The Top 10 Gangster Movie Roles of All Time

“As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster…”  Every gangster movie fan will recall that quote from the film Goodfellas delivered ominously by Ray Liotta.  American society’s  fascination with violence and power did not escape me as a child, and as far back as I can remember, I was always a fan of the Gangster movie genre.  I watched gangster movies so much as a kid, I felt like some of these characters actually resided with me in my living room, or could have been members of my family-La Colesa Nostra has a good ring to it don’t you think?  So I thought it was time to compile a top ten list of my favorite gangsters in cinema.  (Number one being my favorite, in descending order).  So ladies and gentlemen, I hope you brought your bullet proof flash drives with you and remember not to sit with your backs facing your web portal, because this could get ugly…

10.  Chazz Palminteri as Sonny LoSpecchio in A Bronx Tale:  Everything about Sonny is cool, from his suits, to the way he talks with his fingers, to the way he drives his car in reverse around the block.  I have to admit, I took my vehicle for a spin in reverse around a block or two after watching this movie over and over again.  Fortunately the police didn’t catch me acting out my gangster fantasies of being Sonny the mob boss in my 1994 Ford Escort Sport.  Those were the days, when I could follow Sonny’s advice about dumping a girl on the spot if she was too selfish to reach over and unlock my door from the inside after I extended the courtesy of opening and shutting her car door for her.  Now that philosophy is obsolete because of electric and remote access locks.  But one of Sonny’s maxims, “Sometimes hurting somebody ain’t the answer”  still rings true today, as he schools Calogero AKA “C” during his frustration over an attempt to collect $20 he lent to a friend of his.  Sonny tells him, “He’s outta your life for $20, you got off cheap, forget it,” after convincing C that violence is not necessary to solve such a small problem.  Who says gangsters can’t be diplomatic?

9.  Gregory Hines as Goldy in A Rage in Harlem:  The virtuoso of Tap dance scores big time in this mad rush for gold gangster story in which  Mississippi and New York mobsters clash over loot and booty.  One of the best chase scenes ever filmed features Gregory Hines’ Goldy dashing up flights of stairs, flying from roof top to roof top, and in and out of get-away-cars.  Goldy’s footwork is as fanciful as the real life Hines’ dance choreography and his timing with his gun as sharp as the moves he flashed on Broadway.  Any good crime and suspense drama is always enhanced by comic relief, and Goldy wisecracks with the best of them!  Never once is he fooled by a pretty smile or intimidated by an opponent, be it crook or copper.  The gold is what is eminent, hence the appropriate moniker – Goldy.  From his first appearance on screen, groovily strolling out of a ballroom where later Screamin’ Jay Hawkins will perform at the Annual Undertaker’s Ball, momentarily pausing to greet a pretty girl on the sidewalk, and seconds later warding off a mob boss, all within a couple of strides, Goldy makes a memorable impression.

8.  Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas: The character of Tommy is more like the Terminator than a button; a true maniac that somehow in his madness conjures up wit and charisma that makes you laugh seconds before or after he’s just totally annihilated somebody for no reason at all.  But I’m not going to lie.  If I had to go to war and I was in the trenches on a battlefield, there’s no doubt I would be calling Tommy to come to my aid.  This guy is a machine, a time bomb just waiting to explode.  Don’t ever remind him he used to shine shoes before he wore silk suits, forget to serve him a drink at a game of cards, or embarrass him in public.  Because if you do, believe me you’re asking for trouble…and lots of it!

7.  Tupac Shakur as Roland Bishop in Juice:  It’s been 19 years since Juice was released in theaters and I still haven’t forgiven Bishop for killing Raheem.  I mean everything was going as planned: they got in the store, they successfully held it up, they were on their way to proving they belonged in the same league as Radames, and then BANG!  Bishop becomes the neighborhood’s worst nightmare.  Q couldn’t even finish his set at the DJ contest with a clear conscious, and he had been waiting for that moment his whole life…Queen Latifah was hosting man!  But I thought Bishop was the definition of cool when I was a teenager: The Gumby box fade, the flowing hoody, the baggy jeans and boots, and the machine gun necklace charm.  Bishop turned me on to James Cagney movies like White Heat (“Made it ma, top of the world!”) and made being an outlaw look like a never ending adrenaline rush.  Tupac proved to be the quintessential artist, having certainly acquired his acting chops at the Baltimore School for the Arts as a teen.  As Bishop, he sums up his significance within his crew and in Hollywood with the now infamous line, “I’m the one ya’ll need to be worried about, partner!”  Classic!

6.  Calvin Lockhart as Silky Slim and Biggie Smalls in Uptown Saturday Night and Let’s Do it Again:  Both of these Sidney Poitier directed films starring him and Bill Cosby were second to none in my household growing up as a kid.  Calvin Lockhart’s portrayals are consistently as gangster as it gets and it’s difficult to choose one role over the other in each of the films, so I had to pair his characters together in the number 6 slot.  When Silky Slim holds up Madame Zenobia’s establishment, he delivers the smoothest line I’ve ever heard in my life.  With a machine gun clutched in his hands and mask over his face, he thanks the crowd for their cooperation by saying, “Never before have so few owed so much to so many.”  Whew!  It get’s even better in Let’s Do it Again when he and John Amos who, cast as Kansas City Mack, gets an honorable mention in this top ten list, go at each other’s throats over gambling territory in New Orleans, LA.  Lockhart’s Biggie Smalls (Yes that’s where The Notorious B.I.G. got his alias) is cooler than cool, with a gritty baritone voice best described as unearthly, and wardrobe including leather jackets, platforms and berets.  He looks like he could have just finished a set with Curtis Mayfield, who provides the masterful score for Let’s Do it Again, as he collects and pays off.

5.  Robert De Niro as Vito Corleone and Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather Part II:  Another tandem this time fills in the 5th spot on this list, appropriately so, as there is no way for me to choose between these two phenomenal actors portraying two memorable roles.  The Godfather Part II and it’s two main protagonists simply are a cut above most gangster films because of the way the past tale of Vito Corleone is intricately woven into the present story of Michael Corleone.  Vito’s rise to power is chronicled by his emergence as a man of the common people, standing up to tyranny and economic exploitation.  Michael is left to struggle with his own demons in his attempt to establish his family’s business as legitimate.  From Vito insisting a neighbor’s rent be reduced by a greedy landlord, to Michael’s chess match with hypocritical government representatives who rendezvous in fancy hotels with mistresses, the Corleone men aim to find their place in world full of deceit, tricks and lies.  And they do it often by making offers others seldom can refuse.

4.  James Cagney as Eddie Bartlett and Humphrey Bogart as George Hally in The Roaring Twenties:  The Depression era takes center stage in this gangster film where Eddie and George, former soldiers in World War I, find themselves interlocked in another war when they return home over bootlegging, prohibition.  If  you’ve  never seen this one, James Cagney’s Eddie Bartlett will dazzle you with right hand hooks that level two brutes with one punch, fits of controlled rage that leave pretend tough guys with their cigars smashed in their faces, and one of the best gangster end scene chase sequences of all time, probably only second to White Heat.  Humphrey Bogart’s George Hally is no slouch either, with an itchy trigger finger and dialing finger, never hesitating to put in his own work or telephone someone else to carry out his orders.  The two characters combine to produce something really special in this timeless tale of early 2oth century America.

3.  Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas in American Gangster:  I literally watched this movie every single time it was broadcast on HBO when it was first released on cable, for like three weeks, or so it seemed.  Wow!  I understand this was a biopic and horrible events occurred in the real life account of Frank Lucas, but didn’t Denzel make you want to fill out a job application for his organization in this one?  Maybe it’s just me, but I definitely wanted to go along on the ride to meet beautiful Puerto Rican beauty pageant winners, sit ringside at heavy weight championship bouts, fly to Vietnam and tell kingpins and warlords, uninvited, that I didn’t need anyone’s permission to run my own business in the states, and hold serve in a game reserved for Anglo Saxons and Italians.  This character was some sort of three-part Molotov cocktail made up of politics, entrepreneurship, and racketeering.  And he knew how to properly maintain carpet, as he emphatically reminded us when his was stained during a party, to use club soda and blot…never rub!

2.  Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction:  “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.  Blessed is he who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness.  For he is truly his brother’s keeper and the finder of lost children.  And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers.  And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”  -Jules Winnfield.  Um…Mr. scary  hit man with the curly afro who just ate my Big Kahuna burger and drank my Sprite, I know I offended your boss and that I am guilty.  But could you please just have mercy on me and kill me without reciting that Bible scripture first, because, I’ve never heard such a frightening thing!  I think that’s how I would have responded to Jules Winnfield’s soliloquy if I was Brett, the victim, right after I lost control of my bodily fluids, and in between my tears and snotty, running nose.  I honestly don’t know of a scarier hit man in the movies than Jules, who is more like a wandering philosopher.  One minute he has me cracking up with laughter, the next minute contemplating miracles, and the next, double checking to make sure my door is locked.  And no gangster has ever had better hair, period.

And the number 1 gangster movie role of all time is (drum roll please)…James Caan as Santino “Sonny” Corleone in The Godfather:  I believe, way down in my heart, that as a child, I was immediately traumatized when I saw Sonny mowed down like wheat in a field at that tollbooth.  At that young tender age, I knew nothing about stunts, special effects, blank ammunition, and fake blood.  All I knew was that my hero, who saved Rocky Balboa’s wife Adrian (Talia Shire) from a physically abusive husband Carlo, by giving him the ass whipping of his life, which included punches to his face, knees to his midsection, biting his knuckles, and hitting him with his own shoe, a garbage can, the lid of the garbage can, and finally kicking him into a spewing fire hydrant, was just shot with a zillion bullets.  I honestly thought it was real the first time I saw it.  What are we going to do about this, I wondered?  Is there anyone we can report this to or can we just take up arms to avenge this?  I was ready to go after those thugs, even if it meant something bad might happen to me, like getting punched or having my toys stolen or something.  But anyone who can hand out a beat down like the one Sonny, my all time favorite cinematic gangster, gives Carlo, and do it without their loose tie strung around the collar of their shirt falling off, has to be the greatest of all time.

© 2011


Wolverines, Buckeyes and the Fighting Irish: A Lifetime of Football Memories

As a kid, I grew up a Michigan fan.  My father is from Ypsilanti, MI, which is just about 10 miles east of Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan is located.  When I was a teenager, my dad along with my older cousin Jim took me, my brother Wes, and my younger cousin Brad to Michigan Stadium one afternoon and we walked onto the field, the five of us, by ourselves.  There was no one else in the stadium, except for a few university staff members.  It was such an exhilarating feeling to be on the same field that I had seen countless times over the course of my young life, watching all the great Michigan players of the day; like Jamie Morris, my favorite running back of all time, and Jim Harbaugh, my favorite quarterback.  I remember running on that field from one end zone to the other, and nearly passing out afterwards, not realizing just how gigantic it really was.  That was one of the most memorable days of my life as a kid.  So Saturday when Michigan edged rival Notre Dame in the first ever night game in Michigan Stadium 35-31, on a 16 yard touchdown pass from Denard Robinson to Roy Roundtree with 2 seconds left on the clock, I couldn’t help but reminisce.  Sportscaster Brent Musburger called Saturday’s game “an instant classic,” and it was, in every since of the word.  The only thing missing was Keith Jackson.

However, my fellow sports fans, you’ve only heard part of the story.  You see my mother was born in Columbus, OH, home of the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Poor mom.  She lived in a home with three wolverines.  She cooked for her little wolverines, fed them, bathed them, cleaned up after them, read to them, nurtured them, and then every year in November they turned on her, and devoured her.  At least some Novembers they devoured her, when Michigan beat Ohio State.  Those late fall Saturday afternoons when the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines, she had the last laugh, turning into her version of Brutus Buckeye (The official mascot of OSU), and rubbing her victory into our faces.  It takes a strong woman to stand up to the constant harassment and torture we boys inflicted on  her because of her allegiance to the Scarlet and Gray; her only allies being her sister Theresa and nephew P.J. who were also Buckeye fans.  But they lived in Virginia.  As far as us men were concerned, the homestead was Maize and Blue territory.  Trespassers beware!

I vowed to stay a Michigan fan, despite my mother giving birth to me in that hospital 34 years ago in Columbus, and I was successful in doing so until I attended Eastern Michigan University; my father’s alma mater.  When the other college kids found out I was from Ohio, they engaged in a smear campaign to defame my reputation, calling me every foul name they could think of, and hurling insults and jokes at me unrepentantly.  I was an outcast.  So I decided to fight back.  For the first time ever in my life, at the age of 22, I purchased my very first piece of Ohio State apparel; a scarlet baseball cap with a gray O on the front.  From then on, I would be proud of my Buckeye heritage.  I even rooted for the Bucks on occasion that season, despite feeling a slight sting of guilt, never having before gone against my beloved Wolverines.  What anguish!  What torment!  The remorse was overpowering and I soon found myself in a confused state, much like leaving a lover for another woman, only to wonder in the midnight hours of my solitude if I  had made the right decision?

And then there was that other team in the Midwest that I had not yet sorted out my feelings about.  Of course, as a youth I hated Notre Dame.  How can you blame me after Raghib “The Rocket” Ismail broke my heart in 1989 with those two kick off returns for touchdowns?  How could he do that to me?  Didn’t he know I was only 12 years old and psychologically unable to process such bitter disappointment?  I didn’t heal from that heartbreak until two years later when Desmond Howard struck his foreshadowing Heisman Trophy pose in the end zone after returning a kick for a touchdown against Ohio State.  Two long years later!  Nevertheless, something deep down inside me always admired those Fighting Irish guys from Indiana.  Maybe it was their fight song, which, along with OSU and U of M’s, certainly rank at the top of the list in all of collegiate sports.  Maybe it was the cartoon like Leprechaun mascot?  Maybe it was the Irish roots on my mother’s side beckoning me to root for the Blue and Gold?  Whatever it was, it’s still inside me, daring me to give in to the taboo.

So this season, I’m going to commit the unthinkable; root for Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame at the same time.  After all, I’m an American.  And what is America I ask you?  America is a melting pot.  So why shouldn’t my interest in football reflect the diversity of this great nation.  I’m going to sing “Hang on Sloopy” from the depths of my guts when the Buckeyes take the field.  I’m going to Hail the Victors when the Wolverines prevail.  And I’m going to do my best to “win one for the Gipper” while sitting on my couch in front of the television, and cheer for the Fighting Irish.  I’m just a little worried that things could get rather expensive when I visit the Sports Fan-Attic store in the mall…and that I might get beat up for saying this.

© 2011

Where Were You On September 11, 2001? (Remembering 9/11)

Tuesday September 11, 2001, started out like any other day of the week for me.  I got up, ate breakfast, got dressed, hopped in my car and headed to work.  At the time, I was employed with a rental car business located in downtown Columbus, OH.  After clocking in on my green screen computer terminal, I began performing my normal job duties which usually included assisting customers who were either returning their rental vehicles or stopping in to pick up a car on reserve, handling financial transactions, answering the telephone to schedule reservations and prepping automobiles scheduled to go out later for the day.  Then, along with a couple of co-workers, I jumped in a rental with my clipboard, ball point pen and customer contract in hand, and proceeded to drive to a nearby body shop to meet a customer who had arranged for delivery service while their damaged vehicle would be repaired over the course of the next 1-2 weeks.  On the way to the body shop I was still groggy, trying to wake up (I’m not a morning person at all) and desperately hoping the day would fly by, thinking that this would be just another run of the mill, typical, uneventful, boring day at work.  How wrong I turned out to be!

We always listened to Howard Stern on the radio at work and this day was no different.  So when the brash, outspoken and often controversial yet always entertaining radio personality began reporting about a huge explosion involving a plane flying into a building in New York City, we took it for nothing more than some elaborate practical joke meant to distract us from our rat race existence.  But as the broadcast continued, it became evident that this was not a joke and certainly no one was laughing.  This was real.  Something horrible was taking place and everyone began to wonder aloud.  The questions began to swirl: Was this an accident?  Was this intentional?  Is it an attack?  Are we going to war?  How could this happen?  We still didn’t have a clear idea of exactly what had transpired when we arrived at the body shop, but as soon as we pulled into the parking lot, we all ran inside to see if anyone had any more information.  Unfortunately, the collision center did not have a television and we were left to sort out the rumors amongst ourselves and the auto workers who had also been listening to the radio news reports.

It wasn’t until maybe an hour later, and after the second plane had crashed into the other tower, when I delivered another rental car, this time to a customer waiting at an automobile dealership on the city’s east side, that I was able to watch a television broadcast and view those horrific images.   I couldn’t believe what I was seeing with my own eyes.  It was like watching a trailer from an action/adventure movie with the latest digital special effects; surreal.  Everyone sat in the lobby in complete disbelief and shock, watching and waiting to see if the towers would be able to withstand such a huge impact to their structural foundations.

When I drove back to the office, we got word from our management that for the rest of the day we would be shuttling vehicles from our office and the other offices around the city straight to the airport for customers to rent since all flights had been suspended.  I can remember the frustration of all those people stuck at their plane terminals, trying to figure out how they were going to get home.  It was complete chaos and no one knew exactly what was going on.  People began to panic, understandably so, and it was literally a free for all, a first come first served scenario, as everyone in the airport made a beeline to the rental car desks.  I don’t recall how many trips we made around the Interstate 270 beltway that loops around the metropolitan Columbus, OH, area that day in route to rental car offices and the airport, but it seems like it was continuous for the latter part of the morning and entire afternoon.

Near the end of the day, I had one last delivery to make on the south end of town.  I was very eager to finish up my shift so I could go home and watch the news uninterrupted.  I shook hands with my customer after we finished our business, and dashed down Parsons Avenue in a rush to get back to the office and clock out.  I passed a gas station and it had been completely destroyed.  Apparently the owners, as many did across the nation, decided to take advantage of the tragedy that had taken place in our country, and raised the price of gasoline to over $5.00 a gallon.  Apparently the blue collar, hardworking good folks of Columbus’ south side decided that the gas station’s actions were quite un-American and rioted!  Glass was shattered everywhere.  There were broken bottles, trash and debris all over the parking lot, which by that time was deserted.  The pumps appeared to be shut down and there wasn’t a person in sight.  It looked like a scene from Spike Lee’s  film Do the Right Thing after Mookie through a garbage can through Sal’s Famous Pizzeria’s front window.  I wonder how long it took the owners to clean that mess up?

Every generation  has its defining moment in history where they look back in time and ask the question, “Where were you when _______ happened?”  (Fill in the blank)  In the decades to come, Americans will undoubtedly continue to ask that question; where were you?  Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor?  Where were you when you heard about the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X?  Where were you when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded?  Where were you on 9/11?  So I guess it’s only fitting to end this article appropriately by asking you, the reader, where were you on September 11, 2001?

© 2011

“She’s Gay?” The Night Homophobia Almost Ruined The Color Purple Musical

“She’s Gay?”  The words penetrated my concentration like a linebacker through an offensive line hell-bent on sacking the quarterback on a Sunday afternoon.  There I was, enjoying a production of Oprah Winfrey’s The Color Purple musical at the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts, in downtown West Palm Beach, FL, when a fellow theatergoer sitting amongst us in the loge couldn’t help himself but blurt out his thoughts for all to hear.  Obviously, he was taken aback by the scene he had just witnessed in which Celie and Shug Avery shared affection.  Obviously, he hadn’t read the book written by Alice Walker.  Perhaps he had seen the movie?  What followed his short two word utterance was abhorrent.

Apparently, he and several other people thought what he had just said was the funniest thing they’d ever heard.  His unfortunately timed question was met with uproarious laughter that ushered in what would turn out to be three to five minutes of wholly unacceptable behavior for the theater.  The laughing splintered off into annoying fits of giggles, chuckles, snickers and shrieks.  What must have been the more mature persons in their group then resorted to “shooshes” in order to extinguish the fire of hee-hawing rapidly spreading from their row into the next.  Regrettably, the noise was so disturbing that the dialogue of the actors was completely drowned out for us to hear.

Now if this were to happen at a movie theater, as it did when I went to see Eddie Murphy’s version of The Nutty Professor back in 1996, I would be more forgiving.  Why?  Because I paid $10 for a movie ticket and, yes, Eddie Murphy is the funniest comedic genius to appear since Richard Pryor.  He’s supposed to make us laugh and fall out of our chairs and miss parts of the dialogue because of his humor; and he did.  But when I pay $62.00 to go to the theater every once or twice a year (because that’s as often as I can afford to go), dammit, I expect quiet from the opening scene until just before the curtain call.  Sure, occasional clapping and appropriate laughter is expected to show the cast your appreciation and support, but not to the extent where a whole portion of the drama is lost upon the audience.

But I fear the brunt of this rude awakening I experienced that night was not the face of immaturity, or a lack of theater decorum.  I’m afraid homophobia, once again, reared its ugly face in our divided society.  It could be that this young man, cursed with impetuous speech, was just so enthralled with the musical that he simply forgot he was in a theater surrounded by people hanging on every word spoken and lyric sung by the awesome cast.  Yet, the emphasis he put on the word “gay” was so accented in a manner that overwhelmingly hinted at his disapproval of what he had just seen.  And, really, the scene was more about the importance of being loved, accepting love, and feeling loved than anything else.  That Celie’s love was given to her by Shug Avery, another woman, shouldn’t matter because here was a woman who was raped, beaten, and abused for the better part of her life.  Her children were taken from her and the only other person who ever loved her, Nettie her sister, was also forced out of her life.  So when Shug and Celie embrace each other, kiss one another, and experience the ultimate intimacy that lovers share, her wounds are healed.

I am not naive to the point to think that a drama of this level of excellence and literary sophistication as The Color Purple is, will be objectively entertained by all who encounter it; especially those who are more conservative in their thinking.  Such open and honest expressions of sexuality are not everyone’s cup of tea.  But on behalf of civilized lovers of art and theater around the globe, please keep your antiquated, pre 21st century, divisive, stereotypical, close-minded, rude comments to yourself the next time you are in the theater…at least until the show is over.  Then by all means, feel free to be as ignorant as you so desire; to your little heart’s content, in utilizing your right of free speech.  Because, of course, this is America!

© 2011

Waiting for Jesus

Waiting for Jesus is Timothy Thomas’ latest book, exploring a scenario in which Jesus Christ appears to unsuspecting residents of an urban city.  The epic poem features every character you would expect to find in a great crime/suspense novel: A prostitute, pimp, thief, homeless man, drug-addicted married couple, and police officer.  But what sets the book apart from the typical inner city vice drama (other than Satan cast as the antagonist), is the dialogue which accomplishes the very arduous task of presenting the central figure of Jesus Christ in a present day situation.

Poverty takes center stage as the ravenous swallower of hopes and dreams when Old Lazarus reveals how he became a homeless man.  “‘If you be Jesus, then you know already’, Lazarus replied, ‘how I been to the very top, had money, power, all the things that this ignorant pimp would show, but my whole world came to a stop when my wife and my children died…'”  It was not long ago that I was at a gas station filling up my tank when a man, looking half crazed and unkempt, pulled his vehicle along side mine to let the horses under his hood also drink.  As he pumped gas into his car, he was talking to himself in a cryptic manner, searching for a clarity that seemed elusive and unattainable.  He turned to me and began to talk about IBM and the stock market.  He asked me questions that I couldn’t answer.  I smiled politely.  Most of us are one paycheck away from becoming homeless ourselves, and this man looked as if he could have been on the streets.  But as Thomas’ poem reminds us, homeless people aren’t just bums, they’re people with stories.

And Messiahs aren’t just holy men; they’re divine beings ready to listen to our stories.  They even have a sense of humor and appreciation for festivities, as is the case when Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding in the Bible.  But present day Jesus miraculously fills Old Lazarus’ beer bottle with the ‘finest ale’ in this story.  The ale is passed around the cast of characters as they try to work through their grievances and solve the neighborhood’s ills, much like the Beer Summit that was held at the White House at President Barack Obama’s behest to iron out differences between police sergeant James Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.  What’s better than listening to the savior of humanity preach on love and peace with a frosty mug in your hand?  Lord turn my hatred into forgiveness…and I’ll have a Great Lakes Eliot Ness draught please!

The narrative takes a turn for the prophetic when Old Lazarus expresses his gratification for the miracle he’s just witnessed; “‘Why, this is finer than the best of ales I have tasted before…I think that I will share the rest, to let these others bridge that fiord, finding their way to your true door…'”  Jesus’ benevolence leads in turn to Old Lazarus’ generosity in sharing his drink with his neighbors.  Check out the word that Lazarus uses to describe the gap that exists between humanity and divinity; fiord.  The word fiord is Norwegian in origin.  It is a timely metaphor considering what happened in Norway just last month in July, when a gunman horrifically massacred scores of young people.  Can we not make a bridge out of compassion to extend over the waters of separation to arrive at what Lazarus calls the “true door” of Christ?  And what more is that true door than love?

Nikos Kazantzakis’ examination of the duel nature of Jesus was brought to the silver screen in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (Titled after Kazantzakis’ novel).  Though controversial, the film allowed us to see what it would have been like for Jesus to experience humanity in all it’s complexity; from lust to longing, from fear to betrayal.  Timothy Thomas’ Waiting for Jesus similarly is calling out for a director, perhaps a short film director, to give this cast of characters a third dimension in which to arrive at resolution.  His Jesus is just as tormented by the suffering of humanity, and just as driven to show us the way.  And for this reason, Waiting for Jesus is more than worth the short time it takes to download.

© 2011

Looney Tunes, Charleston Tune

Before SpongeBob worked at the Krusty Krab, flipping Krabby Patties for the tenaciously tight-fisted Eugene Krabs; before Yo Gabba Gabba’s DJ Lance Rock in his apricot-orange drum major-like ensemble teamed up with Biz Markie; before Dora the Explorer commanded Swiper, “No Swiping;” there was Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Foghorn Leghorn, Porky Pig, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, and a host of other memorable, loveable characters, better known as Looney Tunes.  On Saturday mornings at 11:30am, my brother and I would dash into the living room after hearing the familiar Looney Tunes anthem, announcing the start of the show.  Back then, we only had 5 channels: NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS (Mom and Dad watched that channel most of the time.  Us boys only watched it eons ago when Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood were cool.  Later, Kid ‘n Play had a cartoon show and so did Pee-Wee Herman.), and a relatively new channel called Fox.  Looney Tunes aired on CBS and, for an entire hour, we would laugh ourselves silly watching these characters act, well, for a lack of a better word, loony.

What’s funny is that Looney Tunes were not even created for our generation.  My parents had grown up watching those same cartoons.  Don’t get me wrong, my brother and I cracked up watching our fair share of Shirt Tales, Captain Caveman and Space Ghost Coast to Coast.  But nothing tickled our funny bones quite like seeing Wile E. Coyote blow himself up repeatedly with the latest ACME rocket, hopelessly trying to catch up with the Road Runner.

This was a day before cartoons were politically correct.  Today, parents would be in an uproar if the Backyardigans blasted each other in the face with a double barreled shotgun the way Elmer Fud discharged hunting ammunition into Daffy Duck’s bill.  Even I cringe now as an adult when I see Slowpoke Rodriguez, the cousin of Speedy Gonzales, trudging toward the refrigerator to get himself something to eat.  In one episode titled Mexican Boarders, due to his lethargic pace, Speedy intervenes by rapidly bringing him a handful of cheese, only to be met by Slowpoke’s slightly ungrateful observation that he’s forgotten the Tabasco sauce, spoken in broken English.  (Thank goodness the Black Mammy from Tom and Jerry never made her way into a Looney Tunes episode.  At least not to my recollection anyway?)

Nevertheless, despite the overt violence and subtle racism, the Looney cast kept us in stitches.  One of the things we loved most about the cartoons was the musical score that accompanied them.  Songs that were written in the early 20th century provided the melodies that filled our household with light hearted singing and jolly, playful dancing while we watched these shows.  In the episode titled Tree for Two Sylvester the Cat finds himself in a panicky situation.  Spike the Bulldog, the meanest, toughest, gruffly dog on the block and Chester the Terrier, Spike’s pint-sized fellow canine loyalist, encounter Sylvester in their search of a cat to beat up.  Sylvester is minding his own business and singing the lyrics from the song Charleston when he rounds the corner of a fence to find Spike and Chester waiting for him.  Sylvester is so seized with fear that he does an immediate about-face, backtracks around the fence, still chanting the lyrics to the song in intermittent, unintelligible groans; “Ch-ch-ch-charleston, Charleston….”

We loved that cartoon and we loved that song!  We would sing it around the house in a silly mood, strutting like Sylvester, “Charleston, Charleston, Made in Carolina, Some dance, Some prance, I’ll say, There’s nothing finer than the Charleston, Charleston, Lord how you can shuffle…”  What I didn’t know until recently, was that this song Charleston was written by Cecil Mack and James P. Johnson, both African- Americans.

Interestingly enough, in 1921 another team of African-American artists, Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle teamed up to write, direct, and star in the first musical produced by African-Americans.  The show was titled Shuffle Along, and featured a tune they co-wrote called I’m Just Wild About Harry, a number which made its way into the famous Looney Tunes cartoon staring the renowned singing frog, and incidentally, a tune which was revised and subsequently used in the campaign to elect Harry Truman as President of the United States.  Go figure!

So parents, the next time your children go skipping down the halls of your home, humming some song they learned from a cartoon on a Saturday morning (Well actually, it could be any old day of the week now a days), don’t just write them off as mindlessly being hypnotized by anime.  It could be that they’re getting a history lesson in a time capsule, to be opened, understood, and treasured decades from now.

© 2011