boy response to Barbie. By the mid-70s, the action figures that were coming out were smaller than Barbie, but bigger than the 3 ¾” that were beginning to come out. I may be wrong, but the event that tipped the scales of where the action figure would go was Star Wars.

Because of Star Wars, my Mego figures ended up in a yard sale.

The story goes that George Lucas, who had maintained not only sequel rights to the original Star Wars (now known as Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope) but also maintained the merchandising rights. He figured that 20th Century Fox would not give Star Wars the promotion he wanted so he could license out imagery for posters, tee shirts, mugs, comic books, and toys. Of all the toy companies that pitched to Lucasfilm, the license went to Kenner, who had already wanted to put out a line of science fiction 3 ¾” action figures. Well, the unforeseen success of Star Wars made the action figures a huge hit. Other toy companies responded.

Star Wars came out on May 25th, 1977. I was born on August 24th, 1977. Is there any surprise action figures were my favorite toy?

Well, growing up, it sure as hell felt that way. On the block I grew up on, there were handful of kids and less than that who were my age. But there were the brothers Scott and Eric, the former a year older and the latter a year younger. In terms of playing, I’d play with Scott and Eric a lot, but there were some major differences between them and me. Well, one major difference: imagination. I had one. That’s not entirely fair, they had imaginations, too, but as their mother once told my mother, “You know, Billy has an overactive imagination and that might be bad for him as he gets older.”

Mego's Pocket Heroes. I had all these, including the cars, except for the Green Goblin. I even had this Batcave. Somewhere, I still have Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and the Batmobile. Robin is buried in my parents' backyard.

While Eric proved to be a great playmate when I was around eight, nine, and ten, and Scott and I played the world’s most boring games of teacher (we were both teachers for the same school, and the day went…well, like we imagined teachers’ days were) and detective (lots of desk work because Real Life wasn’t like the movies) when I was around 10 and 11, neither one figured much in my “real” play. First, they didn’t have many action figures. They had very few Star Wars figures, and while they had a decent amount of G.I. Joe figures (by now, the G.I. Joe: Real American Hero 3 ¾” line), I always preferred to play with my action figures alone because I was better able to manipulate the story.

That’s right. Manipulate the story. See, even as a child, I was telling stories to entertain myself. Those action figures were my creative outlet, even more so than drawing, something I was pretty good at back then (and if I’d studied art or had worked harder to refine my abilities, I think I’d be a decent illustrator even now; when I get the chance to write a comic book, I won’t have any problem giving the real artist sketches if I think it’ll help bring the story to life). I was able to make up stories and often had subplots, though I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. I was just copying Star Wars and TV shows I watched.

Two TV shows I watched as a kid and whose action figures I owned.

Even when I role-played, actual physical play outside, I would tell a story. It often meant playing alone, because other kids broke character or hurt the story. I remember a parent calling me bossy once. Maybe I was, but I tried to explain to her that her son was breaking character, that a farmer wouldn’t all of a sudden do whatever it was her son (who wasn’t the brightest person I’d ever known, even at that time–I was eight or nine) insisted on doing. I was directing.

Not mine, but one I found on the 'net. Mine is in a closet and hard to get to.

I began to fall in love with movies around the age of nine, and my action figure play began to change. I stopped using Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures for just those kinds of stories, but rather began casting the action figures for my “movies.” I’d then time the stories. I knew that after an hour had passed, I’d better start moving toward the climax of the story. My favorite Star Wars figure became Han Solo in Bespin Outfit. I could use him as Indiana Jones (I didn’t own my first Indiana Jones figure until sometime in the last 10 years; one I got from eBay that was a Disney World exclusive, the other Indy Jones figure I have is from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Those figures disappeared before I could get the Raiders one). I could use him as a detective in a suit or undercover a lá Axel Foley. Hell, I could use Lando Calrissian as Axel Foley! Sometimes I used my action figures to play other media-related stories. That Han Solo figure was sometimes Bruce Wayne, sometimes Clark Kent, but most of the time, he and my other action figures were characters of my own creation. I remember telling Eric about this and he was shocked. The next day he came over excited and told me that he used his Darth Vader figure as Batman, which was a stretch even for me.

I spent hours playing with my action figures or role-playing, running around the neighborhood with toy guns or swords or capes, lost in my imagination, lost in my stories.

So when I was twelve, and some kids I’d buddied around with in junior high came over and saw my action figures set up in mid-story, and then went to school the next day and made fun of me (in front of my crush, no less), things had to change. The action figures moved from their Tupperware containers and into shoeboxes and went under the bed. I felt lost, though, having to secretly do my playing, tell my stories. Until I bought The Shining on my 13th birthday (1990), and I decided I would start writing.

An action figure I bought just this past weekend.

Twenty-one years later (next week), and I still buy action figures. You see, something has happened. All those other mutants out there, the kids like me who loved their action figures, grew up and got jobs at toy companies or created their own companies and some of the best action figures ever known to humankind have begun being produces. I buy some of them and I keep them out as reminders. Also, they’re really good for letting off steam. If I’m in the middle of a scene that seems to be going nowhere, I can reach over and grab Batman, Superman, or one of the Freddy Kruegers I have (I just got one this past weekend), or I can go grab Indy Jones or Luke Skywalker, and pose them, fool around with them, study the sculpts, and then I put them back and find I have the answer I need for my scene. Because while I was being nerdy and goofing around with my toys, the subconscious was conversing with the muse, and goddamn if it didn’t do the work that needed doing.

Harlan Ellison has said, “Success is achieving, in adult terms, that which you longed for as a child.” All I wanted to do when I was a kid was play. Between writing and teaching, I get to play and people pay me for it. Not bad, eh?

You'd better agree, or the superheroes will get you.


What were your favorite toys as a child? How did you play? Are you like me, an adult who still loves those windows that look back on childhood? Leave a comment below and hip your friends to MediaBio!

Let’s Go To The Movies

Posted: August 4, 2011 by Bill Gauthier in Movies

When I was a kid growing up in a lower-middle class neighborhood in New Bedford, Massachusetts, there was no greater thrill for me than Going To The Movies. I think that’s how I thought of it, too, without knowing it at the time, caps on every word. It was a big deal. I wasn’t a kid who was into sports, and while I loved the library, it never really gave me a huge thrill. But The Movies? Ho-lee mackerel! Did I love me The Movies! It was like television, only better. Much better.

Even now, Going to The Movies is more than just a night out, or a diversion, for me. I can’t help it. There have been times, only recently, where it’s been more casual but usually it’s still a big deal to me. And being the nerdy (and somewhat sensitive) person I am, I even have rules that I lay down to friends before going to The Movies:

  1. We must arrive to the theater before the previews start. There have been a few occasions when I’ve let this rule slip, but usually I stand by it. I have skipped seeing a 1:00 show for a 4:00 one, or have even driven an extra half hour to a 1:45 show at a different theater, to abide by this rule. There are several reasons for this: a) It’s dark once the previews begin and I hate having to try to find a seat in the dark; b) I like the previews (though I dislike commenting on the previews; I don’t care if you or the person in front of me or behind me or three rows down wants to see this movie when it comes out). I like to see a really good trailer that gets me jazzed to see a movie and to know what’s happening; c) It’s part of the ritual.
  2. There is to be little-or-no-talking to me during the movie. I was raised that Thou shalt not speak during the movie and, goddamnit, I intend to abide by that rule! Every now and then something happens that calls out for a comment, and usually it’s okay, but read the situation. If I look enthralled, please, leave me be.
  3. I stay through the credits, or at least most of the credits. Again, I have several reasons for this: a) I don’t like crowds. If it’s a busy movie with a lot of people, I don’t want to be stuck with the schmucks around me. I don’t trust them, I don’t like them. They’re sticky and gross. We can wait; b) Respect for the craftspersons who made the movie. They devoted who knows how much time to provide the entertainment that I just sat through, the least I can do is wait for their names to pass; c) I don’t want to hear what those other sticky and gross people have to say about the movie I have just seen on their way out. I don’t want to hear “That was great!” or “That sucked” or any other comment. It can upset me and, really, I just don’t care. I care about your opinion, because we’re friends and we just saw a movie together, but:
  4. Do not talk to me about the movie we have just seen until I bring it up. This is probably the strangest rule I have, and it connects the last item on the above rule. I hate overhearing other people talking about the movie on the way out of the theater. It’s an oddity with me. Some of it is probably ego, some of it is antisocial, but it’s one of those things. If a movie is really good and I’m really jazzed by it, the rule may be tossed out. I never know what movie will do that. Both of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies were exempt from this rule. The horror movie Identity was exempt. The first Iron Man, I believe, was exempt. Mostly, though, I need time to process it. Also, I don’t want others who I don’t care about to hear what I have to say until I’m ready for them to, via a blog or status update or Tweet.

Seriously. Shut the fuck up.

I know, those are strange, and you can see why I purposely never went on first (or second, or third…) dates to the movies. Movies are something I go to only if I’m comfortable with a person. Going to The Movies is almost a holy experience for me, and I treat it as such.

I don’t remember my first movie, though I know it was a Disney cartoon rerelease and was probably around 1980. This was before VCRs were everywhere and movies would often take tours around the country. I know I saw Cinderella, Bambi, Peter Pan, and I may have seen a few others. I went with my mother and the woman down the street and her kids. Mom didn’t drive but her friend did, and her friend had two boys, one a year older than me and the other a year younger. My mother also loved movies (she still does) and hated being embarrassed in public, so the rule was simple: No talking during the movie. Done. End of story. Like I said before, I still live by that rule.

Nope. This won't screw a kid up.

I remember the excitement about Going To The Movies at that young age. We’re talking about three years old. The excitement of going into this room with all those seats and a huge TV, although I was a little scared that the TV–called a screen, I learned–might come crashing down on me. It was an entry point to another world, one that was magical to a young child with an already-growing imagination. If I could see the adventures of superheroes or the Fonz or the Muppets at home, the promise of the movie theater was simply amazing.

Still, I hardly remember the Disney movies. Though it was during the previews for Bambi (I think) that I saw the only preview I remember from that time. It was a preview for a rerelease of Star Wars. Based on my research, this must have been 1982, but may have been 1981. A little boy from Argentina name Sebastian lived next door to me at the time and had Star Wars action figures that I thought were super cool, yet I had no idea what they were. Seeing the trailer for Star Wars, and being a precocious four-year-old, I realized the characters I saw on the screen were the toys that Sebastian had. I told my mother, breaking the 1st Law Of Movies, that I wanted to see it. What was Bambi compared to that?

One night after supper, my kid sister (who turned 30 this past March!) was still in her high chair, my father told me to get my shoes and jacket on, we were going out. Now this was A Big Deal. First off, with the exception of when my mother was in the hospital having my sister, my father and I hardly ever went out places just the two of us at that time. Second, we never went out after supper. Or at least we hardly ever went out anywhere after supper. So off we went. We pulled into the parking lot of one of the local movie theaters that were in the Greater New Bedford area at the time (or at least the two I know of from back then), Cinema 140. I remember that there were teenagers in the lobby with 3D glasses, which was weird. Dad bought me popcorn and a soda. Popcorn was a major part of the ritual for most of my life. We went into the theater. I don’t remember the previews, but I remember the opening of Star Wars, recognizing the yellow letters from the trailer. I remember the introductory crawl, though I’m sure Dad had to read it to me. And, of course, I remember the Imperial Star Destroyer chasing the Rebel Blockade Runner. It was so massive and it went on for miles and miles. I had never seen anything like it.

I was hooked. Not only to stories from that galaxy from a long time ago and far, far away, but also to the ritual of Going To The Movies.

In 1992, after seeing Batman Returns for the first time, I kept the movie stub. Nothing special, just put it in a Tupperware bowl I kept spare change in. As time passed and I saw movies–never as often as I’d like–I’d just toss the stub in that bowl. Sometime around 1995, while cleaning, I realized I had a ticket stub for every movie I’d seen since Batman Returns. This was when I began to consciously “collect” my stubs. Sometime around 2000, I bought some business card holder sheets and began keeping my ticket stubs in a binder. The few that were lost along the way I have scrap paper to remind me. On the back of the stubs I write the name of the movie, the date I saw it, and whom I saw it with. The first two are usually printed on the stubs, but I’ve noticed that many stubs fade over time.

Here is my movie ticket stub book. TOY STORY 2 is the 1st movie I took my daughter to. PAN'S LABYRINTH is the 1st movie I saw with my wife, Pamela. You see can see my notation on the back.

I still love the movies though the experience in recent years has changed. I know others have complained about this, too. A sign of the times, I guess. It probably started with my generation, the first generation raised entirely with TV in our lives. The ability to talk in front of the TV have made another generation of people who will often talk throughout a movie. And cell phones and smart phones have made the movie experience even worse. There are many people who can’t leave the devices in their pockets or purses through the movie and it’s annoying as hell. Not to mention that the quality of the experience has been corrupted by the various ads and “bonus” features that come before the previews now. And on a personal note, I can’t really eat popcorn anymore. It fucks with my acid reflux and can make for an unpleasant moviegoing experience.

Oh, you cruel, cruel temptress.

Despite those negatives, Going To The Movies still is an important ritual for me. I love the pre-show excitement I feel. I love the walk to the theater with all the movie posters and standees and other assorted gimmicks to get you interested in a movie coming up down the road. A good movie can still bring tears to my eyes just by being good. When I realize that I am totally engulfed by the movie, I can’t help but become emotional. That is what being a storyteller is about, and it reminds me of why I now tell stories as an adult.

This time, I AM interested in what you have to say. Please leave a comment and let me know about YOUR movie rules, experiences, and such.

The King of All Media, Part 2: 2008-Present

Posted: July 28, 2011 by Bill Gauthier in Radio

Note: I know, I said I’d post this second essay last week (if there’s even anyone reading these things and they care) but I became busier than I thought I would be and I just didn’t get to it. BAD blogger! Anyway, in Part 1: 1996-1997, I talked about discovering Howard Stern. As is usually the case when I write a blog, I always end up thinking of things I should’ve put in. So I may backtrack a little here. Anyway, here is the second part of my views, and my history, with The King of All Media.

So December 1997 came and I took my finals and then that was it for college for me for awhile. January 1998 came and school began again but I was working more at the chain bookstore I’d worked at since I was 16. I figured that I would be more help to my pregnant girlfriend and unborn child by earning money. I also figured I could be more help to myself if I focused on what was really important to me career-wise: writing. And as college went away from my life, so did Howard Stern.

I missed the show. I had listened almost every morning for two years and grew accustomed to the conversations about life Howard had with Robin, Jackie, Fred, Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate, Stuttering John Melendez, and whoever else walked into the studio. It wasn’t fun leaving them behind and while I know I tried listening to them at home, that didn’t last long and soon they went away. It wasn’t just the main people on the show that I’d grown to like, either, but also the Wack Pack.

For those out of the loop, the Wack Pack were those weirdoes that Stern attracted to his show. There was Melrose Larry Green, who stood out on Melrose Avenue in L.A. with signs about Stern, and Crackhead Bob, who was the first person in line at the first signing did for his autobiography Private Parts. Crackhead Bob had been a crack addict who’d suffered a debilitating stroke and could barely speak. There was Fred the Elephant Boy, who spoke funny, and other people. All of them the kinds of whackos who call into radio shows all the time but usually get hung up on within moments. Stern made them a part of his show.

One of Stern's Rolling Stone covers, March 1997

I’d listened to these people talking honestly about their lives for two years: Stern complaining about being married and wishing he could have sex with every model and actress and singer and pornstar who came into the studio, Robin’s issues (or lack of them, according to her), the way Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling thought he should be more powerful than he was…all of these things became interesting and a way for me to not feel so bad about some of the frustrations I felt, at the time.

Still, I stopped listening and moved on. I didn’t miss it much and soon didn’t miss it at all. I was too busy. In April 1998, my daughter was born. By the end of the summer, my first short story “sale” occurred (it’s in quotes because my pay was one contributor copy of the very small press magazine it appeared in).

Still, news about the show or about the man would come out and I think I’d occasionally hear a little of the Stern Show here and there. The news was abuzz with the announcement that Howard Stern and his wife of 21 years, Alison, were breaking up in 1999. In June 2000, I found myself getting married against my better judgment. I loved my daughter, and I loved her mother, but I knew the marriage was destined to fail. Still, I tried.

Time passed and I decided, in January 2002, that I would go back to college the following year. In 2003, I was back in school, finishing up that English degree. I listened every now and then to The Howard Stern Show on my way to school. It was a hectic morning. Take my daughter to school (she was in kindergarten), take my wife to work, then head off to school myself. I noted that Jackie was gone and the guy in his old seat, Artie Lange, was pretty funny. Still, at this time I’d decided to go more high-brow, and would listen to audiobooks more often than not, or music.

My marriage fell apart in 2004 and later that year, I got an iPod for Christmas. I couldn’t stand all the commercials on radio so I only listened to my iPod. Again, time passed. I graduated college in 2005. In 2006, I found myself working as a teaching assistant with my former English teacher in a new vocational-technical program she created that was all about creating (ready for it) media. By now, I’d had several short stories published and was awaiting the publication of my first collection of short stories. In 2007, I met Pamela.

That fall, a month after I started work teaching in that media program, I moved in with her. She lived in Boston. I worked an hour away. That Christmas, she got me a Sirius Satellite radio.

This is the kind of radio I have, a Stratus 4. Nothing fancy about it but, damn, how I love it!

Now, of course I’d heard about Stern leaving terrestrial radio for satellite in 2006 and I thought it was brilliant. I know some people were skeptical about it, but I knew the power of Stern over his fans, I knew they’d follow. By Christmas 2007, I’m sure it was pretty obvious to Sirius the power he had. The summer before, I was looking for a new car to help with gas mileage. The 2000 Dodge Stratus I owned at the time was in need of $3000 in repairs and would cost nearly $120 in gas to commute from Boston to work and back again, never mind the weekends I had my daughter and would have to go back and forth another day. So I got a Toyota Yaris and they asked if I wanted XM in it. I said no, I couldn’t afford it at the time. That night or around that time, Pamela asked if I’d ever be interested in XM Satellite Radio. I said not really. “Sirius has a 24/7 Springsteen station and Howard Stern. That’s more for me.”

And so it was. Albeit, my first few weeks with Sirius, I tried to be more highbrow. I listened to E Street Radio, and I listened to the NPR stations. But soon, I found curiosity getting the better of me and I turned on Howard 100, which broadcasts The Howard Stern Show all day, every day. I was soon hooked again.

Stern, like me, had found love again. He (like me) was getting ready to marry his girlfriend Beth Ostrosky. Now I had a daughter and could relate to some of what he said about being a father to growing girls (although his daughters are all much older than mine). I got into the trials and tribulations of Artie Lange and the people on the show I’d never heard of before.

Stern with his wife, Beth Ostrosky Stern

Essentially, Stern’s at his best when he’s talking about his thoughts and feelings and conversing with those around him. Some of the members of the Wack Pack have changed, but he still treats them with love and care, though a casual listener may not see it that way. He is one of the best interviewers out there, getting guests to often tell truths that they would never normally share with interviewers. I daresay, the older Stern (he’s 57 now) is more interesting than the one I listened to in 1996-1997. He’s not as prone to yell and scream at people, though he still can lose his shit every once in a while. He is much more willing to admit when he’s wrong and to show how human he really is. He still makes the news, too, like when he commented on the career of Precious actress Gabourey Sidibe. I was listening that morning and thought, This is going to make news. Someone is going to take this out of context and Howard’s going to look like an asshole. And that’s exactly what happened.

Gabourey Sidibe

It was reported that Stern said that Sidibe would not have much more of a Hollywood career because of her weight. People went nuts! I know because I saw a lot of people on my Facebook wall write about how Stern was an asshole for saying that. All the reports pretty much made it sound as though Stern and Robin were making fun of Gabourey Sidibe. What Stern actually said was that he’d seen Precious over the weekend and that he’d loved it and that Sidibe had done a great job. He then lamented that she would probably never have another part like that again because of her weight. Most movies star people who are young and thin, or well-built. Unless the star is a comedian or a sidekick, there aren’t roles for overweight actors/actresses. In my experience as someone who watches movies, it’s true. It’s not necessarily right or fair, but it’s true.

Anyway, I still listen to Stern and have even gotten my wife into it a little. She’s not a fan, per se, but she’ll listen to the show with me and likes when he interviews actors, actresses, and musicians. Sometimes the antics make her laugh. Although this morning, as Tila Tequila was riding a sybian, I did notice Pamela roll her eyes. Still, she did so with a smile.

Howard Stern is an entertainer whom I admire a great deal. He’s one of the most important comic geniuses of the last 30 years, he’s intelligent, conscientious, and caring. He also is the King of All Media, to which I humbly bow.

Stern's most recent appearance in Rolling Stone broke sales records, proving Stern is still the King of All Media.

The King of All Media, Part 1: 1996-1997

Posted: July 14, 2011 by mediabio in Radio
Tags: ,

Everyone has an opinion on Howard Stern and I’m shocked by how many people still despise the man. Yes, he built a career partly by creating entertainment for the lowest common denominator, riding the rails of the First Amendment and challenging good taste, but he has also kept this career by being honest on the air. It’s his honesty that keeps most of his fans, I think. It’s the main reason I still listen.

I don’t know when, exactly, I first became aware of Howard Stern. My guess is that it was the late 1980s, early 1990s when he was beginning his ascent outside of New York via syndication. I believe I’d heard of some of his controversies on shows like Inside Edition (back when it was hosted by Bill O’Reilly). I truly became aware of him the night I watched the MTV Video Music Awards and he appeared as Fartman. I feel like I knew of Stern at that point already, and had read that there was a Fartman movie in the works before the appearance, but I don’t remember exactly.

When I was in high school, Stern came to Boston on 104.1, WBCN, a legendary rock station. They aired his show at night for some reason, and I’d listen to pieces, though not often, because of where I lived on the Southcoast of Massachusetts, I couldn’t always pick up the signal on my Walkman. This was circa 1994, around the time Sternmania began. He had published Private Parts and I worked at a bookstore. Stern was all over the news and I was somewhat interested. E! also began airing a half hour show that took from the radio show and I would watch that sometimes.

It wasn’t really until after I graduated high school in 1995 that I began to listen to Stern. I was driving a half hour/forty minutes to school and I found him on live (WBCN had begun to air the live feed). As I’m sure many people were, I was first attracted by the crazy antics: interviews with pornstars, silly sexual games, farting games–things like that. The lowest common denominator stuff. But I soon found myself listening to those things only to get to the frank discussions Stern had with his crew–Robin Quivers, Frank Norris, Jackie “The Jokeman” Martling, Gary Del’Abate (aka Baba Booey), Stuttering John, and whoever else wandered into the studio or called in. It may have been about sex, or love, or happiness, or politics–anydamnthing that you and your friends talk about. I loved when Stern’s wife, Alison, would call in to answer a question or chastise him. I loved when Stern’s mother, Ray, or father, Ben, would call in. He had some good stars in for interviews, too, and many of those interviews felt like eavesdropping on conversations.

I was a listener during the buzz leading up to the movie Private Parts; Stern talking about filming it at night and on weekends and then coming into the studio to do the radio show in the morning. There was the release of Stern’s second book, Miss America. Stern was appearing everywhere. I read both books and was amazed at how this guy, who comes off as someone so crass, so much a party animal, was actually a sincere, intelligent, funny, and loving person.

The thing that stuck with me, though, was his honesty about his marriage to Alison. He loved her and their three daughters, but he also felt trapped. And in the summer of 1997, when I wasn’t even 20 yet, when I found out I was going to be a father the following year, the show became even more relevant. It’s not that I didn’t love my girlfriend, I did, but I also knew we were not well-suited for each other and the arrival of a baby would only complicate things.

I left college in December 1997. That was effectively when I stopped listening to Stern at that time. But I thought about him and the show often afterward. I knew he was doing right by his wife and daughters and, goddamnit, I wanted to do the same. Not because I was a Stern fan, because I wasn’t that big a fan, but because it was the right thing to do. My daughter is one of the best things that has happened to me, but the resulting marriage was not, nor could it have been easy on my ex-wife, either. I was intent on staying there, being the best father I could, and I’d often think about Stern.

And then came the news that he and Alison were separating. I learned it through the news, I feel like Yahoo! News but I may be wrong. I was saddened by this, but understood. Things don’t always work out, that’s just what happens in life.

The Howard Stern of the era I listened to him was prone to fits of rage. I remember him yelling at a woman who’d called in to chastise him about something. I laughed as I drove, nearly in tears, because not only did the woman deserve being yelled at, but Stern was right in his anger. It goes down to the key to why things should never be censored: If you don’t like it, don’t listen/watch/buy/go. I realized then that the Stern detractors all had one fundamental thing in common: They didn’t get him. They didn’t realize that he was honest, that he was funny, that he satirized things, that he spoke frankly about sex and race and alternative sexual lifestyles not only to shock people, not only to entertain people, but also to open a dialogue.

I understood that between the ages of 18 and 20, and I didn’t understand how others could not.


Part 2: 2008-Present will appear next week. Baba Booey to you.