Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Songs of Annie Lennox

Feeling a bit exhausted today after suffering through allergies, working late on my CEO Report for the upcoming Board of Directors meeting, and then a lot of work on the Unchained Love Playwright Competition. I did a run of show for the event, and a press release announcing the directors and actors that I'll put out tomorrow. It's like having two jobs, but without the extra pay. But I'm excited about the event, and I think I might have a surprise or two up my sleeve as well. Either way, I'm definitely going to be relieved when it's all over.

So tonight I was thinking about how much Annie Lennox I've been listening to lately. A friend of mine posted the question on Facebook, "What the sexiest song you know?" Among all the more sexually explicit songs was this gem off the 1992 Diva album, "Money Can't Buy It." It is not only a sexy song, it's also a very sexy video, with a two-and-a-half minute opening without a single cut. It's such an incredibly intimate and challenging take.

Of course, my own addition to the list (along with the entire "Avalon" album from Roxy Music) was one of my favorites, an obscure single that I play for anyone I can get to sit still and listen, "Lovesong for a Vampire" from the soundtrack to Bram Stoker's Dracula. I actually found this song by buying her CD single of "Little Bird" (also from Diva) where it was included as a bonus. If you're listening to it on typical computer speakers, it might not sound like much, but if you have a monstrous, apartment-rattling subwoofer like mine, the "heartbeat" is breathtakingly intense. Plus, it's just a beautiful love song. The video is pretty awful though (unlike the last one) so I can't recommend watching it. Just listen.

I also heard today on my iPod one of her songs from the album "Songs of Mass Destruction" that Tara put on a mix once called "Dark Road." It's a more complex song, full of emotions, and the video mines every bit of it - as coolly intense as she is in "Money Can't Buy It" she's full of emotional fireworks here. It's heartbreaking and breathtaking at the same time.

Tying back to the Great American Songbook that is one of my favorite genres, Annie Lennox also did a cover of Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" for to benefit AIDS/HIV awareness. The video was originally scheduled to have been directed by British director Derek Jarman but he became too unwell to direct at the time of shooting and so Ed Lachlan stepped in. The home movies shown on the screen are those of Derek Jarman as a child.

Finally, here's one of the songs that made it on to my Oscar winning songs sampler CD that I made for the Oscar party in March, the poignant and powerful "Into the West" from 2003's Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Has it really been 11 years since we saw the Grey Havens?

Monday, April 07, 2014

Theater, music and art

It's actually been a pretty busy string of days since my last post about pot roast night. I'll be brief because I just want to catch up but I don't have the energy to really go deep into stuff, although there are a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my head.

Last Tuesday was the highly anticipated launch party for Emily Dawn's online artist collective, Whimsy. It was held in a beautiful Soho apartment large enough to hold about 60 people who attended. I ran into David on the street - we met at Kacey's bachelorette party - because we were both having trouble looking for the address. I met this guy named Robert, and of course the first question he asked me was "What do you do?" After my hackles went back down, I explained to him that that was not the question he wanted to lead with in a crowd like this, and I gave him some pointers on better questions to ask ("What are you passionate about?" How do you want to change the world?" etc.) We talked a bit about polyamory and I left him to fend for himself. He later found me and said my advice was really helpful in meeting people at the party, so I'm glad I was able to keep him from being labeled a toolbag.

There were several performances of music, drama, comedy and a pair of acro yoga practitioners (a flyer and a base) that reminded me of the contortionists in the movie Henry & June (1990), which always reminds me of Papacookie and the other artist collectives that I've been exposed to. You can see Illona in the yellow shirt and Becker behind her, and Joan seated in a white scarf in this video.

Wednesday Piper came over and we had soup dumplings and fried duck at John's Shanghai on 46th Street. We got to talking about horror movies, so we took a detour from our AFI marathon to watch Obsession (1976), a kind of disturbing Brian De Palma remake of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

Friday night I met up with Liz for a late supper in Koreatown before we headed down to the Kraine for the New York Neofuturists performance of "Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind," a Shotz-like performance of short plays where they try to perform 30 plays in 60 minutes. It was an interesting concept and some of the plays were really well done ("Smoke and Mirrors" was a beautiful slow movement of lights being bounced off mirrors through smoke, and another one used smart phones with synchronized videos of each performer in an intricately choreographed display of small screens used together as a single unit.)

Saturday I saw Noah with Illona and we had lunch at Schnipper's. I discovered she is also one of those people who understands touch communications as I do, so it was nice making that connection. I made my eggplant dip and Puck came over so we could go to Rijard and Miriam's place for their performance party. There were vocal/instrumental performances by Emilie Lesbros (voice, guitar), Sean Ali (voice, bass) and Flin van Hemmen (voice, drums), and the end of the night all three combined for an improvisation. I enjoyed Emilie the most - she does amazing things with her voice, and is able to sing and chirp and click at the same time with absolute precision and control - I've never heard anything quite like it. She's going on a European tour for a few months, so I hope she has lots of success.

Sunday I did my laundry and then headed down to the LES to have an early supper with Puck's family before they drove us to Greenpoint, Brooklyn for a documentary shoot about our relationship, part of a series of couples talking about their relationships for an upcoming web site launch. Puck and I sat in front of cameras for an hour talking about our six years together. We drew questions from a pile of index cards to ask each other, such as "When do you feel closest to me?", "What things about me annoy you?" and "What are you afraid to talk with me about?" and our favorite, "Do you want to have children with me?" We both laughed at that one! Some of the tough questions were in red, and we told them to put those in as well. Eventually they had to stop us before we got through the entire deck because we'd run out of our allotted time. The filmmakers said that of the scores of couples they've interviewed for the project, we were the only ones who took up the whole hour, because many people didn't want to open up in front of the cameras, so they would either skip questions or answer them very succinctly. Apparently, there are lot of couples who don't like to be introspective as much as Puck and I do.

To take a little extra time together to debrief, we took the subway together down to Atlantic Avenue so they could get on the LIRR and I took the N track back up to get home. The whole experience was really quite affirming for both of us, and I think we each learned a little something new about each other's perspectives on past events. I think it will help us to be better frubbles with each other in the future.

Kristina and I ventured out in some nasty weather tonight for Shotz, where the theme was "Girls Just Wanna Have Shotz!" a feminist theme. Each play had to pass the Bechdel Test, something had to be destroyed, and the line was, "You don't get to tell me what to do!" The guest company was the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Brooklyn, and the started the show by singing the Shotz theme by LMFAO in three-part harmony, which was hilarious! Then they did a skit where they played polygamous wives, which included going into the audience and slapping nametags that said #HARLOT on people (Kristina and I both got one) and singing a medley of pop songs. I think my favorite play was "Yurtle the Turtle" where a despondent woman calls the phone operator and tells her about a childhood trauma, which causes the operator to call her own childhood classmate and apologize for past hurts. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Musically Mathilda

Since seeing Book of Mormon with Piper and Katie B, I've been trying to win the lottery for Mathilda instead. I had tried it once with Kristina and once with Katie M on successive weekends, but to no avail. Last Wednesday since I was working from home, I thought I'd try it again.

As I usually do, I texted people whom I think might be available to join me if I should win. Eventually Liz accepted, but I wasn't able to win. However, they were offering $42 seats as consolation prizes, so I snatched up two of them about three rows back from the stage on the far right. The seats were within arm's length of each other on different rows, but once the lady seated next to Liz realized we were together, she kindly offered to switch seats with me so we could sit together.

The play was wonderful and I loved the music. It was a near-perfect combination of a simple musical theme with a complex staging and a well-layered story that appeals to all ages. Puck introduced me to Tim Minchin a long time ago, so I had a feel for his style already. It has some really catchy hooks that I haven't heard in a new musical since Once. It was difficult to make out some of the lyrics live because of the child voices and heavy accents, but I got the CD and I've been enjoying it even more being able to make out the words. The thing that it does that very few musicals can do is it weaves a spell over the audience and fully immerses them into this make-believe world where you immediately get the characters and understand the world they live in. It was immensely satisfying in almost every way, and I can't wait to see it again.

Best of all, one of Liz's friends - also named Michelle - met us at the stage door and gave us a backstage tour of the show. She works as a part-time child wrangler for the show. So it was a very memorable Broadway visit!

Saturday was Liz's 29th birthday party, although her actual birthday isn't until this Wednesday. She was having a brunch party at Jacob's Pickles on the UWS, but I wasn't able to go to that because I was out late on Friday playing poker with my co-workers and didn't get home until after 2 am. At least I didn't lose any money (I won $2.50) but I certainly wasn't going to be able to get up early the next day.

So I volunteered to go down to the biergarten at The Standard hotel in the Meatpacking District to try and hold a table for the group post-brunch. I made a little table sign with Liz's name on it, but when I got there just after 2 pm, it was so crowded that I despaired of finding a free table. After circling for a few minutes, I swooped down on a half a table and set up my sign. About 15 minutes later Liz, Josh, Lytle, Andrea and her mother arrived, and I met Elisabeth, a ballet dancer and another of Liz's friends. I couldn't believe how crowded it was, considering how awful the weather was outside. But we all had a good time, although the noise was a bit oppressive after a while.

Sunday night I hosted a different kind of event at TSMC - I made a pot roast with carrots, onions, mushrooms and Brussels sprouts in my slow cooker during the day and put out the call if anyone wanted to come by and have dinner with me. Piper, Liz and Josh came by - Liz brought bread and Piper brought some desserts (homemade fudge and lemon cake eggs). So we all sat and had a cozy Sunday night dinner together and talked about movies, dating and theater and laughed a lot. Something about the night made me think of the old folk tale I read growing up called "Stone Soup." It was a very nice intentional family moment for me, and something I'd consider making a regular thing.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Songs and stories

So a while back I posted that I was exploring a storyline involving the British duo Tears for Fears and their vocal and writing collaborators, Oleta Adams and Nicky Holland, so I thought I'd share it here before I move on to other musical interests.

So it started with listening to "Woman in Chains" from Tears for Fears' album, "The Seeds of Love," the follow-up to their smash album, "Songs from the Big Chair" that included hits like "Shout" and "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." The follow-up album was famous for its meticulous production - it reportedly cost more than 1 million pounds to record, a princely sum in the 1980s. You can certainly hear the many layers of instrumentation on this song over the distinctive bass line. Lead singer Roland Orzabal said in an interview that he wrote this song after reading some feminist works and coming to the realization that we all have both masculine and feminine sides, and how the patriarchy caused many men to keep the feminine side hidden.

My favorite part of this song is the guitar chord right before the start of the "So free her" final chorus. I love how that chord has this sort of Horn of Jericho feel to it.

Oleta Adams was singing in a hotel lounge in Kansas City when Tears for Fears found themselves in the audience and were so impressed with her singing that they invited her to come to England to sing on their new album. "Badman's Song" features not only Adams' but also some amazing drumming by Manu Katche (famous for his work with Peter Gabriel and Sting). This long-form song really showcases the complex and intricate song structure of this ambitious album, and a credit to the work of co-writer Nicky Holland.

After her discovery, Oleta Adams released a solo album, "Circle of One" that featured the single "Get Here." This song became popular during the 1991 Gulf War as families of deployed troops in the region embraced the tune as a theme song, similar in the way "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" was for a generation before.

When I noticed that Nicky Holland was the co-writer of the two Tears for Fears songs, I went in search of her music and was lucky enough to find her first self-titled solo album at the used music store near my apartment. My favorite song is "Tongue Tied and Twisted" because, well, we all get tongue-tied at times.

The first and probably only time most people have ever heard Nicky Holland was from her cover of the Dusty Springfield classic, "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" that she did on the soundtrack of the Julia Roberts/Cameron Diaz movie, "My Best Friend's Wedding."

I've been listening to a lot of oldies lately, and especially from Lady Ella and her collaboration with Louis Armstrong. Their duets are described in the liner notes as Ella's voice soaring like a bird high above, while Louis' delivery is earthy and grounded, like a tortoise. One of my favorite cuts from their first of two collaborative album of standards is "The Nearness of You," which was later covered by Norah Jones on her multi-Grammy-winning debut album, "Come Away With Me."

Finally, I love this live version of 'Wichita Skyline" by Shawn Colvin at Lilith Fair. Katie and I were talking once about driving across Texas and this evocative song always makes me think about those long drives I used to make across the Southwest.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The impact of random kindness

A random act of kindness really made my evening. I had a ticket to see a Shotz-like group of short plays inspired by famous paintings such as Monet's "Water Lilies" and Vermeer's "Girl with the Pearl Earring." The performance was the inaugural series called "Articulating the Arts: A Thousand Words," by a new group called the Articulate Theatre Company. That name just made me think of the Firefly episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds" when Mal is being defensive about kissing Saffron and getting knocked out by her drugged lipstick ("But she was naked! and...articulate!!")

Anyway, work was busier than usual, with meetings at 4 pm and 5 pm, so I was pressed to leave on time to get straight to the theater by 8 pm, which was near Penn Station anyway. I had to catch the 6:15 train to get into Manhattan by 7:30; otherwise, I would have to take the 6:42 express which might have gotten me there, but only just. I was working right up to the time my shuttle was scheduled to leave for the train station, but when I came out, it was gone - they had left without me.

As I was walking in the parking lot, one of my co-workers named Donna, who I know by sight but had never spoken to, was backing out her car and asked if I needed a ride to the station. I gratefully accepted and we got there just as the train was pulling up so I had to run for it and I made it on board with about 30 seconds to spare.

It was fortunate that I got there early because the show was oversold and I was meeting Andrea (from "Galentine's Day party" - February 16, 2014), Joan and Bruce there, and it turned out I was the first to arrive, so I saved four seats in the front row so we could all sit together. I said hi to Liz (who is co-stage managing the production as a volunteer), had a glass of complimentary champagne and we snacked on finger sandwiches, mini spinach empanadas and mini quiches. At curtain time, the place was chaotic with trying to fit in extra seats and get everybody seated - so much so that the play started 10 minutes late. So I was happy to sidestep all that nonsense, thanks to Donna's act of kindness.

The plays were a mixed bag. Some were inventive, some lacked chemistry. Liz's friend Margueritte (one of the Fishkill apple-picking gang) played a barmaid picking up a handsome artist in a play inspired by Edouard Manet's "A Bar at Folies-Bergere" and I didn't even recognize her with her glam makeup. I was watching her thinking there was something awfully familiar about her. I guess this is why I get unexpectedly recognized a lot more than I recognize other people.

There was a poly-themed play called "Tony, Tommy, Bobby & Johnny," inspired by Diego Rivera's "Detroit Industry," but the ending was gruesome and horrible, with all the title characters made to fall into factory machinery and becoming ground up together and that was played off as humor. Once again, a writer fails to see the happy ending for an alternative relationship style, but rarely is the fault so ergregious as that one.

It's hard to pick a favorite because all the plays had faults, but I would have to say my favorite was the finale, "Purgatory," about an elderly woman confiding to her adult daughter about being raped when she was young. Also good was one titled "The Virgin" (based on the Gustav Klimt painting) about two people meeting at a high school reunion and discovering their teenage tryst meant different things to each of them.

Joan and Bruce left directly after while Andrea and I helped Liz put away the paintings used as props. Josh met us down in the lobby and we went out to have a drink. Liz took us to a club called BPM to meet a friend, but there was some fancy soiree going on and Liz's friend was the photographer, taking pictures of people in front of a step-and-repeat and we were very underdressed. Josh said he saw Jimmy Smits in the bathroom. The music was also pretty awful, with showtunes being played in the bar and dance music on the dance floor that mingled together like milk and orange juice. Liz said hi to her friend and we left to go to The Pony Bar at 45th and 10th Ave, which was blissfully uncrowded and quiet for a bar on St. Patrick's Day.

The service left much to be desired, but they had a good selection of ales, stouts and ciders, and the fried horseradish pickles were delicious. Liz, Andrea and I all had a glass of the bourbon barrel aged cider and Josh had an Irish stout. We all shared a generous shot of Bulleit 10-year bourbon and we talked until nearly 1 am before calling it a night.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The L-word

Last night Robin and I had our first date in quite a while, longer than I can remember. Even though we don't see each other very often these days, our connection as frubbles remains strong and it's always a joy to spend time together.

We walked about 10 blocks up to City Center to see a dance performance by The Next Stage Project. We got there early, so we went up to the roof where I've visited before and clambered up a 30-foot ladder to the uppermost part to take in the view around us.

The modern dance performances were dazzling and inventive, and broke some new ground by including some vocalizations and even singing. It's a rare privilege to see such grace and powerful movement at such a close distance (we sat in the front row of chairs on the sides, which brought the dancers within three feet of us at times). Puck and I enjoy seeing TNSP a couple times a year - the experience of seeing this communication through movement also comports nicely with our touch communication.

Afterward we went to Totto Ramen. It was Puck's first time to visit, but I was amazed how much it has changed! When I first visited last year with Katie B and Katie M after my TSMC screening of Tampopo, it was a dark, cramped below-ground noodle joint with no climate control and a crowded waiting list. Now, it's a bright, modern and street-level enclosed restaurant about three times the original size (with a huge bathroom by NYC standards) that was able to seat us immediately. The menu hasn't changed and the food is as good as ever, so this was a nice surprise. I suppose there are traditionalists who will miss the old Totto Ramen, but I'm not one of them. The transformation was as startling as Lai Lai Noodle House into Tampopo Ramen in the movie.

We came back to TSMC and had a little improptu Purim celebration and listened to some music, waiting for Puck's homeward-bound train. We had an interesting talk about the L-word (the four letter one), and it reminded me of the following quote I've posted before from Daniel Pinchbeck's book, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl:

"Robert Johnson notes that the English language reflects our emotional paucity. Ancient Persian and Sanskrit possessed more than eighty words for love, denoting different qualities and valences of communal and erotic feeling. Whether we want to proclaim our affection for Krispy Kreme doughnuts or our significant other, we are stuck with just the single word, obliterating differences and qualities."

Saturday night Katie M had come over to watch movies, and one that we watched was Another Woman, Woody Allen's introspective masterpiece. It reminded me of the importance of having authentic and honest relationships with the people in my life, and that includes using the right words to describe our feelings toward each other. Unfortunately, our society tends to stifle that kind of honesty in a variety of ways, but I keep trying to find ways to work around that.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Work hard, play hard

As promised, it's been a very eventful past three days, and mostly good stuff. Well, the only not-so-good stuff is work-related, so it's not a big concern to me but we'll get to that.

Thursday night I went out with my BFF Lori to Town Hall to see the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Patti Austin perform the music of Ella Fitzgerald. I've been delving into the Lady Ella catalog lately, so it was a timely performance. I only know Patti Austin from a couple songs - "Christmas Time is Here" from the Charlie Brown Anniversary album, and "Through the Test of Time" that was on a demo CD from long ago. But I was really impressed with her voice after 60 years in show business.

It's important to me to keep up the opportunities to hear live music after last year's musical Renaissance, so Lori and I also made plans to see Tori Amos at the Beacon in August.

Friday night I met up with Lourdes at TSMC (her first visit to my place) and we walked up a few blocks for the Poly Women's Group at Natalia's place. It was a surprisingly small group, but that might have been better for Lourdes because I imagine it must be a bit intimidating for a newbie to walk into a large raucous group of women, as we can be at times.

I went directly from the meeting down to MMMM, where again it was a very small group and surprisingly, composed of only people I already know - my friend Lori (the professional dominatrix who appeared on Josh's show at the PIT), Sardonica and Kiwi, that's it. Despite there being just the four of us, we had a good craic going, talking about Lori's work, getting older, sharing photos, romantic types, bed theft and many other topics. Lori and I exchanged phone info as we were leaving, since she might show up at Poly Cocktails on Monday.

Saturday was another double-event day as Liz had an extra ticket to see an afternoon play called "Love and Information" at the Minetta Lane Theater in the West Village, a few blocks from Kacey and Becker's apartment. It was a very interesting play, especially from a technical standpoint. It was basically 57 short vignettes that were almost completely unrelated to each other, shown in rapid succession using a dizzying array of lighting, sound and staging techniques.

One of my favorites was a man and a woman sitting at a playground swing. The woman is trying to convince the man that they are married, but he doesn't believe her. She's distraught and says if they made love that would prove it because only they know each other's preferences in bed. He is taken aback and refuses, and it ends. There were many such scenes and partial scenes where I wanted to see the whole play that the scene suggested. So overall it was fascinating, but I found it a little unsatisfying.

We left directly after curtain - Liz went to a meeting for a new production and I went home to meet up with Kristina (again, her first visit to TSMC). We entered the Mathilda ticket lottery (since I've now seen The Book of Mormon, I can move on to something else), but we didn't win. Plan B was to see the new Wes Anderson movie, Grand Budapest Hotel, with Kacey and Becker, but the show they had their tickets for was already sold out.

We had dinner at E&E Steakhouse and we took our time about it. We sat down at about 6:15 and got up at close to 9 pm, and managed to talk through so much life history and all kinds of things we didn't know about each other. It was kind of like the High Line with Kacey all over again, except we actually planned this one (although it wouldn't have happened this way if the movie hadn't been sold out). We came back to TSMC after dinner and watched my favorite Miyazaki movie, Howl's Moving Castle, which she hadn't seen yet. We're going to try and see his latest and last film, The Wind Rises, on Tuesday.

Tomorrow, I have a work call at 10 am but happily nothing planned after that. I should hopefully get some rest before what could be a busy day at work on Monday, and then Poly Cocktails that evening.