Retrofit Guide Special: Jackson Browne De-and-Reconstructed: "Running On Empty"

The road and sky collide, with drums

A songwriter comes up with a brilliant idea, comes up with half a dozen striking new ways to capture the sounds. And yet the most haunting parts of “Running on Empty” turn out to be the ones that contain no music at all.

I keep thinking about the first 30 seconds before the start of the opening (title) track. Bear in mind that “Running” is a fantastic song, certainly the best rocker JB ever wrote, both thoughtful and fiery, captured in a performance that is both stripped down and simply blazing. Holy shit. But it’s that silence that sticks with me.

Actually, it’s not silent at all. The band is onstage, gearing up to play a new tune. You can sense that the lights are low, you can hear the crowd get restless. Voices bellow song titles. “The Road and the Sky!” a woman shouts. “Ready or Not!” a guy honks. Other voices form a kind of wordless chorus – the sound of expectancy, of demand. Finally another guy finds the bridge between impatience and resignation. “Play what you want!” It’s like a signal. A foot stomps, a hand chunks a rhythm on tamped guitar strings.  Then…….Boom.

A two-chord riff for piano and guitars, a simple bass line, David Lindley’s jet-engine slide guitar. The drums pounding a hard stutter rhythm. Blazing and roaring.

“Lookin” out at the road rushing under my wheels. . . .I don’t know how to tell you all just how crazy this life feels…

Remember the place where the road and the sky collide? This is it. And the point of “Running on Empty,” the album, is to find a way to tell everyone else how it feels to be the man on the road. The poet as object of desire. The troubadour on the run. JB came up with a brillliant way to do just that: by recording an entire album of new songs on the road – onstage; offstage; in the hotel; on the bus. The whole experience, from the good (the glow of the stage) to the bad (cooped in the bus on an all-night ride) to the hideous (wired so tight on coke that even the stupidest ideas seem brilliant).

Brilliant in concept, less so in execution, “Running on Empty” is both a huge step forward and a lurch toward self-destruction. Funny how those two things can happen at the same time.

“Running on Empty: As discussed, this straight-ahead rocker was, and remains, an uncontested high point in JB’s career, both as a work of self-analysis and poetic insight, and also as a searing blast of rock ‘n’ roll music coming from a highly unexpected source. Essentially flawless to these ears, and according to most, simply essential.

“The Road”: A moment of silence, then we’re back in the hotel, a couple of guitars and Lindley’s fiddle covering Danny O’Keefe’s raw portrait of the struggling artist on the road. “Phone calls long distance/To tell you how you been/You forget about the losses, you exaggerate the wins...” puts a fine point on it, to the ghostly drone of the fiddle and JB’s own sad, vaguely desperate recitation. He’s in a higher-end game now, but you can hear how closely he still identifies with the soulless pursuit the narrator describes. Another music-less moment makes the connection vivid: When the music pauses between the second chorus and the third verse — “When you stop to let ’em know/You got it down. . .” the faint crickets give way to the cries of fans, the three-way jam becomes a fully-arranged band performance in a concert hall. “You’re right about the moon/But you’re wrong about the stars,” he sings. The fiddle sings now, but the singer still sounds glum. “It’s just another town along the road. . .”

Haunting, beautiful, and it won’t get any better than that, unfortunately. The lag begins next, with “Rosie,” a smirky, half-serious tale of a roadie seeing his dream groupie walking off with a bandmember. “I might have known she’d come for a star,” he sulks, before heading off to his room to contemplate the solitary sexual life of a guy who isn’t in a band.”Rosie,” as it turns out, isn’t a girl as much as an adolescent boy’s code name for masturbation. “You’re all right,” he sings, enroute to a litany of double entendres shared between singer and background vocalists: “You wear my ring/When you hold me tight/Rosie, that’s my thing…I got to hand it to me.” The tune itself isn’t bad – simple, but trending toward elegiac. The words are somewhere between silly and stupid and while I still love a smirky adolescent sex joke, this one doesn’t work in the least. In the context of the opening two songs, it’s a disaster.

“You Love the Thunder“: Is a rebound, but not nearly potent enough to recapture the momentum. Addressed to the women who actually do love the guys drawn to the road, it’s got a nice melody (particularly the swells toward the chorus in the end and the vocal arangement in the climax) but the central metaphor (thunder, rain, etc) are shaky at best, and tho Lindley’s guitar does its best to distract us from the lyrical and rhythmic weaknesses, it’s a relief when the audience applauds and we mosey backstage again, to explore the depths of the rock ‘n’ roll life.

“Cocaine”: Another peek behind the curtain, and the view is grim, grim, grim. A bunch of stoned musicians weaving blearily through the Rev Gary Davis’s classic, with words carved into new lines by JB and his sleazy pal Glenn Frey. “I went to see my doctor down at the hospital,” a dazed-sounding JB sings, “He said, ‘Son, it says here you’re 27 but that’s impossible/You look like you could be 45.” When I was 15 that sounded scary. Now that I’m 47 it just sort of pisses me off.  Nevertheless, there’s a kind of bracing vividness to this vision of rock ‘n’ roll hades, which becomes all the more haunting when the music ends and once again the real haunting part of the album comes most clearly out of the silences between the songs.

What we hear is JB himself leaning down, and not away from the microphone, as he takes a huge, ugly-sounding snort. Snoooorrrrf, then koff-koff-koff, and

“Blood on the highway,” someone observes, with the sort of non-judgmental shrug that one tends to reflect on later at the funeral.

JB can barely form words, but keeps talking: “You gotta take more of it or less of it, I can’t decide which one,” he muses. Then Lindley speaks up, his voice needle-sharp, but twisted into a sardonic imitation of some movie cowboy (who he identified in one invu but whose name I now forget sorry about that.)

“I’ll tell you what it does take,” he drawls. “It takes a clear mind.

JB: “It takes a clear mind to take it, or a clear mind not to take it?”

DL: “It takes a clear mind to make it.”

JB: (stoned, dull-witted pause) Then he laughs, snuk-snuk-snuk, like Beavis and/or Butthead, 20 years before their time.

End of side one.

“Shaky Town”: Side two begins with a kick in the head – a largely acoustic, but rough-hewn road song, only this time from the perspective of the working men – the drivers at the wheel, the working musicians who grind away with a fraction of the glory accorded to the superstars. “I‘ve heard you tell those lies about the love you’ve known,” the narrator scoffs, more concerned with the practical need to get out to the coast and play the next show. “This young man feels/Those eighteen wheels/That keep turnin’ round to take me down to Shaky Town…” Another memorable tune, captured raw and vital in a makeshift set-up in a Holiday Inn somewhere. The only fly in the ointment is that JB didn’t write it – it comes from gui
tarist Danny Kortchmar, who harmonizes and keeps the stomp in the beat. A troubling question.

“Love Needs A Heart“: Another onstage peformance of another wonderful new song. This time a JB collaboration with Lowell George (talk about cocaine problems) and Valerie Carter, but you can hear JB’s pull on the lyric just as clearly as Lowell’s off-kilter, yet consistently lovely modulations. What begins as a lonesome break-up tune (Leavin’ behind the life that we’d begun/I broke myself in two…) the melody seems to catapult the lyric toward unexpected insights and breakthroughs. “I’m afraid to believe the things I feel,” the singer proclaims, aspiring toward transcendence with one eye on hope and the other on the clock. “I hope it finds me in time,” he frets, as Lowell’s music descends through two or three keys in search of the song’s root note. “Love needs a heart like mine,” he concludes, traveling onward into the darkness where George’s own cocaine-swollen heart would beat its last, somewhere between shows on his own endless road.

“Nothing But Time” : Onto the bus with the band, rumbling from Maine to New Jersey in search of the next blast of light and cheering crowd. The real bus engines rumble (an actual on-the-road recording, if you hadn’t figured it out already) and the stripped-down band (acoustic guitars, percussion on cardboard boxes and guitar cases; backing singers perched in their own row of seats) describes the meandering thoughts and notions of exhausted, sleepless minds. The guitar solo careens from style to style – the singer calls out for a Chuck Berry riff, and is instantly rewarded. Nothing matters, and what if it did? “I got a bottle of wine/I got a broken white line/ there ain’t nothin’ but time between this Silver Eagle and that New Jersey line. . .

“The Load-Out/Stay”: At which point the mirror cracks, and the magic runs out. No longer content with the stripped down verite portraits of road life, JB digs deep, brushes off the coke and road dust and emerges with a piano ballad that casts it all into a Disney-like shimmer. JB finds himself noodling around on an empty stage, hearing the echoed thumps and bangs of his devoted (and admittedly ill-paid) crew packing up his gear and lugging it off to the trucks, to rumble off to the next hall where the people will be so fine, and wait in line for the opportunity to stand up and cheer, once again, for the magical strains of JB and friends. Between then and now, tho, the road is full of friends and fun: CB radios on the bus, Richard Pryor videos, disco music. This gang, this merry band of brothers and chick singers, has as much fun as they can. Still, what it all comes down to, he proclaims, is the people waiting in the hall. “People, you’ve got the power over what we do…come along, sing the song/You know that you can’t go wrong…” Are you buying this? I’m not buying it. It’s all affirmations and phony cheer. What happened to the grim, coked-out hotel rooms? What happened to the easy/sleazy road sex and the not-so-secret beating off, and all the existential nothingness viewed from the Silver Eagle window? Now it’s all pixie dust and make-up, leading to the mellow gold reprise of Maurice Williams’s “Stay,” which just sort of sits there, fat and happy onstage, til Lindley takes the mic and wails out a grand crazy-man falsetto climax.

The promoter didn’t mind, the unions didn’t mind. But the listeners, so beguiled by the bracing darkness of the album’s best tunes, leave the road (and the album) puzzled by the quick pivot to nowheresville. What started on the edge of a compelling philosophical question ended up, somewhere near Las Vegas. Not an awful trip, exactly. But what did it bode for the future?

Hello (and goodbye), Dr. Nick! "Lost" – The Final Word

 
By Nick Gorini
 
They say good things come to those who wait. I don’t know who “They” are, and I’ve learned that occasionally, patience isn’t always a virtue.
 
But waiting almost always gives you one thing: perspective.
 
It was never my intent to document my immediate, visceral reaction to the ending of ‘Lost’. Going into Sunday night, I knew whatever my initial feelings may be (“That was PERFECT!” or “How could they have done this to ME?”), I needed time to reflect on the ending in the context of the entire Lost experience.
 
I mean, that’s what it has become for those of us who love this show, right? It was more than TV – it was a journey, a ride that for one hour a week put us somewhere else. Not just on the screen, but in our own noggins’. And if you believe in some of Lost’s theories, it may have been our collective consciousness-noggins, otherwise known as “col-coggins”.
 
Maybe at the end of our lives, we will all meet at some alternate bus depot in the sky (don’t call it Purgatory!) that we created out of our own desire, the desire to figure out every remaining Lost mystery. So, so many…
 
We can spend our oddly-houred days kissing strangers or beating the crap out of them with no repercussions. Heck, in some cases, they may even THANK us, even after running them over with our car. Then we can meet in a balmy, tropical Catholic Church with non-denominational stained glass (we wouldn’t want to exclude any of our viewers), hug it out one last time, and realize that the mysteries aren’t what mattered in the end.
 
What mattered is that we all experienced Lost, for better or worse, with joy or frustration, together.
 
Before I digress into any specifics of the finale, I want to say something that is all too obvious, but needs to be heard, so bear with me:
 
Network television is dying.
 
We all know it. The viewers know it, the advertisers know it, the executives know it, the cable companies and satellite/Direct TV entities know it, the writers and actors know it, too.
 
It may take a few years before the last rites are read, but network television is like Lost’s Michael, wandering around a magical wonderland, unable to move on because of it’s past indiscretions, haunting us with cheap reality shows, tabloid news and crappy copies of “Lost.”
 
“Lost” snuck under the radar. It remains one of the most expensive shows ever produced. Cinematic in quality, epic in scope, complicated in plot, and deep, deeper than most anything found in popular culture today.
 
Apparently, we hate that kind of stuff. That’s why we get endless seasons of Dateline NBC, C.S.I., Two and a Half Men, The Biggest Loser. Dumbed down and cheap. You want intelligent? You want challenging? Watch AMC, HBO or Showtime. Read a book.
 
Network television, still free. For a limited time. And it gave us Lost. How did J.J. Abrams ever convince, coerce or blackmail ABC into putting this show on the air? Is Abrams the modern day Robert Johnson, selling his soul at the crossroads so the devil may gift him with unworldly talents? Or was it that mysterious elixir of talent, luck, timing and connections that got this gift off the ground?
 
If J.J. Abrams was a character on Lost, he’d be asking himself if it was his destiny to bring Lost to the masses, something he was always fated to do, or if it was hard work and sheer determination that put him into that position.
 
Whatever the case may be, Lost is like network television’s supernova, a final, bright hot burst of energy and beauty before the final, slow sputtering of a dead star.
 
Blah, Blah, Blah. What did you think of the finale?
 
The finale was overwhelmingly satisfying on an emotional level. But like Icarus, I think Lost may have flown too close to the Sun.
 
(Yes, just one paragraph ago, I called Lost a sun, more or less. But it’s the internet, and I can mix my metaphors. Writing on the internet is like the Frat Party Jungle Juice. It could be good, but there’s about 18 different flavors in it, and no one’s really sure what all’s in there. Just drink it.)
 
Before I explain what didn’t work for me, let state for the record, that Lost is still my favorite show of all time. Well, okay, top five of all time, for sure. It’s given me so much, and will continue to do so for many, many years.
 
In an effort to mend this dichotomy, and to heal my lost, broken heart, I have suddenly split off into two equally annoying bloggers (me, and me). Each will give his thoughts.
 
The Original Timeline Blogger
 
Oh gee whiz! What’s not to like? Some of my favorite moments:
 
· Naturally, all the enlightenment moments were incredible, especially Juliet/Sawyer’s, and Jin/Sun’s. What these couples went through to get… What? They’re dead? Oh man, that breaks my heart even more. Makes those scenes even more poignant.

· The Island as a real place. A daring move. And keep Locke/Smokey as a villain all the way to the end. No mystical spiritual wake-up call. Just a bad man needin’ some killin’.


· Kate finally having her kick-ass episode. She iced the Smokey Monster, kissed the boy, enlightened her dead boyfriend, saved her friends, and reunited Aaron and Claire. Way to go out on top, lady.

· Setting up a guilt-ridden Sawyer to pull a self-sacrifice, but saving him. Why? Because he has some soul homework to do, man.

· My man Lapidus lounging poolside, waiting for the outrigger pick-up. Waiting to fix and fly some survivors home. And phew! Alpert and Miles made it to the end.

· Thanks for not killing Desmond. He deserves some Penny and Little Charlie time. Good job keeping us guessing about his motives in both timelines right until the end. It was a great island twist for him to uncork the island, expecting some wonderful thing to happen, but nope! Stuff a cork (back) in it, Bruthah!

· Nice re-intro of Rose, Bernard and Vincent. Hope they’re enjoying their remaining island lives. Maybe now they’ll be a little more involved, with Hurley at the helm.

· Hurley, the new number one! That was nice – his heart was always the most loving, and in that regard, he makes the ideal new leader. I also like that Ben told him that Jacob’s didn’t have to be the only way. It could be a kinder, gentler island-nation.

· Speaking of Ben, he had an awesome, awesome episode. His island end was perfect, and I understand why he felt the need to work out his pre-afterlife purgatory-time a little longer. He and Locke exchanged what needed to be said from both people.

· Embracing controversy, you chose to make the suspect sideways timeline the afterlife, knowing millions of fans would likely freak out. You did it because it was what the arc of the characters dictated. And you were telling us that there are bigger issues to consider than The Numbers, Jacob’s Cabin, The Ash, or Who Keeps Dropping Dharma Food And Beer From The Sky.

· Speaking of the sideways world, it’s hard to see how anybody could be shocked. You guys dropped hundreds of hints this past year, if anybody looked hard enough. No one dying, timelines all screwed up, everyone bumping into each other… Yes, these souls are meant to be together. Not necessarily the living bodies, but these souls are the community that needed to learn how to live together, or die alone. And of course, they end up moving onto something greater together.

· Once you made it formal that it was the afterlife, my mind started racing through all the scenarios. Faraday and Charlotte will gain awareness and move on together. Eloise will have to follow. 
Ben may take a little longer. I remembered poor Dogen in the sideways world speaking of the importance of love between parent and child, and remembered that Dogen’s drunk driving caused the death, or near death of son. I thought about him getting to resolve that shame, guilt and pain in this after-death waiting area, and I thought, maybe this sideways world WAS Jacob’s gift in return for island service.

· I still don’t think Jughead ever went off. It was just the act of faith from Jack and community that caused or gave Jacob cause, or whatever powers that be cause this sideways split.

· Nice to watch Jack have such admiration for Locke that he tells Smokey he’s doing a disservice to the man for wearing his face.

· And man, it doesn’t matter who or what Terry O’Quinn portrays: weak or strong, powerless or omnipotent, good or evil… He just does it all so well. Did you know that he was the only guy that was cast without an audition? They knew they had their Locke before they even completed the very first script. That tells you that these guys knew what they were doing.

· Of course it had to be Christian’s coffin that gave Jack the awareness he needed. And of course, the scene between father and son finally putting away old hurts (remember, it was Jack who sabotaged his dad’s redemption path at an AA meeting, so they both got their lashes in) held great power. Man, you guys gotta get me choked up again?

· Jack’s overt Jesus symbolism (being lethally pierced in his side by Smokey) added to the impact of everything you reached for as story-tellers.

· Jack’s final sacrifices and his death, right back where the show began? Now that, that was perfect. And just when you can’t take any more, Vincent has to lie down next to Jack?… Break out the hankies, people.
 
The Sideways Timeline Blogger
 
Man, that was an awesome ending, except for the following:
 
· Dude, it’s totally purgatory. You told us it wasn’t, only it is. And yes, you said everything on the island really happened, but the island still served as a dang living purgatory, for these people to fix themselves before they go to the non-living purgatory, to meet again, to go to the next place.

· So on the island, you kept Smokey as Smokey. Helluva villain. But you spent all season giving us hints that Locke’s consciousness was still alive within his old body. Remember when Smokey started shouting lines that Locke had shouted in seasons past? You were you just pulling my chain? Wasn’t Locke supposed to reawaken in some form on the island?

· So, Michael and Walt weren’t good enough to meet in the sideways world? Walt never hurt anybody, and Michael tried to do a lot of good things. The Others kidnapped his son, for crying out loud.

· So, nearly every sideways character had a special someone to meet n’ greet before heading to the other side. Except for the Boone. Boone, whose enlightenment we didn’t see. Boone, the best looking guy on the Oceanic flight, who was nice to everyone and who’s only fault was crushing on his step-sister, doesn’t get purgatory playmate?

· A literal cork, in a literal drain? The island as a metaphor worked plenty fine, especially as described so excellently by Jacob in Ab Aeterno. A literal cork is keeping Hell at bay?

· What have you guys got against kids, anyway? Aaron stops serving a purpose, so he kind of disappears as a character, and is only used as a plot device? After you spent several seasons hinting at how special he was? Same thing with Walt, too. And man, I understand that David was a manifestation of Jack’s heart-wrenching need to fix things with his father, but to introduce us to this sweet kid and then have him so easily dismissed as not real? That sucked, and I didn’t buy it.

· You know what else I didn’t buy? Sayid hooking up with that brat Shannon. Never did. And to find that, after all those years searching and pining for his soul mate Nadia, and to lose her in tragic ways numerous times, Sayid is going spend his afterlife with a Ditzy McBitchy? What a disservice to an awesome character.

· You were the ones who introduced us to the fact that Eloise Hawking knows all. How? When did she become enlightened? I understand that now she and Ben (who’s going to stay awhile, to work some things out) can run around, enlightening the remaining crew, but c’mon, man.

· Speaking of Ben, who had a totally awesome finale in many ways, could you not have hinted at how he’s going to try and resolve things with his pseudo-only-in-purgatory girlfriend and daughter-figure? When you guys do the DVD extras (which by the way, are apparently going to have a 14-minute Coda, or epilogue that shows us Hurley and Ben running the island – think I’m kidding? I’m not. It’s true), will you include a scene where Rousseau realizes who she’s sleeping with?

· You guys were missing an episode that explained why Claire hung out at Jacob’s cabin and didn’t seem concerned that little baby Aaron was at the beach without her. And why she was so pissed when she found out Kate saved Aaron.

· I can totally forgive most of the unsolved mysteries, because I understand your intent to challenge us to let go, but you spent so much build up with Jacob and Smokey that all of their stuff felt a but like a waste of time when compared to all the other awesomeness that went down.

· And not to over-think it again, but the way it played out, if Jack had ignored everything and stayed on the mainland, he’d be married to Kate, raising his nephew, hanging out with Hurley, visiting home-building Sayid, etc. Locke’s body would’ve never made it back to the island to be possessed by Smokey. Jin would still be alive, Jacob would still be alive, Juliet would still be alive, Sun would still be alive, Desmond would still be with Penny, Ji-Yeon wouldn’t be an orphan, etc. Jin may have eventually found a way off the island and back to his family, etc. Some of the time travel stuff would’ve happened, but Faraday probably would’ve lived, too. I don’t know. Sounds to me like Jack should’ve never come back to island…

· I like that on the island, you actually left some open-endedness. Hurley, Ben, Desmond, Rose and Bernard still kicking it tropical-style, Jack getting his proper sending, and a plane with Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Lapidus, Miles and Alpert making it back home. I like that at least four of those in-flight characters still have a lot of inner turmoil to work through (Sawyer, Kate, Claire and Alpert), but I still thought these six characters deserved a more fitting goodbye. It all felt so rushed and forced.

· Lastly, and this is the softie in me, now that I know Sideways Jin and Sun were also dead Jin and dead Sun, I think they should’ve been on the plane, flying back home to Ji-Yeon, man! How could you do that!? You guys are cold. And I think the airplane scene would’ve had much greater impact if we’d seen those two sharing a seat, bruised, battered but very much alive, ready to head home and be a family. Those characters more than earned it. I know I’m not supposed to tinker with the creation – I myself have been bashing on people who think they have right to tell Cuse and Lindelof how the story should end, but well, here I am doing it. Damn it! I insist, well more like beg and plead, that this is a story-telling error!… Ahem, I’ve regained my composure. Sorry about that.
 
And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make
 
You know what I will always remember about this show? Not the finale. I’ll always remember the mood, the pitch-perfect music, the feeling I ALWAYS got five minutes before an episode began, and that incredible feeling I had when that episode ended. “Oh God! I have to wait a w
hole fricking week?!”
 
I’ll always remember Charlie and his death, polar bears in the premiere, and Eko building a church. I will never forget Benjamin Linus and will think of him every time I try and weasel my way into or out of something (WWBD? What Would Ben Do?).
 
I’ll always remember jaw-dropping backdrops, and how my family put up with me when we went to Oahu last year and I brought a map of Lost shooting locations. By the way, Waimea Falls rarely looks as pristine as it did when Sawyer and Kate went for a dip. Still beautiful, though.
 
I won’t forget the hatch, Hurley’s numbers, funky Faraday and Jeremy Davies’ unique line readings, or how Sawyer started off as my least-favorite character and ended up being one of my favorites.
 
Who can forget Juliet, in my mind the most complex and compelling female character on the show? And I won’t even forget Mr. Friendly (I was looking for you to pop up in the sideways world all season), Patchy or all the other pseudo-villains that strolled through the island.
 
I won’t forget that Michael got a raw deal, or how quickly we all became hooked on the cool sincerity of Desmond. I also won’t forget that after doing a horrible job introducing new characters, they got it right the following year with Miles, Faraday, Charlotte, etc. parachuting in.
 
I won’t forget the guys who portrayed Jacob and Smokey, who either deserved more screen time or maybe shouldn’t have been seen at all. I can’t decide. Oh! And I won’t forget that Richard Alpert was rewarded with one of the finest hours of television this year.
 
I will always remember how awesome Kate could be, but that the writers seemed to struggle with her character at times. I think Evangeline Lilly rose above and beyond the occasion, making the character better than what was sometimes on the page.
 
I won’t forget all the laugh-out-loud humor we got from Sawyer, Miles, Hurley and Ben. Even Lapidus had some good zingers. Remember when Ben told Jack that the secret of the island was an enormous underground hamster wheel? And that wasn’t far from the truth?
 
I will remember all the nights I spent online in the Lost rabbit hole. This show got me to read about things I NEVER would have otherwise, and I think I burned a hole in my Wikipedia.
 
And I will always remember all the arguments, debates and struggles between Jack and Locke. Two characters that represented the warring entities in us all. Such tragic people, with so much of that tragedy by their own design, trying so hard to find themselves. And that ultimately, they needed each other do it.
 
Sigh. So many other things I will always remember and cherish about this flawed, yet kinda perfect show.
 
In the end, it seemed like they wanted to tell us something basic about our lives, something like:

1.   What you do matters.
2.   Everyone makes messes.
3.   Life gives you chances to fix these messes.
4.   There are no easy fixes for messes. You have to put in the work.
5.   No one fixes all of his or her messes before departing this world.
6.   What important is that you try, and you tried.
7.   What survives? Love. Love is the only thing that carries forward.
8.   To move on, you need to let go of those messes and embrace that love.
 
Folks, it has been an enormous pleasure to write about Lost. If you read any of my posts, I just want to take the time to thank you so much. And many, many thanks Peter Carlin for giving me a virtual soapbox and a small plot of his internet stoop to shout out to the world about Lost.
 
Thanks for reading and for watching.
 
Catch you on the Sideways
 

"Lost" in Translation: The End of the End

The father, the son and the holy hottie

In the end there were no fireworks. No yelling and screaming. No fingers in the chest nor recitations of missed ballgames, withering slights, alcoholic screw-ups or Oedipal murderousness. The surface anger melted and all that remained – in the sheer white light outside the Unitarian church – was a father and son sobbing happily in one another’s arms.

Their friends sat in the pews, unbloodied and unbowed. And, finally, together.

The island, with its heroes, villains, monsters and constant life-threatening struggles, was less a literal place than a stage for a greater emotional battle: a thrill-ride version of psychotherapy:, where the patient is made to confront, engage and then move beyond the obsessions and weaknesses that have defined his/her life.

Everyone’s answer is different. For Jack it was accepting surrender; for Hurley it regaining self-confidence; for Miles it had something to do with discovering his faith in duct tape.

What matters is that what once were lost are now found. And what was “Lost” is now a memory. A long series of memories, actually, packed with action and adventure and dark humor, but also yearning and heartbreak and frustration and all the stuff of human exerpience. But no matter the blood and bombs and bad-ass thugs and monsters and on and on, the source of all that white light  came from within the characters themselves.

The mythology, as cool and confusing as it could be, was exactly like the cool, confusing mythology we all weave for ourselves: A Hollywood-style animation of the internal drama flickering behind all of our eyes.

Are you ready to move on? That’s always the question. And for most of us, pretty much most of the time, the answer is emphatic: Helll, no. Thus psychotherapy, if you’re a secular urban mod with health care and/or expendable cash. College kids can take philosophy classes, and engage in dorm room bickerfests about reality. Everyone else gets religion, or worst case, primetime tv. And just in case you wanted to wrap it all up in one tidy package, these last six years have also given us “Lost.”

A simplified version of the bigger versions, of course. But also free(ish) and pretty to look at, and way more often than not, some lovely combination of thoughtful, mysterious, action-packed and hilarious.

So much to love, hate, watch and debate over the years. But as we hit the final moments yesteday – in the church with all the central characters (but no Mr. Eko! Where the hell was Mr. Eko!?! Or Michael? Or Walt? Or Aaron?), the stained glass-of-many-religious-symbols and the sheer white light outside, was that specific answers to specific plot points weren’t the point of the story. Like every mythological story (see also: the Bible, political speeches, etc) they were parables about bigger problems and bigger ideals. Animations of the spiritual pursuit that gives meaning to everything else that happens in our lives

Everyone has unanswered questions. Why the Egyptian statue? What did it mean for your sideways life in L.A. if you got killed on the island? What did it mean for your island life if you got killed in L.A.? (wither the mortal soul of Keamy?) Was the island purgatory? Or was purgatory actually in the sideways world in L.A.?

You could debate all these questions, and about 100 more, for the rest of eternity. You could branch off into different faiths and sub-faiths, you could create philosophical schools and vast cultures based on your reading of the “Lost” mythology. It’d be ridiculous, but anything plus about a millennium can seem to add up to that much. Then you could take up arms and try to wipe out all the heathens who took up with the other faiths.

For now the “Lost” world will just divide into different critical camps, write reviews, post on the internet, and etc. But the root impulse – the reading of liturgy, the interpretation, the delineation of right, wrong and arguable – follows in the grand tradition of all faith-based reasoning. Is it ridiculous to take a tv show so seriously? Certainly. But wait a thousand years and. . .

I loved the ending, myself. I was always in for the internal story, anyway. For me the action itself mattered way less than the way it was reflected in the characters’ eyes – or, more accurately, how it sprang from the characters’ internal conflicts, flaws and aspirations. I may not have understood exactly where that big stone bathtub plug came from, or why the Man in Black got smoke-ified in there, while Jack emerged alive, only to fall victim to the gash in his side (did anyone miss the stigmata reference?) and then to die, happily, in the same bamboo jungle where he arose at the start of the series, determined to face down the smoke and flames and fix everything and everyone in his path.

Now the time for action had gone. He had finally fixed something within himself, and with his friends safely airborne, a sweet dog at his side he could rest. The journey was over.

Dr. Nick on "Lost": No Man is an Island, Even When He's On One

No man is an island, even when he’s stuck on one

Jack, Sayid, Hurley and Sawyer, with friend

By Nick Gorini

 
Well – here it is. This week was the official beginning of the end. The biggest puzzle piece remaining now locked into place. Thus begins the mad tumble to the show finale, questions answered, issues resolved, lives lost, souls saved, and most important, solving the biggest mystery nagging us all: What happened to that damn dog Vincent?
 
I could go in-depth and recap this week’s episode, but I think “Happily Ever After” spoke for itself. Other than adding a couple of new questions, it used another deck-shuffling Desmond episode to lay down the law.
 
Let’s quickly state what we know/don’t know as of today:
 
What we know:
 
Love Matters. It certainly matters more than magnets, more than anything. It is love that redeemed Desmond. It is love that opens Desmond’s heart and this week, his mind. It’s clear that each character’s capacity for love, in its many guises (for your spouse/partner, for your friend, for your children, for your humanity, for yourself, even for your enemies) will determine the fate of this universe we’re experiencing.
 
Whatever Jacob may be, and he is most certainly not God-like, his power is in his capacity to love. Is Smokey the personification of evil? Not by a long shot, but what he represents is the inability to love. This might be something Smokey was born with, but I doubt it (and we will find out in a few weeks when he get his backstory).
 
As I think back on the Alpert episode, ‘Ab Aeterno’, I understand why Jacob couldn’t grant Richard his first two wishes (to bring Isabella back, and for absolution). Both wishes were only something Alpert could resolve (notice I do not say ‘grant’). Sometimes, love is holding onto something no matter what may come to pass. But sometimes, love is also about letting go. Jacob couldn’t give Alpert Isabella, because she really is gone, and Alpert needs to love her enough to let go. And Jacob couldn’t grant Alpert absolution, because true absolution comes from within. Absolution is an incredible, powerful act of love. However, Jacob can give Alpert all the time he needs to sort this stuff out, right?
 
Maybe that’s how the island is serving our heroes: It’s the therapist’s couch, with no time-limit.
 
With Desmond, he experiences the essence of love – love has no boundaries. We can forget about Jacob/Smoky and Faraday physics – these are the Lost McGuffins (McGuffins are plot devices that to keep our eyes glued to the screen. Think of McGuffins as the candy coating on a chewable aspirin). Love transcends time, space, squabbles between two petty island-bound brothers, even mortality. Thanks to Charlie’s not-so-gentle nudging, Desmond’s pursuit of love will cause two worlds to collide. The end result? Well…
 
For much of the show’s run, we were lead to believe this show was about survival (even Sawyer said so). But it’s about the survival of love.
 
Science vs. Faith? I think we know their answer now. This Desmond episode is the official pronouncement of the Lost team: they’ve hung their coat and hat on the rack of faith.
 
The Sideways World Ain’t No Epilogue. For all the folks out there who began to doubt our storytellers, or worried that what we were witnessing in the ‘Sideways World’ was nothing more than some sort of ‘Flash Forward’, this episode put all of that to rest. Instead of thinking about everything so linearly in terms of events and actions happening in a specific order, look again at our beloved characters. Their internal character arcs, the journey towards love (or currently, in the case of someone like Sayid, running away from it) is the linear line to follow. It doesn’t matter what timeline or location it’s taking place at/on/when – the souls of these characters are evolving or devolving in a straightforward way.
 
Nearly everyone is merging consciousnessesesses. We’re seeing all of our characters flashing to their other lives. What will be interesting is what these folks do with this information. If you have a good sideways life, why would you want to give it up? Or merge it with your lousy one? Or vice-versa?
 
Jacob and Smokey aren’t Good vs. Evil. Not quite powerful enough to go that far. They have issues like the rest
 
What we don’t know:
 
Who knows how much. For me, the only big twist in this episode was that Eloise appeared to know everything. How? Why? I understand why she wants to keep Desmond away from the other world. She finally has a reality where she didn’t kill her son. But she also told Desmond he “Wasn’t ready yet.” Does this mean she’s stalling? Coming to terms with what must be done? Or is there some specific time frame in which Desmond’s crossing over will allow Eloise to keep her wish intact? And how much did ‘sideways’ Widmore really know? If he was as knowledgeable as his wife, he certainly seemed tight-lipped about it. And are there other ‘Sideways’ folk who know?
 
I know it hasn’t come up lately, but what the hell is the ash? I really don’t obsess over many of the little mysteries of the show, but for crikey’s sake, could someone definitively state what he Smokey-containing ash is?
 
Widmore’s motivations. Sure, he pleads with Desmond about saving his daughter and grandchild, and laments the loss of his son, but he was pretty dry-eyed when one of his people became chicken fried. And he certainly sheds no tears over abusing his son-in-law. Is he seeking island power, immortality, or trying to pull ‘sideways’ Faraday back into his world (so he can play that game of catch that never transpired)? Or is he really trying to save us all? We don’t really know.
 
Where are Penny, Eloise, and any of the other remaining living folk? We saw them in the sideways world, sure, but where are they in our timeline? Same goes for Walt, Ji Yeon and Aaron. Are there any other off-island power players I’m missing?
 
When two worlds collide, Iron Maiden makes a song. But more important, what happens to Aaron and Ji-Yeon? Do they cease to exist? And if Ji Yeon turns out to be a candidate, how does that get handled? Huh? Tell me that! And where’s sideways Michael?
 
Why is Widmore’s team on a timeline?
Why is it so important when some of these things happen, and even more odd, why to they all so readily chuck their plan out the window after arguing about rushing things? Could it be that Widmore knows exactly what’s taking place in the Sideways world, and wants to time everything with Desmond’s actions? And what is the specific sacrifice he’s expecting from Desmond?
 
Where did Sideways Desmond’s wedding ring go? In the season premiere, he suddenly appeared next to Jack. Desmond was wearing a wedding ring. So why doesn’t he have one when he seem picking his baggage up at the airport in this episode. Maybe scores of women throw themselves at Desmond’s feet, and he wears a fake wedding ring to hold them back, all the better to focus on his job for Mr. Widmore. Nah. Maybe it’s a mistake? Nah. So, what’s up with that?
 
What rule is Desmond violating? Apparently, free will gets in the way of a lot of power-playing, does it not? Eloise doesn’t like anything that falls out of her juggling two worlds routine. And why couldn’t Charlie see his own death in his visions?
 
What happened to Rose and Bernard when Jughead may (or may no
t) have exploded?
Did they blow up? Did they time travel? The two of them had made peace with what they had, and seemed to be content – did that mean the island was done with them?
 
Some fun little factoids, hints and ‘Easter Eggs’ worth noting:

So, many parallels with older episodes this week. Charlie and Desmond sharing a drink (like they did on the beach years ago), Widmore telling Desmond the same thing Eloise did a few seasons back (“The island isn’t done with you yet.”), Charlie’s eerie underwater moments, Faraday again playing Chopin on the piano, etc. After reading several recaps, including Doc Jensen’s, and re-watching the episode, I counted at least thirty direct references to previous episodes. I don’t know how these writers keep track of all this?

As a side note, what is the significance that Penny and Desmond meeting in the same empty arena where Jack and Desmond met years ago?

Did you notice the painting in Widmore’s office? Scales of justice, with a black rock on one side, and a white rock on the other, evenly balanced.

If you get a chance to watch this episode again, be sure to pay attention to the brooch Eloise Hawking is wearing. Compare it to what we’ve seen her wear before. It’s a clue.

This episode had so much ground to cover, they dispensed with a recap and opening credits. More show for your dollar!

Henry Ian Cusick is a great actor – don’t know why I didn’t know much about him before, but he certainly sells his episodes. I’m always gripped by Desmond’s various plights. And looking back at his initial introduction, it was so interesting how he came about on the show. He was the first guy we saw in the 2nd season premiere, listen to a record, making breakfast and exercising inside the hatch before our Losties tried blowing it up. As a character, the flaws we saw with Desmond (inertia, self-pity, borderline alcoholism, slight madness), were slowly revealed to be part of a much bigger picture. A lot of credit goes to the writers for how they handled the growth and reveals of Desmond!

Penny’s dad Widmore’s is married to Eloise, who’s son Faraday loves Charlotte, who works with Dr. Chang, who fathered Miles, who works with Sawyer, who captured Kate, who helped Claire, who talked to Desmond, who sat next to Jack, who spoke with Sayid, who helped Jin, who’s trying to save Sun, who needs help from Jack, who was married to Juliet, gave birth to David, who played a recital along with the son of Dogen, who spoke to Jack, who was at the hospital with Sayid’s brother and Charlie, who’s brother Liam spoke to Sawyer at the police station, where Charlie was picked up by Desmond, who talked to Hurley at the airport, who gave Locke a job, where he works with Arzt and Ben, where Ben teaches Alex… Seems pretty clear to me. Got that?

Awesome, awesome references to Desmond’s time in the hatch. Getting the MRI with a panic button, much like the button the poor bastard had to endlessly press in the hatch.

“Let’s have a drink. A toast to our indispensability!” What a sweet boss Widmore turned out to be… But I bet HR would tell him to personalize his compliments a bit more.

Nice touch with Faraday not knowing how to translate all his time-travel scribblings.


Stupid Award this week?
Got to go to Sayid, who found no irony or humor in snapping two men’s necks and then telling someone that those guys were the dangerous ones…

Another really nice touch: Where Desmond and Penny met this week? It’s where he said goodbye to her as he trained to sail around the world!

The test bunny’s name, Angstrom, was a nice nod to John Updike.
 
So, what can I tell you about the next few weeks?

Again, Doc Jensen’s got an exhaustive post about, well, everything. My favorite Jensen tangent this week was declaring that George Minkowski’s character (hello again, Fisher Stevens) is a reference to General George Santayana, most often referenced in regards to his most-famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Wanna know how cool Lost is? Lost is so cool that the magazine Popular Mechanics covers the scientific elements of the show. They’re big fans, although this week they’re mad, or about as mad as scientists can get. Why? Lost’s use of electromagnetism is well, ahem, unrealistic. Read more here: http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/digital/fact-vs-fiction/lost-happily-ever-after-fact-check.

Again, the real end game has finally begun. Prepare to be heartbroken about some events. Very heartbroken.

Benjamin Linus gets a girlfriend, and it’s not quite whom you’d expect. Or maybe it is. Plus, Ben gets a shiner from a rather pissed off time traveler.

Some more surprises about our candidates are in store, and some surprises about Jacob and Smokey. I wouldn’t call them ‘Game Changers’, but I would definitely call them ‘Illuminators’.

More death! More romance! And yes, more humor, too.

On that note, don’t forget that Juliet plans to take Sawyer out for coffee… Even death can’t keep her from intending to keep her appointments!

As you noticed in the promo, Michael and Libby come back for next week’s episode, which is all about Hurley. One comes back on the island, and the other in the sideways world.
 
Thanks for reading and watching….

"Lost" in Translation: And the Penny Dropped


Mmmmmm, electro-doughnuts….

Still a step or two off pace due to my flash-sideways into the fluish world, so I’ll cede most of the turf to the far-superior ministrations of my colleague Dr. Nick, pausing only to offer a few random-ish observations on what I think will be turning point in the entire arc of “Lost.” And a damned fine hour of TV, to boot…

Observation 1: An entire hour of network TV drama played without the vast majority (any?) of the original characters, in a reality that only may or may not be real, but in which life seemed more or less normal until one mysterious old woman, (Eloise) made cryptic reference to a whole other reality that until that moment in the episode no one else had even mentioned beyond the most implicit crinkle of the forehead, or briefly-puzzled expression, or psychotic-seeming rant about glimpses of…..something. Yes, this was the strangest hour in the history of American network TV. And God bless ABC for putting it up there.

Observation 2: Also God bless “Lost” for not just respecting it characters, but also having such obvious, and overwhelming affection for them. It’s a terrific mythology, to be sure. The weave of quantum physics, philosophy, religion and bone-crunching action is simply miraculous. But it would all be immediately forgettable if it weren’t for the deep sense of character the show has; its remarkably nimble, and yet deeply felt, character studies, and its perpetual emphasis on the visceral — and entirely universal — conflicts that animate, and often devastate, virtually all of its characters. Except Keamy.

Observation 3: Felt sorta nice to hear “You All Everybody” again, didn’t it? Driveshaft did sorta rock, back in the day…

Observation 4: Worst acting in the history of “Lost”? The actress who plays Penny (name tk) trying to look natural running the stairs in the stadium. Body too rigid. Arms so tight against her sides she looked like Barbie Track Star, or something. I usually love that actress, and of course the writing of the scene (echoing Desmond’s original off-island appearance in the stadium with Jack) was right on. But when I watched her runnning what I saw was a British woman whose regimen leans closer to ciggies and tea than sprints and fartleks. I’m just sayin’.