My Breakfast with Wyclef

We are badasses.

This morning I woke up semi-groggy from the aftermath of Brittania karaoke and a hugely successful improv show, vaguely remembering that yes, today was the day I was supposed to meet Wyclef. Still skeptical and shocked that the whole thing was possible and reeling from a day full of friendly jokes about the situation, I shot out of bed and stumbled to the shower unsure of what to expect. One of my comrades cleverly suggested that I was about to be punk’d, that the whole thing was a scam set up by Ashton Kutcher’s twitter account. I brushed those thoughts aside, threw on my best Mr. Sparkle t-shirt and headed toward Sunset. I remembered that Jay, Wyclef’s assistant, had told me the place was right near the House of Blues. (At this time I am willing to divulge that the secret location of our meeting was in fact the perfect place for Wyclef’s new worldwide social movement: the international house of pancakes!) I dropped my car off at the meter and strolled by the Comedy Store to ask a guy where the iHop was. He pointed down the long hill south on Olive Street. It seemed wrong, but the guy worked at the Store so he had to know the area fairly well. Time was running short, and Wyclef had just sent a message to his followers saying “don’t be late!” I headed down the hill and after asking a supermodel-ish brunette for further directions, I found myself on Santa Monica right near Barney’s Beanery. There stood the glorious iHop, and I headed inside.

The place looked deserted. Aside from a few dining families, there was no sign of an international hip-hop sensation. I asked the hostess if there was another iHop in the area. She said that there was, but that it was on Sunset and Orange. Something triggered in my memory, and I recalled that Jay had mentioned Orange Avenue. “Is it in walking distance?” I asked. “No. Not that place,” she replied.

Like a bolt of lightning I shot back up the hill on Olive Avenue, sweating and panting like Chris Farley on a treadmill. Through asthmatic puffs of breath and beads of sweat dripping down my glasses I managed to jog uphill while Google mapping the intersection on my phone. Most disappointingly, the real iHop was even closer to my home than the one I’d just visited. Sweltering from the heat and my own physical inadequacies I surmounted Olive Avenue, jetted back down Sunset, popped in my car and cranked the A/C. Last night’s late night drinking hadn’t helped my hydration any, and I was definitely feeling it now. I called Jay to let him know I’d be a few minutes late (the clock had just hit 10:00 AM on the dime). Jay seemed laid-back and let me know he’d pass the message along to Wyclef. I felt a little more at ease.

When I rolled into iHop (the one across from In ‘N Out near Sunset & LaBrea, NOT the closest one to the House of Blues, although I can see how an out-of-towner could easily make that mistake) I was a sweaty mess. My Simpsons shirt was clinging to my body like a baby marmoset, and I was dripping beads like a slutty girl at Mardi Gras. I walked inside and saw a long table of about twelve people. There at the center, like a hip-hop messiah at his own last supper, sat the man himself, Wyclef Jean. He was looking slick in a white button down shirt with close-cropped hair and I looked like I’d just been on the Rotor at Geauga Lake. I sidled up to the table and strangely enough, Wyclef recognized me from my twitter picture. I reintroduced myself and shook his hand. They added some extra spots at the table and I sat down next to some adorable little girls, maybe six and eight years of age. Wyclef came over briefly to inquire about my background. I gave him a little run-down of my travels from the past four years and told him that I was sorry I was late but I had to run uphill to get here. He was calm cool and collected, as you might expect, and seemed to have little need for apologies or formality. The more time I spent in his company the more I realized he was a man who respects honesty and generosity of character, that no amount of schmoozing could ever win this guy over.

After downing five glasses of water and meeting a few more people, the lady in charge of Wyclef’s new website started broadcasting a live streaming video of our breakfast. I briefly got to do a shout-out to the web where I pimped my blog and stated my appreciation for Wyclef’s approach to Twitter and social media. I wasn’t sure if we were broadcasting live at that point, or if I was being recorded for a future video montage, so I apologize if I seemed unprepared, awkward or incredibly sweaty. According to most people, I am less sweaty in person, I promise.

Wyclef bought us all breakfast and I got to chat with a guy named Grafiki about his idea for a new webisode series. It sounded pretty cool so we exchanged contact information and promised to keep in touch. Noticing Grafiki had left his seat across from Wyclef to talk to me and had now sidled over to a nearby table featuring two very attractive ladies, I took the opportunity to pop closer to Clef and ask him a few questions.

Me: So what’s the next step for this online community?

Wyclef explained that gathering more support, followers (or Warriors, as we like to be called) and creating a real community is the next step. Wyclef envisions a world where artists and fans can interact directly without big business getting involved. While labels and traditional marketing companies have been helpful throughout Clef’s career, there have been times when they have failed to promote certain events correctly or have misread his intentions. Clef dreams of cutting out the middle man and connecting to people directly, so that the true fans can share their messages and stories with the world and also experience the music firsthand. He wants to create more autonomous flash-mob style events rather than big corporate stadium shows.

Me: How do you feel about file-sharing? Has it affected you directly?

Wyclef replied, “With the economy the way it is, you can’t expect people to buy something without giving something away for free.” Yesterday Jay sent me some of Wyclef’s newest tracks. Not only were they incredible, it was a great taste of the things to come on his latest album and they definitely made me hungry for more. Wyclef believes that if you let the people sample the music, they’re more likely to buy the album when it drops.

Me: I think people really respond to your honesty on Twitter. I follow a lot of celebrities, but most of them just crack jokes and you don’t feel like you ever get to know them as human beings. That’s not the case with you.

Wyclef thanked me and said that for him “Twitter is a lot like a psychiatrist…sometimes you’re feeling sad and you don’t want anyone around you to know that you’re sad, so you just- [pantomimes typing on phone]”. We laughed and it was clear that many people at the table could relate. It was interesting that he thought of Twitter as a cathartic release, a form of expression. I didn’t get to follow up on this point, but I would have assumed that his music was his primary form of catharsis. Perhaps the nature of the music industry, big business and traditional marketing had changed the nature of music in his eyes, that what was once performative and expressive had become a full-time job. Twitter and Clef Zone seem to be Wyclef’s method for combatting that stagnancy and despondency that often follows the stress of work. Now he can connect with fans all the time, whether or not his album is getting press.

I asked a few more questions, but the answers were mostly covered by Wyclef’s toast at the end of the meal. He thanked everyone for coming and for their support (especially the wonderful woman who constructed his new website and ran the webcast) and then reiterated that anything is possible with this sort of grassroots movement. He used to ride a donkey in Haiti and now he lives in a McMansion in the states. Anything is possible, but it all starts from communities like the one sitting around him at the table and the gathering masses online. He envisions outdoor shows in parks and creating new content for the streaming video on his website so that it runs twenty-four/seven like a real television channel. Clef suggested that everyone records everything, films whatever they see and shares it with the world (a sentiment echoed by my newfound friends at Found Magazine).

We took a few photos and said our goodbyes. As we were parting I asked the question I’d been dying to ask since I’d started chatting with the man: When are we going to see another Fugees reunion? Clef cracked a slight smile and said that I should look for it sometime next year. Yes. God Yes. I’ll be blaring Fu-Gee-La all day, every day until it happens! Thanks, Clef!

If you haven’t already signed up for Clef Zone, started following @wyclef (or me: @shorester) on Twitter, I suggest you do so now. If this isn’t a story about the magic and wonder of Twitter, I don’t know what is.

Faster Moviecat! Kill!! Kill!!

I just saw this movie called “Funny Games”. It looks like this.

The movie is written and directed by Michael Haneke, the guy who delivered the brutally tense Cache a couple years back. You could say that Funny Games is a little more upbeat and coherent than that film, but let’s not go crazy. Funny Games is demented. It has some of the most horrifying imagery I’ve ever seen on film. That being said, it’s also one of the best thrillers I’ve ever experienced. It’s as psychologically manipulative as Silence of the Lambs but decidedly more intimate. Haneke’s long-shots suck you in and refuse to let you blink, leaving you to cringe in anticipation for the torturous events yet to unfold. I watched it once yesterday, horrified the whole time, then recommended it to bada friend and ended up watching it again today. I’ll say this– it’s not as scary when you know what’s about to happen, or if you fail to take the full leap into Haneke’s world. But it is still a well-shot captivating thrill-ride of a movie. And I highly recommend it to anyone over sixteen with a pulse.

Speaking of thrill-rides, I also caught Pineapple Express earlier today. Apatow’s done it again. I don’t know how he’s cornered the market on comedy, but he keeps nailing them out of the park (Drillbit Taylor excluded). Pineapple Express is an action/weed/buddy-comedy that simultaneously nods to and demolishes the conventions of its predecessors. It’s the American Hot Fuzz, but more compact and less reverent. What’s nice about Apatow’s universe is that his characters defend their unique senses of morality against conventional standards. Knocked Up is about the beginnings of an unconventional family. 40-Yr Old Virgin is about a character whose unconventional behavior causes an outrage amongst his friends. In Pineapple Express the questionable content ranges from Seth Rogen dating an 18-year old girl to the copious amounts of marijuana smoked by both Rogen and co-star James Franco. While the movie makes a fairly hilarious case for the dangers inherent in both of those sweet sweet vices, it never openly condemns them. Rather it takes the apathetic and easy-going stance of all the moral lessons in the Apatow universe: as long as nobody’s getting arrested and everything is chill, there’s not much to complain about.

I can’t recommend this movie enough. It’s a stunning homage to all buddy cop comedies, but mostly it’s a love song to bad 90’s blow-em-ups. There was a surprising amount of violence in the movie (maybe tying it with Funny Games??!) but the tone is mostly amicable. David Gordon Green directs in a compromise between Apatow’s point-and-shoot method and the over-the-top melodrama of 90’s gun movies. The result is non-stop laughs and a decent amount of pseudo-gay male bonding.

I caught Pirates of the Carribean 3 earlier too. It sometimes gets maligned for being on the butt-end of a trilogy (a common and pitiable fate shared by the cinematic triumph Spider-Man 3) but I think once you get past the first hour or so of exposition, it delivers in a major way. Gore Verbinski has a talent for crafting incredible computer-generated effects that feel real and interactive. The vividness of the imagery he uses is almost tactile. Regardless of the setting, Verbinski’s chief skill is his attention to detail in the mise-en-scene, to the point where every shot is sensory. It’s what helped make the Ring so creepy and made the Pirates universe such a fun place to visit. That’s a notoriously difficult task. Think how many terrible horror movies are ruined by bad visual effects, bad lighting, poor storyboarding. The only real downfall I ever have with the Pirates universe is that when the characters are taking themselves too seriously, it sometimes becomes less fun to imagine yourself in their shoes. It’s part of the reason I think the Star Wars prequels are less engaging than the originals. The audience wants to see characters having fun in ridiculous surroundings, not sorting paperwork. Not that a Pirate Council isn’t immensely more fun than a dry-as-prohibition Jedi Council meeting, but for God’s sakes, I came for adventure! Not conversations about adventure. By the third act, once all of the plot pieces are in motion the visuals take hold and collide in some brilliant and spectacular ways. Everything from Davy Jones’ tentacles to the explosive sea storms look authentic and mesmerizing at the same time. I hate it when I can tell a CG-effect isn’t practical. It takes me out of the universe to recognize that everything but the actor is digitally added, even if it’s an interesting shot. Verbinski blends reality and fiction so well visually, I can’t tell where the ‘real world’ begins or ends. That’s impressive.

Similarly visually impressive was Tim Burton’s recent musical Sweeney Todd. Although most of the effects in that movie are practical, and as far as Burton’s design style goes par for the course, it’s still an engaging and morbid romp powered by its performances. I know a lot of musical snobs give the movie shit for not using trained singers, but if any of them can fault the brilliance of Sasha Baron Cohen’s performance, they’re mental. The movie is consistently dark and funny, which is nothing new for Burton, but I couldn’t imagine anyone else handling the material better. Mostly I was intrigued by the story structure. Most musicals are so sugar-coated and jazzified that they fail to understand compelling narrative. Sweeney Todd is beautiful and tragic and extremely well-structured. No character is unnecessary and everything falls neatly into place. In less skilled hands the whole thing could be insanely campy, and I am thankful that Burton embraced the story’s darkness rather than poking fun at it.

All in all, a pretty good crop of movies these past few years. Yup, yussir. Looks like I’ll keep seein’ em.