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Steve Tilston, the Real Danny Collins, Being His Own Chosen One–The Surprisingest Twist of All

Steve TilstonIn my most recent blog post I promised not to be a spoiler for the surprise twist in the movie Danny Collins starring Al Pacino. That was then. I’ve given you a little more time to check out the movie, but I just can’t hold out any longer.

The opening frames of Danny Collins proclaim that the production was based on a true story–sort of. As the movie progressed, it was a heartbreak to watch Danny’s creativity suffer for his entire career. The music and persona foisted on him stifled creativity and drove him to drink and substance abuse. On the surface, he led the ideal life of the rock star. Inside, the real Danny was buried until a letter from a sympathetic admirer changed everything.

The letter was written at the onset of his career in 1971 in response to a fear he expressed in an underground rock magazine interview. He feared that wealth and fame would affect his creativity. The author of the letter reassuringly wrote to Danny, “Fame doesn’t need to stifle creativity. Just stay true to yourself.” Then he said, “Give me a call and we can talk about it.”  And he gave him his home phone. The writer knew of what he spoke. The writer of the letter was John Lennon.

Danny did not see the letter until 30 years later. The letter’s impact was life-changing and made for a great screenplay.

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Now comes the surprisingest twist of all, for me in real life (sort of–since I am a fiction). The real-life Danny Collins is an Englishman, a Liverpudlian named Steve Tilston. The truth is that he had followed John Lennon’s advice, even though he wouldn’t see it for 34 years.

Here is what practically made me weep with joy. Steve was a superb songwriter in the folk/folkrock genre who stayed true to his music and never ventured into superficiality or drug abuse. Out of curiosity, I listened to samples of his music online from Amazon and his website. I sampled his whole career from 1971 to present, and found it to be true, clear, pure, and beautiful. His guitar work is outstanding. He has a stirring, Celtic voice reminiscent of Bert Jansch, Eric Bogle, or John Renbourn. Why did we never hear of him on this side of the pond?

Let us remedy that this very moment! This is a video clip from his latest CD, Truth to Tell. Have a listen. Hear the truth.



More about Space Larrabee: I was made manifest in a book called By the Time I Got to Woodstock—or Space Meets Thyme in the Shadow of Atlantis. I am Space Larrabee, and in Lunch on the Moon I share tasty delicacies I’ve found in the experiential arts. Join me every week or so and share your experiences, too!

I think I Just Experienced My Favorite Al Pacino Flick

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Although it’s a departure from the characters of power Al Pacino portrayed in the Godfather and Devil’s Advocate, Danny Collins had more depth than either of the demons portrayed in those two disparate worlds of absolute power and absolute corruption.

In his latest role, Pacino as Danny had to face his demons arising from a life of wealth and fame. He sang them away, or attempted to, at any rate. If you can imagine Al Pacino singing, you’ve got a better imagination than mine. That was a big reason I was compelled to see this production in the first place.

At the onset of the movie I nearly cried—with desperation. I hadn’t wanted to step into the movie with any preconceptions, so I’d avoided trailers like the plague. The opening scene has Danny approaching the stage bursting with power and charisma. The crowd is on fire. Sporting a complicated pompadour with a hint of poodle and mullet touched up at the makeup table moments before, Danny flings the striped silk scarf around his neck and grabs the mic from the stand.

The ghosts of Tin Pan Alley possess Danny, issuing flamboyant strains of his most popular song, appealing to that superfluous pop mentality that floats on the surface of consciousness.

Mercifully, the next scene grabs us, throwing us into a flashback where a much younger Danny’s being interviewed by a fan mag. The interviewer raves about the lyrical depths of Collins’s debut album, likening him to Dylan and Lennon. The album collected accolades and rave reviews. Danny was getting notice, but not sales. The star-making machinery caught up Collins and molded him into what he would become for the next three decades—a star. In other words, wildly popular and desperately unhappy.

He hated every minute he had to spend onstage exploiting himself, striving for unconsciousness and achieving vapidity. I stopped crying. Even as I bled for him, Danny made me happy. This joy continued to fill my heart as the surprise plot twist took center stage to take Danny back to his depth.

This is not a spoiler. I’m taking pains to ensure this, because I sincerely want you to have the opportunity to experience what I did–or what you need to. — Now, take some time over the next week to see the movie. Ponder what you discover about Danny and yourself and let me know what you think.

My next post will include a surprise twist that happened for me after seeing the movie and digging a little deeper.

If you dare, following is a Danny Collins trailer

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