Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Beginning of the End of the 2nd Beginning

Tessa was the younger sister of Jamie; a girl who a mutual friend had tried to hook me up with. A couple times. It didn’t happen. Tessa was a few months younger than me but she was wiser than her years (and me) and it was both awkward and exhilarating that she and I thought so much alike…that we had both had a startlingly high number of similar experiences. Our connection was somewhat tense because her sister Jamie was my supervisor…but she met somebody else (who she married a few years years later). And so Tessa and I were suddenly spending more and more time together – but the moment I knew it was getting to be “something” was when she played a song in her car one day – a song that I could not stand. I hated that group and their radio single were the worst. But she talked about why they were her favorite band and I told her I thought they sucked but I would give their new album another chance. The next day, she showed up at my apartment with a copy, still wrapped, receipt in the bag. 

Long story short, within weeks, we were inseparable. It was late January of 1999; the place I lived was the common ground of several social circles – always crowded, always smoky, always a constant hum of conversations. The bedroom was sort of the VIP area; many brain cells were deep fried in that room. It’s horrifying to recall the happiness I felt the first time she came in and took off her shoes and jacket there in my room; everybody else put their shoes and jackets in the front closet. When she put her shoes in my closet and hung her jacket over the back of my desk, it seemed that something became Official. And within a day or so, people were talking about how much we laughed together and we always went on ice-cream-and-other-junk-food runs together (previous to Tessa, these runs were typically made by four or five people) and of course, how I now listened to that damned CD…the same one which many of my frequenters adored and I bitterly complained about….as recently as a month before.

In Ella Valentine’s piece, “Ugly, Beauty, Dountful Reality” she writes, ”another day was forgotten without a story to tell, without anyone to tell it to”….I didn’t realize my life was like that (in those days, my partying was sufficient to keep thoughts and memories of that nature at bay) but one night, Tessa and I were separated in a crowd….and I just intuitively knew where she’d be. Without being able to fully see her, I reached out, found her hand and our fingers intertwined – I pulled her to me and we left the building like that, holding hands. When we got back to my place, we kept the lights off and didn’t answer our cell phones (they were as big as cans of soda back then). It was a special night – not in a sexual way, it was just two people who Connected. Two people who Understood and Listened To and Shared With Each Other.

The day of reckoning was very soon after. I won’t go into any detail except to say that Tessa was extraordinarily pretty and she did not flaunt it but she did not exactly conceal it either. That night, we were alone, there were candles and we had a normal conversation that did not end well. By the time she left the bedroom, everybody else had already cleared out. I so vividly remember standing there, Nine Inch Nails “Pinion” playing in the background, reliving all the whole of our good times…all of which were abruptly shattered by less than a dozen words. Not “I think of you as a friend” nor “I met someone else” or even, “you’re like a brother to me”….no, the truth was that she and my best friend were ‘together’ and had been for a few weeks. She didn’t say good-bye. I didn’t either. And I removed that CD from the player and flung it as far as I could; it ended up behind my desk where it would remain for many months. 

The following day was one of such cold and wet and emptiness that all the usual party favors weren’t enough. Not nearly. The few people who did show up at my place the next night were solemn and each apologized for not telling me but I wasn’t pissed at them. Irritated but not pissed. They all left unusually early…and I realized I was out of cigarettes. The store was only a ten minute walk but it was cold and raining. I put on my headphones and listened to “Disintegration” by The Cure quite loudly…but it was different that night. Ten minutes was approximately enough time to listen to “Plainsong” and most of “Pictures of You”…and that matched with my arrival at the store but that walk was also a fucking eternity. The raindrops were the small, hard ones, cold and the wind kept blowing it in my face. I had shoulder length hair back then…and by the time I got to the store, I was totally soaked and shivering but I didn’t feel it.

I felt nothing. I remember the money I gave to the cashier was wet and he asked me why I wasn’t wearing a jacket and I told him I didn’t need one. I think that I believed part of me died when I learned the terrible truth…maybe it did. Maybe I killed it with my selfishness. Maybe she was just attention-starved. When I got home, my phone was ringing….it was Tessa’s sister. I answer and she only asked one question: “Are you ok?” I lit another cigarette and I think I laughed but I know I couldn’t get any real words out. She said, “I’m so sorry, I just found out and I would have told you.” I was silent. She said, “I’ll see you tomorrow. Take care.” and hung up. I called a certain friend and spent a lot of money on powerful party favors that night; when I told him what the occasion was, he gave me more for free. I was a friend as well as a good customer. By sunrise, I was quite sick. When I woke up, my friend Eric was in my room, shaking me awake; there was dried blood all over my nose and pillow and apparently the front door had been wide open. 

I don’t remember how I got to the bathroom but I remember I told Eric to play “The Speed of Pain” by Marilyn Manson (a new song back then) and I washed my face then went straight back to it. Then I decided I couldn’t stand to be in the apartment for another minute and Eric and I decided we’d go see a movie but when we stepped out of the bedroom, my former co-worker, Maria was there…she’d quit several months earlier to begin attending JMU. And she had a friend…a girl of extraordinary beauty, named Kate. They were on the way to a rave and thought I might want to go. It was Friday evening.

Saturday afternoon, I was awoken by my friend, also known as Tessa’s significant other – I didn’t think to think I was only wearing boxer shorts when I opened the door. And I wasn’t particularly angry either. The first thing I saw was the horror on his face. Then I saw the others: most of them asleep. “Friends” from the party. He asked me about the naked girl in my bed and all of a sudden, I realized it had been less than forty eight hours since the truth had come out and Kate was pulling on one of my t-shirts and she was Beautiful…and I started laughing – but I was not laughing inside. I don’t know that I ever really laughed again the way I did with Tessa before the truth came out. 

A few hours later was the 1st time I’d seen Tessa since that night…when she saw me, she immediately began walking towards me to apologize when she saw Kate…and Kate saw her and in my mind, it wasn’t just the three of us but the WORLD that froze for a moment. Phones stopped ringing, babies stopped crying, etc. I hadn’t said anything to Kate about what had happened with Tessa…and now I knew I would not have to. Nonetheless, Tessa was on the guest list for our wedding.

Which never took place.

The ‘engagement’ such as it was, lasted about three or four weeks total but the last week didn’t count. That’s quite another story. The day I found out the truth about Kate, I also had to walk to the store to get cigarettes…and I listened to “Plainsong” twice as I walked. It wasn’t raining. The wind wasn’t blowing. I only wore a jacket so I could have my collar up. Hell, I might have been wearing sunglasses even though it was well past sundown. I’m pretty sure I left a trail of charred brain cells. The lyrics to that 1st song of The Cure’s much-loved album are still among my favorite of ALL songs by The Cure and damn, they have a LOT of songs.

“I think it’s dark and it looks like rain, you said and the wind is blowing like its the end of the world you said and it’s so cold like cold if you were dead – then you smiled for a second. Sometimes you make me feel like I’m living at the end of the world – it’s just the way I smile, you said.”

‘PLAINSONG’ from the album, “DISINTEGRATION” (1989, Fiction Records)

Image –ImageImage


Knew Music (the ghosts in the shadow of Tower Records)

October 1996 – my 1st official job…and one I worked my ass off for. For six months or so, I called Tower Records and each week, the general manager would ask me for one reason he should hire me. One day I called and he said, “oh man, dude, just come on in.” I got a ride, went in and he handed me some papers (I may well have been signing my soul to the devil but damn, once I was past that door marked ‘Employees Only’…) and then he said, “So, be here tomorrow at 3:30.” I wasn’t…but that’s another story. 

I was still in high school at the time – and the youngest employee by at least four or five years. Aside from the fact that the supervisor who was assigned to train me got fired two days after I started, it was a hell of a good time. Everybody treated me like a younger sibling and the crew was clearly a family, complete with sibling rivalry in the form of “screw those metal heads, classic rock is the only real rock” or “classical music is the only music – what ARE you listening to?” and so on. But we were all there because we loved music. We got free concert tickets (good seats too), promotional art (much of which still carpets my walls in layer upon layer, no shit) and we all knew we had that one thing in common. I could spend hours wandering the rows and rows of music – and I did so on many occasions. I did so knowing that I knew less than a billionth of all the bands I was investigating but it didn’t matter…just having access to that much music – AND ALL THOSE MOVIES…

At some point in 1997, I received an ‘award’ for having been more than an hour late every single day for more than a year – I was openly wasted 98% of the time, I would take four or five cigarette breaks more than I was supposed to, I cursed in front of customers…then he held up a few pieces of paper. Letters from customers, about me. About how I had turned them on to all kinds of music and dozens of movies they had never heard of. They told their friends about me (couldn’t miss me, the kid in all black with black eyeliner, blue mohawk, rings on every finger – there’s a damn Lord of the Rings-size story behind THAT so we’ll save that for another time.) and I did the same for them and for their friends…and eventually I started getting requests like selecting songs for wedding receptions. I wrote up not only lists of songs but the lyrics and thus, why these songs would be appropriate. Sometimes the regulars would come to me and tell me they were having a shitty day and needed something new to listen to. Regardless of the genre or the reason they wanted something, I would ask them to promise me they would play it loud. Whether they did or not, I’ll never know…but DAMN, I do know that I have hearing damage from following my own advice. But that was then and it was a glorious time.

But nothing stays the same. By the end of 1997, I was one of the senior employees and found myself partying with a new crew of freaks and party kids….I was there when we opened the “Electronic Dance Music” section. I was there when Dieselboy did an instore performance and I took some pretty good pictures which were….let’s just say they got published in a magazine by a girl who also worked at my store and the magazine credited her for the amazing photography. But even that wasn’t the beginning of the end. She had several events that made it…difficult….for her to stay there and so she was gone. Throughout 1998, a new crew joined what remained of the old (a shocking amount were quickly fired for stealing) and the store REALLY became a party. And this was not the end either.

Stories follow three acts so I’ll follow something similar:


I bought Marilyn Manson’s first album, “Portrait of an American Family” at Tower and my 1st day there, I used my employee discount for the 1st time to buy his 2nd album, “Antichrist Superstar” and in 1998, I had a promo of “Mechanical Animals” almost three months before I started seeing the ads for it all over. By the time “Holy Wood” came out I no longer worked there but I still got the employee discount. …. Marilyn Manson was the central nervous system of my years at Tower.


When I first started working at Tower, I was quite obsessed with The Cure. I believe I believed that it would get me chicks. It did…in a way. By the end of the good times at Tower, I was listening to that band less and less. And I believed in love (as I saw it as a teenager) less and less. On New Year’s Eve, 1998, I blasted “I Don’t Like the Drugs But The Drugs Like Me” and “The Dope Show” repeatedly (I had taken some things earlier and took much more as the night progressed) and it was also on that night, on a ‘smoke break’ in a friend’s car in the parking lot that a Cure song came on and she turned it up for me…and I asked her to change it. She looked at me and I don’t know who was more shocked.


I worked there on and off until 2000 and by then, I had become obsessed with house music…Bad Boy Bill, with that insane scratching and the flavors of hip-hop and THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP….well, damn, there was a new kind of music to get my heart pounding and my head nodding and fingers tapping.

And here we reach the question I’ve been building towards for however long this is: HOW DO YOU FIND NEW MUSIC NOW?

Since I started working in film, I’ve been much more involved in orchestral music, which, ironically, has begun incorporating electronic elements…Pink Floyd was doing this before I was born but again, we’ll talk about that another time. 

The last few dozen songs I have found which gave me goosebumps and made me go directly to iTunes all came from shows like “True Blood” and movies ….soooooo many movies, including ones I wrote and shot – a bunch of my actresses (no doubt after seeing my basement) brought me flash drives full of music….some of it sucked, some of it was good, some of it was AWESOME.

One last note is that a lot of the songs I discovered in movies were instant classics in my mind because of the way they were used in the movie I heard them (even if the movie wasn’t good).

So: how do you find new music?ImageImageImageImageImageImage


I’m not typically into “Top Ten” lists but I recently had a mini-duel with insomnia – one of the results was a playlist on my iPhone of nothing but covers…and I love it…so here’s a few that I think merit attention


“I Feel You” by Depeche Mode, covered by Collide

“My Blue Heaven” by Fats Domino covered by The Smashing Pumpkins

“You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon covered by Marilyn Manson and Johnny Depp

“I Don’t Wanna Grow up” by Tom Waits covered by The Ramones

“Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash covered by Social Distortion

“Burning Down the House” by Talking Heads covered by The Used

“Too Fast For Love” by Motley Crue covered by The Donnas

“Imagine” by John Lennon covered by A Perfect Circle

“Scarlet Begonias” by the Grateful Dead covered by Sublime

“Stripped” by Depeche Mode, covered by Rammstein

“Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, covered by Care Bears on Fire

“Have a Cigar” by Pink Floyd, covered by Primus

“Sea of Love” by Phil Philips covered by Cat Power

“Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel covered by The Lemonheads


It’s a funny thing when a script begins to form. 

The pieces come from everywhere and nowhere…and the latticework which begins to connect them is of nothingness. It becomes tangible, reliable even but it is much like having a kid: life begins and then moves of its own momentum in directions we may or may not have planned. Life isn’t chaos – its merely unpredictable. They say truth is stranger than fiction…I think they’re just different points on the same line.ImageImageImage

“The Blanket Is Real”

“The Blanket Is Real”

Theory: infants need safety blankets to establish their own context for distinguishing the dream world from the waking world. They have not been alive long enough to have woken up enough times to tell one from another.

The blanket was the first ‘thing’ that was ‘real’…in any given situation with discomfort (needing a diaper change, hunger, etc), the blanket is a ‘go to device’ to begin the mechanism of putting things in order. The Blanket is the beginning of knowing what is real. Or at least a marker to separate one world (dream) from another (waking). “Inception” called the mechanism ‘the tell’ and/or ‘Totem.’

As consciousness expands, the monsters under the bed or in the closet or wherever become more of a threat. Children who saw the Tests of the Emergency Broadcast System and understood it grasped that the world might end at any given time, no matter what they said or did. However children react to being told there is no Santa is an indication of how they will adapt to paradigms being shattered by new discoveries in science later in life. ImageImageImage

The Day That Was The Day

In the 1990’s I was in high school – a couple of them, actually. The last was a short bus school (they were called Alternative Schools back then) and its wasn’t about memorizing facts so much as it was about not getting into fights or settings things on fire. I learned a hell of a lot more lessons that would later help me in life than I did at any other school, that is for sure.

What I’m about to tell you is absolutely true but I don’t wish to present it as “I was right they were wrong” – with that disclaimer firmly in place:

One of the classes I took was Child Development…it was partly because of a girl I liked but mostly it seemed like an easy class. At the end of the course, we were taken to a daycare center and under supervision, put it charge of a ‘class’ of children for ninety minutes or so.Almost all of the women who ran the place were all old enough to be grandmothers to the kids from my high school so the kids attending the daycare center were nearly another species, as far as I could see. They were definitely all looking at me when they warned that any defiance would result in our being banned from the place and thus, failing the class. Back then, I had a blue mohawk which hung to my shoulders, I wore lots of rings with spikes, eyeballs, etc and I definitely wore all black.

I figured this would scare most kids off but the kids I was in charge of were either not normal or young enough to not judge – or, as I suspected, they read one’s emotional vibes more than anything else. They swarmed over me like zombies over humans who can’t get away but there wasn’t any biting. I believe it’s a universal thing to consciously try and not pick favorites but it happens. There was one kid, a girl named Amanda or something who was clearly sharper and more mature than all the others. She never cried when her mom dropped her off, she was never one of the ones to get into a fight over a toy (I quickly smoothed out conflicts like that by asking who wanted to wear my sunglasses or listen to my headphones for a minute – strictly Pink Floyd and The Cure) and when it was time to read a book to the kids, she sat next to me and turned the pages. The first time I ever saw her start to cry was when she fell and when I helped her up, she hugged me and that was that, she was back to normal.

When a fight got bad enough or some kid was unruly enough, my supervisor would deal with the kid in various ways, one of which was putting the kid by themselves in an empty classroom until they calmed down. It made me uncomfortable but (1) I wasn’t sure how I would have dealt with it if it were up to me and (2) it wasn’t my deal; I was there for the class thing. After a week or so, I knew which kids were the ones to keep an eye on and which kids could be relied upon to play nice; to share, to not push back, etc. One of the things I taught the class was the ‘peace sign’ and I really thought it would pass in and out of their minds but kids are mysterious in their own way. And as the school semester was ending, there came a day when my teacher told me I had been reported as being ‘surprisingly good with the kids’ and I figured it was a done deal, I would pass this class with no sweat but then the day that was The Day came.

Amanda’s mom was late dropping her off and it was clear that the kid was exhausted; pretty much half-asleep and cranky and totally unlike her usual self. It didn’t take long for one of the more troublesome kids to take something from her and when she tried to take it back, they pushed her over. She began to cry and I knew if I gave her a hug she’d be fine but one of the supervisors intervened and with more disdain than usual, put her in an empty classroom and slammed the door. She began to scream and something in my head – and my heart, I suppose – changed modes. She wasn’t my daughter or even the daughter of a friend but what was happening was wrong and I could not allow it to go on. Hearing her howl PHYSICALLY hurt me. And the look on the supervisor’s face pushed me through rage into another state where…well, where we do things we shouldn’t.

I was told that she wasn’t allowed out until she stopped crying, just like all the others…but she Smiled at me when she said it. At least, that’s how I remember it. Amanda’s howls were echoing in the room and she was pounding on the door and my supervisor crossed her arms and said to me, “NO. Don’t you dare.” I tried to explain that a simple hug would solve the situation and she told me that if I opened the door, I was “done” and it was around then that I realized it was very very quiet. Every single kid was staring and other teachers (and kids from my class) had gathered in the doorway; she could not see them since she was staring at me but I could see them watching me…and I tell myself I weighed the situation, I thought it through but I also know I didn’t care.

I was not defiant enough to smile at her when I did it but I clearly remember I looked her directly in the face when I opened the door and Amanda pretty much jumped into my arms and I hugged her and she stopped crying immediately. It was the first time I ever wiped tears and snot off a kid’s face and absolutely the first time I felt a fulfillment in making a kid feel better. I remember her eyes were still bright and shiny with tears when she smiled at me and I smiled at her – and then the moment of reckoning was upon us. The woman told me, “You’re done.”

I looked at Amanda and smiled then looked back at the woman and said, “That’s cool.” I set Amanda down and the woman looked like she was going to have a heart attack she was so pissed. And I was somehow more than ‘cool’ or ‘ok’…I felt (for lack of a better term) Good. She turned away and saw everyone had been watching and I began to feel pretty great…she was totally unaware that we’d been observed. As if to prove this, she said to the audience, “He was wrong!” There was no response and I didn’t care. It was time to read the kids a book and Amanda already had our chairs set up.

At the end of that final session, the woman told the class that “John won’t be coming back so say goodbye” and each one of the kids looked up at me and gave me the peace sign and I felt something that I’ve felt maybe two or three times in my entire life. It wasn’t anything specific, I know that, it was just Overwhelming. Amanda smiled and waved and I smiled back and then I had to go. I had to get out of there. I couldn’t bear the thought of that woman being in charge of those kids, the unruly ones as well as the well-behaved ones. That was the only time the woman who ran the daycare center spoke directly to me – she stopped me on the way to the bus and said to me, “Thank You” and shook my hand.

On the bus, a girl from my class sat next to me and I remember a weird sense of Disconnect. She squeezed my hand and didn’t say anything. If I remember correctly, nobody said anything or maybe I just wasn’t listening. When we got back to the school, I knew there had been a phone call or something; my teacher took me aside and told me that I wouldn’t be going back and I should have obeyed and I may have set a bad example by picking a favorite. I probably did. But I didn’t agree. And I didn’t say so…and I don’t think I needed to.

I think about all of that now and sometimes I think the woman who was my supervisor didn’t like Amanda’s mother (who was pretty, well-dressed, elegant, etc) and sometimes I think I would be a bad parent because I would pick a favorite but mostly what I feel is that there’s nothing to think about. It’s an emotional thing and that is it. It was a decision blinded by emotion. I can’t decide if I feel it was right or wrong in the ‘big picture’ but by every rule, every factoid, every piece, every element to the foundation upon which my present day self has been built up from, I know it was worth it.

She was a tiny human, a person in the making and she was in distress and I knew how to fix it and I did. Everything else is irrelevant. I remember it and cherish it as much as I am haunted by it. Yeah, she was my favorite and that affected my judgement but it also made that moment when she stopped crying and smiled and I wiped the tears and snot from her face something elemental. There’s that concept of ‘the exploded second’ where time warps…when I think about the events of that day, I know to an absolute certainty part of me became known to myself in that moment.

In the end, I guess I know it wasn’t only me who knew it because I didn’t get an “F” even though we’d been told repeatedly that if we didn’t finish that section of the course, we would. I never asked the teacher why I got a “C” and I never told anyone in the class about it -although later, I found out that the ones who didn’t gather in the doorway and see what happened told the others. To say it was one thing or another isn’t right or wrong it just isn’t Enough.

I think I changed a little bit – maybe more than a little bit – that day.

It’s something that I can’t quantify or easily reference or write into a script.

It’s something I’ll always remember.

It was worth it.


Bedroom Archaeology – can you dig it?

Approximately six weeks to prepare for Los Angeles.

So, of course, key things (books, papers, etc) have vanished from the organized areas. There’s a constant geographical shift going on in here, no doubt but it always raises my blood pressure when things aren’t where I left them or where I remember them being. Its even worse when there’s part of it there. But that’s a convenient aspect of computers becoming the center of our lives: scouring external hard drives beats flashlights and digging through piles of notes, CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays, half-full rolls of packing tape, hell, even old VHS tapes I haven’t digitized yet.

Scrambling to gather completed spec scripts, still photography portfolios, finished long gestating remake (or “Redress” as I see it) of “Casablanca” … if any love story could use a new outfit without changing any of its, ahh, anatomy or sentiment, I want to do this one and more than anything else, I want it to be Right. The #1 goal of the script has always been to get a new generation of people into this story – the 2nd goal is to get young adults/teenagers to watch the original. I guess goal 2.5 is to get fans of the original to go see it and have a good time and a laugh and hopefully a scare or two.

Another point: the digging process (both digital and physical) unearths memories I wanted to forget that are now amusing. Some of it is amusing now anyway; a lot of it is pretty much how I remembered it. Thus, Bedroom Archaeology – can ya dig it???

– Johnlee 02:28:14:18:59:23

"Blackline" - film production - photography
“Blackline” production still, circa 2011