Letters From the J. Crew Dude, Part 3 — The Conclusion

To those readers who have not read Part 1 and Part 2 of Letters From the J. Crew Dude, I strongly urge you to do so before you read Part 3. You will understand the overall flow and have a greater sense of the psychology of the Dude and why it ends the way it does.

If you cannot hold back and want to dive headlong into Part 3, then here is a brief recap of the real life origins of Letters. When my wife and I first started dating, she met this guy in a bar. They chatted in an innocuous way and he claimed to be a model. She didn’t believe him, and told him so, then later saw him in one of my J. Crew catalogs. I was inspired to create a story line that this guy was infatuated with my wife, and insanely jealous of me. I wrote a series of imaginary letters to my wife (with cutouts of the actual J. Crew Dude). The Letters here are based on those actual letters. A fuller explanation is found at the beginning of Part 1.

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Dear Lady of My Dreams,

This is the last letter you will Ever receive from me. You will have to savor it, and it alone. There, the truth sits before us, like a chained barge in the river Thames.

It has been awhile since our, or rather, my last communication. No doubt you noticed I was not in the last several editions of the J. Crew catalog. And naturally you wondered about me. Many do, I often wonder about myself.

img291Anyhow, I am with a new brand: I’m Mr. London Fog now! It’s foggy, it’s so Sherlock Holmes…the pints of ale, the soccer violence – it’s invigorating! No more dopey clambakes in Bangor, no more Telluride fake snowball fights in damaging UV ray sunshine…I’m all international sophistication and polish now, all about those black cabs driven by toothless dudes with cockney accents. London is a city of dignity, and unlike Miami, nobody wears thongs at dinner, mainly because it’s too cold, but even if it was warmer nobody would because all Londonites have attended posh schools where manners were taught and lesson one was: Don’t sit your bum down for dinner if it is only covered by dental floss!

No, no…do not think Mature. London Fog is Sophisticated. All sophisticated international people wear proper outerwear when weather conditions are inclement, while J. Crew buying Americans pour beer over their naked, green-painted selves at subzero football games. Over here hooligans at sporting events might trample each other to death but they wear sensible and chic outerwear when doing so.

That is Beatrice in the ad with me. Never believe a word from her. The water was not, as she claimed, a warm 68 degrees, and she did not throw that flotation device to help me, or pay me my 5 pounds in hypothermic dare money. Don’t challenge her to a pub crawl either. She stores alcohol in her giant ears and will stand over you and laugh as you wallow helplessly on the pavement.

I’ve moved on to a new brand, and to be perfectly frank, I have moved on from you. Not because of your consistent lack of reply to my letters, but because, in every way in my new life, I’m in a different place. A jolly good place!

So I bid you, as they say over here, good day.

This is it. You blew it. Goodbye.

No more.

Bye.

– J. Crew Dude

______________

(1 week later)

Dear Lady (no longer of My Dreams),

I must make one thing clear, just for posterity, and that is the sole reason for this contact. So please, do not read anything into this communication (certainly no subtext regarding my feelings).

I will reveal an important truth to you, but only with assurance I can keep the matter strictly in your confidence. Do you promise? Very well. After I reveal the hellish nightmare I endured at the worst, most brutal, photo shoot ever, which taxed my physical and spiritual limits, you will agree with me that I had no choice but to leave J. Crew!

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We travel now to the marshy hell of the Everglades. Sebastion’s insistence I wear an insulated swamp jacket for three hours to get this shot was my first indication that the top J. Crew brass had changed their feelings about me.

Is that the Volga boatman there, or a simple janitor? No, it’s me!… stirring muck. Gee, I wanna buy that swamp jacket because wearing it I can stick poles in the mud! Unspeakable gases were released from my poling, so sickening and putrid my female compatriot is turning her head. Only my consummate professionalism prevented me from barfing into the gatormobile.

img292_2Yes, live gators inhabit this ecosystem, which made it all the more galling and cruel when I was forced into this vessel, a “canoe.” There’s a reason even Indians phased this one out, a modern development called “stability” which solves the “capsize” and “drowning” problems. So there I was, in a blue chamois and striped waffle t-shirt, up to my elbows in marsh fleas, at the whims of the tide, man-eating reptiles thunking against the gunwales. There’s a reason I’m on my knees: I’m praying to Annie Leibovitz that my inner terror will not interfere with chamois shirt sales.

Don’t even ask me what this shot is selling, besides humiliation and a sympathy for img292political prisoners. It is called the Feet in Bucket While Sitting on a Hard Metal Thingy in Your Undies torture and a special session of the United Nations banned it. Two hours to get this gem? Sebastion, you evil shit, you were unable to crack me. I stuck my damn feet in that bucket and sold those undies because I am a Pro. But J. Crew’s message to me was clear so I quit.

I’m free from my tormentors, and with a more sophisticated brand.

So, with that bit explained…a final goodbye to you.

It is done.

Over.

– J. Crew Dude

__________________

(3 days later)

Dear Lady of My Dreams,

My confusion and sobbing, my lack of enthusiasm for the application of skin care products, the watching of Lifetime movies… it can only mean something powerful and transformative is going on inside me. Personal development! I’ve been doing introspection! Not thinking about how wonderful I am, but about how I might actually be flawed, or may even be — oh God, the pain – a Jackass.

Honesty! This self-actualization process has raised my level of consciousness until I am now capable only of total Honesty. I now know how Lincoln felt! I will admit this to you: J. Crew let me go. They fired me! Newer, younger dudes with no crow’s feet and more energy for youthful romping have taken my place in the catalogs.

Why has the sun forsaken me? People over here live inside a grey cloud and have no tanning beds. London Fog is a damn rain jacket. It’s for old grey dudes who shuffle off to old grey offices. It’s a cavernous rain tarp, meant to cover every ugly inch of the old man inside. I’ve fallen down in this world. The pretty face ain’t pretty enough anymore!

But from pain comes knowledge. Here’s another advanced, mature person concept I have learned about: Humility. I now understand that my great success turned me into a bloated egotistical monster. I have Matured, and finally I have gotten over myself. I have not been eating Shepherd’s Pie in dear old London town, but the bitter sweet taste of Humble Pie. All those unanswered letters!… It was your way of forcing me to find myself, to get real in my life.

I’ve done it! My ego is gone, wiped totally clean. You crafty, lovely temptress! It was your plan all along. So congratulations.

Now I’m ready for you.

I’ve earned your return letter!

And I eagerly await it.

– J. Crew Dude

_______________

 (1 day later)

Dear Lady of My Dreams,

img293I realize I’m going out of turn here, and you’re likely in mid sentence penning your congratulations to me on my personal development, but the fact that both JC Penny and TJ Maxx have made calls to my agent is kind of a huge deal.  So naturally I’m telling you because I’m sure you agree.

The old me would have gloated that I was back on top, and made a lot of noise about being the face of a billion dollar industry, etc., but not this time. I will merely note for the record that I’m likely back in the American casual wear game.

Don’t count out the old Pro just yet. I’ve got snowflake sweaters and tartan flannel boxers and classic chinos still to sell!

But enough about me.

Now it’s your turn!

Go ahead.

– J. Crew Dude

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“The Spectacular Now” and the New Era of Coming-of-Age Movies

This summer has seen the collapse of mega-budget blockbuster special effects movies such as “Pacific Rim,” “The Lone Ranger” and “After Earth.” The computer generated mega-destruction has been exposed to be as boring and predictable as last year’s video game spinoffs. Thankfully, into this vacuum comes a group of intrepid directors and screenwriters who have dared to produce original movies with real characters that real people can relate to.

 

The strength of coming-of age movies, when done well, is that they combine hilarious entertainment with emotionally moving depictions of a time of life when there is a newness to experience which can be quite intense. The reason John Hughes movies such as “Breakfast Club,” “Pretty In Pink,” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and other films such as “Say Anything” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” dominate the nightly TV channel guides, is that they are honest stories with live beating hearts, stories about people who are easy to relate to. Everyone has memorably suffered in high school or is doing so right now. The poignancy of first loves, first drinks, and first jobs transcends generations. Coming-of-age movies provide an inspirational life line and have impact, the way a generation of women can recite Molly Ringwald’s famous words from “Pretty in Pink:” “I just want them to know they didn’t break me.”

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The freshly released “The Spectacular Now” is a coming-of-age movie based on a Tim Tharp novel. The adaptation by screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber sets a firm narrative foundation. Directed by talented director James Ponsoldt, it is a deeply moving story with acting performances that are no less than spectacular. Sutter Keely, played by actor Miles Teller, is a charismatic though underachieving young man who is pushed to face his personal fears. Sutter is Lloyd Dobler for the Millennial Generation, but with an enthusiasm for alcohol rather than kick-boxing. Teller proves to be a suave and sympathetic leading man who is convincing both in the “perfection” of his party down life and his troubled depths. Miles Teller deserves entry into the gallery of great coming-of-age performances alongside John Cusak, Andrew McCarthy and Sean Penn.

 

Shailene Woodley, an actress with a knack for generating interest even when she isn’t speaking, is mesmerizing as Sutter’s girlfriend. Shot entirely in Athens, Georgia on a small budget, “The Spectacular Now” achieves some amazing results. Kyle Chandler (of Friday Night Lights fame) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Fast Times”) are memorable as Sutter’s father and mother. The movie slowly sucks you in as things get more adult and serious, then heads into a dramatic conclusion.

 

The Way, Way Back,” also released recently, is the creation of screenwriters/directors Unknown-2Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who were last seen winning an Oscar for “The Descendants.” The hero of this film is Duncan, a classic suffering 14-year-old played ably by Liam James. His stooped shoulders and pained facial expression exude teen angst. While on summer vacation he is tormented by his mom’s boyfriend, a cruel anti-father figure played by Steve Carell. He finds relief at Water Wizz, a water park run by slick older guys, including Sam Rockwell, who mix ribbing with attempts to help fatherless Duncan learn some skills. The horrors of self-obsessed adults whose parenting skills go no further than their egos are on display here. The dialogue is hilarious and sharp, mixing heartfelt emotion with belly laughs. It will remind you of Bill Murray’s best work with Ivan Reitman, such as “Stripes” and “Meatballs.”

 

Unknown-3The screenwriting team of Neustadter and Weber also wrote “The Kings of Summer,” which was released in May. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the movie follows three teenage boys who are bored with video games and frustrated by their overbearing parents. To escape they construct a ramshackle house in the woods and resolve to “be their own men.” Vogt-Powell adds strong and surprising visuals from Ohio suburbs and woodlands. The recent phenomenon of kids who won’t leave home is given a twist. These boys get the courage to leave, and though determined, they find independence more elusive than they imagined. Using lots of light-hearted charm and humor, the movie still raises valuable questions about modern masculinity. Is it possible to be a King anymore?

 

I can personally vouch for “The Spectacular Now,” “The Kings of Summer” and “The Way, Way Back” as great movies and I want to endorse them to my readers and to fans of The Pursuit of Cool. You’ll love them, so go see them in theatres now!

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On Sunsets and the Importance of Hanging Around

I have a thing about dusk, my favorite time of day, and sunsets. I think sunsets are nature’s most exquisite art. They never fail to put me in a relaxed state of awe. They are never the same, even second by second during the same sunset. The clouds, the color, the intensity…they keep shifting.

It’s weird how things happen. Moment by moment, we decide what to do, making our best guesses, using our intuition (or not), or maybe we are just caught up in events. We do the things we do and there is no way to tell what would or would not have happened if we had made different choices. At any given time, it seems so easy to do any number of things as the next thing. But there can be only one thing.  And that is the thing. Forever.

A couple weeks ago I was at the Huntington Beach pier with my wife. It was late, almost 7:00 pm. A rolling cloud layer had been overhead most of the day, and at sunset the sun was peeking around the far edges of this smothering gray mass of clouds.

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The sunset did not seem promising. The clouds were winning. In fact, it looked like a bust. We were both starved, just about to drop, and agreed it was time to go and get food.

And then we didn’t move for ten minutes. Maybe the gyration of ocean waves smacking against the pier’s pillars had lulled us. Maybe we were just lazy.

“Let’s go!” we both said, holding our stomachs. We took ten steps and then found our elbows on the railing again. The sun was about to drop into a window. Over the next fifteen minutes it worked itself into this slot. Bright orange fire poured through, like a flashlight through a window. As it sank lower, the clouds over our heads became under lit and infused with an amazing purple. The pier was a lit studio.

We took another ten steps and stopped. The purple turned into blue, then green, as we half-heartedly reaffirmed we had to do dinner. We lingered around some fisherman holding rods. Finally the sky became brighter, a turn up on the dimmer switch, as everything was painted an otherworldly neon pink. It was one of the most sublime and satisfying sunsets I have seen.

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Androids and iPhones were lifted into the air and aimed with extended arms along the pier. All people who had to stop and look.  Suddenly, the sunset was heavily trending in photos and videos.

We were so stunned we couldn’t talk. Except to say: “I’m so glad we stayed.”

“You have to see this!” a man in an Angels t-shirt was heard to say on his smart phone, and then laughing, “Well, then get here somehow.”

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The Terrible Burden of Having Stuff

Unknown-3Moving is hell, as the saying goes, and my recent move to California, in the tiresome way of all major moves, has been hellish. The main driver of misery is the Stuff to be moved. There is the back breaking, ass-kicking difficulty of dealing with the mother-lode bulk of it: the furniture, the boxes and boxes of items, the kitchenware, the pictures, the bedding. It takes weeks just to assemble it all, then days more to load it all into a 8’ x 16’ PODS container. Staring at that great tangled mass, stacked top to bottom, front to back, was tiring in itself, as though it was a crushing weight upon my soul.

 

The bigger problem is our emotional connection to our Stuff. Much of my suffering came from the idea my wife and I had that moving was an opportunity to assess the entire Stuff Collection, and get rid of lots of it. First, there is the curation of the Stuff. As Stuff which sits around inside your house, functional or not, there for sensible reasons or not, it constitutes a collection.

 

So we dug into the layers of storage and closets and all the spaces of our house where Stuff was hiding. I became unhappily immersed in my earlier selves and circumstances. It was an involuntary therapy session of photos and mementos, like embarrassing prom photos and ancient resumes and lamps that once seemed like a good idea and bizarre post college artwork and sporting equipment purchased at great cost which fizzled quickly into obscurity.

 

When you find an item, then you must decide. Is it on the truck or not? It’s live or die, love it or leave it. I stored it for good reasons years ago (or did I?): do they still hold up?

 

I feel sentimental about most stuff, and the people who gave me the stuff and the fond memories that surround the stuff…Is discarding that stuff then a rejection of those times and people? For example, greeting cards. How long must I store old birthday cards? Discarding them immediately after receiving them seems unappreciative of the positive sentiments the friend or family member was conveying with a carefully written note inside the card. Perhaps the card came from a beloved and now deceased family member, which makes it worse. So they stack up on a shelf. But must I carry them around forever?

 

Then you hit the killer, the tear jerker item, which shuts down the whole process and creates psychological crisis.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA There is absolutely no use for it and it is bulky, but you can’t imagine chucking it. I am talking about what’s at the very back of the closet: my entire cassette collection, the soundtrack of my youth, in all its briefcase mixtape glory. I have not listened to them in 20 years. My cassette player was thrown away years ago, but there is just no way. It’s like the Smithsonian throwing away Lindberg’s plane. No one will ever make another trip in that thing. No one can even touch it. It has zero usability, but it’s History, so it will hang in the exhibit hall forever.

 

I have always pitied electronic devices. There is newness and great excitement when we get them, and they dutifully serve our needs: computers, cassette players, smart phones, boom boxes, cameras. They deliver their thing in their way, but as soon as the smell of tech obsolescence is in the air, we toss them, despite their years of loyal service, to be ground under by heavy machinery at the landfill. Thanks, pal.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo it was torturous to consider the fate of my beloved Canon AF35M 35mm auto camera, which still would work beautifully, if I used it, and was carried on numerous vacations and still possesses undeveloped film, possibly containing cherished memories. No one wants to buy a 20 year old camera. Not even on Craig’s List. No one wants this as a gift. It seems unceremonious and wrong to dump it in the trash. It was, and still is, a great camera, which provided pictures during some of the happiest times of my life! And it’s reward for this good service?

 

The camera went to Goodwill, with the sincere hope an appreciative person will find it and dispel my guilt about abandoning it.

 

Most of the cassettes stayed with me, but not all of them. May they live on without me.

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The Complete Discography of THE PURSUIT OF COOL

The I Ching says it best: Music eases tension from the heart, releases thoughts from the mind, and inspires us to greatness. For many people, music is a fundamental way they cope with the world. Lance Rally, the main character of The Pursuit of Cool, is one such person. Like most young people, he is looking for answers and is a sponge of everything he sees and hears in his pursuit of the elusive “cool.”

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Music points us in one direction or another. After listening to the music of an era we are changed, because the lyrics and attitude and energy all convey things that seep into our consciousness. It works both ways. The taste of young people, what speaks to them, influences what music becomes popular and makes that music also a statement about them. MTV, college radio, alternative music and Top 40 all combined to make music from the 1980s into an unforgettable mix.  Unknown-4

The songs in the Discography follow the flow of the novel with Prince’s “Take Me With U” from page 4, to The Replacements “Sixteen Blue” from page 334.  Many of the songs are mentioned specifically, such as  “Just What I Needed” and “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “O Superman.” Other songs are from bands mentioned, like Joy Division, but with no song specifically in the narrative, so I had to chose between several songs (“Leaders of Men” or “Love Will Tear Us Apart”?). In these situations I have chosen an appropriate song, or songs, from that era, channeling the novel and its characters, and perhaps throwing in my own personal musical taste as well.

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In the novel, music serves many dramatic purposes. Lance Rally is introduced to the world of punk/alternative music by his punk rock actor friend Ian LaCoss and it seals their friendship. Lance‘s dance floor dance palace moves are tested to the sounds of Wang Chung. He explores the bounds of free will by going on a road trip to Athens to hear R.E.M. A Bauhaus mix tape delivered by Walkman serves to channel Lance’s feeling of betrayal and confusion in his relationship with Lynn Van Oster. The Langford Amazons, a secret clique of college women, cover Lance’s college campus with leaflets defending Sinead O’Connor’s hairstyle. The Replacement’s album Let It Be serves as a salve to Lance and LaCoss’s heavy hearts (and will forever remind me of my failed 2011 Twitter campaign to get Paul Westerberg to approve a copyright license of lyrics for “Sixteen Blue.” Where were you Paul?)Unknown-3

The list of 40 songs can be listened to on Spotify. The first 30 are on The Complete Discography of The Pursuit of Cool PART 1  and the last 10 are on The Complete Discography of The Pursuit of Cool PART 2.     Happy Listening!

“Take Me With U” – Prince

“She Blinded Me With Science” — Thomas Dolby

“Europa and the Pirate Twins” – Thomas Dolby

“Drop Dead Legs” — Van Halen

“Really Saying Something” — Bananarama & Fun Boy 3

“Just What I Needed” – The Cars

“Rise” – Public Image Limited

“I Wanna Be Sedated” – Ramones

“Sheena is a Punk Rocker” — Ramones

“Love Will Tear Us Apart”– Joy Division

“She’s Lost Control” – Joy Division

“God Save The Queen” — Sex Pistols

“Car Jamming” — The Clash

“Tainted Love/ Where Did Our Love Go” –Soft Cell

“Freedom of Choice” – Devo

“You Gotta Another Thing Coming” – Judas Priest

“Everybody Have Fun Tonight” — Wang Chung

“7 Chinese Brothers” – REM

“Superman” — REM

“How Soon Is Now?” — The Smiths

“Bad” — U2

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” — U2

“Heart of Glass” — Blondie

“Lips Like Sugar” — Echo & The Bunnymen

“O Superman” — Laurie Anderson

“Never Let Me Down” — Depeche Mode

“Jane Says” — Janes Addiction

“Bela Lugosi’s Dead”– Bauhaus

“Let’s Go”– The Cars

“Lorelei” – Cocteau Twins

“So Alive” — Love & Rockets

“Ceremony” — New Order

“Temptation” – New Order

“(Keep Feeling) Fascination” – Human League

“The Caterpillar” — The Cure

“Gigantic” – Pixies

“I Want Your Hands on Me” — Sinead O’Connor

“Just Call Me Joe” – Sinead O’Connor

“Sixteen Blue” – The Replacements

“I Will Dare” — The Replacements

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Greatest 80s Music Videos – the Digest: “Rio” Duran Duran

imagesDuran Duran, with their unique synthpop sound, pastel clothing and male model looks, was the perfect creation for early MTV. They were the first to use exotic location shoots and cinematic techniques in their music videos. Like “Hungry Like The Wolf,” a companion video filmed in Sri Lanka, “Rio” was directed by Russell Mulcahy. The genius here is the mix of art and commerce into an extended free form advertisement. Can you say Brand? These guys mastered branding – sex, adventure, fashion! – and became an international sensation. The video has a loose plot: A woman named Rio (played by model Reema Ruspoli) tempts and torments the band on beaches, yachts and rafts. The vignettes feel like photo shoots that are filmed instead of photographed. The band goes full tilt with the concept and thanks to inspired cinematography and a full line of fashion, the result is energetic and satisfying. The bright vibe is very glam 80s and brings to mind Miami Vice.

The video was shot on Antigua. The creative vibe is extravagant and spares nothing, like an advertising team gone nuts and using an entire band: We’ll get yellow goop and dump it on her latex covered rump! Pastel martinis dissipating in sea water! Painted women on rafts talking on plastic phones! Each shot of the cinematography screams outrageous pizazz with lots of Caribbean turquoise and band members with perfectly teased hair posing in colorful Mark Antony silk suits.

The video has an overt, almost comical, sexual vibe with lots of gushing liquids, pouting lips, swimsuits and strutting. “Rio” generated an intense boy band-like enthusiasm with teen girls who bought millions of Duran Duran cassettes and records. The band relished the adulation and embraced their cutting edge fashion. In a MTV News interview of Simon LeBon, as the band toured Japan, he stated: “We spend all our extra time in bed boinking Western models.”

Don’t lose sight of their musical accomplishment (they get props from Beck and The Killers). They were a real band: they wrote their own songs, played their instruments and paid their dues before they hit big with the Rio album. Good early examples of their marriage of disco and punk are “Girls On Film” and “Planet Earth.”

The song “Rio” combines guitar and synthesizer parts into a rollicking sound.  Nick

images-1Rhodes created the signature hook using an arpeggiator on a Roland Jupiter-4. On the VH1 show True Spin, the band explained that Rio was actually a metaphor for America and the lyrics expressed their desire to succeed in America.

Her name is Rio and she dances on the sand

Just like that river twisting through a dusty land

And when she shines she really shows you all she can

Oh Rio, Rio dance across the Rio Grande

The most surreal and compelling part of the video is when Rio prances and tip toes around the yacht as a painted bird woman, a sexy tribal spirit. The teak yacht is a 70 foot ketch named Eilean. At full sail, the deck tilting, the band hangs on while arrayed in an iconic group pose. This posterized shot would leap onto the walls of every American girl’s bedroom. The saxophone solo, in split screen on a drifting raft and atop an Antiguan peak, became a staple of 80s music and soon Huey Lewis and Rob Lowe’s character in St. Elmo’s Fire also showcased the tenor sax.

LeBon, the lead singer, displays his versatility. With the advent of the music video it was no longer enough for singers to just sing, acting chops became required. Mugging and singing into the blue plastic phone, LeBon seems a likeable guy who doesn’t take himself very seriously. He does action and light comedy, being knocked off a dock by a giant beach ball while wearing a strap speedo. As he rides the bowsprit of the yacht at the end of the video and sings and snaps his fingers, his enthusiasm seems genuine. Perhaps he sensed America would be conquered, and that soon people would think wearing a blue shirt and green silk suit was a really good idea.

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Greatest 80s Music Videos – the Digest: “Once in A Lifetime” Talking Heads

When “Once in A Lifetime” debuted on MTV in 1981 it went into heavy rotation in the consciousness of everyone who saw it and became an instant classic. The Talking Heads went from being artsy underground musicians to the coolest of New Wavers. The video highlights all the early VHS video effects: multiple images, squiggly lines, static, washed backgrounds. Even with all this razzle dazzle there is nothing cheesy about the result, it has a timeless hip quality.

The video focuses almost entirely on the choreographed movements of David Byrne, lead singer of Talking Heads, and is a startling piece of performance art. From the moment Byrne appears on the screen in his slim suit, bow tie, and Buddy Holly glasses, like a nerdy Vegas magician — he single-handedly started the “hip to be square” movement — your attention is transfixed by his movements.

He pops up and down, hyperventilating. He is stressed and peculiar, seeming to be suffering from a panic attack or some mania. Perhaps he is symbolically diving into and out of the electric blue green ocean which undulates behind him. He jerks and sweats like an animated puppet or a distressed robot man. Toni Basil is the choreographer of the video, she of the famous Mickey video (Also an actress in Easy Rider. What a career!). In preparation for the video, Byrne studied documentary films at USC and UCLA of people in trances. Basil also showed Byrne films of people with epilepsy to widen his scope.

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack

And you may find yourself in another part of the world

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife

And you may ask yourself

Well…How did I get here?

Byrne spoke to Time Out about writing the lyrics: “Most of the words in ‘Once in a Lifetime’ come from evangelists I recorded off the radio while taking notes and picking up phrases I thought were interesting directions. Maybe I’m fascinated with the middle class because it seems so different from my life, so distant from what I do. I can’t imagine living like that.” An examination of the lyrics reveals an existential subtext about the flow of life and the strangeness of arrivals and happenings. They are quite poetic and fun to ponder.

Letting the days go by

Let the water hold me down

Letting the days go by

Water flowing underground

Same as it ever was…


The funky rhythms and twinkly synth melody of the song are irresistible. All four of the Talking Heads (Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, Tina Weymouth) and Brian Eno are given writing credit for the song, from the album Remain in Light, their fourth album. The brilliant producer/musician Eno produced the song and is responsible for the way the song fades between different rhythms. But it’s the odd “moves” of David Byrne that really make the video. He mimics people in tribal footage, as though leading an elaborate video prayer ritual. My favorite is when he places his forehead on the ground and then swivels it toward the camera to sing more lyrics. He stumbles backward as if pummeled by unseen forces. Byrne later wears a giant suit in Stop Making Sense, the Jonathan Demme concert movie, further utilizing his unusual movement instincts.

There is a wonderful minimalism to the video. You really focus on the music and on Byrne and his trance-like possession. At the end, Byrne appears briefly in smoke (another classic 80s video meme) and then we see a more normal relaxed version of Byrne wearing a casual shirt, but still singing the lyrics. It is as though through his travails he has achieved enlightenment and clarity.

Here is the true test of the video’s power: 1.) find another adult person 2.) perform a chopping motion along the lower part of your opposite arm. 3.) Most of them will say, “Same as it ever was!”

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