Friday, December 30, 2011

A Few More Words on The Art of Hitting Rock Bottom

It's been over a week since my last post in which I discussed the character of Frasier's seemingly un-organic search for rock bottom. Since that time, I've talked to a few of my friends who read the post while also getting into watching the second half of season four. And because of both those things, I've decided to write a supplemental piece.

I can write all day about rock bottom. The problem, though, is that there isn't a whole lot more to be said about hitting rock bottom through the prism of Frasier Crane as a character in season 4 of Cheers simply because, well, he's been nowhere to be seen.

He spends only a few episodes serving as the maintenance man of the bar. This provides us with a few humorous scenes in which he's sweeping or wiping things down while still dressed in his usual dress shirts and vests. Yet he soon fades away. In fact, he's gone for several episodes (including a landmark episode I will be getting to next week) and is barely even referenced.

These episodes are good, but do little in advancing the love-triangle between Diane, Sam and Fras. Andy Andy, the serial killer Sam set up with Diane back in season one, returns and gets arrested in what seems to be his annual cameo. In an attempt to liven up the place, Diane brings in a mime in one episode, pissing Sam off to no end in the process; leading to the mime also losing his cool and Woody exclaiming "He spoke! It's a miracle!" And the Cheers gang play baseball against cross-town pub, Gary's, in what is the beginning of a rivalry that occurs every year throughout the show's run. Good, decently funny episodes, yes, but nothing applicable to my last post.

Yet the concept of rock bottom applies to the character of Norm in one particular Frasier-less episode. With Sam busy preparing for an interview on local sports radio, the episode focuses on Norm and the allegations that his wife, Vera, is sleeping with his neighbor. The wife of that neighbor is the one to bring Norm the news, which he refuses to believe. Throughout the episode, he reiterates he trusts his wife, even when the neighbor presents evidence that points to the affair being real.

I've said before that Norm Petereson is essentially the second male lead on this show. And this episode supports that with Norm not only being the focus, but also being once again shown in a more realistic, serious light. His torn emotions with the allegations come across as authentic: he talks to Sam, Diane, and his best friend Cliff about the allegations and even pours his heart out to Woody once he begins to believe Vera is cheating on him.

And, as seems to be way of things, the episode solidifies its seriousness with a scene in the pool room, the setting for so many previous serious conversations in the past. Norm and his neighbor's wife share their thoughts on being broken-hearted and kiss one another. Just as this happens, the detective the two hired walks in, disgusted at what he sees. He presents them with audio of the neighbor proposing to Vera they go all in on the affair. Vera, never before heard, says she can't go through with it because she loves Norm.

Now relieved, Norm has another problem on his hands as he's now kissed his neighbor's wife. The reason for me summarizing all of this is to point out how rock bottom can come in different shapes and forms. In what was a serious episode, Norm felt the incredible low of believing his wife has cheated on him. Yet things are more or less tied up at the episode's end in the traditional, cliched sitcomy way.

Additionally, Frasier comes back half-way through the season. He tells Diane he'll be leaving town to go clear his head and then desperately asks Diane to come along. Sam as mentioned previously that Diane drove the Fras mad (presumably explaining his absence), and this seems to come to light with Frasier apologizing to Diane one minute then lashing out at her the next for using incomplete sentences.

It may be too soon to say because I'm not completely finished with season 4, but it seems Frasier may have taken a transformation. He comes across much more like the Frasier I grew up with (which is to say the Frasier from Frasier). He's smug, bitter, at odds with himself. And in his attempts to hang around the bar (simply to spite Diane with his presence), he's hesitant and struggles to relate to the layman, much like he and his brother did for 11 seasons in Seattle.

Nevertheless, as I've said before rock bottom, however it formulates, is something that is universal. Which is why some friends I've spoke with have applauded my playlist of rock bottom songs while others have brought to my attention some glaring commissions (namely, U2's "With or Without You" and the entire Ryan Adams and Elliot Smith catalogs). And the universality of rock bottom is also why this Saturday Night Live skit from a few weeks ago is so great:

Whether your fiancee calls off your wedding, driving you to work as a bar janitor and irrationally exploding at her imperfect grammar or you left work too late for the 100 wings for $0.20 special at T.G.I. Friday's, rock bottom hits us all. And sometimes it can hit hard. And sometimes it lasts in love. Sometimes, though, it hurts instead...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Art of Hitting Rock Bottom

As has become tradition in this space, I'll begin this post like most others by offering an explanation for the lack of regular updates. This time, however, the reasoning is a bit different. I've had the time to write this post and to be honest, I've had a lot of it written in my head or on my nearly filled legal pad I've been using for note-taking while watching Cheers.

Yet, I've been reluctant to write (and finish) this post because the idea of what I want it to be keeps evolving in my mind. At any rate, let's start at the genesis of the idea which is this: Cheers, season 4, episode 2. Frasier Crane, who just one episode ago pulled a piece out on Sam, has now amassed a bar tab topping $500. He's down for having lost Diane, and he's trying his best to be both down and out. He doesn't only want to drink his sadness away, he wants to be seen drinking his sadness away. He wants to be a depressed, pathetic drunk. The goal, he admits to Sam, is to fall from grace and hit rock bottom.

The irony of course is that Frasier's downward spiral at the start of season 4 mirrors Sam's at the start of season 3. (Which I wrote about .) The difference, it seems, is that Mayday's fall from grace was authentic. He fell off the wagon, began boozing and became a horrible bar owner and manager, sleeping with every new waitress he hired and alienating most of his employees and customers in the process. With Frasier, rock bottom isn't so much as the location but as the destination. He wants to get there. And he wants it to be known he's there.

And that's fine. But what Frasier's aiming for here isn't rock bottom -- or at least it's not a real rock bottom. Rather, it's something that feels like rock bottom, feels like the worst emotional pain and torment imaginable. It's that pit of despair, that bout of depression, we all go through in life.

This is the very reason I've had trouble finishing this post-- Frasier's pursuit of rock bottom is so universal Sometimes it lasts a day or two, sometimes it drags on. Sometimes no one else notices, sometimes it seems as if the whole world is aware. The pain, the sorrow (whatever words you want to use, because we all have our own way of verbalizing these times in our lives) is indeed serious, but not as always as severe as we make it out to be.

There's a plethora of examples from movies and TV shows where a character goes off the deep in, so to speak. Yet a clear cut example, and one often quoted amongst my close knit group of BFFs, is Owen Wilson's character in Wedding Crashers:

The above, to me, is similar to Frasier's rock bottom in that depression is real (as may even be the suicidal thoughts), but the person's life and world is otherwise in tact and sound. Obviously being heartbroken from losing a girlfriend/fiance/what-have-you isn't the only way a person hits rock bottom. Death is another, more serious, way. And TV provides us with a perfect example of what I'm speaking of with season 4 of another NBC Thursday night sitcom, Scrubs:

These scenes with JD's brother, Dan, spending his days following his dad's death in a bathtub are no doubt meant to be funny (and they are). But there's a scene of realism to it as well. Anyone who's lost a loved one or even been severely heartbroken by the end of a relationship knows that feeling of wanting to stay in bed for days on end. Or in some cases stay in a bathtub drinking room temp Budweisers.

Sometimes being at rock bottom comes out of hopelessness -- not knowing what to do or where to turn, thus the lying in bed or a bathtub. Other times rock bottom serves as a last stand-- a final attempt to lay it all on the line and win back everything lost. Ironically, Zach Braff provides us with an example of this with the extremely underrated film The Last Kiss:

As you can see in the video above, Zach Braff's character has vowed to not leave the porch of the home he shares with his girlfriend until she takes him back. Interestingly, his girlfriend has hit her own rock bottom, we learn, as she explains the pain she felt when saying goodbye to her dying grandma is the same pain she's feeling in saying goodbye to her relationship. The dialogue in this scene, to me, is just fantastic because it's very, very realistic.

This is another reason I found difficulty in finishing this post because some of these examples are beginning to hit a little too close to home for me. Despite pointing that out, I should say that I'm going to deliberately not get personal here with this post. Granted the whole point of this blog was for me to record and relate my experience of going through every single episode of one of America's beloved sitcoms, and by that goal alone I could easily justify going into my own feelings. But this, like the show Cheers itself, is for everyone to read and share. This space is not a diary, never will be.

Sometimes ending a relationship can feel like mourning the loss of a loved one. That seems crazy and foolish until you experience it for yourself. And there's an added guilt that goes along with those feelings because you hate yourself for going through a mourning that shouldn't be as serious as a real, actual death. But sometimes that's how we function as humans.

And it's from that fragile, sometimes irrational, emotional state that we derive at rock bottom. In Frasier's case, rock bottom is running up a $500 bar tab and beginning the man who may or may not be in direct competition with him for the love his life to hire him as a janitor to repay his debts. In Owen Wilson's case, it's crashing weddings, and funerals, while coming home to a trashed apartment and reading don't kill myself books.

So with the above in mind, and because Christmas is just around the corner, let me end this post with my suggestions for a playlist to which you can listen to while sitting in a bathtub, be it drinking in a disgusting, lukewarm pool of water or fully clothed in an argyle sweater.

Coldplay - "The Scientist"

Warning: Coldplay's going to show up on this list a lot. I can't help it, so many of their songs are brilliantly depressing. That's why Zach Braff chose their song "Warning Song" for the aforementioned scene in The Last Kiss.

Here with "Scientist," the lyrics are just as emotionally charged and vivid. Plus when I was a freshman in college, I thought the video was the greatest thing ever made.

Best/most depressing line: "No one ever said it would be this hard. / Oh, take me back to the start."

Dave Matthews - "Stay or Leave"

In 2003, Dave Matthews released his first and only solo album with this song being one of the highlights. Of the many live versions hanging around YouTube, I went with the Live at Radio City version because it features some great acoustic guitar work by Tim Reynolds.

Best/most depressing line: "Remember we used to dance and everyone wanted to be you and me... I want to be, too."

Adele - "Someone Like You"

Obviously the go-to hanging-on-by-a-thread/rock bottom song of the moment.

Best/most depressing line: "I hoped that you'd see my face and be reminded that, for me, it isn't over."

The Verve - "The Drugs Don't Work"

A fantastic song by a fantastic band. 1997's Urban Hymns is one of the greatest albums ever and this song is one of the reasons why.

Best/most depressing line: "I hope you're thinking of me as you lay down on your side because the drugs don't work, they just make you worse, but I know I'll see your face again."

Travis - "Writing To Reach You"

Speaking of all time great albums, 2000's The Man Who by Travis deserves to be mentioned. Just yesterday, I cited this as one of the greatest sophomore albums by a band ever. This song is one of the reasons why.

Best/most depressing line: "It's good to know that you are home for Christmas. It's good to know that you are doing well. It's good to know that you are no longer hurting. It's good to know I'm feeling not so well."

Coldplay - "Violet Hill"

Another great, depressing song from Coldplay. Rather than post all the others that could go on this playlist, I'll just list a few of them: "What If?", "Trouble", Lost?", and "X & Y."

Best/most depressing line: "If you loved me, why'd you let me go?"

Counting Crows - "A Long December"

A fitting song for sitting in your bathtub while wearing you're best argyle, yet it's a good (depressing) song to listen to any time of the year.

Best/most depressing line: "I guess the winter makes you laugh a little slower / Makes you talk a little lower about the things you could not show her."

Young The Giant - "Cough Syrup"

A newer band that I've recently gotten into. This is definitely one of their best songs and goes along well with the others. I mean, how couldn't it, the song begins with the line "Life's too short to even care at all..."

Best/most depressing line: "If I could find a way to see this straight, I'd run to some fortune that I should have found by now."

Audioslave - "Like A Stone"

A great band who, much like The Verve, created a lot of fantastic music in only a few short years. But of course Chris Cornell, as he's wont to do, had to let his ego get in the way and ruin everything...

Best/most depressing line: "I confess I was lost in the pages / of a book, full of death / reading I would die alone."

Stereophonics - "Since I Told You It's Over"

Truth be told, I somehow forgot about this sing when I first published this post last night. And I'm kicking myself for that because if there was ever a song that perfectly sums out the emotions one feels when hitting rock bottom, it is this.

Best/most depressing line: "You can't tell me this now, it's too far down the line / that you're never, ever gonna get over me."

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Brendan's Death Song"

The first time I heard this song, I listened to it three times in a row. The lyrics are beautiful and touching while Chad Smith's drum work is phenomenal. A great song for any playlist, but it certainly fits here.

Best/most depressing line: "Like I said you know I'm almost dead, I'm almost gone. And when the drummer drums, he's gonna play my song to carry me along."

U2 - "One"

Far and away the greatest rock bottom song ever. It baffles me that, to this day, some people have chosen this for a wedding song! It's not a love song, far from it. But what it is is, well, brilliant.

Best/most depressing line: "And I can't be holding on to what you've got when all you've got his hurt."