I am riding up through the high desert into the Eastern Sierras a week or so ago. The ride is always plagued with bugs. And, I have never owned a motorcycle with a windshield or a fairing or any of that crap so I am very aware of the bugs. At ninety miles an hour they explode like kinetic weapons all over my sunglasses, inside my nose, inside my mustache, on my teeth, on my hands, on my leathers and clothes.
I ignore them mostly. Because I am riding the bike. The bike doesn’t ride itself. And, every so often I make a silly, high-pitched noise. But, I can’t tell you whether I am cursing or praying when my face meets the bugs that might actually be small, hard birds.
When I came home and stripped off my clothes I found a horsefly under my scrotum. It seems that one, determined bug had somehow survived the collision with my cowboy boot, crawled up the leg of my jeans, struggled into my underwear, curled up under my balls and died. My old lady laughed. And, then she went on to imagine out loud all the species of insects it could have been. I took a shower and after I got out I more or less forgot about that fly.
Remembering The Fly
I only remember it now because I am writing yet again about Sons of Anarchy, the brilliant, gritty, critically acclaimed, astounding work of sheer-fucking-genius currently running fifteen or twenty times a week on the FX Cable Network. The show’s creator and principal propagandist is the prosperous actor and scrivener Kurt Sutter.
And, I have made the artistic choice of beginning this essay with a dull anecdote about a bug by way of explaining to you that, as a general rule, anything Kurt Sutter might say is to me as the buzzing of a fly. Not even a fly that would lose its life on account of me but just another fly. So I would not have noticed the 950 words Sutter published on his blog (SutterInk.com) last Monday if someone had not pointed it out to me. But someone did. And, then I read it. So here we are. Again.
I am really sorry about this. But I have found that it is never the things I say that make me crazy. Or, crazier. It is also what I don’t say. And, most people who know me agree, I am already crazy enough.
How You Doing, Kurt
Sutter more or less argues that if I don’t like his television show I must either not get it because I am stupid or, worse, there must be something inferior about me – I must not be as far out there on the outlaw frontier as he.
Sutter spent last Sunday hanging out with Sonny Barger and the Cave Creek Crew. Barger’s wife lent him a bike. (That has never happened to me.) Sutter and Barger signed autographs side by side. (I don’t give autographs. It is easy. Nobody asks.) Afterward, Sonny and Kurt and some of the guys went over to Sonny’s house. (I don’t even know Barger’s address.) I don’t know if they had some beers or smoked some dope or did some lines or ate some hot dogs or sang some karaoke or what. Sutter only says, “I hung out and listened to these guys swap stories and critique the show.”
“I gotta say,” Sutter continues modestly, “the coolest thing to me was how much all these people love the show. I mean they really fucking love it. Every character nuance, every detail is not wasted. They are smart, sophisticated viewers who completely plug in. And they totally get and accept that it’s television and that we take deep dramatic license. My favorite quote of the trip,” Sutter continues, “came from one of the Cave Creek members, who blurted out this excited revelation, ‘Sons is fucking soap opera…but it’s our fucking soap opera.'”
I believe that what Sutter (he is the desperado pictured above) is implying here is that I am disconnected from my peers and estranged from my intended audience. Not that Sutter would ever actually say this to me. Sutter of course, has never actually heard of me or of this site. Somebody with a name like “Really Scary Outlaw” with a return email address like “writers at SOA dot com” is more likely to say this to me. Maybe “Really Scary Outlaw” knows Kurt.
In any event, whether he has heard of me or not, I have still heard of him. Which from Sutter’s perspective might be worse. Because, almost out of reflex, after I read what Kurt wrote, I decided to watch his show again and write another review. You know? Like what you do when a bug lands on your arm.
The episode I watched was called “Smite” and I don’t have the faintest idea why it was called that. Also, I took notes but they make absolutely no sense:
Kurt, I Have Notes
“Real estate developer. This looks like Azusa. ‘Your body isn’t producing enough estrogen. I’ll write you a prescription.’ Estrogen? Do the Grim Reapers mind that Kurt Sutter stole their patch? Suits, big cigar, more real estate chat, endless parking of motorcycles. Don’t these guys ever take off their cuts? Ron Perlman wants some guy in a cigar store to pay him a grand a month.
“Perlman walks like he shit his pants and he looks like he can smell it. Don’t any of these bikes have petcocks? Henry Rollins is some kind of thug. Some high school. Why is there a high school? No, it is supposed to be a jail. Kurt Sutter is mopping a floor. His name is Otto. Geez, Kurt! Throw straight punches! Straight punches! Oh geez! Kurt gets eye fucked with a broken mop handle. That is kind of interesting. I can see myself doing that to Kurt.”
See what I mean? My notes make no more sense than the script. I almost liked the eye fucking scene but I think that was more reflex than anything else.
A Brief Digression About Chimps
I learned a couple of weeks ago that adult, male chimpanzees like nothing so much as to pop open a brew and watch a very violent movie on TV. The chimps bark and scream, they throw punches at the air and jump up and down on their seats. Chimps love violence. Everybody loves violence.
I even like the violence on Sons of Anarchy, though that violence is pathetic. The fights on the show are like watching drag queens slap at each other. I never cringe or clench my fists but I will still watch the violent parts of this show anyway, because deep, down inside I am an adult, male chimpanzee. And, a silly fight is better than no fight.
Unfortunately, the fights are less than the arguments. And, the arguments are less than the soul searching. Sons of Anarchy suffers from what Clint Eastwood once called, “Too much talk, talk. Not enough bang, bang.”
Back To My Notes
“Crappy office. Cops. Cops in this town are really a bunch of little bitches. This club is lucky it isn’t in Torrance. More estrogen chat. Girls jog. No jiggle. Katey Sagal gives Jax’s girlfriend a bloody nose. Hey! Where is Drea DeMatteo? Jax visits bitch cop. ‘People die! People get hurt!’ What are you talking about Jax? Don’t talk about it. Be about it. ‘That was not on me,” some guy says. Must stay awake.
“Amateur video surveillance of an arson. No chain of custody. Who gives a crap? Henry Rollins is a thug for the real estate developers who wear suits! Why do they need a thug? Did he accidentally spray deodorant in his mouth for a real long time? Is that why he has that look on his face? More girl talk. ‘I know what it’s like to keep something like this inside.’ Blah, blah, blah. This is more boring than a Jay Dobyns interview.”
The reason for all the talk, I am guessing, is that the one and only character in this show is an institution called the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club. All the actual people in the show are just there so the wardrobe dressers will have something to hang the cuts on. And, the character which is the club, is just a kid’s collection of clichés.
I can see that Sutter obviously wants to be sympathetic to this subculture. Because he is a romantic or he is an egomaniac or because he is having a mid-life crisis or for whatever reason Sutter wants to be our storyteller telling “our soap opera.”
And that, I think is an admirable goal. Kudos Kurt! Kudos! Bravo! Bravo for your intentions! Why doesn’t everybody just take a moment to clap right now. For Kurt. Before I give him more notes.
Kurt, one problem, the least problem, you might have of realizing your beautiful dream is that you are like the man who decides he is qualified to moralize about the working conditions in the handkerchief industry because he blew his nose. That is the minor problem.
The more serious problem is that Sutter is a writer who suffers from delusions of adequacy.
Waiting For A Story
Stories worth telling or hearing are never about institutions like motorcycle clubs, or The West Wing or NCIS Fargo. Sons of Anarchy is a title, not a character. (Yeah, I know that the lead character in The Shining was a haunted hotel but I don’t think anybody will ever confuse Sutter with Stanley Kubrick.) Except when told by a genius, all stories have always been about people, even if, as in Uncle Remus, the people are wearing bunny suits. The problem with Sons of Anarchy is that the people have to wear costumes so you can tell who and what they are. In Sons of Anarchy, there is nobody inside the bunny suit.
That is ironic because the most interesting people in the world are bikers. Sutter has the budget to make a weekly television show about this terrific subject with all these fascinating characters and the best he can come up with is something that aspires to be General Hospital.
An obvious impediment to reaching the lofty standards of As The Biker World Turns is that the show got off to a bad start. All stories must always start the same way: The hero has a serious problem.
The SOA Story
In the case of Sons of Anarchy the hero is a young man named Jax. And, his serious problem is that he has an identity crisis. Jax finds a book his father wrote that disillusions him about his life as a motorcycle outlaw in general and his club in particular. And, you don’t need to be a writer to understand that this is pathetically weak. Worst of all, Sutter compounded this error by never throwing that first piece of paper away. Over and over he seems to keep trying to make this ridiculous premise work.
This secret book (in Hollywood development circles it is a pseudo-intellectual convention called “the secret knowledge”) is supposed to personify Jax’s father’s ghost. And, because of this we are supposed to connect Sons of Anarchy to Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.
And, I hardly know what more to say about that. I have tried before. I will fail again now. The first obvious thing that sputters out this time is that the play Hamlet was named for a character. It wasn’t named the Danish National Racket. And secondly, Hamlet isn’t about a young man being haunted by his father’s ghost. Hamlet is about revenge. Not haunting. Revenge.
Revenge, Hate, Jealousy, Lust, Shame, Etcetera
I wake up many mornings motivated by revenge. Personally. I enjoy breaking laws for those times when the law has tried to break me. I want my life that I should have had instead of the one I got. And I want revenge on the sons of bitches who stole what I should have had from me. Everywhere I look I see revenge. Mongols want revenge on Angels. Angels want revenge on Outlaws. And, everybody hates the police.
The real world that Sutter has decided to dramatize is full of rage, disappointment, affliction, jealousy, shame and lust. The biker subculture is at least the most interesting thing in America. The men are flawed, complex and capable. The women are tough, long suffering and sexually manipulative.
This is William James “Moral Equivalent of War.” This is an angry and ironic subculture. This is the world of the disposed working class. This is a subculture full of character motivation. People will fight one another just because it is a red moon. But when Sutter writes a fight scene that fight is no more angry than a studio lunch. He never writes the anger. He only writes the punch.
Sutter never sees a man drowning his sorrows. Sutter sees a drunk. Occasionally Sutter shows men riding motorcycles but he doesn’t seem to have any idea why anyone would ride let alone run. Mostly he shows men parking motorcycles. Because why not? It is easier to pose when the bike is standing still.
“Every character nuance, every detail is not wasted,” Sutter wrote the other day. What character nuance? What character? After a year of trying, I am still not sophisticated enough to “plug in.”
But back to the notes:
“Sons hang out in a barber shop? With a sheriff who is getting a shave? What is this? Deadwood? Didn’t that guy used to be on Deadwood? Fight! Henry Rollins knocks over a bike. And, they let him get away with that? No knives? No breaker bars? Voice over narration sounds like dramatic reading of the memoirs of Swiss Depth Psychologist Carl Jung. Maybe next they will eat some shrooms and meet a flying mandala that will lead them to an all knowing coyote. Katey Sagal was beaten and raped? When did this happen? A month ago?! And she doesn’t want to tell anybody. Because she ‘didn’t want to twist up the club.’ What? I am lost.
“Charlie Hunnum and girl have gloomy chat. ‘My Dad wrote this. His vision for the club. What went wrong and how to save it.’ What the fuck is he talking about? What is wrong with the club? You mean like some fucking guy can knock over your motorcycle without getting hit in the knees with a breaker bar? Wrong like that? Chapter church. Godfather bullshit. Is that a Holdem table? ‘Retaliation must be harsh and immediate. That’s what we do.’ They are talking about Otto getting eye fucked. Not the bike. Blah, blah, blah. ‘We gotta wait.’ What? Why? What a bunch of pussies these guys are. Slow motion scene. Mumbles. ‘We gotta protect this club?’ What? Is it a motorcycle club or a development deal? More grim mumbles. Why is it so dark? Didn’t these guys pay their electric bill?
“Tender moment between Katey Sagal and Ron Perlman. Mumbles. Anguished looks. Nobody laughs. Big hugs. Minivan blows up in slow motion. Not like things blow up for real but like a distant napalm strike in a war movie directed by a draft dodger. Somebody says ‘Oh my God.’ I don’t know why. Guy gets knocked out. He’s alright. He is not bleeding from his ears, nose or eyes. He’s alright. How come nobody is laughing at him? When I get knocked out, when I wake up people are laughing at me.”
And, then what? I don’t know. This seems to be a show where nothing happens and when something happens it does not matter. There never seems to be an “and then.”
Waiting For And Then
The way stories, as most people understand that word, work is that somebody has a problem and in fixing that problem he creates another, unexpected problem and that leads to another complication and so on and so on. All of that action together makes a narrative. But Sutter must be after something more sophisticated than mere narrative.
Sophisticated. Like what?
Well everybody, tout le monde, agrees that the most sophisticated story ever written is Samuel Beckett’s late 1940s play Waiting For Godot. It was written in French and correctly titled En attendant Godot. Of course it was written in French. It had to be written in French. I am guessing that Sutter read or saw or acted in Godot while he was getting his Master of Fine Arts degree from Northern Illinois University a few years ago.
The action of the play is two guys sitting on a bench waiting for someone named Godot. One of the two characters can barely speak. The mumbling small talk goes on for two acts. Godot never shows up. At one point the two men on a bench contemplate hanging themselves but eventually decide to do nothing because “it is safer.” Doing nothing is always safer. Sitting on the motorcycle while it is parked is always safer than sitting on the motorcycle while it moves.
I know about this because a woman made me go see Waiting For Godot. She was pretty good but she wasn’t worth it. Seven women all in one big pile for a week might have been worth it. But she was only one woman and as it turned out it was only one night.
In fact, I think Waiting For Godot is probably the second most boring thing I have ever seen. But, back to my notes.
Sophisticated Biker Drama By Rebel
“Why isn’t anybody trying to wake this guy up? Is he supposed to be dead? It wasn’t that big an explosion. There isn’t even a crater. There wasn’t any debris. Is he dead? I wonder what his name was? Roll end credits. Thank God that is finally over. That was the most boring thing I’ve ever seen. That was worse than Waiting For Godot.”
I call out to my woman. “Hey Baby? Hey sweetheart? Would you do me a big favor? Would you call up six of your friends and ask them to come over here for about a week?”
Neither the man nor the woman move.
“Well, then, hey baby? Would you make me some jambalaya?”
They do not move.
Baby, would you make me a hot dog?”
No one moves.
“Well, will you at least get me a bottle of beer?
Still they do not move.
See Kurt. I can do it, too.