(They Eat Green Bell Peppers in the Emerald City)
1964 / 6:45 am
I remember waking up early on cold winter mornings in the dark, lured into an emerging state of semi-consciousness by the aroma of Cream Of Wheat wafting from the kitchen.
I would stumble out of bed and into the kitchen, beclothed in my baby blue "onsie" with the pink bunnies scattered about the flannel material and the white nubby plastic soles glued upon its feet.
As we three Rossi sprouts took our places around the small square wooden table in the kitchen, Moms would serve up the steaming glop whilst singing "The Cream Of Wheat" radio jingle of her youth, grab the glass bottle and pour milk in three bowls, and let me handle the sugar ratio with a four year old's heavy spoon-wielding hand.
The TV was tuned to The Today Show. Moms said it was for "Current Events", but I think she secretly had a crush on Hugh Downs. Eating for those first ten minutes of the lead-off news segment was a solemn affair. All of us were required to shut up and give Hugh our undivided attention while we blew on spoonfuls of breakfast goo to cool it off some.
At 7:10, Mom would assume her position at the fourth side of the square, and as if by magic, produce "the book". The TV was turned off, its black and white picture closing in on itself, reducing to a lingering white dot in the center of the screen.
Our first hour of an awake state was mapped out with military precision. Reality first, and then fantasy second, accompanied by her rendition of The Cream Of Wheat Song.
It didn't matter what the book was, but in retrospect, it was always of high quality. Charlotte's Web, Winnie The Pooh, Stuart Little, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, The Wind and The Willows, and The Cricket In Times Square; Every morning a chapter would be read aloud; The dialog acted out in character by my beautiful Moms, and when an illustration would appear in the text, the book was passed around the table.
Day by day, the stories would unfold serially as we ate our cereal. You never wanted the chapter to end. That meant that Alfie and Becky would have their teeth washed and their faces brushed and hustled off to school; and I would be the only kid in the house until they came back.
But I couldn't wait for the next part of the story. I figured the quicker I learned to read, I wouldn't have to depend on Mom to read them to us. Eventually all those books and more were devoured and memorized chapter and verse, read repetitively with my nose buried constantly within them.
But long after I was able to digest novels myself, still; Those breakfast table readings and performances were enthralling ritual.
Moms never read to us to put us to sleep at bedtime. She read to us to fire our imaginations and wake us up.
DANNY KAYE SITTING ON A TOADSTOOL 01/64
Having had to replace our TV set due to my block throwing incident during the news coverage of JFK's assassination and State funeral, the first color TV on Gayle Road made its appearance in the Rossi living room.
We gathered around the set on a cold Sunday's winter night earlier than usually, to watch the televised special broadcast of "The Wizard Of Oz". I'm sure that the yearly broadcast had been established as a yearly event before then. But this is the first of my memory.
It was in color, and it was a revelatory experience.
The family brood, and like every other American Atomic Age, Cold War Era family, tuned in every year as "The Wizard Of Oz" cemented its place in the American cultural consciousness.
No one can deny the overall greatness of this film, or the L.Frank Baum books that had been entertaining about four decades of American children before the theatrical release of the film in 1939.
But the confluence of the film with the medium of broadcast television in the era bears special notice.: With only three major networks and no ability of home video recording or playback technologies in the day burnished the importance of the film and its yearly special broadcasts. You could only see it once a year, and it was a truly special family event, shared by America.
It unified all of us. Just like the airing of Warner Brothers Cartoons did to every kid with access to a TV, every Saturday morning.
So when searching for examples of "Pop Culture" creative output, its impact on our culture, and running it through the criteria of "The Test Of Time", there is no larger or more impactful example than this film.
I knew if I was going to find "The Pepper" of my holy trinity, I would have to deconstruct this film on all platforms, but my first focus was the original progenitor of the film: The actual story, written by L.Frank Baum, and how it was re-interpreted by the multitude of writers that crafted the screenplay and musical numbers for the film.
Allegorical stories seem to have more staying, and thus more sticking power in human experience and consciousness, from Homer's "Odyssey", to The Bible, all the way to "The Wizard Of Oz". In search of a narrative for a central character, I knew that just like everything else about to be cooked up, those narrative elements had to function on many different levels to bear repeat exposure, and have the same type of impact.
The narrative had to be a gift that kept on giving, no matter how many times it was visited by an audience.
Allegory, and its use, was a key component in crafting a future narrative for "The Bunny".
As I deconstructed every element of "The Wizard of Oz", and went on a vision quest to learn each and every little fact and detail I could about the construction and creation of the books and the film, many other new skills and concepts were revealed; and many other pre-existing skills and theoretical concepts that already were within me were validated.
Unknown to me, I was actually co-opting as I was crafting the architecture of this classic American musical film. In search of an actual story, the ideas started to gel as a strong allegorical narrative rooted in fantasy, with its action driven forward by songs.
This was "The Pepper", in it's embryonic state: and it was as green as anything else found in The Emerald City. But I had the foundation dug, and laid, even if the rough architectural blueprint wasn't exactly manifested in a hard reality yet. All I needed now was the building material to draw those blueprints and build my own creative version of an "Oz" upon it.
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW"... Mark Twain, American author and humorist"
I was at the creative "Waterloo". I had my foundational parameters clearly defined, but now I was at the point where you really do have to create something out of nothing.
I used Twain's quote to guide the process and lead the way. If I was going to assume the character of "The Bunny", then The Bunny in the context of an allegorical, picaresque adventure story, was me.
My story was the one story that I knew most intimately.
So roughly, I just decided to take that story, mythologize it and amplify the life themes of existence that were running through my head at the time. As I sat down with a pencil and a yellow legal pad, I jotted down a short list of potential dark adult themes that I wanted to weave into the future "Allegory". I was in a very psychologically dark place at the time, and by writing about what I knew, these themes would reflect me current state of mind:
3. Personal Betrayal
4. Lust and Sex as Leverage and Other Substance Abuses: Addiction
5. Heart Break: Love and Love Lost
7. The Nature of Failure
8. Mob Rule.
9. Maintenance of Integrity
10. Death/Murder of the bunny at all platforms
12. The Quest for Meaning/Spirituality
13. The Flaws of Humanity, both innwardly and outwardly
This was my life in 1991. The commitment to a creative endeavor was tied to the need to get out of the psychic hole that I was in. These were the stages and changes I was experiencing as I continued to absorb cataclysmic professional and personal failures, the personal ones tied to the events of the disintegration and very public implosion of my marriage, specifically tied to the behavior and autonomous life style choices of my soon to be future ex-wife.
I hadn't really figured out how to turn this into an allegorical tale yet, but this was a process of circling around certain conundrums, and slowly tightening the noose around its neck, as mentioned previously.
The challenge was to write a narrative that somehow would be entertaining, and appear to be not only light hearted, but in fact at times extremely comedic as well. Alot of that element would center on the actual character development of "The Bunny" himself.
But at the onset, there had to be a transition of material from the comic R 'N B book of obscure covers that had been hand picked by the future voice of Spongebob Square Pants, fellow Syracusan Tom Kenny. So any future material chosen to cover had to meet two basic criteria:
1. It had to be New Orleans based as a rule. The band had to go through the process of learning how to be a New Orleans style band first before one note of original music could be written. I had to go through this learning curve as well both musically and in the context of being the "Ringleader/Front Person". We had to immerse ourselves in the New Orleans "book" and explore the styles and arrangement techniques and then re-interpret them with an East Coast, New York sensibility. It had to evoke, but uniquely personalized as a representation of who we actually were. New Orleans would function as "OZ".
2. The lyric content had to match these thematic threads. Some of The Fabulous Pushballs material already met that bench mark ("Drunk", "Down Home Girl")... so much so that those two tunes were covers that were included in the final manifestation of all of this, The Shuffling Hungarians eponymously named first recording, released in the fall of 1994.
As a side note, an actual timeline started to emerge of just how long it was going to take to get there. Before we debuted at the Dinosaur, I started to get a feeling for the projections, time wise, and it did look to me like it was going to take about three years from conception of the original ideas to finished product of both band and recording.
BUILDING LITTLE GEORGIE ("You got to do "Good" in the world...")
As I was in the development phase of indentifying basic narrative themes and that the narrative would take on the fictionalized and mythologized version of autobiographical events, I still didn't have the actual "story". That would come in time, but now I needed to actually develop the central character, and had enough structural elements in place to take that challenge on.
By doing this, I knew that the character traits of the character would start to actually redefine and clarify narrative points.
At the time, I was very much intrigued by the inner conflict of popular artists that had fought the battle of becoming secular Pop Stars by using sacred forms, and coming from a personal place of deep spirituality.
There's a recording of an argument between Sam Phillips and Jerry Lee Lewis prior to cutting "Great Balls Of Fire". At the time, I had only read a transcript of it, but thanks to the intrawebs, here's the actual recording as Sam tries to twist Jerry Lee's arm into to recording "Great Balls Of Fire", as both of them cite scripture chapter and verse; Jerry Lee desperately trying to not record "Great Balls Of Fire" and Phillips intent on selling the true power of Rock and Roll.
Listen to the pain and incredulity in Jerry Lee's voice as he asks the question "Nooooo, Nooooo!-How can The Devil save souls? What are ya talkin about? Man...I got the Devil in me! If I didn't I'd be a Christian!"
I especially love one of the sidemen on the session who can be heard in the background saying "Awww, lets cut it man...."
Well as history proves, Phillips prevailed. Rock and Roll history was made.
But Jerry Lee's state of mind before he cut the song? A lost soul, in complete and utter turmoil.
Just like mine at the time I was trying to come up with the "Bunny".
There are other examples of this inner turmoil, when the sacred and the profane collided in rock and roll history and genious was born of that inner clash and turmoil. Elvis. Sam Cooke. Ray Charles. Al Green. Aretha Franklin. Really anybody that came up through the church with a holy roller Pentecostal sensibility. All of them had to eventually accept the very real thought in their minds that they were actually going to burn in hell predicated on a career and artisitic choice.
The art got made in the context of real conflict. The epic and eternal battle between good and evil.
This aspect would define the new character, but also define the as yet written narrative, In any good allegorical story, this is the critical element, be it God vs. The Devil, The Good Witch of the North vs, The Wicked Witch of The West, or The Dark Side vs. The Force or Yin vs Yang.
Magnetic, chemical and electrical force at the atomic level, be they positive or negative, is how energy is transferred through the universe, and it effects us all right here on our lowly little Earth bound existence.
The action of the narrative would ultimately driven by this time honored tradition in story telling and life: What happens when the sacred and the profane collide, and what is the outcome?
In all honesty, much of my direction of character development was directly inspired by Greil Marcus' classic tome of Rock and Roll essays, MYSTERY TRAIN. My paperback copy by 1991 was a much dog eared, coffee stained, yellowed by drool, constant resource and repetitive reference book.
The prologue of MYSTERY TRAIN recounts an episode on THE DICK CAVETT SHOW, the guests present at this taping being Little Richard, Erich Segal (who wrote "Love Story" a very popular book at the time), theater critic John Simon, and Rita Moreno.
Basically, Marcus details an argument between Simon and Segal, with Little Richard quietly watching as the two intellectuals crash their broadswoeds over the cultural significance of Segal's enormously popular but ultimatley crappy book, "Love Story".
Until Richard Penniman sees his opening. This from the prologue of MYSTERY TRAIN:
"The battle resumes. Segal has now slumped even lower in his chair, if that is possible, and seems to be arguing with the ceiling. “You’re only a crutuc,” he says as if to Simon. “What have you ever written? What do you know about art? Never in the history of art…”
“WHY, NEVER IN THE HISTORY!”
The time has come. Little Richard makes his move. Leaping from his seat, he takes the floor, arms waving, hair coming undone, eyes wild, mouth working. He advances on Segal, Cavett and Simon, who cringe as one man. The camera cuts to a close-up of Segal, who looks miserable, then to Simon, who is attempting to compose the sort of bemused expression he would have if, say, someone were to defecate on the floor. Little Richard is audible off-camera, and then his face quickly fills the screen.
“WHY, YES, IN THE WHOLE HISTORY OFAAAART! THAT’S RIGHT! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! WHAT DO YOU KNOW, MR. CRITIC? WHY, WHEN THE CREEDENCE CLEARWATER PUT OUT WITH THEIR ‘TRAVELIN’ BAND’ EVERYBODY SAY WHEEE-OOO BUT I KNOW IT ONLY CAUSE THEY DOING ‘LONG TALL SALLY’ JUST LIKE THE BEATLES ANDTHESTONESANDTOMJONESANDELVIS – I AM ALL OF IT, LITTLE RICHARD HIMSELF, VERY TRULY THE GREATEST, THE HANDSOMEST, AND NOW TO YOU (to Segal, who now appears to be on the floor) AND TO YOU (to Simon, who looks to Cavett as if to say, really old man, this has been fun, but this, ah, fellow is becoming a bit much, perhaps a commercial is in order). I HAVE WRITTEN A BOOK, MYSELF, I AM A WRITER, I HAVE WRITTEN A BOOK AND IT’S CALLED –
“‘HE GOT WHAT HE WANTED BUT HE LOST WHAT HE HAD’! THAT’S IT! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! HE GOT WHAT HE WANTED BUT HE LOST WHAT HE HAD! THE STORY OF MY LIFE. CAN YOU DIG IT? THAT’S MY BOY LITTLE RICHARD, SURE IS. OO MAH SOUL!”
Little Richard flies back to his chair and slams down into it. “WHEEEEE-OO! OOO MAH SOUL! OO mah soul…”
Little Richard sits with the arbiters of taste, oblivious to their bitter stares, savoring his moment. He is Little Richard. Who are they? Who will remember Erich Segal, John Simon, Dick Cavett? Who will care? Ah, but Little Richard, Little Richard himself! There is a man who matters. He knows how to rock.
A phrase that Little Richard snatched off Erich Segal stays in my mind: “Never in the history – in the whole history of art…” And that was it. Little Richard was the only artist on the set that night, the only one who disrupted an era, the only one with a claim to immortality. The one who broke rules, created a form; the one who gave shape to a vitality that wailed silently in each of us until he found a voice for it."
The "Bunny" became "Little Georgie" officially. An homage and a blueprint.
His future story? "HE GOT WHAT HE WANTED BUT HE LOST WHAT HE HAD"
Ultimately, "Little Georgie" was going to fill all the deficiencies that I felt that I represented at a time when my self-esteem was at an all time low. He would be the "Anti-George Rossi".
"Little Georgie" would be everything I was not.
He would be a cross between Jerry Lee, Little Richard, Stack-O-Lee, and John Henry The Steel Drivin' Man.
He would be larger than life, and a complete amplified cartoon: bragadocious beyond belief, physically beautiful, charismatic, talented, and adored. He would be able to out-play, out-fuck, out-drink, out-drug, out-pimp, and out-fight any mere mortal alive.
In my personal isolation and very real abject misery, I would define him as a version of Bacchus, The Devil, and God incarnate. The Alpha and Omega, as defined by Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E. Coyote, Pepe Le Pew and Bugs Bunny via Chuck Jones and Mike Maltese.
At the intersection of Highways 61 and 49, he could close a deal like Ron Popeil on the Atlantic City Boardwalk.
But like every epic hero, he would be imbued with a tragic flaw, and an Achilles Heel. For this one flaw, I looked toward myself, and installed the singular point of actual reality firmly and deeply into a utter fantasy of character invention.
He would want to be loved truly and authentically; He would risk all to seek it and that would be his undoing.
The narrative would be a variation on the concept of "Love Conquers All", sideways and backwards.
(Stay Tuned For Part 8: The Third Element Of The Holy Trinity)
Gary Frenay: A Testimony:
033.) "On Rhetorical Devices, Influences, and Making Art "Popular": The use of rhetoric as a velvet rope and associative strategy 1981-2011
055.) "Exploring Creative Processes: Part 1": An Introduction
056.) "Exploring Creative Processes: Part 2": What's In Your Gumbo?
057.) "Exploring Creative Processes Part 3": The Hard Wiring Of The Really Little Georgie 1960-1964
058.) "Party Time": A "Lake Boy" Tale
059.) "Exploring Creative Processes Part 4": The Test Of Time
060.) "Exploring Creative Processes Part 5": The Test Of Time
061.) "Exploring Creative Processes Part 6": Finding the Second of Three "Trinity" Components: The Green Pepper
As always, if you are following The Dose regularly, its going to be increasingly more helpful if you have a roadmap and scorecard. An updated master index is sent out weekly that includes descriptions and direct hyperlinks to each archived blog: Its a lot easier than searching for archived material for cross referencing purposes than the blogger platform. Just shoot me your email address at:
You can opt out at anytime.
As of this writing, The Dose has received over 19,250 page views in 61 daily injections. All I have asked of the general readership is that if you enjoyed what you just read, hit that little share button on the top right column of this site, or copy the blog address down, paste it in an email, and give a friend a taste.
The Dose's original intent and design was for it to be passed along and shared; sort of hoping that we could form a bond and a shared sense of responsibility between the content and its users.
I'd like to continue to keep delivering this stuff, but we're rapidly reaching the point of diminishing returns.
Unfortunately, my personal assessment is that its starting to look like a failed experiment.
It isn't without its harvestable aspects in the face of failure, and I don't regret the amount of time I spent writing 62 consecutive posts at all. I have learned so much by disciplining myself to produce quality writing to the best of my ability for 62 conescutive days. I can look myself in the mirror and honestly say that I gave my all, every little last particle of me. I did not phone it in, or take whoever might be reading The Dose for granted in anyway. I stayed true to principle.
I'm truly grateful to those of you that have read, and perhaps even been inspired by the Blog-O-Thon's content and message. I'm also especially grateful to the folks that took it upon themselves to realize their implied responsibility by enjoying the content, and then taking the time to hip their friends and family to the Blog-O-Thon.
Circumstances beyond my control have led me to a place where I can no longer devote the time to producing a quality experience for you daily.
Those circumstances were the result of broken promises made to me, and the collateral damge is that I no longer can keep my promise to you... everything, IS connected.
That isn't an excuse though. We are what we eat, and we are the choices we make. I sincerely apologize for breaking my promise, and seeming unaccountable. In the end, all you are left with is your Integrity, and mine got compromised by not recognizing the lack of it in others that I openly trusted.
Those circumstances coupled with a rather tepid response of reader participation have led to this unfortunate resolution.
That's cool. I'm a big boy, and I can handle it. "I judge my forward progress and successes by the crushingly epic nature of my failures..."
If you are on facebook, I started a page called "Little Georgie's Blog-O-Thon". Just search it, it will pop up. That will be the final publicly published Master Index for all of the past Dose Output, and any that might happen in the future.
The "Last Dispensary" as it were.
I love you all.
"You may shoot for the stars and end up in a back alley behind Pluto, beaten and bloodied, but at least I dare to dream, and that’s better than being Earthbound, mired in the muck of mediocrity.
I judge my forward progress and success by the crushingly epic nature of my failures.
The more epic the crash, the more I’m convinced I must be doing something right"
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COLONEL BEAUREGARD "IRON THIGHS" JEFFERSON, A.K.A. "THE MANAGEMENT"