Thursday, January 14, 2016

By Grabthar's Hammer...

What can I say? I really don't care much for his Snape.


Alan Rickman
1947 - 2016
RIP
 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Lemmy is Dead



That's a hard line to write.

Lemmy passed away on December 28th, 2015, after being diagnosed with an "aggressive" cancer on December 26th. Two days after his 70th birthday.

There's that old joke that Keith Richards is immortal, that when the Earth is a barren wasteland, it'll just be Keef and some cockroaches. That Richards somehow embodies rock n' roll...

But I'm here to tell you, Lemmy Kilmister was more rock n' roll than Keith Richards will ever be. Lemmy had a small apartment in LA a few blocks from the Rainbow Bar & Grill, where he could regularly be found sipping drinks and playing video poker (a video poker game that was actually moved to his apartment for the last few days of his life). Lemmy played his final show just 20 days before his death. Keith, for all his awesome qualities (and there are many), lives on an estate in Jamaica, ensconced from the world between Stones tours. Motorhead toured hard, and was never so popular as to have the comforts of massive success. They played - worked - because they had to.

Motorhead released 21 albums in 28 years, and still had to push themselves on the road constantly. This year, they played 54 shows, all while Lemmy was suffering with multiple medical problems. Lest I ignore facts, it's clear that Lemmy LOVED touring, and mentioned several times that he'd be happy to die on stage. I'm sure there would've been lots of shows either way, but perhaps Lemmy could've traveled in a bit more comfort. I won't even go into the weird merchandising choices the band has made in recent years.

A few years ago I found myself listening to a lot of Motorhead, right about the time AC/DC was issuing another cookie cutter album and launching a world tour. It struck me very strongly that AC/DC and Motorhead were very much in the same business, but Motorhead was simply miles better at it. There is a certain cynical, distanced quality I always detect in AC/DC, they have an understood, practiced formula, whereas Motorhead felt honestly raw. They weren't the best players, their songs tended to be blunt-force instruments, and Lemmy's influences, in many ways, began and ended in the 1950's with Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran. Their catalog is filled with riffs that are lifted from the earliest days of rock n' roll, but played with the attitude (and volume) of a man who'd lived though the eras of Hendrix and Zeppelin.

I may be kidding myself about that, but I can only go by what I know of the man who simply was Motorhead, Lemmy Kilmister. There is a palpable sense in everything about Lemmy that the man simply didn't care to play by your, or anyone else's, rules, because his rules were working fine for him. His interviews ring unflinchingly honest, and the man clearly had no interest in insulting anyone, yet also had no time for PC self-censorship. He spoke the truth, as he saw it, and didn't expect his truth to be universal.

If you want a really good look at who he was, I'll recommend the documentary Lemmy: 49% Motherf**ker, 51% Son Of A Bitch

Lemmy was singular, he was an original, he was an icon, warts and all (no pun intended). I'm very aware that we shall not see his like again. RIP, good man...you deserve it.


Lemmy Kilmister
1945- 2015


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Stuck in My Head: 12.23.2015 - Chlorine & Wine

I really, really am digging this album, and especially this song.

Chlorine & Wine
by Baroness

When I called on my nursemaid
Come sit by my side
But she cuts through my rib cage
Pushes the pills deep in my eyes

The taste was much sweeter
Than chlorine and wine
And my doctor is unable
To cut through the cable that leads to my mind

In spite of the winter
There's ways to keep warm
Whatever you give me
Please know that I'm asking for more

The day I stopped swiming
Came out of the dark
I've never felt so uncomfortably numb
Here by your side

Black birds on the bed
Turning to fire
Black birds in the day
Shining a ray

Please, don't let me go
Under the rock where I found
My place in the crowd
Hope for the fathers and sons

Black birds on the bed
Turning to fire
Black birds in the day
Shining a ray

Please, don't let me go

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Stuck In My Head 12.22.2015 - It Hasn't Happened Yet


It Hasn't Happened Yet
by William Shatner 

I was crossing the snow fields
In front of the Capital Building
It was Christmas and I was alone
Strange city, strangers for friends
And I was broke

As the carillon sang its song
I dreamt of success
I would be the best
I would make my folks proud
I would be happy

It hasn't happened yet
It hasn't happened yet
It hasn't happened

Yes, there are nods in my direction
Clap of hands, the knowing smile
But still, I'm scared again

Foot slipped, pebbles fall and so did I
Almost, oh my
On Yosemite, the big grey wall
(Fear of falling)
Where to put my foot next
(Fear of failure)
I'm afraid, I'm going to fall
(Be at one with the mountain)

I whispered in the air
(Fear of falling, fear of falling
(Fear of failure, failure)
Fear of losing my hair
(Falling, falling, falling)

When is the mountain scaled?
When do I feel I haven't failed?
I've got to get it together, man

It hasn't happened yet It hasn't happened yet
It hasn't happened yet
It hasn't happened
It hasn't happened


People come up and say, "Hello"
Okay, I can get to the front of the line
But you have to ignore the looks and yet
I'm waiting for that feeling of contentment
That ease at night when you put your head down
And the rhythms slow to sleep


My head sways and eyes start awake
I'm there not halfway between sleep and death
But looking into eyes wide open trying to remember
What I might have done, should have done
At my age I need serenity I need peace


It hasn't happened yet
It hasn't happened yet
It hasn't happened yet
It hasn't happened
It hasn't happened

Monday, December 21, 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens (No Spoilers)

It's been asked for so here it comes....my review.

I am avoiding spoilers here, and will hopefully chime in later with a more spoilery reaction.

I've had a relationship with Star Wars since it's birth. I was five years old, and I lost my goddamn mind. The bottom line is that I wanted to do *that,* whatever that was, and launched myself on a lifetime journey to figure out what the was.

Between the ages of 5 and 11, I had the original trilogy, Episodes IV to VI, wherein we saw the galactic civil war, and the rise of Luke Skywalker as savior of the ways of the Jedi, and redeemer of his father, Darth Vader, AKA Anakin Skywalker. As with so many people, these three films are a defining moment of my life (as the previous paragraph should indicate).

Between the ages of 28 and 34, I had the "Prequel" trilogy, Episodes I to III, wherein we saw the fall of not only the Old Republic and the Jedi order, but of Anakin himself. These films have been a hotbed of contention for years. With long diatribes about their faults and failings.

Here's where I stand; I love Star Wars. I love it all, I love it despite it's faults and failings, but also in many ways, because of it's faults and failings. As a whole, it is an idiosyncratic work, with weird digressions and inclusions that are there for no more reason than George Lucas' fancy. It's that personal touch, for good or ill, that, for me, lift them above standard Hollywood studio escapist fare.

This article pretty neatly encapsulates my feelings.

So, now, here we are. It's 2015, I am 44 years old, and over this past weekend I have seen Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens twice. It's a very, very good movie. It introduces exciting new characters into our saga of the Skywalker family, returns old favorites to the screen with vim and vigor, and pushes us forward into a new trilogy of adventure tales.

I do not think it's anywhere near perfect. However, it's imperfections are along totally different lines from the films made under Lucas' supervision, and will not detract from it's entertainment value. In fact, I feel it's imperfections run almost perfectly opposite from the earlier films.

Let's bottom line this....Do you have any interest in the type of film that Star wars is? Space opera (NOT science fiction) on a grand scale? If you say yes, see this movie. It's not the best film of the year, or even the best adventure film of the year (that would still be Mad Max: Fury Road), but it's the best space opera since at least Revenge of the Sith (sorry Wachowskis). I had a great time with the film, so what I'm about to go into is NOT "this film sucks" criticism, don't read it as such. It is so worth seeing, and I cannot wait to see where Rian Johnson takes up with Episode VIII in two years.

My first viewing of The Force Awakens was after spending nineteen hours in a theatre watching the previous six films. While this made me excited as hell to see the new film, it also made the shift in tone with this film very apparent to me. Lucas' Star Wars films were pastiches of 1930s sci-fi serials, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and the like, with a heap of Joseph Campbell to take all that nonsense and give it a sheen of real cultural and anthropological importance. The Force Awakens, in a very, very real way, is a pastiche of Star Wars itself, and the reverence to Campbell-style myth-making has been supplanted by the filmmakers reverence to this specific myth.

Which was probably utterly unavoidable. I would guess there is not a single competent filmmaker in Hollywood, who would have any interest in making a Star Wars movie, who doesn't revere the earlier films. Honestly, the saving grace here was likely the involvement of Lawrence Kasdan in scripting. He was there, having scripted both The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (not to mention Raiders of the Lost Ark). He clearly enjoys this type of material, and yet, I'd guess, isn't star-struck by it.

There is a sequence in the center of the film that, if I'm fully honest, didn't feel like Star Wars, but rather like one of the myriad Star Wars ripoffs that littered the 80's. A lot of the humorous dialogue struck me as a lot more glib and unceasing than the earlier films, like it was the product of someone who remembered all their favorite lines, and regurgitated them without the breathing space that made those lines originally pop. Now, to be fair, the writing here is so far beyond Lucas that I hardly cared, but I was struck by the change in tone.

And the structure. There is more than a little truth in the criticism that the film is little more than a remake of A New Hope (AKA the original Star Wars). That's not a huge problem for me, because that fits with Lucas' vision. The Phantom Menace echos A New Hope, as well, but less slavishly. There is a point when I'm thinking, "oh this is like the Mos Eisley Cantina....Oh, look at the echo of the trench run...etc." I almost wish they'd just made our new desert planet, Jakku, a return to Tatooine. The production design is so virtually identical that it's obvious that they were trying to have their cake and eat it too. There is a long, long list of elements that fall into the "remember that?" category.

All of that becomes almost totally forgivable because Abrams and Kasdan have given us a nice big pot of terrific characters to revisit and get to know. I loved, loved, loved all of the new characters, and I was surprised by how much I was drawn to Kylo Ren, in particular. He's a villain that gives us a new perspective of the Star Wars universe, and The Force, that we've not really seen before now, and Adam Driver does a wonderful job with the part. Harrison Ford is better than he's been in years and Daisy Ridley and John Boyega are honest-to-God movie star finds. Oscar Issac isn't given much to do, but fills his moments. Much like with his Star Trek films, you can find absolutely zero fault with Abrams' casting instincts.

Watching the film is a blast, and I'm resistant to even delving into the plot very much, so as to allow you to discover it yourself. It's an experience, and all of the critical comments I've made are pretty irrelevant while you're watching. However, as a huge fan, I am concerned with the ultimate health of the franchise. There's things here that make me worry, specifically with Disney's aggressive plan of a new Star Wars film every year.

The Force Awakens is now corporate product, you can't deny it, and I see echoes of Disney's (financially, if not always creatively) successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. The fact that the emotional beats work as well as they do is a testament to the skill and talent of J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan, because in other hands, this film could've easily toppled over into Transformers territory.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My Thoughts on "Machete Order" (Star Wars)

Star Wars is generational. The stories are generational, and now we have a second, and even third generation being brought up as fans. This leads to this unending question of "how do I introduce my children to Star Wars?" Which has lead to all sorts of theories and concepts.

Now, to preface, I am, in no way, trying to tell anyone how the saga is "supposed to be watched." I think that every fan is free to experience the films as they wish. However, I am fascinated by this fixation on how to introduce a new viewer to the Star Wars universe, and what each theory seems intent upon achieving.

I'm going to focus on just one today, although there have been several put forward. The so-called "Machete Order." Which basically suggests you watch the saga in this order.

Episode IV: A New Hope
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode II: The Attack of the Clones
Episode II: The Revenge of the Sith
Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi


Episode I: The Phantom Menace is completely eliminated, and the other two prequels are treated as a "flashback" of sorts. The reasoning is something along the lines of this (sourced here):

As I mentioned, this creates a lot of tension after the cliffhanger ending of Episode V. It also uses the original trilogy as a framing device for the prequel trilogy. Vader drops this huge bomb that he’s Luke’s father, then we spend two movies proving he’s telling the truth, then we see how it gets resolved. The Star Wars watching experience gets to start with the film that does the best job of establishing the Star Wars universe, Episode IV, and it ends with the most satisfying ending, Episode VI.


Basically, as far as I can reason, this whole thing is in service to three things:

1 - Keeping the saga focused on Luke

2 - Maintaining the "I am your father" reveal.

3 - Eliminating the unimportant Episode I

Essentially, "this is what I, as a first-generation Star Wars fan, think is important, based on the experience I had with these films."

Here's my bottom-line problem, especially in terms of "how to introduce Star Wars to my kids?"with "Machete Order." You've basically rigged the game to make sure that your kids will have the exact same experience you did. Children should have their own experience with Star Wars.

Take the desire to keep things focused on Luke, which is point 1. It's a generational saga, with each chapter having it's own characters for kids to bond with. In ten, fifteen years, there will likely be a generation who think that Star Wars is REALLY about Rey and Finn and Poe, and that Luke, Han and Leia were just there to set up the "real story."

The saga works the way it does because each generation should have their own heroes, and the expansion of the lead roles beyond white dudes with The Force Awakens is a testament to that. Don't pigeonhole the enterprise to the characters you identified with first, because each kid, each viewer, should have their opportunity to grab hold of their own heroes.

I've shown the saga to people, who've never seen it before, in chronological order. I'm going to tell you what I observed. There was an investment in Anakin as both a hero, and as a soul who needed redemption. There was an investment in Luke as the heir of a power and birthright that he never really understands....

Until Vader reveals their relationship. Which addresses point 2. It's a powerful, powerful moment no mater what information you have before hand. It's either one scene of surprise, or almost a full two movies of suspense. The audience knows, but Luke doesn't...and that can be just as powerful as learning something with a character.

I'll let Alfred Hitchcock explain (source):

"Let's suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, "Boom!" There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the decor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: "You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!"

The newbie I showed chronological order to also read this scene as Anakin wanting to bond with his son. Asking Luke to join him wasn't just about power. Granted, it's in that same stunted, emotionally immature manner in which he woos Padme, but he's legitimately telling Luke that the Dark Side is better and more freeing. Vader has been alone, essentially, since Mustafar. Locked inside that armor, cut off from everyone he loved. Now he's reaching out to what he thinks is his only remaining blood relative. He wants his son by his side.

That may not be the gut-punch reveal that we got in 1980 (and even then, I, personally, wrote it off as a lie), but it's not undramatic. There's still a myriad of emotions on call...no mater which character you bonded with. Bottom line, it plays either way, based on what the audience knows.

Now, the real bugaboo is, of course, the removal of Episode I.

Now, I get it. I get it that people hate this movie, I get that they feel betrayed by it, I get that they hate Jar-Jar Binks. I admit, I don't feel that strongly negative about it, and I could also make the argument that the three-way cutting of the final battle(s) is the strongest editing work in the entire saga. I acknowledge that all the films in the first trilogy have problems, but they are not valueless.

However, I think the argument that the film "adds nothing" to the overall story arc is not really correct. First off, I think seeing Anakin before he enters the Jedi order, a life beholden to Watto, is important. I think seeing the council turn him away, and then grudgingly allow his training, is important. Not to mention admitting that he is the chosen one, which is, IMHO, the psychological trigger for almost all Anakin's problems and eventual fall. I think seeing that Obi-Wan is not the best person to train him (tell me that Obi-Wan doesn't give in to anger to defeat Darth Maul) is important. Seeing how Anakin leaves his mother is important in framing what happens in Episode II.

Not to mention, that it's within The Phantom Menace that we see the dysfunction of both the Jedi Order/Council and the Republic Senate most clearly. The seeds of Palpatine's rise are not in some Machiavellian plot, though he is manipulating events, but in the exploitation of the corruption and bureaucracy that was already well underway. It's a demonstration that the "golden age" that is spoken about in Episodes IV, V and VI is yet another example of Obi-Wan's discussion of "point of view."

All of that isn't covered in the scroll of Episode II, except in the most cursory and incredibly brief way. On top of that, as any writer will tell you, it's better to show than to tell. So, I think there is much information here that informs what comes after.

Now, I offer this not as evidence that chronological order is "better," only that it can provide it's own rewards, rewards that maybe your child, or any audience, should be allowed to discover for themselves. Many already have, and their love for Star Wars is as strong as yours or mine. Likewise, there are other viewing orders that can illuminate structural and storytelling intricacies.

I've considered watching the films in a I-IV-II-V-III-VI progression, in order to see the way the trilogies reference each other. I'll also speak out for watching the films as silent movies, which Lucas always claimed they were most like. That is an illuminating experience, though I've not watched the whole saga that way (I wish there was an isolated score track on the Blu-Rays for that purpose). The possibilities are myriad.

My only agenda with this piece is to encourage that, we, as the "original" fans of the franchise, resist imposing our experience on those who come after. Even the term "prequel" suggests subservience. The Star Wars universe, now under the aegis of Disney, is going to continue far beyond the lives of it's first-generation fans. Now is the time to accept that our experience will never be the universal one. Now is the time to let the succeeding generations have their own experiences.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

December 2015 Hayoth/Life Update

Temporary Cover Art
Hello, faithful readers and listeners.

As of December 10th, I have completed four tracks for the third Hayoth release, and am in process on the 5th. This latest track, which is untitled, at the moment, but with a significant amount of lyrics completed, will join:

Light & Shade
Tallahassee Bridge
Carnal & Divine
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
 
Light & Shade and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades are both rockers, Tallahassee Bridge is a ballad, and Carnal & Divine represents my first pass at an instrumental track.

Track 5 has proven...difficult. It's on the ballad side of the spectrum, and I have been struggling with not only some chord changes that have proven difficult to smooth out for recording purposes, but also...my eternal struggle...to find the proper tone for my guitar. Something that reads as "clean," yet also has some heft, and a bit of punch. Yeah, I could layer guitar tracks, and I probably will. However, I want the thing to have some delicacy, and I find that limiting the overdubs can help make that happen.

My hope is to be able to edit together a "sampler track" of sections of the five finished songs before Christmas.

However, I am going to be forced to pack up the studio in a few days, as it's also our guest room, and we will have company from Dec 16th-19th (What? You don't have friends travel to see Star Wars with you?). I really want to get this done before then. Thankfully, the stress of being on call to understudy a (now Golden Globe-nominated) movie star wraps up on Sunday, and it looks like I'm off the hook, so more energy and focus for other creative endeavors.

Yeah, Pilgrim's Progress ends it's run on Sunday. I was understudying the truly great Michael Shannon. It was a weird place to sit, as an actor, but it always is when you understudy. It's not REALLY your show, or your role. Yet, you feel an ownership, because you've been in the room a lot. It's even weirder when you're there as backup for a famous guy, and the guy who's gonna be the centerpiece of everything written about the show.

Which, if I may digress, was only a part of the story. Michael was amazing in the show, absolutely, but so were
Kirsten Fitzgerald, Ryan Bourque and Charlotte Mae Ellison as the rest of the McKee family, Brett Neveu's script was stellar, and Shade Murray's direction was, as always, light as a feather and focused as a laser. Of course, there was also amazing design work by Chelsea Warren, Myron Elliott, Jr, Mike Durst, Brando Triantafillou and Jenny Pinson.
 
I would guess the rest of the understudies Mary Jo Bolduc, Grace Palmer and Spenser Davis (who also assistant directed) would tell you the same as I'm about to, it's the hardest, and just plain oddest job on a show. You try to prep, in case anything happens, but with rehearsal only once a week, without the repetition that I've found is pretty vital for my process, you never really get comfortable. You also find yourself, especially in this situation, for me, kind of wondering how much you should talk about it. Which is why I've not blogged about it much.

I mean, I certainly didn't hide the fact from people I knew, but I was/am always conscious when I'm writing on line that this just simply isn't my part. It's Mike's. Hell, I wasn't even entirely sure how to interact with him, or the rest of the cast and crew. I didn't want to be in anybody's way, or overstep my mandate. Keeping your professionalism, being friendly and open, but not assuming any familiarity. Every cast approaches their understudies differently, and you just have to feel it out.

In short, it was all wonderful. The best compliment I have, and that I shared with the cast many times (probably too much), is that for all the times I saw the show, dozens of times, I never got bored. It was new, vital, exciting and funny every time. I can't even say that about a significant number of shows I've been in, let alone watched repeatedly. There is a standby line for every performance, and while it's sure to be madhouse on this last weekend, if you have interest, you should try to see it.

One interesting side effect of this "involved, but not" sort of situation is that I am already well into my usual "post-show depression." As of right now, between Sunday evening, and sometime on May, 10th, 2016...I have no theatre or acting projects. That's when I start Seedbed at RedTwist Theatre Company. It's a "rolling world premiere" of a new play by Bryan Delaney, it appears I'm going to be only the second person to portray this character. I think it's going to be fun, I'll be playing opposite Jacqueline Grandt again, which was quite rewarding in Good People this past summer.

I had hoped to have something between now and then, but, alas, alack, it did not pan out. Which is probably good for my Hayoth output. I've also had some encouragement in the realm of writing, and I think it may be time to get going on some of the script ideas that have continued to percolate.