#7 – Friday, 9/30/16
“YOUTH IS WASTED ON THE YOUNG” – For a long time I didn’t fully understand what George Bernard Shaw meant when he wrote those haunting words. Maybe it’s because I was lucky enough to remain in my youth much, much longer than most. I finally feel that my youth is gone, physically at least and George and I are finally on the same page. And, what I think he really meant is, “youth is not appreciated by the young.”
Our youth goes by. That’s just how it is. And much of it we take for granted while it’s happening, not able to fully drink in how special it is. But to say it’s wasted may not be accurate. It shapes us, defines our existence, gives us something to look back on and to learn from as we wither away to where we all began.
I can still race in my dreams.
Almost everyone I meet eventually learns that I was at one time a pro bike racer, (thank you frickin’ google.) And, eventually they all ask if I still ride. Those days are behind me now, but what I don’t often tell them is, I can still race in my dreams. The other night I had one that was transcendent. It was one of those dreams that was a snapshot of another reality, an unbroken timeline which took up a couple days in my dream world, but most likely only a couple hours or even minutes in my current world. Go figure. This was not a dream of an old race. This was an entirely new race I had never been to before, and I was there with my old Chevy/LA Sheriff’s team.
I always loved it when new races popped up on the schedule, as the excitement of having a new playing field with new variables added another unpredictability factor to the near impossible problem of predicting the outcome of any bike race and the tactics of teams involved.
The only thing that was unusual in my perfectly constructed dream world was that I fell asleep on the plane ride home from the race and then started dreaming within my dream. (I know… Inception right?) What was strange, was that when I woke up in my window seat, the plane was flying very low to the ocean and making this nearly impossible, steeply banked turn so that I was staring out almost directly down at the ocean’s surface. Right below me was an entire pod of blue whales all swimming together, breaching and having a great time. There were hundreds of them and the pack went on as far as I could see – males, females, and lots of little guys swimming with their parents. They were all so happy, content, and peaceful together. One big family. I could feel that they were in communication with each other and they all seemed to be laughing, talking and having a good time. I smiled to myself and then closed my eyes again, completely content.
A moment later, I opened my eyes and looked around at all my teammates who were there with me doing the various things they use to do while we flew. In those days, we could easily get all our seats together and we would literally take over an entire section of the plane. I made eye contact with each of them, but the plane was completely quiet at the time so no words were passed between us. We didn’t need that anyway as our communion with each other was so strong each of us almost always new what the other was thinking and I could see they saw the whales too.
When I got home from the race there was a kind of welcoming party and it seemed everyone I had ever known in my life was there, including not only my Chevy team, but all my teammates from all the different teams I had ever raced on. All the racers were walking around in their racing kits, and while this should have alerted me to the fact that I was dreaming, it didn’t. Maybe because we would often make public appearances in our kits, parading around like a bunch of monkeys on a stage in front of groups of people. (I always felt uncomfortable doing that…) Everyone else was in their street clothes.
Anyway, at the party I was talking to Pep, (Jeff Peirce) about the mistakes we made in the race, and even though we had won and put 3 guys in the top 10, we both felt we could improve our execution and tactics. Thomas Craven was laughing and telling me to just be happy with the win, as he always seemed to be the most thankful and aware of how special the time we were living in was. Steve Hegg was living it up, laughing and being the life of the party as he often was in those days. I guess winning a Gold Medal in the Olympics can get you accustomed to being the center of attention. Malcom Elliot was his normal, quiet, reserved self surrounded by a group of people who were looking at him like the cycling god that he was then. He was a picture of class if I ever saw one. Jim Copeland and Bobby Julich were sharing a beer and laughing about something, Jim casually mentoring him along, and Bobby, still the bright-eyed, hungry kid who couldn’t seem to believe his luck at being asked to be on our team. Kurt and Darren Stockton were joined at the hip as usual, hanging out, chatting up some young hotties. Everyone else who has ever been important in my life was having fun, laughing, and mingling with the strange creatures dressed in shiny lycra.
I don’t know now if the pod of whales I saw in the dream within a dream was actually real, or just a metaphoric hopeful hallucination by my subconscious of a life I think we all crave to live…. I mean, what is real when you’re in a dream within a dream anyway? I guess that’s one of those great mysteries of life – like trying to figure out aging and why “youth is wasted on the young,” or should I say, “not appreciated by the young?”
What I do know is that anytime I run up against one of these great mysteries of life, I can be certain that The Boss has given it some thought and I can surely count on him for some insight:
“I think I’m going down to the well tonight, and I’m going to drink till I get my fill.
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it. But I probably will.
Yeah just sitting back trying to recapture a little of the glory of…
Well time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister, but
Boring stories of, Glory Days.”
Those of us who are getting on in years all have some memories of our glory days. All I can say is that I’m damn glad to have had them. And, while it may be true that I didn’t appreciate my youth like I should have some times, sitting here today I can say with one hundred percent certainty that it wasn’t “wasted” on me
#6 – Thursday, 9/15/16
ROBOTS, REALLY SMART PEOPLE AND ART
A couple days ago I saw Olympic Silver Medalist, Dotsie Bauch posted about how the Netflix robot f’d up and recommended a film, The Pedophile Next Door if you liked her great documentary, Personal Gold. A lot of people were surprised and commented on it, as it was both funny and not funny depending on your point of view about this kind of thing. But, I was not surprised. Robots and algorithms will never be able to understand the magic of art.
Now… Netflix is renowned in both the scientific and entertainment communities as having one of the most advanced algorithms predicting human behavior and preferences going today. In fact, many believe it is the major key to Netflix’s success. But, there are things that humans possess which I believe no machine ever will. Humans have a spirit, faith, a conscience and a soul… and I think that is why they can appreciate art. These things can not be programmed into a machine.
Scholars and the “Really Smart People” of the world have been sending out warnings about our integration with machines and AI for years. A few weeks ago we worked on a scene in class at the Atwater Playhouse which did just that. It’s from Ridley Scott’s 1982 prophetic, Nostradomus-esque, dystopian masterpiece, Blade Runner, adapted from Richard K. Dick’s 1968 novel, “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”
Harrison Ford is tasked with trying to determine if Sean Young’s character is really human or an advanced AI Robot. He asks the thing a series of questions, and then finally trusts his gut and chooses “one more question” that he knows will trip it up. It’s a complex, multi-layered conundrum about art and the complexity of the human condition as played out and performed by a group of actors on a stage in a live performance. He is life imitating art imitating life. The open ended question completely confounds the AI robot and it short circuits for a moment. Harrison knows he has his answer: “She’s a Replicant.”
Dr. Eldin Tyrel responds – ” COMERCE IS OUR GOAL HERE – MORE HUMAN THAN HUMAN IS OUR MOTTO.” If the good Doctor were an actual person living today and not a character in a movie, I’m sure that spouting that mantra would afford him no shortage of employment opportunities shaping the future of our children’s lives.
If you haven’t ever seen the movie, give it a chance to see some of the final plot twists play out. If you have seen the movie, may I suggest going back and having another look at it in the context of the world we’re living in today?
As I said, the “Really Smart People” have been warning about this for longer than you might believe. And, many are convinced that without art, human beings as a species are doomed. There are countless cautionary tales out there from writers, filmmakers, singers, musicians, philosophers, painters, scholars, and even some very famous IT geniuses… but here are four of the best in my opinion. If these books don’t scare the shit out of you, maybe you should call Harrison and ask him to give you his test just to be safe???
1. The Time Machine – HG Wells, (1895)
2. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley, (1931)
3. 1984 – George Orwell, (written in 1949)
4. Player Piano – Kurt Vonnegut, (1952)
I think the disappearance of the ability to appreciate art is very possibly in our future for the mainstream. What exactly qualifies as the definition of art is probably a topic for many blogs to come. However, the integration of humans with machines and our almost total reliance on them is a slippery slope I think we are unfortunately sliding down at an exponential rate.
So… now what? When I decided to start “blogging” I promised myself I wouldn’t be a hater, a crusty old guy from a time gone by, or have the blog be a forum to just vent, (I think we have enough venting bloggers and negative trolls permeating the net already.) Instead, I’d like to try to inspire thought in a positive way. And, while this particular post might seem like it is all doom and gloom, I actually think there is good news here. The answer to the AI threat is pretty simple in my opinion, because there are a few things I believe every person can do to stop the robots from taking over our lives:
1. Seek out and immerse yourself in art. Any art.
2. Find like minded people who believe this is important.
3. Talk to each other: In person.
4. Teach young people these concepts and the importance of them.
I really believe that the individual can make a difference. I’m a “pebble in the pond” kind of guy and I have surfed waves which traveled thousands and thousands of miles before reaching me, so I know this concept is true. Ripples man, ripples. Tolerance, understanding, empathy, progress… real human behavioral progress, depends on art. If we just keep teaching the next generations this, I think we’ll be okay.
#5 – Friday, 8/26/16
WHEN’S THE LAST TIME YOU REALLY CARED ABOUT SOMETHING?
A Midsummer Night’s Dream… Last weekend we had a very inspired production of Shakespeare’s classic by director, Byron Hays and his actors at The Atwater Playhouse. Their passion level was palpable all the way through to the curtain call on closing night and it got me thinking.
The great thing about being a dreamer… actor, director, musician, artist… bike racer, is that you really care about things. Not just the people you love, but the things you do.
I cared about races. I cared about my teammates, and making sure they felt the magic. That thing we did together; magic. It was the together part that really mattered. I care about plays and actors I direct. I care about the audience, and the feeling of feeling all of them feel something at the same moment while watching.
I guess I have realized that all these things are the same thing. It’s that thing that happens when the rest of the world goes transparent for a while. The day to day montage just stops and fades out of focus and you’re just left with that thing that you and your people are feeling that you really care about.
I think we might all be okay if we just keep looking for the real things we really care about with real people who really care with us.
When’s the last time you really cared about something?
Learn more about Byron’s documentary film project including this performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream here: Byron’s Documentary
#4 – Monday, 8/15/16
HELL OR HIGH WATER and Film as high art.
I saw what I think is the first really good film of 2016. Hell Or High Water. The fact that we’re in August now should give some indication as to where I feel we are today in terms of film as high art. This is just my opinion, and you know what they say about opinions…
Anyway, if you like films that aspire to be more than just eye candy, and you feel like you’re playing in a game of life that seems to be more rigged with each passing day, you might like this film.
It used to be that film was considered high art. So, what do I consider to be the definition of high art in this case? Beautifully crafted moving pictures arranged by a director in a relevant composition, which tell stories that speak to the critical issues of the times we as a people are living in, rich in both metaphor and allegory, presented by passionate actors in the most honest, believable and organic way possible while maintaining at least one foot in the realm of realism, (hey, high art should have high standards, right?)
Films of this nature aspire not just to entertain, but also to present issues of the human condition which come with questions that may not have one easy answer. I hate to break it to filmmakers out there, but as Stephen King says, “Sometimes murderers do help old ladies across the street.” What we hope for when seeing a good film, is that we can leave the theater after a roller coaster of emotions, consider our own lives, those around us, and maybe come out of the experience more enlightened than when we went in. Hell Or High Water did that for me.
Disclaimer: I do not believe in professional art critics. And, I don’t pretend to try to be one. I think appreciation for art should be left up to each person individually. But, I understand that we are bombarded with an unprecedented amount of media, images, sound bites, and information every day and that a little guidance can be really cool to have. However, most professional critics I have come across, (and I have heard from my fair share) always seem to have some kind of hidden agenda, an enormous chip on their shoulder, or worse, the spite of failure in their hearts. So, instead of paying attention to them, I usually choose to seek out people I trust, enjoy talking to, respect dearly, or that I am hoping to learn something from.
I work in the film business. Or, I guess more accurately what should rightfully be called, the entertainment business. The goal of the business really isn’t to explore the art of film, but instead to provide entertainment and release from everyday life for the viewer, (and of course make as much money as possible…) This is especially true for films that are destined for release in movie theaters. But, it is also true for many of the forms of entertainment we see on TV or streaming on line, (which is really the same thing now.) I get it, and I think this kind of release is vital for people living in today’s world more than ever. But, I guess what I’m asking is, is there a future for film that aspires to something greater, and where will I be able to see it in the years to come?
One thing I do in class at The Atwater Playhouse is constantly break down and dissect scenes with actors. We often look at films from the past. Last week we worked on a scene from The Deer Hunter between a young Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro. I had the enlightening experience of re-visiting the film, typing the scene up, and then going off to see the latest X-Men movie at the Cineplex immediately after. As I said, I do not pretend to be a critic, but what I can tell you is that while X-Men was fun enough to watch, I do not think that movie and The Deer Hunter should be considered the same art form.
I’m not saying Hell Or High Water is The Deer Hunter. I’m simply saying that I’m glad this kind of film is still being made. And, I’m glad there are still artists out there practicing this craft. I hope that if you care about the future of film as high art, you’ll support this one and give it a chance. I expect the domestic box office gross will be abysmal on today’s scale, (hope I’m wrong.) Hollywood works on a profit driven, trickle down model. It cares little about art. Nearly all films are budgeted and green lit based on prediction of possible profit. Unless it sees that there is still an audience for films like Hell Or High Water, or a new profitable delivery mechanism emerges for this kind of “product,” we could be looking at the final death of an art form which is currently wasting away in hospice care as we speak.
#3 – Tuesday, 8/9/16
“My wife said if I go to one more bike race she’s going to leave me… Boy, I’m gonna miss her…” and with that, the bumper sticker Gods have spoken.
When The Hard Road came out 15 years ago, the scene between MJ and his now ex-wife easily got the biggest crowd reaction at the dozens of theatrical screenings I attended. It was also the most talked about in the Q&A’s after. I remember being surprised by this initially, but now it makes perfect sense, because I know it’s something every cyclist and their loved ones can relate to. A couple of days ago another old Net Zero teammate of mine, Ryan Turbo Barrett and his wife Kelly had their 17 year anniversary! Wow!!! I’m an old romantic at heart, and I felt such a tickle of pride for these two!
Familial and spousal support is key for any aspiring bike racer… or actor. Bike racers and actors, are two very similar groups of people, and they are the people I have spent most of my adult life working with. We’re dreamers, treasure hunters, obsessives… and the struggles I have witnessed for our support groups are massive. In 2001, Ryan and MJ had wives who took two very different approaches to dealing with this very difficult set of challenges.
In post #2, I mentioned that my own marriage was falling apart in 1997, and that was the same year I decided to return to racing. We all know what Einstein said about coincidence: “It’s God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Now, relationships are complicated, but, I’d be lying if I said my return to racing had nothing to do with my divorce. My ex-wife met me when I was already a pro. She wasn’t a bike racer, and while she was initially fascinated with the sport, the lifestyle, the dedication and sacrifice, she eventually grew tired of the single-mindedness it took for me to be at the top of my game. Funny though: all the things that made me a pro bike racer, the things that she was originally attracted to, were the very things she grew tired of. So it goes all too often for good girls who like bad boys.
In hindsight, let me just say that when I quit bike racing, I quit for all the wrong reasons. Pressure from mainstream society, friends, family, and my new wife, (I was married at the end of 1994) all contributed to my decision. I tried to make it work, but I predictably failed. As I mentioned in post #1 “you have to be ready to sacrifice what you are for what you could become.”
I wasn’t ready for that in 1995.
I understand as well as anyone who’s been on the other side of it, that supporting a dreamer is a tireless, selfless act of love, and I know it gets overwhelming. Thank you to everyone out there who does it, whether you are a family member, friend, wife or husband. There’s a great documentary streaming on Netflix now featuring Olympic medalist, and So-Cal legend, Dotsie Bausch whom I was lucky enough to coach in her early career, – Personal Gold I think if you asked her, Dotsie will tell you that her husband, Kirk had a lot to do with her success.
So, ladies (or men), do everyone a favor: if you don’t want to be with a bike racer or an actor, don’t frickin’ marry one. With the right support, there is no more satisfying or happier way to go through life, “doing what you love to do and getting paid for it,” as MJ’s ex-wife, Sombra says in the video. It’s a mantra I wish more people would fight to follow. I really believe the world would be a better place overall if everyone kept this in mind. “Follow Your Bliss” as Joseph Campbell says, – Joseph Cambell quotes
#2 – Thursday, 8/4/16
1997 Manhattan Beach Grand Prix – Barrett Holeman – RIP
19 years later, and I’m getting to an age now where I’m loosing people pretty regularly. It’s all 19 you know, and we all get there, and it’s no fun. The first time we loose someone close to us who is our own age though, that might be the hardest. It reminds us all of our own mortality, but also, hopefully, of what a gift life can be. Barrett Holeman was that person for me.
I spoke briefly in blog #1 about a “6th Sense,” and I guess this is a story of that as much as anything. The 1997 MBGP was a completely surreal experience, and one I would never forget. It’s a race with a rich history, a special aura, and in 1997, international mainstream TV coverage on ESPN. Like many riders who grow up in So-Cal, the race was one of the first National Calendar events I ever did, (for non-bike racers, that just means it’s a really frickin’ big deal.)
1997 was both manic and depressive for me. It was the year of my first “comeback” in cycling, (I retired from pro racing in 1995) and I had a new young team filled with guys who were so fired up that I couldn’t help but be swept away by it. This team eventually morphed into The Net Zero Team – The Hard Road which many of you know about. One of the riders with the most potential was Barrett. He lived cycling. He breathed it. And, he was completely dedicated to making it in the sport. Barrett had great natural ability, was super smart, was an absolute sponge as a student of the game, and most of all, was one of the nicest and most respectful guys I’ve ever known.
A couple of weeks before MBGP Barrett was tragically killed during a race in Santa Barbara. The town he and most of our riders lived in. Bike racing is extremely dangerous, and bike riders do get killed by cars while training occasionally, but they rarely get killed in races. The day Barrett died, I woke up in the morning and did not feel well. I wasn’t physically sick, but something was wrong. I made a decision I had NEVER made in my life… I stayed home from the race. I was alone in my house all day, thinking about the race, wondering why I didn’t go, feeling guilty for hanging my teammates out to dry, and basically just being in a dark, dark place. The day did not seem real. Later that night, I would find out why.
That evening, there was an unusual knock at my door. When I answered it, one of my teammate’s Mom, who lived near me, was standing there with tears in her eyes, and my world started to wobble. She couldn’t talk at first, then all she said was, “Jamie, Barrett was killed.” My world went black.
When the lights came on again, all I remember is staring at water all over my floor, (I had been holding a big glass when she told me about Barrett and I must have dropped it.) I looked up, wondered where I was for a moment, saw my friend’s Mom standing there, then asked what she was doing in my living room. I guess that’s what shock feels like.
Fast forward a few days later, we have the funeral, the fall out, the depression, the grief and disbelief… all the things you all know about. I couldn’t ride my bike. I couldn’t look at my bike. I had won more races that year than any other year of my career, but my marriage had been falling apart and the team had been a savior for me. It had been a great season. Yet, all I could think was, if I would have just gone to the race that day maybe Barrett would still be alive. I hope that doesn’t sound ridiculously arrogant, so let me explain. I was the team captain, and I know from experience that even one key rider in a race will change the dynamic of that race greatly, let alone a key teammate. I was a key teammate. I would have had an effect on how Barrett rode that day, and where he was or wouldn’t have been when the crash happened. Shit, I would have even effected how the race played out up to that point. I know… it’s ridiculous to think I mattered at all in the scheme of things this big. But, like a lot of us who loose people we’re close to, I felt responsible or at least linked to Barrett’s death on some strange, unexplainable level.
Another day or so went by, and I heard the race organization was going to be dedicating the MBGP to Barrett. I still remember the moment I got the news. I immediately switched to manic mode. All I knew was that I was going to win for Barrett. I knew it like I knew the sun was going to come up on race day. From that moment on, I was in a kind of ethereal time capsule that I believed could not be altered.
Race Day came and I was dead calm. It was surreal. A dream. 1997 was a big year for the race. There were 175 riders entered. My old teammate, and international super star, Malcolm Elliot had won the race the year before. My greatest mentor in the sport, Jeff Pierce had retired and was commenting the event for ESPN. Saturn was coming to the forefront as the new dominant pro team in the country, on and on… But, none of that mattered to me, because a dream is a dream and dreams always take their own course no matter what we do.
The ESPN coverage shows me in an hour long break away with two absolute studs, Thurlow Rogers and Olin Bakke. These guys were ALL IN with me from the first pedal stroke, and to this day it was one of the most perfect hours of team time trialing I have ever experienced… It was beautiful. Never a hesitation or misstep. Sublime. Until the last lap of course, and then the shit hit the fan. What the video doesn’t show is Olin and Thurlow attacking and counter attacking the break ten times each all the way until the last turn. What neither of them knew is that it wouldn’t matter. Because, I actually had a teammate in the break with me they couldn’t see, and we just took turns covering their attacks and then beat them in the sprint.
Yeah, Barrett was in the break with me. I don’t mean in memory, I mean he was there.
This is a story, and anyone who reads it can decide for themselves what to believe. I hope some who still believe in a “6th sense” and all things related, will believe that I have spoken the truth here. But, that’s not up to me. All I can do is thank Barrett for his help that day. And, I can hope that he watched the success the team he loved had over the next five years. I pray that he’s resting in peace. I think he is. Thank you, Barrett. RIP brother. Maybe see you at Manhattan Beach this year.
#1 – Tuesday, 8/2/16
“The important thing is this: To be ready at any moment to sacrifice what you are for what you could become” – Charles Dubois
While Mr. Dubois is credited for the quote, I actually found it in a fantastic book on spiritual enlightenment titled: Sacred Journey of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman.
The last couple months of life have been some of the most challenging for me, in a life filled with some pretty big challenges. I’m not out the other end yet, but I hope to be on my way. Mr. Duboi’s quote has been ringing through my head so loudly over the last few weeks that it must be the path I need to follow now. But, as I’ve gotten older, sacrificing what I am is proving to be very difficult.
One of the things I do is that I am the Artistic Director of the Atwater Playhouse and every Monday night I teach a class there called, Exploring The Method. Last night we had what I thought was an exceptional evening. Every Monday is great, and I’ve come to be very thankful for them all. But, once in a while with special groups of people, the stars align and special things happen. I don’t know why.
Anyway, after class one of my oldest and closest friends, Tom Simmons and I were talking about another old friend, a recent funeral, and how to behave like a gentleman at times when it’s most challenging to do so. Which by the way, is the only time it really means anything. Fodder for a great conversation, right? Tom and I have worked together for 20 years, he’s one of the reasons our theatre is still alive, and the conversation naturally steered itself to the state of The Atwater Playhouse today. We talked about change, what we wanted when we started, what we’ve been, and what we have become now. I realized last night that after more than ten years, what we have become finally seems to be okay for me. It’s certainly not what we were when we started; a performance venue dedicated to putting up the most meaningful, insightful and socially relevant live plays we were capable of. It’s not what we’ve been at times; a teaching school just trying to stay alive and help actors get “work.” Instead, we’ve evolved into something more.
I think our theatre is a place where actors and artists can come every Monday night to escape the utter insanity that the “entertainment industry” is today. It’s a place to learn a time honored craft, and hopefully, to seek some kind of spiritual enlightenment in a world that seems to be very quickly forgetting that human beings were meant to have six senses, not just five. On the home page of our website I recently wrote:
“We hope to be the last vestige of the artistic environment in a technologically controlled world gone mad.”
I understand that the use of the words “the last vestige” in the quote might seem a little exaggerated and self important. Okay, so maybe I should have said, “one of the last vestiges…” but that just didn’t sound good, and I’m not even sure “vestiges” is a word, (maybe I should fuckin’ google it.)
The important thing is this: To be ready at any moment to sacrifice what you are for what you could become. – Since I work in the entertainment industry, maybe I should quote a movie here: “…I’m trying Ringo.”
Jules tells it like it is