There are many reasons that the “Wizard of Oz” is a classic film. I am ignoring the cinematography, music, acting, and art direction, however. I simply want to talk about the story—specifically how each of the characters that Dorothy meets are missing some seemingly integral part of themselves. Scarecrow is most famously missing his brain—a fact that thoroughly confused me as a four-year-old. “How can he talk and walk? How can he sing and dance without a brain?!” It is more than forty years later, and I still have do not have an answer. I mean, I have a brain and some training in dance, but I can barely make a jazz square.
The way that we learn about Scarecrow’s brainless plight is, of course, through song. In a film full of classic songs, ‘If I Only Had a Brain’ is still my favorite. What a great physical comedian Ray Bolger was. He was also a brilliant character singer. He did not have refined technique or a great voice per se, but he could sell the story of the song and tell you everything you needed to know about the character in a way that was nothing short of genius. Not to detract from Ray Bolger in any way, but my favorite version of this song is the one that a very young Harry Connick Jr. did back in 1987. He turns a peppy show tune into a weepy torch song in a way that is truly surprising. I don’t generally care for slowed down, downbeat versions of jaunty classics, but this one is the exception. Give ‘er a listen.
He was 20 when he sang and arranged this. 20!
Allow me an indulgent jaunt down my own yellow brick road to 1989. In high school, I wanted to be this guy so much that I’m surprised that I didn’t beg my parents night and day for the piano lessons that I most certainly would not have practiced for. Though I have yet to learn the piano, Harry Connick Jr. had a huge influence on me as a teen. I definitely never tried to sing outside of church before I listened to Harry Connick Jr.’s music. I have never pursued singing as a career or even a hobby, except in karaoke situations; I might never have even tried musical theatre were it not for singing along with the soundtrack to When Harry Met Sally in high school. Strange how these things work. I certainly became better dressed trying to look like a chonky Harry Connick Jr. Gone forever were my Alex Lifeson mullet and acid wash Canadian Tuxedo. I got my first “short on the sides and back, longer on the top” haircut, slicked down with a bunch of gel to approximate his look. I learned how to tie my own ties, and how to shine my own shoes (though I never really took to that one). I got new friends. I cared about clothes. I read authors that had a huge impact on me. My life changed a lot—all from an article in GQ that I bought for the included cologne samples, and because Andre Agassi was on the cover! lolololololol
Even though Harry is not even mentioned on the cover, the article talks about him as the “the next big thing” about to break out of New Orleans. How “the next Sinatra” would be a household name when his soundtrack to a Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal?! romantic comedy hit the charts. He was. He is.
I think about the way that my life changed not-insignificantly because I bought a magazine at the Albertson’s across from my high school one day before First Period. That year I asked my Grandma Noah for a subscription to GQ for Christmas, which I asked for every year subsequent until she became too far gone from Alzheimer’s to write the subscription check. That would have been about 1994 or 1995—the last issue that showed up at my parents’ house was some time in 2000 or 2001. I think that the SPIN magazine subscription I quit paying for in 1997 (when I realized that Bob Guccione, Jr. is an HIV causes AIDS denier) stopped coming around 2005. One of my own private little mysteries is how the subscription computers kept saying I was in good standing for all those years.
By the time the GQ issues stopped coming, I had long since rejected every aspect of the fashion world. I still liked the free cologne samples. Hey, free cologne! Being a fat man of limited means is not exactly the ideal path to becoming a raging clothes horse. You can be thin and poor and find fabulous thrift items or fat and wealthy and lean toward the bespoke, but a big man with a thin wallet is a very hard row to hoe fashionwise. Still, there is a massive part of my brain that knows a ton about men’s fashion from the late 80s to the early 2000s. Just an unbelievable storehouse of useless info. From 1990 to at least 2010, I was always going on and on about writing a book called The Handsome Fat Man’s Guide to Love and Happiness. I even made a couple of outlines and wrote a handful of chapters. I may still write it one day. So that knowledge might be only mostly useless. Who knows? One thing I do know for certain is that if I win the lottery, I will buy all of the Armani suits, Hermès ties, and handmade Belgian loafers that I lusted for in my twenties. Thank you for walking down my own yellow brick road of mullets, shoulder pads, and Fendi Uomo.
Let us resume our journey with Dorothy and her anthropomorphic road uncles. They all needed just the one thing before they could truly be themselves. I am like that in a big picture kind of way, I suppose. I certainly feel that there is a huge and integral part of me missing most days. But what I really am is the guy who just needs _____________ before he can do _____________. I’m not so much like the Cowardly Lion—though I often lack the nerve, as I am like Lieutenant Columbo. His catchphrase at least. Do you remember his catchphrase? “Oh, there's just one more thing...” I realize that many of y’all have never even heard of Columbo. I also realize that I am showing my age by alluding to a television show that was already five years old before I was born, but it is very apt. For those of y’all not born into the Nixon Administration, here is the description of Columbo from imdb.com:
“When you first saw him, Lieutenant Columbo looked like a bum that just came off the street. He had a bumbling demeanor, was overly polite and seemed to chomp on the same short cigar on a daily basis. However, beneath all that comical exterior was probably the most dogged investigator in the Los Angeles Police Department. Columbo was often called on to investigate high profile murders that involved the rich and famous. The culprits were often amused by him, and just as they thought they were going to get away with murder, Columbo would find a way to trap them or find enough evidence to make them confess.”
The key is that “one more thing” was how he would ensnare and trap the high-status perpetrators of the murders that underestimated him weekly. And “just one more thing” is how I arrest my forward progress in life—especially in creative endeavors. Over the years I have come up with a million YouTube channel ideas. Web series ideas. Play ideas. Movie ideas. Book ideas. Business ideas. App ideas. Idea ideas. Ideas I have. Follow through. . .not so much.
I have succeeded in creating and keeping this blog mostly healthy for the past year and more, so I don’t think that I am only a dreamer/idea man/loser. I do occasionally turn an idea into an actual finished product. But mostly I’m stuck. Stuck behind me. Waiting for me. Always needing the one thing that will make it possible for me to be creative/productive/useful. And by extension, happy. Jennifer was telling some close girlfriends of hers about how I have this tic/foible that is an inability to get started because I am always needing one more thing. This group of friends is always coming up with ersatz German compound words and our friend Elizabeth came up with Überobjekectehalten which Google Translate renders “hold over objects”, but which could be more accurately be considered “held by objects” or “halted by objects”. Man, that is the bloody truth. There is always the one object that will set me right. Until the next object, of course. Don’t worry, I find myself incredibly tedious as well.
In case you were curious, the German for “just one more thing. . .”, according to my friend, Markus in München: “Short version: "Eins noch!". Longer version: "Eine letzte Sache. . .”
This blog post has taken us on quite a journey, hasn’t it?
Just one more thing to illustrate the power that this phenomenon has over me, and I will let y’all go until next year. Please look at this picture:
At least a year before I started this blog, I wanted to make a YouTube Channel/ website/blog about trying to get good at guitar in middle age. After becoming inspired by watching YouTuber Mike Boyd—more about him later—I decided to expand to ten challenges in a year. That was the genesis of this newsletter.
I set out to make this a multimedia project from the beginning. In theory, I had more than enough to get started. I had a left-handed guitar already, a little practice amp, and the internet to take lessons from. To shoot video, I had my iPhone 8. I had this Substack newsletter to post videos and stories about my progress. But I always needed just one more thing. Today we’re going to ignore the art supplies, writing software, MIDI controller, and other detritus that was purchased in the name of finishing my other challenges. None of which I am close to finishing, but that is for another day. I am an old who cannot figure out how to embed her clip on this site, but this young woman’s TikTok feels like a direct attack:
Let’s just talk about “one more thing” as it relates to my guitar challenge.
In my mind, my iPhone wasn’t good enough to shoot on (it is). A friend gave me an incredibly nice point-and-shoot camera that is just great. I’ll shoot with it! (It needs one more thing too.)
I started doing justinguitar.com’s free lessons left-handed. I wasn’t immediately good, so just like Bart, I wanted to quit. Again. I need something else to motivate me.
I decided that I needed to have Justin’s app, so I got it.
I still wasn’t awesome so I decided that I needed to try playing right-handed again. Jennifer bought both of us a new acoustic guitar. I played for a few weeks. My hands hurt, and I wasn’t immediately good.
My hands hurt because I’m on my phone too much, so I need a kitchen safe to lock it up during, so I can rest my hands.
What I really need to be doing is filming myself playing to get better, but the camera I have doesn’t have a sound jack, so I’ll need to record sound separately. Jennifer buys me a Zoom H6 recorder for my birthday in July.
I’ll need a lapel mic to use for when I want to talk on camera. Better get one!
Since I was burnt out on guitar, I bought a ukulele hoping that would lift me out of my musical rut.
I burnt out really quickly on the ukulele because Jennifer and I were sharing one, and she was getting better than me quickly. I need a ukulele of my own.
I don’t really want to play the ukulele—I want to play the guitar! I decide to play guitar again. But the acoustic one hurts my fingers. And it really needs a set-up. (It’s totally fine.)
What I need is an electric guitar. I become incredibly obsessed with buying just the right guitar. I worked a small freelance job that means that I can buy an inexpensive one on my own. I read hundreds of reviews, watch scads of videos. I find one! I buy it. It is on backorder until at least March! But I need that guitar! I start my search. I talk about guitars constantly. I want to learn how to play guitar well, how to set up guitars, how to fix guitars, how to build guitars. Jennifer is amused/annoyed/pleased that I am lifting out of a depression and pleased to see me interested in something. I find another guitar like the one on backorder. I cancel the backorder. I order the new one, and it’s awesome! But my amp is kinda crappy. I need a new one.
I find (2) amps for really cheap on craigslist and now I’m cooking.
But surely I need a metronome.
And I need some timers to make sure I’m practicing.
And I need headphones for my Zoom recorder.
And I need a new softer guitar strap.
Surely I need a music stand to put sheet music on, right?
I need a website just for the guitar challenge. Better get a couple of domains.
I need to get a logo for my new site. Better spend weeks working on one!
I’ll need another microphone to record acoustic guitar. Cool, that’s taken care of, now I need a mic st. . .
Let us leave it at a list of twenty. There are even more things that I just remembered that I absolutely needed to get better at guitar. Yet I still feel like I need one more thing.
Twenty-two times I use some variant of the word “need”. I put them in bold to highlight for myself how ridiculous I have been. I needed nothing from this list to pursue becoming a better guitarist. I already owned a guitar and all of the things I needed to play and record it. Would it have been professional grade? Probably not. Will my new videos be professional grade? Not at first. And why? Because what I really need is to fucking do it already. Film them to the best of my ability and then improve. Know that they will look a bit janky until I have my own process. And watching another one hundred videos on YouTube will not help me do that.
What I NEED to do is to face facts:
I want things to be easy.
I want to have something without doing the work.
I want to have my cake and eat it too.
I want to never look like an idiot.
And there is no way that I am going to have the guitar project that I desire without conquering all of those things. I know that I said that I wasn’t going to watch any more YouTube videos, but here is an exception:
The great Mike Boyd is a huge part of why I have this blog. He’s just a great guy with infectious enthusiasm. He’s also Scottish, so he won’t blow smoke up your arse. If something sucks, he will say so. Boy, do I need this video right now. I really need permission from myself to start my new guitar fiasco. At 3:30 in the video, Mike talks about his own problems starting something new and it sounds like he’s reading my mind. Just get started, Jeremy! I am likely going to make ugly videos with crappy sound and jumpy edits at first. That is until I can find my process. I need to remind myself that looking stupid is fine. Always having an excuse for why I never finish anything is infinitely more stupid than being a little schlocky. Right?
Coming very soon: Jeremy's Guitar Fiasco
I know that I’m not the only one ready to jettison this absolute turd of a year. Maybe it is just the season, but I am feeling mildly optimistic about next year. Mildly.
Even though a lot of terrible stuff is going on with family and friends right now, I am feeling pretty good moodwise. But I know that may not always be the case, and I have to learn how to persevere, even when my mood is out of whack. But for now, I’m going to have a good last couple of days in shitty ol’ 2020. See y’all next year.
Thank you, as always, for reading.
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