One Headlight

Do you ever follow the rhythms of your day down a rabbit hole? Friday night I had about 14 movies lined up in my head that I was going to watch after my family went to sleep. I rarely watch movies like I used to. I have so much shit going on with work and with kids that I might get to watch 1 movie per week. This may seem fine and dandy, but to me it is total heresy. When I was in my 20s and early 30s I’d knock out 2 or 3 in a day sometimes. Occasionally I’d hit a movie in a theater and then watch another one a few hours after I got home. Every time I’d go to a bar I’d come home, put a movie on and pass out.

So now I plan these viewings out in advance. I turn them over in my mind for days. What is going to be the one god forsaken movie I watch this week? I have a pile of 4K Blu Rays sitting in my basement unwatched. It’s like 20 movies deep now (Birthday presents, Christmas presents, impulse buys, dollar store finds, utter trash I found at Goodwill). On top of all this I have Amazon Prime, HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu…all with movie queues as deep as the Mariana Trench. My anxiety over what to watch knows no bounds. Many times I just endlessly scroll until I fall asleep and never end up watching anything.

My taste is so refined now. I am such a snob. I know how to weed out what I know I won’t like. Then sometimes I have to weed out anything over 2 hours long – because I’m f*cking old and will fall asleep. That’s where the rabbit holes come in. Sometimes a wild hair flies directly up my butt and I just get into something I never thought I would ever watch. On this particular night it became the 2020 Pete Davidson dramedy The King of Staten Island. Did I plan to watch this? Hell no. I don’t think it was even in any of my endless pit of despair streaming queues. I do like being surprised by a film though. It’s one of my favorite things ever. It rarely happens anymore, mostly because I don’t have the time to take chances on films my snobbery finds abhorrent. When it happens though, it’s magic…and one of these 10,000 word essays comes seeping out of me.

It all started because of Dry Rub Wings. My wife had a hankering for them and I had to drive and get COVID pickup from a restaurant. While I was there waiting for the Dry Rub to come out of the kitchen and into my grubby mitts, I was doing what I always do…texting weird shit to anyone and everyone in my phone. One of my friends sends me a link to an article out of nowhere. I glance at it, send back a snarky comment and grab my heaping garbage bag of wings and cheese noodles for the kids. As I walk to my car I hear my name being called in the distance. What the f*ck? I look around the parking lot and see nobody. Finally I figure out that the sound is coming from my pocket. I hear somebody yelling to their wife, “I don’t know I think it’s Andy? ….Andy? …ANDY!!” I slide my food into my other arm and grab my phone frantically. Apparently I had butt-facetimed my friend Mark Maser. I don’t think I’ve had a face to face conversation with him in almost 2 years. We probably text each other 4-5 times a year, and when we do it’s always something ridiculous like an in depth article on the 25th anniversary of Jakob Dylan’s hit song One Headlight. Which is what the old yeti Mark Maser had sent me this night.

Mark and I had a very short and sweet conversation on my ride home with the Dry Rub Wings. I asked about his kids, he asked me what the hell I was doing calling him…you know, the usual. Mark had just cut his own hair so it looked like George Clooney. We laughed about how big “The Caesar” cut was in the 90s. I called it “The Rachel” for men and we laughed about it (for those under the age of 35, “The Rachel” was the haircut every female on earth got in 1995 when they saw Jennifer Anniston sport it on the tv show F-R-I-E-N-D-S). The conversation then turned to Jakob Dylan and Mark said I should read the interview, specifically for the story of Jakob playing One Headlight with Bruce Springsteen on some awards show. Apparently it was the exact moment young Jakob decided to confide in The Boss that he was “inspired” by him to pen the somber tones and lyrics of the catchy little ditty. To which the Boss turned a weather eye and wise old wink and replied simply “I know.”

Mark and I laughed like hyenas about what a douche Jakob Dylan is and I also attempted to describe the plot of the Netflix documentary Echo in the Canyon to him. Have you ever tried to describe that film? You can’t, except to say Jakob Dylan turns all the beautiful hits of the ’60s and ’70s into elevator music while Michelle Philips of the Mamas and the Papas waxes poetic about some guy she was banging. I think Mark said something like “Why would you ever watch that?” I have no idea. I’m an idiot.

The conversation took another hairpin turn into a story about Mark and I being piss drunk one foul evening as cold as the current evening (probably also a Friday) nearly 20 years previous. We had tried to double up on a 10 speed bike we found in his garage in order not to drive drunk. We attempted to ride this beast to the local PDQ and buy cigarettes, but made it about 50 yards down the icy street before realizing both tires were flat. I am not going to lie, this 5 or 6 minute banter may have been the most genuine conversation I’ve had in weeks.

After I crushed those Dry Rub Wings, I sat down and read that whole damn Jakob Dylan interview. My mind got stuck on a question the interviewer asked about the longevity of One Headlight or some such nonsense, and it was mentioned that he let a Pete Davidson movie use it. Wait…what? Pete Davidson gets drunk to the song One Headlight in a movie? That was all it took. I had to watch that movie just for that one scene. My mind would not allow me to even have one thought about any other movie until I saw The King of Staten Island. That’s how the mind of a middle-aged idiot works you see. I fell down that rabbit hole faster than Ozzie Smith falls down the Springfield Mystery Spot on The Simpsons.

I’m not going to attempt to pretend that the One Headlight scene in King of Staten Island in which a goofy man baby played by Pete Davidson drunkenly singing the song with a Snidely Whiplash mustachioed Bill Burr and a bunch of firefighters isn’t my favorite scene of any movie for the year 2020. The scene made me feel like I was 70 years old. It made me feel like that wistful look that comes across my mom’s face when she hears a weathered Paul McCartney warble an old Beatles tune or the glazed over countenance of my dad Boogie when he zones out to “Carefree Highway” by Gordon Lightfoot. There’s just something about a washed up has-been singing along to a song that was played ad nauseum in his youth that gets into my soul and squeezes its balls until tears well up in my eyes.

Pete Davidson has an absolutely bizarre acting style – it’s a style that isn’t necessarily good, yet draws you in nonetheless. It repels and attracts at the same time. Why is he so goddamn relatable? And when did Bill Burr become good at acting? Every messed up divorced dad I’ve ever known lives in that mustache. I’ve been in that Bill Burr backyard pool fight. I’ve been there, exactly where man baby Pete was. I’ve been in that fight with my dad in high school, with my mom’s boyfriends in the 80s, with my uncle, my cousin, a cop… yes a cop. When I was 13 I was so angry about my parent’s divorce that I threw a baseball clean threw my mom’s bedroom door. She called the cops whenever I did such things and the same guy would show up. He told me to “beat a tree”, as in literally go punch tree bark until I serenely floated down from my manic state. That was the ’80s for you. Go beat a tree.

The King of Staten Island reminds me of the manic desperation of Mickey Rourke’s The Wrestler. And not just because Marisa Tomei is in it…well maybe a little bit. She is the patron saint of male fixer-upper projects after all. There are many of these males in the Midwest hell hole where I grew up that are not much different than the Staten Island goofs in this film. These are people that really exist – maybe they can’t throw down one liners like they are in an SNL skit, but they are out there. The has-beens, the never-weres, the weasels and the hapless Samaritans that take them into their charge. This is the first Judd Apatow film I’ve ever felt a sort of kinship to. His early popcorn comedies were good for a laugh or two, but ultimately I rarely thought of any of them again. Just drive-thru filmmaking. Give me the # 4 with a medium Coke.

Looking back on Apatow’s filmography the only things I really remember are Steve Carrell getting his chest hair pulled out in the 40-Year Old Virgin and the scene in This is 40 where Paul Rudd makes his family listen to “Rooster” by Alice in Chains. I always thought the latter scene was brilliant – a favorite movie moment that is played so perfectly self-reflexive that it made me feel gross and proud about myself at the same time. That whole vibe permeates Staten Island and that’s what makes me love it. I was the kid who would try to sabotage my mom’s post divorce relationships. I did find plenty of weird male mentors throughout my life who changed my perspectives on things. I did have to learn the hard way. Staten Island raises that ugly humanizing current to the surface and strips away the Hollywood posturing of say a Knocked Up or Funny People, and in that wreckage lies a crude and gnarled 21st century Billy Madison. A man child who refuses to untether from his diaper…but instead of using his wealth as a crutch he is using the sympathy of others. There is something so satisfyingly complex about a comedy playing that for laughs. Davidson’s character is clearly really f*cked up for a really f*cked up reason…yet part of you is genuinely angered by his actions, no matter how funny they are. The movie toys with audience emotion in a really profound way. The One Headlight scene is a transition point for the viewer – well at least for me it was. The One Headlight scene means I’m closer to the Bill Burr character than the Pete Davidson one now. Jesus Christ! I’m the mustache guy now? As you get older it’s no longer about the punches you throw, but how many you can take.

So here I am, the out of touch gooner clutching my Pearl Jam records to my chest with a decrepit Kung Fu death grip. Did I mention that the guy I butt-facetimed was the best man at my wedding? That changes the perspective a little doesn’t it? They say if you got married every 5-7 years your wedding party would always be different, sometimes drastically so. I think my wedding party has flipped over a good 3-4 times by now. Currently my wedding party would be the guy that comes into my office every day to “check in” but stays for 45 minutes, a hologram of Chris Cornell and a burrito. My best man would probably have to be my 7 year old. I guess I better make the next 5-7 years count.

Well this place is old. It feels just like a beat up truck. I turn the engine but the engine doesn’t turn. Well it smells of cheap wine and cigarettes. This place is always such a mess. Sometimes I think I’d like to watch it burn. I’m so alone. Feel just like somebody else. Man, I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same. -Jakob Dylan

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