In an extraordinary extended essay for the Directors Guild of America, David Chase is now dissecting, shot by shot, the masterful final scene he created for The Sopranos. After eight years, the ending of The Sopranos is still controversial and wildly disputed and while Chase explains the mechanics of creating the tremendous suspense that led up to the final cut-to-black, the one question he doesn't answer is the one question everyone wants to know: did Tony die? Actually, Chase does answer it, alluding quite a bit to the possibility of Tony being killed, but still acknowledging that in the end it didn't matter. Regardless, the amount of skill and detail that went into that final scene is almost breathtaking. To hear Chase walk you through it, it becomes clear just what a master tactician he was as a director.
In June of 2013, I wrote a lengthy piece pegged off of the ending of The Sopranos. I had been pondering it and the recent death of James Gandolfini, maybe to an unsettling degree given that both felt like they were saying something to me during a very dark period within my own head. Today I'm bringing that column back, possibly with the knowledge that even though I'm in a better place now the questions I raised within it are always there in the background, lurking. The knowledge of my relationship with the inevitability of death never goes away. As Chase says in the DGA piece, "The big moment is always out there waiting."
"The Grand Finale" (Originally Published, 6.26.13)
Act 1: "Try To Remember the Times That Were Good"
Lately I've found myself obsessed with the ending of The Sopranos.
Surely you remember it: Tony and two-thirds of his family, sitting in Holsten's diner, casually munching on onion rings while the tabletop jukebox played Journey's anthemic Don't Stop Believin', a song which suddenly seemed to take on an odd menace given the setting. Tony had just made an uneasy peace with the New York mob, but both he and we understood that threats to him still lurked in every shadow simply by virtue of the life he'd chosen, what had already killed off almost everyone around him, turning him, maybe through sheer good luck, into the Jersey crew's last man standing. So there he sat, grabbing a bite with the people he truly loved, the blood family he'd tried to protect but whom he had inadvertently poisoned via the same cycle of ruthless violence that created him. Only one person was missing at the table: his daughter, the one whose voice he had come back to at the beginning of the year after being shot by his uncle and put into a coma. She was trying to parallel park outside and once she finished she'd come in and sit next to her father and the Sopranos would be together again as it had always been. We watch her finally pull into the space after three tries, watch her stride across the street to the front door of Holsten's. Tony hears the bell ring on the front door and looks up. Then an abrupt cut-to-black. Nothing.
At the time, the way The Sopranos ended felt like a cheap parlor trick, the final triumph of creator David Chase's more cynical tendencies and a big "fuck you" to the audience. At the time, the sudden cut-to-black felt like Chase telling us that life would go on for Tony; we simply wouldn't be around to see it. Of course, the reality of that ending was that nothing could be further from the truth because the reality was that Tony was killed at the end of The Sopranos, he simply wasn't around to see it and therefore neither were we. If you doubt this interpretation of what's gone on to be perhaps the most controversial finale in TV series history, go back and watch it again -- and this time, look closer. As Chase would say in a later interview, all you need to know about what really happened at the end of that iconic scene is there in the minutes, hour, and weeks that came before it. In the end, he practically spells it out on the walls.
Watch the man in the gray Members Only jacket get up from his seat at the bar and walk into the bathroom behind and to the right of Tony just before Meadow presumably walks in. Remember that the title of the final season opener was "Members Only," and in it Tony was shot by Junior and Eugene Pontecorvo carries out a hit in a restaurant wearing the same jacket. Think back on the conversation Tony has with the recently murdered Bobby Bacala on the lake, when Bobby muses on being whacked that "you probably don't even hear it when it happens" and how Silvio didn't hear the initial shots that killed Gerry Torciano right in front of him. Notice the split-second that Jay and the Americans' This Magic Moment is shown on the jukebox at Tony's table, the same song that played after Bobby made his first kill. The woman who walks in who bears an uncanny resemblance to Janice. The two black men who look strangely like the guys who once tried unsuccessfully to kill Tony. The scout leader who looks and dresses like Phil Leotardo and who makes his finger into a gun. Remember Paulie's comment about the orange cat -- the one that seems to stare intently at a picture of Christopher -- being a bad omen. Now look over Tony's right shoulder at the giant painting of the orange tiger on Holsten's wall and remember Adriana's affinity for orange tiger print. Also on the wall, the inescapable image of the Inn at the Oaks, which represented the final acceptance of death -- what Tony Blundetto called "home" -- in Tony's dream-state after he was shot. As Chase said, it's all there. Everyone is in place at Holsten's for Tony's final reckoning, his life truly flashing before his eyes just before the end comes.
Then there's the pattern. Tony hears the bell, looks up, the shot reverses and we see what he sees, his family coming one-by-one through the door. First Carmela. Then A.J. Then Tony hears the bell, looks up, and sees -- nothing -- because there's nothing to see. Tony is dead, shot in the head in front of his family by the man in the Members Only jacket. Rather than show us Tony being killed Chase does something far more diabolical and powerful: he makes us experience it. This choice represents perhaps the truest stroke of genius in a show that was full of them from beginning to end. It makes you understand that almost nothing you saw up to that point was by accident. Every single little detail mattered and it was all leading you to the same place -- to the death of Tony Soprano. That's what this extended tragedy was always about: his rise, attempt and failure at moral redemption, and ultimate fall.
In the very first episode of the show, Tony panicked over the ducks leaving his pool and understood that it represented his fear of losing his family. In the end, he lost them by being killed right in front of their faces.
Tony never heard it coming. And neither did we.
Act 2: "You're Going Home"
It's been so long since I've written.
Yes, technically I write almost every weekday, upwards of 4,800 words a week, for The Daily Banter, but for me it's not the same as writing. I bang out polemics which I sometimes feel very strongly about but which can, I admit, occasionally be little more than the fulfillment of a job requirement. This doesn't in any way mean that I don't care and don't take pride in the work I do for Banter, only that I miss the comfort of expressing the parts of my personality that don't want anything at all to do with politics or media or generally being a smart-ass, and those parts are many. I always wrote because I needed to, not for anyone else but for myself; I don't do that anymore. I don't do it for reasons purely practical and for reasons I try to convince myself are purely practical: because I simply don't have the time or don't have the will. There are so many days that I just do not give a shit about the Republicans in Congress, or Barack Obama, or the latest scandal, or who's outraged over whose crude joke, or what insufferable thing Glenn Greenwald said this week. There are so many days when I spit fiery opinions into the ether that I barely believe and hate myself for pretending to hold to ferociously. You can typically spot these instances by way of a counterintuitive and yet incredibly obvious tell: they're the ones I defend with the most egregious amount of venom. I fight back the hardest and in the most personal manner when I believe my own bullshit the least. This is the unnatural order of things. And I'm beginning to think that it's literally killing me.
Ironically, all the poison I regularly unleash is nothing compared to the poison I keep inside. It churns constantly, feeling at all times like it's threatening to eat a hole through my sometimes fragile psyche. When things were at their worst in my life a few years ago, it was my ability to express what I was going through -- the release of putting it down and pushing it far away from me -- that saved me from going completely crazy. But I don't do that anymore. No, at face value things are nowhere near as relentlessly punishing as they were from mid-2009 through the next couple of years, when a combination of pain and paralysis caused by the collapse of my marriage and being removed from my child left me floating adrift and alone: no real home to speak of and no real sense of who I was as a person, what beliefs I still had to cling to, or where to turn to make the almost constant anguish stop. But something is still wrong -- naggingly, achingly wrong -- and I'm finally having to truly come to terms with the fact that it isn't something being generated from without but from within. I have a beautiful and caring girlfriend, whom I love (dearly). I live in sunny Los Angeles (again). I don't do drugs or drink too much (they don't work in the end). I have major financial considerations that I at all times feel like I'm being crushed by and they cause me to work almost inhuman hours just to keep my head above water (but it's not as if it's the first time in my life that I've been in this position). Like everyone else, I deal with good and bad and try to navigate the world as best I can. And yet I don't sleep most nights. I often wake up crying. I rarely want to get out of bed. I sometimes dread leaving my home. Even when I'm laughing, I can feel desperate and broken inside. And always present at the front of my mind is that the older I get, the more hopeless my future is going to seem.
Here's something I've been longing to say for quite a while because I always felt like it was important: My divorce taught me something that I desperately needed to learn. It taught me something I was supposed to learn twelve long years ago, when I was in rehab for a devastating heroin addiction. Put simply, it taught me the truth of the Serenity Prayer. Anyone who's read my book, Dead Star Twilight, knows that that seemingly trite nostrum is a common refrain for those who hold tightly to the wisdom of "The Program." While I always understood the idea of it, I never actually accepted it -- until I finally put my arms in the water and began to paddle after almost three years at sea in the wake of my break-up from my wife. It was then, at long last, that I "got it." You have to accept that there are some things you simply can't change or control, another person's actions being one of them. I couldn't do anything about what had happened to me. I was completely at the mercy of what someone else wanted for both her life and mine, with our daughter caught in the middle, and I had only two very clear choices when it came to how I dealt with it: in the immortal words of Andy Dufresne, I had to get busy living or get busy dying. So I made a choice to come back out west, to the Pacific, which, again according to Philosopher Dufresne, has no memory -- hopefully no memory of what happened to me the last time I was in L.A. My drive across the entire country was the metaphoric made literal, a sudden bolt of physical momentum that finally led me forward for the first time in a long time -- appreciating each new day rather than uselessly looking back on anything that had happened in the past, any of the immutable events of history that had led me to each precious new second in time. It was good. It was the lesson I needed.
But it's a difficult outlook to maintain when you realize that each time your child visits from her expensive three-story home in Dallas, you have to convert your bedroom into hers and play a personally heartbreaking game of pretend, hoping she doesn't notice or care about the difference. When you're struggling with the kinds of money issues that seem to have ceased being a problem for other people years ago. When you can't understand why anything can make you cry. When you truly come to believe, finally, at the age of 43, that there's a very good chance you're not going to live to see old age, nor would you much want to.
Yesterday, I was wandering a local Rite-Aid, looking for a bottle of water and a bottle of Tylenol. As I moved through the aisles, I noticed that the music playing on the overhead speaker system was Tears for Fears' Everybody Wants To Rule the World, a seminal song from my high school years. I try not to look back on those days too much because nostalgia gets you nowhere; again, the past is past and there's no changing it. But I do miss the optimism of that era, the knowledge that no matter what went wrong, there would always be time to fix it. Tears for Fears then segued into Bon Jovi's Who Says You Can't Go Home. A New Jersey band. Singing about going home.
Act 3: "Every Guy Who Ran That Crew..."
There aren't enough superlatives to fully and properly express the impact that James Gandolfini had on television as an art form and, as has been almost universally acknowledged, on those he came into contact with throughout his career. He died last week at the far-too-young age of 51 of a massive heart attack -- cut to black, likely didn't even hear it coming -- but by creating the most complex, indelible and influential character in dramatic television history, he ensured that his legacy will live on for a very long time indeed. Like his alter-ego Tony Soprano, he was taken from us so quickly that we barely had time to process it, each, some have argued, a victim of his own bad choices. In Tony's case it was a life of crime; in James's case, a potential lack of attention to the deterioration of his heart. Either way, the end result is the same: death, an abrupt nothingness. I'm left wondering, though, whether Gandolfini ever looked back on his work on The Sopranos and felt somewhat haunted by it, if he pondered whether he'd ever do something that good, create something that undeniably flawless, again. An artist, of course, isn't merely to be judged by his or her current output but is in reality the sum of it over a large swath of time; provided they've got real talent, people tend to judge artists by what they've done throughout their lives, not simply what they're doing at any one moment. But creative types themselves don't always see it that way; they can go completely fucking crazy, unleashing their own private hell, simply by doing nothing more than constantly asking if their best days as a painter, actor, musician, writer, and so on are behind them.
I don't claim by any means to be a great writer, but I admit that I now go back and look at the material I wrote for years on this site and in Dead Star Twilight and it's as if I'm reading the work of someone else. I remember the act of writing but I can't for the life of me explain how I came up with the words that I did. What I read from years ago feels fearless and passionate, far too fearless and passionate to come from the person I know now to be me, the person I live with every day and night. That person is timid, frightened almost all the time, aware maybe of the best way to proceed but once again too trapped under the weight of mid-life stasis to actually proceed that way. That person has proven time and time again that it all comes back to this: feeling despondent, feeling overwhelmed, absolutely sure that his best days are behind him. Only now it's worse because I'm finally willing to -- have no choice but to, really -- admit that a lot of the past wasn't all that great. So if the past was bad and it's the best it's going to get and there's no other way to live but for today, what the hell do you do? How do you continue to move forward?
In the last season of The Sopranos, David Chase put Tony Soprano on the final path toward his inescapable end. Tony was shot and awoke from a near-death experience to find that he'd been given a second chance to redeem himself and possibly live out his years in peace with his family. But it took almost no time at all for him to return to the life he'd come to know all too well and enjoy far too much. He cheated on Carmela, killed Christopher, arrogantly and ignominiously gave up on his treatment and was consequently dumped by Dr. Melfi, and with all of this, the wheels were set in motion for Tony's doom. Again, as Chase said, it was all there. Anyone could see it. In fact, if you go back and watch all of Season Six of the show from start to finish with the knowledge that Tony is killed at the very end of the final episode, it's impossible not to see just how obviously, meticulously, and brilliantly that outcome was set up.
Everything in his life led to what finally happened to him.
It'd be nice to believe that he could have changed it, could have averted his ultimate reckoning. But who can really say for sure? Maybe he hadn't, in fact, chosen it. Maybe it was something he couldn't change and something he therefore had to simply accept. Maybe his death, like his life, was inevitable. It was the only ending that made sense.
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Friday, March 27, 2015
Genevieve Schatz used to sing in a band out of Chicago, which means that she knows big hooks and absolutely irresistible melodies since there's apparently something in the water in that town. Her old group, Company of Thieves, was a favorite of mine a few years back -- when they were active -- to the point where I chose their song Oscar Wilde as one of the best singles of 2009.
Well, Genevieve is back -- ditching her last name and going full-on pop queen. Normally, maybe this might be an unfortunate choice, but the thing is, not only does Genevieve display the same spectacular vocal authority she did in Company, but she's doing this as an independent so it's impossible not to feel good about supporting her. She moved out here to L.A. at some point, which for the love of all that's holy I hope doesn't ruin her -- but from what it looks like, so far, so good.
Here's her first single. Listen, share, that sort of thing.
Happy Friday -- this is Colors.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Fink is the stage name of British singer-songwriter-DJ-producer Fin Greenall. With that kind of hyphenate you'd think his music would be overly complex, but actually Fink's best stuff is stripped down and deeply personal. He's collaborated with John Legend, Banks and Amy Winehouse in the past, but his solo material is where it's really obvious what he's capable of.
His most recent album, Hard Believer, is a current favorite of mine and when you hear the first couple of singles from it you'll understand why.
First up, it's a song that could easily be a lost track from Radiohead's OK Computer. This is Pilgrim.
And here's Looking Too Closely.
Tuesday, March 17, 2015
You should be listening to Wolf Alice for a number of reasons. They're out of London and they sound like a plane full of Seattle musicians circa '91 plunged into the venue where My Bloody Valentine and Elastica were playing a show together. They're basically kids and yet in just two years they've managed to become one of the most buzzed-about bands overseas. It feels like their stuff just keep getting better and more assured with each new song you hear.
Wolf Alice's new record, My Love Is Cool is set to land in June. Right now none of their material is available on iTunes in the U.S. but it looks like you can get it at Amazon. I have to imagine, since they're all over iTunes U.K., they'll eventually get Apple distribution here. They're also touring the U.S. right now. (If you happen to live in L.A., they're playing the Roxy on May 18th.)
Here now, three from Wolf Alice. First up it's Giant Peach.
Next, Moaning Lisa Smile.
Finally, this is Storms.
Friday, March 13, 2015
In 2012 I called Dead Sara's Weatherman the best single of the year. It was an absolutely ferocious track that heralded not only Dead Sara as maybe the next and potentially last great rock-and-roll band, but their single, Emily Armstrong, as the kind of voice that really does come only once in a generation.
I saw them live here in L.A. -- they're locals -- last year and it was sincerely one of the best shows I've ever seen: just an hour being smacked in the face by the raw fucking power of these guys.
Three years later, Dead Sara are back. Their new record's called Pleasure To Meet You and you can already download this first single from it on iTunes and so on.
Here's Mona Lisa.
And another track from the album, Something Good.
Friday, March 06, 2015
Brooklyn indie-pop duo Ex Cops are in the news at the moment. The reason is that they're the latest to take up the fight for independent artists everywhere to get paid for their work.
It goes like this: Ex Cops were invited by McDonalds to play SXSW this year, but within the offer was this line, which should be very familiar to any up-and-coming musician, writer, filmmaker or artist these days: "There isn't a budget for an artist fee (unfortunately)." In other words, feel free to come out here and play, but you're not going to get paid for it. McDonalds did, however, assure them there would be free food, which sounds less like a promise than a threat.
Ex Cops responded with a scathing open letter to McDonalds on their Facebook page, pointing out that a company that made $90 billion in 2013 somehow couldn't afford a few bucks to pay an indie act to play on their behalf, an act the company would immediately brand and use for its own promotional purposes. McDonalds shot back saying that it was simply following protocol and tagged its response with "#slownewsday." "That's not true," says Ex Cops singer Amalie Bruun to Rolling Stone. "They're not following any guidelines because everyone else is offering money. They'll have to take that up with South by Southwest if they think they're following the guidelines...Other, much smaller corporations are offering us money."
The band also ridiculed McDonalds for being "an archaic company trying to be hip by putting a hashtag at the end of an e-mail."
Exposure and promotion are important. But when you're a struggling artist, exposure and promotion don't pay the rent. It's especially a problem when a mega-corporation is asking you to foot the bill for your own out-of-town gig.
And the thing is, Ex Cops are worth spending a little on.
Hear for yourself. This is Black Soap.
Read me at The Daily Banter
Wednesday, March 04, 2015
Ibeyi have a fascinating background and a genuinely remarkable sound. The duo is made up of 19-year-old twin sisters Naomi and Lisa-Kaindé Diaz, who were born in Cuba and raised in France. Their father was legendary Cuban percussionist Anga Díaz of the Buena Vista Social Club, which means that he played with people like Ibrahim Ferrer and Rubén González.
As the Diaz sisters grew up, they took up their father's instruments as well as piano and guitar and began singing in English and Yoruba, which came to Cuba via the slave trade from Africa centuries ago. The music Ibeyi makes is such an amalgam of styles and cultures that it almost defies description. It's cool and minimalist but warm and delicate, part electronic and part traditional and percussive, Cuban jazz mixed with African rhythms and experimental Euro-pop.
No matter how you attempt to categorize it, though, it's absolutely mesmerizing.
Here's Ibeyi -- Oya.
Tuesday, March 03, 2015
So I can't promise that I'll be able to run this place on much more than impulse power given my heavy workload at The Daily Banter and beyond. But I've missed my internet home here so I think it's time to at least flip the lights back on, blow off some of the cobwebs and turn up some music. That's a decent start.
Today the new record from Gateway Drugs lands at iTunes and everywhere else and it's something you should definitely give a listen to. The band's a four-piece out of L.A. made up of three siblings who are the kids of Prescott Niles of The Knack and one hell of a powerhouse drummer, and their sound is a little like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club if you added a female voice into the mix.
I haven't stopped listening to the record, Magick Spells, since I got a hold of an advance copy of it a few weeks back. It's swirling, wall-of-sound fuzzy, propulsive and sensuously intoxicating stuff for the most part, even if the first single is a little more poppy than what you find on the rest of the album (which is to be expected).
My favorite track, if you care about such things, is I'm in Love with a Teenage Heartthrob, but this upbeat single will do nicely as an introduction.
Here's Fridays Are for Suckers.
And one more -- Head.
By the way, they're on tour with Swervedriver over the next month, so if you get a chance, see them live there or in here L.A. if you happen to be in the area. You certainly won't be disappointed.
Read me at The Daily Banter
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Time to just come out and admit it: my workload is such these days that it's almost impossible to keep posting new material here. I can't really apologize for that anymore, simply because it's not as if I've stopped writing altogether -- it's just that I've moved damn-near permanently at this point.
And so, rather than keep a two-month old video clip up as the first thing stragglers see when they inadvertently wander in here, I think it's probably a good idea to at least point people in the direction of my new office. (I won't call it home, because while it may be neglected right now, this place is still home to me.)
When I have something personal to say, I promise I'll return here, but for now if you're looking for my wit, charm and generally worthless opinions, you can head over to The Daily Banter.
The Daily Banter: Chez Pazienza
Wednesday, August 06, 2014
When someone you love, someone exceptional, is taken from you at a young age there's more than the standard grief and hurt. There's a quiet rage at the incomprehensible injustice of it all and an emptiness that feels like its own physical presence, because what was lost wasn't just the past but the long, bright future that was supposed to be ahead.
On this very early morning one year ago, someone I loved and continue to love more than can be expressed in human language died of cancer. On paper, he was my former brother-in-law, the younger brother of my ex-wife. In the reality I came to believe and understand, he was my own brother. That's what he considered himself and what I was both humbled and proud to call him as well.
While it may feel like a tired cliché to liken the attempt to survive cancer to a battle, there's simply no better analogy for what Michael Chobot endured. He fought. He battled. He waged war, for almost two years, showing a determination, humor, and grace that I could never in a million years imagine myself being capable of. When it ended -- when he said his goodbye and allowed himself to finally let go and drift away -- there was in some ways a sense of gratitude and appreciation both for the fact that he was with us for as long as he was, and that his suffering was, at least, over.
But it's always in the ebbing aftermath where the real heartbreak of something like this lies, when the silence and shadow slowly move in to fill the space where the person you loved once was. It seems like no one who was close to Mike has been able to find true north in the wake of losing him. We've all just been adrift, going about our daily lives, sure, but always with the knowledge that something irreplaceable was missing, and always one stray, fleeting thought away from breaking down and screaming through hot tears that we needed that something back because we couldn't be without it.
He was supposed to be here, dammit. He was supposed to laugh with us and cry with us and call us with absurd questions and make it a point to tell us he loved us every time we parted from him and always leave us wondering how we got so lucky to be able to say he was in our lives -- and he was supposed to become an Oscar-winning sound designer and marry and have children and grow old and be an inspiration to us in every single thing he did.
The memory of him can do some of those things. It can't do all of them.
But Mike would've hated it if I or anyone else couldn't get past the tragedy of his death and remember only the triumph of his life and his legacy. So even though I look at that picture above and can't help but cry -- because it's a reminder that at one time he was the same age as my own little girl, his niece, and I can't imagine the larger thought that even something so wonderful and innocent and flawless can't be guaranteed safe passage through this life -- I've got to keep looking up and moving forward. Because that's what he did. Always. Those whose lives he enriched in innumerable ways now take what he gave us and carry it in our hearts, our souls, our very marrow. And that's how his life goes on -- through us.
Just before he died, Mike asked me to write something about him -- essentially, to write his obituary. I ached over it, unsure of what I could possibly say and how I could begin to say it. But I finally took a deep breath and let what was inside of me out. I published it just a few hours before he left, not long after midnight on the morning of August 6th.
I'm reposting it this morning, on this anniversary. I miss you, Mike. I always will.
"Higher and Farther Than Anybody in a Gray Place Dares To Dream" (Originally Published, 8.6.13)
Any evening that begins with a car on fire is guaranteed to be memorable.
That's how things got underway as the darkness draped itself over New York City on Saturday, April 12th, 2008: with Michael Chobot spending the first few minutes of his big 21st birthday celebration staring in disbelief out of the window of the cab we were sitting in the back of as it crawled with traffic past an inferno that maybe ten minutes ago was a car. We were heading downtown, toward the Village, and firefighters had already blocked off the lane with the burning, empty vehicle, backing up the FDR for a good half-mile. While at least one of us in the cab was frustrated as hell at the delay, the sense of little-kid wonder I'd come to expect from Mike was in full bloom once the cause of it was revealed. From where I was sitting I could make out the expression on his face reflected slightly in the window as we passed the scene -- the open mouth forming an awed smile, the wide eyes, the appreciation for the sheer surreality of such a moment. Live long enough in Gotham and you start to believe that you've seen it all, that nothing can return you to that place you were when you knew full-well how wonderfully weird the entire world is. But there was Mike, with all the unpretentious exuberance that something like the sight of a car engulfed in flames, out of nowhere, to kick off the night of your birthday bash, should elicit. And at that, I remember cracking a little smile in spite of myself, because if there's one thing you learn from knowing Mike, it's that whatever strange magic it is that he possesses -- the singular way he looks at the world, what makes him him -- it rubs off on you, and that's never a bad thing.
The rest of that evening involved, among other things, Mike drunkenly rushing up to me at a bar after having disappeared for a few minutes to tell me that if we were willing to buy a couple of girls he'd just met drinks, they would make out in front of us; Mike being relieved of his leather belt and spanked with it by a bartender at Coyote Ugly; and the night's master of ceremonies, a good friend of mine, nearly being arrested for public urination. The following morning, I was awakened from unconsciousness by Mike standing there holding up the now very soiled blanket that I'd laid out on the couch for him the night before; he asked me, completely sincerely, with a goofy smile on his face that only served to ratify his perceived innocence, "Hey, man -- why'd you give me a blanket with vomit all over it?" I threw the thing in the laundry, we ordered a couple of Irish breakfasts from a place up the street and spent the rest of the day learning how to jump cars off the roofs of buildings in Grand Theft Auto IV. It was, even during that heady period in my life, with a new baby on the way, one of the best times I could remember. I had taken my wife's kid brother, whom I'd known for six years, out to christen his adulthood and we'd both had an absolute blast.
That's my favorite memory of Michael Chobot, my favorite among many memories. It doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of who he is and what makes him unlike anyone I've ever known, truly unlike anyone period, but at the moment it's what I've got. And those closest to Mike are doing the same thing I'm doing right now: quietly but hurriedly gathering these memories like diamonds spilled across a floor and holding tightly to each one. They're doing this because soon it's all any of us will have. Soon, Michael will be gone.
For almost two full years now, Mike has put up a truly remarkable fight against one of the most ruthless and efficient killers on the planet: acute myeloid leukemia. He's been in and out of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. He's undergone not one but two bone marrow transplants. He's straddled the line between recovery and collapse, gone into remission, then returned to that precipice to dangle precariously again. Throughout it all, his sense of humor and his singular outlook on life -- the life he was battling so valiantly to hold on to -- have never waned. He's had terrible days. He's had times he's wanted to be alone, I have no doubt times when he's wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and drift away from everything and everyone -- to open them and find himself floating freely in the ocean off a sunny beach somewhere, truly alive. But somehow with a strength I can't even begin to imagine he's managed to keep the most important part of himself intact. The Michael his family and friends have always known -- the one I've known for more than ten years, since he was a funny, awkward, endlessly analytical 14-year-old kid -- was still there.
Recently, following this latest transplant, which appeared to be holding, Mike took to looking toward the future. Maybe it was that weekend back in 2008 that sold him on a life in New York City, but in the couple of years before being diagnosed, Mike had moved to Brooklyn and was beginning to get some truly impressive work in his chosen field: sound engineering. He worked on Salt, Pokemon, and It's Kind of a Funny Story. He lived payday to payday, like just about everyone starting out in media in New York, and eventually worked on a PBS feature called An Original DUCKumentary. Just a couple of months ago he called me with some incredible news: He'd been nominated for a national Emmy for it -- outstanding music and sound. The ceremony is this coming October. He wanted to go. I joked to him that he needed to leak the fact that he has cancer to the Academy -- possibly get the sympathy vote.
Maybe it's the fact that I'm 3,000 miles away from him and only know what I hear in his voice when we talk on the phone, but I think I finally put out of my mind the ugly reality that had always clawed at my insides. Maybe all of us pulling for him were right: Michael was special. He had taught himself piano as a child and composed symphonies as a teenager. He had an artistic streak most could only dream of and a staggering amount of talent to back it up. He had a strangely old-soul quality about him, becoming a kid fanboy of music that was popular on rock radio even before I was a kid (so much so that I used to rib him pretty mercilessly about it). He was almost supernaturally optimistic. He was an honest-to-God genius who seemed to control everything around him, making his dreams come to vivid life and bending it all to his will without really even trying, always improving it -- or at least making it a hell of a lot more interesting. He couldn't be taken. It simply wasn't possible. He existed in a perpetual state of grace. He was gonna be fine.
But two weeks ago, he was given the news: there was nothing the doctors could do anymore. The cancer had come back with a vengeance. It was too aggressive. Too powerful. He wasn't going to make it. He's not going to make it.
He's home now. With the family he loves more than anything and which loves him with equal ferocity. He's at peace with what's to come.
How do you mourn for what never existed? How do you grieve not for the past but for the future, a future that will never be? I suppose that's what true grief is -- it's not the disappearance of what was there all along as much as it is the sudden absence of what you were so sure was to come. It's the worst kind of cliché, but Michael Chobot was going to change the world. He was going to do something not simply great but truly monumental. I can't even begin to explain how I know this, but it's as certain to me as the searing knowledge that the man who isn't my blood brother but who embraced me as one and has grown to become an inextricable part of my heart and soul is now dying. The only comfort I or anyone else close to him can take is that he's already accomplished such extraordinary things, had so indelible an impact on so many lives, created love and joy as effortlessly as he created sound and music and film, equally beautiful and without question immortal. There's little anyone can do at this point other than to assure Mike that what he's done with his life has mattered. That in just a little over a quarter-century on this planet, he fulfilled every bit of his promise to himself and those around him. That he made a difference. That he can be proud.
Michael is my brother and my friend. I will go to my own grave loving him. I will make sure my daughter, his niece, grows up knowing how fortunate she is that her uncle was the man he was. She'll learn the stories about Mike, hear them repeated endlessly. The hilarious stories, the unusual stories, the profoundly moving stories. She'll hear the stories from his brother, and his sisters, and his parents, and his friends, and every single person whose life he's touched.
Maybe I was wrong. Maybe everyone who's known Michael Chobot throughout the years won't be left with only memories once he's gone. What they'll be left with is what Mike himself gave them, what he gave me: something better. Michael made our lives better. He has since the day he was born -- and his legacy will ensure that he'll continue to long after his physical presence is no more.
He always had fire. He was guaranteed to be memorable.
(Overnight, Michael Chobot died. He is survived by his mother, Gwyn, and his father, Tom, as well as his sisters, Jayne and Sarah, and brother, Joe. And those he called brother or sister, Phil, Megan and, for reasons I'll never fully understand or be able to adequately thank him for, me. He lived with more passion, wonder and innocence than anyone I've ever known or ever will.)