Last evening Jeff and I went to see a "talk" between 2 old friends at the 92nd St. Y auditorium. It always seems awkward to the two acquaintances involved (particularly when they are not professional interviewers or persons used to be questioned, as it was with Paul Krugman and Leonard Lopate). So I waited for Keith and Richard to warm up to the situation. And they did.
Richard rambled willingly, often out of focus. It was fun for a while but I couldn't follow him towards the end. Maybe I got distracted by the difference between a stream-of-consciousness stand-up and a tightly disciplined news anchor. But Richard was disciplined in his own right. He started by riffing on his dysfunctional family, where he didn't get any attention or any positive attention, anyway. His mother used to show him her Caesarean scar. "I couldn't get an erection for a week." He alternated between standup banter and serious matters, like addiction, almost dying and throwing his life away. Losing everything he worked for. And he admitted freely, if he didn't think it would all happen again, he might plunge back into drinking.
He dispelled the myth of drugs giving artists "creativity." As he said, (I paraphrase: I didn't tape it unlike him), he admired Jimi Hendrix very much. Some of the riffs Jimi created in the studio were just out of this world like a UFO. But to be honest and he spoke to a lot of guys who were there in the 60s, his shows were sloppy and he'd hit the wrong notes as often as the right ones, or more often. He, Richard, felt more clear-headed, controlled and that he was doing the best work of his life now that he was sober (for 14 years). He talked about Jonathan Winters, the comic he admired the most, who was still active at the age of 82. Who was sober for 30+ years, and who had survived 2 nervous breakdowns during the time when it wasn't fashionable to go in and out of rehab.
He told a funny joke about Oscar Levant, to whom he compared his own twitching, "When Jack Paar asked Oscar what he did for exercise, Oscar replied, 'I trip, stumble and fall into a coma.'"
Richard was overwhelmed by the Commander-in-Chief, who he called "someone who should be crayoning." He talked about the lack of rebellion in the country, and reminisced about the 60s (which, of course, is an aspect of the boomers that annoys people the most). But he remembers storming the barricades, taking over the administration's office (hey, I remember that too and for me it wasn't in the 60s--I was in college in 1972) and how there was a rebellious spirit in the land. He wondered about the lack of passion now. Keith replied that it was because at that time the young were subject to the military draft. And there was no draft now. Then he corrected himself. "Pardon, there is a back-door draft," where men and women who enlisted for regular duty kept being shipped back to Iraq for two, three, four deployments without any time in between to catch their breaths.