Thursday, July 05, 2012

Meeting Andy

As a proud North Carolinian, it's pleased me to no end watching Andy Griffith get his due. Around here, he's kinda like ... Shakespeare. I was lucky enough to meet him in 2002, at the dedication of the Andy and Opie statue in Raleigh's Pullen Park. It was after the ceremonies and he was seated. I was among a number of news crews waiting to interview the seventy six year old legend. When it was my turn, I clipped the microphone on his lapel and told him my mother attended Goldsboro High School during the time he taught there. He nodded graciously and I got on with the business of the interview. With a long line of reporters and photogs behind me, I knew I didn't have much time, so I told him A) how much I loved what he had done for North Carolina and that B) whoever cancelled his short lived sci-fi series Salvage One had broken the heart of this nerdy twelve year old. The great man chuckled and I was soon shooed away by his handlers. I'm sure he forgot the encounter the moment another news crew approached, but it's certainly stuck with me. In his later years, Andy Griffith had a well-deserved reputation for surliness. Friends of mine who worked on Matlock in Wilmington tell stories of him giving no quarter to fool, lackeys and whoever else wandered into frame. But the day I met him, he was wizened and kindly, seemingly at peace with the fuss everyone was making about his landmark contribution to the old North State and to America's sense of decency.

What an honor to meet the man.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Twenty Nine Clips

EtheridgeBag enough happenstance and you quickly forget to care. It's not a conscious decision, mind you, but a defensive reflex: a way TV news photogs and other such third responders cope with the constant barrage of froth and atrocity. Most of us aren't as callous as we pretend to be. But we do lose count as the video clips pile up and before we know it, the victors and the vanquished all look the same. That's when the universe tilts and you catch a glace of humanity you've all but sworn to ignore. Just ask Dustin Etheridge. The young Charlotte photog had all but perfected his thousand yard stare when a chance encounter with a doomed crew made him reconsider that far-flung focus. An Air National Guard group was preparing to leave for the Colorado wildfires when a hurried news shooter blew through, his mind already on the next assignment.
I was told to shoot enough of it that we could potentially use it for a long form story known in the news world, as a package, for the 6 o'clock news. I arrived, set up my tripod, put a mic on my interview subjects, gathered some b roll, and came away with 29 clips of video. 
 Twenty nine clips he didn't think much about, until he learned one of the three C-130 Hercules planes his new friends flew off on won't ever be coming back.
When I learned some of these airmen had died; specifically Lt Col. Paul Mikeal, a man I'd interviewed less than 48 hours ago... I genuinely had tears in my eyes. I cried... and I keep asking myself "why?". 
It's a normal enough question , but one that young Dustin can't believe he's asking himself. After all, doesn't constant exposure to calamity and claptrap eventually numb the senses? Not when you know the players - even if you just met them...
I shook his hand. I looked him in the eye and told him my name. I saw the confidence and genuine patriotism that he carried himself with. All before he died. 
A brief introduction. A kind word or two. A tenuous connection at best, but it's enough to give any old talking head the benefit of body and soul. It's something I last learned on a Randolph County highway as a group of college students I'd just interviewed held the crumpled form of a dying friend. I wish I could say the memory fades, but in truth it's one day on the job I don't ever plan to forget. It's the least I can do, and in the long run I think it will make me a better journalist and, perhaps, a better person.

Just like Dustin.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Lenslinger's Library: The One

the_one_life_and_music_james_brownIt would be criminal for a rhythm-free creature like me to believe he could fathom the funk of the late, great James Brown. Yet I do, thanks to an aging CD collection and a new Brown biography, The One. Heavily researched and richly drawn, RJ Smith’s book details Brown’s rocky path from shoe shine boy to Soul Brother Number One. Born to poverty and abuse, young James Brown led the thug life in the segregated South before stomping onstage and hammering out a vamp. From there it was nothing but struggle as the often loutish performer mesmerizes audiences with his energy and sound. James Brown didn’t just make music. He perpetrated it. Famous for the fines he imposed on his hired musicians, it’s said that when he was spinning around onstage, he was just checking up on the band behind him. The One is chock full of such tidbits, (Brown’s puzzlement at a young zonked-out bassist by the name of Bootsie Collins is worth the price of a download alone.) And they didn’t call him "Mr. Dynamite" for nothing. Like the music he forged, Brown was explosive. He ran his band with a dictator’s hiss and, sadly, slapped around his many women. But under a spotlight, the man could summon hellfire and holy soul, hold rowdy crowds enraptured and read the rhythm and a room like a master magician. My favorite scene is one in which Brown and entourage roll away from a concert in a stretch limo. A cluster of fans chases the car on foot and when one kid outlasts all others, Brown orders the chauffeur to pull over and pick up the panting fan. For the next few miles, "The Godfather of Soul" lectured the boy on staying in school, before slipping him a few hundred dollar bills and kicking him out of his car. A moment of grace from a man who, in his later years, grew fond of smoking PCP (“GO-rilla”, he called it). Oh well, since when are pioneers perfect? They’re not and though James Brown was not a model citizen, he did enrich this planet with his highly communicable funk and oh so tortured soul.

Not bad for a kid who grew up in a brothel.

Knowns and Unknowns

Backlit TripodThrough the magic of television, I have no idea what I’ll be doing tomorrow. That’s because I sling a lens for a living, a feature-laden fancycam that serves as both protector and weapon. Twist the right knob and see the felons flee, flip a filter wheel to make the secretaries blush. Leave the damn thing turned of and you can still incapacitate a gymnasium full of eighth-graders. I know, for I have dragged my glass through the shadow of Death, given this day our daily deadline and forgive us our press-passes. Still, I don’t wanna get all biblical. I just want to impart upon you the glory and the curse of working G.A. — General Assignment, that broad swath of story ideas that can send your average news shooter hurtling over the brink of sound judgement well before that box of newsroom donuts is reduced to glaze and rubble. Call it the Cameraman’s Creed, or better yet, don’t call it anything at all. In fact, lose my number until the first piece of morning meeting fodder is proven possible, would ya? And don’t even think of touching my lens. You know where it’s been! Some days I’ll schlep it to the edge of alleged deception. Other times I climb into a cockpit and hug it ’til I’m high. Once I turned its battery pack to an angry ocean. It went, swimmingly. Most times though I keep my power button dry, though I’m not above sweeping the debris field with it, stealing glances at a riot as we’re huddled by a dumpster or brazenly sticking it in some stranger’s face. Don’t get me wrong, I want to do work that matters, I want to use this wondrous instrument to teach, illuminate and yes, even inspire. But so help me Nielsen, I’ll shove this thing straight up Bigfoot’s ass if THAT’S what it takes to get me home at night. So before you come up with the way I’ll spend my day, before you decide which unwieldy notion you’d like to see televised, before you ask me how fast I can get to the nearest mountain top and back, know this:

Your in-house phone system baffles me.

The Pause That Refreshes

SandslingerIn case you haven’t noticed, this blog has lost its luster as of late. Normally, a dearth of missives like this is due to my own malaise, a self-induced state of mind in which I grow so mopey I can’t summon an update to save my life. This time, however, I got a better excuse… I’ve been on vacation! That’s right, me and the sheilas fled to the shore, laid in provisions and swore off shoes for more than a fortnight. It. Was. Awesome. Now that I’m back, though, that voice in my head tells me it’s time to re-light this candle, for other than long walks on the beach, dictating pith and vinegar is one of my favorite things to do. Trouble is, I get stuck. Chalk it up to the fact that I been stone-cold postin’ since 2004 and on regular occasion even a gas-bag like me runs out of wind to spend. Aren’t you glad you didn’t pay for this? I’m not! But that’s a subject for another post, something I’d like to think I have a multitude of in my future. See, this temple of insolence I call The Lenslinger Institute is just a fun-house filled with mirrors, a rambling, abandoned manse I like to traipse through whenever I’m in the mood to reflect. Historically, that’s been quite often, but the older I get the less compelled I feel to write. It’s an affliction I miss, though members of my family tell me I’m easier to live with when I better regulate my dreck. Perhaps the cape and scowl were too much.

Anyway, if you’re still reading this, chances are Twitter is down and Facebook is full of photos showing how hot it is in your friends’ automobiles. Either way, I appreciate it, for while I’m not gonna show you a feline-themed inspirational poster, I’m not above trolling for house-cats in the search for suitable satire. But wait - there’s more! We got crippling heat, maniacal live trucks and a scheduled affair with a certain Miss Britney Spears. After that, there’s a Democratic National Convention just down the road and you can bet I’ll do my best to avoid it. Yes, there is much to look forward to in the coming months. I may even weasel my way to the lip of another hurricane, where I can safely lull you into a stupor with meandering dissertations on the nature of Granola and the soul. Look for it! Meanwhile, I promise to stop staring at the horizon so much, lest I sink into the shifting sands of my own ambitions and once again have to start digging out one loathsome post at a time.

Whadaya want for nuthin?