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Thursday, 30 August 2012


When I woke up yesterday morning, I couldn't have known I would finish my day at a Dewey Cox concert.

Yet these were the true facts of my Wednesday.

I had already been planning to hijack our normal Wednesday night routine of dinner followed by whatever shows on our DVR seemed to exert the greatest pull on our attentions. I was planning to ask my wife to be excused from our normal viewing schedule to fit in the final of three John Cassavetes movies for this month's Getting Acquainted, The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. I'd give her the option of watching it with me, but rather expected that I'd confine myself to the bedroom to watch it there myself.

Little did I know that the evening would be hijacked in an entirely unexpected and wonderful way that was wholly different from that.

At 6:16 p.m. I received this text from my friend: "Hey man, any chance you want to go see John C. Reilly performing as Dewey Cox with me tonight in Hollywood? I'm sitting on a ticket."

Now, as a husband, a father, and someone who is generally always tired from a day that involves a 50-mile commute round trip, my first instinct was to reject the offer. There were plenty of reasons to do so. If it weren't the uncertainty of how this offer would affect my role in my son's bedtime routine, or the fact that I'd be putting another couple dozen miles on my car, my mere exhaustion would have been reason enough.

But clearly I wanted to do it, having not seen this friend I like very much in about a year, so I simply read the text to my wife to gauge her reaction. No sooner had I finished reading it than she was basically ushering me out the door with a big smile on her face. "How often do you get an opportunity like that?" she asked. Since the show didn't begin until 9, no immediate ushering was needed, and it wouldn't even affect putting my son to bed, which was only 45 minutes off.

Seeing John C. Reilly performing live as the title character in 2007's Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story would have been incentive enough even for people who don't like the film, but who appreciate the actor in general and would love to see this little experiment in Andy Kaufman-style showmanship play itself out. As it happens, I love the film, as described in this post, which was meant to be the beginning of a series of reflections on unexpected gems under the banner "Overachievers." I haven't actually written another post in this series since then. (Two days later, I wrote a piece about The Terminal under a similar "Underachievers" banner, and haven't continued that series either.)

So at 8:45 I found myself outside a bar on Beverly called Bootleg, which is more properly in Silverlake or even Echo Park than Hollywood. I couldn't believe this was actually the place. The crowd outside was sparse, to say the least. As I waited for my friend to arrive with the tickets -- off to the side, since a sign discouraged gathering at the bar's entrance -- only a couple people trickled in here and there, and most of the time it was just myself and the bouncer.

When my friend arrived and we entered, I was struck by the intimacy of the space. I didn't see any signs which delineated the capacity, but I figured it could be no more than 200. Even though Walk Hard was not a huge hit and is now five years in the past, I expected that an appearance by Reilly as Cox could summon a much larger audience and fill a much bigger space. Of course, I was thrilled that it wouldn't and hadn't.

We met the other two in our party -- a woman I hadn't met, and a guy I'd met about seven years ago but hadn't seen since -- and the place started to fill up a bit. The reason there were only 37 people there when we first entered was that there was an opening act, Mike Andrews, whose appearance consumed nearly the first two hours of the evening, as it turned out. This was fine by me, as I was immediately under the spell of his ensemble, which grew to about six people at its largest. In fact, remind me that I'm going to look up this guy on itunes when I get home tonight. He has a cinematic connection as well, as Andrews mentioned working with Mira Nair on an upcoming movie (which must be either Words with Gods or The Reluctant Fundamentalist, her two upcoming credits on IMDB). His band's music did indeed have an Indian flare, and at various times reminded me of The Beatles, Phish and Donovan -- all bands I really like.

I'm glad I was genuinely grooving on the music, because otherwise the wait for Dewey Cox to come on stage might have been interminable. I could only imagine the frustration of those who didn't dig it, as the opener actually went on a ten-minute break before resuming, and the clock sailed past 10:30 and toward 11. I came to realize that Andrews was more properly the headliner, and Cox -- the star attraction -- was actually more of a guest doing a mini set. We'd already gotten to that point where each song figured to be the last one, when Andrews finally revealed that they still had three more songs. At least then we knew how soon Reilly would take the stage. And to reassure me that there was no great misunderstanding about what the evening had in store, at least I'd already seen him twice -- once to come out to the bar to get a quick drink (or maybe just make an inquiry of the bartender), and once when I went to the bathroom and saw him strumming his guitar around a certain corner. It was funny how open the venue's back was, how I basically could have just intruded right in on Reilly gathering his thoughts as he reviewed his upcoming songs. I was reminded of the fact that one of the things about the character is that he thinks about his whole life before he goes on stage, so in a way, you could say that's what Reilly was doing as he prepared.

Andrews didn't actually leave the stage at around 11:10 when it was finally Cox's turn -- to our surprise, Andrews' band was Dewey's band, at least for the purposes of this show. Changing the nature of their sound considerably, they welcomed Cox on stage with a roar from the crowd.

I'd wondered what incarnation of Cox from the movie we'd see. Probably not this one ...


... but I considered this one a real possibility:


Of course, the actual incarnation he chose made a lot more sense. If we were to believe that Cox was a real person -- the back story that was teased was that he had faked his own death and had instead been living by the Salton Sea for seven years, a fate worse than death for anyone who's been there -- then he would most certainly appear as the Fat Elvis version of Cox:


And in fact, this was the exact outfit he was wearing. On my two-year-old Blackberry 8530 with its shitty camera, this is how he looked last night:


Yes, that's really the best picture I have.

I'm glad to say that the man really committed. He danced around. He grooved. He sung his heart out. Yeah, he had to rely on a discreet little teleprompter at the front of the stage from time to time, but Reilly is a professional -- he never let it affect his stage presence. And he'd semi-memorized enough of his songs that only for one or two of them was he beholden to this crutch. Even the word "beholden" is unkind, because he never stumbled, never missed a word, and emoted exactly as the songs demanded.

I found myself wishing that I'd brushed up on the movie -- which I'd only seen once, despite my fervent desire for a second viewing -- but then again, how could I have? There was no way to know it would be necessary. Which meant I didn't have the kind of familiarity with the songs that a recent viewing would have given me.

But I was glad to see my recollections come rushing back. He played the title track as his second number, and in another song or two was on to "Let's Duet," the memorably raunchy-sounding love song that constantly reveals itself to be less raunchy than it originally appears. (Sample lyric: "In my dreams you're blowing me ... some kisses.")

Now, a side narrative that had been occupying me was whether we were going to get a guest appearance from any of the movie's other stars. If this were a road show -- which I seriously doubt it will become -- there would be little chance that anyone else would devote it the time or the energy other than Reilly himself (and his band, of course). But here in Los Angeles, it's easy to imagine someone popping over on a lark, since they live here anyway.

The someone we might be likely to see was Jenna Fischer, aka Pam from The Office. If you're considering Walk Hard to be a straight parody of Walk the Line, Fischer played June Carter Cash (Reese Witherspoon) to Reilly's Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix). "Let's Duet" was ostensibly sung by Fischer in the movie, so it was certainly conceivable that she'd make a cameo here. And since I've always loved Fischer, I was seriously hoping for it. In fact, early on in Andrews' set, I thought I'd seen her pass me in the crowd. I engineered a fake trip to the bathroom to confirm it, but it wasn't her.

And she didn't take the stage either. Instead, a woman named Angela Correa took the stage. There was a reason I said that Fischer had "ostensibly" sung the song -- it was because this woman Angela Correa had actually provided the vocals. Predictably, she knocked it out of the park here.

This incident illustrated one of the ways the evening verged on breaking down the wall between the character and reality. In order to explain why it was Correa on stage rather than "Darlene" (Fischer's character, who would be an ex-wife to Cox at this point), Cox told us that Darlene was tone deaf and that Correa had to stand off stage and sing any time she performed. So that was a plausible cover.

Reilly did refer to the film on a couple occasions -- "You don't know how it feels when your life story is a bomb" he said, paraphrasing -- but it was as though the film existed as a documentary of his life, not a fiction film. Another good cover there. At one point he actually asked the audience if anyone present had not seen the movie, and a man in the front row copped to it. He brought him up on stage and handed him a copy of the DVD, saying it's now available for "only $20." It was part of a running gag that Cox's reappearance on stage was motivated by a desperate need for money. In a great bit of theater, he actually extracted a twenty dollar bill from the guy, and as far as I can tell never gave it back to him. Damn, I would have paid that twenty bucks.

The comedic highlight was his encore, which he performed after running through the crowd, over the bar, around back and back on stage again, in another great bit of theater. (In fact, he jostled the table next to us as he went by, knocking a glass beer bottle to the ground and spilling beer on my friend.) This was the third song I was sure I recognized: "(Have You Heard the News) Dewey Cox Died." The three of us guys (the woman had mysteriously disappeared by this point) in my group laughed hysterically throughout this number, which is an impassioned imagination by the singer of the popular reaction to his death. Rarely has death been so funny.

After this encore, Cox/Reilly concluded what had been about a 30-minute set and left the stage for good this time. While that's brief by the standards of most musical acts, it's a rather impressive length for an out-of-shape 47-year-old actor who does not do this kind of thing for a living, and has not (to my knowledge) inhabited this character either on camera or off in about five years. During the final roar of applause and cheering, I felt dizzy with enjoyment.

As it turned out, we lingered for a lot longer afterward than I had expected to linger, especially given that I needed to be at work by 7 a.m. this morning. This was due in part to the fact that I recognized another person in the crowd, a friend of mine who I only see every couple years, but who plays a significant role in my marriage. You see, this guy -- an actor working in obscurity, but regularly enough to pay the bills -- appeared as Bob Crachett in the performance of A Christmas Carol where I met my wife. If this guy hadn't been in it, our mutual friend wouldn't have invited my wife and me (among others) to see it, and I never would have met her. So I'm quite fond of this guy, even though I see him rarely.

Anyway, talking with him and his girlfriend, and introducing them to my group, led to the aforementioned extended lingering. As various people in our extended group peeled off to use the bathroom, it prolonged the whole post-mortem socializing out of a polite deference to waiting for the most recently departed person to return before saying goodbye. The conversation flowed easily enough, but I was conscious of the fact that it was now after midnight.

But what lingering allowed me to do was go up to Reilly afterward and congratulate him on a great show. As the crowd thinned out, he appeared out in the area where we had all stood for the past three hours watching the show, and mingled with members of the band. No longer dressed as Dewey, he wore jeans, a light blue shirt and a hat that can best be described (by someone with my limited understanding of the different species of hat) as a tan-colored bowler. Given the intimacy of this show and the fact that he was essentially making himself available to the public, I felt no qualms about going up to him.

I tapped him on the shoulder and offered him my hand. I said "I just wanted to tell you that you did a great job, that was awesome." Or something similarly innocuous but not inane. Having a couple beers allowed me to sound less inane than I sometimes do in these situations.

To use an Australian term favored by my wife, he seemed really chuffed. "Oh, thanks a lot," he said. "I really appreciate it. Thanks so much for coming out." In fact, his words trailed behind me as I was walking away, almost as though he would have talked about it more if I'd wanted.

The best thing is something I haven't even told you about. Do you know how much this whole thing cost?

Ten bucks. Or, $13 with the convenience fee.

Here's hoping that $13 goes straight into Dewey's pocket, so maybe he can finally move out of that shitty mobile home on the edge of the Salton Sea. 

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