Monday, December 2, 2013

"We Have Liftoff"

Another (periodic) glimpse behind the curtain.

There are two factors to almost everything, he waxed philosophically, but also practically.  There’s the “What” and there’s the “How.”  Think about it.  The “What” may be a sincere “I love you.”  But if the “How” of expressing that sentiment goes target-missingly awry,

"If pity is a form of love - and I truly believe it is..."

you may achieve considerably less than the desired effect

The “What” in blog writing refers to “What am I going to write about?”  Being now an almost six-year-long blog writer, my senses are highly attuned to the whereabouts of the “Whats.”  Whereabouts are they?  They’re everywhere.  And if your antennae are set to the appropriate frequency, you can readily pick them up.

I read a review recently in which a film critic close to my age mentioned that, at one point, the level of tension in the movie he was reviewing grew so high, he was not certain how much more of it he could tolerate. 

Identifying with that reviewer on at least two levels, I immediately determined, “That’s a blog post”, and my blogational response to that determination will appear here in some form or other tomorrow.  If I live. 

(I always like to slip that in, not wanting to tempt Fate by guaranteeing myself a tomorrow.  I mean, I’m feeling pretty good, but why ask for trouble, you know what I mean?)

I read that movie review and said, “That’s a blog post.”  Similar, I imagine, to how fifties songwriting legends Leiber and Stoller must have said “That’s a hit single”, when the idea for “Poison Ivy” came to mind, the deal unquestionably sealed when the lines

“You’re gonna need an ocean – bump ba bump ba bump – of calamine lotion”

popped into their heads. 

They had their “What” – “Poison Ivy” – and they proceeded immediately to the “How” – the specific execution of the “What.”  “Charlie Brown (He’s A Clown)” is the classic “What” propelling them into that memorable opening image of a “How” –

“Fee fee, fi fi, fo fo, fum, I smell smoke in the audi-tori-um.”  

It’s the same thing with me, minus the induction into the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame.  I get a “What.”  And I dive into the “How.”

What makes a good “What”? 

“Is it interesting?”  “Is it identifiable?”  “Is it original?”  “Is it my kind of story?” 

What makes a good “How”? 

Clarity.  Specificity.  Succinctness.  And style. 

For me at least, the process of “getting there” varies.  Sometimes, I can nail it on the first try.  Other times, the “How”, in particular, needs reworking – shaping, sharpening, finding a uniquely “Earlian” way of expressing myself. 

(An interesting point, this one.  For me, my first impulse can be my unimprovable best.  Other times, however, the refinements, standing on the shoulders of the original predecessor, are indisputable upgrades.  The latter proclivity often got me in hot water on “rewrite nights”, as, unlike myself who found success with both methods, other writers were convinced that their original pitches, spontaneous and untampered with, were indisputably the winners, and they did not take kindly to my experimental efforts to improve them.)

You start with a subject that interests you (and hopefully others as well.)  You then move on, crafting that concept into a coherent and satisfying story.  Generally speaking, after coming up with the “What”, the “How” comes relatively easily.  But not always. 

I have a stack of scribbled notes on my desk – some have been lying around for months – one, for example, concerning the imagined challenges and stresses of writing acceptable messages for fortune cookies.  To date, I have been unable to come up with a viable approach for spinning that, to me, interesting notion into a post. 

I have got the “What.”  But, at least so far, I can not think of an impelling “How.”  And without that executional direction that would encourage me to move forward, 

“Mr. (or Ms.) Fortune Cookie Writer” will have to wait.

Finally, at least for this writing, there is a third, and most elusive, element.  What I labeled in the title, “The Liftoff.”

I draw my inspiration for this concept from the movie All That Jazz (1979), director Bob Fosse’s semi-autobiographical fantasy, based on his life and his award-winning work in both movies and Broadway musicals.

I am thinking specifically of one standout and indelibly memorable scene.

The driven and uncompromising “Fosse surrogate” in the movie, “Joe Gideon”, has been contracted to direct a commercial for a large, national airline.  A hack songwriting team has composed an appropriately pedestrian “Fly Me” jingle, to which Gideon is to supply the accompanying choreography. Gideon dutifully, if not enthusiastically, complies, finally presenting the finished product to the clients.

When the presentation (ostensibly) ends, however, to the consternation of the gathering, the lights are dimmed, and the dance number continues, this time, on a provocative and jaw-dropping level, Gideon’s inspirations elevating the commercial beyond the predictable to the deliciously sublime.

These are exhilarating moments.  And for no one more so than the creator.  You leap off a cliff.  And instead of falling…

You go up.

I try to leave myself open to such possibilities in these posts, though I only periodically succeed.  More often, I tell a reasonably interesting story the best way I know how, but the inspirational uplift does not materialize.

For example, I did not really get there today. 

But that’s all right. 

Its not happening every time,

Makes it all the more special when it does.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

All very interesting stuff. However, a data point: ALL THAT JAZZ is one of my favorite movies and I've seen it many I can tell you that the presentation was not of an ad being made but of a dance number for the musical Gideon was killing himself to try to choreograph, NEW YORK TO LA (a rather obvious stand-in for the real musical Fosse was directing in the time period ALL THAT JAZZ covers, CHICAGO).

Not to be persnickety or nuthin'


Canda said...

Paula Abdul took the Fosse idea and turned into a music video for herself.