It was "United We Trek" day outside the Paramount Pictures studio where writers, actors and others who had worked for Star Trek were invited to attend and protest the current state of affairs in Hollywood. I’ve never been much of a joiner, and though I have issues with both Paramount and the Writers’ Guild I decided to join the throng. No, I didn’t carry a picket sign, nor did I march the line. I mostly stayed in the shade of a friendly tree along the picket lines where I could greet others I knew from the show as well converse with some nice fans. One of my neighbors when we lived in the hills of Sherman Oaks was Harlan Ellison, who wrote one of the best episodes of the original series, “City on the Edge of Forever.” But in spite of his history as an honored writer on the show, he had no love for Star Trek (I'm not sure exactly what his issue was, but it was intense), and to say the least he wasn’t impressed when I told him I wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation. He's gone now, but I thought of him today. I have my own issues with the show. Paramount took “Lower Decks” one of the episodes I wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation and made a new series out of it without giving me a “created by” screen credit or even token royalties. There was an obscure paragraph in my (Writers Guild approved) contract that allowed them to do so. That’s show biz. So, I had every right to be bitter toward the show, as was Harlan Ellison. But I realized as I stood with the pickets today that many of those who had worked on Star Trek had also either been fired, or simply not rehired for the show as it moved on. They, too, had issues. And yet, there they were, marching down a hot sidewalk for the benefit of writers and actors on a show they had once loved, no matter how they themselves had been treated. I was glad to stand there with them, show my support, and at the very least honor Gene Roddenberry and the many artists and others who had followed his dream. 09.08.23
Star Trek writer Ron Wilkerson at United We Trek protest at Paramount Pictures
It’s nice to have an encounter with an icon, right? Mine was back in 1995. My band, The Dukes of Soul, was contracted to play the wrap party for a new film “White Man’s Burden” starring John Travolta and Harry Belafonte. It was to be held at the Celebrity Centre, a posh event hall on the campus of the Church of Scientology in Hollywood. Now, we were not unacquainted with the Scientologists – we had previously been hired for a number of gigs (mostly New Year’s Eve parties) for them despite the fact that no one in the band was a Scientologist. Our booking agent (at the time) was a Scientologist and he had hired us for them because the bands they usually hired (consisting of Scientology members) were generally not up to snuff. I have my own feelings about Scientology, but I won’t share them here because the folks I dealt with were mostly always professional and paid us well for our services. Anyway, John Travolta was a Scientologist (and most people there thought we were too) and that’s how we got the wrap party gig. We played a couple of sets and then paused the music, turning over one of our mics to Travolta and the director who had some nice remarks to say to the cast and crew. Then Travolta handed the mic to Harry Belafonte who came up, said a few words and was about to leave when the crowd called out for him to sing. He then started singing Day-O. We in the band were all still standing on stage by our instruments, waiting for our cue to start up playing again when I got the notion – why not back Harry up? Now, I have to confess, I do not have perfect pitch. I do not generally hear a note played and know what note it is. But this time, something inside told me – he’s singing in D. So, while he continued singing the song, I came in on my keyboard with a calypso backup in D. And I NAILED IT. Perfect timing, perfect volume, perfectly on key. But then, Harry turned around, looked me straight in the eye and held up his hand like a crossing guard telling me to STOP. I got the message. He continued singing a Capella and when he finished got a nice round of applause. I got the snub. But I soon got over it. Because for a few short bars, I had backed up an icon. 04.26.23
The Spy Balloon saga reminds me of the time my friend and I created a UFO. Dave Saylor was a friend who lived directly behind us on the next street over, Caesar Blvd. Dave was a year younger, and way smarter. He was technically very savvy and was the sound guy for our band – “Web” (we were too cool to have a “The” in our name). Dave even designed (from scratch) an electronic light controller that sequentially flashed colored spotlights on us when we played gigs at Clarence Town Park. One day Dave came upon a design for hot air balloons that were created out of tissue paper and balsa wood, and it became one of our pet projects. We glued white tissue paper sheet squares together with Elmer’s glue and attached the open balloon bottom to a ring of balsa wood that would hold, via copper wire, the flame that caused the balloon to rise. The balloons were about six feet high and four feet wide and suspended from the balsa ring by wire was a burning ball of wadded paper towels soaked in kerosene. Dave had even developed a gas burner on a hose from his dad’s backyard barbecue that filled up the balloon for launch with hot air within a minute. We first started launching these balloons in the day and tracked them in their flights on our bikes. They would sail for miles and miles, then the flame would die out and the balloon would return to earth. We eventually found that the balloons were even more spectacular at night, as the flaming ball would illuminate the entire balloon. Why did we do this? Because we were a couple of fifteen/sixteen-year-old kids having fun and messing (harmlessly, we thought) with perceptions of the good citizens of our locale. We even tried to create a UFO that would be tracked on the radar at Buffalo airport by gluing aluminum foil to two opposite sides of the balloon. Our thinking was that when the balloon with the foil side was turned toward the radar it would show up as a UFO, and when it rotated, it would disappear. Cool! Our most spectacular launch was one hot summer night. I believe it was one of our largest balloons and had the biggest ball of burning paper towels suspended so that it would go on the longest flight. It was a fantastic launch as it illuminated and drifted off into the night, rising hundreds of feet in the air. Then, as it was getting out of sight, to our horror, the flaming ball of kerosene burned through the copper wire and dropped out of the sky, falling to earth like a meteor. It was indeed a fantastic special effect. But our fun turned to shock when we heard the sound of honked car horns and fire sirens. Fortunately, the neighborhood didn’t burn down as the burning ball had fallen on the ground near the intersection of Main and Transit. Our fears turned to delight a few days later when we saw the article in The Amherst Bee. The headline was “UFO Story Turns Out To Be Hot Air!” Someone had recovered the balloon and solved the neighborhood mystery. We were very proud of ourselves, having made the local news. Unfortunately, Dave’s younger brother showed our news story to their father. Dave was grounded for a month, forbidden for a time to associate with “that Wilkerson boy” and that pretty much ended our adventures in creating UFOs. But I can’t help but wonder if the Chinese are having as much fun with their balloons as we did with ours. Probably not. 02.12.23
I’ve been so disappointed by recent TV and Film that I’ve gone back to the past to recharge. Over the years I’ve read a few Charles Dickens novels: Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol in high school, Nicholas Nickleby and A Tale of Two Cities more recently, and a few years ago my wife, Beverly, directed the musical, Oliver, at St. Paul’s school. But I’ve never gotten around to reading some of the others. So, I bought a collection of all Dickens’s novels on Kindle (for next to nothing) and dove in at the beginning. The Pickwick Papers was fun and painted a lovely portrait of the curious English towns and their eccentric residents in the mid-1800s. I then read Oliver Twist, which was definitely worthwhile, even though the story was more about the characters (Fagin, the Artful Dodger, Bill Sikes) surrounding its hero than it was about little Oliver (who seems to be frequently a bystander to the story). Then I skipped over a few novels and jumped to David Copperfield and I’m simply awestruck at how good it is. Less a novel than a semi-autobiography, it’s the writing of a master revealing aspects of his life through his “fictional” characters. Three things immediately stand out: how the voice of the narrator (David Copperfield) changes in awareness as he travels through life – Dickens gives us the innocence of David's youthful observations while at the same time communicating the truth of the moment to the more knowledgeable reader. Then, the observations about life become more clear as David grows in experience. Next is his ability to detail the nuances of conversations and the emotional impact each moment has on the participants. It’s amazing how conversations that took place nearly two hundred years ago (in the mind of the author) resonate so strongly today. Most admirable is Dickens’s mastery of subtext. So much of David Copperfield’s adventures are told in subtext that the reader has to slow down and savor the lines to truly appreciate what exactly is going on. Then there is Dickens’s incredible vocabulary which makes us realize how limited our word choices are today. If you read his work without using a dictionary (fortunately Kindle provides one) it’s easy to miss how words are chosen by the author to fit exactly the meaning he wanted conveyed. I’m not quite finished reading David Copperfield, but I’m already looking forward to going back and starting it over again from the beginning. These days in our culture we encounter such a rejection of Western Civilization and the work of “dead white men” that we forget that, in many ways, those who came before us, might actually be better than we are. 01.10.23
Written by Ron Wilkerson, Recorded in 1989
This is a song inspired by a phrase Junior Mince used to say whenever he didn’t believe you. We recorded it originally with Junior on vocals, but did this version (I think a better one) when Rudy Love joined us as our singer. It’s one of four songs we recorded in 1989 in the same session as Made of Soul, which I posted last year. I never really shopped this song (which I probably why you’ve never heard it before) because the band was breaking up and I was working more as a screenwriter. But I think it holds up. If you like it, I’ll post the other two recordings from the session. 04.30.23
I've always loved this piece of music written by George Frederic Handel and thought it would be fun to do an EDM version.
Written by Ron Wilkerson, Recorded in 1989.
I wanted to do a video for this song but didn't have a lot of pictures of the band. In searching the web for pictures of Rudy Love I found out, sadly, that he had passed away last October. So now, this video is dedicated to his memory and his fabulous voice. 02.26.22