Up on the Silver Screen

I like to think I live an interesting life; sometimes less, sometimes more. But I never thought of my life through the movies until this past month of perhaps-excessive TV viewing.

In the course of a deep dive into TV shows and films on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, as well as YouTube, I found little bits of my life, from places to people, popping up on screen again and again. In one film, my actual high school showed up, including a ROOM I knew; in another scene, there sat someone I enjoyed a one night hook-up with.

And no, they weren’t in the same movie.

These movies were mostly, but not all, documentaries, and they ranged from California to New York to Italy to Japan. I’m honestly not quite sure how to take this. It appeals to my man-about-globe ego, that I would have moved through so many interesting places (and people). Some of it may be mere coincidence. And there’s no discounting chance. Some things, like the skyline of Istanbul or Rome, are hardly unique to me.

But the degree to which other familiar things showed up, how close there were to my real life, was just weird. Especially jarring was the person I hooked up with, who I probably wouldn’t have remembered were it not for the familiar name when it popped up on the screen.

But the high school stuff was a trip; almost as strange was seeing my former workplace in a movie – the very desk from which I used to host my NPR radio show! And the current host of that show, who I know, was also on camera for a minute. (I also saw the desk of another friend, backdrop to a music series on YouTube. And there was ANOTHER friend who plays in a big-name band, also popping up on YouTube.)

Honestly, I’m not bragging. I’m just mostly surprised, and feeling like some kind of two-bit Zelig. It got weirdest, maybe, when the main character in a movie showed up repeatedly in a graphic T-shirt that I wore in the late ’70s, maybe early ’80s. It was a T-shirt for something so completely obscure that even I don’t know exactly what the subject of the graphic was, and I’ve never seen it before or since. I think it was for a music festival I’ve never heard of, and I have no idea how I ended up with it; it makes more sense that he would have it, since he was a musician.

In fact, I saw this very musician, who is long-dead, perform live – twice. Not long after, I met the singer/songwriter who he became most famous for backing, which on assignment in Philadelphia. Yes, it IS a small world, and I’ve had amazing encounters with people all over it – meeting a former summer camp counsellor on a small island in Greece, meeting my mother’s college roommate, 30 years after the fact, in Herat, Afghanistan…the list goes on, though few have been quite that improbable.

But this string of mediated encounters has been striking.

I’m being coy with names because I don’t want to distract with particulars (and I don’t want to name the person I hooked up with – only seems polite). Also, I like the idea of making some of you think you may know who I’m talking about…but you don’t know for sure, which is fun. But some of these people were very familiar names.

Others are not “names” at all, but still: One actor I know showed up in a feature film, though I didn’t even notice him until the credits were rolling; another showed up in a TV commercial.

Then, in another film (yeah, I watched a lot of stuff in the last month), there was the scene of a couple strolling past one of my favorite book stores when I lived on East 12th Street in Manhattan. Later, the same people were on the Williamsburg Bridge, where I fell down, drunk, in the post-Sandy darkness, and lost my iPhone – the first and last time that’s ever happened (at least, the losing my iPhone part).

In yet another movie, another music legend (who I once met, briefly), was pictured standing in front of a Woodstock bakery where I would go to get muffins – in the ’90s and then just a couple of years ago.

I also saw a pitch at the foot of El Capitan that I once climbed up for a newspaper story on rock climbing – but only up 130 feet of the 2,000+ feet that rose above us) Not impressive (certainly not compared to the guy who did it without a rope), but still…yet another familiar spot suddenly appearing on screen.

I don’t know quite what to make of this string of weird connections, and it hardly matters. But it was strange and fun, so I thought I’d share it. We all live in a world that is ever-more documented, and we’re all exposed that just that much more “content” – but I don’t ever remember such a string of familiar faces and places appearing before me.

Maybe I need to stop watching TV so much?

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Thank you for checking out my blog - it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I am working on projects regarding music history, Japanese culture and my songwriting.

- A week-by-week music history website, music1967.com
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David Watts Barton

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