I Love The 00s – Part I. Music Edition

As the beginning of the turn of the new century winds down, it is common for us all to look ahead to the future with the coming new year. This year has been quite tumultuous in a lot of ways for me, but extremely productive and prosperous in other ways. I lost love, friends, family. I gained wisdom, accolades and more friends. I went to Europe twice this year, two highlights in their own right. I stopped and started performing again and the return to the stage was a great feat for me.

Now it’s time to keep on keeping on, bearing the burden of reminiscence, while treating every moment as a possible monumental memory. I thought I’d make a list for my favorite things so far for the year, but I’ll follow suit and do the whole decade, despite some of the lame art we received over the past 10 years.

Since music is my number one inspiration, I am going to start with my top ten albums of the decade. Of course it is hard to judge based on the fact that there are many artists out there that I listen to, but have only heard a few of their songs. I based my decision on albums I own in their entirety. Other criteria include those albums that I can listen to without skipping over a track or two, the cohesiveness of the album, and of course, the rock factor. Also, I’m biased just as much as anyone, so these are according to my personal taste.

Sadly, it’s not the 90s anymore. While browsing other top ten lists, I thought I’d never be able to put one together for the old aughts. Lately, I’ve been tremendously nostalgic for real rock and roll. I hardly go to live shows anymore because they wear me out in the worst kind of way. I miss that energy I used to get from going to a rock show. You never knew what was going to happen.

1. Is This It? (The Strokes) – 2001

Favorite Track: “Barely Legal”

“Can’t you see I’m trying?
I don’t even like it. I just lied to
Get to your apartment, now I’m staying
Here just for a while.
I can’t think ’cause I’m just way too tired”

Starts the first title track of the album and it’s all up and downhill from there. There’s a coy honesty that pervades not only the witty and irreverent lyrics, but the music as well. There’s nothing more I love than a well balanced band with a drummer that can keep a sustained beat but add a hearty dose of masculine roughness to the soft, funky bass line accompanied by staccato rhythm guitar matched with an a classic rock driven lead guitar. This is all highlighted and complimented by Julian’s raspy, sweet, vibrantly soft singing, moaning and screaming that woke up the sound of rock n’ roll that has been constantly resurrected in sporadic bouts by the industry’s elite. The debut album is where you have nothing to lose, and they managed to create something not short of perfection to start out the decade, putting New York back on the map in a big way when it needed it the most.

2. Fever to Tell (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) – 2003

Favorite Track: “Black Tongue”

Speaking of maps and New York, this might possibly be one of my favorite albums of all time. Despite the fact that I want to slit my wrists every time I hear a girl that wants to slit her wrists singing “Wait, they don’t love you like I love you…” there is something about this album that is pure magic. It is unique, it has a special quality and there is nothing like the sound that the band pulls out of their every song. And the energy is amazing. Not only was this renewed trend of less-is-more in a two piece band plus singer a remarkably ballsy statement noting that you can make a lot of noise with three people, the rock was also about the show. Rock show.

3. Get Thee Behind Me Satan (The White Stripes) – 2005

Favorite Track: “Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)”

I stumbled upon this band way too late and just in time. I would have like to have seen their earlier work as it was happening and it would have been splendid to see them live, but I didn’t have that opportunity. I will never forget the time I saw the video “Fell in Love With a Girl” and thought to myself, “Who the fuck is this?”. It was a total omg moment. It looked, sounded, tasted, felt like rock. I had to have it. I had to choose this album because it’s the only album I have listened to regularly. Any …Stripes fan will tell you they love their earlier stuff more and have a specific album they love, but this one was like my first true love. Particularly, the way they (or should I say Jack the brainchild) meld(s) the soul and the rhythm & blues together in such an auspicious way. Another band with only half the normal size of a band, they can affect you in a really really big way. This album speaks volumes about love and deception and fighting through temptation of sins. Brilliant title for a brilliant record.

4. Juliana’s Pony: Total System Failure (Juliana Hatfield) – 2000

Favorite Track: “Let’s Get Married”

This was a tough one. Anyone who knows me knows I have the utmost respect for Juliana Hatfield. Through all her inner-personal struggles, she has managed to dole out album after album for almost 20 years. It was hard choosing just one out of the 5 she released in the past decade (with another on the way in 2010), but I choose this one for a very specific reason: I saw it in concert before I heard it on a CD.

I was just starting to warm up to her softer side (I’m always a fan of more uptempo, harder songs) when all of a sudden she busts her heart open with this amazing non-tribute to love album where she talks about everything but love (but still manages to broach the subject just a lil’ bit). She set out to write an album sans any love songs and came up with this explosive, amazing rock record with a beautiful pace and story line and a couple of edgy ballads thrown in for good measure. My favorite track reads like a droning, heartfelt cry to a lover, starting with, “I think I love you, they think I’m desperate. Give me the ring. Come on let’s prove it…”. She proves that there’s nothing more less romantic than love in the way that it is commercialized and presented in our culture today, and I love that shit. I love it.

When I saw this show live (at the TLA) she played with her hair in her face the entire time. Usually she’s a little manic/depressive, but this time, she was totally distant, in some euphoric place in her head where only the music existed. The only audience interaction came when someone offered her a stuffed teddy bear and she said, “Thanks, my dog will love this,” and continued to rock our socks off.

5. Back to Black (Amy Winehouse) 2006

Favorite Track: “Me & Mr. Jones”

I was going to just leave the description as this: “Everyone loves a hot mess who can sang.” But I guess I can go into further detail. I mean, despite the fact that her name is a play on words to describe a place to store booze, the girl can sang. She too brought back something and reinvented it, this time that bluesy jazz that we didn’t know we missed so much until she thrust it back into the spotlight of the radio. Now everyone at the bar thinks they’re an alcoholic with major Daddy issues, and loves singing her epic song about rehab even though most of them will never even come close to that strife. She provided us with a refreshing amount of drama, yes, but if her previous, underrated album is any indication of her talent, we should just accept her for who she is (and isn’t).

6. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (PJ Harvey) 2000

Favorite Track: “Kamikaze”

This album was released around the time where I was still buying physical CDs. I remember going to the now closed Tower Records and picking up a copy, loving the “Sex and the City” overtones on the cover and I went right home and listened to the whole album, only stopping to repeat a track or two. I remember loving “This is Love” like nobody’s business and I still sing it rather loudly in the shower. Listening to “Kamikaze” always makes me hope that some day I will be in a band with a drummer who can dish out beats like that in that song. Even some of the slower songs thrill me with their complacent pain and beautiful construction. Often I hear this album in bars and it always makes for the perfect background music, event though it is remarkably distracting, in a heavily affecting way.

7. You Could Have It So Much Better (Franz Ferdinand) 2005

Favorite Track: “Walk Away”

I know some or all will disagree and say that their first self-entitled debut album is better than their second, but I think this one really was so much better. The speed and variety was much more acceptable, the songs were richer and thicker and more true to rock. I think their first album was a little timid, but they kind of eased into their style and of course, their niche market and made their songs a little sharper the second time around. This band is all about presentation and I know that they would rework every song if they had the chance to. They also managed to formulate and develop one of my favorite music videos of the decade that was made to my favorite track, “Walk Away” that was neck and neck with “Well That Was Easy” (a song way too close to my heart).

8. All Hands on the Bad One (Sleater-Kinney) 2000

Favorite Track: “You’re No Rock n’ Roll Fun”

Less is more prevails again with a simple yet affective three piece girl band. There is nothing like some of the things I have heard from these girls. Despite the rocking stylings of the two frontwomen, it is really the drummer, Janet Weiss, who is the golden thread of this band. And she does it all in a skirt! Words cannot describe my love for this album. Sure, sometimes the wailing is a little grating, and it’s not the best music to wake up to, but it’s syncopated, mad brilliance, and I will forever be in debt to these girls for keeping the riot grrl tradition alive at a time where we needed it the most.

9. Revelling/Reckoning (Ani DiFranco) – 2001

Favorite Track: “School Night”

This woman can put out three albums in a year. I choose this one as one of my favorites because to me, this is the perfect demonstration of her duality. This two part album is perhaps the apotheosis of all of her works, a wondrous ride through the wild sides of her love lives and political slants. She shed the feminist lesbian power persona and settled in nicely to this soft, gut wrenching soliloquy, explaining herself to herself.

10. Super Extra Gravity (The Cardigans) – 2005

Favorite Track: “”Losing a Friend””

This is the most depressing album I have ever heard. I listen to a lot of depressing music, so that’s saying a lot. I don’t really believe in depressing music per se, you have to be depressed in the first place no matter how sad the content is. This was a big come-back album for one of the most underrated bands in the world. Unfortunately they have since split, but the wonderful combination of styles from all the members of this band (that I will love forever) really shines in this (seemingly ominous) last album.

Honorable Mentions:

Idlewild (Outkast) – 2006
Rock Steady (No Doubt) – 2001
Under Construction (Missy Elliot) – 2002
Desperate Youth/Blood Thirsty Babes (TV on the Radio) – 2004
Resolver (Veruca Salt) – 2000
Future Sex/Love Sounds (Justin Timberlake) – 2006
Third (Portishead) – 2008
Songs in A Minor (Alicia Keys) – 2001
B’Day (Beyoncé) – 2006
Extraordinary Machine (Fiona Apple) – 2005
Music (Madonna) – 2000


The Biggest Loser

I want to gain weight.

By weight I mean social status, success and clout. Not only in ordinary facets of my life, that many of us crave, but in my artistic life. The time has been coming for a long time. I keep imagining the realistic possibilities of attaining quiet acclaim through my writing and then going on to one day produce that hit-ish Broadway Musical, and then settling nicely into teaching master classes and seminars at universities world-wide. Then there is the fantasy part of me that it pains me to even want to forecast, that being the life where I actually make more than enough money to self-sustain and I become a noteworthy, infamous celebrity. My personal business will be exaggerated and obscured in print and ink, on the interweb, through salon and barbershop gossip, etc.. The fantasy resembles hell in a way, but getting my name out there will mean putting myself out there, and the price of fame as we all know, bears that treacherous leap through the media pendulum.

The other night I pickled myself in wine, not waiting for inspiration to come but rather ignoring the opportunities banging on the door. The ebb and flow of creativity is oft times suppressed just for the sake of sanity, that demon inside can be so scary and demanding and you really start to wonder what you are doing it all for. I love my “real job” and at times I just want to throw up my hands and say “alright”, putting all my efforts into my 8-5, getting my degree in something accessible and humbly joining the herd.

I laid on the couch, distracted by internet surfing and chatting. I watched a show or two and then ordered a cheesesteak from Lazzaro’s on 18th & South, quite possibly one of the finest cheesesteaks in town. The bread is always so beautifully soft that sometimes I eat the whole thing (I have an aversion to bread carbs for some reason, perhaps because I am so thin?). The steak is always perfectly chopped and seasoned, retaining its rightful juices. The cheese is always melted just enough, but not too much; it melts in your mouth in the most divine way. I walked into the joint and the usual hustle and bustle occurred. I swear they have about 17 people working there, all in one indecipherable, controlled chaos, deus ex machina hot mess.

They have a television in the standing room only area and this particular evening they were showing “The Biggest Loser”. A former classmate from high school (we’ll call him Matt) is currently a Story Producer for the show. He lives in L.A. has a hot girlfriend and probably does L.A.-esque things, things I wouldn’t even begin to know how describe. Just the thought of the west coast makes my ass twitch, I’m such an east side boy.

I stood and watched the show for a while, drowning out the well olive oiled machine running in the background, watching the other bystanders who were waiting for their pizza and Stromboli and cheesesteaks watching the television as if they were about the hear what the anecdote was. I thought of my (then) friend Matt (now a Facebook friend) and how he is the one who “made it”. He’s like the Sandy Fink from “Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion”. Coming from a small, suburban, sort of hick town in south Jersey, he’s kind of a star back home, or so it would seem. That’s an impressive way to start a letter to Mom.

Me being me, I stood there seething with envy, about to implode until at last my name was called. I wanted my name in lights, not to be screamed at me to come and get my delectable sub (even though the Nazi way the owner has about running the place kind of turns me on, and I always use my last name not only because no one can ever pronounce my first name, but it makes me feel like I’m taking orders).

Anyway, I’m proud of Matt. There has never been any doubt in my mind of his talent and that he would go far. We worked together in drama club stuff mostly, but I got to know him better on a more personal level once he started dating one of my best friends. He was always humorous and charming (a scorpio on the cusp of sagittarius), and we collaborated on one or two practical jokes during rehearsals for our drama club shows. I remember Matt as a visual artist, well-versed in fine arts, particularly drawing and comic characters, but he was constantly creating stuff with his hands the likes of sculptures made out of aluminum foil and regular household found objects. Cheeky little monkey he was.

I went back to my couch, got back into my shell, and made sweet love to that cheesesteak. I passed out dreaming of MY time, my fifteen minutes (more or less). I wanted it, I needed it, and then when I woke up the next morning; I remembered that I was in reality.

A few days later I ran into a notable (and one of my favorite) reality TV celebrities at the bar where I work. We ended up hanging out most of the night. It felt odd in a way, but his genuine nature and amazing sense of humor quelled my discomfort. It’s weird to know so much about a person, or at least a story that was depicted about them on screen, and then be live with them in the same room and try not to act like you know who they are already. What was interesting to me, besides his amazing personality and over-the-top witticism and vivaciousness, was the fact that he kept complaining about how much attention he gets. “Why do people keep talking to me!?” he exclaimed as onlookers stared at him and his cell phone constantly buzzed. Sure, he was mighty boisterous in the crowd of drunks, but it wasn’t obnoxious. Whenever someone recognized him and wanted to ask about his reality show endeavors he rebutted with a firm yet sad “I don’t want to talk about it”.

I was not overcome with pity although for some reason, I was stricken with pangs of compassion, and perhaps a little sympathy. Just talking to him, his larger-than-life personality seemed like it was one that belonged on television, but he is/was so approachable. He seemed damaged from fame, but at the same time, he was made stronger. It made me wonder if I could handle all the attention and the finger pointing and the wondering and the assumptions and judgments and accusations.

I remember my first solo art exhibit. I basically pasted my soul on these well lit, stark white walls for the whole town to see. I stood near the entrance with the appropriate “I’m the artist” greeting, people asking me about the work, nearly everyone calling it “interesting” (whatever that means). It was a sweet masochistic pain, putting myself through all of that. Hoping to become a better person. A better creator. Someone appreciated. But it wasn’t the attention I was after. It wasn’t the “Do you do landscapes and portraits at all?” that I was after. It wasn’t even the affirmation or validation of acceptance. I just wanted to entertain and intrigue. But the hardest part is actually being there. Live. In person.

Usually by the end of an art show or dance show or whatever show, I feel like a complete loser. While my processes and accomplishments are overworked, drawn out and meaningful, I feel like the high you get from presenting work takes a serious crash once the lights go down and your audience has left the building. You want to know what every single person has said. You want to know what they are thinking. You want to know if they felt something. If they hated it. If they loved it. It, not me.

Soon after the beginning of the year I promised myself that I would start cutting out the many forks in the road to my goals. I’ve abandoned painting altogether, I gave up the idea of starting a burlesque troupe, no more acting auditions, and I have stopped wanting to be the next Spike Lee. But still, the desire resurfaces every once and again and I wonder if I will end up doing something I wasn’t planning on doing, like in high school. I loved soccer and tennis but I really excelled at track. I was a pine jockey or bench warmer as they call it for the former two sports because quite frankly, I was a loser, but really good at defense (there is defensive tennis btw). I hated running track, but I broke records and I had amazing speed, and I could have gone far, but then I got on stage…

Who knows the value of what I’ve lost regarding the things I have given up. I know I have a lot more to gain. I am really starting to develop my dance technique. The main ingredient I need is time, everything else falls into place. I have faith, but I lose it sometimes. Today I am right in the middle. This relationship I have with my job and then with my art. It’s not fair really. I know so many artists who despite their numerous degrees are worse off than I am. They don’t even get the opportunities to dance or have exhibitions or apply for grants. They have student loan debt just like lawyers and doctors and executives, but we are servants of the black collar workforce. Perhaps it is just so American of us to have it this way. I can’t talk about Europe right now though, I’ll lose my mind if anything.

And the nominees are…

I used to spend most of my time watching films.

These days, television rules my world. Lately, it has rocked it as well. After the divorce, I gave up television and cigarettes among other things that are synonymous with relationships like eating, cuddling, grocery shopping, cleaning, etc. I used to be sort of a reality T.V. addict the likes of those trashy VH1 and MTV jams that have turned music video into an irreconcilable pastime. I still have my standbys: Top Chef, America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway. The latter left much to be desired. Although in my opinion (and in the opinion of much of what I’ve read and heard) the talent was lacking on this year’s fashion showdown, but still, despite the disappointing switch to that uterus-centric network, the program stayed true to its roots and didn’t delve into too much drama regarding the contestants of the show. I’m just a little disappointed that I wasn’t really inspired by much of the work even though this past season of Project Runway presented some of the most difficult and creative challenges since the series began. It is nice though to have it online on Lifetime T.V. The ads still make me feel uncomfortable though.

Now, there is a dent in my couchbed thanks to the advent of good, hearty, well-crafted television programming. Many of my friends had been insisting that I watch Mad Men for a little over a year, but I never bought into all the excitement because I really don’t enjoy the shackles of being obsessed with a television program unless I benefit in a way that isn’t strictly entertainment-based. With Top Chef, ANTM and Project Runway, I am inspired in a divine way. It helps me think about my craft, what costumes I want to design for my shows, and since I am such a food snob, Top Chef helps me learn about new ingredients and how to prepare different dishes in different styles. I lost the joy of cooking in the divorce as well.

Anyway, my appetite for television has increased thanks to the wonderful stuff being put out there. True Blood, Weeds, Big Love, The Office, 30 Rock, and Dexter have sported some of the their best seasons this year. True Blood gave us some sex fueled uncanniness. Weeds gave us some silly albeit serious sociopolitical drama. Big Love gave us some of the best acting Chloë Sevigny has ever doled out as well as an in depth look into the compelling, headline worthy issues of the Mormon community. The Office keeps getting better with age thanks to its exuberant aptitude for folly and its amazing cast. 30 Rock gave us, well, 30 Rock (at its best), and Dexter blew my fucking mind this season. I’m so happy they shed that CSI-esque, crime drama demeanor and got back to the satire, macabre and irony with a huge slice of humble pie at the end and a big old cherry on top. Thank you thank you thank you. And thank you Jon Lithgow.

No more do we have to get raped in the face by Comcast to experience the best in television. It’s not just HBO’s game anymore. FOX gave us Glee and House and AMC gave us Mad Men. I am quite sure the latter was made specifically for me with all of my tastes and preferences in mind, I don’t think there has ever been a more perfect show. The series captures the essence of the time period perfectly, it satirizes in the most divine way, the script reads like a novel that you want to curl up to every night, the actors make you forget they are actors, and the story is this piecemeal perfection that can’t be explained in words. Love love love.

I finally stumbled onto Glee, having apprehension due to the fact that I thought it was a reality T.V. show. I fell in love at first sight, although I have to say, the crazy happy musical numbers can be not only a little jarring, but just way over-the-top gay. I’ve been a huge Jane Lynch fan (who isn’t) since I first saw her in Best in Show (wait, T.V. shows get quotes and films get italicized, right? Whatever) as Christy Cummings. I’m sure I would recognize her in some of her earlier television work, but she was so randomly placed in so many awesome shows, I’d have to revisit to be reminded. Overall, Glee is a heartwarming, socially relevant, coming of age dramadey, and I hate that shit. But this is the good kind of shit. The really really good kind.

The biggest surprise for me this year was “The United States of Tara” (in quotes?). I knew going into it that Toni Collette was going to rock my world, like all those foreign actresses that play Americans ridiculously well (what’s up with that?). The ensemble cast has the kind of chemistry usually reserved for a handsome two act play about intertwined relationship and the implications and complications. And there’s little Corddry! Of course the content of the show is extremely exaggerated, but it’s so worth it. I’m sure multiple personality disorder isn’t nearly as funny as it is on T.V. More please.

There are several shows out there that I haven’t even begun to watch but I hear great things about. There’s “Nurse Jackie” and “Hung”. There’s also “Dollhouse”, “Bored to Death”, “Friday Night Lights”, “Modern Family”, “Parks and Recreation”, “V” and “Supernatural”. The list goes on and on. I know this isn’t a repeat of the Golden Age of Television, but something’s up. If you think about marketing and Hollywood money, it only makes sense that the economy is shifting film and television to this niche market of people who sit on their butts downloading 34 gigabytes of data a day. I love the fast paced subliminal marketing ploys, they are very special and dear to my heart. Especially ones like these: New Reebok EasyTone commercial.

So, long story less long, as a writer, I’m really inspired by the turn of events in television. There really is too much to choose from. There’s something for everyone, and there are so many old standards that have stood the test of time, you can’t help but to plunge into a marathon every once again. Maybe that’s why G-d invented swine flu.

Here are my predictions for the Golden Globes. Actually, I’m more of a Cassandra about the whole business, so let just call these the “who I want to wins” rather than “predictions” (especially considering that I haven’t seen a lot of these films/shows).

Best Motion Picture – Drama
Inglourious Basterds

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
Carey Mulligan – An Education

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama

Best Motion Picture – Musical Or Comedy
The Hangover

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy
I think Ms. Streep is a given at this point in the game.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical Or Comedy

Best Performance by an Actress In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Julianne Moore – A Single Man
(even though I didn’t see it. LOVE HER!)

Best Performance by an Actor In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Stanley Tucci – The Lovely Bones
(even though I didn’t see it. LOVE HIM!)

Best Animated Feature Film
Fantastic Mr. Fox????
(as mentioned, I don’t watch films so much anymore)

Best Foreign Language Film

Best Director – Motion Picture
Quentin Tarantino – Inglourious Basterds

Best Screenplay – Motion Picture

Best Original Score – Motion Picture
(who cares?)

Best Original Song – Motion Picture
(la la la. Sting’s not nominated this year.)

Best Television Series – Drama
Big Love (HBO)
Anima Sola Productions and Playtone in association with HBO Entertainment

Showtime Presents, John Goldwyn Productions, The Colleton Company, Clyde Phillips Productions

House (FOX)
Universal Media Studios in association with Heel and Toe Films, Shore Z Productions and Bad Hat Harry Productions

Mad Men (AMC)

True Blood (HBO)
Your Face Goes Here Productions in association with HBO Entertainment
(all of them really, but only one can take the gold!!!)

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series – Drama
Glenn Close – Damages (FX NETWORK)

January Jones – Mad Men (AMC)

Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife (CBS)

Anna Paquin – True Blood (HBO)

Kyra Sedgwick – The Closer (TNT)

Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series – Drama
Simon Baker – The Mentalist (CBS)

Michael C. Hall – Dexter (SHOWTIME)

Jon Hamm – Mad Men (AMC)

Hugh Laurie – House (FOX)

Bill Paxton – Big Love (HBO)
(Then, now and forever!)

Best Television Series – Musical Or Comedy
30 Rock (NBC)
Universal Media Studios in association with Broadway Video and Little Stranger Inc.

Entourage (HBO)
Leverage and Closest to the Hole Productions in association with HBO Entertainment

Glee (FOX)
Twentieth Century Fox Television

Modern Family (ABC)
Twentieth Century Fox Television

The Office (NBC)
Universal Television Studios, Deedle Dee Productions, Reveille LLC

Best Performance by an Actress In A Television Series – Musical Or Comedy

Toni Collette – United States Of Tara (SHOWTIME)

Courteney Cox – Cougar Town (ABC)

Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie (SHOWTIME)

Tina Fey – 30 Rock (NBC)

Lea Michele – Glee (FOX)

Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series – Musical Or Comedy

Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock (NBC)

Steve Carell – The Office (NBC)

David Duchovny – Californication (SHOWTIME)

Thomas Jane – Hung (HBO)

Matthew Morrison – Glee (FOX)

Best Mini-Series Or Motion Picture Made for Television


Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Jane Adams – Hung (HBO)

Rose Byrne – Damages (FX NETWORK)

Jane Lynch – Glee (FOX)

Janet McTeer – Into The Storm (HBO)

Chloë Sevigny – Big Love (HBO)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television

Michael Emerson – Lost (ABC)

Neil Patrick Harris – How I Met Your Mother (CBS)

William Hurt – Damages (FX NETWORK)

John Lithgow – Dexter (SHOWTIME)

Jeremy Piven – Entourage (HBO)

Progress in Work

Artists are sadists and masochists.

Any dancer will tell you without much regret or remorse, that there is nothing like the sweet pain that occurs before, during and after a dance class. The wonderful, pained, glowing grimaces on a dancer’s face after a long, strenuous, repetitive routine creates adrenaline and endorphins much like those found in the speculative “runner’s high” people endure while jogging.

I miss the days of college where my back ached, my arms were laden with stinging pain and it was difficult to climb stairs without wincing. There’s something about that reminder, that physical trophy of determination and achievement. It makes you feel like your work is worthwhile.

And then there are the Ballet Masters and Mistresses (note the S/M connotations). Not only do you spend hours in front of a mirror, staring at your every imperfection, in tight clothing no less, but you have these demanding perfectionists who not only want you to do better than perfect, they are taking their own personal bitterness out on you because you have to live up to what they can’t be or do anymore. Nice teachers are boring. You never learn anything from them. The good teachers are the ones who torment you and make you feel like you’ll never be good enough. They are the ones who make you do push ups and sit ups and make you hold your leg up for an extra eight counts, and just one more eight count, and just one more…

The dance studio aside, once you get out into the real world, there’s the nerve wracking auditions, the impossible grant proposals, the awkward networking. The physical pain dissipates slightly while the emotional pain augments.

For me, the greatest self-torture comes from seeing other’s work. I once had a longer than was necessary chat with one of my theater professors (before I made the leap to dance) about the necessity of seeing art. Writers should read and write everyday. Painters should practice their foundation on a regular basis. Musicians should play their etudes until their fingers bleed. Singers should do their scales daily. Photographers should take their camera wherever they go. Actors should read and go to plays regularly. Dancers must stay in shape. Filmmakers should constantly be in the theater. What we all have in common though, beyond the practice of practice, is that we have to immerse ourselves in our chosen craft, and that can be painful in itself.

When I had this chat with the aforementioned professor (We’ll call him Mr. Red), I was very much 18 years old and kind of lost and wondering what the fuck it is that I was doing at a Catholic college, and how it was going to help me succeed. I had a raging crush on Mr. Red. He wore red a lot (Cranberry actually), was always sharply dressed, smoked cigars and wore fedora hats and he was ambiguously gay, like any theater arts teacher. All flirting aside, we talked about some of the trouble I was having in class. I expressed my concern (read: conceitedness) regarding the fact that his theater arts class was taking a turn for the worst because the majority of the students were more privy to Broadway musicals (“Rent” was on Broadway at the time) rather than the classical theater we were supposed to be studying. He had asked me what was the last play I had seen was, and embarrassed I told him it had been a while, but I was constantly reading plays, and I was inspired to read more thanks to the required readings on his syllabus. I will never forget how he reprimanded me for not seeing theater despite my passion for theater and my desire to become a theater artist. I explained that it was difficult for me to enjoy theater because I am so analytical and I was always paying way too much attention to the technical aspects of the show. He thought it was admirable, but still he insisted that I reconsider my trepidations. I couldn’t say anything else but “Yes sir.”

Still to this day I am busy looking at who is or isn’t spotting their turns, what’s going on in the wings, why the designer or director choose to use footlights, the delays, the mishaps, the costumes, the music…It reminds me of a scene from Velvet Goldmine that is a film “loosely based on” the rise and fall and rise again of David Bowie’s career in the 70s and 80s. There is a scene where he gets booed off the stage and is walking to leave and he starts to hear a band play. There is a character “loosely based on” Iggy Pop who screams at the top of his lungs, is wearing tight leather pants and no shirt, proceeds to pour oil all over his body, then glitter, then he pulls off his pants while flipping the bird to the audience. It all ends in a blaze of fire and his stage diving into the uproarious audience. Later in the film, the main character says something like “I wish I would have thought of that” with a pained look on his face. So inspired, so envious, so angry.

I get that feeling a lot.

Last week I attended the first (for me) Philadelphia Live Arts Festival Second Thursdays Series. It is an informal gathering (or so they say) in which artists that are a part of the Live Arts residency program show their works in progress to a live audience. Other artists are invited, and it is primarily a resource for them to show their stuff to the powers that be that choose the programming for the festival. Underneath the surface, it is a taxing process. While it is a wonderful opportunity for the artist to get ideas on how to better their work based on the audience’s reactions and questions, it’s kind of like being under a microscope. You have to prove yourself that you are doing something worthwhile that people will want to see. You have to make the case that you are doing something innovative and valuable to the Philadelphia (mainstream) arts scene and that you deserve money to produce your work. I think that’s why they serve beer at these functions.

We were first treated to a performance by Charlotte Ford who received acclaim and success working with Pig Iron Theater’s show at last year’s festival. She is working on a new character for a piece entitled “Chicken”. The character is a male, clown-like character, who is charming and raunchy and has a way with the ladies. The entire performance piece was done in an almost vaudeville improvisational style, engaging the audience and getting them involved not only with the jokes, but with the punchlines. It was a nice start to the evening of presentations. Charlotte has an obvious natural ability to keep an audience engaged and amused all with a boisterous, compelling and welcomed intrusion. Even when the Q&A started, she did not break character, and it made the whole experience that much more worthwhile and entertaining. Her experience working in non-traditional theater forms with 1812 Productions and Pig Iron as well as independently, make her well-suited to produce innovative works the likes of which Philadelphia has yet to experience. A fan of Todd Solondz and Christopher Guest and a scholar of clown arts, I expect to continue to see big things from this unique performance artist.

Next up, Nichole Canuso gave us a show-and-tell of her current project called “TAKES”. It is a physical theater dance piece that uses live video of the real-time performance as well as delayed and spliced footage of the piece intertwined with the overall work. The set is constructed out of a light scrim material in the shape of a box and there are sparse set pieces placed in the box. In the video that she showed, there was a lot of improvisation with solo and duet work (her co-dancer/collaborator was Dito van Reigersberg of Pig Iron Theater and Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret fame). The piece aims to engage the audience by placing the “box” in the middle of the performance space so the audience can walk around the “box” and experience the performance from different perspectives. There is more of an idea that is being choreographed rather than dance, but there were some movement variations that were really attractive in their simple yet intricate ways.

Choreographer Marianela Boan showed excerpts of her latest work entitled “Decadere”
(from Latin: to decay). Her piece about the wretched innards of cooperate America and the workforce is the culmination of a year-long collaboration with composers and dancers. It is another multi-media dance theater work incorporating live video, music and lots of props. She started working with her dancers by developing a movement motif based on daily activities seen in office work and expounded these phrases into large, complex dances and interactions rife with physicality and vigor. Despite the seriousness of the inspiration for its content, the work is full of humorous irony and spectacle. She too is vying for a spot on the Live Arts Festival roster, and gave a detailed account of the message she was trying to convey with “Decadere” even though the depiction was quite clear and cohesive. The work is exhausting, clocking in at over an hour of continuous dance and theater with only four dancers, but lends this aspect to the resounding implications of the object she is satirizing. On a personal note, I was happy to see that she had solicited the talent of Scott McPheeters, a Philadelphia-based dance artist whom I have had the pleasure of working with but was unable to utilize his strengths due to the setting of the pieces I choreographed him for that took place in a cabaret environment. McPheeters is a rare breed, not only for his Y chromosome, but he is one of those daring, fearless dancers that can do inexplicable combinations, contorting his body in astounding ways while maintaining a air of gracefulness and effortlessness.

In the end, I was extremely bitter that I wasn’t presenting any work comparable to what I saw that night, but at the same time I was wildly inspired. There was a joy that came with the pain of seeing really good art come to fruition despite the never ending chore for choreographers and artists to find the money, time and talent with which to produce their own shows.

I talked to Boan and McPheeters after the presentation and commented to them on the wonderful variety of achievements that “Decadere” owns. I told McPheeters about some of the pieces I had recently done and what I would like to work on. I explained my difficulties in disposition regarding the way I was going about putting work together. I spoke of scheduling and funding issues of course, but also that I have several unfinished works that I want to finish, but I keep getting distracted and inspired to come up with new ideas altogether.

As mentioned before, I was most recently inspired when I heard tap dancing in one of the studios in the theater where I had my last show. One of the dancers, Kellie, had exclaimed to me that she would love to do a tap piece and that that was her forte. It was not surprising although her concentration was for Jazz dance at UArts. I thought with the last piece that it would be easy to compose something that would be more symmetrical and synchronized with her and the other dancer that was in my piece entitled “Sisters”. Once I got the two girls together I realized that they couldn’t be anymore different, Kellie is a consummate Jazz dancer while Melissa strives at Ballet and Musical Theater styles. And here I was trying to put a Modern piece together, my personal strength. It worked out in the end, but now I know my dancers a little better and can proceed accordingly.

I have Toni who is the physically strong one with the ability to project emotion who does well with modern Jazz and Lyrical dance. There is Meagan who is my Modern go-to. Tammy is the quick and quirky one who is somewhere in between Modern and Jazz. There is Gillian who is the perfect Ballet girl. Melissa excels at Ballet (en pointe even) and is the primary muse for my Burlesque endeavors. Kellie is the Jazz pro who now I know is great at Tap, so I have all the talent I need that runs the gamut of techniques. Now all I need is a boy or two.

I may just go with my gut and start working on these new pieces. I want to choreograph a solo to Tom Waits’ “Down in the Hole” that infuses Modern and Tap dance. And just last night while hanging out with a friend I was supremely inspired by Vivaldi’s Winter I that he was listening to in the car as he drove me home. Both are amazing pieces of music that go well with my style and ideas. With the Tap and Modern number I was looking for a song that was blues-y, had a Negro spiritual feel and that was totally rock-n’-roll. The second piece just kind of happened. I’m going to apply for another showcase in January but for the time being, I have to get back in the studio before the queue gets backed up again. It hurts so bad that I can’t do it everyday.

Complicated Simplicity

It’s done.

I feel refreshed and exhausted by the events that transpired this weekend. I really pushed myself to make a piece that was much more focused around an idea rather than pushing around several movement concepts along with a storyline. I feel bad that I made the girls wait until the last minute to learn the choreography, but that was part of the experiment and time didn’t really allow for us to get together beforehand, but in the end, I think it worked out well.

I wanted to practice restraint and make something that was light with some dark, latent content. The sisters theme was well established and I think I made something that was entertaining. True, it wasn’t as dance-y or complicated, but that was the point. I kept the movement to a minimum, at first used as an exposition of the characters in the piece and then to show their relationship with each other. I used my theater and burlesque background to make it more about the action and to create a taste of sexiness. The piece ended up being cute and fun and funny. I am pleased. It was a nice break from the usual macabre and seriousness of my usual work.

Now I’m focusing once again on my writing and doing some more editing. I am looking for a musician to compose the music for this musical I wrote a while back. I have to start thinking about the fringe festival and what I may want to do for it, there are a couple of venues I have in mind, but it depends on what it is that I’m going to do that will help me decide where the show will take place.

Under Pressure

Tomorrow I have about 3 hours to come up with a piece and I’m excited to put it together. I have the movement theme picked out and a couple of eights in my head already choreographed. It should be fun composing it. It’s gonna be a busy day.

I was supposed to meet with one of the girls the other night at my place but I was worn out, she fell asleep and I wasn’t in the right mindset to come up with anything worthwhile. I was feeling a little uninspired. The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want to, so I decided that it would probably be best to have the pressure on. I work really well under pressure.

I have the costumes picked out, so that’s a go. I’m using a technique that will incorporate some choreography of certain parts of the body that a lot of people don’t use. There will be a minimal use of props, but it will definitely figure into it. I will also be using some exaggerations of basic, everyday actions that will be juxtaposed with more post modern movement phrases.

Here we go…

One Angry Gay Guy

When I got my jury duty summons in the mail, my immediate and almost obligatory reaction was a deep sigh followed by the thought of “why me?”. But then I remembered, I’ve always wanted to serve on a jury, not only as a patriot, but as a devoted admirer of free entertainment and nontraditional theater! Yey!

Little did I know, I was going to be amiss some very debatable drama of my own dealing with my love-life cycle, the constant tumultuous surprises of my day job, and the affairs of show business.

I’ve been struggling for the past week since the “success” of my last performance, trying to conceive and choreograph my next performance coming up this weekend. Once again, I have the egg before the chicken. I have all these thoughts, the stage with which to put it, but no time to rehearse and the impossible task of getting all my girls together at the same time in order to construct the piece. I’m trying to treat the whole experience like an experiment, to see if I can pull something off in a short period of time. I’m trying to be artful about it, but again I am plagued by my perfectionist tendencies.

I had to turn in the information for the program long before I did. Of most import was picking out the music. I went through my iPod list of songs I’ve been dying to choreograph, trying to focus on my initial idea of twins and sisters and siblings since I cast three girls with similar features and really wanted to play off of that. The twin thing faded before too long simply because I wanted to incorporate a lot of partnering (which takes a lot of trial and error in the studio) and work with costumes, so time wouldn’t allow for that. I kept to my siblings theme and was inspired by a visit from a friend last week.

My friend, Lori Kim, I’ve known longer than any other friend. We met in third grade and then again in seventh grade after I moved away and back again, far from one of the first excursions exemplifying my always nomadic life. It was love at first sight, in that tom boy meets effeminate boy kind of way. We were the coolest kids in the weirdest way and always made the most of our see-saw time together. I will never forget the red bandana.

Lori Kim is preceded by three sisters, all of whom I became close with in varying degrees of admiration. The eldest kind of stood apart from the group, but she was very much a big sister in every sense of the word. In between was Lani and Shiz, the Irish Twins, the latter of which was the peacemaker, the other, well, let’s just say she was always the fiery one. Lori Kim and Lani fought/fight a lot and Shiz is always there with the peace pipe. It all makes sense, Shiz being the Libra and Lani and Lori Kim having Leo in their charts.

I pretty much grew up with these three girls, and then as an adult, both Lani and Shiz were roommates of mine on more than one occasion. I’ve always had a pretty even flow as far as the temperament of our feelings towards each other are concerned. We have all seen the best and the worst of each other and I have been inspired by the three prominent, younger sisters for quite sometime.

My relationship with them has sparked some good ideas that I hope to convey in my next piece entitled “Montage of Three Sisters.” I want it to be simple and light, with a heavy but latent undertone of the viciousness of sibling rivalry. In order to exaggerate this, I am having one of the girls play the mature sister, another playing a more lighthearted one and the other playing the more neglected and sad one. I want it to be entertaining and funny-cut to: I just got a text from one of the girls and she states she can’t do the show on Saturday.

…So I just had to re-listen to the music and try to go back to the twin thing, still keeping in mind the sisters, and forward the new information off to the organizer in order to update the program that I hope hasn’t gone into production. I love show business!

As soon as I got to the Municipal Building downtown this morning, I knew I was in for a long, daunting, tedious and entertaining day. I couldn’t help but start my cruising immediately, there was every walk of life imaginable: guys in suits, guys in uniforms, scraggly guys, polished guys, criminals, nerds, doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs. The whole nine. Not twenty seconds into it and I had spotted “the one” (of the nerd variety of course).

I went through security, as nervous as usual, not because I was hoarding anything illegal or suspicious, it is just that I’m always worried about being that guy that has to go through the detection system twenty times until they finally realize what it is that is setting off the alarm, or that they will poke and prod my back with a big hard stick, or that I will be randomly selected for a thorough frisking. And I’m black.

Despite the long line and the chaotic order of it all, I was so happy to be there, people watching, experiencing something. So many faces, so many styles, so many different personalities.

The first line of many reminded me of an average day at the amusement park, the line stretched all the way down the hallway leading into the assembly room and it was the first time of many that I realized that the architecture of the building was specifically designed to cater to waiting for long periods of times and for large groups of people, but not in a good way. It was almost in an extermination camp kind of way. Still, I was happy to be there.

I was right behind an older gentleman who was urged by the woman taking the summons forms, “Sir, if you’re over 70, you’re not required to serve.” He replied, “I’m eighty-two, and I want to serve!”. A pang of delight struck my heart.
After sitting close but not too close to the nerd aforementioned (accidentally on purpose, of course), I sat straight up like a startled cat and watched as throngs of morning-weary denizens lined up near the entrance/exit of the large holding room, with its nondescript corporate seating and busts and paintings of judges that must have done something important in their lives at one point or another.

The woman in charge (don’t know her title) was awesome and had a very tightly run system going. She was so South Philly it was ridiculous, down to the voice, and she still in my mind remains one of the most vivid and vivacious characters of the day. I mean people. She had the short spikey blond hair, the freshly polished gold jewelry, the comfortable looking pumps with the chunky heel and she was nice but stern, as though she had seen more shit than any of us could ever put up with. She looked like she could make a mean lasagna. She acted like a mom, which a lot of us loved, for some reason, her authority brought a sense of comfort to the room no matter how many times she shouted “Turn off your cell phones!”. Sorry Ma.

My first mini anxiety attack came when they called two groups of jurors for criminal trials and then started calling names for civil cases. BOR-ING! I pouted a little bit, hoping my name wasn’t called. It wasn’t. Phew.

We were then asked (read: told) to watch a video regarding the juror questionnaire and sure enough I started giggling to myself once the cheesy eighties almost porn-like music started. It was definitely in need of an update. I learned from the video that judges don’t open their mouths when they speak. I also learned that if I didn’t know how to read, that video would have been quite helpful to me. I immediately wondered how many people had literacy issues in the room and if people were allowed to be dismissed based on that fact. Then a hot boy sat next to me and he was toting “A Brave New World” in his hand and everything became good and right again.

The video was interrupted by the first woman who took our forms initially and she announced that she wanted our attention, but didn’t say why. After an almost too long, anticlimactic pause, I heard (but couldn’t see) an enervated yet excited man come over the microphone. He introduced himself and greeted us with a “Good Morning” and we all responded like any good fourth grade class would, repeating the same unto him. Brotherly Love.

Moments into his speech, I could tell this was going to be a good one and I rubbernecked a little bit to get a glimpse of this fascinating creature. He was a small and stout older gentlemen with glasses half the size of his face and he was wearing his judge’s robe (do they have a name?). Actually, now that I think of it, he may have just been in suit and tie, but I guess I just pictured him in his robe thanks to the atmosphere. He started to go on about how if we were happy to be there that we won’t make good jurors, and immediately I wondered if he was talking about me. He said that he was proud of us and went on to explain that we have a very unique judicial system here in the states and that being put in a position where we are to make a fair judgment on someone is a difficult and important task. It opened my mind a little bit to the real reason I was there and I settled into the desire to be picked all the more enthusiastically. He made jokes about how we don’t get served coffee any more and about being awake so early and we gave him a round of applause when he was through as he took a bow. All I could think was “Pick me, pick me!”

Of course when they finally called my name I was in the delayed group and I knew that somebody was on Black People Time and that must’ve been the cause of it. God, I’m so judgmental, maybe I’m NOT a fit to be a juror.

When my group was finally called (after I took note of several fuzzy and sequined hats in the room) there was more hurry up and wait to be had. We had been offered a 15 minute break and of course, one or two people didn’t understand the concept and took more time than was allotted- B.P.T. As we lined up together I wondered what the jury would look like, which ones of my “peers” would be with me, deliberating over the case, discussing the facts, getting all up in people’s business…I wonder if I would make a friend with someone and have drinks with them after we determined someone’s fate. I wonder if I can be held in contempt of court for posting this on my blog. Hmm.

So we got upstairs to a holding area, and then another and we waited another half an hour as people complained about how they wanted to get back to their lives. I admit, it is a huge inconvenience to lose a day because someone broke the law, and as I looked around I thought to myself, “we all have jobs, we are the working class, we’re not your peers because we don’t commit crimes.” But hey, I didn’t make the judicial system.

When we finally made it into the other other room, the actual courtroom, I was amused by the signs that the judge had ordered someone to make instructing everyone that there is no eating, talking or sleeping in the courtroom. Such order. Everywhere order. More victims of B.P.T. arrived late well after we were sworn in and people shook their heads to themselves over and over again. The judge stated that he was about to apologize for the delay but made a joke that since everyone else was late, it was okay. Ha ha.

The whole thing seemed so orchestrated and awkward and it was starting to suck the excitement out of it. We found out that we were going to be dismissed for lunch not too long after we got down to business. There were some vehement sighs of frustration and disagreement and all of a sudden our fair judge got all TV personality on us and the humor and lightness was back. The long awaited reference to the show “CSI” finally came out, the judge reminding us that it’s not like on TV. As soon as I thought to myself that it was unnecessary to mention that, I looked around the room and realized there may have been a couple of people that needed to hear that. Pick me! Pick me!

Again, we had to hurry up and wait. It felt just like an audition. All these different people vying for the part, but in this case, mostly everyone was hoping that they would be dismissed.

We got a two hour break, courtesy of our fair judge who wanted to make sure we didn’t undergo anymore unnecessary waiting while they questioned the first group of potential jurors. When we got back from lunch, there was much waiting to be had, this time in this makeshift break room-ish place where I guess the deliberation happens. There was a dirty stained carpet and drop tile ceiling with a large table in the center with a moderately stunning view of the city out of a large window to the side of the room. To me, it didn’t seem like the most comfortable place to either ruin or save someone’s life.

By this time, everyone was agonizing about the waiting and hoping they wouldn’t get picked and I laughed to myself a little bit. Some people were taking longer than others, but there was still a steady slowness in general. Everyone had their theories and we started sharing stories of past experiences on jury selection experiences. I sat and looked at OK! Magazine, disgusted by the celebrity worship slash tabloid of it all, wishing I was rich and famous. I forgot for a moment that there is this culture out there that lives off of the lives Hollywood stars, and it is so intriguing and off-putting at the same time. I wondered if stars have to serve on jury duty, and I wondered why I wasn’t a star already. What am I doing with my life? What am I going to be?

It was finally my turn and I sat there nervous, just like a real audition, wanting to give them what they want while trying to be myself. The judge asked some questions and I gave my answers, and then I waited in the hallway until the court clerk came out and told me the news…

I was so disappointed. I wanted to cause a scene and run back into the courtroom exclaiming “Why!? It’s because I’m gay, isn’t it!?” I always have to be different, the token, never a lamb. Never a “peer”. Oh well, I guess I am bigger than all that.

So here I sit, deliberating over so many things. What the fuck am I going to do about this show, what choreography motif will I exploit, all that. Do I want to keep putting myself through this sweet hell of dance or do I want to stick to my writing? How do I become the star I want to be and keep myself from getting distracted by cute boys? Will I ever have a lucky break that will serve as a sponge for my creative juices and allow me to self-sustain for a change?

The good thing is, during all the waiting time granted to me today, I finally went back and re-visited the novel I most recently started. I had given a copy to one of my more literary friends who I could trust would be stringent in editing and confidential about the content. His notes were perfectly fair and he made a lot of silly comments that made me laugh out loud in many a quiet room today. From reading the pages I had time to read, I thought that so much of it is really really good. I am an amazing writer. I don’t know how I forgot or why I doubted myself, but something made me want to put that project away for a while and I can’t wait to jump back in. I think I need to devote more time to it before I totally lose sight of what I want it to be. Or do I dance and write plays to gain accolades? I don’t know the verdict.

Looking around the room, several people were reading. A couple of times I saw eyebrows raise and smiles and muffled laughs and heads shaking from side to side. That’s what I want, I want these people to be engulfed by my words. I think that’s the only decision I need to make.