Friday, June 17, 2016

Robert Downey Jr. - The Futurist

The world can be so unkind to dreamers.

Five years ago I was about as anti Robert Downey Jr. as you could get. Iron Man? Get outta town! Sherlock Holmes? Over my dead body!

Now, knowing what I do of his life, of his struggle with drug abuse, of his remarkable comeback, he's starting to speak to my soul. This is a man whose father started giving him illegal drugs when he was EIGHT YEARS OLD. Who does that? What kind of normal life can someone have when drugs have always been a part of their identity, from the time they were a small child? There's a quote from RDJ when he was arrested in 1999 for drug possession, where he tells a judge, "It's like I've got a shotgun in my mouth with my finger on the trigger, and I like the taste of the gun metal." Proof that he doesn't need a scriptwriter for his words to make an impact.

What changed?

It takes a survivor to admit they need help . . . to reach out for that help. Which is what RDJ did. He told Oprah Winfrey in 2004, "when someone says, 'I really wonder if maybe I should go to rehab?' Well, uh, you're a wreck, you just lost your job, and your wife left you. Uh, you might want to give it a shot." He realized he couldn't keep doing it anymore. The drugs were destroying his career, his personal life, and his individuality as a performer. Manic individuals on drugs burn bright for a second and then die. RDJ didn't want that person to be him.

2003 saw the beginnings of a comeback for him, mostly due to a lot of support by Mel Gibson. Does that surprise anyone other than me? Because I was shocked. Sorry Mel. Semi-Indie films were RDJ's career for awhile followed by a supporting role in Zodiak which is pretty phenomenal and then, of course, 2008 saw the birth of the Iron Man franchise. The rest, as they say, is movie-making history.

But between 2003 and the rest of his life, RDJ released something I only just now discovered . . . an album called The Futurist published in 2004. Did you even know he could sing? I sure didn't. Did you know he could play the piano? Again with the nada. As if the singing and the piano playing wasn't enough of a shocker, he was also the lyricist for 8 out of the 10 songs on the album. Crazy, I know!

The Futurist is like nothing I've ever heard. My vision of RDJ includes Black Sabbath t-shirts courtesy of Tony Stark. So I wasn't expecting the Folk/Blues/Indie/Country sound that he dished out in The Futurist. My first time through the album had me mildly enthralled. Those of you who know me know that I tend to watch favorite things repetitively and the same goes for my music. My third time through The Futurist, I was head over heels in love with it. Some songs have more meaning than others and some are almost country ballads, but Broken and The Futurist and Details are pretty astounding.

Which brings me back to my first comment about the world and dreamers.

RDJ is a dreamer. I never considered him one until I listened to his music. They say that what you physically write down on paper has more of yourself in it than what you type or speak. It has more of your soul. If that's the case then I'd say RDJ must have handwritten every single one of his songs.

Broken is intense, full of imagery that I suspect, rather like David Bowie, means something special and is a secret only the songwriter fully knows.

In love with a broken heart
(Think I leave today, cover it all this way)
You fell in love with a broken heart
(Every earthly breath, lifeless testimony)
In love with a broken heart
(Don't you know?)

Love in these modern times
I'll become what your first class said
I'm no light weight, I'll find time to throw us down
You'd feel my medicine's side effect
Think I'll grab some magazines

(I know you)
Never seen me
(Promised you)
You believed me?

That last set of 4 lines says a lot about him. I know you. Never seen me. Identity is something we all struggle with, finding ourselves, wondering if this is who we really are or if we're meant to be someone different. I know him. But I've never seen him. Because the true, genuine Robert Downey Jr. is someone that maybe not even he fully knows. I get that. Because in my own way, that's me.

God grant me the strength
To accept the things I can change, change them
(Just for the last time)
If you're familiar with Alcoholics Anonymous then you know how the group works. Part of their method is the Serenity Prayer which reads "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

The juxtaposition of the phrase, a very traditional phrase that has been used to heal a lot of addicts, intrigues me. Does he think he fixed himself? Is he that arrogant? Or is strength more of a draw to him than the idea of courage, strength being something tangible. Strength to change something, as in his lifestyle, as in the drug abuse, as in admitting he needed help.

I don't know. It's hard to say where his mind was when he wrote this song. But the unanswered questions intrigue me.

As for The Futurist, I want to know what it means so desperately, but I feel like I can only ever grasp part of it.

They'll take the walk
We'll sage the world
Sounds like October
A futurist knows
Our furious, curious, fantasist code

There's a big...
There's an adventurous God out there
All these purple spheres
Where the creator...
I see him saying to believe in the impossible. Don't be ordinary. Don't be mundane. Dream bigger and better than you even imagine possible and even if you aim for the moon and miss, you'll hit the stars (yes, I stole that quote from somewhere). And we do have adventurous God. It actually took this song to remind me that God is adventurous. He wouldn't have dreams us up if He weren't.

Now, do I know anything about RDJ's spiritual life? Nope, not a speck. But The Futurist is the album of a man who's searching. At least, he was searching in 2004. Coming down off drugs, losing his wife, trying to piece his life back together, of course he's searching.
The man the world sees now is very different. No one can argue against Robert Downey Jr. being at the absolute peak of his career right now. He's box office gold. But he was once that man standing before a judge confessing that to him the drugs were a shotgun in his mouth and he liked the taste. 

Have you watched The Judge from 2014 yet? Yes, I know it's rated R. It's got language and some sexual innuendo, and a scene of grinding that's a bit uncomfortable. But it's also the story of a man whose marriage is destroyed, whose relationship with his father is on the rocks, and who was arrested for drug abuse when he was a kid. It's the story of a man piecing his life back together and learning to relate to his family again.
The critics hated it for being soppy, sentimental, and cliche.

I love it for being the story of Robert Downey Jr. 

If you want to know more about the man behind the persona of Robert Downey Jr., track down his album, The Futurist. It may not be wholly to your liking at first, but I listened to it with an open mind, determined not to throw my own expectations on RDJ's back, as if he needs to carry them around with him like Pilgrim's sins. I ended up loving it, truly, wholly, loving it. You've never heard Charlie Chaplin's Smile sung the way RDJ sings it. With his whole heart and soul. I'm sorry to say that he puts Josh Groban's interpretation to shame, and I love Groban.

In Captain America: Civil War, Wanda Maximoff tells The Vision, "I can't control their fear, only my own."

I'm glad to see RDJ controlling his own fear and not bothering with the rest of our opinions about him. And even though he may never release another album (SADNESS!) at least he released The Futurist


  1. I bought "The Futurist" song as an MP3 way back because I liked the refrain part, but the other songs didn't appeal to me when I sampled them way back. Not my type of music, but I did like that one. However... I've never listened to the lyrics, so reading your post was like "huh! That's what he's singing in that song?" (As Hamlette will tell you, I don't do lyrics; I like songs solely based on melody, harmony, beat... I am weird). Hee.

    I really enjoyed reading this. I'm a pretty big fan of his.

    1. Yah, it is an odd sound, that's for sure. A combo of so many different types of music that you wouldn't think go together, but kinda work for him.

      What's your favorite of RDJ's films? He's delivered some pretty amazing work, like Chaplin and then his performance in Charlie Bartlett is pretty great too. It's so funny how I went from not liking him at all to really love his work!

  2. Your journey to becoming an RDJ fan mirrors mine pretty neatly, except I didn't want anything to do with him until 2012, when I saw The Avengers and told myself I liked it *despite* him being in it. And then started watching the Iron Man movies, his Sherlock Holmes movies, learning more about him, and now, yeah, I'm a fan. Haven't seen The Judge yet, but I want to. It's on my Amazon watchlist.

    It's always so cool when an artist stretches themselves and puts out something in a different medium!


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