“Switch on the TV we may pick him up on channel two
Look out your window I can see his light
If we can sparkle he may land tonight”
David Bowie “Starman”
There are certain actors that shine a light in everything they are in. The material is helpful but can also be immaterial. Size and quality can’t get in the way of true shine. Big budget Hollywood hits? Yes. Failed TV series? Absolutely. Successful TV series? That too! The low budget b-movie jungle? You got it. Few actors were as luminescent as Charles Rocket. Appearing in everything from Dances With Wolves (1990) to the music video for Tom Petty’s “Yer So Bad,” Rocket was always an instant stand out. Even in thorough pap like 1985’s Fraternity Vacation, his two or three minutes of screen time feels like a sweet reprieve from the oscillator of shit that is that movie.
I can’t place when I first saw Charles Rocket. It feels like I literally grew up watching him. Maybe it was Moonlighting since my Mom watched that show religiously or it could have been Earth Girls are Easy which I rented out of a fierce allegiance to Julie Brown as a young girl. Anytime he would pop up in something I would always smile that “Hey, there’s that guy and he is terrific!” smile that we all share whenever we see an artist who is the living embodiment of the Greek definition of psyche. Soul and personality are two words that I have always associated with Rocket. Wit and uniqueness too, because once you saw him, there was no chance of confusing the man with anyone else.
Rocket’s impression was strong enough for me in my youth to actually inspire a screenplay that still resides in my head. This is a times-get-tough-and-things-go-strange kind of journey here. (To paraphrase Rubber Rodeo.) In my teens, my number one goal was to become a filmmaker. Show business might have been Jackie Teak Lazar’s life, but mine was film, literature, and music, with cinema taking the biggest precedent. Now, in the middle of my junior high-era soundtrack being filled with Roxy Music, The Tubes, and any Rhino Records DIY comp I could get my mitts on, I also got into Supertramp’s Breakfast in America album. Being a kid is hard, but being a kid in the era of grunge and “alternative” and listening to Supertramp and punk comps was a spicy mix of social maladjustment.
What does this have to do with Charles Rocket?
Well, there were two songs in particular that sparked my creative attention from that album. One, “Goodbye Stranger,” would go on to inspire one very silly short story that resulted in one of the most fascinating rejection letters I have received to date, and the other, “Just Another Nervous Breakdown,” inspired this idea I had about a businessman who's been living the whole marry-your-high-school-sweetheart and have 2.5 kids and the nice suburban house/respectable job kind of thing and he ends up having a midlife crisis. But instead of your usual bro-nonsense of hooking up with your 18-year-old secretary and buying a ridiculously tiny sports car, it’s something far deeper. It's that realization that your whole life and existence has been by the numbers to the point that your heart hasn’t ever been in it. In fact, your heart hasn’t been in anything. You have no real relationship with your kids and don’t even know who they really are and your marriage is just a shadow-show with no audience.
So this character ditches it all and runs off to Mexico and joins a carnival. This is as far as I ever got and honestly, that may be for the best since there is only so much insight into a crisis of the soul, family, and status a 15-year-old in a working-class town in Arkansas is going to have. But when that dream was still real for me, I wanted to make this film with Charles Rocket in the lead. He had played so many yuppie types in film and TV, ranging from wacky to sleazy, but always possessed an internal depth that felt tangible. The few times he did get to do something dramatic, he brought such proper gravitas and intense depth that he left a mark long after the role was over. He was not just a muse for me, but an art hero that merited some fierce and ferocious championing. (And obviously, still does!)
This dream of mine, though already half-buried after film school rejection, which was a small blessing in disguise, came back up when I had heard the news of Rocket’s passing in 2005. Gobsmacked only begins to describe how I felt. Death is surreal and the absolute hardest for the living, but to quote another great artist, with love there is no death. (And who am I to argue with Prince?)
This series is here to herald the great talent, verve, nerve, and charisma that was and forever is Charles Rocket. The man was far, far more than the guy who got fired for saying the F-bomb on Saturday Night Live. (Side note, he wasn’t the first one to do so but was the first one to be used as a scapegoat to can most of the cast.) He was one of the best and the only way to truly do right is to examine his work, including some of his key roles and odd appearances throughout the 1980s, '90s, and 2000s.
The man deserves more but any action done with heart is a needed one, so please join me on this journey and let’s celebrate Charles Rocket!