The great and hugely original Jonathan Winters used to do a bit he called his vest pocket Broadway musical. It was a deliciously loving one man send-up of musicals of the 40’s and 50’s with a male lead who sounded like John Raitt on steroids. This All-American butch leading man was a farm boy who dreamed (musically) of going to the big city where he’d get a job at an aircraft factory. “Why, I’ll work on a plane that’s already finished,” Winters cooed. His aria promised he’d have a stamp pad and put a stamp on the aluminum and send the bird up into the sky.
Something in my crazy adolescent brain loved the idea of working on a project that was already finished. As a result, much of my adult life was spent learning over and over again that nobody would ever pay me to pretend to work on something other people had already made.
The big writers, millionaires, entrepreneurs and movie stars of my youth were all grownups, most of whom had spent years as apprentices, working their way up the stairway to career heaven. Very few of them worked on planes that were already finished.
Sad to say, the last 20 years or so have seen the old system turned on its head. Evidently the youth market has gobbled up movies, music, electronics, and publishing to the point where it appears that some kings and queens of stardom are making Jonathan Winters’ dream come true. Heaven forefend that I resent the apparently foreshortened path Lindsay Lohan took in a Jetstream-fueled version of Judy Garland’s sad trajectory….
But, as I scan the culture at large, I sense a widespread youth assumption that stardom and billionaireness is one 8×10 glossy or one improvised hip-hop poem or IPhone app away from anyone. (Shades of the old myth that any child can grow up to be President.) Law school grads want six figures to start, tall high-schoolers go to sleep dreaming of multi million dollar graduation presents from the NBA, and anyone who doesn’t run a major TV network by age 30 is a failure.
In some ways I guess my childhood friend Peter Fonda was in on the ground floor of the revolution with his pal Dennis Hopper and Easy Rider– an indie smash that heralded phase one of the grownups asking (instead of telling) the kids what was going to be a hit….
I wish these early bloomers, as my late mom would have called them, would stop making it look so easy, giving their peers and younger fans the mistaken impression that learning the craft (whatever it might be), making loads of mistakes, working like a mad demon, failing in public, and internalizing a host of unknowables, can be skipped.
But, then, I was told many years ago that any sentence that begins with the words “I wish” was the height of immaturity.
I still have a lot of growing up to do.