Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Butch Cassidy Changed My Life

The irony wasn't lost on me. B.J. Thomas singing Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, piped loud and crystal clear tonight over the loudspeaker of a Long Island BJ's. Suddenly I was 11 again, watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with my family on a snowy evening in 1970. I began singing aloud, not even caring who heard me. Paul Newman and the beautiful Katherine Ross on a bicycle. The comedy, drama, cinematic brilliance and lush cinematography enthralled me then (and still does). A buddy movie, a tragic comedy, a romance, a shoot em up, a chase. A movie-movie in the best sense of the word. After looking at a few more DVD's I moved over to the butcher section. The kid there looked to be about 25. "Ever see the movie Butch Cassidy?" I asked him. "No. Is it in black and white?" I explained that it starts in sepia but moves quickly into full color. "I watch black and white movies," he said. "I like The Three Stooges, and it doesn't really bother me." Over the years, I'm no longer surprised by the answers I get when I ask people of all ages questions like that. One woman asked me if the movie Patton was about a dog. Another asked me if Ella Fitzgerald sang. Too many to name told me they never heard of Sammy Davis Jr, or John Denver. Many don't even know which side fought against us in WW2. One young woman told me she never heard of Paul Newman OR Robert Redford. A few told me they never saw The Wizard of Oz, or Gone with the Wind, or The Godfather. Fiddler on the Roof? (Is that a musical?). "I never heard of the Beatles," said a co-worker once. "Don't forget, I was born in 1988." I reminded him that I wasn't born 300 years ago, but knew who Mozart was. I can't imagine growing up in a world without Butch Cassidy. Or Louie Armstrong. Or Bing Crosby. Where is the intellectual curiousity we had? It seems to be lacking. And following this same line of thought, I asked a young cartoonist if he'd ever heard of Will Elder, Larry Gore, Mort Drucker, Mort Walker? How can you ever expect to do anything great if you don't know who's shoulders you're standing on? How can you continue to uphold the Constitution if you've never taken the time to read or understand it? If you're a songwriter or a painter, and you have no idea who Harold Arlen or Rembrandt were, how can i ever take you seriously? After watching him play piano in an intimate setting once in New Orleans, I found the great Ellis Marsalis sitting at a restaurant booth alone. "During that tribute to Duke," I said quickly, "you slipped in a little of Sinatra's 'Willow Weep for Me'. "You heard that, hunh?" he laughed. Dizzy Gillespie, speaking of Louie Armstrong, said "No him, no me." You can-NOT call yourself a comedian, and not know Jerry Lewis's work. Or Charlie Chaplin's. Or Richard Pryor's stand up routines. How do you go through life without ever once having the curousity to see Lawrence of Arabia, Spellbound, or Strangers on a Train? How do you call yourself a writer without reading Fitzgerald, Benet, Malraux, Blake? Or a playwright who is not well-versed in the Bard of Avon, Neil Simon, Arthur Miller, or William Saroyan? How can you dance if you don't know Gene Kelly's work? Or pick up a sax and not be intimate with Coltrane or Rollins? If this sounds like name-dropping, it shouldn't. It just makes common sense. It adds to the richness of life and the roundness of character..Doesn't it? ********* This author's new "30 Days to Your First Poetry Chapbook" is available at Smashwords and many other places where fine ebooks are sold.

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