And Now, Some Good News
A sign of hope at a punk-rock concert in Southern California.
12:00 AM, Oct 7, 2002 • By LARRY MILLER
I have some good news for you. In fact, some great news. When I heard it, I laughed out loud (hooted, in fact), clapped my hands, closed my eyes, and felt a tingle all the way down to my toes, as if I had just swallowed a blast of whisky. Wait a minute, maybe it was a blast of whisky. No, that was later. Just then it was the good news.
But first some bad news: As of this writing, neither Al Gore nor Tom Daschle have been struck dumb. Worse, they are not only physically capable of speech, there are a hundred million Americans who get warm and giggly listening to them. This is bad news on the order of a French knight staring through the mist before Agincourt and saying, "Gee, I can't make it out, but I think it looks like a bow and arrow."
Some more bad news: A charming and well-made movie named "Barbershop," written, directed, acted, and produced by black artists for a major studio, was number one at the box office for two consecutive weeks. This is very rare and immensely powerful for any movie, black, white, or purple. In the third week it slid to a hugely-respectable number three and had every indication of crossing over from black audiences to white and every shade in between as it rolled like a big wheel to a massive commercial victory. It's still doing very well, and may get to low-budget heaven, like the recent "My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding, " which is so popular it might even be a hit in Turkey. All this is not bad news, of course, it's good news. The bad news is that those two great, theological beacons, the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, decided to try their best to derail any chance the movie had to win. Rev. Jackson never saw it, mind you, but wants to kill it. Why? Because it has a scene in it that, in part and in comical context, disrespects three great black icons: Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, and . . . Rev. Jesse Jackson. Hmm . . . Come on, guys, quit it. A few good pros out here have done a good job making a good movie. Leave them alone, and let them rise higher. Don't push them back down. What in the world is activism about in the first place, if not for them?
Still more bad news: Former CIA head James Woolsey said Saddam Hussein's younger son, Qusai, may be rising in influence past his older brother, Uday, as a potential future leader. Uday maintains, among other cheery hobbies, a private torture chamber, according to the Los Angeles Times, ". . . known as the Red Room, in a building by the Tigris River. He has used whippings, beatings and immersion in sewage to punish Iraqi athletes who lose." And these are the people he likes. According to Woolsey, the brothers "differ only in that Uday kills people for fun, and Qusai kills people in a very businesslike fashion." What do you say about kids like that? "I told you we should've gone with bunk beds." If there's a third brother, he probably combines the two methods. "Well, sure I kill, but sometimes it's for fun, sometimes it's just work. Sometimes both, I guess. You know how it is."
One final slice of bad news: Only four paragraphs later, Al Gore and Tom Daschle are still, by law, permitted to speak.
And now the good news. My friend, Jack Burditt, a wonderful and award-winning Hollywood writer, just told me a story. He has four kids, three of them girls, and one of his daughters, sixteen, wanted to go to an all-day punk rock festival, advertised in Southern California as the Inland Punk Rock Festival, with a few of her girlfriends. This was to take place on Saturday, September 14, at the Glen Helen "Blockbuster" Pavilion in Devore. He carefully listened to his daughter make the case for going, hugged her and smiled, and then told her the chances of this happening were roughly equivalent to Yasser Arafat being cast in "The Theodore Herzl Story." His daughter gave him a loving hug in return, and admitted that she saw his point, and that it was a good one. Then she screamed for twenty minutes. Jack's no idiot, so he spent most of that time leafing through a tool catalog. When she stopped for a breath, he informed her that he had reached a Solomonic decision: "Okay, you and your friends can go, but only if I take you, myself, and stay with you the whole time." And off they went to join fifty thousand other acolytes for a day of sun and anarchy.
As a side note, by the way, I call that pretty good fathering. The guy was simply not going to let one of his kids, especially a young girl, go to one of these goofy things unsupervised, and he was perfectly willing to put one of his weekend days where his mouth is. I don't know about you, but if I have only two choices, and one of them is driving eighty miles to hear punk rock, and the other is holding one of Richard Simmons' bare feet in my lap on a muggy day, I'll grab R.S.'s sweaty ped in a second. (Wait a minute, no I wouldn't. Nothing's that bad. Okay, never mind.)
Anyway, every band that day had gotten huge cheers in between songs by shouting things like "ANARCHY!" or, "F--- CORPORATIONS!" or just, "S---!" and all fifty thousand kids would scream their approval, whoop, and shove their fists into the air. Typical, I guess. But then, Jack said, a band called "blink 182" came on, and one of them stepped forward and shouted this (Jack wrote it down) into the mike: "F--- YOU, GEORGE BUSH! DON'T LISTEN TO HIM. WE HAVE NO BUSINESS BEING IN IRAQ, NO MATTER WHAT HE SAYS." And here comes the good news.
There was a long, silent pause. And then they started. The boos. One here, one there. Then everyone. Boos! Louder and louder, ceaselessly rising, until the band just blasted into their next song. (My publicist, the astonishing Michael Hansen, tracked down the manager of "blink 182," who confirmed the sentiments and the words and the boos. In addition, in the October 17, 2002, issue of Rolling Stone, the entire concert was reviewed, and "blink's" anti-war feelings and "F--- you, George Bush" and other niceties are reported.)
Boos. Whew. Not bad, eh? I know, it's not exactly Patrick Henry rising in the Virginia House of Burgesses with "Give me liberty, or give me death," but it's not bad. (By the way, what in the world is a "burgess," and why did those guys need an entire house of them?)
But that was a heck of a nice surprise from these kids, wasn't it? Black boots and nose rings and tattoos, but they knew what was right. They might not be able to point out the no-fly zones on a map, but they knew what was right.
If we Americans fight terror all the way it'll take many years, and it's time the left and the right were honest about something: Neither Trent Lott's kids nor Tom Daschle's kids are going to fight this war, but it'll be fought by a lot of the kids at the "Blockbuster" Pavilion. They'll be part of the group we're all praying for. There's an old rock lyric they probably don't know, but they should. Maybe, in a way, they already do. "I ain't no senator's son." Remember?
Jack's oldest just signed up a few months ago out of college. A five-year hitch for an Army specialty. An important one. Jack's a little scared. Wouldn't you be?
Ah, well, let's keep praying for more good news, shall we?
Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.
Correction Appended, 10/21/02: The article originally misidentified the band that was booed by the crowd as Buzzcocks. The band that was booed was blink-182. A correction was published here and updated here on 10/10/02.