Thursday, January 29, 2015

I Have an Urge

To start writing again.

I am looking at a nice, long break from acting. I have nothing lined up as of this moment, and trips planned for April and May. My hope is that I can go back into rehearsals at the end of May, and have a show for the Summer.

( None-too-subtle subtext here...If you have an audition for a show in that general slot...shoot me a line.)

Part of that time off is going to be pointed to other creative work. Obviously, my Hayoth music project continues to develop, but I am also looking to get back into playwriting. It's been a long time since I've completed even a short play, and even longer since anything was even remotely developed or produced. Neon was a long time ago, and the western adaptation that I hammered out on spec seems like years ago.

I think it's time to start it up again.

I have an idea, a trilogy of subject-connected plays about the comic book industry. I have a pretty good idea of what each will be about, and have done some preliminary research. Research coupled with my own knowledge, of course...but the first play, in particular, there is a scene that I want to be accurate. The first is a larger story, but the second two will be more intimate and personal.

I think the form is so wonderful, and I want to channel my passion into something creative, and the series idea that I worked on with Zach Bosteel just kind of petered out after one zero issue. I have no animosity about that, Zach and I are still good friends. It's just a busy world, and why draw for free when there's paid work available.


This is really to just publicly about what I am aiming at. A lot of my friends know about this idea, and have reacted positively, but I needed somethign to hold myself accountable with.

This blog post is it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Yes, Hayoth is Still a Going Concern

The first Hayoth album, ...And Getting Dollars Back, was sprung on the world Christmas day, 2013. It's still available for FREE download via that link, and the good folks at Soundcloud.

Looking back at that project, it was what I needed to do. I'm still very proud of a lot of the songs, and that I did it all myself. Every sound in those recordings is me. I can also look back and see mistakes, technical problems, lack of skill (I am a utter novice as a drummer, it's obvious), and a lot of stuff I'd like to fix. I've never been a "natural" singer, and the results are pretty clear.

I regard Dollars as a mission statement, in a sense. It does lay out my "sound," for good or ill. It's a baseline from which to grow. I got the damn thing done. I walked away from the easy out of using a drum machine, and I kept at myself to figure out how to use my voice effectively. It was a project about figuring things out.

Right now I am working on the ninth track for the followup, Uptown. I know I have at least 3 more tracks to go before my release deadline, which is April 14th (the day I leave for the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim). I may even beat this date, as I'm working faster than ever. I don't know if that's confidence, or stupidity, but I seem to be able to, if I have the time to devote, produce a finished track in a week. Dollars is a 9-track album, and I knew I wanted to beat that.

The current tracks...and this will not be the final order....

Burn (This track has been remixed, and elements re-recorded since this sample)

Uptown (Moody's Blues)
Keeps Rollin'
Against the Wall

Uptown (Acoustic Blues)
Waitress (in progress)

I think I am singing better (not perfect, but it's rock and roll), and I have definitely learned how to record my voice better.  I am a bit more confident with the drums, if still in Meg White territory. I do harbor a fear that the songwriting is not quite as strong as last time, but I think I'm doing respectable work. I've even toyed with the idea of NOT giving this one away.

We'll see how I feel when it's all done.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Stuck In My Head - 1.21.2015: Leave It Alone

Leave It Alone
by Living Colour

We must never take these words too seriously
Words are very important but then if we take them too seriously
We destroy every thing

I'm not one of those joiners
I'm not down with the club
There's no place I'm going to
You see, it's the hole I dug

I just leave it alone
I just leave it alone
Just leave it alone

I'm not down with this one
Their motives are much too severe
And that one they're much too serious
I don't plan to make this a career

I just leave it alone
I just leave it alone
Just leave it alone

We're always talking about peace
But it's pieces that we find
What's with all this tension?
What is on your mind?

Why are we always talking about peace?
But it's pieces that we find
Tell me what's with all this tension
Tell me what is on your mind

Yeah yeah

I wouldn't get into that one
Naw don't go for all their hype
And you know, I'll never be like that one
Come on, I'm just not the type

Well, I gotta leave it alone
Just gotta leave it alone
Gonna just leave it alone
Just gotta leave it alone, no, no, no

Leave it alone
Leave it alone
Leave it alone

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Top Ten Films of 2014

I've missed a few films I wanted to see, but I am very happy with this list. You can also find my list, as well as those of David J. Fowlie, Tim O'Brien and Matt Streets at Keeping it Reel.

Simply the best piece of Hollywood franchise filmmaking I saw this year.  One could speak about the amazing technology on display, but I feel the real story lies in how well that technology was used to execute an emotional, strikingly paced story. The genius of how both this film, and the previous entry, work is that they provide a fully-rounded, compelling, fulfilling story that ends at the exact point where the audience does not feel cheated by the story in front of them, and is still dying to know what happens next.

9 – WILD
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the film adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoirs, but what I didn’t expect was to find tears running down my face when I reached the end.  The film itself benefits from the simplicity of its execution, from Reese Witherspoon’s performance to Nick Hornby’s straightforward script.  The story proceeds and the dawning self-forgiveness sneaks up on the character as much as it does on the audience.

What should’ve been a disjointed exercise in art-house navel-gazing with a clever gimmick surprises with the crystal-clear unity of vision that somehow survived shooting a film in short chunks over twelve years. The story isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but the somewhat overwhelming sense that you are literally watching a young man grow up in front of your eyes gives the entire enterprise true depth. Richard Linklater deserves every accolade for keeping the project alive and on-track.  Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke must also be noted for giving freely of themselves to aid such young, and amateur, actors in revealing the little truths that make up the fabric of life.

A striking and powerful telling of a specific moment of Martin Luther King Jr’s life.  David Oyelowo finds just the right tone to make MLK a man, and not an unreachable symbol.  Yet, he also nails the big moments. The speeches we have all heard, the cadence, the, frankly, symbolism.  Which leads to the other element that Ava DuVernay’s  film openly grapples with, King was a political animal.  We see that the marches, the expectation that violence would be endured, was orchestrated and managed just as much as Lyndon Johnson handled legislation from the Oval Office.  It’s an amazing, visceral choice.

 6 – LOCKE
Of any film on this, possibly the one, for me, that struck me the closest to the bone.  There is a certain belief that is hewn into the notion of “manhood,” that, somehow, there is a formula, the right words to say, an amount of planning that can be executed, that will allow one to “fix” any problem.  For myself, it has driven a hero complex that has been as destructive as anything in my life.  As we watch Tom Hardy’s Ivan Locke take his harrowing hour-and-a-half drive, shot in real-time, we see a man who has every relationship that has given his life meaning stripped away, and yet there is hope. There is hope.

A film that cannot be separated from the epic, terrifying performance of J. K. Simmons, who provides a screen villain that is among the greatest of all time.  This film immediately made my top 10 when I began engaging in conversations about our own teachers, and what being a teacher means.  Simmons’ Mr. Fletcher may be a terrible teacher, and a horrifying person, but when the image fades out on the last shot, it’s hard to deny that he has inspired greatness from his student.

OK, yeah, sure…It’s Christopher Nolan trying to make his “2001”. However, even with that knowledge, the film is a truly thrilling, beautiful piece of work. It’s a melodrama, with meticulous consideration of actual (if not 100% accurate) physics.  Nolan’s always-excellent sense of reality gives us a world that supports several truly excellent performances (Matthew McConaughey watching 20 years of missed messages from Earth is, for me, THE acting moment of the year), as well as offering questions about not only our stewardship of this world, but strong arguments for why we should always be looking beyond it.

I had a revelation about this film this very evening.  For all the spectacular camerawork and performance that swirls throughout this film, the core, the very beating heart of it is about having the strength to tell your own, personal story.  Your story is yours, and it is not beholden to anyone else, not critics, not even an audience.  The story of Michael Keaton’s Riggan struggle against producers, agents, critics, other actors, his fans’ expectations, and even himself, to tell a story that is very nearly meaningless to anyone but him.  We see, explicitly, how easy it would be for him to give in to the easy, lucrative path, and how hard it is to make your own road to travel.

Just see it, OK?  It’s important.  Remember a great man who lived well, rose above the challenges the life handed him, and just loved film.  Steve James has crafted a love letter to a man who’s words, upon loss of his voce, truly became transcendent.  Roger Ebert would’ve been a man I looked up to if he’d only written about film.  He went beyond that, and the idea that life would see such a heartfelt and moving monument on film is so utterly poetic that my heart may burst.

Christianity, and specifically Catholic Christianity, has endured much in recent years.  As with most things, we are inundated with the ugliest of stories, and we often do not acknowledge the people who toil within that institution for all the best and right reasons.  Who do, in every day of their life, find the strength and faith to embody the teachings of Christ.  Brendan Gleeson’s Father James is yet another towering performance and collaboration with writer/director John Michael McDonagh.  The film is dark (it is an Irish story), and does not shy from the failings of the Catholic Church, but also finds the moments to fully and wildly embrace the humor that pervades life.  It is the most stunning experience I’ve had in a theatre this year.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Stuck in My Head 1.16.2015 - The Line

The Line
by Bruce Springsteen
I got my discharge from Fort Irwin
took a place on the San Diego county line
felt funny bein' a civilian again
it'd been some time
my wife had died a year ago
I was still tryin' to find my way back whole
went to work for the INS on the line
With the California Border Patrol

Bobby Ramirez was a ten-year veteran
We became friends
his family was from Guanajuato
so the job it was different for him
He said' "They risk death in the deserts and mountains"
pay all they got to the smugglers rings,
we send 'em home and they come right back again
Carl, hunger is a powerful thing."

Well I was good at doin' what I was told
kept my uniform pressed and clean
at night I chased their shadows
through the arroyos and ravines

drug runners, farmers with their families,
young women with little children by their sides
come night we'd wait out in the canyons
and try to keep 'em from crossin' the line

Well the first time that I saw her
she was in the holdin' pen
Our eyes met and she looked away
then she looked back again
her hair was black as coal
her eyes reminded me of what I'd lost
she had a young child cryin' in her arms
and I asked, "Senora, is there anything I can do"

There's a bar in Tijuana
where me and Bobby drink alongside
the same people we'd sent back the day before
we met there she said her name was Louisa
she was from sonora and had just come north
we danced and I held her in my arms
and I knew what I would do
she said she had some family in Madera county
if she, her child and her younger brother could just get through

At night they come across the levy
in the searchlights dusty glow
we'd rush 'em in our Broncos
and force 'em back down into the river below
she climbed into my truck
she leaned towards me and we kissed
as we drove her brothers shirt slipped open
and I saw the tape across his chest

We were just about on the highway
when Bobby's jeep come up in the dust on my right
I pulled over and let my engine run
and stepped out into his lights
I felt myself movin'
felt my gun restin' 'neath my hand
we stood there starin' at each other
as off through the arroyo she ran

Bobby Ramirez he never said nothin'
6 months later I left the line
I drifted to the central valley
and took what work I could find
at night I searched the local bars
and the migrant towns
Lookin' for my Louisa
with the black hair fallin' down

Star Wars is Back at Marvel

Star Wars was, obviously to anyone who's read this blog, extremely important to my childhood. Seeing the film when I was five, in a tiny, packed movie theatre (people sitting in the aisles, and on the floor in front of the screen) changed me. I wanted to do THAT. I didn't really grasp exactly what THAT was for a few more years, but a course was set.

Part of the genius of Geroge Lucas was how he left opportunities for his universe, his story, his characters to expand beyond the film itself. Many people bemoan the toys and merchandise now, but...they were tools to find more stories for Luke, Han and Leia....

My stories. New stories. The concept, the universe, felt so vast that almost anything was possible. New planets, new adventures on old planets...How many sandboxes in this country became Tatooine between 1977 and the mid-80's?

Part of what fed that was Marvel's comic books, which adapted the original film in the first 6 issues, and then immediately jumped into new stories and new adventures. The first story arc after the film was, flat out so cool. A loose re-telling of The Seven Samurai/The Magnificent Seven with Han Solo recruiting a rag-tag group of misfits and mercenaries to defend a backwater community from a gang on speeder bikes, essentially. I tell ya, I LOVED Jaxxon, a six-foot tall green rabbit who Solo recruited, created by writer Roy Thomas and artist Howard Chaykin, big legends of the industry. I often think that Jaxxon paved my path to being relatively unperturbed by Jar-Jar Binks.

George Lucas, however, apparently HATED the big rabbit. Thomas has inferred that the rejection of this character, and the demands of Lucas licensing, led to he and Chaykin walking away from the series. This led to Archie Goodwin and the truly great Carmine Infantino coming on board. Honestly, my memories of Star Wars in comics are dominated by Infantino's art.

 As time went on, and Star Wars reached the dark days after the release of Return of the Jedi, interest in the book waned, and, eventually, marvel cancelled it with issue #107. Right after I had subscribed, no less, the first and only issue I got of my subscription was #107.

The property was fallow for a long time, but when Timothy Zahn released his "Thrawn Trilogy" of novels, beginning with Heir to the Empire in June 1994. The release of those books marked a resurgence of Star Wars fandom that we are, really, still in. A smaller publisher, Dark Horse Comics, snatched up the rights to do Star Wars comic books in 1996, and continued to publish until 2014, last year.

That's eighteen years of comics. Mini-series, ongoing series, specials, etc, that touched on every era of the imagined history, and created a few of their own. The books embraced drama, horror, comedy, and really showed the sort of expansive creative canvas the Star Wars galaxy is. In my mind, even if I was a much more consistent reader of the Marvel comics of the 70's and 80's, Dark Horse is THE publisher that should be associated with Star Wars (even if I, myself, am uninterested in endless Boba Fett mini-series).

Well, of course, we all know that Disney bought Lucasfilm, Star Wars with it, and already owns Marvel Comics. Corporate synergy being what it is, Star Wars is now being published my Marvel again.

I read the first issue, written by Jason Aaron (he of the AMAZING Southern Bastards), with art by John Cassaday. It's good. No big complaints, but somethign does feel fairly....mechanical about the issue. It's wrapped up in a lot of bells and whistles, and a $4.99 price tag, that wants to scream "EPIC!!!," but the story feels a little forced. It's kind of hard for me to imagine that Luke, Han AND Leia, all high-profile Rebel Alliance members and associates, would all be assigned to the same espionage mission. They make a viable case as to why Han would be useful, but then undercut it by pointing out the price on his head, and who put it there.

But, y''s Star Wars. Sometimes shit happens just so the plot can move along. I can roll with that. The characters feel pretty true-to-form, and the action is appropriate.

However...and this is just me, your mileage may vary....

I liked the Star Wars ongoing series that Dark Horse began in 2013, at which point I think they knew they were losing the license, and took the opportunity to do a classic, Luke/Han/Leia series. It lasted 20 issues, was quite rewarding, and I think Carlos D'Anda's artwork is much more dynamic and appropriate to the concept (Cassaday is a bit too studied and stiff for my tastes...but it is pretty), and Brian Wood had a real solid handle on the characters. I was invested in what that team was doing, and it was sad, if fully expected to see it end.

That series was the first Star Wars I'd had on my pull list in years. Marvel's new series is, as well, and I am willing to give it a good six issues to well and truly grab me. It's a good, solid start.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Stuck in My Head 1.12.2015 - Smackwater Jack

Smackwater Jack
by Carole King

Now Smackwater Jack, he bought a shotgun
'Cause he was in the mood for a little confrontation
He just let it all hang loose
He didn't think about the noose
He couldn't take no more abuse
So he shot down the congregation

You can't talk to a man
With a shotgun in his hand

Now Big Jim the chief stood for law and order
He called for the guard to come and surround the border
Now from his bulldog mouth
As he led the posse south
Came the cry, we got to ride
Clean up the streets for our wives and our daughters

You can't talk to a man
When he don't want to understand
No, no, no, no, no, no

The account of the capture wasn't in the papers
But you know, they hanged ole Smack right then instead of later
You know the people were quite pleased
'Cause the outlaw had been seized
And on the whole, it was a very good year
For the undertaker

You know, you know, you can't talk to a man
With a shotgun in his hand
Shotgun in his hand

Smackwater Jack, yeah
Smackwater Jack bought a shotgun
Yeah, Smackwater Jack bought a shotgun
Smackwater Jack, yeah
Smackwater Jack, yeah

Talkin' about Smackwater Jack, yeah
Talkin' about Smackwater Jack, oh
Talkin' about Jack and his shotgun,
Talkin' about Smack, talkin' about Jack
Smackwater Jack, yeah

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Personal Reccomendation

I've never been particularly loyal to guitar strings. I generally play 9-42 "extra light" gauge strings, but I'm occasionally intrigued with the idea of chunkier, heavier strings, and will go up to a 11-54 heavier gauge.I'm sure this does the intonation of my guitars no real good, but I just like to switch things up.

I go through phases, and I remember particularly the time leading up to my starting the first Hayoth batch of songs. I was playing acoustic a lot, and really starting to enjoy the heavier feel of acoustic strings. I felt like I got a "ring" out of them that felt more controllable than what I was getting from lighter electric strings.

Then I'd feel like I wanted something a little easier to bend, do pull-offs, vibrato, back to lighter strings.

Brand? Virtually irrelevant to me. I probably buy Ernie Ball more than any other, just because they're usually cheaper.

I recently bought some sets of D'Addario NYXL strings, extra light 9-42.

These are great strings. They're light, but they feel like they play at a higher tension, and are a bit stiffer. They don't feel hard to push around like a heavy gauge set, but more solid than a regular set of extra lights. Plus, and this is a big deal....the hold tune really well.

When I strung up with them, I was stretching the strings, and they were holding the note. Even under some pretty serious stretching (my Les Paul can be a bit temperamental, so I tend to stretch strings a lot when I put them on), they were staying reasonable in tune. They've also done pretty well as I've been working on track #8 for the next Hayoth set. As usual with this guitar, the long I play and warm everything up, the better the tuning is, but the NYXLs are doing as well as I could hope for.

I should follow this up when I get to play this weekend. The guitar has been sitting in the studio all week, virtually untouched (I've been gone a lot, in tech for a new play), and the weather has been brutally cold. It seeps into our apartment. When I do pick it up and strum a bit, it's probably slipping low, but it's pretty damn good string to string. I can play on it without sounding shit.

It's only my first set of these babies, but I am looking forward to trying them out on my Tele and Strat. I also see them have an 8-38 "extra super light" set, and I may give that a try.

I'll report back as time goes on.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Feeling the Influence of the Boss Again

I am always amused at how my consumption of pop culture tends to come and go in floods. Nowhere is this more obvious than in music. I tend to gorge myself on an artist or band, then move on to another, rinse, repeat.

Springsteen consistently returns to me, soothes me, reaffirms me, and arms me to keep fighting, in the face of my darkest and most disillusioned times. Which, frankly, I am very much in right now. I keep coming back to his lessons about endurance and commitment. All this will pass, you must through it.

"And you've got to learn to live with what you can't rise above"
- from Tunnel of Love

 His work speaks to me on such an intimate, immediate, emotional level. He grapples with the biggest questions facing our society, and never lets the focus grow beyond the immediate. The personal. He never writes about class struggle, he writes about the man who toils in the the factory, or the woman in the car wash. He doesn't write about immigration policy, he writes about two Mexican brothers with no option but working in a meth lab in the Southwestern desert, or turtles eating the eyes of a poor traveler who didn't quite make it across the Rio Grande.

I wish more chroniclers of our times could make this simple connection...big ideas are based on personal stories, and personal stories are what can change hearts and minds. Tell a person's story, and it doesn't have to be positive, negative, or anything else. It has to be honest. That's all. Don't wrap it in a agenda. Just tell the fucking story. Trust the audience to make up their own damn mind.

"And the poets down here don't write nothing at all. They just stand back and let it all be"
- from Jungleland

I have struggled with my story. In my acting, in my music, in my life. I have felt lost far, for more often than I have not. I have felt abandoned, betrayed and misled. I have felt my time wasted, time that grows more and more precious to me as the proverbial little crystal in my palm hews more and more toward red. I have felt faith betrayed and loyalty shit on...

...and here I stand.

"Born down in a dead man's town. The first kick I took was when I hit the ground.
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much. Till you spend half your life just covering up"

Waiting for that spark of inspiration. Waiting for faith to be rewarded. Waiting for my own skills and abilities to carry me onward. Waiting for belief. Waiting for brotherhood.

It's no secret that, musically, I would love to be Springsteen-esque. I harbor a dream of a sound that is like Zeppelin fronted by Bruce. The powerful hard rock musicality merged with Springsteen's storytelling. I may not have the actual skill to accomplish it, but I reach for it. The challenge drives me onward.

As an actor, I yearn for the honest moment that The Boss always finds on stage, in his own idiom. The moment where performer and audience merge with an emotional release that illuminates something primal. There are moments when it comes, for me, they are fleeting but pure. I marvel at how the man can extend it to shows that stretch to three hours, or more. It's an act. We know that. I wasn't really Randall P. McMurphy, or Milt Shanks, either, but the connection, and the emotion, is real.

At this moment, as I write, Bruce is playing. I need him now. My strength is low, my faith is broken, but the work must be done.

There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted

The dogs on Main Street howl
'Cause they understand
If I could take one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain't a boy, no I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year - Same Old Me

2014 was not a good year for this blog. I was unable to keep it a consistent presence, but I am hoping to do so in the future.

The fact is, I need this release. As I have often told people, I may be vague with details here, but I will never lie. As with any form of expression (I hesitate to call anything "art" - as I have pointed out in this journal many times over - especially something as scattershot as how I put this blog together), the whole point is to expose yourself. To allow others to see you, your subject, whatever, in a new light. That is the only reason to keep what amounts to a public journal, to, hopefully, reach out and find others who can understand what you are going through.

Uptown, the second Hayoth album, continues to progress. Seven tracks done (including an electric and acoustic version of the title song), and another in process.

Thoughts so far....

My drumming is still rudimentary, but I think I am getting better. I was working on track number 8 this weekend, which is quite fast, 140 BPM. I was surprised how easily I fell into it. It might be that I wasn't trying to be too fancy.

I am also edging toward more confidence in my singing, or at least in how to record my own singing. I still wish I had an actual vocalist, as I always wonder if I could actually play and sing this stuff at the same time, if I were to play live (yeah, right).

I do think I've managed to expand my palate of sounds. Getting a new amp helped, and I've been using the Telecaster more than I ever expected I would. It's just fantastic for clean tone, and even has added a different vibe when I have put some distortion on it. All that said, the Les Paul has remained my #1.

I am looking toward April for a "release." I am simply swamped and overwhelmed with the current show I am working on, and dealing with that is sucking my energy for anything else.