Wednesday, January 7, 2009

E-Pop! Issue # 23: Ronald Reagan and Dutch &, Garth Brooks and Chris Gaines

Did you hear a rumor that the delay in E-Pop!'s latest issue was due to writer's block? Or a lack of good chewy pop culture punditry? Or possibly, due to E-Pop!'s boobs getting frisked at Heathrow airport?

None of these are the E-Pop! True Hollywood Untold Story.

The true story is that, like writer Edmund Morris and his dilemma with Ronald Reagan, we've had trouble penetrating "the alabaster depths" of pop culture these past two weeks, trying to come up with a "final word" on the whole "Dutch" controversy.

Therefore, we have created a fictional character to be part of history at this crucial time. This character will see and interpret the real world through fake eyes. He will explain to us the dark recesses of what could have driven Edmund Morris down the terribly long, bizarre road of reinventing the genre we call "Biography."

Enter Chris Gaines.

Chris Gaines, E-Pop!'s skinny, black-haired "heroin chic," alternative-rock singing friend from college, bears a striking resemblance to the hefty, apple pie-faced, graying country singer Garth Brooks. In fact, Chris Gaines just released a music album that sounds suspiciously like Garth Brooks on percoset singing to a trance beat.

When Chris first told me that his friend Edmund Morris was writing a "fictionalized biography" of Ronald Reagan, we were shocked. Chris flicked his long black hair that falls in his face when he sings, smeared his black eye mascara until his face looked like a gooey black Dali canvas, and told us that yes, it was all true. Twenty-five years ago, he was Watergate's real infamous Deep Throat. That secret haunted him for years until Edmund Morris found Garth's alter ego slumped in the back of the White Horse Tavern drinking Chivas, wondering if his career would ever be more than just "that fake skinny guy who sings just like portly Garth Brooks, but isn't really."

Immediately prior to the release of "Dutch," Morris' fictionalized biography of Ronald Reagan, Chris Gaines and Edmund Morris found themselves at Heathrow Airport getting their boobs and butts frisked alongside Miss Diana Ross.

"Touch Me In The Morning, Just Not There" Diana urged Edmund on, saying that years of denial made her career, and would do wonders for him as well.

That gave Edmund the courage to finish the last, fake chapter of Reagan's life. In the final take on the Gipper, the former President speeds down the Pacific Coast Highway holding the hand of Edmund Morris' "Zelig" character, a la Thelma and Louise, headed toward either the rocky cliffs of La Jolla or the inner recesses of his mind. You E-Pop! reader, might as well take your pick.

Sound incredible? Not if you actually make it through the 600+ pages of "Dutch".

"Is there any there there?"

This is the question Edmund Morris asked of Reagan, but it is also the question E-Pop! asks of Edmund Morris.

The big pop culture message the past few weeks seems to be, "you're nobody if you are actually yourself." Reality is just too boring for the pre-Millenium pop culture-immersed population. We like interesting characters even if they're fake people. We like product offshoots. We like "truthiness." We like options.

Someone apparently forgot to mention to Edmund Morris that, in the event his unparalleled access to one of the most influential Presidents in history did not bear juicy fruit, he had another option. He could (gasp) just write what happened. Write about actual events. Chat about Iran Contra more than just skimming the topic. Or, discuss policy successes and failures and their context in American History.

Call me crazy, but thousand of biographers will back me up on this one, Ed.

Or maybe you should just get your own category at Call it Cinematic Biography.

I suppose that pop culture fans shouldn't be surprised. Other media such as film and TV have been reinventing biography for years.

In the film JFK, Oliver Stone blurred the lines between fiction and real life documentary to the point where some history students are actually studying this film in college. The film Jefferson In Paris made slavery look like a footnote to the plight of star-crossed lovebirds. E! News and NBC's Dateline create, in their words, "recreations of actual news stories," where you see Selena's killer fleeing down steps and shadowy figures robbing gasoline stores. And then, of course, there was what some might say was the ultimate media precursor to the Reagan years, the Jerry Kazinski film called "Being There, Peter Sellers as Chauncy Gardener was the simple-minded gardener who says things like "We must tend the flowers in the winter to have blooms in Spring," and is heralded by a cynical America as a
brilliant leader.

If you read the myriad "Dutch" editorials and op-ed pieces that have inundated us lately, you know that some have griped with the mini-details. George Will, for one, spent too much time dissecting, quite literally, the truth behind Reagan's colonoscopy. He and Morris publicly disagreed about whether Reagan's doctor referred to part of the colon a "white, necrotic ridge, and compared it favorably to a vista of the Rocky Mountains.

Some have said that having a "Zelig-like" fictional character in a biography is a distraction.

But these details seem pretty minute in comparison to the fact that Morris took the "Zelig" concept one step further and constructed a whole family for himself in "Dutch," including a fake son who attended U.C. Berkeley in the 60's. The fake son's political ideology is seen as the backdrop for Reagan's crossover from Democrat to Republican in roughly the same time period.

But editorial mistakes are just the tip of the iceberg. If you think Diana Ross is pissed off lately, stop by the Reagan house in Bel Air. Nancy must be beside herself. Or is she?

As the dust settles on all the errors in "Dutch" (after all, many books have errors), and talk continues about writer Edmund Morris' single-handed creation of the new genre of fictional biography, conspiracy theorists are popping up to explain why Morris would take such a risk.

For example, is it a coincidence that Garth Brooks' new "concept" album entitled "Chris Gaines," apparently, also came out the same week as "Dutch"?

My favorite theory about Dutch is that Morris spent so much time with Reagan that he ended up becoming very close with him, and that the whole "fictional" aspect of "Dutch" was a device to cover up the presence of Reagan's Alzheimers in his final years of office. Remember all that cruising down the Pacific Highway in the "pre" second term debates that a misty Reagan shared with us?

Another theorist proposes that "Chris Gaines" is actually Deep Throat and that, if you take the 4th word in every lyric the fictional singer sings on his album, he is actually sending top secret information to the reforming "Evil Empire." The timing of the album was planned to coincide with the controversial "Dutch" to keep attention off of the subversive actions of that Communist Garth Brooks. I mean, Chris Gaines. Come on.

For fourteen years Edmund Morris trailed Ronald Reagan. Maybe he actually thought
he was there from the start. Maybe Morris has Alzheimer's, too.

That would explain why Morris says he couldn't find the words to explain a man who prepared for his summit meeting with Gorbachev by watching a video of The Sound of Music. What's Reagan supposed to do? Practice saying "Evil Empire" over and over again?

Morris writes about the Reagan pets as if they were humanoids of great historical influence. If this man had written Nixon's biography, you can bet there would have been a steamy "kiss and tell" from Checkers the dog.

In the final analysis, isn't this book the ultimate Reagan irony? Isn't it a perfect metaphor for Reagan that he would have "an imaginary friend"? Has anyone else noted that the first biography of a President known to have Alzheimers is filled with all sorts of "Alice in Wonderland" characters, with Washington, D.C. as the metaphorical looking glass?

Finally, does the public really care about fiction vs. fact? Or in this media age, does it really matter as long as the characters command the headlines?

Early sales of "Dutch' are strong in retail outlets, but their sales figures are tangibly linked to initial pre-orders. Last week's "Chris Gaines, the Television Special" was last in the ratings. And as for "Chris Gaines the CD", Garth Brooks' head-scratching attempt to re-invent himself as an Australian rock star was overshadowed by a real rock band from Florida in the latest record sales derby. For the first time since 1995, a Brooks album failed to debut at No. 1 on the U.S. pop album charts.

Despite the current environment in which they seem to thrive, fake people don't last. History will show that Morris' argument that he couldn't penetrate the "alabaster depths" of Reagan is as pale as Chris Gaines' fake, skinny ass, and probably just as clammy.

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