Monday, November 17, 2008

The Best Talent That I Wish I Had To Make Me The Life Of The Party.

Just because you grow up and get married and become a wildly successful lawyer/blogger/Guy-Who-Plays-Games-With-His-Kids-That-Are-All-Essentially-The-Same-Game does not mean that you have given up on trying to be the life of the party, even if, like me, you don't especially want to go to parties or even want to be around people all that much.

There are only two ways to be the life of the party, of course. One is to be amazingly hot. That will never go out of style. If you are Tom Selleck or Jennifer Aniston or Xena then you are the life of the party. That route, though, is a tough road to pick if you were born not Xena or not Tom Selleck, and an even tougher route to take if you cut your own hair. Although that's not as hard to do as it sounds, and it can look pretty good. Or am I just kidding myself?

The other route is to have a talent that will wow partygoers, and my life has in a sense been a quest to develop just such a talent. Given that I don't especially like parties, I'm not sure why I'm always trying to develop a talent to become the life of the party, but I am, and I keep on thinking of ways to do that. I suppose that if, like Billy Pilgrim [SPOILER ALERT IN WHICH I TWIST THE ENDING OF A POPULAR NOVEL AND COMBINE IT WITH A SCENE FROM ANOTHER NOVEL THAT WASN'T AS POPULAR BUT SHOULD HAVE BEEN] I were kidnapped by little plunger-like aliens who took me to another planet, and if, like Billy Pilgrim, I found myself held in a zoo there, and if, unlike Billy Pilgrim, that zoo found me in a never-ending party that I had to make the best of for the rest of my life, then it would be helpful to have a talent, or many talents, to make me the life of the party.

The novels, by the way, that were mashed-up there were Slaughterhouse-Five, and Life, The Universe, and Everything.

Being the life of the party is a big deal, though. How often in movies and TV shows and books does someone reveal, at some moment, that they have a hidden talent that makes them the life of the party. All the time, that's how often. It happens in pretty much every single book or movie or TV show or video or...other forms of entertainment: At some point or another, there will be a party and a person will demonstrate a talent and be the life of that party. It even happens in paintings. I can prove it, by copying over a picture from "Thomas Arvid," who is known as "America's Preeminent Painter of Wine." (There is more than one "painter of wine?" There has to be, doesn't there, if one if preeminent? Is it like a cult or something?)

That picture? The one on the right is "Life of the Party." (The one on the left is called So Deserving, apparently.) So people, or things, are the life of the party in every form of entertainment.

Leaving paintings aside, "the life of the party" exists predominantly in movies and TV shows. Like Vince Vaughn, making balloon animals in Wedding Crashers. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger knowing how to dance a tango in True Lies. Or John Lithgow knowing how to play the piano and sing Night & Day on 3rd Rock From The Sun, which I was watching re-runs of the other day and which I think was an underappreciated show. Then again, I think Herman's Head was an underappreciated show. Which it was. Or, more recently, Paul Rudd [SPOILER ALERT INVOLVING A KISS SONG, A MOVIE THAT IS STILL IN THEATERS, AND QUASI-MEDIEVAL KARAOKE] singing a version of "Beth" by Kiss to his girlfriend at the end of Role Models. Which I guess wasn't really quintessential "life of the party" stuff, but it still fits into the category because everyone focused on him and he won over the whole group and that's what being the life of the party is all about.

You see? If you want to be the life of the party, then unless you're wearing armor or a moustache, you have to be able to do something to get everyone's attention away from the bean dip/beer keg and onto you, turn yourself into the nerdy guy who sings "Paradise City" just BAM! out of nowhere:

It doesn't have to be singing hard rock songs, although singing Paradise City worked not only for that guy, but for Axl Rose, a man who, for some reason, we are still paying attention to and still thinking that there is a "Guns 'N' Roses" album coming out, even though calling it a "GNR" album at this point, if it comes out, would be like calling a new album from Paul McCartney a Beatles album because he decided to use the name.

And, as an aside, I wonder if Paul McCartney could use the name "The Beatles." I wonder if someone else could. Titles are not supposed to be copyrighted; can band names be copyrighted?

To help you/me out, I just googled the question can you copyright a band's name, because you get the best legal advice, I know, from googling legal questions and taking the most-respectable-looking web-page's answer for it. The number one choice was the US Copyright Office, which has this to say:

Can I copyright the name of my band?
No. Names are not protected by copyright law. Some names may be protected under trademark law. Contact the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, 800-786-9199, for further information.

So I googled can I trademark a band's name, and I got to some site run by "Alan Korn," (I'm guessing, because it's ""), who has this to say:

A common misunderstanding is the idea that one can "copyright" a band name. While it is possible to copyright the design of a band logo, the band name itself is not copyrightable. Band names are protectable under trademark law, because like "brand names" they allow us to distinguish one band's music and identity from another. They are what enable us to distinguish between a "Beatles" record on the one hand, and a "Chipmunks" or "Wiggles" record on the other.

So from that, we can learn: (1) No, you can't copyright a band name, and (2), the only possible way to distinguish between a Beatles record and a Chipmunks record is by the band name. I won't label these, so let's see if you can tell them apart:

True story: I used to love the song Bad Day until I heard it sung by either The Beatles or the Chipmunks (I can't tell which is doing it without the labels) and now I want to never hear it again. Why were the Chipmunks ever popular, except for the song "Witch Doctor?"

Back to the point, which is how to be the life of the party. One obvious way: Do not sing "Bad Day" in a Chipmunk (or Beatle, whichever) voice.

Other good ways, each of which I have mastered or tried to master in my life:

1. Know how to play guitar and write a song of your own. These song titles are already taken by me: If I Was Paul McCartney, The Lookout Cow, Gummi Bears, and I Love You Seven. If you can't write your own song, you could also learn Free Fallin' by Tom Petty, because you can have the crowd sing along with you at the Free falling, and I'm free falling part. Unless the crowd is your own kids, who will wander away.

2. Learn magic tricks with cards. I used to know three magic tricks using cards, tricks that were really simple to learn and were mystifying to the audience, the audience being Sweetie, and once my Dad at Thanksgiving.

It's got to be cards, though. Has to be, because everyone has cards somewhere, so you can do your trick and not look like a knob who's just waiting to do his trick. Carry around two pigeons and a wand and people will see right through you.

(The guitar-life-of-the-party trick allows you to carry your guitar; you've just got to leave it in the trunk of your car and you can explain, if anyone asks you why you have a guitar with you at all times, that you don't have it with you at all times, you just had it in the car because you were getting it restrung/practicing in the park, depending on the weather.)

3. Learn to play the piano and have a song ready to play at all times. A cool song, like Toccata and Fugue in D Minor:

People love that song, and I can totally play it on the piano. Anytime, anyplace. I can sit down and play that song and you will be wowed. Everyone will be wowed. I also know "Music Box Dancer" and "Chariots of Fire" by heart. If you play piano, knowing songs by heart is key, because first, whoever saw the life of the party pull out sheet music to play a song? Lame. And second, if there's a piano at the party and word gets out that you play the piano, like, say, you say something innocuous such as Oh, hey, a piano. Boy, I haven't seen a piano since I took lessons from ages 6-14, then someone will say Oh, you play piano? to which you have to say Well, a little, but I'm not very good, and they will say Play us something, and you will say No, really, I'm rusty, and they will say just play a little something. It'll be fun, and you'll say Well, all right, and then you will sit down and knock out a little Toccata in D Minor and...

Well, I don't know what happens then because the last time I played piano for a party I was 12 and it was our family Christmas party and I played " Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow" using at least three different time signatures and a variety of sharps and flats. Then I gracefully segued into my showstopper, "Winter Wonderland." But I'm sure that if you played Toccata In D Minor at a party, good things would happen.

None of those, though, are the number one Best Talent That I Wish I Had To Make Me The Life Of The Party, which is Juggling.

Oh, man, I wish I could juggle. I would give my left arm to be able to juggle, which I know defeats the point but shows you how seriously I want to juggle. Jugglers are the rock stars of... well, they're the rock stars of any group of people that doesn't contain actual rock stars in it. Jugglers are my idols. Jugglers and William Shatner, but today, mostly jugglers.

Here's how powerful juggling is as a captivating tool: I can fake juggle, taking two balls and kind of juggling them. It's not really juggling, but it looks like it to my two-year-olds, who watch me do that and laugh and clap and think it is awesome that Daddy can keep two balls in the air, all while I'm dying inside a little because I know it's only a matter of time until they're older and want me to juggle and then realize that I'm just throwing two balls around and they get bored. If I could really juggle, I could probably make sure that they always think I'm cool and then they wouldn't go through that phase where they think all parents are lame and they pierce their lip and become communists or bass players or something. I could avoid all of that if I could only juggle.

If I, or you, or anyone could juggle, think about the possibilities. You're sitting at a party, and things are getting slow, and there's no piano, so you pick up, say, some candles off the table and begin tossing those in the air, juggling them. Or some chainsaws. Why are there chainsaws sitting around at this party? I don't know -- you're at the party, not me. I'm at home because I don't like parties.

But I do like juggling, and I've tried throughout my life to learn to juggle, and I can't do it but I wish that I could. I know the theory behind it, but if knowing the theory behind juggling was important, if knowing how to do something counted, then I would not only know how to juggle but I would also have beaten Tiger Woods in the Masters (because I know what it takes to swing a golf club the right way) and I would have won the Superbowl (because I know how Brett Favre throws a football.) But I haven't won the Masters or a Superbowl (in case you were wondering) and I can't juggle.

Here's a guy who can, and he can juggle in time with what is either a Beatles or Chipmunks song:

Again, hard to tell without trademarked names being posted. But that juggling is great, isn't it? In fact, if I (or you) could juggle like that, you could even carry those balls with you to parties, because people would not mind you whipping them out to do a little juggling. It wouldn't be like oh, here he goes again with that juggling thing, the way they would with the pigeons (Again with the pigeons, women would say. Does he keep those things in his pocket, 'cause gross.)

The thing about juggling is that it's not only an illusion, like card tricks or playing Free Fallin' on the guitar (there's only, like, four chords), it's an illusion that looks hard and doesn't look like a trick. Card tricks and guitar playing are obviously tricks -- people know that you didn't read their mind/actually sing the song in concert. But juggling, a trick because all three balls are not in the air at one time generally-- if you freeze that video you'll see it's usually only one, maybe two-- but it looks like they are and it looks hard... and it is.

Do a magic trick, sing a song, be Xena -- people look at that and know that they could do it, too, given the right cards/guitar/genes. But juggle, and people will try that themselves, and they will fail (for 39 years, some of them-- me-- will fail)(that's right: I began attempting to juggle the instant I was born) and they will be more impressed with you, because you know Juggling, which is The Best Talent That I Wish I Had To Make Me The Life Of The Party, making you, not me, the life of the party.

At least wait until I finish playing Toccata In D Minor to whip out the bowling pins, though, will you? Give me my moment.

I know, you were expecting "Witch Doctor" by the Chipmunks somewhere... but I'm all about confounding your expectations:

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