Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Why reading comic books will always be a sign of immaturity -- Part 2

From today's New York Daily News about the resurrection of Barry (Flash) Allen:

"That's the point of comics - they don't have to die, because they're fictional creations," said Grant Morrison, one of the writers behind the comeback. "We can do anything with them, and we can make them come back and make them defy death," Morrison said. "And that's why people read comics, to get away from the way life works, which is quite cruel and unheroic and ends in death."

Note to Grant Morrison: I define "unheroic" as any situation where death is meaningless. If so-called "characters" can be brought back from the dead, then they are risking nothing, and your so-called character-driven universe is populated by the superhero equivalent of sitcom regulars who never change. And I read comics for the same reason I read serious fiction: not to escape from the way life works but to experience the way life works from a different perspective.

Congratulations, Grant. In three sentences, you have confirmed that your chosen field of "creativity" is the equivalent of a computer game with an eternal reset button.

And with that thought in mind, which Wayne are you going to reveal as the villain behind Batman RIP: Thomas or Martha? And tell us again why we should care when J'onn J'onzz gets burned to a crisp in Final Crisis #1?

Something to keep in mind

I'm writing this for you. Yeah--you. You know who you are. You're the one I looked at and said "My God, what happened to you -- you're all bruised!" "Oh that," you replied, "that was just Life." "Life has been kicking you around that badly?" I asked. "No," you said, "Life only kicked me once." "Then where did all the other bruises come from?" "Those?" you said. "Those are all me -- I've been kicking myself ever since." To which I can only say: read the cartoon below.

I'm also writing this for you. Yeah--you. You know who you are. You're the one who keeps wondering why there's always an obstacle in front of you, something you can't walk around -- a boulder, a hole, a fence of barbed wire. It never fails to make you feel like you're wasting your time, or make you raise your arms to heaven and yell "Why does this keep happening to me?" at the top of your lungs. To which I can only say: save the cartoon, print it out, and put it on your refrigerator.

I'm also writing this for you. Yeah--you. You know who you are. You're the woman in this cartoon:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Toby Dammit: Tribeca Film Festival

Up until last night, the only thing I knew about Toby Dammit was that it was originally written with Peter O’Toole in mind, complete with references to his Hamlet and his drinking, and O’Toole was actually cast to play the part, but backed out or couldn’t do it for some reason. At which point Federico Fellini called up O’Toole’s agent in London and said “Send me the most decadent actors you’ve got.” The agent sent him James Fox and Terence Stamp, and Fellini took one look at Stamp and cast him on the spot.

Having finally seen the film itself (which is like an espresso dose of Fellini) I don’t know if this was the point in Stamp’s life when Jeannie Shrimpton had torn out his heart, sliced it up into little pieces, and fed it to her poodle, but if not, then it’s totally prophetic. Stamp doesn’t look like he’s acting; he's still Billy-Budd-beautiful, but you can see the rot creeping in around his eyes, and it's either a brilliant piece of acting or a brilliant piece of cinéma vérité, because he looks like he showed up drugged and drunk and stayed that way for the entire shoot.

The plot is simple: Stamp gets off an airplane, gets driven to an awards ceremony, drives off in a Ferrari, and dies. He’s ostensibly there to film the story of Christ as a western, but he could care less, all he wants is that Ferrari he was promised for showing up. In the course of his travels we see the kind of extras that populate Woody Allen films whenever he’s trying to be Felliniesque: nuns with guitars, cardboard cut-outs of people and animals, the Beatles in their Sergeant Pepper uniforms, men wearing capes, three matrons who look like The Furies watching the awards ceremony, and a lot of grotesque-looking women. It was weird to watch all this; seeing the original source material from which countless parodies and sketches and homages to Fellini have been mined was a vivid reminder that Fellini's art was actually something alive once, before it was embalmed as a style.

Judging by the Italian guy behind us who wouldn’t shut up, there were also all kinds of Italian cinema in-jokes during the awards ceremony. That was one Fellini moment in the audience; the other was when a gum-chewing brunette wearing perfume you could smell five aisles away and little else walked back and forth in front of the screen with her party of four, looking for a seat. In visual terms, she could have been an extra at the awards ceremony in the film; in architectural terms, her front porch and back porch were so counterbalanced that she had to arch her spine like a longbow just to walk.

One false note that only rings true after the fact: there’s no way any British actor no matter how squiffed would ever respond to a request for a speech from Shakespeare by quoting The Scottish Play. Which of course explains why he dies in the end, doesn't it?

And note to Tim Burton: please start paying back royalties to Fellini’s estate for stealing the entire look of Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice from Stamp’s pallid, corpse-like makeup.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Trucker: Tribeca Film Festival

From the press release:

"Diane Ford (Michelle Monaghan), a vivacious and successful independent truck driver, leads a carefree life of long-haul trucking, one night stands and all-night drinking until the evening her estranged 11-year-old son (Jimmy Bennett) shows up at her door. Peter hasn’t seen his mother since he was a baby and wants Diane as little as she wants him; but with his father Len (Benjamin Bratt) in the hospital, Diane and Peter are stuck with each other -- at least for a while. Burdened with this new responsibility and seeing the life of freedom she’s fought for jeopardized, Diane steps reluctantly into her past and looks sidelong at a future that is not as simple or straightforward as she had once believed."

If I were to play the Continental Op's "How many lies in this sentence?" game, I'd point to "vivacious," "successful" and "carefree" from that first sentence as cumulatively giving the (wrong) impression that all is happy and sunny with the main character's life until her damn kid shows up. Not so. The film starts with a one-night stand, and in the next seven minutes shows you a loner who avoids intimacy, has to fend off jerk guys, and hangs out/gets drunk with somebody's husband. Just as in the Plympton movie, there's very little to like in the main character here; and just like that film, a story that starts five miles past the last exit to Lovable earns its U-turn, in this case because of the fierce performance from Monaghan.

"Where do I know her from?" asked DJ. "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," I said. "My God, she doesn't even look like that girl," was DJ's reply, and Monaghan doesn't. (A performance like this shows you what she could have done in Gone Baby Gone if the Affleck Brothers had fleshed out her character with stuff from the novel. But then she would have blown Casey Affleck off the screen.) She doesn't blow Nathan Fillion off the screen, and their chemistry is just what you'd expect from two people who know that only their scars can kiss. Her scenes with Jimmy Bennett are real and borderline shocking for all the anger and resentment that erupts in them, and (except for one false-note moment when the kid tells her "I think you're the most frightened person I know" and it feels like The Author Talking) it's totally believable. This is the kind of role for women that only seems to pop up in small films, personal films, or self-produced films. Diana is a rich, real, complicated part, and Monaghan inhabits every nasty, frustrated, hopeful moment of it. What makes this movie even more amazing: it was filmed in less than three weeks. Plus Monaghan actually drives truck -- she got her license so she could do the picture.

Excerpts from writer/director James Mottern's pre-show and post-show comments:

MOTTERN: When I first sat down with Michelle to talk about this -- well I wasn’t actually talking her into doing it, it was more like tricking her into doing it -- I said, y’know, it’d be nice if you could get your CDL and actually drive a rig for this, and she said, yeah, I guess I could do that; my dad’s a farmer, he drives truck. And then when we were looking for financing, she’d be sending me reports, saying, “Yknow, there are 18 gears a stick shift and a splitter, and it’s little tough for me because I didn’t even know how to drive normal stick before this.” And I said to her, “You don’t really have to learn how to do it,” thinking please God I really hope she learns how to drive the truck, and she said, “I can’t do this part unless I learn how to drive the truck. I mean, can I, James? Can I?” So yes, in this movie, Monaghan drives truck . . .

We shot this in 19 days. It was a lot of fun; it was like the drama club went to the desert and made a movie . . .

We shot an awful lot of scenes in that golden twilight at the end of the day. A lot of producers say “It doesn’t matter what it looks like, it’s about the performance,” but in this case we waited it out till we got the right light. We filmed in Riverside, which is outside LA, which is gnarly during the day -- it’s polluted, it’s hot, people are on crystal meth –- but at night when all the sodium vapors come out in this polluted air, it’s really kind of beautiful . . .

[In response to the question “How much of the character Runner’s dialogue was yours and how much was ad-libbed by Nathan Fillion?”] My approach with the actors was kind of like an open society. We had the script but I’ve always believed that talk is cheap –- you need to find out what the subtext is and write for that. Michelle, well Michelle has depth to her –- depth like Ellen Burstyn, Sally Fields, Gena Rowlands – but there’s also this breeziness, this breeziness from another era, like from 1974. Nathan’s part, the character of Runner, is like this Southern California cliché, this football star who has everything going for him and then one day somebody hands the guy a joint and that’s it for the rest of his life. Nathan’s a great actor and the way he works, it’s off-handed but it’s very real, he makes it very real, and he always comes up with good things. And when I was writing I was riffing on the actors’ voices, that helped a lot, knowing who was playing the part; I could pick up on rhythms of speech and not just write the characters, but write the characters for them. Nathan’s great; I love him. And that chin. It’s just so –- I feel like I cast his chin in this movie.

And here's the website.

Idiots and Angels: Tribeca Film Festival

The tag line says it all: “This asshole guy wakes up one morning to find wings sprouting out of his back that make him do good deeds, and he doesn’t like it.” It's a three-part story: first you see the asshole in all his assholiness, then you see him fighting the good deeds his wings make him do, and then he is (quite literally) reborn as a decent guy.

Bill Plympton is there to introduce the film. This is its first showing at the Festival “and the first time we’ve seen it on a big screen,” Plympton says.

BILL PLYMPTON: We’ve been working on this for three years. I warn you, this is an imperfect film, but I think imperfections make it cool and human and special. It’s not Pixar or Disney with a $150 million budget – it’s dark and moody and surreal, so if you’re looking for happy little bunny rabbits you’re in the wrong cinema.

He's right. No happy little bunny rabbits here. And the main character is truly unlikeable; there's a ride ‘em cowboy scene in the first ten minutes that really makes you wonder whether you’ll ever be able to like this guy. But Plympton pulls it off because (a) everybody else in the film is worse than he is, each in his own or her own way and (b) and there are those wings, which make him a reluctant hero and a reluctant romantic. It’s vintage Plympton animation; pencils and bizarre points of views, garish smiling faces and physical impossibilities. It’s also wordless, though not soundless; and it has a score of songs and music that range from happy Tom Waits to despairing Tom Waits.

Questions at the end:

“What was the process of creating the story?”

BILL PLYMPTON: I was at a film festival in France and some young guy asked me what my next project was, and I didn’t have a next project, I wasn’t working on anything, so I said off the top of my head, “It’s about this asshole who wakes up one morning with wings on his back.” And I thought to myself, “Not a bad idea,” so when I got back to my hotel room, I started drawing scenes. And I just kept doing it. There was no script, I would just draw scenes, and I did that for about a year, and then we built the storyboards and the production and post-production process took about nine months, so it was almost three years from start to finish. The graphic novel will be available soon; we’ll announce it on the website.

“What percentage of the film was traditional animation versus computerized or digital animation?”

BILL PLYMPTON: The usual process, the one I’ve always used, is cels and paper drawings which are then filmed with a 35-millimeter camera. This time we tried something else. Biljana, why don’t you talk about this, you were the one who was involved the most in the process.

BILJANA LABOVIC (producer): Everything you saw in the film was drawn by Bill. It’s all his drawings, with pencil – a number two pencil – which we then scanned and colored in Photoshop by hand. Then we gave it shading, and volume, and composited it in After Effects. Very few of the shots were digitally animated. Post was done in Final Curt pro, which gave us a chance to look at it before it was done and actually gave us more control over the final product as we were building the picture. Bill would sit with the editor for instance while the edits were being done and have input into it.

BILL PLYMPTON: I have to say, this is the most fun film I’ve ever done. It’s been great. No one says you can’t do this or that’s impossible, or you have to do it this way. I would spend ten to twelve hours a day drawing, and after I finished I would feel totally refreshed, I would feel so high that I’d want to go to a bar and drink.

“Was the lack of dialogue a conscious choice?”

BILL PLYMPTON: Good question and I’m surprised nobody asked that. There are three reasons why there is no dialogue in this film. Number one, it’s hard to sell a film overseas when you have to pay for dubbing and translations and subtitles. It’s just a lot easier when there’s no real dialogue to speak of. Number two, it’s very hard to animate words. The lip synching process requires that every frame in a drawing have a corresponding vowel or consonant sound, so that makes it a lot more detailed and complicated to put together. And three, I’m a terrible writer of dialogue. I’d much rather make it real and visceral and emotional, and let that carry the story. It’s like the old Hollywood saying – don’t talk about it, show it. That’s what we tried to do here.

And here's the website.

Weekend Update

Player King Act One: done. I'm kind of scared at how quickly this play is coming out of me. This kind of rush hasn't happened since I channelled Oscar and Adonis ten years ago. At this rate, the first draft will be done around May 15th, which will mean five weeks of writing, and exactly 4 months of writing (my first notes are dated 2/15).

Tribeca Film Festival. Saw Idiots and Angels, the Bill Plympton cartoon, on Saturday , and Trucker, with Michele Monaghan and Nathan Fillion, on Sunday. Wildly different, but both really good. Reviews to follow.

Criterion DVD sale at J&R. This is like discount crack to my film junkie soul. Picked up L'Avventura, F for Fake, Shoot The Piano Player and Le Circle Rouge. Bad Matthew. Bad Matthew.

Friday, April 25, 2008

nothing to see here

Parsing Bloomberg's Response to the Sean Bell Verdict

For the benefit of those who are not fluent in Press Release, here is Mayor Michael Bloomberg's statement in response to the Sean Bell verdict, translated from Lying Weasel into Everyday English:

There are no winners in a trial like this.

The cops won.

An innocent man lost his life, a bride lost her groom, two daughters lost their father, and a mother and a father lost their son.

And they also lost the trial.

No verdict could ever end the grief that those who knew and loved Sean Bell suffer.

They were always going to be found innocent.

Judge Cooperman’s responsibility, however, was to decide the case based on the evidence presented in the courtroom.

They were always going to be found innocent because they're cops.

America is a nation of laws, and though not everyone will agree with the verdicts and opinions issued by the courts, we accept their authority.

And cops will never ever get charged with anything for shooting a black person.

Today’s decision is no different.

Today’s decision is no different.

There will be opportunities for peaceful dissent and potentially for further legal recourse – those are the rights we enjoy in a democratic nation.

Please, black people – don’t hurt us.

We don’t expect violence or law-breaking, nor is there any place for it.

We are so ready to kick your ass back to Harlem if you try anything.

We have come too far as society — and as a city — to be dragged back to those days.

So go ahead. Try it. And we’ll make fifty bullets look like a fucking drop in the bucket.

When I spoke with Nicole Paultre Bell on the steps of City Hall this week, I told her that while we can’t bring back the man that she was in love with, we can and will build and make things better.

I’ve been talking a lot of horseshit lately.

She replied, “Yes, and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” and I agreed, “Yes, that’s exactly what we have to do.”

And we'll have this same conversation the next time this happens.

All of us have a responsibility to improve our neighborhoods and our city, and we can only do that by working together, respecting one another other and doing everything possible to prevent future tragedies and injustices.

A fucking drop in the bucket.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Or Not To Be

No, I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant
To be," says Eliot's J. Alfred Prufrock,
As if to say, "Oh let that poisoned cup
Pass from my lips," as if to justify
His simpleness before it can be challenged.
No one has poured the man a stoop of wine
Or held it to his lips, or cast a slur
Upon his character, yet there he stands,
Deflecting punches that have not been thrown,
Protesting shadows to protect the light,
And saying what he is by what he's not.
Such words are flowers from a seed of doubt
Or guilt -- they blossom in the turbulent
Rich soil where a soul's roots ripen and grow;
And like a man who, racing from his fears,
Runs all the quicker into what he dreads,
He has, by giving answer to a question
No one has asked, touched on a silent Truth
Within himself, and given it a tongue.

Why not Prince Hamlet? Why then are we here,
Scarred by the whips and scorns of Time, if not
To seek the hidden spring which coils around
The name of action, and reveal its heart?
And if we cannot say “Yes!” to that, then
What do we say "Yes!" to? How can we bear
To clean and dress the mortal wound of life
If we touch not the hand or ponder not
The arm that strikes the blow? It's not enough
For us to shine a light upon this life
And then ignore its shadow -- in that dark,
The truth lies hidden, and each time we try
Illuminating it, it darts away,
Hiding behind us like a frightened child
Whose eloquence cannot express his fear
Except with one unending wordless scream.
That is the No that echoes every Yes,
And if we mean to be more than we are,
Then we must hear them both, and in our hearts
Perceive how one is born out of the other,
As vengeance sometimes pecks out of the egg
Of duty, or as love hatched unawares
Becomes a cuckoo in the nest of hate.

We are the gloves of Life -- she puts us on
To wear at weddings, births and funerals,
And we, who feel Life's fingers stretch in us,
Must hope that she will not throw us aside
Until we are unstitched by wearing Time.
Until that day, we are compelled to reach
For majesty; and whether we fall short
And see our crown on an unworthy head
Or bear its shining weight upon our own,
This is our destiny -- to make an end;
To wonder what it is that ends, and why;
To have a care, to take care, and to give
Care back again unblemished. We were born
To say our peace before our piece is done.
What though we fail each time we use our lives
To find an answer? Our success is in
The questioning. The questioning is all.
For we are each Prince Hamlet, and were meant
To be.

(C) Matthew Wells 2008

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sprints and Marathons

So yeah, I've stopped writing the Roman novel for a while, mostly because the last 100 pages felt like someone had stuck a turkey baster into my head and sucked my brains out. And because the muscles I'm using to juggle the plot, the characters, the clues, the false clues, and all the information that's being doled out to the reader about the mystery -- those muscles are dog tired right now. They feel like they've been lifting a house for the past year, with no foreseeable opportunity of lowering the fully-built five-story mansion in the near future. So I've put it on a landing, and boy are my tired arms grateful.

But because I can never relax and just do nothing, and because I'm never happy trying to finish just one thing when I could be trying to finish two or three things, I've started working on a play. I've been making notes for this since February 15th, when I got the idea, but I didn't start actually writing it until April 11th, about a week after I finished the last hundred-page segment of novel. Since then, I've written the first three scenes and drafted two out of the next four. And it's been, well, like the difference between sprinting and running a marathon.

All the heaviness and weight I've been feeling is gone; I feel light enough to be blown over by a breeze. Thinking in terms of pages containing description and dialogue that need to be paced and delivered gradually has become thinking in terms of minutes and sharp exchanges of dialogue and let the director figure out where to pace it. Even though I know where it should be paced.

There's a breathing analogy too. Dragging a breath in after you've been running fifteen miles is different from dragging a breath in when you're only running in fifteen minute spurts. In the first case it's agony, in the second it's not even noticeable; hell, you could whistle and breathe, or sing and breathe, and still keep the pace.

Plus, at the end of the day (or in this case the end of the month) I'll have completed something, which hasn't happened in over a year. Yeah, it's just a first draft, but when I realize that the first draft of the novel probably won't get done before Christmas, then I'm itching to write another play after this one.

The only question becomes: how much of a sprint break do I take before I go back to the marathon? Or can I crosstrain myself into doing both at the same time? Because, after all, I'm never happy unless I'm trying to finish two things instead of just one . . .

Monday, April 21, 2008

Weekly Update

Checklist. Let's see: finish third scene of play? Check? Japanese dinner with beer and sake? Check? Five pints of Guinness and a Rusty Nail in Astoria? Check. Sleep four hours? Check. Hum Cure song all weekend? Check. Move friends to new apartment in Brooklyn? Check. Totally miss New York Comic Book Convention? Check. Italian dinner in Brooklyn? Check. Beer and Sam Houston whiskey with friend in town from California? Check. Sleep five hours? Check. Start scene 4 of play? Check. Celebrate Indpendendent Record Store Day by going to Bleecker Bob's and buying a Springsteen bootleg? Check. Read first 100 pages of A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn? Check. Take two-hour nap? Check. See friend in one-woman show? Check? Go out drinking with friend after one-woman show? Check. Have dream about Sarah Michelle Geller where I'm Xander only smarter? Check. Wake up humming Cure song still? Check. Need weekend to recover from weekend? Check and double check.

Friday, April 18, 2008

moon over manhattan

Once upon a time in Boston Garden

It was before I moved to New York, so it had to have been either '80 or '81. (If it was '80, then it was December '80, a week after John Lennon was shot, and everybody onstage would have been wearing black armbands.) My friend Tom had an extra ticket to see Springsteen and we were on the Garden floor about two thirds of the way back, and Danny Federici starts playing the introduction to "Thunder Road" and it sounds like. . . is that really? . . . no . . . yes, yes, son of a bitch, he's playing Ennio Morricone, he's playing "Jill's Theme" from Once Upon A Time In The West! What a great fucking intro to "Thunder Road!" I'm picturing the carriage rolling onscreen that's taking Claudia Cardinale to Sweetwater, and the camera pulling back to reveal Monument Valley in all its glory, and it's the most perfect Sam Shepard moment ever because suddenly there's a vista to "Thunder Road" that I'd never seen before, and now I'm never going to be able to hear that song without picturing it taking place on a dirt road shack with John Ford buttes and mesas in the background, and I'm jumping up and down inside and I look around to see if anybody else is looking around and grinning like me, looking around the way you do when you recognize something and you want to share it with somebody else. And nobody was. Not even Tom, who was staring at the stage, enraptured. Nobody else seemed to recognize it at all. Or at least have my reaction to it. So 28 years on now, part of me thinks I imagined it. But real or imagined, of all the vivid concert memories I have, that one is the clearest.

Rest in peace, Danny.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The A-Rod Factor

Six takeaways from the whole "Nobody's watching the CBS Evening News these days" hubbub:

There is no such thing as reporting any more. News divisions used to have people who went out and created stories; they were called reporters. Now they’re called producers, and they only call someone in to read the script on-camera when the story is ready to be taped.

There are no more reporters, only actors. And since they're basically readers who have to look good, the people delivering you the nightly news are the network equivalent of all those movie stars who are doing Broadway shows these days. They're not being hired because of their chops; they're hired because they look pretty, they have name recognition, and they can read. Network and local news reporters/announcers these days? They're not even real actors -- they're the ones you get to read the stage directions.

Network news = Woolworth's. First there was the five and dime on Main Street. Then there was the shopping district, then the Mall, then the internet. Your grandfather shopped at the five and dime; you shop online. Hell, you probably even use the internet to buy gifts for your grandfather. The same analogy holds for network news. Your grandfather watched CBS or NBC. Your father watched ABC and McNeil Lehrer. You watch Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report, and then forward the You Tube links to your grandfather.

People who watch morning shows don't watch the evening news. All you have to do is compare 5 minutes of commercials from both shows to see that two completely different audiences are being targeted by advertisers. If Ogilvy International knows that you pitch Pampers at 7 AM and Depends at 7 PM, how does CBS not know it?

Stars don't win games; teams do. Brittany Spears could be the next CBS anchor and after the curiosity spike, they'd still be in third place, because their whole philosophy of winning is based on the First Rule of Steinbrenner, which equates high-priced talent with winners. In reality, the market obeys Shaq's Law, which was eloquently stated by Shaquille O'Neal (while he was losing title games with the Lakers) with the words: "I've been a champion at every level, except college and the pros." Katie Couric can now say the same thing.

And by the way. If you're going to hire A-Rod to save your team, you don't make him the pitcher. And if you're going to hire a perky morning show interviewer, you don't put her in a position where she can't be perky and can't interview anybody without making it look like an entertainment segment instead of a news segment.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Just in time for the Pope's visit

You, too, can celebrate cafeteria Catholicism by going to this list of the Top Ten Banned Films of the 20th Century.
Well, okay--eleven, if you count Jane's twice.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Note to Frank Miller

"My city screams. She is my lover. And I am her Spirit." = "I am the Goddamn Batman."

"My city is Central. Ellen Dolan keeps trying to kiss me. And she is the daughter of Commissioner Dolan." = Will Eisner's Spirit.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Weekend Update

An argument against the dumbing down of entertainment. This is the first time that four Pulitzer Prize-winning musicals have ever played on Broadway simultaneously. The honorees: SOUTH PACIFIC, A CHORUS LINE, SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE and RENT.

An argument supporting the dumbing down of entertainment. PROM NIGHT made 21 million dollars last weekend.

Lies, damned lies, and off-the-cuff remarks by the First Hubby. So is Bill Clinton subconsciously trying to sabotage his wife's campaign or what?

“But there was a lot of fulminating because Hillary, one time late at night when she was exhausted, misstated — and immediately apologized for it — what happened to her in Bosnia in 1995. Did y’all see all that? Oh, they blew it up.”

Reading this reminds me of the Continental Op story where the Op is sitting in a bar and sees a sign that says ONLY GENUINE PRE-WAR AMERICAN WHISKEY SERVED HERE. "I was counting the number of lies in that sentence," he says, "and had come up with five so far." And oddly enough, there are at least five in Clinton's sentence. One time ? Several times. Late at night? Afternoon. When she was exhausted? Nope. Immediately apologized? As if. 1995? 1996 actually. And can we please stop calling lies misstatements? Telling someone it's 7:30 when it's 7:29 is a misstatement. Telling somebody you apologized immediately when you waited a week to see if it'd blow over is a lie of Spitzerian proportions, okay?

That would explain the soulless part. And what kind of deal with the devil do the Clintons have that, when their side says something stupid, the other side will automatically say something just as dumb and take the heat off them? Case in point: Obama's remarks about what everyone is now referring to as "small-town American values:"

“So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

This is the classic case of someone saying out loud what everybody on both coasts thinks about the middle of the country--that they're a bunch of gun-hugging Jesus-loving bigots who are only going to shoot more immigrants in the name of Christ as the economy gets worse. And of course the sad thing is that Hillary Clinton gets to defend small-town values by mimicking the accent of whatever town she happens to be speaking in this week, and John McCain has been handed another code word for Liberal come the general election. Can we just fast forward to the conventions please because the more these people talk, the more I don't want to see any of them getting a 3 AM phone call from anybody except a telemarketer.

Brain. Dead. I had planned to see Shine A Light and Priceless this weekend, but instead, I wrote the first two scenes of a new play, and if I carve out enough writing time from my out-every-night-this-week schedule, I'll have the long third scene by the end of the week. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Woggles and the Swinging Neckbreakers, Arlene's Grocery, 4/4/08

The Woggles show was short, fast and fun. Fun because they're always fun, but short and fast because Arlene's has this typical Manhattan-venue attitude about which The Professor was expounding before the show started ("The guy in charge says, 'I don't care when you start as long as you're off by 10:40.' We only get that in the city, we don't get that anywhere else. And then afterwards we get, 'If I had known you were gonna be this good, I woulda said, play longer.' What can you do.").

So the boys went on about 10:05 and kicked their usual ass. I don't know how they do it. And I speak as someone who gets the phrase "I don't know how you do it" thrown at me at least twice a week by friends and acquaintances whenever I go out or talk about my calendar for the week. Honestly -- I don't know how they do it. But damn, do they ever. Even tonight, when they played like half to two-thirds of their normal set list, and didn't go out into the audience as much as they usually do, they kicked ass. (They did climb up on the bar, though. Haven't seen them do that in a while.)

On a sad note, the two pictures below are of the Flesh Hammer, who usually tosses his guitar in the air and catches it at the close of the show. Tonight? He missed it, and it fell on the floor, breaking off the neck. My friend Mark was horrified. "That's a 1956 Silvertone!" he said in the same tone of voice I used to use on my brothers whenever they bent back the covers of my comic books.

I stuck around for the Swinging Neckbreakers show, and like every other time I've seen them, the lead vocals took second place to the lead guitar. Which is great, if you're into lead guitar, but the contrast to The Woggles' up-front vocals makes for a totally different energy with the audience.

When the Neckbreakers play, if you don't know the words, you're screwed, because you're never going to hear them when they perform live. When the Woggles play, that door is always open because the vocals are always audible over the guitars and drums.

Seeing the Woggles? You can sing along. Seeing the Neckbreakers? You can play air guitar. That's the difference.

Almost in time for Easter

If this was an American comic, you'd be hearing about it on FOX News right now:

Yes folks--scans of a manga where Jesus Christ is a smoking hot blonde virgin and the devil is a randy Mexican. Or Snidely Whiplash in a sombrero. Either way, as one of the Scans_Daily commenters says: "totally sacrilicious."

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Joan Baez, Sanders Theatre, 3/28/08

Old Folkies never die. Because they live for nights like this -- a Joan Baez concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of Club Passim in Cambridge, held at the venerable confines of Harvard's Sanders Theatre -- which looks like it could be used as the set for Parliament in a Cromwell movie or the trial chamber of the Committee of Public Safety in a movie about Danton. And given the average age of the people around us, two hundred years is a drop in the bucket. It's not often that I lower the age curve when I walk into a concert, but just by walking into the room, my sister Monica, her friend Stephanie and I dropped the average age level to the high two figures.

Age cannot wither nor custom stale. She nervously tunes her guitar because that's what she's been doing for the last 50 years whenever she goes onstage, and it doesn't matter how many times her roadies pre-tune the thing for her--she has to do it herself. Nerves? Habit? Both, probably. She wears a scarf and drinks tea to keep her throat warm, because her voice is not what it was, but that doesn't mean she can't get the same notes out of it. Think of your vocal cords as guitar strings. She used to be able to pluck them to get a note, but now the strings are more delicate, even if you tune them to perfection you won't get the same note you got 30 years ago. So now she caresses those strings--she blows over them like a flautist, and makes them vibrate the note she wants. It’s a breathier sound than her younger voice -- she floats over her youthful sound like a breeze that’s been around the world more times than you can count but can still pull all those old notes up out of the depths.

The elephant in the room. There's no way you're not going to hear at least one Dylan song from this woman; that's a given which she's probably given up fighting years ago. But she only opens the door wide enough to give you a glimpse of the room, and then politely swings it shut. For example -- here's how she introduces "With God On Our Side" :

I learned this next song in 1962. From the author. At a party. It meant a lot to me then, and it means a lot to me now.

Oh to be a fly on the wall at THAT party.

And tonight, along with the "Oh yeah" songs ("Oh yeah--"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down") Ms B does only two Dylan songs to three Steve Earle songs, including Jerusalem and Christmas Time In Washington, which always chokes me up. (She has a new album coming out which Earle is producing. "Album; CD; whatever," as she put it.)

Another Dylan Story.

He was staying at my place one weekend and the songs just poured out of him. All I did was force him to eat and tell him to rest. Most of the time he was sitting at my battered typewriter, typing lyrics, making musical notes, and when he finished one song he’d flip it to the floor, put in a clean piece of paper, and start another one. And I happened to notice one of those songs on the floor. I picked it up off the floor. I liked it. And a few months later, when the two of us heard that song come over the radio, and I was singing it [laughter from the audience] he turned to me and said [perfect imitation of Dylan] “Great song -- who wrote it?” (Introduction to “Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word”)

And what my sister Monica and I were thinking all night long? "God, does she look like Mum or what?"

Monday, April 7, 2008

Weekend Update

"You can take my fucking gun now, okay?" Last words of former NRA President Charlton Heston (1924-2008).

The power of the internets. Johns Hopkins University manages a population database called Popline, which is funded by the Agency for International Development. On Friday morning, it was revealed that the managers of the database has reprogrammed Popline's search engine in February to ignore the word "abortion." They did this by treating it as a stop term, like "a," "the," "for," and "and." Said a spokesperson for Popline, "As a federally funded project, we decided this was best for now." By 3 PM, having decided that it was actually worse for now, the block was removed. In a related story, the Bush White House admitted on Saturday that the phrase "freedom of speech" has been labelled a stop term while searching the Constitution, and the words "failure in Iraq" have been programmed to automatically change into the phrase "success in Iraq" in all Word documents generated by White House personnel.

So where you been, Lynn? Last week was an experiment in physics. Because there is only so much energy in the universe, and last week the day job sapped up more than its usual share, I had barely enough ergs left in me to type up 60 pages of the novel between Monday and Wednesday, after which for the rest of the week I popped Advil like Certs, curled up into a ball, and dreamed of having enough savings so I could quit working and write on a beach for the next year.

And then I went out and Woggled all weekend.

Friday night at Arlene's Grocery with the Swinging Neckbreakers; Saturday night at Maxwell's with the Doughboys, Holmes, and Hilton Valentine of the Animals.

And on Sunday, he saw a movie that made him miss Heathers. When a movie opens at only one commercial theatre in New York (as opposed to an art theatre), it's usually for one of two reasons--either nobody knows what to do with it, or it's being dumped. With Sex and Death 101, it was probably 50/50. It's not as funny as it thinks it is, the ending undercuts the set-up, and the women are either empty-headed nymphos, castrating feminists, or allegories (Death Nell, anybody?). It feels like writer/director Daniel Waters was trying to please four different focus groups at the same time. Something that I'm guessing didn't happen with Heathers, but would definitely happen if it was made today.

Friday, April 4, 2008

ocean bluff 03/29/08

Only in Massachusetts do people throw out their Christmas trees by dumping them onto the beach on the last Saturday in March . . .