Terry Jones, RIP

I just heard the incredibly sad news that Terry Jones has died.  Jones, who was one of the founders of Monty Python and a respected medieval scholar, was 77 years old.  It was announced three years ago that Jones was suffering from a rare form of dementia so his death was not unexpected but it still hurts.

When I was a kid and I was watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus for the first time, I initially did not fully appreciated Terry Jones.  I liked him because I liked every member of Monty Python and every British comedy fan grows up wishing that they could have been a member of the group.  (My favorite was Eric Idle.)  But it was sometimes easy to overlook  Terry Jones’s performance on the show because his characters were rarely as flamboyant as some of the other ones.  He was never as grumpy as John Cleese nor was he as sarcastic as Eric Idle.  Michael Palin (who was Jones’s writing partner long before the two of them become members of Monty Python) cornered the market on both unctuous hosts and passive aggressive countermen.  Meanwhile, Graham Chapman played most of the upright authority figures and Terry Gilliam provided animation.  Terry Jones, meanwhile, often played screeching women and bobbies who said, “What’s all this then?”

It was only as I got older and I came to better appreciate the hard work that goes into being funny that I came to appreciate Terry Jones and his ability to always nail the perfect reaction to whatever lunacy was occurring around him.  It was also as I got older that I started to learn about the origins of Monty Python and what went on behind the scenes.  I learned that Terry Jones was a key player.  Along with writing some of Monty Python‘s most memorable material, he also directed or co-directed their films.  On the sets of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life, Jones provided the structure that kept those films from just devolving into a collection of skits.

Unlike the other members of Monty Python, Terry Jones never really went out of his way to establish an acting career outside of the group.  Instead, he wrote screenplays and serious books on both medieval history and Geoffrey Chaucer.  Appropriately, for a member of the troupe that changed the face of comedy, Jones often challenged the conventional views of history.  Terry Jones was the only man in Britain brave enough to defend the Barbarians.

On the last day of the ninth grade, my English teacher, Mr. Davis, rewarded us for our hard work by showing us what he said was the funniest scene in film history.  The scene that he showed us came from the Terry Jones-directed Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and it featured Jones giving a literally explosive performance as Mr. Creosote.

With thanks to both Mr. Davis and Terry Jones:

Terry Jones, Rest in Peace.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez

Last night, I watched Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez.

The case of Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots tight end who was accused of murdering multiple people when he was off the field and ultimately convicted of one murder, has always interested me.  If you believe what prosecutors charged (and, after watching the documentary, I do), Hernandez went from signing a 40 million dollar contract with the Patriots to killing people for the slightest of reasons.

After Hernandez committed suicide in 2017, his brain was examined and it was said that he was suffering from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which could have been a factor in his lack of self-control.  I was always skeptical of the argument that Hernandez’s crimes could be explained away by CTE.  I don’t doubt that Hernandez had it but I’ve always understood that CTE usually didn’t start to really effect people until they were middle-aged.  Hernandez was only 22 when he was arrested for the murder of Odin Lloyd.  To me, especially after watching the documentary, it’s more probable that Hernandez was just a sociopathic punk who was desperate to prove his manhood.  In his mind, that meant going after anyone who had gotten under his skin or who he viewed as being a threat.  In the documentary, one of Odin Lloyd’s friends says that Aaron Hernandez was trying to be a gangster and I think that’s right.  The documentary also revealed that Hernandez was gay and deeply closeted and suggests that his own self-hatred was one of the main causes of Hernandez’s emotional instability.

The documentary features the audio of several phone calls between the jailed Hernandez and his mother and girlfriend.  What really got to me was how content Hernandez often sounded in those recordings.  It was as if being in prison and only having to deal with a small cell provided him with the structure that he had never had before.

The film reveals that Hernandez was not a smart criminal.  He murdered Lloyd just a few miles away from his house and he left behind hundreds of clues that revealed he was the murderer.  If Hernandez had been a smarter criminal, would be still be playing in the NFL today?  Would he be making millions off of endorsements and looking forward to a future as an ESPN commentator?  I doubt it.  Aaron Hernandez was so self-destructive that his downfall was going to come one way or the other.

Another good thing about the documentary is that it spent almost as much time exploring Odin Lloyd’s life as it did Aaron Hernandez’s.  With all the publicity surrounding Hernandez’s trial, it was often overlooked that Odin Lloyd left behind friends and family and loves ones.  Everyone in the documentary describes Odin Lloyd as being a good person and it’s obvious that, when interviewed, all of them were still feeling the pain of losing him.  The documentary remembers that this story is about more than just Aaron Hernandez’s fall from grace.  It’s also about the tragedy of Odin Lloyd’s death.

Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 

A New Day With A Double Endorsement

Last week was a busy one and I feel like I missed a lot.  When last I checked in with the news, Cory Booker was suspending his campaign and Elizabeth Warren was refusing to shake Bernie Sanders’s hand at the end of the Democratic debate.  That seems like a month ago.

Today, on the other hand, feels like an entirely new news cycle.  The 49ers and the Chiefs are going to the Super Bowl and The New York Times turned their presidential endorsement process into a reality show.  Last night, people stayed up late to discover that the New York Times can’t even do an endorsement right.  That they endorsed Elizabeth Warren is not a surprise as Warren has always been the media’s favorite Democrat.  That they also endorsed Amy Klobuchar is a head scratcher.  I get the feeling that they secretly know Warren’s campaign is doomed so they tossed in a second endorsement to cover their bases.  Since Tulsi Gabbard is hated by the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party and all of the other major candidates are white males, tossing a second endorsement to Amy Klobuchar was a safe way to be woke without tossing all in behind a campaign that is obviously self-destructing.

I think the real winner of the New York Times endorsement show was probably Donald Trump because the whole affair just made the NYT look like the collection of out of touch elitists that the majority of MAGA people already assume that it is.  (The New York Times seems to suffer any time that it tries to turn its top people into TV stars.)  As for the Democrats, the big winner was probably Michael Bloomberg because he wisely refused to degrade himself by begging the Times for their endorsement.  The Times‘s petulant response to Bloomberg’s refusal to kiss their ring probably did more to help Bloomberg than any endorsement ever would.

There’s been a lot of talk about what the media needs to do to regain the credibility that they’ve lost over the past few years.  It’s an important question because, as easy as it is to dismiss the media’s self-regard, they does have a very important role to play in America society.  It’s hard to know what the media has to do to repair the damage that’s been done to its reputation but turning their presidential endorsement process into a reality show was probably not the right direction to go.

Cory Booker’s Out

Cory Booker has suspended his presidential campaign, announcing that he doesn’t believe he has a realistic path to the Democratic nomination.

People started promoting Cory Booker as a potential president back when he was just mayor of Newark and, after he was elected to the Senate, the Booker hype went into overdrive.  Unfortunately, while Mayor Booker was an inspiring reformer, Senator Booker often seemed to be a pompous ass.  Booker did have his moments.  I thought he handled himself well in the debates that he qualified for.  But, whenever Booker seemed like he was on the verge of convincing voters that he could be a strong national leader, he would do something like saying that he was having a “real Spartacus moment,” and he would remind us that he was just another politician after all.

Booker’s gone and it’s hard to know where he can go from here.  He’s had the misfortune to have been elected from a solidly blue state, which means he can have his Senate seat for life but it’ll be a struggle for him to make a case that he should be Biden’s or any other Democrat’s running mate.  (New Jersey is never going to be in play.)  Personally, I think Booker’s best bet would be to eventually run to succeed Phil Murphy as governor.  Being a legislator brings out Booker’s worst instincts.  Being a governor would actually give him a chance to put together a record of accomplishment for when he makes his next presidential run.

Booker’s gone.  John Delaney remains.

Neil Peart, R.I.P.

I was sorry, today, to learn of the death of Rush’s drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart.  I had heard that he was sick but it was still a shock to learn that he had passed away on January 7th.

I would be lying if I said I was a huge Rush fan, though I appreciated the fact that they were, from a political and philosophical standpoint, more interesting than many of the other bands of their era.  However, when I was in college, my best friend Jay absolutely loved Rush.  I spent the entire summer of 2003 hanging out at Jay’s house and, whenever I hear anything by Rush, my mind immediately flashes back to those days.  Rush provided the soundtrack for one of the best summers of my life and for that I’m thankful.

Neil Peart, R.I.P.

330 — 231

That was the vote today in the House of Commons, finally passing the Brexit bill.  The UK will be departing the EU on January 31st and it will presumably be a brand new world.

As I’ve said before, I can’t pretend to know what will happen after the UK leaves the EU.  I’m not going to paint an unrealistically rosy picture of what will probably be an awkward transition but I’m not going to join in with the doomsayers either.  A slim majority voted for Brexit three-and-half years ago.  They voted for it again last month.  It’s time to move forward.

Buck Henry, R.I.P.

I just heard that Buck Henry died tonight of a heart attack.  He was 89 years old.

It’s hard to know where to start with Buck Henry.  He did a little bit of everything.  He started out as a comedian in the 50s, appearing on talk shows and claiming to be G. Clifford Prout, the president of the Society for Indecency to Naked Animals (SINA).  SINA was an organization dedicated to clothing animals in order to prevent their “indecency.”  Buck Henry’s delivery was so deadpan that many people thought he actually was G. Clifford Prout and a some even tried to send him donations to help out his cause.  (The donations were always returned.)

Henry went on to work extensively in both television and film.  He wrote the script for The Graduate and played the helpful hotel clerk.  He co-created Get Smart with Mel Brooks.  With Warren Beatty, he co-directed Heaven Can Wait and received an Oscar nomination.  In Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, he had a rare serious role as the gay patent lawyer who helps alien Thomas Jerome Newton set up his corporation and who ultimately gets tossed out of a window by government agents.

During the first few season of Saturday Night Live, Buck Henry hosted a total of ten times.  By many, he was considered to be an unofficial member of the cast.  He was a frequent foil to John Belushi’s samurai character.  Henry’s button-down persona provided the perfect contrast to Belushi’s frenetic performance.  During the October 30th, 1976 episode, Henry was accidentally struck by Belushi’s katana and he ended up with a deep cut on his forehead.  Henry not only continued the skit but he also hosted the rest of the show with a bandage on his forehead.  All of the other members of the cast put bandages on their foreheads as a show of solidarity.

Buck Henry kept working into the new century, appearing on shows like Will and Grace, The Daily Show, and 30 Rock.  He will be missed.

Buck Henry, R.I.P.