It wasn’t always easy being a rock ‘n’ roller/black sheep of the family in a lower middle class neighborhood. I was never molested by a priest like Patti Rasnick (Joan Jett’s character), and didn’t shoplift either, but I definitely was on a different wavelength than the rest of the family/neighborhood girls. If you wanted to do something other than marry a boy from the neighborhood, buy a house in the neighborhood and have babies in the neighborhood, you were a weirdo.
A nightclub scene was filmed near my childhood home in suburban Chicago. I’m not sure if that particular footage was used in the film.
A Woman Under the Influence
The first time I saw “A Woman Under the Influence” I was so shocked at some of the similarities to my life I wondered if John Cassevettes knew my family or had heard about them somewhere. My Mom was a paranoid-schizophrenic, and every few years, she was admitted to the hospital for treatment. The adults around us never talked much about what happened there or what kind of treatment she received. I was a kid and these things weren’t explained much in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Now that I’m older, I think some of her difficulties had to do with postpartum depression, another subject that wasn’t talked about (or even noticed) back then.
My Dad never hit my Mom and she never cheated on him, but some of the other scenes and just the general feel of the film were like a slice of my childhood, plus my Mom looked like a thinner, frailer version of Gena Rowlands.
The plot in a nutshell - A working class Dad (Peter Falk) deals with three kids (two boys and a girl) and his wife’s (Gena Rowlands) mental instability, until he has her committed. When she comes home from the hospital, all the relatives are there to greet her in a big party like scene.
As a teen, I was an aspiring rock critic with a hint of groupie, so I could identify with Penny Lane and Cameron Crowe’s alter-ego, William Miller.
The scenes where Miller’s (Patrick Fugit) Mom drops him off at the backstage door and the scene where Sapphire (Fairuza Balk) talks about what music means to her reminded me of being a teen who sought solace in rock 'n' roll. It seems so bittersweet to see those scenes now. Music moves you so much as a kid, in a heart-pounding, all-encompassing way. It seems sad to lose that when you get older and real life takes over.
The Bell Jar
Adolescence is a pain in the ass, and it’s even worse if you’re a moody poet who reads Nietzsche in your spare time.
When I first saw the book The Bell Jar in a mall bookstore, I grabbed it after seeing the back cover blurb “The story of a talented young woman who descends into madness.”
“Hey”, I said to my girlfriend “How did they know?” I can recite whole passages from the novel by heart to this day, even some of the more insignificant ones.
"Ouch!" I winced at a particularly bad jab. The doctor whistled. "You're one in a million." "What do you mean?" "I mean it's one in a million it happens to like this.
Esther Greenwood’s descent into depression and insanity resonated with me. I’ve always been a persevering Pollyanna at heart, but I could relate to Esther’s general malaise and disenchantment with the world. A lot of teen girls did – and still do – that’s why The Bell Jar remains a go-to book for sensitive adolescents. Kirsten Dunst will direct the second film version of the novel. The first version, released in 1979, wasn’t very good, so I’ve included an audio book clip instead of a film clip.
It was a simpler time. When not working or going to school, life consisted of:
Hanging out with rock musicians (local or traveling), listening to albums and the radio 24/7, exploring the now demolished International Amphitheatre, smoking pot with roadies for either Judas Priest or UFO - or maybe REO Speedwagon, watching bands soundcheck, getting hammered on cheap beer at street fairs, Chicagofest and local clubs.
And not all rock stars were as dim-witted as Spinal Tap, but here’s a backstage tale for you, courtesy of a guest speaker in one of my arts management classes:
A lesser-known rock star was incensed that the soda backstage was above a certain temperature. (The exact temperature for soda was specified in his contract rider.) He told the promoter he refused to go onstage if this wasn’t rectified.
The promoter said, “OK, don’t go on. I’ll go out there and tell the kids why.”
The show went on as planned.