Wednesday, October 06, 2004

R.I.P. RODNEY


The death of Rodney Dangerfield reminds me of a line from a Waco Brothers song:

History is written by the winners.
This is a loser's song ...

Rodney spoke to the losers inside us all. He spoke to our flaws, our humiliations our hangovers, our betrayals, our lemon cars and unfaithful lovers.

No respect. No respect at all. Rodney turned it into a mantra, transforming self pity into a cosmic joke. He created a persona of a bug-eyed Everyman slob who could look at the bad luck and injustice of his life and laugh at the absurdity of it all -- with impeccable wit and precision timing, pulling at his tie and sweating like he was the subject of a police interrogation.

(Mantra? Transforming? Rodney would only snort at the idea. As he said, "Some people go to India looking for the meaning of life. I'm still trying to figure out how to start my car.)

He was my favorite comedian for more than 30 years. Even though he eventually became "hip" in the early '80s due to the popularity of Caddyshack, I loved Rodney partly because he was so un-hip. No counterculture pandering. No pretense of political revelance. No rebel anger, not even at the wife who liked to talk after sex -- so she's call him from a motel. Rodney was old school, but Christ he was funny.

When I graduated from college I mailed jackalope postcards to three celebrities I admired: Billy Carter, Patti Smith and Rodney. I'm not sure what my purpose was. Maybe just announcing my arrival to these folks I considered giants. (Or maybe the weed was just real good in Santa Fe that month.)

But I got replies from all three. Billy sent me a postcard with a picture of him drinking a beer at his gas pump in Plains, Ga. Patti, who'd recently been hospitalized after falling off the stage at a concert, sent me a note talking about recovering from a spinal injury. Rodney's fan club president sent me an autographed publicity shot of the man. The picture looked like it was 20 years old. But I loved it. It hung on my wall in who knows how many houses and apartments I lived in since 1976.

Thanks for the photo, Rodney. Thanks for the laughs.


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