Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health

Dianetics

I first noticed the TV ads for the book (which was published in 1950) in the late 80s during the cartoon/syndicated sitcom hours of 4-6pm, if I remember correctly. A strange block of airtime to flog a strange belief system. The ads asked some pretty pointed questions, queries to which the answers were supposedly to be found within the pages of the book, like verses from the Bible. And then there was an animated erupting volcano, which I guess can mean whatever you want it to. It was very simple, but effective–if you are of a certain age, you probably remember these ads. As far as book sales went, they were tossing around numbers that would shame even McDonald’s (34 Billion copies sold or something) but heck, the Sci-Fi writer with the ship’s captain hat and deplorable oral hygiene was never anything less than grandiose.

Of course, in those days you couldn’t just hop on the internet and find out how impossibly silly the entire thing is, although I guess you could have bought the book and read it and found out pretty quick. I never did that. However, I like to think I have a closer connection to Scientology than most other non-believers thanks to the person at my gym who keeps leaving various “members only” periodicals in the communal magazine rack, organs with titles like “Source” and “Impact.” I take them home with me every time I see one and have built up quite a library! The words within, written in a version of English stuffed to bursting with words that are barely comprehensible to the layperson, are nevertheless endlessly fascinating. Am I tempted sometimes, as I page through these magazines late at night, to dig the platinum fillings out of my molars and sell that precious metal for the cash that will then allow me to take that first step onto the “Bridge?” Of course I do! But I’m never quite able to make the jump…

I’m a skeptic by nature, and I remember thinking to myself how hard it must be for the higher-ups responsible for promulgating this endlessly profitable scheme of psychological battery and financial slavery to keep a straight face while they prattle on about Thetans and Engrams and Xenu and Sea Org and OT Levels and Going Clear, but then I watched some clips of a few of their meetings and realized that David Miscavige–the current “Master,” if you will, and prime beneficiary of all those donated dollars– is pretty much grinning ear to ear during every speech he gives. Hell, wouldn’t you be?

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Prince

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A week before Prince Rogers Nelson left this place (hopefully by now he’s already been checked in and comfortably accommodated in the only place he deserves to move onto–I think they call it Paradise) I watched a DVD of The T.A.M.I. Show, a 1964 showcase of some truly amazing musical talent that was conceived with the now outdated idea of filming artists actually performing live versions of their hits with musicians actually playing real instruments in real time. The lineup featured artists both black and white performing before an auditorium of integrated Santa Monica teens basically having the time of their young lives. James Brown’s astonishing, athletic and otherworldly performance is the one history correctly lauds as the film’s highlight, but everyone–artists, back-up dancers, kids–is fantastic.

The night of the day Prince died, I switched on VH-1 and caught the tail end of Purple Rain, a low-budget, not-always-good movie from 1984 that almost immediately turned into a box office smash because, well, because it’s packed full of some of the greatest pop songs ever written. The movie ends with a concert scene featuring an enormously talented band comprised of musicians of many different and mixed races playing to a wildly enthusiastic crowd made up of people flashing every shade of skin under the sun. The leader of this band gives an astonishing, athletic and otherworldly performance that justifiably launched him into the very highest reaches of popular culture. He never, ever, came down.

2016 has unleashed upon the American people a grotesque parade of tiny, petty, vainglorious creatures all vying for “control” of this country. These politicians (is there an uglier word in the English language these days?) are, all of them, “dividers.”

2016 has also brought us the deaths of people like Prince and David Bowie and Merle Haggard and Maurice White and even Abe freakin’ Vigoda, who were all, God bless them, “uniters.” It’s been a terrible year.

Prince. You know the man, you know the music–there is nothing I could hope to add to his legacy except to observe that we all lived through his reign TOGETHER, shaking our asses and smiling at each other in wonder at the incredible gifts he gave us.

Blade Runner

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This is the movie where the bartender from The Shining is the smartest man in the world, where the batshit crazy chick who tried to claw James Woods’s eyes out (in real life) is a reserved, icy beauty, where the famously taciturn leader of a Florida vice squad chatters away in a self-invented argot culled from six different languages. Where Han Solo isn’t so smug and flippant anymore as the rain incessantly pours down on his head.

In other words, nothing is as it seems, and no one knows that better than Rick Deckard, a replicant hunter who may be a replicant himself. This is as dark as film noir was ever going to get–and it’s a full color science fiction film, for Tyrell’s sake! It’s as dense and wondrous as a dwarf star. It’s art direction has left a legacy in its wake as wide and long as a comet’s tail, and its story gains more relevance with each passing year as A.I. slowly but surely slouches its way into reality.

So–who is Rick Deckard chasing? Well, they are children, really–not quite four years old. But these babies were born fully formed, two girls and two boys, who have only recently become aware that, by design, they really don’t have much more time to “live.”

The two female replicants are Darryl Hannah and Joanna Cassidy, a pair of terrifying amazons still possessing enough charm and beauty to make having one’s head crushed to a pulp a demise one might actually look forward to–as long as it were done between those two amazingly athletic thighs.

Brion James is one of those character actors who never gets to play anyone pleasant, so he was certainly qualified to portray Leon Kowalski-a surly sumbitch clinging to what’s left of his existence with dangerously powerful paws.

Which leaves the fourth replicant. If you ask any regular person off the street who Rutger Hauer is, you just might hear a reply along the lines of “Isn’t he that guy Rocky Balboa fought in Rocky IV?”

A good guess, but no. Rutger Hauer is Roy Batty and he’s perfect. Perfect to look at, perfect in the role, and the perfect foil to Rick Deckard’s resigned torpor. He’s the unstoppable engine in a movie that does its very best to avoid any type of kineticism, the hero of a film that doesn’t really have one. The mostly ad-libbed words he speaks at the end to the man who’s been trying to kill him (and whose life he’s just saved) IS what it seems–probably the greatest parting speech in cinematic history:

“I’ve… seen things you people wouldn’t believe… Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those… moments… will be lost in time, like tears… in… rain. Time… to die…”

Eddie Murphy

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I recently read an online article that ranked every cast member of Saturday Night Live and it took me all of about five seconds to crown my personal choice for #1. The list itself was pretty fun to scroll through, and at the bottom, I wasn’t at all surprised to find that the writer had oh-so-predictably picked John Belushi as the “best” SNL cast member ever. John Belushi is one of those sacred cows of comedy who is long overdue to be butchered and served up as a bunch of tasty burgers for some protein-deficient Appalachian kids. He’s barely an SNL top ten. A funny guy at times, but completely overrated. That’s what happens when you die at 33. Were the “Samurai Ford Pinto Salesman” and “Immigrant Cheeseburger Man” really that funny? I don’t think so. (That being said, I would have loved to see his impersonation of Lena Dunham.)

What’s all this got to do with one Edward Regan Murphy? Well, in my eyes he’s the most talented and brilliant cast member SNL has ever had. From Gumby to to “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” to Buckwheat to “Kill My Landlord,” he absolutely, well, killed. But Eddie was so much more than just a player on some dumb late night TV show. He pretty much owned the decade. I didn’t even like him that much back then–I thought he was “too popular” or whatever, but to watch his 80s body of work now, without the distortion of whatever warped “underground-only” sensibilities I possessed back then–is to watch someone barely out of his teens pretty much taking over the world.

Here we had an unapologetically profane BLACK man (and, Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson be damned, let’s not pretend White America was all into cuddling up with black people back then, especially dudes in hot red leather pants who talked a lot about their dicks) who fashioned himself into the most popular celebrity in America. This doesn’t happen “because it’s time.” It takes raw talent, hard work and a whole heapin’ help of that hard to quantify element called charisma. Eddie had all that and more. There really wasn’t any branch of entertainment he didn’t make his own. It went something like this:

Television: the aforementioned SNL, several HBO specials that helped put that young network on the map, and of course his unforgettable role as a randy “walker” on that very special two-part episode of The Golden Girls.

Movies: If you had to make a basketball team out of 5 movies, 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop I and II, Trading Places and Coming To America would be like a starting five of Jordan, Magic, Bird, Dr. J and Hakeem the Dream.

Music: Surely you remember “Party All The Time?”

Fashion: 5 trillion Mumford Phys. Ed. Dept. T-shirts sold!

Things have been, how shall we say, “uneven” ever since. But what major star has ever avoided this? Unless you go and run your Porsche 550 Spyder into a big old Ford coupe or die freebasing in some rented West Hollywood chateau, it’s all part of the celebrity arc. Nobody stays #1 box office champ forever. Still, the man remains capable of raking in hundred of millions of dollars for his studio–things like Shrek and The Nutty Professor practically minted money–as well as delivering critically-acclaimed work in films like Dreamgirls and Bowfinger. He’s also been involved in a lot of truly abysmal efforts moviegoers avoided like you would a bum relieving himself into a San Francisco Examiner box. But he’s still around, and I believe he has some good work left in him. Time will tell. But the 80s, man–the guy was untouchable.

Porky’s

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Porky’s was a phenomenon that a lot of people wanted to do something about but couldn’t. It was a box office smash. The teens loved it, the critics hated it, parents either foamed at the mouth about it or shrugged their shoulders knowing full well that they had been kids once, too. But nobody could stop its raunchy momentum as it rolled through the spring and summer of ’82 sweeping up dollars like so many green-backed butterflies.

Those who denounced this movie as sexist somehow failed to notice that the guys get naked more than the girls. Speaking of which, given its reputation, I re-watched this the other day thinking it was 90 minutes of wall-to-wall T and A, but in fact, there is exactly one scene with female nudity. That being said, Porky’s “shower scene” remains as famous as D-Day (the historic event, not the mustachioed frat brother in Animal House) and it’s a long one, showcasing plenty of that currently out-of-fashion body accessory known as pubic hair.

There’s another thing I learned about this movie after 30 years away. It’s not very funny at all. It tries to be, it tries really hard, in fact, but only ever manages to rise to the level of mildly amusing. And yet, it is fun to watch–very enjoyable, in fact. What it’s really about–and what the critics way back when were too scandalized by 45 seconds of full-frontal bush to notice, is that it’s a movie about friendship. Friendship between buddies, teammates, siblings, teachers and students, cops and kids, and yes, males and females (the girls razz the guys just as much as they get razzed and both genders seem to actually respect each other). Believe it or not, Porky’s–everybody’s perceived poster child for sexploitation cinema, actually has a good heart.

So when everybody in Angel Beach pulls together to humiliate that scum-sucking pig Porky and his rotten henchman just across the county line, it’s like watching your favorite team defeat its biggest rival. And then PeeWee loses his cherry and all is right with the world.

Sony Walkman

walkman

It really was a low-tech iPod, popping up a whole quarter century before that “game-changing” gadget from Apple appeared on the scene. Because the Walkman was a game-changer, too. Before the Walkman, if you wanted to take your music on the go with you the only means was the socially impolite and physically unwieldy purveyor of noise pollution known as the monster boom box. The Walkman was much more portable and initially marketed towards people who enjoyed an “active lifestyle”–joggers, roller skaters and bicyclists. But soon, everybody wanted one.

Cassette tapes weren’t exactly a bottomless well of music–a full-length prerecorded cassette would give you about five or six songs a side, (much more if you were listening to Napalm Death!) while blank tapes would net you roughly two full-length LPs overall. That didn’t put quite as much music at your fingertips as a 160GB iPod Classic, but you could get around this by carrying around a Jansport backpack full of cassettes with you at all times. The marriage of cassette and player wasn’t always a peaceful one, either, every now and then the machine would “eat” a tape, splashing its innards outside its case in a horrifying tangle of brown tape.

Sound quality wasn’t the best. Even when nestled inside the precision-machined well of a Nakamichi Dragon, there were always major compromises in fidelity when using cassettes. In a portable device, imperfections like “hiss” “wow and flutter” and “total harmonic distortion” were even more pronounced. So it wasn’t like walking around with a miniature concert hall attached to your head. But neither is the iPod, which employs artificially compressed files delivered through tiny ear buds that probably aren’t much better than the cheap spongy headphones that came with the Walkman. So, examined this way, even through all these years, it seems like we’ve really only made gains in capacity since the heyday of the Walkman. And that isn’t much of a gain at all.

You can still buy pre-recorded cassettes at most independent record stores and Goodwill shops for a quarter apiece. And there are exactly 1,404 listings for Sony Cassette Walkmans on Ebay right this very minute! I think the answer is obvious. Long live analog!

Boris Becker

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He appeared in the summer of 1985 on the west side of London Town–leaping and rolling about the green summer grass of The All England Club like an exuberant Golden Retriever high on Jolt cola. Unseeded, unheralded, unbelievable. 17 years old and he won the fucking thing.  He was a big man, but he moved like a point guard weaving around in the paint. His serve was devastating, and his long reach and willingness to sacrifice his knees and elbows for the sake of the next point made him a virtual Berlin Wall at the net.

Bud Collins called him “Boom-Boom” because those serves and volleys could rock his opponents like shots from the gloves of Raymond Mancini, but Boris himself never liked that moniker. He and Steffi Graf were the king and queen of an 80s-90s German royal family of tennis that would grow to include Michael Stich and Anke Huber. A real Oktoberfest for the sport!

My favorite male tennis player of this era was Pat Cash, but I loved watching Boris play. Everybody did. Not to mention his Ellesse gear was sick. (No 80s athletic brand is more underrated.) He was one of the undisputed superstars of the day.

The Berlin Wall eventually came down, and so did Boris once he stopped whacking that yellow ball around. His financial problems are legendary and his stand-up broom closet bang with a waitress in a London restaurant is one of the most vividly evocative celebrity misdeeds ever. As he ages, he physically looks more and more like a German version of Danny Bonaduce. But he gave us a lot, and the goodwill he amassed during his salad days will never completely be spent.