I picked up a Neil Simon memoir at my parents' house. Caught on an overseas flight with few options, I watched a biography of Woody Allen. Late night, Dave and I caught a documentary of Vince Lombardi. Ditto, Walt Disney. In Madrid, we blew off the famous museum and wandered into a lesser known one to find the work of Piranesi. And in Paris we blew off the Louvre and went to exhibits of Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs. All this over a few weeks. These men are all jammed up in my brain. So now that some time has passed ... I'm left with:
Louis Vuitton, well, he was a master of 1800s marketing. That LV you see par tout, he was the first to mark his trunks -- he was, in fact, a trunk maker at the start -- with his initials. Like many Parisian artists and craftsmen, he was invited to a grand exhibition of new ideas. Unlike the others, he was prepared to take orders. He lived through wars and famines and kept making and making ... Am I wrong or does he look a little like Ron Swanson in Parks and Rec?
Lombardi's obsessive nature. The way, after a win, he'd have a party at his house, but, after an hour or two of laughing and joking, he'd cloud over, already thinking strategy for the next game. I was curious about Lombardi's version of God; what did those prayers sound like? I apprecaited his progressive take -- for the era -- on interracial marriage. And always get the colonoscopy. Always.
Woody Allen -- I was fascinated that he worked through the scandal; was it his ability to compartmentalize or that his work is his coping mechanism on a very deep level? A film a year.
Young Disney, oddly, kind of thought he looked a little like a young darker Ed Norton. I loved how he bet everything on those groundbreaking, early animations -- mortgaged the house, all in. I'd never have that much guts. I was fascinated by how he felt betrayed by unions, his bizarre remarks about Communism, and the film's take on his alleged antisemitism.
Piranesi. Saw his work at the Caixa Museum. He's brilliantly OCD. (Escher and his staircases owe him about everything -- ditto Dali and his melted clocks) -- and found this quote:
"Diverse Maniere gave free rein to what he called the mad freedom of working according to whim."
Mad freedom of working according to whim. I believe deeply in the writer's need to follow whim. I believe we are currently in a period of Diverse Maniere in the publishing industry, in point of fact, and I love finding myself wriitng in this era of blurred genre boundaries.
And Piranesi's exhibit included a quote from Guercino. "By dirtying, one finds." That's what writing feels like, getting dirty, building a world from the infinite specificity of detail, and then lifting your chin and finding...
"One tends to learn infinitely more from the bad than the good, and ones learns nothing from the brilliant. The brilliant is born out of a writer's pain, some divine inspiration, and a slight bit of madness. You can aspire to it but you can't plan on it, epscially if you know your limitations. Your horizons can expand, however, if you allow yourself the possibility of failure. You must, in fact, court failure."Yes, yes, yes.
After his first big smash hit, Bob Fosse toasted him. "Okay, a toast to Neil. Tonight is the last night he'll have any friends!" This rings in my head.
He writes very compellingly about the squallor of his childhood and the rift in his psyche between who he once was and who he had become.
A doctor calls him at six in the morning. Simon takes the call, thinking it's an emergency. The doctor tells him that he had some ideas on how to improve Simon's play, which he'd seen the night before. He was at an airport about to fly back to Detroit.
"What kind of doctor are you?" Simon asked.
The man was a dentist.
Simon asked the guy for his number in Detroit. The dentist gave it to him, adding that he usually gets hom after five, "if you want to call me in Detroit."
Simon said, "No I intend to call you at three in the morning to give you some advice on how to pull teeth," and hung up.
I don't have the exact quote from the Marc Jacobs' exhibit but he says something about getting fired from every job he's ever had, which I take to be about risk, artistic risk.
But, I have to say that the most fascinating male mind that I encountered during those few weeks was a London cabbie ...
Tomorrow, the cabbie, his brain, and how it relates to writers.