How The Pee-Wee Films Are Connected

You guys, I love Pee-wee Herman. I think he’s great. He was an essential part of my childhood. I grew up watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse on TV. I snuck a viewing or two of the original The Pee-wee Herman Show late at night on HBO when I was young. I even went to the HBO taping of The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway in 2011 (and you can most definitely hear my distinct laugh a few times during it).

Though I didn’t see Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in the theaters when it came out (I was only 2 at the time), I did see it a few years later, and it still remains one of my favorite movies today. I even have the poster for it directly to my right, in my office, as I write this. I can quote the movie endlessly. And early last year, when Adam the Woo took me to see Pee-wee’s house from the film in person, it was like a dream come true.

Most people forget (or try to forget) that Pee-wee Herman also made a second film a few years later, during the height of Pee-wee mania. In 1988, they released Big Top Pee-wee, and even though he was EXTREMELY popular at the time, the film was not received well. It currently has a score of 35% on Rotten Tomatoes, if you tend to believe those things.

But me, I’ve always had a soft spot for it. Sure, it’s never been as good as the original film or the stage shows, but it still has its charm. So, when it popped up on instant view on Netflix the other day, I sat down to watch it again. It’s been a few years, and I was curious how it held up since my last viewing (probably 5 years ago).

I was actually kind of amazed at how many more “adult themed” jokes were crammed into this one, compared to Big Adventure. I never caught them as a kid (and apparently missed them on my last viewing), but I totally got them all now! The film, while still aimed at kids, has a more grown-up feel to it, and that may be part of the reason why it wasn’t received as well.

But the thing that stuck at to me was how this film fit into the Pee-wee universe. To me, the stage shows and Playhouse were in their own little world, completely disconnected to the films. Big Adventure is almost an alternate reality Pee-wee tale…but Big Top can totally fit in right after that.

Now, I know a lot of people (even Pee-wee himself) have said the films aren’t connected whatsoever. But the stories seem to match up, and the 3 years between the films could account for a lot of the changes in Pee-wee’s character and setting.

What feels is completely my own opinion in how the two feels are connected, and how Big Adventure leads into Big Top. This is by no means Pee-wee canon…just one man’s opinion on it. However, I should warn you that this tale DOES contain a little bit of adult themes. Nothing bad, and that the kids can’t read, but if you don’t want to hear it, click away now. And remember, I have nothing but the utmost respect for Pee-wee (and Paul Reubens, the man who made my childhood complete with his creation), so this isn’t meant to tarnish Pee-wee at all. Hear me out before you call me crazy.

Do you remember how Pee-wee was during Big Adventure? He was the living example of “man-child.” He was of adult age, but acted like he was 7. And he wasn’t the only one; Francis was a man-child as well, only he had tons of money to throw around to continue his childhood indefinitely. It seemed like his father didn’t mind that so much either.

Pee-wee’s house is a child’s wonderland of excitement: random knick knacks and gadgets inhabit his world. It’s like a dream come true. And his seemingly normal neighbors love it; they accept Pee-wee for who he is, and enjoy his company.

Pee-wee also had zero interest in girls. They were practically throwing themselves at him, but like a clueless man, he had no idea what to do. You couldn’t get any more flirty than Dottie, the lovely girl at the corner bike shop. She had a massive crush on Pee-wee, which he blew off. His only love affair was with his bike, which he loved more than anything (as we know, since he set off on an epic adventure to find it again). Pee-wee was an innocent. Sure, he had a bit of an angry streak in him (remember, he almost drowned Francis in his bathroom), but he was pure.

Flash forward to Big Top, where things have changed. Pee-wee still has the same charm, but now lives secluded from the world on a farm in the middle of nowhere. His bike is replaced by his best friend, Vance, who happens to be a talking pig. He lives without his gadgets, aiming for a more simple life with just his animal friends. He spends his time working on agriculture projects (hot dog tree!), and keeps mostly to himself.

That is, of course, until he goes into town. The townspeople there seem to know of Pee-wee AND to dislike him quite a bit. In fact, they even go out of their way to make his life miserable. Want a sandwich, Pee-wee? TOO BAD! You have to wait for Mrs. Dill and Mrs. Haynes to pick out fabrics.

The only person in town who loves and accepts Pee-wee is the local schoolmarm, Winnie. In fact, he has an outstanding lunch date with her, indefinitely. And their names are carved into the tree by the school house. Also, did I mention they are engaged? Yeah, Pee-wee is totally going to marry her.

But then something even stranger happens. About 15 minutes into the movie, while Pee-wee and Winnie are about to eat lunch, Pee-wee jumps Winnie. Literally. He jumps on top of her, in the middle of the school yard, with the children watching. He wants to make out. For reals. THAT’S not the Pee-wee we know from Big Adventure!

And then, later on, he makes out with Gina Piccolapupula (in one of the weirdest, longest, most comfortable kissing shots of all time), the acrobat from the circus that lands in his yard…only to be caught by Winnie. His fiancé.

Did I mention the many innuendos and adult jokes that liter the rest of the film? I mean, a train going into a tunnel? Come on!

So, by now you’re saying: “OK, Jeff. We get it. The films are vastly different. So how does the Pee-wee we know from Big Adventure turn into the one from Big Top?” Well, through a series of life changes, of course.

When we last saw Pee-wee in Big Adventure, he was riding off with Dottie into the night. His adventures of trying to find his bike had changed him. He knew the big wide world was filled with adventures and danger, and he came back a different man. It seems like the end symbolized him ready to finally start on his greatest adventure: love.

I like to think he and Dottie began their relationship shortly after that. They began to date. They fell for each other. They were happy. They embarked on a normal, adult relationship. Our little Pee-wee was growing up.

At some point, I honestly believe they got married. They started their life together, and it was great. Both of them were happy, and Pee-wee was becoming less of a man-child, and more of a man (thanks to Dottie).

But one day, they took a trip to a rural town for a getaway. Perhaps it was their honeymoon. Perhaps it was just a vacation. Who knows? But this town just happened to be the same town as the one Big Top takes place in.

While vacationing, Pee-wee happens to meet Winnie, the schoolmarm. Unbeknownst to Dottie, he falls in love, and the two begin a torrid love affair. Eventually, Dottie finds out, and it becomes the scandal of the town. The townsfolk dislike Pee-wee for turning their poor, innocent Winnie into an adulterer (hence their attitude toward him in Big Top).

Pee-wee and Dottie break off their marriage, and Pee-wee moves to the country to be closer to Winnie. He leaves behind most of his innocence (which is why is new home is much more simple than before). He begins a simple life as a farmer, trying to start anew. However, he is still a dreamer. Much like the beginning of Big Adventure, where he wins the Tour de France, Pee-wee still dreams of a better life. The beginning of Big Top is him dreaming he is a famous singer; one that has to dress as Lincoln to leave the theater, and can fly away to escape screaming fans. He’s still the same, old Pee-wee at heart…just a little more grown-up.

Now that Pee-wee has had a small taste of adult life, and has crossed a line we never expected him to cross, he sees the world differently. This is why many of the things in Big Top are slightly more adult-oriented: the mud wrestling, the innuendos, the adultery, and so on. These things have ALWAYS been in Pee-wee’s world, but he just never noticed them until now. The door is now open, and he wants to explore this part of life he’s never experienced before.

And because he’s already cheated on a lover once, it’s easy for him to do it again when Gina literally blows into his life, courtesy of the big storm. Lucky for him, it works out for the best for both of them. Pee-wee is able to be with Gina, and Winnie is able to be with the Piccolapupula brothers…all four of them (I told you this movie was way more adult!).

At the end of the film (which, by the way, just kind of…ends), Pee-wee embarks on a new life with Gina as a member of the Cabrini Circus. Where does his life go from there? Well…we don’t know.

We know for a fact that another Pee-wee movie is coming soon. Judd Apatow is producing it, and it’s rumored to begin filming as early as February 2015. I’m excited!

Will it have anything to do with the last two films, and connect them even more? Who knows? It’s possible. But again, everything I mentioned above is purely from my own mind, and is definitely not canon. It’s just my own little way of connecting two films that I love.

Also, Pee-wee, if by chance, you happen to read this…thank you for making my childhood bright.

Until next time…

Doing What You Love

Sometimes, you find things in life that you really enjoy. These are called “hobbies.” For most people, these things drift in and out of your life at random, allowing you to do them from time to time, whenever the mood strikes. That’s the normal thing to do.

Other times, they become a large part of your life. They consume your days, weeks, months, and even years. You find a way to continue to do them, again and again, not just because you enjoy it, but because you enjoy sharing it with others, as well. Sometimes, you can find a way to make a little bit of a living off of it. Maybe even a job. But that’s the best case scenario, and rarely, if ever happens. That’s the abnormal thing to do.

I happen to fall into that latter category, especially when it comes to all things Disney.

It was about 7 years ago that I started writing about Disney “professionally” (and I do use that term loosely). I had just come off my 267th trip to Walt Disney World (I’m probably not exaggerating the number), and said to myself “Self…I want to talk about this with the world.”

Sure, Disney sites existed on that internet thing, but it was still fairly new. There were a handful of Disney sites, mostly the big ones that are still around today. But I didn’t want to just do that, no. I wanted to see my name in print, baby!

So I wrote a handful of articles for a fairly new Disney magazine called Celebrations. And after two fairly well received ones, I managed to get a cover story on my third one. It was about the Haunted Mansion, one of my favorite attractions, and I was truly floored that people were reading, and enjoying, my Disney obsession. It wasn’t long after that I started to get emails from folks, asking if I was writing anywhere else on a regular basis about Disney.

I wasn’t, but that made me seriously consider it. And within a week, I WAS writing about it on a regular basis. Not only was I writing about it, but I was writing MULTIPLE things on it…from attraction histories, to commentary on current things, and even interviews with past and present Cast Members. I was totally into it.

It WAS taking a lot of my time, though. And for someone with a full time job, a life, and other things, it was eating away at my free time. So, I had to cut back a bit. Sure, I didn’t want to stop, really, but I also didn’t want to splurge all this out in one swoop, and then never do it again.

Within a few months, the site I was writing for was closed, and I moved onto another Disney website, MiceChat. It was here that I found a larger audience who were totally into my Disney nerdery. It was also around this time that I met Rolly Crump, who had long been one of my favorite Imagineers, let alone artists.

I had also made a lot of good friends through my writing, such as George Taylor, another Disney writer I had admired for a few years. It wasn’t long after that Disney podcasts were a thing, and we said “Hey…we can do that! How hard could it be?!”

And so, Communicore Weekly was born.

Yes, I know I shared an episode a few months back. But, this past week, we released our 150th episode. George and I have been tirelessly doing this for almost 3 years now, and have never missed a week yet. Considering we average of about 30 minutes per episode, we’ve released about 75 hours’ worth of Disney-related material through our entire run. That’s NOT including all our extra episodes, our interviews, Point 5’s, and what not. When you add all that in, we’re probably close to 100 hours. And then the time spent writing each one, recording, editing, and then releasing? Heck, I don’t even want to think about that! As I sit here and do the math now, I think to myself: Wow…that’s a lot.

So why do I do this? Why spend so much time on a thing that has little impact on my life, other than the time commitment and the massive amount of work?

Well, mostly because of you guys.

Over the last 7 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve met and befriended so many other Disney fans. I’ve had random people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoy what I do. And a lot of these people who start as “fans” wind up being the closest friends I’ve ever had.

So, yes, while this kind of thing DOES take up a good part of my life…I love doing it. I love sharing this knowledge of Disney and theme park stuff with others. I love how it brings people into my life. I love how it has afforded me to become a published author, not just once, but twice. I love that I can share my love every week with a podcast. I love that it allowed me to work with an artist I grew up admiring. Heck, I even wound up writing a musical about Disney.

By now, you’re probably saying “OK, so what’s the point of this, Jeff?”

My point is, if you have something you love…do it. Follow your dreams. You never know where it will take you.

You may have some people dissuade you, and that’s fine. You may have some people encouraging you, and that’s great too. But at the end of the day, you’re the one you answer to. You’re the one who has to live with the life you choose…so why not do the thing you love and makes you happy?

Yes, I know…it’s easier said than done.

You should never give up on the things you love, no matter how high the odds are stacked against you. Does it always pan out the way you’d like it to be? No, of course not. It takes a lot of work to get there. But if and when it does, it’s so worth it. Heck, it’s worth it still even if it doesn’t work out how you want it to, because at least then you know you tried, and gave it your all.

I’m not saying to give up on everything ELSE in your life, either. You still need to support yourself, your family (if applicable), and everything else in your life. But…still carve that time out, each day, to try to accomplish your goals. How can you continue to do what you love? You need to maintain that balance between home, work, things you love. I don’t even have that perfected yet, but I try my best, and I keep on keeping on. I may have found an outlet for my Disney stuff, but I still have to work a regular job and maintain my family life in order to do so. But it’s so worth it in the end.

So, what are your take-aways from this? Much like Journey said, don’t stop believing. Hold onto that feeling. Because that thing you love? It keeps you going. It keeps you sane.

And some day, just maybe, you’ll be able to make what you love part of your daily routine, too.

Why I Love Lost

On September 22, 2004, Oceanic Airlines flight 815 departed Sydney, Australia for Los Angeles, California. the flight, carrying, 324 passengers, deviated from its original course and disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Two months after its disappearance, the wreckage of the flight was found in the Sunda Trench, near Bali. All of the passengers were declared dead.

This was a lie. The wreckage was staged by Charles Widmore, in hopes of throwing authorities off the trail of the real flight, which had suffered a mid-air break-up, crashing onto a mysterious island. Seventy-one people survived the initial crash. Over the course of the next six years, only 12 would actually live out the rest of their lives, peacefully.

It was ten years ago today that all of this began.

It was ten years ago that a television show changed my life.

Of course, I am talking about LOST, one of the most amazing, wonderfully written, impactful, and culturally dividing shows that has ever graced our television screens.

I’m not here to tell you what happened on the show (and it was a lot). I’m not here to talk about my favorite moments (too many to even begin). If you haven’t, you should discover it all for yourself (it’s totally worth it).

But I am going to tell you that LOST left a lasting impact on me like no other show had done before. Sure, I really enjoyed other television shows before it; Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files, for instance. But LOST grabbed a hold of me, and never let go. LOST changed my life.

When it first appeared, no one knew what to make of it. The pilot episode grabbed our attention from the very beginning and never let go. It jarred us, it threw us around, and it made us pay attention; a skill that would be necessary through-out its six year run.

The story of the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 started as a story of survival, but grew into so much more than that.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve always been more of an emotional dude than the next guy. I tear up during Disney movies, and get gut punched every time I watch the end of A Walk to Remember. LOST made that even worse for me.

Over the course of six years, I became emotionally attached to these characters. I smiled along with their joys, cried with them at their losses, and became a part of the story along with them. Hell, some of their personal stories mirrored things I was going through in my life at the time, and in a lot of ways, it helped me. The show became my rock.

LOST was really the first show to embrace its fan base. During the first season, it really gained its hardcore base of them, and kept them rapt for its entire run. The executive producers of the show, Cartlon Cuse and Damon Lindelof, recognized that, and took it to heart. They listened to us. They took our advice. They made us involved.

At some point during the show’s history, the actual show itself wasn’t enough. They went out of their way to provide extra entertainment for us, the fans, to continue to be involved during the summer breaks. Alternate Reality Games, where complex puzzles were presented to us, appeared, and helped fill in some of the lore of the show. More than once this happened, and made us feel satisfied. It was because of us, the fans, that we learned more about The Hanso Foundation. It was because of us that the wreckage of Oceanic 815 (though fake) was found. It was because of us that the mysteries went deeper, and things were solved.

Not only that, but the show was inspiring people to do more. Some started podcasts. Others did artwork. Parties. Conventions. Tours. The list goes on and on. But it was fan films that really changed the course of my life.

I was in college when the show first aired. I was majoring in film, and quite honestly, was a little iffy on my prospects. I had been making movies since High School, but I was beginning to lose my creative drive. The things we were doing in class bored me, and I wasn’t learning anything new. I was hitting a brick wall, and seriously considering changing my major to something more useful like “law” or “rock journalism.” I was pretty bummed, because I had always wanted to make films, and the complete lack of fun I was having was draining my soul.

But I began seeing all this amazing stuff that the fans of LOST were putting out. I was blown away by some, as it really blurred the line between what was fan-produced, and what came out of the show. And that’s when I decided to do something for me. I was so engrossed with the show that I wanted to add my own little piece of mythology to its lore. To give a little bit back to something that I was getting so much out of.

It was during the hiatus between the second and third seasons that I actually made my own LOST fan film, called LOST – Off The Island. I spent thousands of dollars and countless hours putting it together: coming up with a story that could fit the plot, but not interfere with the show itself, hiring professional actors, buying complex equipment, and generally making sure it would be something I could be proud of.

I reached out to people on the Internet to help. The LOST community was great, and very supportive. Tons of people contributed to it, whether it was story ideas, props, computer programs, or even a couple of bucks. It was incredible what crowd-sourcing could do, well before the days of Kickstarter. Heck, even members of the cast reached out to help, which was truly inspiring to me.

The film is broken up into 5 parts, like an episode of the show. Here is the first part!

My creative drive was back, jump-started by a mutual love of a television show by people I didn’t even know in real life. But we banded together, and a few months later, we had a completed film. And you know what? It’s still one of the things I am most proud of. It aired on television a few times (in England, mind you), and was praised by some of the cast and crew of LOST. How cool is that?! A stupid kid from Jersey, getting accolades from these people I looked up to. I was over the moon.

LOST set me down a creative path way back then that I have never deviated from, even today. Whether my methods may have changed (it’s not always film that is my creative outlet of choice), it was still that little kick in the butt that brought me here.

I know some people claim LOST lost its way (no pun intended) toward the end, and became a convoluted mess. Sure, not every episode was a winner. Not every storyline had a satisfying conclusion. Not everything was answered. But I’m OK with that. Nothing is perfect. But nothing has ever satisfied me, both emotionally and creatively, like LOST has done, nor do I think anything ever will.

Whenever I need a kick start to my brain again, I watch the Pilot, and get taken back to a place filled with mystery and intrigue. Every Christmas Eve, I watch Season 4, Episode 5, The Constant, just because (those of you who have seen it know why).

LOST left a mark on me. Ten years ago, it grabbed me, and it hasn’t let go since. Yes, it’s been over for four years since it ended, but it’s still a part of my life. It still means a lot to me. That is never going to change.

Ten years ago, I went to an island, and I never came back.

And as I finish writing this, only one thing comes to mind.

We have to go back.

And for the record, yes, I do own www.wehavetogoback.com, and use it solely for that one purpose.

Freak Out In A Moonage Daydream

Today, I want to talk to you about David Bowie and the story behind his greatest album of all time.

I wasn’t alive to witness his rise to stardom, unfortunately. However, I can absolutely look back and appreciate it (and mostly wish I WAS there).

A few weeks ago, I was at lunch at Ruby’s, and reading my Kindle. The waitress had apparently come and gone a few times to check on me, but I was so engrossed in the book I was reading I didn’t even notice her.

Now, why is this relevant to this article? Because that book was David Bowie: Starman by Paul Trynka, probably the 4th Bowie biography I have read.

Of course, for those of you that know Bowie’s work, the first thing that pops into your head is more than likely his seminal 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. The album itself is legendary, not only for the music itself, but for the story behind it.

The album was Bowie’s 5th, which actually may surprise some of you. That’s right, Bowie didn’t come right out of the gate with this groundbreaking album. Before Ziggy, there were two self-titled albums, one in 1967 and one in 1969, then The Man Who Sold The World in 1970, and finally Hunky Dory in 1971.

Despite most of the four other albums receiving critical acclaim, Bowie hadn’t quite yet found the success or the sound that would make him a star. Instead, he began trying on different personas, inhabiting different roles to play on stage in order to find his look and sound. He even had a failed experiment, testing this idea, that was released before Hunky Dory, called “Arnold Corns.” Though fashion designer Freddie Burretti was the surrogate face of the band, Bowie wrote and sang the songs. Oddly enough, some of the songs that would eventually make it to Ziggy Stardust appeared on this album, but in a very rudimentary form.

Though this project failed, and Bowie went on to record Hunky Dory, it did pave the way for what would become Ziggy: a persona for him to play and live his life as. Though Bowie seemed to come out of nowhere in the early 70s as an androgynous young harbinger of rock and roll to come, those ten years he spent working to find the perfect formula for fame had made him reflective.

The entire album vaguely tells the story of Ziggy Stardust, the human manifestation of an alien being who attempts to present humanity with a message of hope in their last five years of its existence. The album was intended to serve as the soundtrack and musical basis for a stage show.

Let’s take a look at each track, and what they represent.

  1. Five Years – The opening track details that Earth will end in five years, due to some unspecified disaster, thought to be the lack of natural resources, and mankind will cease to exist. Bowie said the title came from a dream he had, where his deceased father told him that he only had five years to live.
  2. Soul Love – This song shows that there are many different types of love out in the universe, from stone love (love for the departed), new love (romantic love), and soul love (religious love), and how Ziggy begins to form from this love.
  3. Moonage Daydream – We, as listeners, are first introduced to Ziggy in this song in a daydream.
  4. Starman – Here, the alien being contacts the youth of Earth through radio, and promises them salvation.
  5. It Ain’t Easy – This song is actually a cover, and was originally intended to have been on Hunky Dory. Many have argued as to why Bowie included it on this album, as it doesn’t really fit the theme. However, it could very well relate to how it’s not easy striving and struggling to live the rock and roll dream.
  6. Lady Stardust – This song introduced the concept of sexual ambiguity to the character of Ziggy himself, and how he really inhabited both genders, to connect with the youth of the world.
  7. Star – Ziggy, really beginning to live his life as a rock star, realizes that he could live forever like this, if he was allowed to do so.
  8. Hang Onto Yourself – Ziggy and his band, The Spiders From Mars, begin to really rock and show the world who they really are.
  9. Ziggy Stardust – This song, as told from the point of view of a band member, tells of the rise and inevitable fall of Ziggy himself.
  10. Suffragette City – This song talks about the perils of rock stardom. Some argue it may have made more sense to be placed before the track “Ziggy Stardust,” as it would lead into the theme of Ziggy’s downfall.
  11. Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide – Ziggy, who embraces the life of a rock and roll star too much, is eventually consumed by the love of his fans while playing on stage, hence his rock and roll suicide.

As mentioned earlier, Bowie had originally intended the album to be the soundtrack for a stage show. In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2001, Bowie expanded on the story a bit more.

It is announced that the world would end in five years, due to the lack of natural resources. The youth of the world have access to things they thought they wanted, but do not understand. They are left on their own, to fend for themselves, because the older folks have lost touch with reality.

Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band but the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, because there are no news shows anymore. So Ziggy does, and that’s where the song Five Years comes into play.

The end really begins when the Infinites arrive. The infinites as cosmic black-hole jumpers. Ziggy is told, in a moonage daydream by the Infinites, to write about the coming of a starman. This is the first news of hope that the people have heard in a very long time, so they latch onto it. The starmen that he winds up talking about are the Infinites.

Ziggy has hyped up these spaceman who will be coming down to save the world, but unfortunately, the honestly don’t care. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village and are of no possible use to us. They just happened to stumble into our universe by jumping through black holes. Their whole life is travelling from universe to universe, observing and then moving on.

But by now, Ziggy starts to believe in all this himself, and thinks he is a prophet of the future starmen. He builds himself up to the incredible spiritual heights and is kept alive by his disciples. When the Infinites arrive, they are in their original state of anti-matter. So, they begin to take bits of Ziggy himself to make themselves real. They literally tear him to pieces on stage during Ziggy’s rock ‘n’ roll suicide. As soon as Ziggy dies on stage, the Infinites manifest themselves and the story ends.

It’s a pretty heavy story for a rock and roll album by a 25 year old kid, don’t you think? It’s deeper than one might expect on its surface, but it’s immensely satisfying to hear how much thought actually went into it.

Not only do I love the album on its own, but it also has a pretty deep, personal meaning to me. Back during the summer of 2009, I went through a pretty nasty break up that left me pretty deeply depressed. Sure, my friends and family were there for me, forcing me out of the house to get away for a few hours at a time, but inevitability, I would wind up back at home, alone at night with my thoughts. I didn’t do much by lay there and stare up at the ceiling every night, wondering where it all went wrong.

In an effort to curb my encroaching darkness, I would listen to music on random on my iPod, long into the night. By the 3rd or 4th night, Moonage Daydream came on. For the first time in a while, my ears perked up. I had forgotten how much I loved that song, and quickly scrolled through my click wheel to listen to the entire album. And then I listened again. And then again after that.

I seriously must have listened to the album at LEAST 100 times during that time period, again and again, because for some reason, it just spoke to me.

The fundamental difference was that, altogether Ziggy became accustomed to the life he was leading, which eventually lead him to be literally consumed by it, I did not want that to happen to me. The music actually made me go out more, live my life, and do the things that I wanted to do, and not be a slave to the emotional turmoil I was feeling.

And of course, I got better. Much better. I was out of my depression, I was happy, and I was able to live my life again. And all it took was the death of a fictitious rock star! While the album talks about Ziggy’s rise and fall, to me, it will always be about my rise from the ashes of depression.

Despite all that, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars still remains one of my favorite records of all time. I know I’m not alone, either. It’s consistently voted in the top 20 on many lists of the top rock and roll albums. It even continues to influence musicians today, such as the hilarious song from Flight of the Conchords.

So, if you have 40 minutes sometime this week, kick back and listen to The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (at “maximum volume”, of course) to appreciate Bowie’s masterpiece. You won’t regret it. Trust me.

Blacking Out…

I was thrust out onto South Figueroa, in the middle of Los Angeles, with a gag covering my mouth and my pants still soaking wet. I was extremely disheveled-looking, with a wild look in my eyes, and everyone passing me by on the street probably thought I was crazy. A girl, whom I had met earlier, was sitting on a bench near the street, chatting away on her phone. She took one look at me and quietly mouthed to whomever she was talking to on the other end “…I’m going to have to call you back.”

“Well?” she said, wasting no time running up to me, an excited look in her eye.

I tore the gag from mouth, pulling it over my head and nearly knocking off my already tilted glasses in the process. I took a deep breath, the first since beginning my journey less than an hour earlier, and tried to compose my thoughts.

“It was…something,” was the only thing I could manage to get out.

And something it surely was.

On Friday, October 11th, I took on what is considered to be the Mount Everest of “haunted attractions”: The one and only Blackout.

Blackout isn’t new. It’s been around for a few years now, but it was only brought to my attention when a friend of mine told me about it when I moved to California. He is essentially a haunt connoisseur, waiting patiently all year long for the Halloween season to arrive so he can experience each and every haunted attraction in the area. From Knott’s to Universal Horror Nights even to smaller, home grown haunts, he loves them.

But Blackout was one he had never experienced before but always wanted to. He had never found anyone (stupid enough) to go with him, and when he first asked, I said yes without hesitating.  I’m not stranger to haunts myself, and looked forward to experiencing a new one. He quickly bought us tickets, and so I was locked in to going.

But then he started to tell me more about it. And I looked up reviews from previous years. And then the panic set in.

Just what the hell did I get myself into?

If you haven’t heard of Blackout before, now might be a good time to do a little research on it. Go ahead and Google Blackout reviews, and you’ll see some pretty extreme cases from the past few years. If you’re easily offended or dislike horror films, it may be best to stay far away from said reviews.

Based in NYC and LA (with a Chicago location being added later this year), people seem to either love it or hate it. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. It is considered the most extreme of “haunted houses” (though that’s really not the best way to describe it), and anyone who makes it all the way through wears that fact like a badge of honor. And rightfully so.

Right off the bat, their website eludes to what you’re going to experience. They have a few simple rules that you NEED to follow in order to do it.

You must be 18. You must go through alone. You must do exactly what you are told to do. Do not speak. Do not touch the actors. Do not touch the walls. You must sign the wavier.

You’re told what you’ll encounter: complete darkness, strobe lights, fog, crawling, loud noises, physical contact, sexual and violent situations.

On top of that, there is a safe word that you can yell if it all becomes too intense for you. At that point, you’ll be escorted out, no refund, without any clue about what was waiting for you around the next bend.

All these warnings are in place for you, because if you are of the faint of heart, Blackout is not for you.

This year, it was apparently done a little differently. Entitled Blackout: Elements, it brought the four basic elements into the scenarios that made you squirm.

Like an idiot, reading reviews and walk throughs of years past made me even more anxious as to what to expect. The weeks and days leading up to it, I started to bug out. The day of, counting down the hours and then minutes until my time had come, my stomach was churning. To say I was nervous is a serious understatement.

Blackout was held in the heart of LA this year, in the same building as The Purge: Fear The Night, another haunt we would be attending later that evening. While The Purge took up 5 stories and most of the building, the entrance into Blackout was merely a side door, covered in black, with the logo over it.

Walking through the door, you’re lead down a long hallway, where a guy sitting at a computer checks you in. At that point, you can hand over your possessions so they don’t get ruined, and you wait.

We waited outside for a few minutes, which is where we met the girl I would meet again later. While our respective appointments were at 8 and 8:30, hers was not until 9:30. She had shown up early, alone, to see others reactions before she was to go in.

I did not envy her.

Around 7:45, we went back down the hall to wait. I volunteered to go in first (because waiting longer would just kill me), and my friend had to stand 20 feet behind me. Before I knew it, I was being told to run up a set of stairs next to me. No “Are you ready?” No “Here we go!” Just an immediate “Run up these stairs. Now. NOW! GO!”

My friend later said he didn’t even realize I was gone until too late.

I was thrust into the frightening scenario almost immediately. There was no build up. There was no warning. When it starts, it starts.

For the next 40 minutes or so, I was put into situations and scenarios I can’t even fully wrap my head around. I have a difficult time even putting how I felt and what I experienced into words, even now, that I had days to experience it.

And even if I could, I don’t want to reveal what happened to me, in case someone out there wants to experience it for themselves. But, it should be said that, when comparing notes later on, my friend and I had very different experiences after a certain point. So, what I went through may not even be what you go through.

When it was over, much like it began, it was over. I was out on the street again, my mind and my body a mess.

I said earlier that people who come out the other end of it wear that fact as a badge of honor. The next day, at another haunt event, various people were discussing what other haunts they experienced this season. When it came to be my turn and I said I did Blackout the night before, the entire room hushed.

“You went through it?” someone asked tentatively.

“I did,” was all I could muster up.

Then they erupted into a joyful chorus of giddy school kids, each one of them wanting to know what it was like, what they did, and how cool it was that I did it.

Much like then, I would be asked in the coming days, over and over again, if I liked it.

I don’t know if “like” is a word you could use for something like this. I don’t even know if that is a valid option. “Survived” is a better word for it. Like I mentioned earlier, there really isn’t anyone on the fence about Blackout. They either loved it or hated it.

Blackout: Elements was a completely emotional, psychological, psychical, visceral, in your face experience.

I survived it this year. I don’t know how I feel about it yet. I can’t wrap my head around it, still. I have woken up every single morning for the past five days thinking about it. It has crawled up into my head and taken residence over my every thought.

I think the question they should be asking is if I would do it again.

Despite what I went through, despite what they made me do, despite all that I have experienced, felt, and seen, without hesitating, I would reply honestly.

“Yes.”

I am a part of Blackout and Blackout is a part of me.

Summer Of Survival

This past summer, the tagline for Universal Studios Hollywood was “Summer of Survival.”

In a lot of ways, that phrase aptly describes how my entire summer went down.

Sure, I wasn’t facing off against a killer robot from another planet or a gigantic monkey who has a thing for blondes (though, I did get to experience both at one point), but the tagline does describe Summer 2013 for me pretty well.

We moved to Southern California in May 2013, the beginning of the summer season, to begin a new life. Job offers too good to be true enticed us to make the move from the East Coast to the West Coast, and start from scratch. Almost. Luckily, there was a nice support system already in place out here, along with some wonderful friends who did everything they could to make the transition as easy as possible. They truly went out of their way to make us feel at “home.”

Of course, as things often do, things fell apart. There was trouble finding a good (and affordable) apartment. The ‘too good to be true’ job offer turned out to be just that. Now we’re 3000 miles away from our old home and families, unemployed, and slightly homeless.

But not once did we worry. Because we knew that persistence and dedication would pay off. I took the time of unemployment as time to reflect and really re-evaluate my goals in life, and found it quite refreshing. Of course, I was looking for a new job, as well, and thankfully was able to grab one in a field I am good at. Other opportunities presented themselves as well along the way, making it for quite an interesting summer. Not to mention countless visits to Disneyland. That didn’t hurt, either.

So, the first summer out in California turned out to be a great one. And yes, it did turn into a summer of survival for me, to find a way to make this new life work. And I did. And I couldn’t be happier for it.

I survived the summer of survival. And damn it, I’m ready for whatever else California has to throw at me.

Let’s do this.

D23

Almost two weeks ago was the bi-annual D23 Expo. For those of you who don’t know, it’s basically a giant gathering of Disney fans from all over the globe descending on the Anaheim Convention Center for 3 days to celebrate all things Disney.

Disney puts on panels and presentations through out the weekend, showcasing their upcoming wares: movies, television shows, music, games, and so on. There are even some panels from Imagineers about the Disney of yesterday, and of the future.

The show floor has booths set up from many vendors, including those fan sites that are large enough to warrant getting a booth. MiceChat had one, of course, had consistently had a line throughout the weekend for people coming to meet the various Disney celebrities they had on hand (myself and Rolly included…but that’s a story for another time).

Anyway, the main highlight of the weekend for me was meeting people.

I always knew that there were fans of the book and of Communicore Weekly out there. But the entire weekend was filled with people coming up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed what I do.

And I’m not saying that to sound conceded or brag. Honestly. I’m saying that because all of these people, from all over the world and all walks of life, took the time out of their day to stop me and tell me how much they appreciate what I do.

I really enjoyed meeting everyone over the weekend. It really was great. But the best part was meeting Benjamin and Mason.

People always ask why I do what I do with all the Disney stuff. Why do I write so much about it? Why do I spend so much time on the podcast? Why am I so passionate about something so silly?

Those two amazing guys are the reason.

Myself and Keith Gluck with Mason and Benjamin
Myself and Keith Gluck with Mason and Benjamin

It was Sunday. I was weary from the previous two, full days of running around. Saturday night, I was up extra late for the MiceChat cocktail party. I was running on close to empty. But, a few of us ventured back into the Parks and Resorts Pavilion for a final look around before the day ending (which, at that point, couldn’t come soon enough for me).

While we were looking at some of the amazing models for the umpteenth time, Benjamin came up to me and proudly exclaimed “I’m a cadet!” Now, again, if you don’t know, Communicore Cadets are what George and I call fans of Communicore Weekly. They are our loyal fans, followers, and friends.

But Benjamin said it with the biggest smile I have ever seen before on his face. And I couldn’t help but smile back. Soon after, his brother Mason joined us as well. The three of us chatted for a little while, with Benjamin and Mason both telling me how much they enjoyed the show, and how Benjamin was reading the Rolly book.

It was apparent that both were super passionate about their love of Disney. I didn’t know it at the time, but I found out later that Benjamin has dreams of becoming an Imagineer one day. I have no doubt he’ll accomplish that dream.

During the course of the conversation, the rest of their family came over. They were just as nice and sweet as Benjamin and Mason.

It eventually came up that they both enjoyed Dueling Disney on MiceChat. And with that, I said “Well, it just so happens that my adversary from Dueling Disney is here with me!” I called Keith over, who was chatting with our friends, only to see the two of them light up even more.

For the next 15 minutes or so, the four of us, along with their family, had a wonderful conversation.

Despite how tired we may have been, they made my entire day.

Look, I know my place in life. I’m a no body. Really, I am. In the grand scheme of things, I really am nothing important. I just do what I do because I love it, and I just like sharing that love with other people who happen to love it to. The fact that people even listen to George and I B.S. on Communicore Weekly every week amazes me.

But having these two amazing guys come up to Keith and I to tell us how much they enjoy everything we do, from what we write on MiceChat, to Communicore Weekly, and even Rolly’s book… it really makes it all worth while. They really justified everything I do. No matter how unimportant it may seem to me, it’s entertaining and important to them.

Later that night, I was driving Keith to LAX so he could catch his flight home. We were reflecting on the weekend, and Keith asked what my favorite part of the entire experience was for me. And quite honestly, without missing a beat, we both agreed that it was chatting with Benjamin and Mason. Hands down, that made the entire Expo for me. I don’t think I ever meet sweeter people in my entire life.

So, if you’re reading this, and you were at the Expo and said hello, I just to say thank you. Thank you for making me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile, all while following my dreams. Thank you for giving me a reason to keep on doing what I’m doing. And thank you for continuing to read, listen, and put up with me!

Shout out to my friend Heyzen for grabbing the shot featured above!