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.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What's the Good of Art That Never Changes?

Thinking about this article.

Here's the deal.

LULU was NOT a "Metallica" album. It was a Lou Reed album on which Metallica performed as his backing band, and they did that because an artist they respected asked them to. I get why people don't dig it, as it's vastly difficult to listen to. It's atonal and Reed's vocals are simply not for everyone.

My original review, if you're interested.

That said, I cannot fathom why people feel the need to continue harping on a creative enterprise, vehemently and aggressively, years and years after they already claim to have written it off. Just look at the comments on that article (I know - NEVER read the comments). It's cool to say "I don't dig it" (I'm still, to this day, not sure if I dig LULU). Hetfield does, the band has, repeatedly, said they do. They reached beyond their comfort zone and tried something different.

We should be encouraging artists to do more of that, even when/if they fail.

No one can argue against the fact that, as a commercial enterprise, LULU landed with a thud. Thing is, did anybody involved with this really think it was going to sell like a "traditional" Metallica album? I highly doubt it. Metallica said yes, and did it, because they wanted to do something different. There will come a time in every artists life where they will ask themselves, "what if I do exactly what I'm not supposed to do?"

When that moment comes, if you're brave enough to actually do it, one of two things usually happens. Either the whole thing is a mess, possibly an interesting one, or it could touch on genius. I classify LULU as the former, with a significant number of tracks that fall into the "interesting" description.

Yet, the band is vilified, for nothing more than taking a risk. No one says you have to like it, but the sheer, vehement hate that tends to spill out on to anything that isn't what we expected, or thought we wanted, seems like a call of surrender, to me. I feel like we, as a culture, are so very trapped in the "more of the same" mindset.

Regurgitate, regurgitate, regurgitate, and I think it's spilling over into a lot of different conversations.

I, like many people, have found myself watching various "fan films" that have cropped up on-line. At first, probably like you, I was in awe of the technical skill on display, the commitment to detail. Who isn't excited to see Batman face down a Predator, or to see a thrilling lightsaber duel. As time went on, however, something began to dawn on me.

What is the point?

I mean, really, what is the point?

Why are obviously talented and resourceful filmmakers regurgitating this stuff, rather than creating new material? Material they can own and possibly profit from? Material that actually moves the genre forward? The sci-fi and fantasy genres are littered with homage and "theft." Instead of making a Batman film, create your own dark avenger of the night. Even better? Make the character a woman, or black, or Muslim, someone reflective of a culture who's entire range of touchstones wasn't set in the 1960's, when it was all set by white men.

Add something to the discussion and the tapestry that is our popular culture.

We don't need a Masters of the Universe movie. We don't need a Thundercats movie. Those were junk culture for my generation. It's only our incredible greediness that's keeping them alive, and the fact that there are way too many professional filmmakers are acting like they just want to make fan films. We shouldn't be up in arms about Jem and the Holograms tanking because "girls need their films,too." The girls of 2015 should most definitely have their own thing, but our generation has get it in our heads that the healthy thing would be for it to not be a re-hash of our thing.

I mean, look, I'm as excited as the next guy about Star Wars next week, but what's cool is that the entire saga is designed to be a generational thing. There's a new generation of heroes for kids to attach themselves to that are theirs with each trilogy. Which, of course, doesn't sit well with the fundamentalists....leading us back to the same kind of anger and hate we were talking about with LULU.

When the digital media revolution happened, there was so much talk about the democratization of media. If music and movies could be made in your bedroom, what amazing stories might we get? What we got was more of the same, and we've become painfully attached to making sure we get more of the same. People like to blame Hollywood and the movie studios, but they respond to what we respond to, and right now, we're plopping our butts in seats to see the umpteenth variation on the Marvel Studios formula. So they do what they've always done...gave us more of the same.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Stuck in My Head 11.25.2015 - Mr. Misunderstood

Mr. Misunderstood
by Eric Church

Hey there, weird kid in your high-top shoes
Sitting in the back of the class; I was just like you
Always left out, never fit in
Owning that path you're walking in
Mr. Misunderstood, Mr. Misunderstood

Now, your buddies get their rocks off on Top 40 radio
But you love your daddy's vinyl, old-time rock and roll
Elvis Costello, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and think Jeff Tweedy is one bad mother
Mr. Misunderstood, Mr. Misunderstood

One day you'll lead the charge, you'll lead the band
Guitar Hero with lightning hands
And the girls will like your tattoos and the veins in your arms
They'll be helpless to your musical charms
And they'll all hold up their hands
And they'll all wanna dance
With Mr. Misunderstood, Mr. Misunderstood

First time I met Alabama Hannah, I was skinny as a rail
Red hair tied up in a blue bandana; she was hotter than the devil's Hell
She turned me on to Back Porch Pickers, Jackson Pollock, and gin
Her daddy didn't trust my intentions, so he turned to his daddy's old .410
I'm Mr. Misunderstood, Mr. Misunderstood

Had an axe to grind, so off I went
Mad at the sun for coming up again
I lost religion, found my soul in the blues
Rubbed the velvet off my blue suede shoes
Yeah, everybody held up their hands
And every soul on Beale Street danced
With Mr. Misunderstood, Mr. Misunderstood

So I went with it like a colt on my Plymouth
Through the glass behind my rear-view
Took a left when the world went right down 16th Avenue
Played with fire and I played on ledges
Every circus, stage, and county fair
I tried to file my points, sand my edges, and I just grew out my hair
I'm Mr. Misunderstood, I'm Mr. Misunderstood

They're standing in line, chasing the buzz
Til the next big things and already was
And hell if they know what they're trying to find
If it ain't that same old, been-done kind
Yeah, gives the head-scratchers fits
Wondering how in the hell they missed
Mr. Misunderstood, Mr. Misunderstood

Hey there, weird kid in your high-top shoes
Sitting in the back of the class; I was just like you
Mr. Misunderstood (I understand)
Mr. Misunderstood (I understand)
Mr. Misunderstood (I understand)
Mr. Misunderstood (I understand)
Mr. Misunderstood (I understand)
I'm Mr. Misunderstood (let's go out of here)

Na na na na-na, na na na na-na
Na na na na-na na (I understand)
Na na na na-na, na na na na-na
Na na na na-na na (I understand)
Na na na na-na, na na na na-na
Na na na na-na na (I understand)
Na na na na-na, na na na na-na
Na na na na-na na (I understand...)
Na na na na-na, na na na na-na
Na na na na-na na
Na na na na-na, na na na na-na
Na na na na-na na

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Stuck In My Head 11.12.2015 - The Mob Rules

Oh, how this seems appropriate this week....and the great Ronnie James Dio at his finest.

The Mob Rules
by Black Sabbath (Heaven & Hell)

Close the city and tell the people that something's coming to call
Death and darkness are rushing forward to take a bite from the wall, oh

You've nothing to say
They're breaking away
If you listen to fools...
The Mob Rules
The Mob Rules

Kill the spirit and you'll be blinded, the end is always the same
Play with fire, you burn your fingers and lose your hold of the flame, oh

It's over, it's done
The end is begun
If you listen to fools...
The Mob Rules

You've nothing to say
Oh, They're breaking away
If you listen to fools...

Break the circle and stop the movement, the wheel is thrown to the ground
Just remember it might start rolling and take you right back around

You're all fools!
The Mob Rules!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How About a Life Update?

I've been busy.

There's tons of stuff going on in my little world. I'm still running in The Time of Your Life at The Artistic Home in Chicago for about 2 more weeks, until October 25th.

It's a lovely show, and well worth your time, even if I have a very small roll. As McCarthy the Longshoreman, I have a nice spotlight scene. It's the kind of role I call a "paratrooper job," I fly in, make my presence felt, and then fade to the woodwork. It's been a really great chance to work with Kathy Scambiaterra, who directed me in The Copperhead, which still stands as one of my proudest moments, again.

After that, like, IMMEDIATELY after that, I'm on call as an understudy with A Red Orchid Theatre in the world premiere of Brett Neveu's Pilgrim's Progress. I'm understudying Michael Shannon in one of the lead roles, under the direction of Shade Murray, whom I have worked with on The Petrified Forest at Strawdog Theatre and The Shadow Over Innsmouth with WildClaw Theatre. It's really inspiring and an honor to be in the room with all of these folks. I can't thank Shade enough for bringing me on board, and I must also thank Christa Rolf van Baale, who I go all the way back to Nebraska Theatre Caravan's A Christmas Carol tour with, for championing me, as well.

Both of these shows started rehearsal on virtually the same day, while I was still performing in Good People at RedTwist Theatre. I feel like I've been running for months, and I can't wait for a bit of a slow down. At the very least, I am looking forward to SHAVING THIS DAMN MUSTACHE OFF MY FACE on October 25th. I am aiming my life for December 13th, right now. The day on which all of my current commitments end.

I had a couple of callbacks recently that would've kept me working through the winter, but none panned out. Frankly, I've found myself unconcerned. Some time off will be good, and, as of right now, it looks like I'll be returning to RedTwist next summer. So, at least something is in the pipeline.

I'm also fairly excited that this time off will allow me to focus on music some more. I have four songs in various stages right now, "Light & Shade," "Tallahassee Bridge," "Carnal & Divine" (which was formerly "Riff") and an untitled fourth track.

"Carnal & Divine" has been receiving the most work and attention, lately. I had penned some lyrics, and finished up the music, when I realized a couple of things. One, the lyrics were terrible, my singing more so, and two, the music was pretty much in a rut. It sounded a lot like several previous tracks. I feel like I've successfully pushed myself toward some new directions. Away from using the same chord progressions over and over, and away from riffs that were feeling repetitive

So, what to do?

The answer was to scrap it all, and tear the track down to just the drums and the bassline. Right to the essential core, and start building back up as an instrumental track. The result has been very freeing. No, I'm not a shredder, I'm not going to whip out a complicated string of guitar heroics like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai or Eric Johnson, but the idea of approaching melody through the instrument, rather than my voice, was freeing.

When I combined this with the new focus on the drums and bass as a unit, with the guitar over it, I end up finding new lines to play. Where as before I was focused on a riff, to drive the song forward, while the vocals claimed the melody, now I find myself noodling, and going into new areas.

It's not going to be a mind-blowing instrumental, but I'm quite happy with how it's developing. It's not done, but getting there. I suspect that most of the new record will have vocals. "C&D" will likely be the only instrumental, but it's helping me see new avenues to explore. When you work alone, it becomes way, way to easy to find things that work, and then just keep doing it, over and over. It's a trap that can also happen if you're in AC/DC.

I also stumbled onto a photo that will likely be the cover of Volume 3, which I'm toying will calling Light & Shade. I snapped in in the waning days of summer, right in front of my office building as I left for the day. I was looking to the west, across the Y in the Chicago river. There was a foggy mist over the city, and the rays of the setting sun were catching in it.

There will be some cropping, of course. Maybe even some tinting and futzing with the color, as I did with the Uptown cover. Still, I like the picture a great deal, and find it inspiring.

....And I am in need of inspiration, not necessarily in the creative parts of my life, but the "life" parts of my life.

Along those lines, what's also lovely about some time off is that maybe I can re-connect with the good people in my life, the friends who's relationships have become far, far too distant. I am one of those people who cultivates a wide range of friends, but usually keeps a few people very close. The sad part is that those people feel further away recently. Either just by the fact that life is so damn busy, or the reality of geography.

There are events in the wings...I mean The Force Awakens will open 5 days after Pilgrim's Progress closes, and I am sure I will join a group of friends for an excursion. Cbyrd and I have long wanted to do a "trilogy day" of The Godfather, and it's sequels, with a big spaghetti dinner, and with my January free of real commitments, I think it's time to front-burner those plans. Not to mention a weekend in New Orleans in the depths of winter....

I need to re-charge.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Stuck In My Head 9/25/2015 - My Hero

My Hero
by Foo Fighters

Too alarming now to talk about
Take your pictures down and shake it out
Truth or consequence, say it aloud
Use that evidence, race it around

There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary

Don't the best of them bleed it out
While the rest of them peter out
Truth or consequence, say it aloud
Use that evidence, race it around

There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary

Kudos, my hero
Leaving all the best
You know my hero
The one that's on

There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary
There goes my hero
Watch him as he goes
There goes my hero
He's ordinary

Thursday, September 17, 2015

I Believe

I consider myself a Progressive. I have long felt myself in a place with one foot in the realm of the Liberal, and one in the Conservative, but I also know change is a good an healthy thing. I personally believe that there are others like me out there. I hope there are, because the events of the last few days have left me feeling very depressed about the future of our nation.

I believe in total equality for all, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the pursuit of happiness for every, single citizen of this country. I believe that we must reach out and provide help to those who need it to reach those goals. I believe everyone deserves quality healthcare. I believe in an intelligently regulated market, and I believe that achievement, however you want to measure that, is not something that should be demonized or scorned.

I believe that blanket Federal laws covering things like guns and minimum wadge are foolish, because the people pushing for them can't seem to rationalize that there are huge swaths of this country that simply don't operate in the way their own lives operate. A $15 minimum wadge in New York City is probably rational. A $15 minimum wadge in Broken Bow, NE is probably overkill, and would likely harm small business. That the vast majority of gun owners are skilled and have safety as a primary concern. These things should be decided on a state level, because local lawmakers SHOULD have a much better sense of what is needed in their regions.

Conversely, "States Rights" are not a license to perpetuate hatred and bigotry. That achieving a level of financial success should not be a license to bully those who have not. That a woman's body is her own. That your religion is yours, not mine, not your neighbors'. You are welcome to use your religion to inform your voting choices, but the law is the law. Your religious convictions are not a valid reason to break the law.

I believe that businesses will pay their workers as little as they have to. I believe that unions are vastly important to protecting the interests of the worker in the face of big business thinking. I also believe, in a number of cases, unions have become big business. That they have been complicit in financial disaster by strong-arm tactics to force benefits that could not be sustained.

I believe that solutions to this country's problems can come from anywhere, and will never be found if we continue to invalidate, ignore, or attempt to silence, voices that are not in line with our own. I believe that, while there are many downtrodden and marginalized people in our country in need of our help, there are very few true victims. There is very little to actually fear. That the perpetualization of the victim and fear mentality is engineered by those who profit by keeping us apart. Those who profit from discord and strife.

I believe that "internet activism" has virtually nothing to do with changing anything, and everything to do with enjoying our own voices. It's sole purpose is to create an echo chamber of unchallenged, often incorrect or outright fabricated, opinion back at a mob that already agrees with it. Solidifying groupthink and hardening hearts and minds to any possible solutions that may not fit the pre-conceived narrative they have been indoctrinated into.

When I hear a phrase like "the devil never needs an advocate," I know that the person speaking is deathly afraid of being wrong. Of being confronted with a question that their narrative cannot answer. I believe we should all welcome the moments when we can say "I don't know."

I believe we are all the same. I believe a joke is a joke, and art is art, and that both of those things are intensely personal. That artists must speak truths, and teachers must teach truths, no matter how uncomfortable.That you have every right to not patronize that which you are offended or injured by, but you have no right, at all, to silence anyone's voice, or to impede others from enjoying, or learning from, said voice if they wish to.

It's become depressingly clear to me that there are very few "Progressives" of my stripe, willing to speak out, left in this country. But, my oh my, are there so many Fundamentalists of both a liberal and conservative bent, who will bend your ear for hours. Who's goal is not to improve our society, except in the most narrow, self-centered, of visions, but to win the game.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Stuck in My Head 9.16.2015 - Two-Headed Dog

Epic. Truly.

Two-Headed Dog
by Roky Erickson
Two-headed dog, two headed dog
I've been working in the Kremlin
With a two-headed dog

Two-headed dog, two headed dog
I've been working in the Kremlin
With a two-headed dog

Peace brought back, bought back
Relaxed be nyet brought back
Did you dry her out
Wind her out like jerky?
To me she's healed, don't attack

Two-headed dog, two headed dog
I've been working in the Kremlin
With a two-headed dog

Two-headed dog, two headed dog
I've been working in the Kremlin
With a two-headed dog

Children nailed to the cross
Pain does not look our hell
Certainly is not a spell
Sweet waste from a well

Two-headed dog, two headed dog
I've been working in the Kremlin
With a two-headed dog

Two-headed dog, two headed dog
I've been working in the Kremlin
With a two-headed dog

Winds quiet in the night
Her body just blows messiah
Sickening sweet sight left and right
Is all right does not please my appetite

Two-headed dog, two headed dog
I've been working in the Kremlin
With a two-headed dog

Two-headed dog, two headed dog
I've been working in the Kremlin
With a two-headed dog

Two-headed dog, two headed dog
I've been working in the Kremlin
With a two-headed dog

Two-headed dog, two headed dog
I've been working in the Kremlin
With a two-headed dog

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

More Hayoth and Other Musical Digressions

Light & Shade is done, and damn if I'm not pretty happy with it. I'm even - shocker - kind of OK with how I sing on it. I know, and have always known, that I wasn't going to be Plant, but the process of figuring out how to be the best vocalist I can be continues. I don't have the greatest range, but I am figuring out how to use what I have.

Which isn't to say that I still don't harbor the fantasy that a REALLY good vocalist, who also somehow magically happens to be a person I can get along with, might drop into my world, and I can re-record a whole pile of this Hayoth stuff. I kind of long to hear how, say, Getting Dollars Back or Warp might sound with a really confident vocal attack. Even on the tracks where I am...relatively...happy with the vocals, I am not confident about what I'm doing, and that's a big difference.

I also managed to write an entire song on Sunday. I'm calling it Tallahassee Bridge, at this point, but that may change out of deference to Bobbie Gentry and Billy Joe. It's a acoustic-based story song, and, like most of the stuff I write quickly (Uptown, after a lot of consternation, came really quickly), I think it's pretty strong. I'm hoping to get a good start on recording this week. I have a base acoustic guitar rhythm done, and was working on percussion last night.

Riff, or whatever the hell it becomes, is ready musically, but I need to figure out lyrics.

Now, outside of what I've been working on, what have I been listening to?

Beck, Bogert, Appice by Beck, Bogert, Appice

An oldie, but a goodie that I finally downloaded recently. The 1984 collaboration of Jeff Beck (guitar), Tim Bogert (bass & vocals) and Carmine Appice (percussion) is a solid slab of blues rock. I'm particularly taken with their run at Stevie Wonder's Superstition. Yeah, Bogert's vocals aren't the greatest, but when the musicianship is this good, it's a minor annoyance, at most.

High Country by The Sword

I had hoped for a little more from this. It's a truly good record, in terms of technical recording, it may be their best, and it's really great to have a modern "metal" band that seems intent on evolution. This promised another return to a more "classic hard rock" sound, which, I feel, dominated their best album, so far, 2010's Warp Riders. The disk is certainly a turn in that direction, but more in the frame of psychadelic rock (it's so, so drug influenced) than Thin Lizzy-esque hard rock. It's not a bad thing, and I have been listening to this record a lot. It's full of terrific riffing and jams. I just had pretty high hopes.

Sol Invictus by Faith No More

Just isn't grabbing me. Superhero is a great track, but I seem to consistently peter out shortly after. I know they're an important band, I know they're great musicians, I know this is a really good album, but I haven't been struck with it yet. I'm sure it will hit me, at some point.

Meliora by Ghost B.C.

I am not the biggest fan of this band, the theatricality sometimes gets in the way of the music for me. I often can't tell if the whole thing is a joke, or not. I'm also fully aware that it may be a joke, and not a joke, all at the same time, but I get tired of trying to parse it out. All that said, I am consistently struck by at least a couple of songs on each one of their albums. In this case, From the Pinnacle to the Pit and Majesty are both just terrific tracks. They've anchored an album I've been listening to far more than any of their others.

The Book of Souls by Iron Maiden

Look, it's a new Maiden album, you pretty much know what you're gonna get. Thing is, I like what I'm going to get a whole lot. It's another really good record, but, despite anything Nicko McBrain says, it's not as good as their classic records, and I don't even think, as a whole, it's as good as The Final Frontier from five years ago. That said, The Red and the Black is an instant classic song for me, as good as anything they've put out since their 80's heyday. The record also starts out VERY strong with If Eternity Should Fail. I am a little tired about the constant comments about Empire of the Clouds being eighteen minutes long. So, it's long, big deal, there are better songs on the album, and other bands have crafted songs of this length that are better.

The Story of Sonny Boy Slim by Gary Clark Jr.

There were so many Stevie Ray Vauhan clones that erupted out of Austin after the great man was killed. So many blues guitarists who were supposed to be the "next big thing," so when I heard about Clark, I was dubious, and, while I marked him as someone to check out, I wasn't rushing to do it. After seeing him play in a film called Chef, and in Dave Grohl's Sonic Highways TV series, I got excited enough to pick up his first full-length Blak & Blu. I'm a big fan of how Clark melds traditional electric blues with hip-hop influences, and this album provides more of the same. The guy can play the guitar, but I don't feel like it's as in your face as with other artists he's been compared to. The guitar doesn't feel like the centerpiece of the song...the SONG feels like the centerpiece of the song. It's really refreshing and exciting. Sonny Boy Slim provides more of the same, and frankly, I also think his songwriting has improved. This is "total package" material, and I love it.

I've also been listening to a lot of the prog supergroup, Flying Colors. They have a new live disk due in a couple of months, and it inspired me to revisit their two albums, Flying Colors and Second Nature. Truly top-notch melodic, technical rock and roll. I also enjoy their 2014 Live in Europe set.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Hayoth Vol III - A Brief Update

Vol III progress....the first track, a blues-based song I'm calling Light & Shade (Apologies to Jimmy Page) is pretty much done. The music is finished, and I have a sense of the vocals and melody line. I took a pass at it, but I think I can do better.

The second track, a more metallic song I'm referring to as Riff, (so, so inventive, right?) is done music-wise, but I have no idea on lyrical content. I've put it on the back-burner until I can get "L&S" in shape.

A riff that will likely form the backbone of track 3 has appeared, as well. Extremely early days on that one, at this point.
 My mindset, right now, is to try to take my time with Volume III, whatever it may ultimately be called. I'm feeling a rut, in terms of how I approach chord progressions and rhythm. I mean, I am not a drummer, really, and while I really love the way "live" drumming has opened up new options for my creativity, I also can feel my limitations. I can really feel them.

One thing that I'm really excited about when it comes to Light & Shade is that I specifically approached the drum and bass as a rhythm section. The bass isn't playing what the guitar is playing, and I'm not aiming for a lock-step wall of sound. I endeavored to have the bass just play a hook with the drums, and the guitar lays in over that. I know this is basic stuff, but everything I do is expanding out from being a guitarist, and I grow from that place.

On that note, the new guitar is...SWEEEEET. I love it, and after all the stomach-churning about if I should get it, I couldn't be happier. By backing off my "I only want Gibsons" mindset, I now have a ESP/LTD that has features of a much more expensive Gibson for about half the price. On top of that, it stays in tune a hell of a lot better than my Les Paul. The DeMarzio pickups are smooth and powerful, and the tone is just much more appealing to my ear than the Burstbucker updates on my Les Paul. Yeah, I should've waited until I had my Spider IV amp paid off, but....it's an inspiring instrument. Although, going from the 2-Tone, 2-Volume knob setup on the Les to the 1-Tone/2-Volume of the LTD has been a challenge.

So, new guitar, more time on songwriting and specifically trying to change up some of my usual choices in riff creation. More time with lyrics and vocal work. In all, not pushing myself to just get stuff done to have it done, but to try to craft things.

And, as always, the first two disks are available for free download at soundcloud:

Monday, August 31, 2015

Well, Dumping All Those Novels Sure Simplified Things

I confess, I have never been a big defender of the Star Wars "Expanded Universe." A fan? Yeah, I guess.

I mean, there's good stuff in there, but about halfway through "The New Jedi Order" (which I read every word of), I realized how much of what I was reading was filler, or uninspired. I mean that's nothing new, there have been Star Trek novels for years and years, but those were, specifically and without fail, regarded as "not canon." I pretty much just care if the story I'm reading is good or not, anyway, so I'm not overly concerned if Spock's son in Yesterday's Son is "real" or not. It's a good novel, and that's enough.

But, once George Lucas made it clear that there would be no movies past Episode VI (Return of the Jedi for those keeping score), suddenly these novels took on vast importance as the authorized continuation of the Skywalker story. In addition, they started to get swamped under in their own navel-gazing interconnectedness. I mean, Timothy Zahn's "Thrawn Trilogy" was a pretty decent diversion as a way to see what happened after. It's certainly not bad, but it's also vastly overrated among the fan community.

Bottom line, I am overjoyed that Disney and the Lucasfilm brain trust have made it very clear that The Force Awakens, and all Star Wars movies/TV/whatever going forward will be free of having to honor the EU material. Of course that doesn't stop our lovely fanbase from grousing ("Thrawn better be in there!!"), or claiming it's all a scam (Kylo Ren is a code name for Jaicen Solo!!!), because they can't let go of what they've read.

Anyway, here's the infographic Geekologie put together to track what "counts," and what doesn't going forward. I do have a gut feeling it's not entirely accurate, the placement they have of the Han Solo Anthology film would make the character about 25, and they're saying he'll be late teens. Also, the Battlefront game seems to be set in a pretty wide range of eras, so putting it in one spot seems a bit off.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Stuck In My Head - 8.19.2015 - Don't Care

Don't Care
by King's X

Lies, games, webs of pain
Giving, taking, oh abuse
Contention, extension, I will not be shamed
Crossing the bridge, I'm on the way

I just don't care like I used to
I don't care about you
I just don't care like I used to
I just care about

Blind, find peace of mind
It's never what it really is
Intention, rejection, little left away
Crossing the bridge, I'm on the way

I just don't care like I used to
I don't care about you
I just don't care like I used to
I just care about you

Such a tossing, to and fro, it's become clear to me
I just want to see the real from the fantasy

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Pendulum of My Mood

I've been feeling manic/depressive.

At a time when a LOT of good things are happening for me, I can't quite stop worrying. I worry about my current gig, I worry about the gig that starts Sunday, I worry about another, pending gig, that is a big deal, and may, or may not happen. A lot of it is out of my hands, which is the worst part. I cannot abide feeling at the mercy of fate.

I do hit highs, I took yesterday off, to try to recharge a bit, and it helped...to a point. I'm happy to say drums and bass are laid down for the first track of Hayoth, Volume 3, tentatively titled Hello Blisters. I also managed to play Arkham Knight to 92% finished...I love that game, BTW.

But I didn't leave the house for a full 24 hours, and I did work out, but it was lackadaisical and perfunctory. I just feel kinda gross, fat and spent.

Of course, then I do the show, or start looking at my stuff for the next show, and I get excited. Or I pick up the guitar, and it's invigorating.

But everything else feels like such a slog, right now. so much feels like it's just happening to me, rather than feeling some control over my life. I am in the rapids, and I'm hanging on, but...how long can it last? I want some solid footing.

I need to do better for myself, I need to make myself better. I need to find the confidence and the best parts of me, to be the best person I can. Which I don't always succeed at.

I wish I could just Crtl+Alt+Del and reboot.

Worth Remembering

 "Life works in such contradictions, you know? Don’t get me wrong, I really want everything I do to be appreciated, to find an audience, I want people to think I’m good at what I do, I want to feel good at what I do. We all have a self-worth in our lives that unfortunately and by virtue of being part of human existence we look outside ourselves and see how we’re doing with our peers. So, I’m there very much. But at the same time, I don’t relate to the importance of it all with the depth that I used to—when I used to say I didn’t care about it. When I used to go, “I don’t care about any of it.” I really cared then. I just didn’t know how to acknowledge it or express my caring. I didn’t understand it. Now, I still care, but I care less really. And it’s freed me up. That’s the irony, it’s freed me up." - Colin Farrell

I've always like Colin Farrell. Yeah, he had a string of bad choices, a lot of actors do, and some problems with addiction, which I certainly know about.

But, man...In Bruges alone is a huge thing. And I encourage you to watch Phone Booth if you haven't. That movie destroyed me when I first saw it. It has so much to say about our insular society, and who we are as people, right now, all within the framework of a pretty entertaining thriller.

Stuck In My Head 7.29.2015 - WITCH HUNT

Welcome to the United States, circa 2015.

Witch Hunt (Part III of the Fear Song Series)
by Rush

The night is black
Without a moon
The air is thick and still
The vigilantes gather on
The lonely torch lit hill

Features distorted in the flickering light
The faces are twisted and grotesque
Silent and stern in the sweltering night
The mob moves like demons possessed
Quiet in conscience, calm in their right
Confident their ways are best

The righteous rise
With burning eyes
Of hatred and ill-will
Madmen fed on fear and lies
To beat and burn and kill

They say there are strangers who threaten us
In our immigrants and infidels
They say there is strangeness too dangerous
In our theaters and bookstore shelves
That those who know what's best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves

Quick to judge
Quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand...

Monday, July 20, 2015

Marvel Films to Date, Revisited

Revising my list of  Marvel films I made in October of last year. In order from worst to best, based on having seen the class of 2015.

12 - Thor: The Dark World 
11- Iron Man 3 
10- Avengers: Age of Ultron
9 - Thor 
8 - Iron Man 2 
7- The Incredible Hulk
6- Guardians of the Galaxy 
5- Ant-Man
4 - The Avengers
3 - Captain America: The First Avenger 
2 - Iron Man 
1 - Captain America: The Winter Soldier

As we move on to Phase 3, or whatever....I have to admit, I am having a hard time getting excited for either Civil War, which looks like Age of Ultron - More of the Same on paper, and Doctor Strange, because I am simply Cumberbatched out.

ANT-MAN (2015)

Still my favorite poster of the year
Thank God for Ant-Man.

Let me say that again....

THANK GOD for Ant-Man.

Just when Marvel's The Avengers: Age of Ultron made me despair for both the Marvel Cinematic Universe AND Joss Whedon, somehow the Kevin Feige-led company has managed to snatch a victory out of the jaws of impending backlash. Ant-Man had long been developed by Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), who unceremoniously left the project weeks before filming, after having cast the film, presumably due to Marvel's corporate-synergy mindset and insistence that every Marvel film should be able to be readily bolted into the unfolding continuity of the series.

So, Wright and his partner Joe Cornish pulled the ejector seat, and now-committed leading man Paul Rudd and Adam McKay (Anchorman) jumped in to try to re-format the story into something that would appease Fiege's need to insert Ant-Man (along with virtually every other character who's ever appeared anywhere in the MCU) into Captain America: Civil War. Meanwhile, Peyton Reed (a personal favorite for no reason other than Down With Love) stepped into the director's chair and proceeded to wrestle the visual challenges into line.

When a filmmaker with such a committed following as Wright leaves a project that he's been shepherding for so long (this project has been in development since BEFORE Iron Man) so dramatically, there is always calls of doom. I've been hearing that Ant-Man would be Marvel's first disaster for over a year.

Well, it's not.

In fact, it's probably the best template on how to proceed with the MCU from this point on. The connections to the rest of the franchise are obvious and clear, but never bog down the story, or get so lost in setting up crap for 2-3 movies down the line as to become annoying. This is streamlined, concise storytelling within a shared universe, and it works. The only point it doesn't is an ill-considered, rather perfunctory trip to Avengers HQ and a fight with The Falcon (Anthonny Mackie). A sequence glaringly not written by Wright, Cornish, Rudd or McKay, but by Civil War scribes Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and directed not by Reed, but by the Civil War directing team of Joe and Anthony Russo.

Now, I actually like that creative team, but the sheer mercenary nature of that choice is kind of gross. It's not that the visuals don't line up, Marvel has perfected "bland" for the visual palate of their shared stories, but just that it's so vastly removed from the story being told, and the connective tissue so weak, you just know you're watching a trailer for the NEXT film, rather than a organic part of this story. The one you're invested in RIGHT NOW.

That's a goddamn shame, because this film is worth focusing on. Paul Rudd has provided Marvel with a charming leading man to match Robert Downey Jr, and without all the smugness and smarm. I confess, I have had more than enough of RDJ's Stark at this point. Rudd gives the audience a ultra-appealing lead, and while he doesn't reach the perfection of Chris Evans' Steve Rogers/Captain America, he's the kind of lead an audience can build a long-term connection with.

The film is simply a lot of fun to watch, funny, clever and exciting. Michael Douglas hits the perfect flinty tone for Hank Pym, Scott's mentor and the original Ant-Man. Evangeline Lilly finally makes an impression with me as Pym's daughter, Hope Van Dyne, and Cory Stoll provides a fun, if undercooked villain (which is the case more often than not with Marvel films).

The macro-photography that allows us to see the world from Ant-Man's perspective is never less than visually arresting, and the effects pretty seamless. It's really odd to even talk about because what it does is allows the film to function as a story. I never doubted what I was seeing, and so I could focus on Scott's story.

The story is straightforward and pretty basic. A heist film, and a fairly decent one. All with the underpinning of two fathers trying to re-connect with their daughters, and it makes the story matter. I don't want to harp on it, but, at no point during Age of Ultron, save the side trip to the Barton farm, where the film suddenly came alive for a few minutes before rushing headlong back into dullness, did I really feel like what I was watching matters. It was a cog in a machine. A part of a multi-billion dollar investment that needs to be fed.

By keeping small (no pun intended), Ant-Man made me care. I cared what was happening, and how it would affect the characters I had grown to care about. There was no need to have endless scenes of Avengers putting people on buses out of the combat zone to create a false sense of danger, because the people in danger were right in front of me. The story was immediate, fun, exciting, and worth your money.

Even in 3-D.

Post-Credits: There are two post-credits scenes, and, like the film, the successful one is tied to the story just told rather than the one coming next year.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

GOOD PEOPLE and Musical Inspiration

I've played around with music to help me "find" characters in the past, most notably my "Frankenstein Playlist." That exercise was pretty extreme, but it was helpful. I don't usually go that far, but I very often will find myself listening to music, being struck by a lyric, or an emotional response to a tune, that informs the project I'm working on.

My current project is at Redtwist Theatre, GOOD PEOPLE by David Lindsay-Abaire and directed by Matt Hawkins. We're down to the wire on this one, a few days before tech, and in the middle of those moments when every mistake, no matter how trivial, feels apocalyptic, and the connection to the characters feels more and more like trying to grab and hold running water. Which is pretty much the way everybody feels about every show they work on when you're getting this close to the point of no return.

It's hard to maintain your confidence, essentially, when the rubber hits the road, as they say, but the team is strong and committed. The Redtwist ensemble members, Jacqueline Grandt, KC Karen Hill, Aaron Kirby and Kathleen Ruhl, and the other guest artist in the cast, Kiki Layne, are doing excellent work, well worth of Mr. Lindsay-Abaire's tremendous script. Matt Hawkins is a open, collaborative director, always ready to react and adjust to discoveries on the fly. Assistant Director Scott Wolf, and our Stage Management team, Allison Queen and her assistant, Melissa Nelson, are organized and prepared.

The design team are about to swing into the hard part, as we head to tech weekend. I can't wait to see what Eric Luchen (Set Designer), Kathryn A. Lesko (Lighting Designer), Karli Blalock (Sound Designer), Allison M. Smith (Costume Designer) and Jan Ellen Graves (Prop Designer) have in store. What we've seen so far is terrific.

I'm proud of this show. I'm proud of being in it, and the work I'm doing. I can't wait for people to see it next week.

But, again...the triggers from certain songs. The way that you can hear a tune, maybe even one you know well, and it suddenly reflect something about your character, your show. I had a moment like that just yesterday. I've been listening to a lot of Rush lately, having just seen the R40 Tour last Friday night. I'll probably have another blog, at some point, about seeing one of my favorite bands for what is likely to be the last time, but...Neil Peart's lyrics once again reached out to me.

GOOD PEOPLE deals with class inequality, choice and opportunity. Part of the real fun of this show is how it grapples with many questions that I myself grapple with. I don't think that subsidies are going to be long-term solutions to the inequality in our country, and I do believe that people will have to identify their own opportunities, and act upon them to better themselves. Yet, it's very clear that opportunity is not a universal, and that acting upon those opportunities isn't as easy as it seems for a lot of people. The show asks these questions.

It's also VERY funny, and tells a cracking good story. It's not about preaching, it's about showing us people within these questions, and telling their stories. It's the best kind of storytelling, where the story is first, and it happens to illuminate these issues.

Anyway...long way around to this song:

Half The World

Half the world hates
What half the world does every day
Half the world waits
While half gets on with it anyway

Half the world lives
Half the world makes
Half the world gives
While the other half takes

Half the world is
Half the world was
Half the world thinks
While the other half does

Half the world talks
With half a mind on what they say
Half the world walks
With half a mind to run away

Half the world lies
Half the world learns
Half the world flies
As half the world turns

Half the world cries
Half the world laughs
Half the world tries
To be the other half

Half of us divided
Like a torn-up photograph
Half of us are trying
To reach the other half

Half the world cares
While half the world is wasting the day
Half the world shares
While half the world is stealing away