James Garner

Just heard James Garner’s biography on audio, and was struck, not just by his honesty, candor, or his anecdotes on movies, but his generous attitude and lack of ego, despite being labeled as a “curmudgeon.” The Rockford Files is one of the few TV series that I truly enjoyed, due to its offbeat yet believable writing, its humor, and its lack of bling. (One of many surprises, Jack Warner of Warner Brothers was a foul-mouthed mini-Hitler who hated actors, writers, and agents…but he was afraid of Garner, thinking he might pick him up and throw him out the window, as Errol Flynn once threatened to do!) Garner appreciates writers, unlike many other actors, and never tried to change scripts as bigger egos tried to do.

Sopranos Rockford Files

Latest revelation is that The Sopranos began with The Rockford Files…the Soprano’s writer was the same guy who wrote two episodes of Garner’s hit series.

If you can’t live up to “What would Jesus do?” as a motto, don’t descend to “What would Joel Osteen do?” but instead consider “What would Jim Rockford do?” In a world of hustlers and con men, Rockford maintained his honesty and dignity, was loyal to his friends, and treated everyone as equals. Modest, yet unimpressed by fame or fortune, he gave everyone a fair shot, yet never fell for a sucker punch twice, and had a nose for deceit. A man of his word, even if he bent the rules, Rockford was nobody’s fool, yet he had a heart of gold. Women depended on him, even if they never took him seriously in the end, living in that trailer, and often betrayed him. But he never used them. Simple and sincere, Jim Rockford was one of a kind, with his own thoughts and values, which were unshakable. Often the victim, the good guy who finishes last, he reemerged intact, able to enjoy the sunrise of the next day. How many men in the real world can go through what he went through, yet remain true to themselves?  —JL

James Garner dies


Are We All Weird?

We Are All WeirdCheck out the title of Seth Godin’s new book, which he narrates on audio.  Godin is the thinking man’s business guru, discovering trends and making predictions.  In WE ARE ALL WEIRD the thesis is that the great cultural war of the 21st Century is not whether you’re conservative or liberal, but rather whether you’re a sheep or an albatross.  That is to say, whether you fight for the status quo or for the unique choice of individuals.  For decades the mass media has boxed people into groups that they can control and market products and ideas to.  “Mass markets” still control how people think, what they buy, how they live.  You are urged to conform or be silently ostracized by your peers, who view you as “weird.”  Times, though, they be a-changin’, and these days of the mass market is soon coming to an end.  Soon, the guilt you are supposed to feel for not conforming to the group will forever slip away.  There are already many more choices, and those who respect people making different choices will find greater success in the future.  Bravo, I say.  It’s about time.  I have always most respected those people who think for themselves.  After all, there is a long list from Galileo onward of people who were considered weird (and even imprisoned by the lemmings of the status quo) yet ended up changing the world.  Coco Chanel, by refusing to conform, changed fashion forever.  Stravinsky wrote The Rite of Spring, and changed music forever.  Weird kids at school may be bullied and laughed at, but it is by sadly pathetic and unimaginative cowards who only get away with being cruel out of collective ignorance.  Their days are numbered.  Speaking of marketing, when I tried to pitch my new novel to mass market publishers, I was told that it didn’t fit any specific mold or genre.  It was cross genre and offbeat—phrases that advertising departments frown upon, even as they green light the next vampire novel or serial killer slasher book.  Yet can you guess the ending of a formulaic genre McNovel?  Of course you can.  That’s what makes it mass market:  dumbed down to a cliché plot, its popularity (profit) is the sole criterion of its value.  So are we all weird?  No, obviously not yet.  Most people still watch a lot of TV, believe what they hear and see there, and vote the party line.  But even TV is not what it once was.  More weirdness is coming.  And big companies like McDonalds and Coca-Cola are having to spend a lot more money these days on advertising to maintain the delusion that they have anything at all to do with love and happiness (and not epidemics of diabetes and obesity.)  Even Exxon/Mobil, in the face of overwhelming evidence for global warming, is having to revamp its public image (read Private Empire by Steve Coll.)  They no longer deny, deny, deny as they once did in the Bush era (or the cigarette companies did prior.)  To end on an weird note, here’s my suggestion for The Food Network (or rather The Food Porn Network):  Instead of having a bald pastry chef requiring contestants to add ingredients like horseradish to desserts on Sweet Genius, how about a show called The Soup Nazi in which standup comics tell jokes and insult you while you prepare your entries in The Concentration Camp (ie. Kitchen stadium), in the style of Nadia G, who is truly weird (and fun.)  …So the countdown timer is running, can you finish slicing those onions without a tear of laughter as Jerry Seinfeld wonders aloud if you’re having a really bad hair day?

Nadia G

Nadia G: weird but fun.

“Mr. Nazi, what’s with this frog in my soup?”
“Looks like he’s eating the fly.”

“That’s good, but why is he wearing a hair net?”
“Mr. Nazi, this soup is spoiled.”
“Who told you?”
“A little swallow.”


The Best Video Game Ever?

video game

Was talking to Paul Heitsch, who is a former video game composer, pianist, and sound designer, now also an audiobook reader.  His first book project was my newest novel, which is being reviewed by Audiofile.  He mentioned working on Riven, the sequel to MYST, which is the only game I’d ever been addicted to.  It’s not a violent game or first person shooter; it’s more of an adventure and puzzle box, with a story behind it involving magical books which can transport you to other worlds, literally…and very strange worlds they are, indeed.  You’re basically on your own, attempting to figure out what’s happening, with clues along the way.  This is much like the plotting of a novel, containing both evil and good forces, your task being to discern the truth and make the right choice in a rescue.  There was something about the atmospheric lighting and eerie yet oddly comforting music of MYST that attracted me.  The light fixtures were unique creations by the game designers, not to mention the other-worldly sets, which contrasted from alien desert worlds to rainy ocean worlds with ancient shipwrecks, tunnels, and caves.  There was much alien machinery to figure out, which had an antique look to it while being high tech.  Some puzzles were maddeningly complex, requiring a peek at cheat sheets.  The original MYST was one of the first bestselling video adventure games, and I remember reading that the designers scanned individual leaves into their computer to create the trees.  Much of design now is automated and streamlined, and unfortunately gaming has become dominated by military plots or less believable incantation oriented fantasy.  Today, in Japan and the U.S. video games dominate the time of teenagers.  Is it all a waste?  No, not completely, says Jane McGonigal, author of “Reality is Broken,” but boredom with the problems of real life (jobs, politics, environment, etc.) is driving a surge in gaming as teens look to escape the pressures and the consequences of the poor choices made by their parents and leaders.  Maybe someone needs to create a series of video games that challenge players to reenter the real world and change it before it’s too late?  Violence is not the solution, imagination is.