Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 103: The Boxer

I can’t remember what day of the week 9/11 was, but on the weekend that followed, Saturday Night Live went to air in America, as it had done for hundreds of years previously. I didn’t see the programme, I wasn’t living in America but this is one of a couple of things that happened that I know of:

Flanked by a phalanx of uniformed firemen, fresh from Ground Zero where they had been working day and night (faces blackened from the ash, sould bruised from their toil) a very well-known singer stood with a guitar and began his song:

“I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
for a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises.
All lies and jest
still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

I think ‘The Boxer’ is Simon & Garfunkel at their most poetic and Paul Simon that night was at his most profound. As I’ve said, I wasn’t living in America, but I know this because a couple of years back I watched a television programme about the friendship between one of the show’s founders, Lorne Michaels and Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel. It’s incredibly moving to watch and, amongst other things, it made me wonder why he chose that song?

Listening to the lyrics of ‘The Boxer’, the song refers to New York and, for my money, tells the tale of a young man who leaves home, running away to that very city, only to be battered by a life there, with little money or comfort, precipitating a return home (maybe), stronger, more seasoned by this rite of passage event.

“Then I’m laying out my winter clothes and wishing I was gone
going home
where the New York city winters aren’t bleeding me, leading me,
goin’ home”

But here’s what really struck me. If I’d been Paul Simon, I’d have chosen to probably do something like ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. My choice would have been sentimental, described in the dictionary as “...of or prompted by feelings of tenderness, sadness in an exaggerated and self-indulgent way: a sentimental ballad.” You know what? I’d have leant on the song for the meaning and emotion?! In the wake of one of modern-history’s most horrific moments, I would have turned to the song for significance and an expression of feeling; that’s why Paul Simon is a giant of a musician/performer/singer-songwriter and I’m, well..... something else.

Paul Simon is a class act, he knew exactly what the moment required, which was not a song that was so obviously full of import and weight that it would draw attention to itself, he needed a number that would reflect back on what had just happened (was still reverberating) and would offer pause for thought and meditation. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ would have been the choice of lesser mortals.

“In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade
and he carries the reminders
of every glove that laid him down or
cut him ‘til he cried out
in his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains”

Paul Simon’s choice was pitch-perfect as was the rest of the show. If I recall correctly, that edition of Saturday Night Live opened with Lorne Michaels standing alongside Mayor Rudi Guliani with the same firemen behind them and asked him this question:

“Is it alright to be funny?” Guliani’s deadpan response: “Why start now?”

Day #103 Tip:Writing with authority
Most of the screenwriting scholars talk about writing with authorship, authenticity and authority; not, I hasten to add, a bullying, boot-stamping mark of authority, but a command of one’s craft that let’s everyone know that here is someone who is the master their craft and will steer it in the right direction.

Timing and context are hallmarks of such an artist’s authority, knowing exactly what’s required at any given moment, being able to read the temperature of things, seeing for me (the audience member) what I cannot see for myself.

I wrote the following, which was published ina Sydney newspaper a few years back, following the buntinely ejection of a wonderful singer-songwriter from the television show Australian Idol:

“Artists can see what I can’t see, can hear what I am yet to hear, can show me what I’m not ready for and will offer me what I don’t know yet, that I need and want. The familiar is already out there and imagined (there’s truckloads of the stuff), the unfamiliar is what I couldn’t dream of myself and want others to do for me.....”

How to write with authority of a master? Serve an apprenticeship.

“Seeking only workman’s wages I come looking for a job.....”

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