MADMEN IN THE WILDERNESS

I saw a crazy man in the heart of the city cursing the people he passed, cursing the buildings, cursing someone long gone, cursing God for this Purgatory.

People reacted in different ways. Some froze and willed themselves to be invisible, some scurried away in the opposite direction, some watched in that detached zombie way people stand transfixed at car crash sites, fascinated by the sight of real disaster and yet non-reacting as though watching a movie play out.

So what does it take to make someone just crack one day? One huge life tragedy too much, or a series of small ones too close together that defy our idea of logic and fairness? Perhaps if we raise our voices above the rumbling wearing down drone sound of the busy city traffic, God will hear us?

Why does our Maker withdraw his grace and allow us to free fall through darkness and scorn so far from home? Or are we meant to always be alone in search of ourselves in others, a perilous journey not for the fainthearted. Or the dreamers.

Maybe the crazy man in the street had been chosen to heed his inner calling to join the wild throng and it is therefore in the madness that lies the ultimate truth?

Was Don Quixote mad because he chose to see the world as it should be? Or were the people who gathered to ridicule and laugh at his expense the mad ones?

John Lennon, during his time, was called mad by many, especially the press and the conservative establishment. But his brutal death at the hands of, ironically, a mad man has now elevated him to the status of martyr and messiah. Today, his human flaws have been sanitised to fit what is acceptable in the gospel of his life. The nobody mad man who shot him for a shot at immortality got a life sentence, while the famous mad man got death. And then in death, rose again.

When you look closely at it, most of our true heroes in history were called mad during their lifetimes because they attempted to do something different. To shine a light into the darkness that most of us are afraid to acknowledge. To take us where we would never have dared go if not for them. To make us think and, more importantly, to make us feel. In achieving this, a great many of them paid with their lives so that we may live.

So next time you see a mad man or woman in the street, spare a few seconds to ponder the forces that shaped them. And perhaps in those seconds we may awaken the humanity in ourselves.

(c) Frank Howson 2017

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HOMAGE TO FALSE GODS

I cried when they took away all the things I had loved and lived for.

My voice became ravaged and ragged when my spirit was broken and the walls came down to reveal my soul was really 500 years old. It was God’s way of humbling me which is the only way to Him/Her.

I wandered the wastelands in search of a reason to find a way out. It took years to think of one. But I thought of you long before I met you.

I have no agenda other than to do my work and treat other humans with kindness and respect. I will be damned for this and smirked at by those with no backbone or chins.

I look around at all the lost souls who act in an arrogant way, telling you things that are not true in order to impress, swearing on bibles that simple songs are too complex to play, manipulating situations that are really of no importance, protecting their over-inflated egos at any cost, convincing themselves that guests arrive to see them and not the hosts and, still, I feel sorrow at their ignorant pathetic-ness. Wasting their lives and their opportunities for inner peace by waging a war to defend their hollow delusions which are, and always were, meaningless.

We live in a world where the banks own you now. They can afford to be arrogant and rude to their customers because they need no longer keep up the pretence of performing a service.

I hope in my time I live to see the public rise up against them. Yes, there will be blood, long time coming.

The plague will descend from ourselves and inhabit the dull-eyed crowds that linger in the shadows of that which cannot be spoken. Friends, whom we thought were friends, will try and entice us to visit them whilst they are contagious so that they can infect us and watch us weaken and die as they feast on our souls. Spiritual vampires pretending to be human will survive by repeating things they have overheard in order to make small talk and fade into the scenery undetected. No empathy. No conscience. They will devour anything, anyone that gets in their way. For the mere existence of real people will torture them until they have succeeded in extinguishing the flame.

I feel like I’m dying as a result of the most selfish man in the world who gives you guilt trips if you don’t risk your life paying homage to him by breathing in his environment – and his disease. Nothing you offer as a sacrifice is good enough because he has been denied attention for 40 years and his desert is calling.

“Thou shalt not worship false gods!” I scream as I destroy his overcrowded temple to his own ego.

His family call him their stalker as they continue to feed his insatiable hunger for attention and a limelight that no longer shines and in fact only ever did in his dreams.

Thank you for weakening my already troubled heart. Your play acting concern was less than convincing to the children present and has been noted in the Book of the Dead.

My last glimpse of this world will be of my best friends clammering to be photographed with the man who destroyed me. I see they are all smiling.

(C) Frank Howson 2017.

MY CONVERSATION WITH GOD

My birth was a bit messy from recollection and ever since I have been flaying around like a man drowning in gasoline. People have come and gone in my life, some leaving an impression, others facial scars, but still, I wouldn’t change it even if I could shoot them.

Life is funny isn’t it?

Sometimes you win and sometimes the cards are stacked against you. Still, it keeps us occupied doesn’t it? I mean, otherwise we may turn into animals and attack each other thinking there was no purpose to it all. But the good news is, there is. I can say this with all certainty now as only a few weeks ago I was stirring my pot of porridge when I saw God’s face on the surface. He said unto me, “Listen, go forth and tell all the fucking morons that I have spent a fortune on this human experiment and have nothing to show for it. Other than one lovely Jewish boy and he doesn’t count because he is related on his mother’s side. All I ask is that you scumbags make a little effort and be nice to each other. It’s not brain surgery y’know? Oh, and your porridge is ready.”

I have since taken to the streets spreading the good news that God is alive and still loves us. And that we need to be kind to each other. In return I have been beaten, spat upon, cursed, betrayed by friends, had my sex tapes made public by Billy Bush, been blacklisted by Hollywood, been lectured by Robert DeNiro on morality, and treated by the media worse than Donald Trump. It could’ve been less kind, though. I could’ve been treated like Joan of Arc and roasted like a chicken as a public entertainment. Thank God I wasn’t a woman.

These days I keep to myself and have stopped eating porridge lest I get any more messages from you know who. I mean, I myself, even, don’t know why God chose me to be the bearer of his good news although he does have a history of choosing flawed messengers. Life is complicated enough without all that.

Father, forgive us we know not what we do.

(c) Frank Howson 2017

MY FAVOURITE BOOKS LIST

A friend asked me to pick my 10 fave books of all time. The 10 best of anyting is a hard ask but here’s goes. I have chosen those 50 books that moved me the most and had the biggest influence.

1) THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

2) GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens.

3) THE DISENCHANTED by Budd Schulberg.

4) THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde.

5) NODDY IN TOYLAND by Enid Blyton

6) A LIFE by Elia Kazan.

7) CRAZY SUNDAYS – F. SCOTT FITZGERALD IN HOLLYWOOD by Aaron Latham

8) CHRONICLES by Bob Dylan.

9) THIS IS ORSON WELLES by Orson Welles & Peter Bogdanovich.

10) A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway.

11) THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

12) IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote

13) A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens

14) HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain

15) WHAT’S EXACTLY THE MATTER WITH ME by P.F. Sloan

16) DEATH OF A SALESMAN by Arthur Miller

17) TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

18) TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald

19) POWER WITHOUT GLORY by Frank Hardy

20) PETER PAN by James M. Barrie

21) DIARY OF AN UNKNOWN by Jean Cocteau

22) ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE by William Goldman

23) THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD by Ron Hansen

24) SCOTT & ERNEST by Matthew Bruccoli

25) THE POWER OF MYTH by Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers.

26) ERROL FLYNN – A MEMOIR by Earl Conrad

27) ON THE STREET WHERE I LIVE by Alan Jay Lerner

28) DON’T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD by Eric Burdon with J. Marshall Craig

29) OLIVIER ON ACTING by Laurence Olivier

30) THE MUSIC GOES ROUND MY HEAD by David Johnston

31) FREE ASSOCIATION by Steven Berkoff

32) THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE by Robert Evans

33) MARILYN by Norman Mailer

34) HITCHCOCK BY TRUFFAUT

35) A MOVEABLE FEAST by Ernest Hemingway

36) JOURNAL OF A NOVEL by John Steinbeck

37) PICTURE by Lillian Ross

38) HOME BEFORE DARK by Ruth Park

39) TINSEL by William Goldman

40) PORTRAITS by Helmut Newton

41) THE NAKED CIVIL SERVANT by Quentin Crisp

42) THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell

43) TEN GREAT PLAYS by William Shakespeare

44) FINISHING THE HAT by Stephen Sondheim

45) W. C. FIELDS – HIS FOLLIES AND FORTUNES by Robert L. Taylor

48) THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN Volume 1 by Mark Twain

49) IN HIS OWN WRITE by John Lennon

50) THE ENTERTAINER by John Osbourne

GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROADWAY

I realised at an early age that even the experts and the top CEOs can be wrong. Sometimes the only thing these people who sit behind desks have going for them, is a desk. No one is infallible. And when you start thinking you are, you’re believing your own publicity and headed for a fall. We’ve seen some of the greatest generals and leaders in history eventually stumble on their own ego, and make silly mistakes. For every Napoleon there’s a Waterloo. Take it from one who knows.

So, I question things. Bobby Kennedy once said, “…Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”

Although I have worked hard, struggled, persevered, and sweated blood and tears, at times I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. Starting from humble beginnings I went onto co-run Australia’s most successful film production company during its heyday. We sold Australian films all over the world at a time you couldn’t give them away. Miramax, Paramount, Disney, J&M Entertainment, Skouras, Warners, etc. were just some of our buyers. Unfortunately a lot of people grew resentful of our success and worked against us. And then, left to our own devices, we became undone by the relentless pressure and massive responsibility to keep topping the last product and raising the bar amidst disappearing money.

All I learned from that is this, there is no formula for success. In fact every time something or someone succeeds it seems to be for a different reason. Is it destiny? Well, Bob Dylan once said that, before he wrote his first song, he just knew he was going to be the greatest. So I guess one of the ingredients is destiny.

What about timing? Certainly. The art of being in the right place at the right time. Would the Beatles have succeeded 10 years before? Or 10 years later? Probably not. They were of their time.

Luck? Yes, of course. But how much of our luck do we make? Sam Goldwyn once said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.” Perhaps luck is really the law of attraction. The Indians have an old wisdom, “The smile you send out returns to you.” So perhaps it’s true that if we want something bad enough and send out enough positive energy in that direction we are eventually rewarded. Albert Einstein agreed that “everything is vibrations.” We are an energy force and so is the world, so if we get our “vibrations” in synch, the doors to success open.

Art, and especially films and music, is about timing, vibrations and harmony. The Beach Boys once wrote a song about it. So is success about timing? Trust your instincts and don’t go against them or get talked into things that don’t feel right. The legendary Broadway director and writer Moss Hart once said, “I have succeeded many times and I have failed many times. Every time I succeeded it was for a different reason. Every time I failed it was for the same reason – I said yes when I meant no.” Learn to trust your instincts and to back them.

Discipline? You betcha. You’re not going to succeed if you can’t get out of bed in the morning. While you’re sleeping away your life the other guy is out there working on making his dream come true. Or stealing yours. What you put into something is what you get out of it.

I am blessed that creativity has been my life. It has not only been my love and joy but also my career. Looking back, I could not have wished for anything better.

(c) Frank Howson 2014

photograph by Gail Turner.

THE LOSS OF THINGS

The man came home to find that a water leak has soaked many of his things. He got that jolting feeling one gets when you think you’ve walked into a nightmare but instantly realize it’s all for real.

He then saw that most of his vinyl albums were seriously damaged and the covers, many of them signed by the artists themselves, were as much history as the memories.

Inside him the young boy that had excitedly bought these recordings, cried. But the old man standing here now looking at the damage stifled the urge to flinch. Instead he swallowed the pain like he’d swallowed most everything else in his life that he’d lost. Maybe the swallowing of pain explained his cracked voice. Perhaps it was the audible sound of a broken spirit.

Others were good at hiding the breakage. He wasn’t. He’d been stripped bare.

He knelt and went through the records one by one, assessing the loss. Each cover brought back old times and he tried to feel as dispassionate as he could; like that of a surgeon; or a lawyer. That’s right, take all emotion out of things until there is nothing to feel, that’s the secret, otherwise God will punish you for caring too passionately about such things. Isn’t it a commandment not to replace Him with false Gods?

Many of these recordings had inspired the man to become a part of the music industry. Some other damaged ones he’d later on even produced or written songs for. He’d always been proud of his name being on them. He used to, when he was young and naïve, excitedly point it out to people – until he realized some resented such success and the rest didn’t really care. Now he tried to join the latter throng in not caring.

He couldn’t help suspecting God had done this to him, and had many times in the past, to teach him the lesson that such things are not important. You come into this life with nothing and you leave with the same. The rest of the journey is preparing you for that reality.

What did it matter what was achieved? Pride was one of the seven deadly sins was it not?

Still, it would’ve been nice to have left some of these things to his son to prove that his father had done something. Anything. Proof of an existence.

He had lost people too, along the way. First his own dad, then his mother, then, for other reasons, his sisters. Then life took his son away to teach him the lesson that it is alright to love something, but you are damned if you love that thing too much.

He joked that he had no family anymore other than the family of man. But it was no joke. It was his way of saying something important without crying. Maybe that’s why his voice broke. It wasn’t his voice that the break was in, it ran much deeper than that.

Ah, there was the album the great Del Shannon had signed for him. Oh, how he loved Del. Some months after he’d signed it, Del killed himself just as he was about to make a huge comeback. Why? Was the pressure too great and Del felt things too deeply too? He didn’t know. He continued flicking his way through the records and the damaged memories.

A lot of people had stolen things from him. So much so that he was now too scared to show love for anything in case it was taken away. He felt parts of him were closing down in some weird kind of self-preservation. First his voice, now his heart.

Recently someone who’d professed to being his friend had stolen a framed program that Paul McCartney has signed. Paul had even personalized it by signing it “To….” for him. The ex-Beatle knew how much he’d meant to the recipient. Now it was gone. Why would anyone want something with someone else’s name on it? Even if Sir Paul McCartney did sign it? Perhaps the theft was intended to hurt. An act of envy. Or spite. Or bitterness.

Again, what did it matter? Everything goes, sooner or later. Then you go.

Quite a few women had gone too. He’d liked to say that they’d gone for various reasons but truth was, once the money ran out – so did they. The lesson, he thought, was make sure you fall in love when you’re both poor, at least then you’ll know it’s for real.

Oh, and if you find someone genuine out there, hang onto them with everything you have, they’re sure hard to find.

Some eventually give up looking. Even the most romantic amongst us learn to be still, sit tight, and watch the parade pass by.

He’d loved the circus as a child. One school holidays he’d gone to the circus with his mother and was so captivated, he found a way of sneaking back every day and seeing it all over again. Sometimes two shows a day. If you were small and walked in with everyone else it was possible to get in without paying and for a desperate boy on a zero budget, it was bliss. He loved the animals, especially the elephants, the trapeze artists gave him chills (and nightmares), and he laughed, along with everyone else, at the clowns. Even though they had painted upside down smiles on their faces, they gave everyone such joy with their foolish antics. Maybe that’s where he learnt to keep ’em laughing and you’d be loved.

He wondered how such a little amount of water could’ve done so much damage. The irony was not lost on him that water cleanses and washes away. And perhaps that is what happened. The past was slowly being taken away, drip by drip, from him and replaced with the here and now. So many things had been lost in the flood over the years it was too painful to contemplate.

It made you tough. Strong. Clean. And in a strange way, liberated.

Water also baptizes you and taketh away the sins of the world. Or so we’re indoctrinated.

All he knew was, there were no more records anymore. Symbolically, his record was clean. So he was free now to begin again.

Suddenly he felt like hearing the Beach Boys. Yeah, wouldn’t it nice?

(c) Frank Howson 2014