I have never been a birthday person.
I’m really not an event person. I try to live in the moment and have never been a fan of the singular focus of event moments. I love gatherings of people I like and love (and even people I don’t like much). I love the idea of a festival, where I can dive deep into cinema for days on end, falling in love and hate and meh. I love Oscar because it is the end of a very specific, ever-evolving process.
I like when events just happen. Seeing a great movie the first time becomes an event. Same with great television. Even bad live theater is an event because it only happens the way it happens in that moment. (Good is, obviously, good.)
I was born 315 days after Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
I am a child of that assassination. I am a child of a family that suffered its own holocaust a month after Kennedy’s assassination. I was conceived just days after that event occurred and joined my family just over 9 months later.
The Baby Boom is said to have ended in 1964. I say it ended on August 22, 1964… nine months from the day of Kennedy’s assassination. A couple months before my birthday.
I have lived my life on the cusp of that moment, not really a Boomer, not really Generation X, all my life. And I feel like this has defined me, this tweenness. I was raised by a man born in 1917, a woman born in 1932, with 2 sisters who are prime Boomers, born in 1948 and 1951. My third sister is, with me, in the tween, born on August 25, 1964.
When my father was born, in 1917, women did not yet have the right to vote in America. People of color were still living in a culture that treated them as 4th class citizens. His family had an icebox… literally a box for which a man brought a block of ice each week to keep it cold. Any phone call was placed by an operator (not that they had a phone in the home until he was in his 20s). Commercial flight had not yet started. Television did not exist. The first car he bought, with friends, was not a Model T… but was a Model A, the 2nd Ford model off the assembly line, which still needed to be cranked to start.
By the time I was born, all of that had changed forever or was in the midst of a generation of change.
I became a teen in the 70s, but too late to enjoy a moment when drugs and sex were thought to be consequence-free. The first of these Time covers below (note to Millennials and Gen Zs: The cover of Time Magazine used to be really important! Honest. Not making it up.) landed as I was packing for New York University. Living in Greenwich Village in New York, the second cover, July 1983, felt like foot-dragging when it landed. And the third, August 1985, was steps behind the daily life of downtown Manhattan.
Still, I danced at Studio 54… and Milk Bar and Danceteria and Limelight, but mostly The Palladium, which was resurrected as a mega-club and then closed and demolished 25 years ago. Sigh. Even my beloved BowlMor Lanes was demolished 8 years ago.
I was there for the birth of FOX, the last year of Dick Ebsersol’s version of SNL, Jim Henson’s amazing townhouse and creature shop and photo shop (before Photoshop), Letterman film specials, CDs when they were new tech, a Days of Our Lives NY honeymoon, off-Broadway as a child producer, a bloody effort at producing my first television series, the killing of a waterbed, the foot chase of a mentally ill person down 1st Avenue, love, loss, and so much more.
All that, more than 30 years ago.
A different life… but not.
When I look at my 12-year-old on my birthday, I realize that his life might well be that complex in his next couple decades. The relentlessness of youth. The focus on self over all else. It’s a feature, not a bug.
I got to Los Angeles during the Blockbuster era. VHS rentals. I lived around the corner from Tower Video, but it was The Blockbuster Era nonetheless.
The DVD era started on March 26, 1997 with the release of Twister. My first weekly column for roughtcut.com, The Whole Picture, started a couple months later (here’s the Wayback Machine version of that column).
It’s funny. Reading that first Whole Picture column seems so likeable to me… and so simplistic. If I could still write like that, this newsletter would be 10x more popular. Easy to digest. Glib. Not very challenging. Clev-ah.
25 years later and with a few edits and name changes, I could run that column today. Tom Cruise is hot again. Sorkin, Reiner, and Shaiman are still working. All the stuff I accuse the industry of doing is still being done.
Truth has taken even more of a beating since then. But it’s never really in fashion (like me).
I have always been drawn to doing what I think is not being done in the community at any given time. I won’t list all of my firsts in this segment of the industry… but year after year, whatever I tried that was new, others soon followed. And I soon abandoned.
It’s on me. Can’t really blame anyone else. Though I have it slammed in my face daily, I still will never understand the ambition to do more of what many others are doing. If a need is being met, great. What else is there to do?
This newsletter is something I had no interest in doing a few years ago. I didn’t just want to keep writing variations of what others were writing. I don’t mind competition. I mind repetition. Arguing is not very interesting (not that I don’t do it sometimes). Being the first to the top of that mountain didn’t require me trying to defend others from landing.
But things changed.
And as I enter my 59th year, I still love movies, I still love the film and television industry, I still miss the theater business (the soul of which is in NY), and I still see the world of this industry in a way I don’t see being expressed out there. There are some good, smart, earnest writers. But the entertainment journalism industrial complex is currently about selling something other than journalism and it gets harder and harder for voices seeking Truth to be heard over the din… the rewriting and publishing of what is, however hard the work of delivering it daily is, publicity.
In my tweenness, there is the irony that I love publicists… as a rule. Why? Because they are honest brokers of what they seek to achieve. Give me the salesman telling you they are going to convince you to buy the encyclopedias (Note to Millennials and Gen Zs: Encyclopedias were a series of, usually, 26 books which were the best way of getting information on a wide variety of subjects, back when we had books and no internet. They were expensive. And our parents showed their love by getting them for us, often on a payment plan. Yes, I am serious.) over someone claiming to be pure, assuring you that they are selling nothing and only are interested in your good fortune, all the while running a credit check to see how much they can get out of you.
25 years after my father’s passing, 108 years after his birth, Women and People of Color are still under attack by our own government, even though the majority of Americans want no such thing. We have refrigerators with elaborate computers and video screens running the show. Most people carry their phone with them and wouldn’t know how to find an operator… if any exist. You can fly to the ends of the earth on a moment’s notice and arrive in less than a day. And the world of entertainment has become astonishingly accessible, even as we all find ways to complain about the details.
And I am writing about this thing I love and have invested my adult life in, a tweener still, both inside and outside, your biggest fan and your most ardent detractor, thrilled to engage in an exchange of ideas while being unwilling to just print what I hear.
Thank you for joining me here, where every day is my birthday.
I'm about five weeks younger than you and can relate, albeit from a POV of growing up in Lexington, KY. I find myself identifying more as an X-er than a Boomer for the most part.
Thank you for your writing and voice.