The entire concept of Invisible Strings
came about in 2001. I was living in Dallas and working for a start-up ISP, when one day I used the phrase to refer to the many things in pop culture that I once loved and couldn’t seem to shake years later. Most specifically I related it to Donnie Wahlberg, whom I had once adored as a member of New Kids on the Block and then couldn’t seem to shake his presence in my cultural world as years went by. I laughed with my friend Nate about how often Wahlberg seemed to show up in movies just when I was finally past the point of caring and thinking he was part of my semi-shameful past, as if I was tied to him with invisible strings that I couldn’t figure out how to clip. It’s not that he hadn’t had a couple of good roles by that point — he was decent in Ransom
and shockingly memorable (though unrecognizable) in The Sixth Sense
— but he still hadn’t shown Hollywood much to rave about and was still seen as a 90s-era joke. By the turn of the century I was more than ready to put him in the past and be a grown-up. And then Band of Brothers
aired on HBO.
Up to that point I had never been a fan of history studies — every single post-9th grade instructor made sure of that — but I was a huge fan of Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, so Band of Brothers
appealed to me on that level. And it hooked me within the first half hour, but beyond the stories I came to love the cast. I was instantly smitten with Damien Lewis
, so excited to see Kirk Acevedo
and Matthew Settle
again. And yes, Donnie Wahlberg, in what is most certainly his best role to that point and, perhaps, still his best work ever. At first I was so surprised to see him in that cast, but with so much happening onscreen and so many faces to remember, I immediately forgot about watching “Donnie Wahlberg” and dove deep into the series. Anyone who has ever seen Band of Brothers
can attest to the brilliance of it, the quality of acting and writing and production levels. For nine weeks I was consumed by it. It was all I talked about, at work with Nate and for hours on the phone with my best friend. No series of this type had ever affected me so deeply, and all I wanted was to hold onto those emotions and feelings of reverence long after the series ended. I never realized quite how that would manifest.
In the months that followed I began noticing actors from Band of Brothers
in television guest spots and commercials and movies. Everywhere I looked it seemed there was yet another appearance by these men who had come to captivate me in their Easy Company roles. Michael Cudlitz
showed up on The Agency
, where his co-stars Richard Speight Jr.
and Jason O’Mara
were working. Neal McDonough
and Donnie Wahlberg showed up in the same episode
of the short-lived series UC: Undercover
. And then Neal McDonough appeared that summer in Minority Report
and again that fall in the new (and completely underrated) series Boomtown
, which was created by one of the episode writers from Brothers
. Wahlberg starred in that series, too, and their Band of Brothers
cast members showed up as guest stars in episode after episode. Suddenly, everywhere I looked were members of the Brothers
cast. It was like a crazy game of Six Degrees! But I would never complain.
The entire joke of “invisible strings” began with Donnie Wahlberg, but it has come to extend to Band of Brothers
in the same way. That no matter how many years pass and how far my interests extend, the cast members always find a way to pull me back to that moment in time when I couldn’t get enough. I see Wahlberg and I’m transported to 1989. I see Neal McDonough or Damien Lewis (who have become my favorites of them all) and I can’t help but recall the way my heart swelled at their respective portrayals of Buck Compton and Major Winters. I’m forever indebted to Hanks and Spielberg for collecting such a cast and so faithfully telling the story of Easy Company and the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. I’m forever touched by the recollections of the cast’s real-life counterparts. And I’m forever a fan of every single actor who appeared in the series. I follow them practically anywhere, and each time I see one of them appear on screen, I can’t help but smile in remembrance of that 2001 entertainment experience. I don’t lament these invisible strings that tie actors to my past pop culture experiences. I’ve come to appreciate it and love it and look for whatever new project tugs at them again.
I think the joke of Invisible Strings stopped being cute and started being real (to repeat a phrase) when dear ole Nate took it to a new level. For Christmas 2002, he presented me with a series of wrapped items featuring dental floss for ribbon. Four packages featured a printed “tag” with images of four separate actors, and a fifth package contained an agreement to split the cost of the Band of Brothers
DVD set. When I opened the other packages I found more DVDs featuring each of the respective actors shown on the gift tags. And then, with a little help from Nate, it hit me: dental floss = invisible string. String that was linking these longtime favorite actors to Band of Brothers
. It remains one of the most perfect gifts I’ve ever been given. It is exactly
the kind of gift I strive to give others. No one understood me better than Nate. And I still have those “strings” as a reminder that my past is forever a part of me.
my “invisible strings” Christmas package featured Ron Livingston‘s Swingers
, Tom Hanks‘s Saving Private Ryan
, Donnie Wahlberg‘s The Sixth Sense
, and Neal McDonough‘s Angels in the Outfield
(click photo for more detail)