The Man Who Thought He Was President…

Suspend your disbelief–probably a good idea in today’s political environment–but in this instance it’s to recommend a highly imaginative and delightful film called Yesterday.

Director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting, 127 Hours) and screenwriter Richard Curtis (Love Actually) have made a movie with a suspend your disbelief premise—due to a Y2K-like electrical event the earth experiences a 12 second blackout during which a struggling singer-songwriter on a bike is hit by a bus. But wait, that’s not the premise.

It’s when he wakes up in the hospital and discovers that no one understands his references to The Beatles or their songs that he realizes the event has erased all knowledge of The Beatles in the world. He Googles The Beatles and gets beetles and so on. This is where the story really begins and Jack, the aspiring singer-songwriter, embarks on a long and winding road to stardom by presenting the Beatles’ songs as his own.

Don’t overthink it. Just go with it. Yes, there are obvious issues with the premise, but it also lets us look at a variety of personal, emotional, and ethical questions. Add Ed Sheeran, in an engaging cameo, as the hero’s enabler and you could do much worse than spending 1hr 56min listening to Jack’s playlist of the Beatles’ greatest hits. I loved it. It was the soundtrack of my young adulthood.

Jack Malik, the protagonist, is a young teacher who has willingly given up his teaching job to play small clubs and chase the dream of stardom. He is supported by his manager and childhood friend (played appealingly by Lily James) who also happens to be in love with him and his immigrant Indian parents with whom he is resigned to living in order to save money. When the story opens Jack is about to give up his failing music career, his second job as a forklift operator and return to teaching. But, lightning, i.e. that cataclysmic 12 seconds, strikes and the Beatles songbook propels him to stardom. 

No spoilers…there is a happy ending. I left the theater smiling, and at the same moment had an idea for the perfect sequel. But, before you hear my idea for a sequel you should watch the trailer for the Beatles-based movie:

The sequel called “The Man Who Thinks He’s President” would star Donald Trump as himself, an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. It goes like this: when the cataclysmic event occurs – 12 seconds of earthly blackout – the world’s memory of Donald Trump and the Trump family is erased. Can you Imagine it? Can you Let it Be

It wouldn’t take a wild imagination to write the script. The opening scene would be The Donald waking up in front of the Plaza Hotel. Confused and alone he flags down a cab and demands to be taken to Trump Tower. The cabby asks again. He’s never heard of the place. 

Angry and unable to find his phone, he has a fit and orders the cabby to take him to Fox News headquarters at 1211 Avenue of the Americas where Fox security refuses him entry. At the security checkpoint he causes a ruckus, asks to speak to Sean Hannity, and tells them all he’ll have their immigrant asses jailed for not honoring an order from the President of the United States. “Wait until my Secret Service detail gets wind of this.” The lobby erupts with laughter. The police are summoned and the “The man who thinks he’s President”  is arrested on charges of disturbing the peace. 

Taken to a holding cell at Rikers Island, Mr. Trump storms around until another inmate feeling sorry for him loans him a quarter to make his one telephone call. When the call is put through to Rudi Giuliani’s law office the receptionist puts him on hold. When she returns, she tells the him that Mr. Giuliani has “Never heard of this Chump, Frump, kook” or knowing anyone named Trump before hanging up. 

With little real news, crime beat reporters at Rikers send the story of the delusional inmate to their news desks. The evening news picks it up and adds details. New Yorkers love a good story, especially about a delusional oddball with a swooped-up fake blond comb-over and a grandiose tale of hubris and woe. The story refuses to die. Late-night comics have a field day satirizing the fat man with orange skin and too-long tie who claims to be the President of the United States and a good friend of Vladimir Putin’s. 

Unable to control him at the arraignment, the court orders Mr. Trump involuntarily committed to the psychiatric unit at Bellevue Hospital. No longer newsworthy, Mr. Trump is dropped from the news cycle and becomes “old news.” For The Donald, nothing could be worse. He’d rather be Fake News than Old News. In the last scene we see him pouting through the barred window of his padded cell at Bellevue in orange hospital scrubs.

It’s just an idea… but be sure to see the film it’s based on – Yesterday – starring Hamesh Patel as the struggling singer-songwriter. It may, for a moment, trigger your own fantasies or make you feel better about the current news cycle.

Photos courtesy of The Real Deal,,, and Working Title Films.

Half Cocked…

Malaprops were a signature of Yogi Berra. “Déjà vu all over again.” “We were overwhelming underdogs.” “Always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise they won’t go to yours.” Yogi’s malapropisms were always funny and in good spirits, but that was before Donald Trump took the stage.

Marine Corps drill instructors have an amusing half-serious prod for indecisive recruits – “Do something even if it’s wrong,” a lesson Mr. Trump has taken as scripture. The latest iteration is the aborted attack on Iran. Not only did he launch an attack and then change his mind, but he couldn’t even get the terminology right.

In a fumbling attempt to explain the reversal of his order, Mr. Trump used tough-talk terminology that must have amused the generals:

Mr. Trump, was trying to appear militarily hip but misspoke when he asserted that “We were cocked and loaded…” If President Bone Spurs had ever served in the military he would have known the correct military idiom is “locked and loaded,” a reference to the procedure for preparing an unloaded M-1 rifle for firing (i.e. the bolt must first be locked back to the rear so the clip can be loaded into the magazine). My Marine compatriots and Drill Instructors would laugh hysterically at the mistake, except for the fact that Ol’ Bone Spurs was talking about an attack on a foreign adversary with the likelihood of escalation in retaliation.

Instead of locked and loaded Mr. Trump went off half-cocked. He didn’t understand that the drill instructor’s dictum of “do something even if it is wrong” was a sarcastic prod to decisive appropriate action. But then, The Donald has never understood the subtleties of language. 

It may just be that Trump had a song Cocked and Loaded from the Revolting Cocks (Trump?) song from the 2006 L.A. Guns album. It wouldn’t surprise me, except that Mr. Trump doesn’t know much about music or art either. It’s better if we just leave him half-cocked. He can’t do as much damage in that state.

Remembering Romeo & Juliet…

On June 17, 1961 a 23-year-old dancer broke free of his Russian security detail, dashed through the immigration barrier at a Paris airport and asked the French for political asylum. Rudolf Nureyev wasn’t yet famous outside the world of Russian ballet, but in that world he was known as a White Crow – belaya vorona– Russian idiom for a person who is different from his surroundings, who doesn’t ‘fit’ within cultural circles, and goes against the stream. 

In 2018, a film entitled The White Crow was released without much fanfare. Written by David Hare (The Reader and The Hours) and directed by Ralph Fiennes, it chronicles Nureyev’s life up to and including his 1961 defection in Paris. It’s a mystery that the film didn’t register with the critics. It’s dramatic, true to its facts, suspenseful, and audiences loved it. Even if you’re not a fan of ballet it’s worth seeing. This is first class drama – both the life and film story.

Just three years after his defection and near the end of her remarkable career, London’s Royal Ballet paired 45-year-old Dame Margot Fonteyn with the explosive 26-year-old Nureyev in what became one of the great ballet partnerships of all time. Interestingly, it was not the first such pairing for Nureyev. At the Kirov in Leningrad, the ballet master paired the newly graduated 21-year-old Nureyev with the company’s 46-year-old prima ballerina, Natalia Dudinskaya, thinking a younger male partner would energize and thereby extend the career of its older star. It worked then and again later with Fonteyn.

It’s rare for ordinary mortals to experience greatness, but three years after his defection I had the opportunity to observe greatness as Nureyev and Dame Margot danced Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet in the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. I will never forget the feeling I had in their presence.

That night, as Dame Margot emerged en pointe from the wings, stage right, there was an audible gasp, a pause, and then explosive applause from the audience. She WAS the 13-year-old Juliet, and she held that audience in her thrall for the next two hours. Moments after her dramatic entrance Nureyev appeared, and the stage was set for Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers to dance their destinies to Prokofiev’s beautiful score.

In The White Crow, Nureyev is played by Oleg Ivenko, a talented young Russian dancer who not only looks like Nureyev but dances with the same swagger. Nureyev was a larger than life character. I had trouble imagining any actor or dancer playing the role, but in The White Crow Ivenko disappears almost immediately and Nureyev is on the screen front and center.

The film begins with his birth on the Trans-Siberian Railway enroute to Vladivostok and ends with a tense scene between Russian security guards and French immigration officials at Le Bourget Airport in 1961.

His Tatar-Muslim parents were poor and the father, a minor government official, was abusive and mostly absent, but when Rudik was six years old a ticket changed his life. His mother had one ticket to a ballet performance in Ufa, the Siberian town where they lived, and she was somehow able to smuggle Rudy and his three sisters into the theater. Afterwards, he said “There was simply from this quite early age the awareness that the only thing I wanted was to dance.”

His dance life began with folk dancing but his talent was so prodigious that he was handed from one teacher to another until at 17 he was selected by both the Bolshoi in Moscow and the Kirov in Leningrad for further training. To everyone’s surprise he chooses the Kirov, and this is where the film really begins…with his training under Alexander Pushkin.

Pushkin, the ballet master not the poet, is played by Ralph Fiennes who also directed and produced the film. I’ve always admired him as an actor. The English Patient is one of my all-time favorite films, but here, rather than a badly burned adventurer/spy, he plays Pushkin, the very placid, understated ballet master. Pushkin was not a frightening taskmaster like Diaghilev or a dominating personality like Balanchine. Rather, he was a quiet perfectionist and Nureyev his obsessively driven protege. Their relationship is complicated when Pushkin’s wife, a former ballerina, seduces Nureyev, but the seduction, like Fiennes character, is understated and some biographers have even suggested that Pushkin simply chose to ignore it.

Many of the actors in The White Crow are Russian, and so is much of the dialogue (with English subtitiles). Fiennes speaks it fluently and impressively. The film ends where most of us became aware of Rudolf Nureyev, with his dramatic escape to the West. It touches on his bisexuality but doesn’t dwell there. The White Crow honors his genius, individuality, courage, and lust for life. It’s such a shame that he was taken from the world by the AIDS virus at age 54.

Rocketman and Me

“And I think it’s gonna be a long long time
‘Till touch down brings me round again to find
I’m not the man they think I am at home”

Elton John’s first hit was Your Song released in October of 1970. My wife, Abby, and I were living in St. Tropez then, and it was the only one of his songs we knew until a friend came to visit the following spring. Francois, a Pan Am friend from our San Francisco days, was on his way to Spain to open a summer bar on the Costa Blanca. He was traveling with a stereo system he bought in Tokyo, a pile of record albums from San Francisco that included Elton’s second album, Tumbleweed Connection, and plans to spin them in his new Spanish venture. I remember sitting on the quai at the exact location you see above as he was telling us his plan.

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. Francois’ plan was as simple as they get. He was going to rent a run-down boathouse in Calpe (above) where his friend, Paco, had an antique store. The doors of the boathouse opened onto a rocky beach 20’ from the Mediterranean. He would gut the interior, build a wooden bar, string some paper lanterns, stock the coolers with ice and alcohol (no refrigeration), and be ready for business. And, that’s what he did.

The first night he opened the doors at 9pm and closed around 4am, but he thought it was too busy, so the second night he opened at 11pm. It was packed again and stayed that way all summer. At first, the crowd was young restaurant workers after their shifts, but word got around and soon it was the hottest bar in town. It was still too busy for Francois, so he simplified things in week two and cut back to only one drink – rum and coke.

Every morning he took the receipts from the night before to the liquor store and restocked the coolers. It was, after all, a simple idea. One day at a time. Abby and I drove to Calpe to see him and loved the bar’s rough simplicity. Elton John, Santana, and the Beatles provided the soundtrack. The moon reflecting off the glassy Mediterranean was the backdrop, and a young international crowd provided the energy. It was summer in Spain. What Francois didn’t spend on re-stocking the bar he spent on lunch for his friends in the afternoon.

In the fall, he went back to work at Pan Am. It was rinse and repeat for three years. I don’t know what he was telling Pan Am, but after three years he quit the airline and opened a paella restaurant in the hills behind Calpe. But, this is not about Francois; it’s about Elton and me.

By 1975, I was back in New York, and Elton John was a superstar selling out stadiums world-wide. When you’re a pilot or flight attendant, flying is more about schedule than anything else, and that October I picked up a charter trip from London Heathrow to Los Angeles. In those days that was about as far as the 707 could fly without refueling, and I was assigned as the second co-pilot (required on very long flights).

When we arrived at the Heathrow dispatch office, we were told that Elton John had chartered the plane to take friends and staff to Los Angeles for one of his two sold out concerts at Dodger Stadium. Elton was not flying with us. He was already in LA, but he chartered the airplane for his friends and support staff. It was a mixed crowd of every description from bell-bottomed hipsters to aging pensioners – all along for a free ride and First Class food from London to Los Angeles.

It was one of the best flights I ever had. Things were relaxed in those days, and from take-off to landing we had the cockpit door open and the passengers came and went at will. Anyone who wanted to visit us did. I remember how well-mannered everyone was. It was not a wild rock and roll party. It was 170 of Elton’s friends and neighbors.

Our Pan Am crew didn’t go to the concert, but last weekend M and I saw the new Elton John biopic Rocketman. It included clips from Dodger Stadium that took my breath away. If you haven’t seen the film, I recommend it. I always think it’s dangerous to make a movie about a living person, but this one is very good – sad and happy at the same time. Elton’s has not been a happy life and the movie doesn’t downplay that element. Today he seems fine. He’s been sober for 28 years, has a stable relationship with his partner, David Furnish, and is raising two young children. According to the film’s credits, he has raised $450 million in the last 25 years for AIDS research.

You probably have a favorite Elton John song. Mine is still Your Song, his first hit, but yours may be Candle in the Wind, Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting, Daniel, or Tiny Dancer. Whatever it is, see the movie and then listen to your song again. It will be different.

Trump: the Criminal Case…

I’m a person who believes in playing by the rules, especially when it comes to the government of the United States. I know it isn’t perfect, but for 243 years it has stood the test. I believe it’s the most democratic form though not the most efficient. I believe its institutions deliver the fairest, most even-handed justice, though not always to everyone. I believe in one-man one-vote, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right to bear arms (limited), separation of church and state, equal protection of the laws, due process of law, and three independent branches of government. I do not believe anyone, including the president of the United States is above the law or beyond its reach.

It’s very difficult to write anything original about Donald Trump. He’s a crass, venal, petty, corrupt, sexist, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, ignorant, inarticulate, sexual predator and unfit for the office he holds. Have I left anything out? I have…he is the sole or principal owner and titular head of the Trump Organization, an extensive criminal enterprise comprised of 500+ business entities.

For the past two years America has been waiting for Robert S. Mueller, Special Counsel to the Department of Justice, to complete his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. His primary charge – to determine whether any crimes were committed by the Trump presidential campaign in collaboration with the Russian government and its surrogates.

The report, delivered on April 18, 2019, concluded that although there was significant evidence of Russian interference designed to promote Donald Trump’s candidacy, there was insufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy involving the Trump campaign and the Russian government. That conclusion, rather than clearing the air, caused interested parties to crank up their fog machines and deliver their own conclusions “based-on” the report’s findings. Attorney General William Barr issued a 4-page summary clearing the president of any wrong doing despite the fact that Mueller came to no such conclusion. Mr. Trump declared himself “totally and completely exonerated” by the report, a claim that moved more than 1000 former US Attorneys to sign a letter stating that but for a Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president he would be found guilty of obstruction of justice and sent to prison.

Very unsatisfying all around. Trump wanted to be cleared of all misdeeds. Republicans wanted to declare “case closed,” and Democrats wanted to see Trump shackled in an orange jumpsuit.

Trump’s impeachment is on everyone’s tongue. Nancy says “I’d rather see him in prison,” but AOC and the progressives are restless and want to draft a Bill of Impeachment now. It does have an ironic turn-about-is-fair-play note to hear Sean Hannity declare that “Lock him up” would turn the US into little more than a banana republic. Sean…under Trump that’s exactly what we are now.

I agree with Donny Deutsch, the branding expert and former friend of the president’s; congressional Democrats have their knickers twisted over impeachment but the real play is the criminality of the Trump Organization writ large. Unless he stabs Nancy Pelosi in the White House’s Oval Office, impeachment is likely to die in the Republican Senate.

I have no doubt that he is going to be found guilty of assorted crimes sometime. There are so many to choose from – money laundering, bank fraud, serial sexual predation, campaign finance violations, bribery, extortion, Mafia collusion, violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, 501C(3) charity violations… and obstruction of justice. Take your pick. My guess is 15–30 years for the financial crimes, 5-10 for obstruction of justice. Served consecutively not concurrently, it would all be over for The Donald—just like Bernie Madoff. 

If the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel policy stands, we may have to wait until he is out of office to see him indicted, but current Congressional investigations can lay the groundwork for later prosecution. Democrats are determined to rid the government of Trump and his cronies, but Trump’s vulnerability is much larger than his personal misdeeds. Congress should focus on the Trump Organization, that network of 500+ business entities of which he is the sole or principle owner.

In a wild spending spree between 2005 and 2015 Donald Trump paid hundreds of millions in cash for golf courses in Scotland and Ireland, overseas hotels, and houses in Florida etc. He was broke at the time and reputable banks wouldn’t loan him a cent. Suddenly he was flush with cash from the wealth management arm of Deutsche Bank. We know DB was laundering Russian money at the time. It paid a $10 billion fine for just that in 2017 and further fines and charges are pending. 

In addition to other state and federal prosecutions, the Department of Justice should consider charging the Trump Organization and its principles, including Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric with violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as RICO, a United States federal law that provides for extended criminal penalties and a civil cause of action for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. For decades, in addition to its own crimes, the Trump Organization has been operating in partnership with Mafia groups, corrupt union bosses, and overseas criminal enterprises to build its empire.

Let’s finally put Donald Trump and the Trump Organization on the pointy end of a RICO investigation and prosecution. If we have to play by the rules, so should they. Let’s level the playing field and even the score.

Pictures courtesy of CNN and PinHead@PiercedSkull