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O Magazine

“Six degrees of separation” is that game in which you unite very distant concepts, people, animals or things, in six steps that reveal that everything can be connected.
Maybe this pastime originated from a playful reading of chaos theory is nothing new. That’s why, instead of settling for only six degrees, we’re making up a map of connections with… a million degrees of separation!
This is a Universal History of All Things told through the links that united these seemingly unconnected facts. Miqui Otero unconsciously slides down the sledge of free association of ideas in this holistic craziness in instalments.
Each episode of this epopee has six degrees as a sign of respect towards the original reference. But as that famous The Wire claim used to say, “Everything is connected”: the end of each episode of A million degrees of separation will always be the beginning of the next one. And thus, we’ll go on to infinity and beyond.

illustration by
Sergi Padró

A million degrees of separation

by Joan Pons

Chapter XVII

In which Miqui Otero shares his toy with Joan Pons and leaves the saga for one chapter, pleading temporary insanity, work-related burn out or any other juicy excuse that the reader will surely think about. From when Zelda Fitzgerald lived her marriage to Francis as an emotional mountain-valley cycle to end up, years later, being involuntarily remembered by videogame junkies that never read The Great Gatsby, but completed all the screens from The Legend of Zelda. Nicole Kidman will appear briefly again in some of the bets of possible castings for the film adaptation of this game, and will fully star in its real life romantic scenes with Jimmy Fallon, the presenter who becomes a rapper every time Justin Timberlake steps into his set and whom, in Spain, might end up presenting TV shows with a transsexual or sporting a cloak in New Year’s Eve like the one Gene Chandler used to wear.

Pure photo bomb style, Zelda Fitzgerald already appeared on the last paragraphs devoted to Francis Scott Fitzgerald in the last chapter. In fact, Zelda always had a thing for attention-seeking interruptions in the life and work of FSF: at that party in which the writer had been laughing at Isadora Duncan’s jokes for fart too long, Zelda jumped, literally, off a set of stairs. A subsequent “you’ve been ignoring me all night” wouldn’t have been enough for her.

While they were happy, Francis and Zelda oozed the invincible gleam of those made for each other. They were THE roaring twenties marriage. Like Kanye and Kim, like Beyoncé and Jay Z, like Brangelina, but marinated in gin, illustration and franchification. Francelda were the pre-1929 crack super couple. They looked so utterly gorgeous together that remembering them almost frustrated the careers of men of letters to be: Enrique Vila-Matas confesses that the literary aspirations of his early years could have been truncated by the false impression that in order to be a writer one had to be good-looking, like Scott Fitzgerald or Giovanni Pontano, the fake novelist that appears in La notte by Michelangelo Antonioni.

During the beautiful days, when they socialised and fucked like lions, Zelda (“the first flapper” according to her husband and herself, who wrote Eulogy on the Flapper in 1922), she was more muse than trophy: Francis re-wrote the character Rosalind Connage from his first novel, This Side of Paradise, so that she look like her after he met her; he stole pages from Zelda’s diary and used them as dialogues uttered by his own characters and disguised the moment he met her at the Montgomery golf course in a passage from The Great Gatsby.

But in the bad days, that 7-eleven of jealousy, fights, emotional blackmail and, in general, all the classic repertoire from the wine and vinegar period, Zelda was muse as well but in a different way: from her sentimental crack onwards, she stopped infecting the writer with her “romantic pomposity” (her main characteristic according to Nancy Milford in Zelda: A Biography) and started injecting him demons, darkness and insanity.

Tender is the Night would make no sense without Save Me the Waltz. The lecherous autobiographic confessions that inundated the pages that Zelda wrote when she had already been the bipolar patient of different mental institutions for four months infuriated Francis. They were the same marriage secrets that he was planning to immortalise in Tender is the Night, a novel with a terrible mid-book change in mood: from endless parties at the Côte d’Azur in the first episodes to a sanatorium in Switzerland. Boom! Lights go off, all of a sudden. Few books display a similar manic-depressive style, but this one does, because this book resembled Zelda also in its form.

In fact, both good-muse and evil-muse dresses were ill fitted for Zelda Fitzgerald. She wasn’t a proto-Yoko, or a proto-Nancy, or a proto-Courtney. She was the talented, dreamy and ambitious daughter of an Alabama judge who resisted being eclipsed by her partner and, probably, to becoming the easy icon of the jazz era and the lost generation simply because she looked OK on the picture. A muse, at the end of the day, has a passive and secondary role. And Zelda was too inquisitive and had far too many ideas (ideas, passions and birds) in her head to interpret only the role of inspiring consort-concubine. So, like 1929, she also cracked.

“She was a famous and beautiful woman, and I liked the sound of her name, so I took the liberty of using it for the first title of the game in 1986;” Shigeru Miyamoto speaking, creator of legendary videogame The Legend of Zelda. This might not exactly be the legacy Mrs Fitzgerald was dreaming of when she chatted with Mary Stuart, Christ or William the Conqueror during her deliriums at the North Carolina Highland Hospital room. But it’s the one that frees her from being just the subject of feminist thesis and a symbol of the roaring twenties.

Toda, thanks de Nintendo, Zelda is also pop. All the gamers (even some… blind ones!) that have fed their hunger for discovery, exploration and wonder with a vengeance spending hours in the land of Hyrule now bow their heads before the fantastic and heroic resonances of a story with a princess to rescue during a saga with all sorts of sequels.

What’s weird, though, is that there’s no film version of such a popular and cult game now that the sentence “this film looks like a videogame” is no longer scornful, but a description of the age and narrow vision of certain old-fashioned film watchers. There was never a case of betrayal of the original work because it was never adapted. There were only a manga, some trials at anime or quite a mental 90s spot, with a choreographed j-rap resembling a summer hit. But there’s no Ghibli version, which is what The Legend of Zelda calls for. It’s said that this 2016 a Hollywood adaptation will see the light of day… but it sounds like a “the boy who cried wolf” that we all know far too well, and, at the end, Nintendo always frustrates the rights negotiation.

Fans, though, have fun creating trailers of doubtful credibility using fragments of other films that share Zelda‘s imagery, such as Legend (with an influence acknowledged by the creators of the game): that petty tale of sword and witchery that Ridley Scott directed in 1985 for the delight of unicorns, demons and goblins tattooists who were running out of ideas. Tom Cruise could even appear again, playing the character of Link, since on The Legend of Zelda the hero evolves and grows old from young baby-face knight to old bearded warrior. But wait! Wasn’t Tom Cruise one half of a celebrity couple with Nicole Kidman? It would be difficult for her to get a role at the hypothetical casting for the adaptation. Well, some fans of the saga do give her one, nit much more than a cameo, as great fairy.

Poor Nicole. The curse of the shortage of roles for middle-aged woman in Hollywood has befallen her (and many others) like a scary old spell. A vertical scroll on IMDB indicates that her last relevant film was Stoker in 2013, although in popular terms (big audiences don’t exactly go to multiplex cinemas to watch a Park Chan-Wook film) we have to rewind until that corny Baz Luhrmann drama from 2008, Australia. Since then, and while we wait to see how she did on the recent Queen of Desert by Werner Herzog, her last great moment in the Sun on the screen might have been this interview on Tonight Show:

This chat might be the best rom-com scene of the last years, simply because IT’S TRUE. Nicole and Jimmy Fallon could have “had something together” (to use romantic comedy jargon), if they guy had been able to “interpret the signs” (more rom-com jargon) years back. But Jimmy was undergoing a low period in which if the girl in front of him didn’t pull her T-shirt up and showed him her tits he wouldn’t have noticed the interest he could awaken in someone from the opposite sex. So in this interview, despite the fact that the mentioning of the anecdote had been probably agreed on beforehand, he finally gets it. Like Anjelica Huston stopping to roll her eyes and chin on the stairs in Dubliners when she hears an old Irish melody that activates her feeling of melancholy. But, in his case, before the audience on the set and millions of watchers at home! Because, after this sentimental confession, the interview had to go on as if nothing had happened. But it doesn’t., Neither Jimmy nor Nicole can help the giggles, the teenage blushing and the tickling of the oh! Why didn’t you tell me, you silly! Lovebirds…

If there’s something Jimmy Fallon can’t complaint about is a wagon he never jumped in. The guy, at least professionally, caught the chance to become the host of The Late Show as a Frisbee you’re only sent once in your life. Reading Bill Carter’s The War For Late Night about the moment in which NBC’s prime time became a Gaza strip of egos, back stabbings, agreements written by the devil itself and millionaire deals with Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien as main actors, one can discover, as if decoding war missives, the chronology of sheer luck moves that made Fallon become the opinionated presenter of The Late Show in 2009.

At the beginning, no one understood why cunning Lorne Michaels had decided he should be appointed to present it when by far he wasn’t the most charismatic or funny of the SNL cast from his generation (he was merely remembered for being the companion whou couldn’t help giggling during a legendary live sketch with More Cowbell). But little by little he ended up winning over the Rockefeller Centre GE studio thanks to, precisely, the acceptation without complaining his role more of whiteface than auguste. Jokes bounced off him better than off anyone else, and that’s the secret of any great host: being able to pass on the joke, being a wall against which the invitees send their ideas, being a bit less bright that the guest.

Still, Jimmy knew also how to save brilliant moments for himself like, among others, the hilarious over-explanation of the series of sketches Head Swap, his marvellous imitations of Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen and, of course, his chapters of the History of rap with Justin Timberlake. With this record book, built step by step, five years later, Fallon was already captain of the Tonight show which Leno and O’Brien had fought so much for.

Let’s rewind for a second to the History of rap with Justin Timberlake. Pure TV gold. What started as a sincere and playful homage to a style they both love ended up becoming an on and off encyclopaedia of rap in six volumes that was a lot stronger than them. The first time they did it they relied on surprise (Such chemistry between them!); the second, on pleasure (you rub my back, I rub yours); on the third one, Fallon didn’t even take the time to introduce or interview Timberlake: both grabbed their microphones straight away and, that’s it, go with the flow! They just couldn’t NOT do it! I guess it helps having The Roots (The Roots!) as the programme’s band. And it also helps, of course, the fact that Justin, for a few years, was the best possible guest for a TV show.

Since he appeared on Justified in 2002 until he did so in The 20/20 Experience in 2013, Justin Timberlake moved about showbiz as if it were his own home, or even THE TOILET in his own home! He went about sets with his dick hanging out.

Anything he did was cool: songs, concerts, interviews, and appearances in any galas, film parts, and photo shoots… Any US mums, those that could spit at you the sentence What else do you want honey? Young, gifted and money,” considered him the perfect son-in-law. And he wasn’t even impertinent! Maybe that’s why the scope of his influence isn’t limited to just the US and the female gender: a friend from Buenos Aires, with his typical Argentinian enthusiasm, as a fan of fanaticism, confessed to me that should Justin be a candidate to president of the world, he’d sure vote for him!

That boy in The Mickey Mouse Club, that teenager in ‘N’Sync, was murdered through self-parody (legendary My Dick in a Box or Motherlover with Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island), series of Michael Jackson style singles (Rock Your Body, SexyBack, Suit & Tie…) and unexpected film parts: his role as Sean Parker, the creator of Napster, on The Social Network granted him dialogues such as this one:

— “Sorry, but the record labels won the lawsuit. Not Napster.
— Yes, the lawsuit.
— Yes.
— Do you want to buy a Tower Records right now, Eduardo?”

Not bad for someone who was expected to sell millions of albums (and probably did). There’s only an episode from this period that could have ruined Timberlake’s momentum. His visit to El Hormiguero de Pablo Motos‘s set, indeed, to promote The Social Network. There was Justin with Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg, sporting waiting room faces, not having a clue what the micro-presenter with the red beard or his ants were on about: what was that? Was it a children’s show? Was it an adult show? Was it real? Was it a joke? Were they the victims of the joke? Were they repeating without knowing it the Bill Murray-Bob Harris scene on the Japanese show from Lost in Translation?

It isn’t the first time that Spanish TV has made international guests suffer this weird treatment. My favourite WTF moment, which I like to think has a kind of landmark nature, is Scott Walker’s appearance on Galas del sábado in 1969 (around minute 29.02, on this link). The presenters in charge to introducing his performance are Joaquín Prat and Andrés Pajares playing dumb with a sketch free-associated to the song and an voice-over that didn’t even bother saying the name of the artist.

The legacy of that varieties programme was Sábado noche, a show that worked between 1987 and 1989 and in the backstage corridors of which Nina Simone and Gila, Madness and Eugenio or Leonard Cohen and Juan Tamariz could cross each other without saying hello or asking each other for cigarettes.

After a first period with Toni Cantó and Paola Dominguín (later on replaced by Lydia Bosch), the star programme of Spanish weekend prime time became fixed in the mainstream with a brilliant host couple: Carlos Herrera and Bibi Andersen. The right-wing pundit and sex bomb with Soberano voice accompanied the invited singers with short interviews by the microphone (with a more than decent English, we’ve got to grant them that) and artists were often bewildered before such strange mix of bodyguards. They probably didn’t choose the guests, but I love imagining the man with the vintage Sporting footballer moustache was the one who decided the playbacks of country stars (Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson…) and the big woman with the prominent Adam’s apple who chose indie pop aesthetes with blush on their cheeks (The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, Depeche Mode, Marc Almond…). Or even better: Bibi proposed the Nashville rebels and Carlos the poppies, since it’s always funnier to fantasise reverting the roles.

Other than demanding more TV music shows (we have some, but maybe those complaining never watch them), we should demand more music on TVE programmes that aren’t strictly about music. A good or bad playback in a game show, a magazine or a container programme always provided a strange glimpse of extravagance that now seems forgotten or, even worse, substituted by a certain freakish act (which is nothing more than planned, not spontaneous, weirdness).

Today it’s as if the most bizarre moment a public TV channel can allow itself is having Ramón García wearing a cloak as if he was a man from Burgos going for an aperitif. But that’s an old-fashioned Pedro Vera move, not a glimpse of unexpected eccentricity.

The black cloak has always been a distinguished garment, a sophisticated mantle covering the shoulders of illusionists, vampires and tormented superheroes. It can’t be worn just like that, as if you were a miserable tuno musician.

When Gene Chandler still called himself Eugene Dixon and was the solo voice of doo-woop band The Dukays, we warmed his voice before a performance by harmoniously singing “doo doo doo…”. His vocal warming up went from “doo” to “duke” to end up with an “of Earl”, in reference to another member of the band, Earl Edwards. Duke of Earl, a doo-woop classic that reached number 1 in the US charts in 1962 was born. A duke of an earl, double royal blood! Defending such an absurdly aristocratic title in public couldn’t be done in any way. So Chandler, already appointed solo singer by Vee Jay Records, grabbed stick, monocle, top hat, and, obviously, a black cloak. This time it made sense: to wear such a garment one needs a title, even if it’s a fake one.

At the end of this text, the garden forks its paths and I feel tempted to go towards the one taking me to Lambchop’s Mr. M cover, a painting by Kurt Wagner himself that I always thought was inspired by Gene Chandler but never managed to prove. I could also wander towards Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century, which devotes many pages to punk, to the International lyricist and the Cathars as to the millions of youngsters that at the beginning of the sixties locked themselves in their US suburb garages not to create computers (boring!), but to start their own doo-woop band with a genuine DIY spirit. Now, that’s a proto-punk link!

But following the internal rhymes of the text, it seems worthwhile to say goodbye remembering the day in which Jimmy Fallon invited Robert Plant to his show in order to, among other things, test a new app on his iPad: a sound sequencing and layering game that host and ex-Led Zeppelin guest tried with a version of, precisely… Duke of Earl.