A Dash of Crazy


Listen, quick!  What do Bob Clampett, Sun Ra, and Gilbert Arenas have in common?  Ponder, ponder, ponder!  Can’t emerge with that clear, concise answer?  No perfect response to today’s perfect question?  Then take the plunge to unearth the remarkable result!

Robert Clampett was a critical component of the infamous and influential “Termite Terrace” Warner Brothers Cartooning division during the Golden Age of American Animation (roughly 1928-1961).  Clampett has been described as “the man who put  the word ‘looney’ in Looney Tunes.”  His cartoons featured an incredibly distinct style, often combining surrealist techniques and off the wall story lines.  Here’s a perfect example of the animation styles and plot that would come to embody not only Clampett’s cartoons, but the entire studio, and by extension, the animation field as a whole.

Sun Ra blew the walls out from conventional musicianship and sounds.  He recorded songs that completely new and revolutionary, but that somehow also captured the essence and appeal of the less-experimental jazz of the era.

On top of the musical genius, Sun Ra developed his own personal identity and “cosmic philosophy,” adopting the nom de vinyl (he was born Herman Poole Blount) that he is now known by.  By combining this persona with deep experimentalism and a rotating group of musicians dubbed “The Arkestra,” he went out much farther than any of us are willing to go and came back with a touch of space dust caked in the grooves of his records.

What did these two have in common? Pure innovation.  And for a while, it seemed that Agent Zero, the Hibachi, Gilbert Arenas would be able to sit comfortably at their table with some innovation of his own.  For a strech, Arenas was (depending on who you ask) one of the great players in the NBA, ranging anywhere from top 5 to top 15.  The cat was skilled.  His improvisational basketball skills drew comparisons to the sharp, angular piano phrases of jazz giant Thelonious Monk.  Gilbert was poised to go down in history.  Now he’s settling in to be second banana.

Some of what made Clampett’s and Sun Ra’s work so peculiar, so perfectly revolutionary was that thick undercurrent of crazy that infused all of their cartoons and records, respectively.  For the past few years, Gilbert has done all he can to infuse his own persona with a touch of crazy, with disasterous results.  The gun incident was the crystallization n for the public of Agent Zero’s personality.  His return this season, new beard, new number and all, may be much less violent but still shocking, to be sure.  Gilbert’s pouting is just the newest facet of his remarkably complex identity to rear its head at the basketball loving populace.  I’m a great fan of Arenas – I’ve always loved the way he played because it was filled with so much uncertainty, so much spontaneity, so much crazy.  The problem is that if he chooses to leave his personality unchecked, while making Arenas an infinitely more interesting and intriguing player, also may end up costing him his future in the NBA.

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