doghouse speaks…”Hot August Night”

•August 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment

As a child of the Eighties, my first real exposure to Neil Diamond was the silhouetted crooner on the poster of The Jazz Singer – possibly accompanied by his anguished vocals as he serenaded us with “Love On The Rocks.”

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However, as I settled into my seat at Madison Square Garden on the 16th of August for my first live viewing of the longstanding pop icon, the image that batted about in my head was his contorted visage on the cover of the classic live album Hot August Night.

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It was a dusty LP my parents owned – nestled somewhere in between my mother’s copy of The River by Bruce Springsteen and one of my father’s many Marty Robbins compilations. I didn’t recognize Diamond at first. He looked nothing like the Diamond that was coarsely singing “Forever In Blue Jeans” on one of the many other live albums my mother had acquired (in retrospect, it might have – in fact – been Hot August Night 2 – this live album’s lackluster sequel.)

I recall my parents being next door visiting our neighbors. Being of the age where a child would rather die then be caught listening or embracing their parents’ music, I quietly snuck the first LP onto the turntable and plugged in the headphones – not wanting anyone to know I had followed through with this curiosity.

The cardinal sin of investigating one’s parents’ musical influences.

There was something about the cover that caught my imagination. This long-haired man adorning the cover stood as if in a fit of madness and looked like some strange, denim clad Shakespearean figure.
I will admit it. By the end of “Crunchy Granola Suite,” the album had me. I couldn’t point to anything specific other than the surprise I felt that this was the same man who had recorded the sweet but lyrically underwhelming “Heartlight.” (I have since grown a certain fondness for that song’s unabashed sincerity – as well as many other Diamond tunes I was certainly not going to warm to with my prepubescent musical tastes.) There was simplicity of intent the album had. Each song – and even more so – Diamond’s interpretation of each song was not emotionally complicated. It was so simple. Perhaps naïve. But this was naivety before it was replaced by the far more fashionable knowing irony – a malady I would certainly come down with by my late teens and early twenties. By the time “Red Red Wine” played, I wanted to run out and get my heart broken so I could commiserate with some of my fellow, fallen mates in some honky-tonk bar. And – at long last – when the seminal “I Am…I Said” resonated through my Realistic headphones, (a version much quieter, more introspective, more desperate, and far lovelier than the popular radio version I must have heard a thousand times by that time via classic rock stations) the spell was cast.

Years later, watching Diamond play that enormous arena, I was thrown back into that sweetly nostalgic places when the 67 year-old rock singer launched into “Crunchy Granola Suite” and – for one of the few moments of the night – Diamond seemed to channel that mysteriously enthralling, joyously naïve, and electric energy that had held me ensconced in that album two decades prior – and had held my parents ensconced a decade earlier.

review in TimeOut NY

•July 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

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it’s a surreal moment for this little NYC rookie playwright to have his first Time Out review (as a writer) one page over from an essay on Atom Egoyan (“The Sweet Hereafter”) directing Beckett (“Eh Joe”)…both men factor into why i’m here in the city that never sleeps (unless you’re in my neck of queens) beating the proverbial (and sometimes literal) pavement in the first place. I saw “Sweet Hereafter” at a really important point in my life. It made a real impression and I’ll never forget it…Russell Banks’ book (which is exquisite in its aching simplicity) also was hugely influential in me becoming a professional writer…certainly informed the way I started the writing of WASHING MACHINE…creating characters as voices in a novel before starting to wildly cut and paste them together in a haphazard manner…michael and i constantly trying to keep our audience off-guard while never losing the narrative.

everyone continues to be great involved in this show and i wouldn’t hesitate to work with any of them again.

very cool.

Review at TimeOut NY

The Undead Camps (Part 1)

•May 17, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I was informed two nights ago that there is a war of attrition quietly raging between two camps in this country. It’s a war being raged far and away that is practically imperceptible to beings as mortal as you and I. But, if you quiet your mind and listen to the fluttering whispers of internet correspondence, you may find yourself intercepting this relentless conflagration.

This war of attrition is being fought between Zombie fans and Vampire fans.

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Perhaps some context is in order.

Two nights ago, I finally, finally sat down to watch George Romero’s “Land Of The Dead” with Kirsten. How could I – such a notorious horror movie fan (certainly a fan of Romero’s early Zombie flicks) have waited three years to finally sit down and catch this cinematic continuation of such a landmark saga?

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One factor was that 2005 was the year I moved to New York City. Late May to June was spent relocating 1500 miles. Consequently, every fanboy flick following “Revenge Of The Sith” (which I managed to catch days before my train left Dallas’ Union Station) was put on the fanboy back burner.

But, the main factor – to be honest – was that I found the previous installment to be rather lackluster.

Actually, I recant that.

It sucked.

However, like any long-running series, there are ups and downs in quality and temperament. So, giving Romero the benefit of the geek doubt, I settled in to watch Simon Baker and John Leguizamo blast poetic at walking, decaying corpses.

In terms of the film – it’s a marked improvement over “Day Of The Dead”. It’s an interesting shift in tone from “Dawn Of The Dead” (still the best of the later films). Less focused on satire and more focused on straight-up horror allegory.

But, that’s not why we’re here. There’s a war of attrition that needs to be addressed.

Zombie fans and Vampire fans have fallen into a ferocious diatribe of late. These two Undead Camps seem to be vying for supremacy.

And what else would I think to call a struggle between two separate ideologies of the Undead – mythologies that told of beings that feasted on the blood and flesh of the living; grotesquely immortal creatures that wore down and tore away the souls of fragile, mortal beings – what else would I think to call it but a war of attrition?

It’s not a new war. It’s a symptom of living in a representative democracy that operates with a two party system. How many arguments have we all been in that pitted us against someone with radically opposing viewpoints? Elvis vs. The Beatles. DC Comics vs. Marvel. Wine vs. Beer. Hilary vs. Obama. The Simpsons vs. Family Guy. It’s inevitable. We feel the need to fall into one specific party – one specific school of thought – and defend it aggressively against the other.

Zombies vs. Vampires.

They’re essentially both examinations of the Undead motif found throughout mythology.

The primary difference between the two approaches seems to be that of class.

I have only a vague idea of what the dialectic between the two Undead Camps looks like. I must admit that I haven’t had time to research the two sides’ manifestos. However, looking at where the myths come from and how they’ve been approached throughout the last number of years – there does seem to be an marked difference in what demographic they seem to be targeting – and the demographic they have been influenced by.

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Vampires are much more attractive.

Vampires developed from legends and folklore throughout the Slavic world. There’s a very pronounced European nobility about the suave elegance of vampires. Even a creature like Nosferatu, ugly with a capital UGLY, had a certain elegance in the way he was dressed and the way he performed. He moved with feline stealth. He crept with a dignity. Vampires are ladies and gentlemen of the night. They devour their victims with a sexualized energy that is unsettling and compelling all at once.

Zombies

Zombies are more primal.

The zombie mythos came to America through the legends of Voodoo. It’s Afro-Cuban and Creole in nature. It’s a grittier, harder-edged coloring. It’s a world of beasts with no complex reasoning. They can’t be suave because they only know base instincts. They move rhythmically – as if they might be accompanied by the wild, angular percussion of tribal drums. They feed on the flesh of the living. The feed on the flesh of other zombies. They’re virtually indestructible.
And they’re poor, enslaved by their crippled instincts. They can’t be regal – Vladimir the Impaler or Count Dracula – they can only be decrepit monstrosities.

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I had a college teacher that would always say that everything is political. A love poem may, on the surface, appear to simply be a meditation on something as seemingly harmless as courtly amour or unrequited adoration. However, if you dig a little deeper, you inevitably find – consciously or subconsciously – a political agenda. At the very least, you find a political position.

In a world as seemingly escapist as the zombie or vampire movie – is there some kind of class war being fought.

Are vampire fans somehow elitist? Are zombie fans somehow more blue-collar?

To be continued…

So…here’s the experiment.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to blog in the voice of the characters from our upcoming productions of “WASHING MACHINE”. I’ll find a theme – something that catches my fancy – and then I’ll blog about it from two perspectives. I’ll blog from the perspective of myself – which will be posted at here at THE EPHEMERAL.

And I’ll also blog from the perspective of one of the characters from the play at Fist In The Pocket’s Blog

Tickets for “WASHING MACHINE” are available at www.theatremania.com

“WASHING MACHINE” is Coming Soon!

•May 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

washer front 800 (somewhat brighter) blog

The experiment is simple. Whether it will work or not is about to be discovered. Will I, as a writer, have the wherewithal to maintain a riveting narrative or the tenacity to sustain a captive audience over the following weeks?

But, uncertainty in the face of creating anything seems to be a benchmark of these kinds of endeavors. And since I’m not reinventing the wheel and simply dressing one up in slightly reorganized hand-me-down clothes – this should all prove to be fairly harmless if it fails.

Do, or do not. There is no try.

Fist In The Pocket, a theatre company I founded with Michael Chamberlin last year, is presenting a revival of “WASHING MACHINE”, a one-woman show I penned detailing the grisly death of a five-year-old girl who was mysteriously trapped and asphyxiated inside a Laundromat washing machine in a small, unnamed town somewhere in Middle America.

And there was many a desperate night writing this thing where I knotted every internal organ trying to keep it from being a downer!

One of my solutions was to show the small town and how it was impacted by the tragedy. And if you have ever stopped long enough in a small town to actually exchange a few sentences with any of the population, you know that it’s a veritable culture dish of strange, eccentric personalities.

Of course, small towns don’t have a monopoly on eccentric characters. As I write this, sitting in this uncomfortably cold, heavily air-conditioned coffee house in New York City, I’ve just seen two blue-haired dwarfs walk by that actually put me in mind of punk Billy Bartys.

The difference is that the small town eccentrics are often less obvious. When everyone in town knows your name and your address – I think you have to keep your kinks, perversions, and closeted skeletons much closer to home – and far more hidden.

But, believe me; they come out – often in extraordinary ways.

This was how I managed to keep this horrific story from getting bogged down in inevitable despair. I showed the light and life of this small town. I thought back to the strange, wily characters from all those youthful drives my family would make to Willow Springs, Missouri. I remembered the stories my grandparents would tell me about the town oddities. I though back to the aging waitresses at the greasy spoon just off the highway. The “old coot” (as someone affectionately called one of the characters from the show the other day) who would sell fruit out of the back of his pickup. And I wondered – who takes the time to stop and buy this stuff? And I realized that someone must stop – there’s a reason he keeps coming out here.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to blog in the voice of these characters. I’ll find a theme – something that catches my fancy – and then I’ll blog about it from two perspectives. I’ll blog from the perspective of myself – which will be posted at here at theephemeral.wordpress.com

And I’ll also blog from the perspective of one of the characters from the play at fistinthepocket.wordpress.com fistinthepocket.wordpress.com

And hopefully, with a little bit of luck and a little bit of burnt midnight oil, I might just have something interesting.

And perhaps I’ll get a few of you to come out and see this bizarre, enigmatic, experimental, at times wonderfully funny little show that I’ve created with my director Michael and our wonderful actress Dana.

And so we begin….

Tickets are available at www.theatremania.com

“Him’s” a Blast! “She’s” not-so Electric

•April 26, 2008 • Leave a Comment

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In the throes of a a surprisingly low-key – but still refreshingly rascally – NYU student audience, I settled into my seat at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts’ presentation of musical act SHE AND HIM. Passingly familiar with the work of M. Ward from an appearance he had done at the Center a year or two prior, I was naturally more familiar with the his accomplice for the evening – Zooey Deschanel.

I have to admit to a severe, cinematic crush on the young starlet that began during the opening minutes of Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous.” Staring into the camera with her heartbreakingly lovely, disproportionately large eyes, her character utters what may be my favorite line from the film to her precocious but crushingly square younger brother: “Someday, you’ll be cool.” A moment later, she whispers in his ear, “Look under your bed. It’ll set you free.” A moment after that, she leaps into her boyfriend’s car and they drive away, howling with youth and anticipation for the open road as Simon and Garfunkle’s “America” sweeps over the soundtrack. The brother immediately retreats to his bedroom and finds, tucked discreetly under the bed, a treasure trove of classic, late 1960’s and early 1970’s rock LP’s stacked in a box. The brother thumbs naively through the stack and the camera graces us with shots of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” and Bob Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde” – just to name two of the dozen or more album covers featured in the affectionate montage.

How could I resist such a woman’s seductive charms – the beautiful vagabond that would sweep in with her transcendental music of possibility like some kind of Pied Piper carrying Tommy’s “The Who” in place of a fife and shift the very ground beneath a young man’s feet and then sweep away down the highway – how could I possibly resist that?

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So, there was obvious disappointment Wednesday night when Ms. Deschanel took the stage with M. Ward and his backing band with the kind of unease I hadn’t glimpsed since a high school talent show I suffered through in ninth grade. Whether it was due to a reported illness the zeitgeist informed me she had been battling (they had already canceled a show two nights previously due to sickness) or the fact that she appeared to be stoned out of her mind, she stood lifeless on stage stage, singing prettily but oozing just enough life to assure me that she was – in fact – still alive. It was everything she could do to simply keep time with her obligatory tambourine. I do have to admit – I did have a momentary fantasy of her locked in a Celebrity Death-Match with the savagely vibrant Janis Joplin and being demolished by the the raspy-voiced singer (my date quipped that Janis would not only have beaten Zooey – she would have EATEN her.)

The spark of the evening came from M. Ward. His understated, wiry intensity and the nostalgic sound of his hollow-bodied electric guitar solidly struck a nerve in this listener’s ear. With sweetly melodic touches of something resembling a nouveau rockabilly and bluesy Americana, he brought a much needed bravado to the Skirball stage.

By the evening’s end, I was less compelled to go track down SHE AND HIM’s latest effort and more intrigued to listen to M. Ward’s last album – “Transistor Radio.”

It’s simple. It’s a simple little album in the manner that McCartney’s debut album was. It is more produced and polished than “McCartney” was. “Radio’s” subtle, sonic experimentation and digital clarity sounds more sophisticated than McCartney’s home-made project – recorded on his own four-track machine – but M. Ward seems less interested in complex songwriting and more attuned to sound, aura, and tone.

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Ward’s vocals on “Four Hours In Washington” are the highlight of the album. With a quiet howl, he haunts the listener with his cryptic, nocturnal tale – sounding like a ghost from a bayou with his smoke-tinged, agile voice. “Paul’s Song” is another gem, channeling the era of Hank Williams Sr with the melancholy tale of a loner underscored by the twang of a pedal steel guitar.

Its simplicity ultimately becomes its greatest asset. With his country flavor juxtaposed to his urbane sensibilities, M. Ward comes off sounding as if he was Glen Campbell’s younger, more maudlin brother. And, in this listener’s modest opinion, that’s good family.

It’s an album that has a nostalgic ease to it – as if it could easily have been found in that same box of LP’s – tucked in safely next to Joni Mitchell.

Tragedies in Virginia

•April 16, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I was in a coffee shop in Alphabet City, furiously typing away on the umpteenth draft of “Washing Machine” when news of tragedy at Virginia Tech came to my attention. Intensely hunched over my laptop – looking rather comical – I finally came up for air and a stretch. I glanced at the muted television across the room, noticed footage of a college campus obviously shot from a news helicopter, and began reading the closed captioning that seemed to stutter across the bottom of the screen. Updates on the estimated dead scurried across – almost as if they were stock results scrolling underneath a CNN report. And the number slowly climbed.

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Others in the coffee shop watched the same newscast with that certain empathetic detachment that we all have most of the time watching others tragedies in such an impersonal manner as on television. We appreciate how horrid the things we are witnessing are. Yet, there’s only so much real emotional investment we can afford to make in a single day. It’s survival. We can’t weep for every single injustice in the world. We need to spare our resources for the injustices in our own little circle of offenders.

But I was touched deeper than I was prepared to be.

I turned back to my laptop. The cursor was blinking at me – anticipating my next key stroke. I had literally just finished another run at the character of the mother. The character of the mother has lost her five-year-old child in a freak accident involving a Laundromat washing machine in a small, unnamed American town. The incident in the play is very loosely inspired by a Washington Post article my director stumbled upon while he was packing dishes with newspaper for his move from D.C. to New York City.

The character of the mother is wrestling with how to proceed with her unyielding grief following the death of her daughter. How does she deal with this horrid thing? Does she ignore it? Does she wallow in it? Does she surrender to it and allow it to consume her?

The small town in the Post article was in Virginia – a small distance from Blacksburg.

Of course, the enemy in that little five-year-old girl’s demise – as well as my own scripted piece – was circumstance.

The enemy in Virginia Tech’s story was an individual who had committed a heinous act.

I remember thinking about the nature of grief. Do we really deal with it? Or is it like a virus? There is no cure. We simply wait until it works its way out of our system.

The friends and family of the Virginia Tech massacre have very specific places to direct their anger. The have very specific places they can direct their ire.

But what – ultimately – do we do with grief?

We wait it out. We let it die. We wait until we have accumulated enough distance and enough distraction and we let it go.

And it’s the most unsatisfying realization I have ever had.

I leaned back over my computer and followed the only path that made any kind of sense to me. I did one more pass on the mother’s monologue. I found new ways she could ask her questions. I found new dramatic ways she could wrestle with her dilemmas.

That’s what we do. We make order out of chaos while the virus works its way out of our systems.

Doghouse Speaks…A couple of tunes from Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Ocean Rain”

•April 16, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The opening guitar riff. The tango swagger. Those dark, beautifully menacing lyrics. And that title. Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon” may be the best Bond movie song not actually from a Bond film. Close your eyes and imagine a bevy of slinky, near-nude female silhouettes toting pistols and dancing provocatively across a shiny black backdrop.

“In starlit nights I saw you
So cruelly you kissed me
Your lips a magic world
Your sky all hung with jewels
The killing moon
Will come too soon”

Lyrics so serenely beautiful. And so COMPLETELY PERPLEXING! But wasn’t that par for the course in 1984?

Following that song’s fade out, my memory will always leap to the opening lyrics of “Seven Seas” – the subsequent track on the album.

“Stab a sorry heart
With your favourite finger
Paint the whole world blue
And stop your tears from stinging
Hear the cavemen singing
Good news theyre bringing”

Song lyrics are often better when they make little sense. Codes to be broken. Or, at least, never entirely understood.