Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Stuck in My Head: Be Good To Yourself

Be Good To Yourself
by Journey

Runnin' out of self-control
Gettin' close to an overload
Up against a no win situation
Shoulder to shoulder, push and shove
I'm hangin' up my boxin' gloves
I'm ready for a long vacation

Be good to yourself when, nobody else will
Oh be good to yourself
You're walkin' a high wire, caught in a cross fire
Oh be good to yourself

When you can't give no more
They want it all but you gotta say no
I'm turnin' off the noise that makes me crazy
Lookin' back with no regrets
To forgive is to forget
I want a little piece of mind to turn to

Be good to yourself when, nobody else will
Oh be good to yourself
You're walkin' a high wire, caught in a cross fire
Oh be good to yourself
Be good to yourself when, nobody else will

C2E2 And the Problem of Higher Expectations

So, I went to my first Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo, or C2E2, over the weekend.

I had a good time. Hung out with friends, saw some cool stuff, and generally came to the realization that there is no real reason to ever buy a three-day pass to this convention. I am spoiled by the San Diego Comic-Con, and fully admit it.

My favorite thing at a convention are panels. I have written in the past of the great panels that I've seen in San Diego, the giants of the industry that I've witnessed responding to fan questions. The old-timers who've shared stories that are, bluntly, passing into memory. I guess my expectation was that there would be some of this sort of stuff at C2E2.

What I found were promotional panels for everything from comics to games to goddamn beer. There was a panel on brewing companies, and how their business is similar to comics. Really? Now, that's not bad, I am interested in DC pitching new Vertigo products, or a preview of Marvel's new MMO game. But beer?

Now, being fair, lots of Golden and Silver Age comic creators have retired to southern California, so it's easier to book them for San Diego. Still, how about panels focused on some of their special guests? I saw that J. Michael Straczynski had a couple of dedicated panels, how about one for Len Wein? Michael Golden? These people were in the building. Sure, they had tables in Artist's Alley, but there is nowhere on the floor that is conducive to the kind of give-and-take possible at a panel.

You also need, seriously, to re-vamp the online guide. I tried to plan out for panels before the weekend started, and the online guide is damn near unreadable. And completely unhelpful. It should be a simple thing to look and see what's going on in each room, but it's simply not laid out that way.

I did spend most of Saturday in panels, starting with Patton Oswalt's spotlight panel. A delight. Star Wars or Marvel movies...so stop asking him how to break into directing, or about what J.J. Abrams is going to do. Also, please do not look at a Q&A microphone as an attempt to do your stand-up material for him.

Hilarious, and inspirational. Particularly enjoyable was when Brian Posehn began heckling via text. "Nice answer, Dinkledge!" and "Go back to Dagobagh!" were particular favorites. One comment here, Oswalt is a comedian and actor...he is not a filmmaker, and he has no direct connection to upcoming

Then we saw the '66 Batman panel, which was supposed to be Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar, but West was ill. According to the panel, he threw his back out walking a dog, or something. I can only...I don't even really want to go into it...but "train wreck" comes to mind. Ward clearly didn't want to be there, Newmar seemed completely out of it, and the questions were, for the most part, insipid.

We caught the tail end of a Vertigo panel notable for the truly thrilling participation of Brian Azzarello, who became the first panel guest to truly answer a question (about a famously unprinted story from Garth Ennis' Preacher) in the most direct and honest way possible, with the emphasis needed, "why the fuck would you ask that question?!"

I am now, officially, asking that Brian Azzarello appear at every convention panel, nationwide. We certainly could've used him during the Patton Oswalt panel.

We wrapped up with a lovely, truly lovely spotlight panel for my personal favorite Doctor Who, Peter Davison. A charming, warm and personable man. He answered a string of questions that he's probably heard a dozen times before with wit and good humor. It finished the day well.

Sunday...we left early.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"...I do what I want to do and what my band wants to do. And we continue to do that."

"I don't do this for what people tell me I should do with my life, or my band. I do what I want to do and what my band wants to do. And we continue to do that." 
- Jerry Cantrell

I read that, a quote from Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains, regarding fans who thought the band should've broke up after the death of original vocalist Layne Staley, and it reminded me of all the times I've compromised myself. Times I've capitulated to the wishes of others over a desire to belong, or to be liked. Where I could feel myself diminished by giving in, even if the ultimate result was, generally, a success.

I find that I've had a hard time communicating to others how I, personally, measure success in a project. I don't really care if "everybody," or even a lot of people, like a project I've attached myself to. It's FANTASTIC if they do, and I don't shit on that, or poo-poo it. I am thankful that they enjoyed it, and appreciate the support, with all my heart...

But the greatest satisfaction that I get from my work, and it really doesn't matter if it's acting, music, writing, whatever, is the feeling that I get in my chest, the sense that this, whatever it is, means something to me. That my heart, my soul, my body is engaged in this enterprise, and there is a literal feeling I get that wells up within me. When it's not there, I can feel the emptiness, I actually begin to feel ill. Physically ill.

I've met people who just don't get it. Who seem to see the nods in their direction, the applause, as the ultimate reward. The work was good, because people liked it. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, and, as I said, I do, very much, appreciate when people enjoy my work...

But greatness, satisfaction, for me, it can only come from within myself. It can't be forced upon me, and it can't be dictated to me. I have given performances that were fairly widely praised, which I knew, in my heart of hearts, were nothing more than goon-show mugging. I have accepted roles I knew I really didn't want to play because I felt like I should. For myriad reasons, of course, because it was a good paycheck, because it was a higher-profile company, because I felt like I owed somebody something, etc, etc.

All I want is to work on creative endeavors that challenge me. That make me grow, that push me to dig deeper into myself for answers. What I've learned is that there are people I will work with who don't really care about that, at all. Who think of acting as finding the perfect "bit" for a moment, or music as finding a really complicated riff. I've learned I have a very hard time working with people like that, if they don't give me the space to do my work in the way that means the most to me. If I don't get that, what was already difficult becomes very nearly impossible.

I guess I write this because I can feel the depression coming, in regards of my acting, the same sort of, "I just need to throw in the towel and retire" lack of enthusiasm that I felt before The Copperhead fell into my life and re-invigorated me. I feel like I've been backed into a corner, in terms of the choices I've made. I feel like I'm not in a position to control my own destiny, in as much as any actor ever really does that. I can see roles that are exactly what I want to do, and I feel them slipping out of reach.

I'm back looking for a "dare to be great situation," but the hardest thing, the most frustrating thing, as an actor, is that you need to convince somebody to think you have that greatness in you, to trust you, and give you the opportunity and space to  reach for it. As opposed to music, where I feel I can create my own opportunities. Sometimes, I truly wonder if those opportunities, that trust, have escaped me. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

OK, Amanda Palmer, You Win the Internet, but Let's Have a Chat

My feelings about Amanda Palmer, and her concept/concepts about funding art, and herself, are pretty well documented. Today, however, we move past that.

On Sunday, April 21st, 2013, Ms. Palmer published a poem on her blog, called A Poem For Dzhokhar, which I like. I found it a nice little meditation on the events since April 15th. I don't read it as "pro-" or "anti-" anything. Simply a series of random thoughts an comments that came to her as this drama played out around us.

Good for her. If I HAD to apply some sort of larger "concept" to the thing, it'd be "pain is pain" (for lack of anything more clever coming to mind). That everything that confronts us, be it the crisis of the past days, or the supermarket only offering 2% milk, are all painful. They're all things to be overcome.

But that's my interpretation. Yours may vary. Everyone's will vary...because that's the nature of "art." If you, as an "artist," want to put this sort of creation out there, 6 days after such an event, you better be willing to take the proverbial slings and arrows that come with the passions that are running high.

In fact, I'd have to guess that's EXACTLY why Amanda Palmer did it. Her concept of "asking" for funding is predicated on staying relevant and in the public eye. Just like every internet-based business, she lives and dies on site hits, and the more people who view the page will increase the number who'll hit that "donate" button. Both to The One Fund, to aid Boston victims, but also to her own fundraising site.

So, Ms. Palmer, once again, you win the internet. Your self-promotion continues like a unstoppable freight train. I have to admit, I admire the determination and seeming laser-focus you are able to employ.

And, y'know, good on her. You create something, you put it out there, and set up a way for those who admire it to support the victims, and yourself. Well done, and I mean that sincerely.

Then...things get hinky.

Of course she received criticism. It was inevitable. It was predictable. It was unavoidable the second she hit "post" on that blog. The instant you picked that title for a piece that, literally, could've been called dozens of other things ("millions" Palmer says). Of course, those other titles wouldn't have guaranteed the same kind of search engine responses, would it?

I think the people who criticized the poem are idiots, frankly, but there are a ton of them in the world. There's nothing there that's truly incendiary or awful...and, in fact, most of it seems unrelated to the Boston bombing/manhunt, at all. So, Amanda (which seems presumptuous of me, but whatever), I like your poem, I think most of your critics are overreacting.

Then, however, you committed one of my few cardinal sins...You didn't just let the work speak for itself. You wrote another blog. A blog in which one of the major points is that her poem was "misinterpreted."

And, y'know what? That's bullshit. It's utter and bald-faced bullshit. It's not bullshit because of the poem, it's bullshit because Amanda Palmer decided that her poem didn't say enough, that it had to be explained, at worst, or the reader had to be guided, at best. In either case, you've just ripped the heart out of your creation, your "art" and stomped on it.

This all connects to a thesis I've long held to, in that creative people, such as Ms. Palmer, and myself, need to fucking stop calling ourselves "artists," and what we create "art." Why? Because we don't get to make that call, our audience does.

What we create? A poem, a play, a song, a book, whatever, is not art until someone else calls it such. Until that point, it's, for lack of a better term, a thing. It can be a very personal thing, with huge gobs of ourselves in it, but unless that communicates to someone else, it ain't fucking art. I feel like calling our work "art" just gives us an out to make indulgent bullshit. It gives us an out to make impenetrable crap that when people don't understand it, we can't step back and excuse our lack of success, our lack of communicating something, because "they just don't get art."

That's bullshit. It also generally means that every creative endeavor is art, because someone, somewhere, is sure to get something out of it. Thing is, what they "get" might not be what we intended, at all. As a creator, you have to be prepared for, and accept that.

The most annoying thing in that entire second blog, for me was this moment:

many people – even the people who loved the poem – thought this poem was directed “at dzhokhoar”.

as in: you, you, you.

read it again.

No, no, no, Amanda, because after you put your creation out into the world...it is no longer your place to tell people how to read or interpret it (asking to be paid for it, another matter). The fact that you're out there trying to guide people in, like the dude with the flashlights at the airport, just makes me feel like you are not confident in your creation.

Oh, and the "happy national poetry month" as a sign off? Way to be passive-aggressive. Big turn off.

If A Poem For Dzhokhar doesn't say what you want it to say, all on it's own, frankly, take it down. If, as I suspect, it does..then leave the whole damn thing alone. Let your creation stand on it's own. Live or die, succeed or fail, on it's own merits.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Stuck in My Head - Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

Call me a philistine, but I love Stevie's version better than Hendrix....

Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble

Well I'm standin' next to a mountain....
Choppin' down with the edge of my hand
Well I'm standin' next to a mountain....
Choppin' down with the edge of my hand
Pick up the pieces, make an island....
Might even raise a little sand


Cause I'm a voodoo chile....
Lord knows I'm a voodoo chile


I didn't mean to take up all your sweet time
Give it right back to you....
One of these days

I didn't mean to take up all your sweet time
Give it right back to you....
The rest of my days


I won't see you again in this world....
See ya in the next one

Don't be late....
Don't be late


Cause I'm a voodoo chile yeah....
Lord knows I'm a voodoo chile

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rainy Day/Black Crowes 4.17.2013

Chicago is flooding.

That's about 2 blocks from our apartment. Oh, and nice honk, jackass.

Saw The Black Crowes last night at The Vic. Quite a good show, even if I admit I'm not as familiar with their catalog post, say, 1998. A truly solid band, and one that, in the main, can go off on long, impromptu jams without becoming dull.

And there was a lot of that. Again, most of it was really well executed, but there were a couple of points where I felt like the song had fallen apart, only to see them strap it all back together again. It was kind of mesmerizing in the sheer audacity of it. Not to say that some of the free-form noodling didn't get a little...stultifying. I usually enjoy this sort of thing, but there comes a point where a song's going on 10 minutes or so, and I begin to feel like the band is just looking back and forth at each other, thinking "are you gonna take it? Is it my turn to take it?" I'm just thinking "wrap it up."

Now, that's a criticism, but. please, don't take that as a slam of the entire show. I think every musician that tries this sort of jam knows that often, it's just not going to make it to "brilliant." The fact is, I'm talking about 2 songs out of an eighteen song set. The Crowes (who, despite interest, I hadn't seen until last night) know what they're doing, and they are masters of it. I was particularly impressed that vocalist Chris Robinson stayed on stage, engaged, during the long instrumental breaks. I've seen so many, far too many, lead singers who look at any solo as a chance to slip backstage for...whatever.

Robinson is, truly a consummate, magnetic frontman. He didn't talk much, a few "thank you"s here and there, but he clearly formed a bond with the audience. I was also struck by the wide demographic The Black Crowes play to. There was the bikers, the hippies and the aging frat boys, and the music spoke to all of them, in some way. That's pretty special. 

I was a little surprised that Rich Robinson mainly worked as a rhythm guitarist for most of the set, leaving the soloing and pyrotechnics, in the main, to new member Jackie Green. Again, I'd never seen them before, but I'd understood Rich to be the lead guitarist. That said, Rich took the lead vocal for a cover of The Velvet Underground's "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" during the encore that was THE highlight of the show for me.

All-in all, a really solid show by a true rock and roll band. Although, man...I Missed "Soul Singing" by one night! Biggest disappointment for me, personally. 

Twice as Hard
Good Morning Captain
Feelin' Alright (Traffic cover)
My Morning Song - Stare It Cold - My Morning Song
Ballad in Urgency
Wiser Time
She Talks to Angels
Woah Mule
Title Song
Thorn in My Pride
Been a Long Time (Waitin' on Love)

Shine Along
Oh! Sweet Nothin' (Velvet Underground cover)
Boomer's Song (Ry Cooder cover)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Getting Back to Work

Hello faithful readers. Long time no write, which I apologize for, but I was very, very tired as Peyton Place was wrapping up. I realized the final show of that run was also the end of about 9 months of one-show-after-another, for me.

I was exhausted, and in a lot of ways I still am. I've not been sleeping well, at all. Waking up in the middle of the night, lost in some dream, freaking out. Not getting enough sleep. It'll get better, I know. It always does, but I have to work through it.

However, aside from a few small-ish projects, I am free from major commitments until mid-Summer or Fall. I had hoped to push that until September, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. Which is certainly not a bad thing, at all. As I have always said, I prefer to be busy.

However, with some free time now, I have dedicated myself to pushing forward on the recording. My goal, at this point, is to have something out...maybe not a full 12-song "album," maybe an 6-or-7-song "EP"...by September. I feel this is do-able, and important for me to live up to.

Especially since I've upgraded the studio again.

Yes, I FINALLY, after much bitching, bought an electric drum kit. I am in the process of freeing myself from the drum machine. I chose the  Roland TD-4-KP, for a few reasons. One, it's collapsible, when it's "folded down" (not the quickest process), it doesn't take up much room at all. That was important with my apartment-living situation. Two, I liked the preset kits and tones, it sounds good to my ears. When I actually went into Guitar Center to try it out, I was a bit worried, it seemed so small. However, the pads are nicely adjustable, and while the best set-up for me is still a work in progress, it certainly doesn't feel too small.

I'm learning. No, I am not a trained percussionist, but, that said, I've never really had a guitar lesson, either.

Several musician friends are saying, "ah, this explains SO MUCH" right now.

I'm self-taught, and fairly proud of it. Yeah, there are times when I wish I had more training in theory, but I muddle through. I've also picked up this book, to try to aid my understanding. I figured it was time to start working toward an understanding of that stuff.

Anyway, drums. I messed around with the kit for a while, then thought, "what the hell, let's just try this theoretical recording process I've been thinking of." So, I decided to start from scratch on "Monkey Sex," which was one of the two tracks I worked on a bit with Paul and Morgan last year. It was exciting to play around with a full combo, but I did feel like I wanted more "space" in the arrangement. A little less "wall of sound" than what we got that day. (obviously, the very primitive recording setup we used that day did not help).

So, the plan is this....

I will start each song with a basic guitar track, recorded with a click track. With "Monkey Sex," I ended up speeding up the track from where it was, to about 130 bpm, and trimming off one of the riffs (I fully intend to make use of it elsewhere). The reasoning was twofold, the song has always been envisioned as a bit of a "tongue-in-cheek" number, so I think it's good that it's clocking in just under three minutes, at this point. Second, it makes me really work at it with the drums. With my vision for this "Hayoth project," I am feeling more of a slower, blusier vibe to things. If "Monkey" ends up being the fastest track, I throwing myself into the deep end. The rest should seem easier...LOL!

Playing guitar to just the click track has proved to be more challenging than expected, but not impossible. My old path was to program the drum machine based on what I thought the song should be (intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/bridge/etc...or whatever), and then lay down the basic guitar over that. So, I've been used to playing to a drum track, rather than a click. It's different, but like I said, not impossible. Likely, I'll re-do some of these parts after the drums are set.

Ah, drumming...I've been surprised how much I'm enjoying the process of putting together a drum track. I was working on "Monkey Sex," picking through it, and figuring out what to play. I hit the chorus, and this beat just came to me...and I could play it fairly quickly...the feeling of laying that in, something just odd enough that a drum machine (as I was able to use it) couldn't do. It was intoxicating. Yeah, ultimately the drum parts will probably be simpler than what I'd really like to do, but they will have some life to them. A spark of humanity, and that's what I've wanted.

I'm excited.

Home Video Review - FAIR GAME

The film is, basically, a dramatization of the Plame scandal. An event that I, personally, found reprehensible, on the part of the Administration at the time. However, my feelings about the real events are irrelevant when it comes to a dramatization of them.

What a terrible movie.

Truly god-awful.

First, it represents the worst of "socially conscious" filmmaking/storytelling, and reminded me of the worst kind of scripts we get a Stage Left. It's not concerned with people, only making a political point in the most ham-handed and inelegant way possible.

Second, Sean Penn, an actor I love and admire, is AWFUL. He takes Joe Wilson, and makes him a character who's motivation is, seemingly, to be right ALL THE TIME. When he begins his campaign to hold the White House accountable for the exposure of his wife, he keeps saying it's because it's "the right thing to do," but everything we've seen about the character, and the way Penn is playing it SCREAMS "I am a condescending, smug asshole."

CByrd and I both felt the same, I suggested that Tom Hanks could probably have knocked it out of the park...given you the sense of decency and honor. She suggested Mark Ruffalo, who's laid-back nature and style, would have made the character less grating.

Near the end the film tries to explore the impact on the marriage, but these to actors have so little chemistry together (like, ZERO), the viewer literally doesn't give a rat's ass if they do break up. And Joe is so plain unpleasant, you think Valerie would be better off. (It is, however, always nice to see Sam Shepard bring his understated honesty to the screen - he's clearly the best thing in the movie) The attempt to make a human connection to these characters is far too little, far too late.

Watts is fine, but pretty much steamrolled by Penn. When her choice is to play reserved nobility, the guy playing the frothing mouthpiece is going to win.

All the problems come to head when the climax is Penn giving a lecture to a group of students, and the audience, clearly, about citizenship. Then we see Watts enter a congressional hearing on the matter...and the film cuts to actual footage of Plame at the hearing.

A) What I have seen of Penn's character makes me absolutely disinterested in his lecturing me about how to be an American.

B) Valerie's testimony would seem to be a far more stirring and noble climax. I'm also always somewhat put off when a filmmaker decides to cut away from a performance to actual footage. It undermines whatever reality the actor had allowed us to buy into, up to that point. (See What's Love Got to Do With It? for perhaps the most egregious example, ever.)

It doesn't matter that I was horrified by what happened to this family in real life, which is, I suspect, why it received mainly positive reviews upon release. Politics alone doesn't make a good story, and this movie is a prime example.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roger Ebert Has Left Us

I am heartbroken. I want to you all to go out and read his memoirs, because it's probably the most moving and affirming book I've ever read. If Roger had just loved film, I would've loved him, but he went deeper than that. The taking of his voice released him to write even more freely and nakedly, and Life Itself is the crowning achievement of that evolution.

He and Gene...they taught me how to see past entertainment, both in how film (and storytelling in my mind) didn't need to be monopolized by it, and in how entertainment could transcend it's limitations and tell us about ourselves.

I stood next to him in an elevator once, and I longed to try to put into words what I just said...but I was scared. Then the moment passed. It's one of the greatest regrets of my life.

A GIANT has left us. My heart goes out to Chaz....

And, yes...Per my friend Ryan Blanz...This is exactly what's going on in heaven right now. And I bet Roger is overjoyed.