How do you come to know the things you know? You learn all along the way, and school is really a sliver of what you learn. “Just give me a sliver,” that automatic request for the diet conscious at any cake cutting, is a phrase I learned at my uncle’s house. How to call pizza, apizza, which sounds like ah-beetz, I learned at my uncle’s house. I learned how to shuffle cards and play solitaire from my other uncle Lou, I learned to like the shortbread cookies my grandmother sent me home with when I’d visit my uncle’s house. I learned that some of us are blessed with boundless appetites for food that could rival the Nathan’s 4th of July champions.
I learned to survive the boredom of PBS News Hour and music from a bygone era, I learned how young I was compared to a century old grandmother, and how to politely ask for something to drink, which was difficult for a shy child. I crossed the Tappan Zee Bridge, and learned that the roads in Connecticut were terrible.
I learned that my middle name, Emil, is not really my uncle’s name, it was Emidio, which was shortened to Mid, which I thought was much cooler than Emil. I have misinformed the few who know that my middle name is Emille, which sounds more exotic and fancy, but it is Emil (EE-Mill). And today I write for the first time in the loss of my uncle.
Emil DeGregorio, hung on for 98 years. A true member of the Greatest Generation. A veteran, and a generous man, who helped me at every stage of my life. Who supported from afar and with no stipulations. Just support. Constant and unwavering, and in his passing, I am left to wonder what kind of man I am and what kind of man I want to be. I think I am a decent guy, but, truly what does that mean? I learned from my uncle that generosity is like a gene you possess or you don’t, and I don’t know if that gene was passed on to me. He gave and gave, and it was always the thing most needed, at the time most needed, and I shudder to think he might not have known the depth of my gratitude. I know my gratitude and regret have brought me to tears, and somehow I know my stoic and grand uncle wouldn’t understand. It was just what he did, he saw need and gave.
My uncle wasn’t much for talking on the phone, and he certainly wasn’t much for saying, I love you, but he would always end the call with the phrase, God bless you, and I knew what he meant. I would say, God bless you, too, and try to infuse my words with all the love I could muster.
He was the oldest of my father’s brothers, and the last to leave the world. Giving me a last link to my father, and he stayed so long I grew complacent in his constancy. In his loss I finally understand what a gift he was and I am left to proceed knowing I have much to do to have a sliver of his giving spirit. My uncle Emil was a titan in my life. I learned so much. I learned what love in action looks like. I don’t know a greater lesson.
Not sure what happened to the first Code Blooded, but my buddy Mickey Briggs put this short film together with Joel Lava. Take a look.
Love these dear friends of mine and love kicking it on their podcast. Have a listen.
Anybody who’s moved to Los Angeles from somewhere else knows there is a transition. Those of us who did it from the New York Metro area, know it is almost an immigration scenario. It wasn’t easy to get started out here, which I think angers the natives when we call it “out here” but to an interloper it is another planet.
When you work in finance, law, or tech and you move from coast to coast, it’s called re-locating. When you are gifted an ’89 Honda Accord and have no job, it’s called a “what the fuck are you doing with your life,” by the people who care about you. Or a “fingers crossed.”
At a particular time of stress and worry, I reached out to a friend in Philly, Seanie Mac (thank god for the advent of unlimited phone plans). I’ve known him since college when we bonded over Springsteen and a shared penchant to argue. We also liked to bust chops and quote Raging Bull, incessantly, leaving some to think it was a light comedy.
Sean was the first person to give me a daily calendar and explained that he used his to set goals, and keep track of his life. I used mine as a joke book for a week and lost it. He wasn’t in my field of study, so he could be a sounding board, and I often leaned on his sensibility. He took my shit out of the dryer once before it was dry and we almost came to blows, and he used my room over the summer as an art studio, but those were the worst of the times his quirkiness conflicted with my inflexibility.
Seanie Mac has had an uncanny knack for finding employers who would allow him to work a flexible schedule, a skill that would serve an actor well, but for Sean it seemed to be a need for his work to fit his life, and not the other way around. This left him available to talk at odd hours of the night, even with the time zone difference, many times he stayed on the phone while I smoked cigarettes and drank beer, and sometimes we just kicked it and laughed. But, on this certain night I was spiraling into a dark hole.
Things weren’t so bad that I was facing eviction or a health crisis, but I was losing hope. I was not taking care of myself. I was worrying about the rest of my life and felt like it had to be fixed by sun-up.
Seanie listened and asked me if I needed anything. I said I was ok, but he persisted. He said, “would 100 bucks help?” I told him there was no way I was gonna take his money. He said he knew it wasn’t much and he said it wouldn’t fix everything, but if a hundred bucks would ease a little stress he was happy to do it. I managed to get off the phone without accepting his offering. I was grateful for telecommunications and for the friend on the other end.
A few days later, there is an envelop in the mail, from Sean. In it is a check for a hundred dollars, it’s folded into a picture of Bruce Springsteen and Steve Van Zandt sharing a microphone. The image carrying so much: the friendship, shared history, tough times survived, time apart, singing together. Sean and I share a love of music and it covers the gamut. We’ve seen Springsteen together many times. When the E Street Band reunited with Bruce, we had first tier, front row seats with some of our mutual best friends. When they started “Badlands” we all freaked out, and I screamed, “I’m gonna fuckin’ throw you off this balcony.” to Seanie, he laughed, and we fist pumped in all our suburban glory. It is a few moments in life when a piece of paper can transport you to another time and place.
Under the photo was a quote from Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town”
Tonight I’ll be on that hill, ’cause I can’t stop/
I’ll be on that hill with everything I got/
Lives on the line, where dreams are found and lost/
I’ll be there on time, and I’ll pay the cost/
For wanting things that can only be found in the darkness on the edge of town.
More impactful was the personal note on a post-it, it read,
Hang in there, bro. Things are gonna break your way real soon.
Thank you, Seanie Mac.
When I was in high school, I memorized a speech from Hamlet, on my own time, for my own pleasure, and without a grade being on the line. Why would a teenager do this? I was a theater nerd, and I read that Hamlet was the role that a young actor had to perform to be a true artist. I was mocked by some, but mostly admired for having the initiative to learn the soliloquy, and in an effort to be cool I would sometimes bust out the speech at parties. One time I dislocated my kneecap when a buddy picked me up in a bear hug and put me down before my leg was ready.
There are many famous speeches in Hamlet, but I chose the “O What a rogue and peasant slave am I” speech from Act II Scene II. In it Hamlet reacts to watching some actors crying and wailing over a character named Hecuba, he is galled that “in a fiction, in a dream of passion” these performers could muster such emotion, while he was impotent to do anything about his father’s murder. I now see why I was so inspired. As I write, I am transported to that thing that stirred me to study something for the pleasure of it. It was what I wanted to do with my life.
As I was seeding the soil of my dreams to act, in New Jersey, Prince was blossoming with his artistry across the globe, and I draw no parallel in these two paths. It’s just that as the news broke, my present self feels sad, mourns, and my Hamlet self is fighting to say, “who is he to Hecuba, or Hecuba to he” about my feeling of loss for someone I never knew. Who is Prince to me? That’s a long boring story being told over and over on all media.
Hamlet is mad at the actors, for their ability to weep for a fictitious character, but he is mostly mad at himself, for his inaction. I think some artists are so prolific and so in tune with their creator and creative channel that they elevate their status from the group, (meaning humans) that they take on mythical proportions. They become more than men, they move us, and if they nurture their gift they produce volumes of material at a pace that feeds the mere spectator whenever they reach for it. This feeds as simple entertainment, but when it is so good and, when so much of the artist’s soul goes into the work, it becomes more, dare I say it takes on Shakespearian scope. I am an avowed Springsteen fanatic, it comes with a birth certificate in New Jersey. I know Minnesotans feel the same way about Prince, but Prince music is in heavier rotation in my life’s soundtrack. Bruce is great, but his slow jam output leaves much to be desired, if you know what I’m saying?
The easy take is that I am mourning my youth, as are many, but for me losing Prince is like losing Shakespeare, in, that, years from now we will explain that there was a time when we listened to music, and watched videos, and forgave some iffy acting, just to see him on stage where he was untouchable. Where a cross-genre virtuoso had no peer, where a talent and work ethic was singular. He told an interviewer that he shunned categories, but if he had to say, it would be to inspire. And that’s what dawned on me, he inspired me. And I mourn that I have so much to do, but that to inspire is all art’s purpose. His spirituality can’t be left out of the story. I struggle with mine. Not sure what to believe, or what to do. Like Hamlet, I have a “motive and cue for passion”, but I need to act on it more. Prince tells you it is the spirit, it is God (as you define him/her) that you look to serve, to help some people figure this shit out.
It is why I mourn a guy they say wouldn’t allow eye contact, which might have been a running gag on the world, who dressed like a bullfighter, and who knew what he was sent here to do. So, to jump on the bandwagon, but, at least quote the source, I say “Goodnight, sweet, Prince.”
Got a chance to kick it with long time friend Bret Ernst on the You’re On The List podcast, with co-host Pete Giovine, and guest Skyler Stone. We discussed my book, and top R&B jams. Thank you fellas, that was a good time.
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