Friday, August 12, 2005

The Dream Is Over

After our artistic breakthrough, we were temporarily staggered. Like someone who has produced a masterpiece at an early age, we felt as if the moment might be impossible to top and were afraid to try.

Plans were made for the next session, but nothing ever came of them. Or, we’d settle on a date and then Ted would inform us that a knob had fallen off the mixer and had to be fixed. The truth was that we could no longer face each other so we retreated into our own little worlds.

George, an accomplished guitarist who had proven his dedication to music by mailing away for Elton John’s first import album, was the first to splinter off from the group. He became involved in something that was alien to the rest of us at that age, namely writing his own material. I couldn’t relate to this George at all. What the hell did he think he was doing? Mad Magazine never wrote their own songs. And why bother, when there were so many perfectly good ones to make fun of?

Ted burrowed deeper into his radio project, attempting to realize his dream of broadcasting over a 1-block radius. I would occasionally drop in on him while he’d work on it, but the nuts and bolts gear-speak of the thing went right over my head. Bored by the electronic details, I dropped by less and less. For all I know, he may still be working on it.

As for myself, I could not abandon the lesson of what had been revealed to us that fateful day. I became more and more involved in improvisation and chance operations, hoping to recapture the magic of that session when everything fit together like pieces in some parodic puzzle.

I recorded strange cassettes of my own compositions, which often involved little or no rehearsal, just an instinctual will to cut to the heart of the creative moment. Often I’d be rewarded with some synchronous results that made it all worthwhile. But the truth was that I was attempting to relive something that could never happen again.

George and I got together for other musical projects through the years, which I’ll hopefully get a chance to describe some day, but this was the first. Caught in the vise of social upheaval and current events, we did our best to adapt. Standards were changing. A new magazine had begun to appear on the stands to challenge Mad called National Lampoon. It made Mad look like Highlights for Children. It was edgy, political, irreverent, sacrilegious, literary, sophisticated, and had pictures of naked women in it.

Worst of all, it did the seeming impossible and parodied my beloved Mad. How could they mock the mockers? The world had truly been turned upside-down. Something new was in the wind, a fragrance that would lead to Saturday Night Live, Animal House, and a whole sub-genre of fratboy comedy that would eventually collapse under its own weight.

As I mull over the spiritual demise of Mad, I at least have the satisfaction of knowing that the National Lampoon didn’t escape a similar fate. If you thought the Lampoon name couldn't be associated with anything lower than the latest batch of movies they've lent their authority to, feast your eyes on their latest pay-per-view project:

In each edition of “National Lampoon's Strip Poker” – which was filmed in its entirety at the Hedonism II nudist resort in Jamaica – six stunningly sensuous supermodels gamble their tops, bottoms, and G-strings against each other, until one grand champion succeeds in stripping her opponents down to an embarrassed smile and absolutely nothing else. Loaded with bawdy innuendo, sizzling bodies, and cut-throat card play, National Lampoon uncorks a scathing, uproarious parody of the Texas Hold 'Em poker phenomenon with the most daring, most revealing production in the company's 36-year history. But “National Lampoon's Strip Poker” is much more than full-frontal nudity and gambling – there's also original music from Metal Skool, twisted cartoons from the diabolical geniuses at Icebox, and the unpredictable brand of Machiavellian humor that National Lampoon has honed into an American institution.

Because when you think “Machiavellian,” you think “strip poker.”

Or, to put it another way, they’ve dropped the edgy, political, irreverent, sacrilegious, literary, and sophisticated stuff, and narrowed it all down to the pictures of naked women.

Must this always be the way?

Must the worship of profit and the common denominator eventually ruin everything in America, no matter how promising, no matter how loved, no matter how beautiful? Must every cherished, shining thought become fat, bloated and ineffective, staggering through hallways of gross stupidity and ugliness, searching in vain for a place to die?

Where are the stations with the 1-block radius, the voices from the basements? Where are the happy accidents, the unscripted moments? The human voice straining to be heard amongst the tumult of the traders and dealers, the dull and the thick-witted whose only inspiration was to buy something that somebody else created in a moment of passion?

Alfred, Alfred, Alfred. Strange, lopsided, human face. Magic grin of eternity.

We lift our lamps beside your golden door.


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